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I would like to know if there are published testimonies of notable militant non-Christians -- which could be a militant atheist or any non-Christian person who has actively waged war against the Christian faith -- who ended up making an unexpected 180 degree turn to Christianity due to an extraordinary, "Road to Damascus" kind of experience. We know that extraordinary experiences like that have the potential to turn Sauls into Pauls, persecutors into warriors of the faith. Has this ever happened to a notable militant non-Christian? Or at least has a former militant non-Christian ever testified about an extraordinary experience being the cause of their conversion?

Of course the apostle Paul, whom I'm using as a reference, does not count. More recent cases are preferable.

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  • I was going to say St. Edith Stein, but I think the movie about her life played up her conversion a bit - or I'm confusing her story with another movie. – Peter Turner Mar 19 at 22:51
  • I am assuming that by "Road to Damascus" you mean a case where someone is converted wholly by a supernatural vision of some kind. Such experiences are incredibly rare, and the likelihood that it happens to a "notable" atheist are vanishingly small. Not to mention that fact that being a "militant atheist" almost always entails rejecting the supernatural in all its forms so supernatural visions are not good ways of persuading them. Saul of course was not an atheist and was open to the supernatural. There are stories of Muslim converts who had encounters with Jesus in dreams. Would that count? – DJClayworth Mar 19 at 23:02
  • @DJClayworth - To be fair with Paul, not only he had a supernatural vision, he also heard Jesus speak to him, he also lost his sight for 3 days, and finally he miraculously recovered his sight and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands of Ananias. So the whole conversion of Paul was the sum total of several extraordinary experiences taking place in a very short time span. I'm pretty sure that even the strongest atheists would be in shock after a sequence of events like those that Paul went through in those 3 days. – Spirit Realm Investigator Mar 19 at 23:57
  • @DJClayworth - but to answer your question: Muslim converts who were previously in open activism against Christianity but then had a sudden encounter that turned them around are kind of close to what I'm looking for. You could say that they were "atheists" with respect to Christianity, although not atheists in the absolute sense. It could work to some extent. It would definitely be an interesting testimony to listen to at the very least. – Spirit Realm Investigator Mar 20 at 0:01
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    To increase chance of an answer, why not then change the question to "militant non-Christians" and expand "Road to Damascus" to include dreams and not require multi-day empirically verifiable physical ailment + healing? – GratefulDisciple Mar 20 at 0:06
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I don’t know if anyone would describe Paul Jones (lead singer with U.K. band Manfred Mann 1962-1966) as a notable militant atheist, but he was asked to represent the atheist side in a televised debate against Cliff Richard, a well-known U.K. Christian pop star.

"Basically, I argued against Christianity. I mean I was a rabid atheist at the time. I'd got very angry with Christians because of one Christian who behaved badly when I was about 15. It seems absolutely absurd now, I mean it wasn't even anything particularly serious. Although everything's serious when you're 15, isn't it? Anyway, I just thought if that's a Christian, I'm never going to be one. It was my hobby to argue with Christians and I thought what fun to argue with Cliff Richard and on television as well. So I just went for it. I think I was a bit of a Rottweiler that day. Cliff's response to the whole thing was to pray for me."

Paul and his girlfriend Fiona began to explore Christianity. Paul’s former debate opponent, Cliff Richards, invited them along with a large group of other show-business celebrities to see evangelist Luis Palau. It was at this show that the two of them decided to give their lives to Christ, and also to marry one another. After his conversion, Paul changed many of his life-habits that he felt were contrary to his new position as a Christian.

