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Why I ditched atheism for Christianity

Aayan Hirsi Ali at the launch of one of her books in Berlin in 2015. Christian Marquardt/Getty

I was a teenager when the Muslim Brotherhood arrived in my community in Nairobi in 1985, says Ayaan Hirsi Ali in UnHerd, and supercharged our approach to Islam. “As girls we donned the burka and swore off Western fashion and make-up. The boys cultivated their facial hair.” We ditched unbelieving friends and “cursed the Jews multiple times a day”. It was all motivated by fear – fear of being “condemned to an eternal life in hellfire”. This idea, that fear is at the heart of religion, is the subject of Bertrand Russell’s 1927 lecture, Why I am Not a Christian. When I came across the transcript in 2002 it gave me the courage to escape “an unbearable life of self-denial and harassment of other people”, and become an atheist. I found a new circle of friends, people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, who were clever and fun – the opposite of Muslim Brotherhood preachers.

But now, 20 years on, I call myself a Christian. As Tom Holland argues in his 2019 book Dominion, all sorts of ideas and institutions, from the nation state to the rule of law, “find their roots in Christianity”. The threats from China, Russia and radical Islamism to hard-won Western freedoms can’t be fended off with secular tools alone. Because atheism fails to answer the fundamental questions: What is it that unites us? What is the meaning and purpose of life? The “God hole” left by the retreat of the church has ended up being filled by “a jumble of irrational quasi-religious dogma”, like virtue-signalling identity politics and eco-mania. The Muslim Brotherhood taught me “the power of a unifying story”. Unless we offer something just as meaningful, like Christianity, “the erosion of our civilisation will continue”.