“God has guided my steps in life, saved me from some wrong decisions, and when I have made mistakes, He has helped me to admit my mistakes and learn from them.” (Dumitru Borţun)

You grew up and went to school at a time when atheism was state policy. Did you have a religious or spiritual influence?

There was a religious influence, but it was weak, intermittent and without any major impact on my spiritual orientation: an icon in my maternal grandmother’s room (“Jesus on the Mount of Olives”), which I looked at with a kind of mystical awe; Easter and Christmas customs, accompanied by childish joys such as Santa Claus (presents!) or the Easter Bunny (more presents!); the festive dinners where the whole family gathered, the regular visits to the Orthodox cathedral in Alexandria where my grandmother would take my sister, brother, and me to receive Holy Communion before Easter—visits from which I remember an atmosphere on the borderline between the intelligible and the incomprehensible: a shadow cast by the hazy candlelight, lots of smoke and the smell of incense. But I didn’t receive a religious education, not because the political regime forbade it, but because my parents were atheists. The good thing was that I didn’t learn hypocrisy from my family, as many children do, and the bad thing was that I didn’t have early contact with the Bible and a personal relationship with God. I read the main books—the Pentateuch, the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Revelation—later, when I was a student, but only as cultural products whose historical significance I was aware of, but that was all.

I find relevant my relationship with the Adventists I had as classmates in high school, most of whom came from the villages around Alexandria, some of them real centres of Adventism in the Danube plain. They were more humble than the others, more conscientious in their studies, and very talented in music (almost all of them could play one or more instruments). Being tone deaf, I had great admiration for them. At one point I suggested that we start a high school orchestra and after much persuasion I convinced them, but only after assuring them that we would only play decent songs with a moral message. We gave several concerts, which I arranged, mostly to students in the town. This is how God works: a tone deaf man leading an orchestra, an atheist leading an Adventist band! Maybe He wanted me to meet these wonderful people who are His children.

In what ways has God broken down the wall of atheism and materialism?

I like the way you phrased the question, because it is indeed a wall, a hard one to break through. Systems of ideas have a peculiarity that we usually neglect: they become elements of the identity of the one who holds them, which makes them immune to arguments and facts. If you attack someone’s idea, they feel attacked themselves; if you suggest they accept a new idea, they feel it is a threat to their own identity. That’s why a personal, sometimes even intimate experience can be more effective in breaking through the wall you’re talking about.

I myself had such an experience. When I was about ten years old, I was home alone, wandering around the garden, when I heard an unidentified but familiar voice calling me by my first name; the voice came from somewhere above the trees in the garden and called out to me twice every few seconds, like someone calling out to you once more to reassure you that it wasn’t just your imagination. Of course, there was no one, and no one could be in those trees.

A few years later the experience was repeated in identical circumstances. From that moment on, I lived with the feeling that “someone up there loves me”, as I liked to say, inspired by the title of Robert Wise’s well-known film Somebody Up There Likes Me, which had been shown on public television (a film about the life of the boxer Rocky Graziano, played by Paul Newman). Now that I know a little more about the principles and methods of divine pedagogy, I am convinced that God has guided my steps in life, kept me from making bad choices, and when I have made mistakes, helped me to acknowledge my mistakes and learn from them. I believe that I have had the chance to be one of those whom the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 2:14-15: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”

How could the sense of the existence—”up there”—of a protector and an atheistic view of the world coexist in my consciousness? It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. A worldview is not just a picture of the world, it gives meaning to the world and gives us a purpose in life. That is why it is so difficult to change our religion or to move from atheism to theism and from indifferentism to faith. When our totalising view (of the world, of life, and of ourselves) is contradicted by a fact, an argument, or just a feeling, we usually protect the core beliefs that form the heart of our view and come up with all sorts of explanations, justifications, and convenient reinterpretations.

The philosopher Karl Popper called them “ad hoc hypotheses”; they are ad hoc because they are developed by our mind for one purpose: to save our overall conception. This is how it is possible for a religious intuition to coexist with a materialistic conception: layers of justifications are inserted between the intuition and the axioms of the conception, making us blind to the contradiction between facts and fundamental beliefs. When this contradiction becomes apparent, the whole old system collapses: a conversion takes place!

When and how did God reveal the truth of salvation to you?

