Some people like certitude. They like to know things for sure. They like to be right.
Me, I’m good with murky. Yes, I’d like to know for sure what happens after we die and whether good or evil will win out in the end on Planet Earth. But since we can’t know these things for sure, it’s the need to be right that makes me uneasy. It don’t trust it.
An atheist friend once told me that if he were to give up atheism and go over to God, he’d do it whole hog – he’d become a born-again, true believing Christian.
My friend is a smart, charming man who likes to think and likes to talk about his thoughts, but his take on faith and doubt, strikes me as simple-mindedly black and white. He seems to think that the intellectually scrupulous person has to opt for one or the other, belief or disbelief. No room for nuance, no room for “I don’t know anything for sure. I’m just muddling through here, doing my best and hoping that if there really is a God, or Something, He/She/It will have some patience with me.”
And that’s why two very fine Catholic memoirs from Ignatius Press make me uneasy.
Atheists Reject Their Atheism
Two writers – both very smart, very conscientious and very good at telling their stories on the page—run from the certitude of atheism smack, dab into the certitude of Catholic dogma.
Jennifer Fulwiler‘s atheist-to-Catholic book is Something Other than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It. Holly Ordway‘s atheist-to-Catholic book is Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms.
Fulwiler, rigorously logical as she is, strides so far and so confidently into Catholicism that she actually ends up embracing the church’s—to me logically iffy—prohibition against artificial birth control. And, no surprise, at the time of the printing of the dust cover on her book, she was the mother of six children.
I admire both of these books, and both of these writers. Fulwiler has put in time as a programmer. Holly Ordway is an academic. They are as humble intellectually as they are rigorous. Both tell their stories with self-effacing humor and respect for their readers’ intelligence.
Fulwiler in particular is a master storyteller. I picked up her book on the plane home from a Religion Newswriters Association conference thinking I’d skim through it and write up one of my quickie book-opener posts.
Her storytelling skills were such, however, that I spent the entire trip from ATL to LAX to OAK engrossed in her life story. At home my bags went unpacked until I’d followed Fulwiler from atheism to Catholicism and the last page of her book.
Fulwiler and Ordway are good writers and great company. But watch out, if you’re a black-and-white thinker like my atheist friend and you follow in these women’s intellectual footsteps too closely, you might wind up – too –Catholic.
One More Atheist
Another atheist-to-Catholic book that I’d like to spend some time with one of these days is Kaya Oakes‘ Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church. I hear it’s funny.
A version of this story first appeared on BarbaraFalconerNewhall.com, where Barbara riffs on life, family, books, writing, and her rocky spiritual journey. Barbara ‘s newly released interfaith book from Patheos Press is Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith.