And You Never Were a Scotsman!

And You Never Were a Scotsman! July 27, 2011

Jenifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary wrote a piece for the National Catholic Register (“5 Catholic Teachings That Make Sense to Atheists“) that has sparked a fusillade of atheist criticism.  For the record, although I disagree with a number of her examples, I think her goal of demonstrating that Catholicism is an internally consistent system is a reasonable one, and an important part of cross-religious dialogue.  I’ll get back to the substance of that argument tomorrow.

For now, I want to talk about one specific genre of criticism she’s getting: that she was never a real atheist to begin with.  One commenter wrote:

I read your original article, and as an atheist I did not agree with a single point (none of the teachings made “sense” to me”, and as PZ suggested, I am not convinced you had arrived at your previous atheism from an intellectual standpoint. It sounds as if you were just a theist in denial or in “thenial” – it happens all the time.

People who cross over, in either direction, tend to slammed for flying under false flags.  Jen gets accused of always being a closet theist, while John Loftus of Debunking Christianity is constantly being told he must not have really been a Christian, even though he used to be a committed and passionate pastor.  Although the critics disagree about religion, they agree on the proof of perfidy: the mere fact of leaving.

Both sides think that one of the transition directions is right and reasonable, so we need to come up with a better metric for detecting intellectual lightweights than the act of switching sides.  What could a convert do to demonstrate that they had truly been a strong and reasonable atheist?  How could an apostate convince their old parishoners that, until they discovered some crucial fact, they had been sincere in their faith?  Would passing an Intellectual Turing Test help?  Is this the kind of thing that could only be proven through long personal experience?

As I mentioned in the Handy Dandy Guide to Converting Me, I have friends who are intellectually rigorous atheists whose conversions would make a big impression on me, but I’ve had years to get acquainted with their skepticism   It’s hard to know someone else’s heart, especially on the basis of blog posts.  I follow Jen’s blog, and I’ll admit the most frustrating aspect of the archives is that she started blogging after she had already tilted very strongly toward the theist side.  I don’t get a strong sense of what kind of atheist she was before the blog, and some of what I have to go on (her take on biology and design) doesn’t bolster my confidence.

I don’t have a very good standard to go on, and plenty of what informs my gut is hard to put into words, so I’d love feedback from the commenters.

How do you gauge the validity of someone’s abandoned beliefs?

How could they convince you that they really used to agree with you?

How does this answer vary on either side of the Christian/Atheist divide?

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  • Anonymous

    YOU'RE ALIVE(!!!)

  • Patrick

    I'm not sure how anyone on either side could accomplish this, but…I can tell you that its differently relevant.When theists say that they used to be atheists, its usually with the intention of convincing you that they've considered and rejected the atheist position. But if the norm by which atheists judge things is whether they're logical and make sense, then that isn't important if you can't show WHY you rejected the atheist position.When atheists say they used to be theists, its usually with the same intent. But the relevance is different (with variations by denomination and variety of Christian theology, obviously). If someone believes that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is a self authenticating demonstration of the existence of God, AND they believe that they have had that experience, then knowing that someone else had the same experience and wasn't convinced is a categorical debunking unless some weasel room can be summoned, such as "wasn't really a Christian" or "still believes in God but is lying about it."

  • It's how she ends the article that I don't necessarily doubt she was an atheist, but I doubt her ability to reason effectively and actually understand the positions she seems to want to advocate:"Conversion is a long process that must involve an openness of heart in addition to intellectual understanding—and much more than our nonbelieving friends and family members need our explanations, they need our prayers."An "openness of heart"? No, no, no. Evidence, evidence, evidence. Verifiable, reproducible evidence, and a good reason for thinking that this evidence best fits under the scope of the Catholic tradition.

  • Kat (KL)

    (Seconding the "You're alive!" sentiment. I want more discussion of the Turing Test!)What has consistently struck me, both here and elsewhere, is a demand on atheists' part that conversion stories and/or believer's justifications be based on "verifiable, reproducible evidence" (cf. Matt above, who echoes a common refrain). This is a fruitless demand, for two reasons.1. "Verifiable, reproducible evidence" is empirical by necessity — in other words, natural in the literal sense of the word. But the Judeo-Christian God is not natural; rather, s/he/it is, hypothetically at the very least, supernatural or, to use a less loaded term, extranatural (immaterial, both immanent and transcendent, omniscient etc. etc.). Belief in or intellectual acceptance of an extranatural being will therefore entail acceptance of at least some extranatural evidence. By definition, extranatural evidence is not empirical, and not verifiable or reproducible in the context of the scientific method. A demand for empirical evidence is essentially a contradiction in terms.2. But all this is really irrelevant, because an absolute insistence on empirical evidence rests on an unspoken premise: that only that which is empirically verifiable is epistemologically justified (that is, worthy of belief). This premise (we'll call the italicized phrase P for short) is, however, self-defeating. Where is the empirical evidence that justifies this premise? What reproducible, verifiable experiment has produced the result P? There isn't one, of course; rather, P is a brute premise that is taken as axiomatic, without proof. Now, I don't see this as a problem in and of itself; ultimately, we all inevitably have to make some brute assumptions and work upwards from there. But the fact is, the very fact that materialists are insisting on P means that they are themselves assenting to a belief without empirical evidence. So it's a bit unfair to excoriate others for doing the same.

  • @Patrick: "with variations by denomination and variety of Christian theology, obviously". I'm glad you say this, because I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in experience of the Holy Spirit as self-evident proof of God. And I'm a practicing Christian. I'm not sure that I know many Christians who would be remotely threatened by conversions to other worldviews, but that may just reflect the Christians I know.More generally, I don't think there is such a test, because I don't think that your average atheist or Christian or Muslim or Unitarian Universalist or Raelian is really able to articulate the best apologetics for their own position; if they were to convert to another worldview, I doubt there ability to do so would improve. This doesn't mean that they didn't really and truly believe it in the first place, or even that they didn't have good reasons, but just that they weren't (and still aren't) any good at articulating those reasons.More than this, though, I don't think there's a way to create a definitive, objective list of what counts as the best reasons for any given belief system. There's vastly too much difference of opinion /within/ in group to be able to come to some consensus on that sort of issue, let alone convince people outside of your group to take it as definitive.What seems (to me) to be going on here is that some people like the person quoted in this post(notably not Matt DeStefano) are confusing "not really atheist" and "not my kind of atheist."

  • Oh, and I'm also glad to see that you are alive, Leah. From most people I wouldn't worry about this length of blog absence. Considering your usual output, though, and considering that there's no way you'd have a week-long birthday celebration drinking binge, I wondered…

  • But all this is really irrelevant, because an absolute insistence on empirical evidence rests on an unspoken premise: that only that which is empirically verifiable is epistemologically justified (that is, worthy of belief). This premise (we'll call the italicized phrase P for short) is, however, self-defeating.Kat, you miss a key point: probabilistic reasoning. Your premise P is taken as axiomatic not on some leap of faith but because history has shown time and again that beliefs which are not empirically justified are false. Weather gods yielded to meteorology and bad humors to medicine. Thus, given that over and over again, the supernatural has been displace by the natural and the empirically justified, it is most probable that empirical justification is a prerequisite for factual truth.

  • Ash

    I think she's drawing flak because regardless of whether or not she was an atheist before, she clearly has no idea how atheists think or at least has seriously misused language. Just because some beliefs are relatively less ridiculous to atheists than related beliefs doesn't mean that they aren't all ridiculous to atheists. For example, while many atheists would view an afterlife system with a purgatory area as more morally consistent and more just than an afterlife system based on accepting Jesus as savior alone, this pales in comparison to the fact that most atheists find the notion of any afterlife whatsoever as ridiculous (no evidence for an immortal soul, for one). Thus, the argument that she was never really an atheist stems from the fact that she clearly doesn't understand atheism – these are basic errors she's making, which severely undermine her credibility.

