Throughout the month of February, this column will be featuring stories of noted atheists who experienced dramatic shifts in their views, eventually becoming Christians. The stories will highlight the reasons why they held their atheistic views to begin with, and the reasons they became convinced of the truth of Christianity.
In 1983, the world-famous illusionist, David Copperfield, made the world (and his live audience) gasp, as he made the entire Statue of Liberty vanish before their eyes on live television. This monumental illusion would make Copperfield’s name in the world of popular performers, and remain an iconic event in stage illusion history.
The genius behind this, and many other of Copperfield’s illusions, was a man named Andre Kole. A famous magician in his own right, Kole is arguably the most world-traveled illusionist to-date, having performed in 79 countries around the world for over 20 years.
There is a trope common among illusionists, going back as far as the great Houdini: while making a profession of tricking others, illusionists like to expose tricksters.
Over the ages, one can form long lists of illusionists who have made it their hobby to investigate the paranormal and supernatural to expose it for exactly what it is: spectacle being perpetrated upon the human mind. Illusionists have the tendency to be among the harshest of skeptics, certain that if one examines the supernatural long enough, they will find, at the bottom, a cheap trick.
Kole was just such a person. In addition to designing illusions for others, and doing personal performances, Kole spent a great deal of time investigating and discrediting such things as psychic phenomena, transcendental levitation, dematerialization, the Bermuda Triangle mystery, the occult, communication with the dead, and, of course, his pet obsession, the so-called “miracles” of Jesus.
Kole describes that this obsession began when he started thinking how easy it would be to start his own religion using simple illusions to fool innocent people into following him. He says that during the time he was contemplating this, he went to church, and felt strangely warmed by the experience. As a result, he lost any interest in starting his own religion, but the next logical thought was: were the miracles of Jesus cheap tricks, themselves?
The problem with Jesus’ miracles (especially the resurrection) is that there was never any broad attempt to discredit them in the ancient literature. Even his enemies simply credited them to the work of demons. The miracles are even recorded in works external to scripture, such as the Hebrew Talmud, which credit them to witchcraft.
For an illusionist such as Kole, the question was, could Jesus have been a just a talented hoaxer? A man capable of fooling large groups of people into thinking that he was capable of doing special things, when he was simply a clever trickster? A man like that could, as Kole himself had noted, start his own religion.
Kole recalls a quote he had read at the time from influential atheist, one Dr. Paul Kurtz,
“The reason Christianity has succeeded for so long suggests that Jesus was extremely successful at his craft, and perhaps the most successful magician who’s ever lived.”
Kole took up the challenge. He would expose Jesus for the fraud he truly was.
Kole began to replicate some of Jesus’ most famous tricks. Turning water to wine was a simple illusion magicians had been doing for ages, but he became the first person in history to give public demonstrations in the middle of a deep, flowing lake, impressing crowds as he walked on the water. What concerned Kole was the time and expense involved in creating these illusions. Said Kole:
“If Jesus had been a magician, then you would have to visualize, 2000 years ago, Jesus and the disciples, walking through the desert streets of Galilee, in long robes and sandals, with three diesel trucks following along behind to carry all of the equipment necessary for him to be a magician.”
But more than the time and expense was the amount of conspiracy involved. As a professional illusionist, Kole knew from experience that a single performer could not possibly “replicate” hundreds of pounds of bread from five loaves and two fish, or seemingly make dead people rise and blind people see without an extraordinary amount of surreptitious cooperation with those involved. Yet there were never any accounts from disciples or others exposing him from the perspective of the behind-the-scenes operators of his illusions. The amount of conspiratorial secrecy which would have been involved in covering up for his trickery would have been staggering, to say the least. Kole reasonably pointed out that Judas could have betrayed Jesus far more easily by exposing his tricks – but never did.
Finally, after digging as deeply as he could into the miracle accounts, Kole realized these might just be the real thing. Said Kole:
“It was through my investigations from the point of view of a magician that really led me to eventually receiving Christ. I think the best description of my conversion was Jeremiah, where God said, ‘You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.’”
Kole’s conversion did nothing to slacken his harshness on “supernatural” demonstrations. He continued in his campaign to discredit astrology, psychics and fortune telling, going so far as to offer a $1 million reward at one point if someone could prove a statement made in a Jamaican newspaper to the effect that Satan was endowing supernatural powers to people.
Andre Kole is possibly the most respected name among illusionists currently living, his illusions and inventions having become something of a trade secret among stage performers everywhere. In addition to his broad travels – spending roughly 60% of his time on the road performing since he began his career, his performances have been televised in 40 countries. With his continuing quest to discredit the supernatural, Kole bills himself as a “Christian Skeptic.”