I believe that if I had discovered God through philosophical meditation, I would have known a “God of philosophers”, as Pascal said, and not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You can only meet Him by studying the holy books under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or, more simply, by being born into a family of believers where you can receive the Word from a young age.

We have to understand that the whole non-religious culture in post-war Romania was of Enlightenment origin, and I would have been educated the same way with or without the Communists. The Enlightenment paradigm was the basis of the reform that Spiru Haret made in Romanian schools at the beginning of the 20th century, through which Romanian public education tried to imitate the education of modern countries, i.e. Western Europe and the United States of America. Well, my mother, who had graduated from the normal school conceived by Spiru Haret, was profoundly enlightened—from her conception of the world to the mission she assumed: to contribute to the “spiritual emancipation of the people.” What could my brothers and I do? We had no choice. Enlightenment at school, enlightenment at home…

My conversion was prepared by a rather long process that lasted several years. It was a process of deconstruction: the gradual dismantling of the Enlightenment view of the world and of life, which is the pride of modern scientists in being able to know the world per se, without recourse to the idea of God; the almost fanatical belief in the capacity of human reason to understand the world in its totality; science as the source of man’s power over nature;  the unlimited capacity of humans to transform nature for their own benefit, to shape it according to their values—in short, to humanise it; humans as the supreme value of the known universe—on the one hand, as the supreme product of the evolution of the material world, on the other, as the author of the noosphere, the creator of civilisation; finally, a new meaning of life: no longer salvation, but the search for happiness in the world below Heaven.

As a student of philosophy, I understood first of all that the world cannot be the creation of chance; then that human reason is not omnipotent, that there are principled limits to rational knowledge (Kant’s aporias, Gödel’s theorem, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the failure of the logicians of the Vienna Circle to rationalise language); that human reason is not equally shared by all people, as Descartes believed, nor universal, as Hegel believed; that cultural relativism, through its effects on the theory of knowledge and morality, leads us into epistemological and ethical dead ends, that it is contradictory in itself; that we cannot, nevertheless, return to the Enlightenment fiction of a human nature that is homogeneous and capable of self-realisation by its own means; finally, I gave up the belief that human nature could be radically changed by ingenious social engineering, that a just and prosperous society could be built in this world.

After the revolution of 1989, it became clear to me that the failure of this project so far was not due to the lack of ingenuity of the Romanian communists, ignorant and greedy as we knew them to be, but to the essential facts of human nature, which is “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).

My conversion was prepared by a long intellectual process of decentering from the ideas I had grown up with as a child, developed at school, and fixed in college.

But the decisive role was played by my present wife, Corina, whom I met at the age of 58. I tell you this because in Corina’s case we have an example of the combination of reason and faith, of the ability to argue and the strength of faith—a combination that produces an amazing power of persuasion. Later, we also discovered the source of the inspired way of persuasion in matters of faith: it is Jesus himself, of whom the Jews noted that “His words had authority” (Luke 4:32). 

With Corina, I discovered how faith can also be transmitted directly, as if by Bluetooth, without the need for arguments and empirical evidence, which are debatable in any case. Faith transmits faith! I am convinced that God has taken care of everything as an expression of His love for me. He guided my mind in the process of intellectual decentering, and He also sent me Corina, whom He gave me as my wife and witness. For God draws us to Himself with “cords of human kindness” (Hosea 11:4).

At the end of the day, every conversion is a miracle. We could leave it there, in a state of enigma. I think we have to get used to accepting and enjoying the miracle in our lives.

How has your conversion and understanding of God affected your academic work? Have your relationships with colleagues and students changed?

In lectures I have started to give examples or quotes from the Bible—either from the parables of Jesus or from the Psalms or Proverbs. I don’t insist on it too much for several reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m making religious propaganda at the college (which is also forbidden by law).

Secondly, because I don’t want to set an example of someone who hijacks public office for the sake of personal values or interests—something I often see in others and which I don’t find honest.

Thirdly, because it is not advisable from the point of view of effective communication: in a speech, any abusive repetition of concepts specific to an ideological formation discredits the speaker—which means that the audience loses confidence in his objectivity and principles.

I care very much about the Truth, but I believe that it should be told properly: when it should be told, to whom it should be told, and sometimes it is better not to tell it at all, so as not to jeopardise its chances of being promoted. The most important thing is to promote God’s truth and, in the words of Francis of Assisi, to use words when necessary.