  • Ash

    Here's another reason – among those I personally know, those who claim an atheist to religious conversion largely describe their time as an atheist as being consumed with "anger at God" – i.e. they believed in some god but considered themselves in opposition to him or her. These people, of course, were never true atheists, as they believed in the existence of some god the entire time. Conversely, religious to atheist deconverts I know without exception describe their deconversion as being motivated by questioning the doctrine they had been force-fed from an early age and finding no reasonable justifications and many unfalsifiable claims behind it all.Of course, that's from personal data and may not be true of other atheist to religious converts. A better example is from Plato's allegory of the cave – once someone is brought outside the cave (representing atheism), they realize the world inside the cave (representing religion) is one of falsehoods, unfalsifiable claims and delusions. To go back to regarding the world inside the cave as the true world is impossible once you've been actually brought outside. In other words – do you know of anyone who actually stopped believing in the easter bunny, and then started again? The two positions of atheism and theism are not equivalent or symmetric – this is a mistake people often make.

    • Joe

      “In other words – do you know of anyone who actually stopped believing in the easter bunny, and then started again?”

      I was a devout Catholic child but became an atheist at 13. I really didn’t believe in God anymore and thought religion was bunk and that the Judeo-Christian God, if he existed, was evil.

      At age 34, I slowly felt a pull that I couldn’t explain, and I reconsidered God. After lots of confusion about what I really believed, I returned to the Church. A few years later, after a bad experience, I left again, and abandoned faith and became an atheist again. Several years after that, I had a mystical experience that for me was proof of God, and I returned yet again.

      Throughout my deconversions and conversions, I discovered a lot about myself. Platos cave does not represent my experience at all. I also learned that my highly rational mind (with 4 degrees, including a science PhD) could easily lead me to justify whatever beliefs I felt were true.

  • Ash

    After reading her follow-up article, I'm going to go with "blatant misuse of wording" and "title used to draw incoming links" rather than "does not understand atheism"; however, the followup is extremely condescending, misuses language even further (the unjustified and semantically-incorrect "god = love", for one), and makes more unfounded assertions (mathematicians and cashiers go mad at greater rates than artists? Really?). The sheer irony and obliviousness of the followup is tragicomic (she accuses atheists of many things she herself is guilty of). At least she got the part about cults right.

  • Anonymous

    Where is the empirical evidence that justifies this premise [only that which is empirically verifiable is epistemologically justified]?Advancements in technology ought to strengthen one's confidence that "verifiable empirical evidence" gives us useful knowledge about the material world.I cannot justify being anywhere near as confident that there are other ways of knowing and/or other aspects of reality that we can know about.

  • What this argument boils down to is "I've seen the evidence and I am convinced of the fact that [atheism|theism] is true and I know that I would never switch sides. Since you have switched sides you must not have been Me."We are not robots who simply take in data and spit out predictable actions, we each see the world through a particular worldview that is shaped by our past experiences, knowledge, personality and our free choice. The funny thing is, life is change. Even if today you think "that other side would never convince me", you may one day find yourself really looking hard at doubts you never expected to have.

  • Patrick

    "Where is the empirical evidence that justifies this premise [only that which is empirically verifiable is epistemologically justified]?"Epistemological systems come in three varieties.1. Those unable to prove themselves.2. Those which DO prove themselves, and are therefore circular.3. Those which are stupid, stubborn, and arbitrary.As it happens, category 1 has significant empirical success and has demonstrated itself as a reliable means of providing accurate information and conclusions about areas we can empirically verify. In fact, that empirical grounding gives it a "reality check" that the others lack.It is somewhat telling that defenses of 2 and 3 consist almost entirely of attacks on 1.

  • I would point out that Christian-baiters habitually reverse this trope. On finding that I do not fit THEIR stereotype, they tell me "Then you aren't a Christian". In my set of The Propaganda Game, this is classed as "Victory by Definition". Probably the most asinine instance of this I have encountered was an assertion that "The Pope and Falwell speak for all Christians", when they do not even speak for each other.

