How CT Helped Lead a Happy Atheist Toward God
"Five seconds after I admitted I had become a Christian, I had an email from the editor of Christianity Today being 'HI THERE!'" tweeted Nicole Cliffe last October, four months after her conversion.
No doubt the editors at CT can spot a good story. Or one that may not have happened without them.
"I became a Christian on July 7, 2015, after a very pleasant adult life of firm atheism," wrote Cliffe for CT, after its editors eventually persuaded her into sharing it with their readers. A native of Canada, Cliffe attended Harvard, majored in English, and began identifying as an atheist. Cliffe's first job after college came at a New York City hedge fund, before she started writing for several literary internet outlets. Then came The Toast. A women's humor site, or, in its own words, "a daily blog that publishes features on everything from literary characters that never were to female pickpockets of Gold Rush-era San Francisco," Cliffe developed the project with her creative partner, Mallory Ortberg. (CT readers may be interested to learn that Mallory is the daughter of Menlo Church's John Ortberg. Also, this detail is germane to the story.)
Over the course of the site's life, Cliffe observed her stances on religion soften.
"I started out snarky and defensive about religion, but eventually came to think it was probably nice for people of faith to have faith," she wrote. "I held to that, even though the idea of a benign deity who created and loved us was obviously nonsense, and all that awaited us beyond the grave was joyful oblivion."
Then came CT, or rather an obituary for CT that John Ortberg had written on theologian Dallas Willard, which Cliffe stumbled upon while surfing the internet last year. Because of her relationship with the Ortbergs, Cliffe's interest was piqued. She started reading, surprised at the emotional reaction she had to Willard.
One article led to a book which led to a conversation—full details here—and Cliffe found herself a Christian.
"I had been cracked open to the divine, I read books that I would have laughed at before the cracking, and the stars lined up and there was God, and then I knew, and then I said it out loud to a third party, and then I giggled," she wrote.
Cliffe's embrace of faith has been well-documented through her Twitter account, where she frequently shares highlights of it to her 30,000 or so followers.
"My baptism was beautiful & meaningful, and a whale appeared, and also I punched myself FULLY in the jaw while trying to put on my wetsuit," she tweeted last fall.
Scan her Twitter replies or Toast comments, and it's clear that Cliffe's earnestness, playfulness, and, at times, ambivalence, in engaging her faith have encouraged people of all religious backgrounds to thoughtfully consider theirs.
"Prayer has been one of the pleasant surprises of becoming a person of faith. It's something I truly enjoy, and has been weirdly transformational to my life, I guess?" wrote Cliffe in an essay for The Toast. "I wish neither to oversell nor undersell it to you as something to do (I'm not a particularly talented or motivated evangelist, you may have noticed.)"
Notable for its warm and gracious community, Toast readers treated Cliffe's conversion in kind. When she wrote her prayer life last fall, more than 200 people left comments sharing about their own. Sadly, The Toast ceased operations this summer due to financial reasons. (Cliffe and Mallory explained their reasons in detail here.)
Yet for the ups and downs of her year, Cliffe—or at least her Twitter persona—has stayed upbeat. She already knows what's she looking forward to, even in the face of (not-imminent) death.
"One of the best things about heaven is that God instantly removes your memory of the six most embarrassing things you've ever done," Cliffe tweeted last month.
Morgan Lee is an assistant editor of Christianity Today.