I have not noticed any change in my dealings with colleagues, but neither have I made public the change in my status. It is a personal, even very intimate, aspect of my life and I do not feel the need to discuss it with others. Anyone who follows me on social media, in podcasts and on Hope TV, as well as on YouTube, where recordings of sermons given in churches in Bucharest and around the country are posted, knows who I am and whom I worship; I have told several times how I was converted and why I was baptised.

Let me be clear: it is not that I am ashamed of Jesus and His words, as it says in Luke 9:26. It’s about avoiding pointless and tiresome discussions that won’t produce useful results unless the conditions are right. Think of it as an application of the parable of the sower!

You are often invited on television to comment on events and situations in society. How does your faith shape these public speeches?

You have asked an interesting question, because there are some things that happen here that are relevant for those who study the phenomenon of conversion. It has happened to me on several occasions that when I was in a television studio giving my opinion on a recent event, I found myself reverting to my former value orientations—for example, lamenting the resistance of some people to “progress”, just as I did when I hoped that people could make a better world for themselves here on earth. My wake-up call is Corina, who tells me: “The old man in you has spoken again!” But usually I reaffirm my belief in divine justice, refer to the sacred text, and promote Christian morality.

The question of the future is crucial, and I believe it is part of this package we call “conversion”.

At the moment I am finishing the manuscript of a book called Project Romania, on which I have been working hard and in which I propose a better future for my country. After a recent sermon I heard in Râmnicu Vâlcea, in which a pastor from the Republic of Moldova, Ilie Vâlcu, spoke about the war in Ukraine from the perspective of biblical prophecy, I asked Corina if there was any point in publishing my book. She told me that it should be published; in her opinion, we should not be passive waiters, and our activity in favour of good over evil should not cease just because Bible prophecy points us in a certain direction. It is precisely in the light of this that we owe it to ourselves to do what depends on us to promote among our fellow people the good whose divine origin we know.

Your communication skills and experience are needed in the life of the Church, from the local Church to the national leadership. Is there a real interest in improving communication practices and do you have the opportunity to contribute?

There is a real interest in improving communication in the church and I am very happy about that. I don’t know if this is noticed outside the country, but I would like to tell you that the Adventist Church in Romania is going through a good period in terms of the quality of human resources. After the 1989 revolution, a generation of very well-educated pastors has emerged, with a deep and systematic knowledge of the Bible, with interpersonal communication and public speaking skills, people who are very well versed in the new media; some of them edit publications of the highest quality, such as the magazine Signs of the Times, and others are real “television people”, able to produce and present interesting programmes that are useful both to our brothers and to our fellows outside the church. These pastors have not stopped reading, they continue their studies in the country and abroad, attending post-graduate courses, obtaining Masters and Doctorates. In this context, the concern for more effective communication in the Church is natural; it seems to come by itself.

As for any kind of consulting activity, I would not exaggerate its dimensions, although I am always ready to put my expertise at the service of the Church, whether in public communication or in the design of a permanent communication strategy, not only when a crisis needs to be managed. Just recently, I met via Zoom with pastors of the Muntenia Conference, to whom I spoke about “remedies” against media intoxication and about a proactive communication policy of the Church, a continuous communication, not only reacting to one-off events (what I called reactive communication).

The Church is described in prophecy as a universal communicator (“to the inhabitants of the earth”) and competent for every sub-group (“every tongue” etc.). How can we achieve such an extraordinary ability to communicate?

I believe that God will provide it. However, the process of globalisation has widened the range of possibilities, making instant global communication possible. I think you have noticed that in the human world, distances are getting shorter and the pace of events is accelerating. In technical terms, it’s called “length contraction” (the planet is getting smaller) and “time dilation” (more and more events are happening in a unit of time). It’s just like in the physical universe, where we know from Albert Einstein that in inertial systems, space contracts and time dilates.

God’s ways are mysterious, and miracles are among them; we also know that the Second Coming will not take place until the Gospel is made known to the whole world: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Revelation 14:6).

Therefore, the children of God in every church have a duty to be part of the divine plan for the salvation of souls and to press forward in proclaiming it. The rest, how it is done, the necessary resources, inspiration and fruit, He Himself shall provide.

Dumitru Borţun is one of Romania’s leading specialists in communication and public relations, a prolific author and an informed commentator on public life. God patiently cracked the edifice of atheism inherited from his family and reinforced by years of education controlled by the communist regime.