  • I don't understand why you would link to PZ his posts are so uselessly disingenuous and hateful as to add nothing to the discourse. I think the title of her piece was flawed, I also think the intellectual rigor of her previous atheism seems to be flawed, or at least not really robust. Now if a non-robust theist comes along and converts it holds the same intellectual weight, doesn't prove much. The ironic part is that the subtext of a LOT of this blog is in fact the article that fits Fulwiler's headline. One thing I certainly was struck by when I first took the time to learn Catholic teaching as an adult is how AMAZINGLY consistent and rational it is. I think RC Christianity is much closer to my atheism than it is to the Christianity I see come out of a lot of people. Yes there is a HUGE detail that the RC Church takes as a given which I do not, but otherwise I think it would be very easy to write a more intellectually honest and rational list of 5 items, I am sure PZ Myers would still post some snotty comment about home much better he is than Catholics, but it still wouldn't change anything about the world!

  • Kat (KL)

    @ErikaFair enough — probabilistic reasoning will be a part of any epistemological system. But probabilistic judgments necessarily involve a weighing of evidence, and unless I'm very much mistaken a materialist will only include empirical evidence in their scales, which once again leads us to the logical difficulty above — why only empirical evidence? An axiomatic methodological premise is still present. Secondly, I'd argue that while the scientific method has been wildly successful when applied to physics, biology, chemistry, etc., it's been far less so in the realms of psychology, linguistics, sociology (to name a few of the "soft" sciences — there's a reason they're so-called!), or even art, literature, music, etc. What it boils down to is that empirical evidence is in fact the best evidence to take into account when dealing with empirical, material phenomena and processes. That assertion is 1) not particularly surprising and 2) hardly controversial. I would wholeheartedly agree.

  • Here's the problem. You have to define what a Christian is first. Many forget that the Bible defines a Christian, not society. That's problem #1. Biblically, God makes Christians by grace, through faith. Becoming a Christian is a mercy from God not an intellectual exercise. God literally bestows the gifts of faith and repentance. The big mistake is…humans do not make themselves Christians.1) Going to church does not make you Christian2) Understanding and agreeing with Christian beliefs does not make you a Christian3) Saying you are a Christian does not make you a Christian4) Saying that you have accepted Christ into your heart, does not make you a Christian5) Saying "the sinner's prayer" does not make you a Christian6) Telling yourself over and over that you are a Christian despite the Bible telling you otherwise does not make you a Christian.7) Your pastor cannot make you, or declare you a Christian8) "Simply" believing that Jesus is the Son of God does not make you a Christian. Yeah I said it. *gasp*No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:44 And he said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” John 6:65Hey! Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey! Jesus says this whole Christianity thing is in God's hands. What's up with that? I thought we sit around the firepit and declare ourselves Christians.You must have faith. Is faith something that can be worked up intellectually? Biblically, no."For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" Ephesians 2:8looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, Hebrews 12:2aWait a minute. Did he just say that faith not of our own doing? That faith itself is a gift from God. When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life." Acts 11:18"God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth", 2 Timothy 2:25bWow, repentance is also a gift from God. What happens when a person has God's gifts?"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." Romans 11:29-31And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6So if you have been given the gifts of faith and repentance, you cannot lose them. Interesting. That's a strong argument from God that if you say you were a Christian and walk away never to return that you were mistaken. Is it possible for people to be mistaken about their Christianity? Let's see."On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" Matthew 7:22That looks like a yes to me.

  • So let's look at it logically.1) A person needs faith to be saved2) Faith is a gift from God3) Faith leads to repentance4) Repentance is granted by God5) The gifts of God are irrevocable6) Therefore once you truly have gifts from God, you can never lose them7) People can be mistaken in believing that they have gifts from God.8) People can believe that they have walked away from God for a time, but if they gifts were given, they will eventually return."Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." 1 Peter 1:3-5

  • Kat (KL)

    @PatrickThis was, essentially, my point above. An insistence on evidence for every premise of one's opponent is a self-defeating endeavor. Strict materialists should recognize that even their own methodological framework is, at the core, not based on empirical evidence. I'm a little unclear on the difference between 1 and 3, though, since I suspect the determining factor in whether one considers a system a 1 or a 3 depends on whether or not one holds it herself.

