An Atheist’s Last Stand: Jennifer Fulwiler’s Journey to the Catholic Church

“What was wrong with me that I had to leave a place that I loved in many ways because I couldn’t be around religious people?  Why was I always so close to an existential crisis that I couldn’t function like a normal person?  

Nobody struggled with that kind of thing.  The other atheists I knew didn’t seem to have any problem with the fleetingness of human life.  I’d never met anyone else who seemed troubled by the insanity of religious fervor, or who had their thoughts constantly drifting in the bleakest directions.”

–Jennifer Fulwiler, Something Other Than God

*     *     *     *     *

In Surprised by Joy, the the Irish writer and scholar C.S. Lewis wrote,

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”

That was the problem, it seemed, for Jennifer Fulwiler.  Jen tells her story in her candid autobiography, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It, released this year by Ignatius Press.

Raised in a happy atheist home, Jen Fulwiler looked at believers with skepticism, finding their faith untenable and their contentment simplistic.

But something was wrong.  She had a successful career, a smart wardrobe, was upwardly mobile.  What could be missing?

Jen’s spiritual journey took her to some surprising places:  Not content to know only that saints were in heaven, she wondered, What about rapper Tupac Shakur?

Her careful study led her from feminism and a strong support for abortion, to realizing that the tiny life in the womb was, indeed, a human being created by God and deserving of life.

And all the while, it seemed that God was tugging on her sleeve.  In fact, it was the little coincidences that showed God at work in Jen’s life that left me smiling at the end of the story.  This is what I mean:

When I faced a new problem with the possibility of getting this house, I decided to give prayer a shot.  I did a mental comparison of what we had in our storage facility and what was lacking if we were seriously going to be homeowners, and I came up with a specific list:  We’d need a refrigerator, a lawn mower, a washer/dryer, and a bed.  A coffee table and a couch for the second family room upstairs would be helpful, too.  And we could afford none of those things.

Okay, God, that’s what we need, I said after reciting the list.  I assume that if we need them, you’ll show us how to get them.   If you don’t, I’ll assume we don’t really need them.

That night at dinner, we told my mom about the house over bowls of spaghetti topped with a meaty sauce she’d simmered all afternoon.

She used her fork to point to the west.  “Did you say it was in Oak Brook?  The neighborhood right over there?”

“Yeah.  It’s about twenty blocks from here,” I said.

…My mom thought for a minute, then looked up from her plate.  “You know, if you do get this house, could I give you my refrigerator?”

“What?” I said.  I remembered the prayer I’d said just hours before.  I’d told nobody about it, not even Joe.

“This house came with black appliances, and I’ve been wanting to get a matching refrigerator for a while.  I just didn’t know what to do with this white one.  Could you use it?”

…The next morning, Joe sent me an email saying that Allan had called.  Allan said that his new place in Dallas was a master planned neighborhood where the lawn care was taken care of by the homeowners’ association.  He planned to leave us the lawn mower, weed eater, and leaf blower as gifts if we bought the house.

…A few hours later, the phone rang.  Nothing showed up on the caller ID, and as soon as I heard the low hissing in the background, I knew it was my dad calling from Abu Dhabi.

…We chatted for a while, making jokes about the challenges that he would face while living on Cayman Island, like sunburn and melted pina colada.  And then, just as we were about to end the call, he added, “Oh, by the way, this apartment is furnished, and I have a bunch of stuff in storage that I don’t know what to do with.”  He asked me if I had any use for a series of items, which included a washer/dryer, a couch, a bed, and a coffee table.

I heartily recommend Something Other Than God.  Well written and full of fun, it offers insights for those who might be exploring faith, and heaps of encouragement for those who have already taken the step toward the Catholic faith.

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  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    She’s a great lady and I love her story.

  • TheSquirrel

    I feel sorry for people who are swayed by emotional arguments and anecdotes.

    • ucfengr

      Why? Does not being swayed by such things make you a better person than they? Happier?

      • TheSquirrel

        No, it really doesn’t.
        Edit: Misread the intention of your response. The answer remains the same. It has nothing to do with being a better or happier person, it has to do with the truth and falling for logical fallacies.

      • TheSquirrel

        Happiness has nothing to do with it. When one succumbs to logical fallacies, ones beliefs are not based in reason. If you are to believe in your god you must have more than fuzzy feelies. Unless you believe your god can only be known through faith… then you are in good company with every other religion and are no different from them.

        • MattB

          Why do you think Jesus was a myth? I’ve seen your comments on debate.org

          • TheSquirrel

            I don’t think he is a myth. I think that the assumption that he was an actual person is a stretch that is not sufficiently supported by evidence.
            The posts on debate.org are way old, I was a bit of a jerk about it, and left to cool my head. While I did so, I had time to think over my position. It seems most likely that the Jesus of the bible is at least based on a couple different actual people, if not an actual singular individual. But there is not sufficient evidence to assume that such is the case, it’s just what I think is the most probable situation.

          • MattB

            But Jesus wasn’t based on multiple people or figures. The evidence we have for Jesus is very well good, considering that many people from the 1st century have little to no contemporary records available.

          • TheSquirrel

            Do you mind siting which sources you feel are good? And if you don’t me asking, what if anything does this have to do with to subject of the article and the subsequent thread? Not that I’m not happy to discuss the subject with you, I just don’t want to hijack the thread…

          • MattB

            Sorry. I didn’t mean to hijack the thread. I just recognized you off DDO. I would be delighted to cite you sources.

            Bart Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist?(Great book by a secular historian)

            Maurice Casey: Jesus: Arguments and Evidence or Mythicist Myths?(Another good book to which I haven’t read but is written by a secular historian.

            Michael Grant: Jesus: An Historians Review of the Gospels(Book that I own and Grant himself is also secular).

