There is a long history of false claims of deathbed conversions becoming popular among what we might loosely call the religious right. From Jefferson to Darwin to Bertrand Russell, it seems that no man whose beliefs conflict with those of the faithful can be allowed to die without the fashioning of stories about how their last moments were filled with terror at the thought of hell and how they cried out to God and converted on the spot, admitting that all that they had believed was untrue. So when I came across this article by Greg Laurie in the Worldnutdaily about “famous last words”, I just had to read it.
To Laurie’s credit, he doesn’t repeat the ridiculous Lady Hope story of Darwin’s deathbed conversion. He also leaves Jefferson alone, thankfully. And while he doesn’t claim that Voltaire converted, he does try to build some sort of moral lesson into his death through his nurse:
And on his deathbed, a nurse who attended him was reported to have said, “For all the wealth in Europe, I would not see another atheist die.”
What this is supposed to highlight other than the nurse’s ignorance, I have no idea. Of course, it also highlights Laurie’s ignorance, as he also declares Voltaire to be an atheist:
History tells the story of the renowned atheist Voltaire, who was one of the most aggressive antagonists of Christianity.
But Voltaire was not an atheist, renowned or otherwise. He was a deist (he actually used the word for “theist” instead of deist) who believed strongly in a Creator to whom we owe a moral obligation. Laurie here simply makes the most common mistake made by fundamentalists, assuming that anything non-Christian is atheism.