  • Eldnar, the Bible uses "Christian" in only two places, none of which give theological qualifications.

  • Patrick

    Kat (KL)- "Self defeating" is a loaded word at best, and dishonesty at worst. What "self defeating" means in this context is "not based on circular reasoning."Category 3 is your "properly basic beliefs," and so on. Assertions that you just plain know some things, and you don't care about how or why.

  • [Disclosures: 1) I'm writing from the viewpoint of being a Catholic. 2) I have a knowledge advantage in Jenn's particular case, in that I ran into her personally (she found my blog and we turned out to live near each other) back when she was flirting with theism and thus I know a fair amount about her conversion process and background as an atheist.]As a couple people have pointed out here, I don't think Jenn's intent was to write a list of beliefs that atheists and Catholics hold in common, or which you could describe to an atheist and have the atheist say, "Oh, wow, really? Sign me up!" These seem, rather, to be cases where Catholic doctrine "makes more sense" than the Evangelical Protestant stereotype of Christian belief which is what most atheists use as a reference point for "what Christian's think" (see the two biggest failures as attempts to sound Christin the religious Turing Test) or beliefs which, while your Protestant friends may be scandalized by them, atheist friends will not see them as particularly weird or shocking (aside from their obvious disagreement about the basic truth of Christianity in the first place.)FWIW, my experience was that Jenn's atheism was primarily formed by:1) Having a strongly atheist father and a totally lapsed Catholic mother (didn't even go to mass occasionally), and thus growing up in a family in which human knowledge consisted only of what science tells us and what we know about people via the social sciences. God was firmly in tooth fairy territory, and religious belief was simply a bunch of superstitions which some people still hang onto. 2) Christianity was, until she started looking at theism and started running into Catholics, very much represented in her experience by a very anti-intellectual, evangelical Protestant approach to religion of the sort you find in rural and suburban Texas. As such, Christianity could seem pretty obviously mockable and irrational (kind of like PZ Myers's arguments do to anyone who understands basic principles of philosophy) and just not like something even worth considering.To what extent that represents an experience that some of you would or would not consider being a "real" atheist is, clearly, a question only you can answer.

  • orgostrich

    Slightly off topic, but I thought it was worth mentioning… did anyone see the O'Reilly factor where he said that the shooter in Norway isn't a real Christian because no true Christian commits mass murder? I've just never seen a better example of the "No True Scotsman" thing in real life. (I also want to remind O'Reilly of the Crusades and Salem Witch Trials.)

  • How do you gauge the validity of someone's abandoned beliefs? I don't think it's possible to externally gauge the extent to which someone honestly held the beliefs that they held in the past. Even the former believer himself is usually not very good at that in retrospect. However, it is possible to gauge how well someone is able to express the beliefs which they claim to have formerly held. Thus, for example, as a Catholic if someone tells me, "I used to be a really well educated Catholic, but then I realized that if you break the Eucharist it doesn't bleed, and when you bite it it doesn't taste like flesh, so I knew that all that teaching about transubstantiation was just idiotic," I know that however sincere that person may have been in the past about his Catholic faith, he didn't have a clear understanding of what Eucharistic doctrines actually state. How could they convince you that they really used to agree with you?Again, this seems impossible, though if someone can both explain doctrine clearly and describe in a way that sounds familiar the experience of having formally shared belief and devotion (or lack thereof) I would imagine that would go a way towards covering it.

  • How does this answer vary on either side of the Christian/Atheist divide?It strikes me that there are some different ways in which atheist and Christian beliefs might affect the ways in which one might be "not a true Scotsman" in belief.For instance, with Christianity (particularly with a highly ritual faith like Catholicism or Orthodoxy) you can have a lot of people who were brought up practicing, but never really understanding or thinking about a faith. These people might have a fair amount of familiarity with bible stories and a lot with ritual, but they don't seem to have much grasp of the actual beliefs and devotions, or their purpose. For instance, I recall reading a piece by one of the New Atheists (the name escapes me) in which he described how he first realized religion was a fraud as a schoolboy when his schoolmaster was leading all the boys in prayer and they were supposed to piusly close their eyes while he prayed. One day, he opened his eyes while the prayers were being said, and didn't see God — everyone was just standing around with their eyes closed. I read this and thought, "Well, duh! Why in the world did you expect that because you all had the habit of closing your eyes while praying that meant that God was physically visible while you were praying if you only opened your eyes?" I think a lot of Christians would tend to respond to this kind of garbled folk practice by saying "not a real Christian".On the atheist side, one expression that I seem to hear a lot of atheist science-focused blogs (though not necessarily from atheist or agnostic friends in the humanities) is that "there's no data for belief in a god" or "I'll believe in god when I see some experimental evidence." This seems to indicate an assumption that the only reason one would have to believe in God would be because it helps one make predictions about how things will behave in the physical world — and yet, this is not why Christians believe in God. I think atheists of this particular type will often assume that someone who converted to Christianity for any reason other than because they've found physically verifiable and predictable data "proving" God's existence will tend to assume that that person was never really an atheist. This, I think, is the result of some sort of basic failure or refusal to see the world as involving any reality other than physically measurable ones — kind of like how the inhabitants of Plato's cave refuse to believe than anything other than the shadows on the wall can be observed. In point of fact, I think that Christians typically believe in God because the find that belief to answer question about meaning and purpose in a non-physical sense (What is my purpose in life? How do a live a good life? What is "good"? What does life "mean"?) and thus they're not going to point to some sort of physical "data". This basic breakdown over what sorts of things can be known, what sorts of questions can be asked, will probably cause some atheists to question the former atheism of atheists who become Christian.–DarwinCatholic

  • Kat (KL)

    @Darwin,Thanks for articulating my thoughts on this subject much more elegantly than I would have.@Patrick,How is "self-defeating" a loaded term? This is a sincere question, as I've never had it perceived it that way. I meant it purely in a formal logical sense. Perhaps "self-refuting" would have been a more precise phrase, in which case, my apologies for being inexact. Again, a self-refuting argument does not mean that the conclusion is necessarily false; it's just that it must be acknowledged as an axiom.

  • @Gillimer I'm not sure what your point is. When the Bible uses the term "Christian" it is a term used to describe the followers of Christ. In several places the Bible outlines how one becomes a follower of Christ (aka the theological qualifications), some of which I described above.

  • I think a large part of this sort of skepticism about genuine conversion stories on the part of present-day theists comes from the fact that so many prominent evangelicals simply lie about it.To this day, Kirk Cameron — forgetting, I guess, that he lived his entire childhood in the public eye, and hence, his claims can be checked — claims to have "been an atheist for most of his life" even though we have videotaped evidence that he was a born-again at age 16. The odious Lee Strobel runs out the same shtick for each of his books. We hear it *all the time*, and much of the time, it's a deliberate lie.With respect to Jennifer Fulwiler, it's a dumb, knee-jerk criticism. I believe that she was an atheist once, and I suspect her reasons for being an atheist were probably as weak as her present reasons for being a Catholic.

  • "What seems (to me) to be going on here is that some people like the person quoted in this post(notably not Matt DeStefano) are confusing "not really atheist" and "not my kind of atheist.""I'm notably not the person quoted or not confusing the terms?

  • Sorry; you are notably not confusing the terms. This is what happens when you edit sloppily.

  • No worries, I just wanted to make sure that I was being clear myself.

  • Sarah G.