            These are just a few but there are plenty more if you’re interested:)

          • TheSquirrel

            Ah… books. Books are not something I can just pick up and read and get right back to you on, but I suppose I could take a look at them sometime… The whole “Jesus, did he or didn’t he” thing is something I’m not really into anymore. I got real burnt out on it and eventually realized, either way, I just don’t care that much, so I doubt that I will. It’s been a while, I’ll probably start getting back into DDO now that I’m not such a dickhole about stuff, so I’ll see you around there I suppose. Maybe even engage you in a debate on this very subject. Might be a while though. Like I said, I got burnt out.

          • MattB

            I understand. But, if you want to, any NT scholar or any historian of classics(antiquity) would be of help to you because they are at an almost unaninmous agreement regarding Jesus’ existence. Thank God for google right? :)))))

          • TheSquirrel

            Meh… again, it’s just not something I really care about anymore.

          • MattB

            Understood. Well, hope you have a great day:)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

    • oregon nurse

      Because when evidence that God answered a prayer is too uncomfortable, it has to be dismissed as emotional argument and anecdote lest one be forced to question their ‘lack of evidence of God’ arguments.

      • TheSquirrel

        If I pray to god to let a coin toss land on heads and it does so, I should praise god. If it lands on tails, I shall forget it and move on. We remember the hits and forget the misses.
        Show me evidence of god “answering” a prayer that couldn’t have occurred in the natural course of time. Explain how every culture has had faith that prayers to their god are answered, but they are all wrong and you are correct.

        • Laurence Charles Ringo

          Let me offer a small testimony”squirrel”which I’m sure you’ll scoff at, but perhaps it will encourage someone else. In 1984 I was an what you call erring Christian who was out of communion and fellowship with my Heavenly Father (in fact, I was in jail.) One day, I felt it stongly impressed upon my heart and mind that I shouldn’t be smoking. I was a pack-a-day smoker at the time (pack-and-half if I was drinking) ,and in that jail cell all I could really do was.smoke, think, and whine over my own stupidity for being there in the first place.At any rate, Almighty God began to deal with me in a loving, gentle way, leading me away from my own folly, not condemning but loving as a true father does. When He spoke to me about my smoking, at that moment my new-found desire met His ability to free me from the habit. Squirrel, I got on my knees a smoker and got up a non-smoker, and I NEVER SMOKED AGAIN. No withdrawal, no cravings, nothing, from that day to this, almost 30 years later. (I was freed from drink and drugs 4 months later, and again, NEVER went back. So…scoff if you will, try to explain it away if you will. I’ve eyewitnesses who have known me my whole life who can testify under oath to God’s delivering power, miraculous power.So, do with my testimony what you will, Squirrel. There it is.

          • TheSquirrel

            Explain it away??? How is this evidence your god exists?
            Funny you should use that experience as an example. Minus the god parts you could be describing my own life not too long ago. So yeah, I scoff.

          • Laurence Charles Ringo

            Of course you scoff, Squirrel! As I intimated, I fully expected you to. Sad.It dawned on me earlier, a sort of epiphany if you will, that encounters with the prescence and power of Christ is akin to trying to describe the Grand Canyon to a blind person;they just can’t see it, literally.Vis-a-vis my instantaneous delivery from the addiction of nicotine by Christ, it can’t be explained, it must be experienced. In that sense, I could talk to you until I’m blue in the face, and you’ll NEVER get it.My apologies to you. GOD BLESS! !”

          • TheSquirrel

            You predicted your argument would be unconvincing. How nice.
            You
            think the grand canyon is indescribable without visual metaphors. You
            are incorrect. Further more, you are telling me that I have to believe
            to receive my proof. Not only is that not how proof works (the opposite,
            actually) but I did believe for over 20 years. Never got my proof. I
            already told you I also quite smoking without withdrawal or craving just
            as you described, no god required. Actually, it wasn’t until I became
            an atheist that I quit, so your story means less than nothing.
            Your “description” of the sense of god is not unique to your religion, nor is it unique to religion. The sense of god that I received as a christian is still with me when I think of the love of my wife, the beauty of nature and the immensity of the universe.

          • Laurence Charles Ringo

            Sigh.I suppose you and I will to agree to disagree, Squirrel . Whatever it was you believed, but I have been a servant of God in Christ for 38 years, since 1974.(I was 22 years old.) Me being saved by my Savior is proof enough for me; I would describe THAT experience, but I’ve withstood enough scoffing for now! (LOL! ) At any rate, I wish you well, and if I offended you in any way, my pardon. -GOD BLESS!

          • TheSquirrel

            Offended? Hardly! You’ve been quite civil. -Peace out!

    • jessej

      I was swayed by an inordinate number of emotional arguments to marry my wife. Now I’m being swayed by those silly emotions to love my wife and 9 month old son.

      Silly emotions :)

      • TheSquirrel

        Congrats! Love is great!
        Now explain how that has anything to do with statements of actual fact like “god exists”? It’s not as if I’m saying emotions are bad, nor am I saying emotions shouldn’t be used to aid in decision making.
        But to use emotional arguments to decided matters of belief is dumb.

  • jessej

    I love my athiest friends and am often amazed by their ridicule of every strand that supports a conversion story. Personal experience is only one strand of evidence in a conversion story but never the only strand. And it’s a good strand. I don’t mock my friends when they say they are happier married then single, or are happier with children then without.

    I just put it in the plus category for marriage and children and move along happily.

    Maybe I should just tell them they haven’t proven anything, they’re superstitious and be bitter.

    • TheSquirrel

      Oh my gosh, she prayed for a refrigerator and then was offered a refrigerator!!! Must be the hand of god!!!
      No but really, feel free to provide actual evidence instead of emotional anecdotes…


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