Patrick Greene was an outspoken atheist until recently, when the generosity of a few Christians caused him to reconsider his beliefs. He now says he is a Christian. But some people – atheists as well as Christians – aren't just taking him at his word, and are openly criticizing both Greene and his conversion.
After The Christian Post published an article about Greene on Wednesday, many CP readers offered their thoughts on his transformation. Greene says he was "stunned" by the overwhelming reaction his story has generated.
Some Christians are praising God for the 63-year-old, who once threatened to sue Henderson County, Texas, over a Nativity scene that was placed on public land outside the county's courthouse in Athens. He later withdrew his threats and was forced to quit his job as a self-employed taxi driver after learning that he was going blind.
Shortly after his vision loss was reported in a local paper, a Christian woman from Athens, Jessica Crye, came up with the idea to round up donations for Greene, which has resulted in thousands of dollars that have helped him and his wife cover the cost of bills, taxes, groceries and more. That act of kindness led him to reconsider his beliefs, and now he says he believes in Jesus Christ.
Some nonbelievers have been critical of Greene, saying that his conversion isn't legitimate because he was never really an atheist. Others have claimed that he only became a Christian because he likes both the attention he is getting and the money he has received from believers, though he told CP on Thursday that the money has nothing to do with it.
"The financial help that my wife and I got is totally irrelevant," he said. He later added, "What's money got to do with religion or belief? Nothing...that's stupid."
He says the "kindness, generosity and warmth" of the Christians who have helped him led him to reconsider his beliefs, but they did not convince him to suddenly believe in God. He also said that anyone who doubts he was indeed an atheist before only needs to speak with his wife, who he has been married to for over 33 years and is still an atheist, to find out that he really was.
As an atheist activist, Greene previously filed or threatened to file lawsuits against multiple cities for their Christmas displays, and has hosted an "intro to atheism" themed show on a local television station in North Carolina.
He also once threatened to sue "180" film creator and open-air preacher Ray Comfort for a bumper sticker produced by Comfort's ministry that suggested April Fool's Day should also be called "National Atheist's Day." Greene took heavy criticism from The Atheist Experience blog, however, for attacking the ministry's freedom of speech and not choosing a more worthwhile cause to battle over.
After receiving some emails about his threats, Greene says he now agrees that he "jumped-the-gun" when he made the threats.
Now that he's a Christian, Greene says he wants to become a Baptist minister.
"It's not a new decision, because when I was in grammar school I had every intention of becoming a priest...that's not a new thing," said Greene, who grew up in a Roman Catholic family.
He says he used to believe in God as a child too, but that ended one Christmas Eve when the members of his family became drunk. He went outside to play with the family dog, and afterward he looked up at the sky and began to wonder why nothing in nature – the dog, the trees – seemed to treat Christmas as a special day.
"That's what got me...nothing in nature was acting any differently than any other day of the year," he said.
He also became disillusioned with the Catholic Church when he discovered there were other viewpoints than the ones he had been taught by the church. He says the church taught him they held the only correct view of things, which he disagrees with.
Greene says he now considers Erick Graham, the pastor of Sand Springs Baptist Church that helped collect donations for Greene, to be his mentor. Graham told CP that Greene sent him an email explaining that he now believes in Jesus Christ, although they haven't had the opportunity to discuss his conversion any further as of yet.
"I think he's grabbing hold of some of the truth, but I don't know that there's been a true spiritual conversion in his life yet," said Graham, who plans to speak with Greene on Friday. He explained that a true spiritual conversion involves more than just a knowledge of Christ's Lordship, but a genuine submission to God and brokenness over one's own sin.
"Yielding to the Lord, submission – that is salvation...and not just saying, 'I believe this, I believe that.'"
Graham says occasionally people who have "a drastic conversion experience" almost immediately make plans to enter the ministry. The Apostle Paul, he says, is one such example. He also compared Paul's story to Greene's, because both men once persecuted the church, both underwent a drastic change and God used blindness to bring both of them to Himself.
Greene, who still believes that homosexuality is an acceptable practice, says after he finishes his ministry studies he wants to lead a gay-affirming congregation. He claims that the verses that discuss homosexuality in the Bible are misinterpreted by many Christians today.
One of the major factors in his changing his beliefs, Greene says, was his own self-study of the Bible. One thing that was convincing to him, he says, was the great number of people who were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ.