In anecdotes, atheist deathbed conversions refers famous atheists or assumed atheists that converted "out of atheism" and into theism in their last days, or during their last words; or, conversely, took peculiar precautions to make sure they would not utter theistic nonsense while delusional in their last moments.

In 1677, Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), who was ranked by Pierre Bayle in 1682 as the "greatest atheist there ever was", took some very peculiar steps in his last days to prevent himself from saying anything in his last moments that might conflict with his new geometrical theory of natural ethics; this was summarized by Bayle as follows: [1]

“Spinoza, sensing that he was near his end, had his landlady come and begged her to prevent any minister from coming to see him in that condition. His reason was, as is known from one of his friends [Adriaan Paets, according to Verniere], that he wished to die without a dispute and that he feared falling into some weakness of the understanding which would make him say something that could be used against his principles. This is to say that he feared that it would be spread about in the world that, when facing death, his conscience having awoken, it made him give the lie to his bravery and renounce his sentiments. Can a more ridiculous and more extreme vanity be seen than this one, and a crazier passion for the false idea one forms of constancy?”


In 1778, Voltaire (1694-1778) [HD:9] [FA:38] ended, supposedly, with the following quizzical last words:

“I am abandoned by god and man; I shall go to hell! I will give you half of what I am worth, if you give me six months life.”
Voltaire (1778), supposed last words [2]

“I am abandoned by god and man. I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months of life. Then I shall go to hell and you will go with me, oh, Christ, oh, Jesus Christ!”
— Voltaire (1788), variant of what he reportedly said to his attending physician (Ѻ)


In 1809, Thomas Paine (1737-1809) [HD:15][FA:49], as some American believers claimed, died “howling and terrified”, recanting his assaults on organized religion and the reliability of the Bible. [3]

“I would give worlds, if I had them, that the Age of Reason had never been published. Oh, god, save me; for I am at the edge of hell alone.”
Thomas Paine (1809), supposed last words [2]



In 1821, Napoleon Bonaparte, being an agnostic irreligionist most of his existence, in his last three weeks, professed belief in god:

“I am neither atheist nor a rationalist; I believe in god and am of the religion of my father. I was born Catholic, and will fulfill all the duties of the church.”
— Napoleon Bonaparte (1821), statement three weeks before reaction end, Apr 18

Curiously, here we see some sort of Pascal’s wager like fear creeping into his mind, at the last moment?

See main: Neumann on god
In 1957, Hungarian-born American polymath John Neumann (1903-1957), the last of the last universal geniuses, who was raised in an ecumenical non-serious Jewish family, who defined themselves as Jewish, for reasons of "tradition", who, in his first marriage, nominally converted to Catholicism, albeit presenting himself as agnostic throughout his days to his friends and associates, but who in his last months on his death bed, Apr/May 1956 to his last day of existence on 8 Feb 1957, had Roman Catholic priest Anselm Strittmatter stay by his side, wherein he expressed great fear of death, and asked to have Pascal's wager administered to hims so that he wouldn't have to endure the possibility of eternal damnation.

In 1980, French famously atheist existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), lover of famous atheist Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), supposedly, stated a belief in god, contrary to his entire philosophical corpus. Sartre, in his latter year, began to waver on his atheistic beliefs, leaning, in the end, towards Judaism. In 1974, in an interview with Simone de Beauvoir, his lover, he stated: (Ѻ)

“I see myself as a being that could, it seems, only come from a creator. This, however, is not a clear, exact idea.”

In 1980, while on his deathbed, in conversation with Pierre Victor, he supposedly said the following: [4]

“I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to god.”

The 1996 book Hope Now: the 1980 Interviews (Ѻ) goes into this deconversion episode.

In circa 2008, famous new atheism leader Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) stated in video interview somewhere that if, per chance, on his deathbed, while heavily sedated and or hallucinating, that he speaks about belief in god, it will not be a statement of sanity, or something to this affect. He held to his word to his end and remained an atheist. His son Alexander Hitchens described his last days as follows: [3]

“On the deathbed conversion – I spent my father’s final weeks and days at his bedside and watched him draw his final breath and die, and can assure you that there was no hint of any sort of conversion (as I’m sure you have already guessed). In fact, we barely spoke about religion at all except for joint expressions of frustration at the god botherers who made the rounds in the ICU and other units where dying people could be preyed upon by vulturous Christians.”

In 2016, writer Larry Taunton published The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist (Ѻ), based on two road trips he took with Hitchens in his last year, wherein he stated that Hitchens privately "not certain" about his atheism despite what he led the public to believe. This was ballooned by the media to the effect the effect that Taunton's book spoke of a deathbed deconversion and that Hitchens "accepted god" before death. (Ѻ) Hitchens' son described this as a "bloody book".

1. (a) Bayle, Pierre. (1682). Various Thoughts on the Occasion of the Comet (Pensées Diverses sur l'Occasion de la Comète) (pg. 227) (translator: Robert C. Barlett). SUNY, 2000.
(b) Verniere, Paul. (1954). Spinoza et la pensée française avant la Révolution (pg. 30). Presses Universitaires de France.
(c) Bunge, Wiep van; Krop, Henri; Steenbakkers, Piet; van de Ven, Jeroen M.M. (2014). The Bloomsbury Companion to Spinoza (pg. 86). Bloomsbury.
2. Zuck, Roy B. (1997). The Speaker’s Quote Book: Over 4,500 Illustrations and Quotations for All (§:Dying Words, pg. 124) (Ѻ). Kregel Academic.
3. Cohen, Nick. (2016). “Deathbed conversion? Never. Christopher Hitchens was Defiant to the Last” (Ѻ), The Guardian, Jun 4.
4. (a) Molnar, Thomas. (1982). “Jean-Paul Sartre, RIP: A Late Return”, National Review, 34:677, Jun 11.
(b) McDowell, Josh, J. Stewart, Don. (1982). Handbook of Today’s Religions (Existentialism) (Ѻ). Publisher.
(c) Zacharias, Ravi. (2008). The End of Reason: a Response to the New Atheists (pg. 43). Zondervan.

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