An unusual and interesting conversion story. I wonder if this guy suddenly just became illogical? What do you think?
Imagine society’s collective shock if Hillary Clinton were to join the National Rifle Association, if members of the Westboro Baptist Church were discovered frolicking at a gay bar or if Quentin Tarantino were to announce plans to make a Justin Bieber documentary.
Josh Horn’s friends were hit with a shock wave of that magnitude when Horn, then an ardent atheist, announced his resignation as president of the Secular Free Thought Society, an ASU club known for its skepticism of religion. Horn had committed the ultimate taboo and sealed his self-imposed excommunication with one act: he decided to become a Catholic.
Sowing the seeds of devotion and revolt
This wasn’t the first time Horn had radically changed his worldview. Horn, a history junior, was raised in Tempe by Southern Baptist parents so strict that as a child he had to have a “multi-hour” conversation with them pleading for permission to watch Pokémon (it was forbidden “because they evolved,” Horn says). From the ages of 3-13, he attended a private Christian school that Horn describes as fundamentalist, “denial of evolution…‘Left Behind’ series stuff,” and attended church up to three times a week. He was a model child who impressed teachers and clergy with his preternatural intelligence, his disarming command of logic and his fervent religious devotion.
Horn’s zeal began to dim when he started public high school. For the first time, he was exposed not only to non-Baptists, but to the broad spectrum of the secular world. His curiosity and desire for knowledge were piqued and he began consuming academic texts — religious, philosophical, mathematic, scientific — like a starving man at a buffet.
“My parents thought I’d been brainwashed by my school,” Horn says. “All the things they told me not to look into, I decided to look into on my own … I started examining the evidence and figuring out that there wasn’t some vast conspiracy (against Baptists) going on.”
Within a month he became a deist, and shortly thereafter transitioned into atheism.
“I had a lot of anger and I sort of took on a victim mindset,” Horn says. “I was pretty antagonistic toward religions in general … I gave myself this personal mission to prove to everyone that every one (religion) was wrong.”
A curmudgeonly and controversial conversion
It was this Horn who started college at ASU and quickly made his way to the highest position in the Secular Free Thought Society, propelled by his new passion for privileging truth and reason over religious dogma and manipulated spirituality. He came prepared with an arsenal of arguments and counterarguments informed by his extensive reading, ready to verbally scrap with anyone foolish enough to get in his line of logical fire.
“He used to really live for debate and changing people’s minds,” says Ryan Jungbluth, a close friend of Horn’s and a fellow Catholic convert. “He has a low threshold for stupidity, but it’s rarely uncharitable. A lot of people who are logically and rhetorically gifted are the same way.”
Indeed, Horn’s intelligence “can be almost threatening,” says Fahad Alam, who has been Horn’s friend since high school and has seen him through his ideological transformations. Alam was raised a Muslim but has also converted to Catholicism. (Horn’s influence played no small part in Jungbluth’s and Alam’s paths, and the men have formed a strong support group for each other.)
Three months into his presidency, in March of 2010, Horn — the avowed and vociferous atheist — had a religious experience while reading the Litany of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic prayer.
“The best way I can explain it is it wasn’t just perceiving something or experiencing something, it was experiencing some particular thing in a whole new way of experiencing it,” Horn says. “And it was the fact that it was a new way that was strange, more so than the interaction with the new thing … The only word I can use for it is a mystical sense. I had never experienced it. I had never perceived anything that way before and I would maintain that what I perceived mystically was Jesus Christ.”
Horn experienced a mystical realization that would change his life forever.
Horn, usually so articulate, was at a loss for words to describe his experience.
“And yeah, that was weird, but it was more that this was a mystical thing that was weird, even than who I was perceiving,” Horn says. “It was a whole new way of experiencing reality, to which there is no analogy in anything else that I’ve experienced, and because of that it’s very difficult to explain.”
Contrary to most tales of divine encounters and mystical happenings, this one doesn’t have an ostentatiously emotional climax—no arms thrown in the air in jubilation, no praising the lord with gospel-choir lungs, no golden rays emanating from the clouds. Instead, the thoroughly rational Horn was irked
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