An observation: I know a few people who were proper atheists then came to faith, I know quite a few people who left their religion and became atheists, I know one person who was an atheist, was converted, then later returned to their atheism, I know people who’ve been through various religious identities and ended up either as religious or as an atheist. But I don’t know anyone who has left a strong religious commitment for atheism who’s then later been converted back to faith.
I’m sure there are many such folks, but I don’t know any.
Changes in religious identity are common. It is common to change within a religion (many of my friends have moved from evangelical to liberal Christian, for example), and to a slightly lesser extent between faiths (Buddhism seems to be a popular destination for ex-Christians here in the west). I think it is important to remember that these are changes of identity rather than necessarily belief. The beliefs of many Christians are indistinguishable from those of many atheists. The difference is where one chooses to find one’s identity.
I wonder if the often painful process of losing one’s faith inoculates to some extent against finding another faith attractive in the future.
Being an atheist isn’t any guarantee that one won’t be converted later on (much to the chagrin of some atheists I’ve met who like to suggest — in a irony of epic proportion — that the converted person wasn’t a ‘real’ atheist in the first place). There are plenty of people raised religious, who declare themselves atheists in their late teens then find faith later on. But maybe the process of becoming an atheist, particularly if that becoming is a painful process, makes it more likely that you will struggle to give yourself wholeheartedly to something later.
I’m not saying it is impossible, and it may be a quirk of my circle of friends, but it does seem notable.
Does it chime with your experience? Are you confident you won’t throw over your current religious identity at some point in the future? If not, what could sway you?