    I don't buy a lot of what Fulwiler says because she's so given to extremes and hyperbole. Both her past life as an atheist and her current life as a Catholic come off equally as insincere because, to me, she's so fake. It's like she thought she could get a lot of play out of her conversion story, so she's ramped it up at both ends. Also, it's odd, to me, that she still, even after her conversion experience, seems to identify more strongly with atheism than she does Catholicism. Again, this comes off as a calculated move on her part. Another Catholic mom with a blog about messy houses and homeschooling is nothing special, but a blog written by an outspoken atheist who suddenly converted to Catholicism has an angle that sets it apart. I don't get the "prison of reason" thing, either, when she's all about telling people she "reasoned" her way into the Church. I don't really care what people believe or don't believe, or what brand of religion they prefer, but I don't like being BSed, and her blog has BS written all over it. Just my $.02

  • If anything, Jen is too open and honest about her thoughts and feelings. I know all about her kids' innards, her experiences with scorpions, and her mother's quirks. I guarantee that my own blogging has been much less open, even with all that i have revealed. But apparently, some people's rights to reject Jen's thoughts and reasons and life experiences are so strong that they can delete all of hers and change her parents' beliefs retroactively. It's an amazing power. As your next demonstration, disbelieve in the national debt! It is your duty!

  • Matt: If you were merely a calculating machine, then deduction from evidence would be your whole birthright. No man is merely a calculating machine. As materialists are fond of reminding us, we are at least partially apes and as such are affected by more than rationality.By the by, Catholics have a very clear understanding that no man has ever converted another. Food for thought, anyway.

  • Sarah G.

    @suburban banshee:Fulwiler herself claims her father was a Christian, and that her mother was Catholic. Her father (according to her) moved away from organized Christianity and ultimately became an atheist, and her mother, she says, was "never" a practicing Catholic (although she still had her chapel veils to give to Jennifer when Jennifer was received into the Catholic Church – that's a long time to hold onto something that you never used and means nothing to you). She also claims she was arguing from an atheist worldview from the age of four with her little four year old playmates. This may be something she truly believes happened in hindsight, but she was raised by parents who spent much of their lives either as believing Christians or, at the very least, brought up in Christian/Catholic households. She's also stated on her blog that she wasn't "raised atheist" specifically — just that her parents weren't religious and never brought up the subject. Sounds to me like she was a kid brought up in a non-religious household, although she must have had contact with religious relatives throughout her life — aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and so forth. Her story isn't that unusual, especially for a person of her age. Her blog reveals very little. Yes, she relates rather mundane, albeit heavy-handidly embellished, anecdotes about suburban motherhood (again, nothing unusual or even specifically Catholic). Kids' poopy stories and dirty house stories are not exactly fascinating or deep or revealing. Does she reveal anything personal or moving or human? No. If she'd lay off the extremes and hybperbole, she might come across as more "real", but there's so little vulnerability, so little humility, so little simple honesty, that it comes off as boilerplate mommy drivel related with boilerplate "Catholic" embellishment. She has no power over anyone. But she chooses to pick these arguments, carefully making sure the atheist crowd is very much aware that she is targeting them once again. Then, when they respond, as she has manipulated them into doing, she goes all passive-aggressive and smirks in the background, gleefully counting her blog hits and making sure she links the arguments to her various blogs and her twitter account, and then sits back and watches as her blog audience fights the fight she started for her, all while basking in the glow of their praise. It's really quite deeply mentally ill.She can do it 'til the cows come home for all I care, but she hardly comes off as a generous, giving, kind person who is sincerely interested in other people without operating from any agenda — and that, btw, is why she's ultimately such a crappy writer — because she isn't interested in other people, in humanity. She's only interested in herself, and it shows.

  • melior

    As someone who was raised Catholic, I have a much simpler proposed explanation for her re-conversion then "God's ineffable grace" or "pathological desire for web traffic — guilt. It's the ever-present mind-numbingly constant reason for everything Catholics are taught to feel. All the rest is just rationalization.

  • Iota

    Melior – may I have a question?As someone who was raised Catholic, I have a much simpler proposed explanation for her re-conversion […] guilt. It's the ever-present mind-numbingly constant reason for everything Catholics are taught to feel.It must be awful to live with "ever-present mind-numbingly constant" guilt. You have my sympathies. But on what grounds do you universalize that experience to all Catholics?

  • Patrick

    @Kat-It implies that the argument would be better if it were not "self defeating." Except… it wouldn't. It would be circular.

  • I must admit, this is fascinating to read in retrospect, now that the questions raised apply fully to you.