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.
Frank Pastore made his biggest impact on the world as an up-and-coming pitcher, with a promising career, playing for the Cincinnati Reds in the early 80’s. His star rose quickly and he achieved the success and prosperity that came with being a big league athlete.
Beneath it all, however, he was a brooding agnostic: he looked with barely-contained contempt on his small group of Christian teammates living their naïve lives, believing in their ancient myths and praying to their imaginary man in the sky.
This attitude of condescension piled on top of unbelief possibly came from Pastore’s difficult childhood. Having been dragged by his mother through her series of failed marriages, Pastore was largely under her influence for the majority of his early life.
Interested in doing what it took to get the best for her child, Pastore’s mother discovered that the private religious school had the best programs. The down side being that she had to be a member of the religion, and Pastore’s mother was a stolid atheist with nothing but disdain for the religious. Nevertheless, she put on a pious front, interviewed as if she were sincere about her beliefs, and then instructed her son to do the same as he attended the school.
Pastore quickly found an affinity for sports, and especially for baseball, and his mother continued to manipulate the system to get him into the best sports programs to follow those interests.
By 1979, Pastore had accomplished what few men ever do: he was living his dream life. He was fresh out of High School and married to the head cheerleader. He was the youngest player in the National League and was subbing in for his boyhood idol, Tom Seaver.
Being an All-Star meant money, cars, condos and a trophy wife; but Pastore’s wife also knew that players had a reputation for booze, cocaine, gambling and sleeping around – especially on the road. Her plan to make sure that Pastore behaved himself was to encourage him to make friends with the Christians on the team.
The Christians were all nice guys: very friendly and encouraging, and Pastore was impressed with the quality of life he observed in them.
“I had to remind myself that “God” wasn’t real. He was merely a crutch for intellectual weaklings, an excuse for mediocrity and failure, a placebo for psychologically imbalanced people – although also an effective and soothing pacifier for whining, injured professional athletes.”
Pleasant as they could otherwise be, the irritating thing about hanging around Christians as often as he did was the fact that they frequently wanted to talk to him about God. Pastore had developed a technique for shrugging them off whenever they brought up the subject or attempted to evangelize him. He would simply pull any one of the innumerable questions from his catalogue of Christianity defeaters. Things like “What about retarded people who can’t understand about God and Jesus? Do they just go to Hell?” or “Why are there so many contradictions in the Bible?” When confronted with such questions, the Christians seemed to shy away and leave him alone, exactly as he had planned. Pastore considered himself well-read in authors such as Darwin, Marx, Freud, Hume and Kant, and far above the superstitious beliefs of the Christians.
Yet, while Pastore had all of the trappings of success, and was living his dream, he found it irritating in the extreme that the Christian athletes, whom he silently looked down upon, seemed happier and more content than he.
“The only guys on the team that seemed to be ‘together’ were the guys I regularly made fun of behind their backs, those religious fanatics who brought the Bible into the locker room and on road trips, those born-again Jesus freaks who believed in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and people rising from the dead.”
On June 4, 1984, in Dodger Stadium, Pastore pitched his last professional ball: a fastball to Dodger player Steve Sax, who slammed it back at Pastore, shattering the pitcher’s right elbow. Says Pastore:
“…everything seemed to be happening in slow motion – it was like a bad dream – and I just wanted to wake up from the nightmare. ‘Why, God? Why!?’ I prayed desperately on my way to the training room, but I had to remind myself no one was listening.”
With his body in agony and his career effectively over, one group still remained loyally at his side. Frank recalls the instance:
“As I walked into the training room, my small but faithful group of friends – the Christians – asked me whether I would mind if they prayed for me. ‘Of course you can pray!’ I said. ‘You can do anything you want if you think it’ll help.’ How cute, I thought, the religious fanatics want to pray for me. Isn’t that just like uneducated people to turn to a mythical god in a crisis situation?”
Anxious to help their injured friend in his catastrophe, the Christian teammates asked Frank to come to a party as he was recovering, and stay – if he chose – for a Bible study. Having turned them down for similar offers numerous times before, Frank caved and attended.
After the party, the group sat down for the study, pulled out their Bibles (Frank didn’t own one) and said an opening prayer.
After the opening prayer, Frank interrupted the group to launch into an angry tirade of invectives against God and religion. He pulled out all of the stops, pouring out his entire arsenal of atheistic arguments, with the maximum amount of blasphemy he could manage to produce. Every locker room insult he had reserved for Christians behind their backs, he stuck in their faces, informing them of just how foolish they were to believe the nonsense they believed, and producing every argument he had ever read, heard or thought of against God and Christianity. The Christians were floored, practically cowering before him as he seethed at them for around an hour.
When Frank finished, the room was deathly silent. The Bible Study was effectively over.
Afterwards, Wendel, the national director of Athletes in Action, humbly told Frank that he and the other guys didn’t want to live their lives according to lies and superstitions, and wondered if Frank wouldn’t mind taking a look at some books that claim to defend Christianity, and point out where they were wrong. Frank happily agreed to help. Wendel handed Frank several Apologetics books, including C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
Fully intending to once-and-for-all bury Christ and Christianity in its grave, Pastore launched into the books with pencil in hand, ready to mark up the margins with notes. His momentum slowed considerably when he found himself reading and re-reading the books over and over again during the next three weeks. He became confused, and far less confident on his views than ever before, and had to put up a front to his teammates who occasionally checked in on his progress.
Finally, in Pittsburgh, Frank sat in the clubhouse reading while the team played and it struck him:
“”Jesus, you’re alive!” I whispered.
“Simultaneously I had two powerful emotions. The first was joy – my sins could be forgiven! The second was anger – I was ticked off that I had been lied to my whole life. It was naturalistic evolution, secular humanism, and the other atheistic ideologies that were myths, not Christianity! Not once was I ever told there were good reasons to believe in God or Christianity.”
As soon as he was able, Frank assembled his Christian teammates. He found himself – a Christian of some hours old – training them in how to address the more difficult questions and how to be less naive when it came to responding to disbelief.
Ever since then, Pastore’s life drifted gradually in the direction of Christian ministry. Over the years he joined the staff of Athletes in Action and directed the Talbot Institute for Biblical Studies.
In 2012, Pastore was at the microphone of his long-time radio ministry on KKLA in Southern California.
That day, Pastore was talking about how humans were more than just the sum of their parts – that a person’s true identity lay in the transcendent, not in the material body. Said Pastore:
“I mean look, you guys know I ride a motorcycle don’t you? So, at any moment, especially with the idiot people who cross the diamond lane into my lane, alright, without any blinkers, not that I’m angry about it, but at any minute I could be spread out all over the 210 (Freeway), but that’s not me, that’s my body parts.”
Just three hours after he spoke these words into the microphone, these exact events transpired. Pastore was rushed to a hospital and, after a month in a coma, passed away.
Headlines read, “Christian Radio Personality Dies after Motorcycle Accident He Predicted,” and “Did Talk Show Host Give Prophetic Message on Night of Accident?”
Pastore is remembered for his wit and for his kindness and devotion to everyone who knew him.