Rather than having a “Road to Damascus” experience, this was more of a gradual awakening. As Paul himself admitted,

"God is amazing - he deals with you where you are. He met me at my level. I started talking to myself about spiritual things." Source: https://thementionables.org/conversion/2020/6/22/paul-jones-media-superstar-and-militant-atheist-converts-to-christianity

This article lists some interesting people who were converted to Christianity from non-theism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_converts_to_Christianity_from_nontheism#Converted_to_Protestantism

A few notables are:

Francis Collins – physician-geneticist, noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes; director of the National Human Genome Research Institute; former atheist

Jonny Lang – blues and rock singer who professed to once "hating" Christianity, before later claiming to have a supernatural encounter with Jesus Christ which led to his conversion

Lee Strobel – former avowed atheist and journalist for the Chicago Tribune; was converted by his own journalistic research intended to test the veracity of scriptural claims concerning Jesus; author of such apologetic books as The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ

David Wood – Christian Apologist and critic of Islam who was brought up as an atheist

You might find what you are looking for amongst the examples from that Wikipedia list.

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Has a notable militant non-Christian ever converted to Christianity due to a “Road to Damascus” experience?

I suppose in the history of the Church, such things have happened. The question now is where to find the sources.

All will depend on how one interpreted the phrase: a “Road to Damascus” experience?

To start with I will begin with an Early Church Martyr.

Saint Evilasius

Martyr Evilasius (died 311) was a pagan priest who tortured a 13-year-old girl who later became Saint Fausta. Realizing her courage, he himself converted to Christianity, an act punishable by death since the people of Cyzicus did not want even one of their people to convert to any religion other than their own.

If by a "Road to Damascus" you mean a case where someone is converted wholly by a supernatural vision of some kind, then Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne should fit the bill.

Alphonse Ratisbonne was a staunch French atheistic Jew who was miraculously converted while at Rome in the Church of San Andrea della Frate, on January 20, 1842, following a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His brother had previously converted and become a Catholic priest, but Alphonse hated the Catholic Church and vowed never to enter.

One day when visiting his friend Ratisbonne encountered a Catholic convert, Theodore de Bussieres, who knew Ratisbonne’s priest-brother. While this made Ratisbonne hate the man, he enjoyed conversing with him because of his knowledge.

Later Ratisbonne visited de Bussieres again. They had a heated discussion about Catholicism and de Bussieres made a wager with Ratisbonne.

Have you the courage to submit yourself to a very simple and innocent test? Only to wear a little something I will give you; look, it is a medal of the Blessed Virgin. It seems very ridiculous, does it not? But, I assure you, I attach great value and efficacy to this little medal. [Also] you must say every night and morning the Memorare, a very short and very efficacious prayer which St. Bernard addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

While at first Ratisbonne protested at wearing the medal (which was the Miraculous Medal), he decided to put it around his neck and say the prayer each day. He figured that it couldn’t do any harm and would prove to all the ridiculous nature of Catholicism.

Ratisbonne lived up to his side of the bargain, finding it easy to recite the Memorare. Then one day he was traveling in the city with de Bussieres and they stopped at the church Saint Andrea delle Fratte. When Ratisbonne entered the church it appeared to be engulfed in a marvelous light. He looked to an altar from where the light was coming and saw the Virgin Mary, appearing as she did on the Miraculous Medal.

He left the church in tears, clutching his Miraculous Medal. Several days later he was received into the Catholic Church. After returning to Paris his betrothed was shocked and rejected him and his new religion. Ratisbonne then entered the Jesuits and was ordained a priest.

This amazing story of conversion would later influence Saint Maximilian Kolbe to found the Militia Immaculatae and convinced him of the power of the Miraculous Medal. He firmly believed in Mary’s role in bringing the world to Christ. - How a radical atheist became a Catholic priest

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The Miraculous Medal played an important role in the Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

The apparition to Alphonse Ratisbonne in Rome approved by the Holy See (Pope Pius IX) on June 3, 1842.

Here are a few articles that may interest some:

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  • Are there any reputable sources backing up the the last testimony (the one about an alleged scientist called Gunther Scheizle that works at CERN and converted after having a NDE)? – Spirit Realm Investigator Mar 21 at 22:40
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator You can download his book with the last source posted. Simply follow the links. – Ken Graham Mar 21 at 23:02

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