From Atheist to Catholic
‘Unshakable’ Rationalist Blogged Her Way Into the Church
BY Nona Aguilar
March 22-28, 2009 Issue | Posted 3/13/09 at 9:04 AM
Jennifer Fulwiler “always thought it was obvious that God did not exist.”
Fulwiler grew up a content atheist. Having a profound respect for knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge, Fulwiler was convinced that religion and reason were incompatible. Not surprisingly, she was also emphatically anti-Christian and, especially, anti-Catholic. “Catholic beliefs seemed bizarre and weird,” she says.
Fulwiler would have been astonished to know that she and Joe Fulwiler, her husband, would come to embrace those “bizarre,” “weird” beliefs. On Easter 2007, they entered the Catholic Church with deep joy and a sense of coming home — and a blog aided their conversion.
Register correspondent Nona Aguilar spoke to Jennifer Fulwiler about the couple’s unexpected journey.
There is always a first step that leads to belief in God. What was yours?
Thanks to meeting and knowing my husband, I learned that belief in God is not fundamentally unreasonable. We met at the high-tech company where we both worked. Joe believed in God — something that, fortunately, I didn’t know for a while.
Why was that fortunate?
To me, belief in God was so unreasonable that, by definition, no reasonable person could believe in such a thing. I felt I could never be compatible with someone that unreasonable. Had I known that Joe believed in God, I would never have dated him.
What was your reaction when you found out?
It gave me pause. Joe is too smart — brilliant, really, with degrees from Yale, Columbia and Stanford — to believe in something nonsensical. I also met many of his friends. They, too, are highly intelligent — some with M.D.s and Ph.D.s from schools like Harvard and Princeton — and believed.
None of this made me believe in God, of course, but I could no longer say that only unreasonable or unintelligent people believe.
What caused you to consider the question more seriously?
I have always been a truth-seeker, which is why I was an atheist. But I had a prideful, arrogant way of approaching questions about life and meaning. I now realize that pride is the most effective way to block out God so that one doesn’t see him at all. Certainly, I didn’t.
The birth of our first child motivated me to seek the truth with humility. I can’t emphasize this point enough: Humility, true humility, is crucial to the conversion process.
Most atheists are unchanged after their children’s births. Why were you so affected?
First, I had already begun thinking about the possibility of God’s existence. After our son’s birth, I wanted to know the truth about life’s great questions — for his sake. For the first time, I was motivated to seek truth with true humility. For example, I began reading, studying, and thinking about the great minds. Most, if not the majority, believed in some other world, some higher power, a god or gods — something. Even the great pre-Christian thinkers like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates believed.
Another avenue of exploration: I always revered the great scientists, including the founders of the significant branches of science. Very few were atheists. Indeed, some of the greatest were profoundly believing Christians.
It could be argued this was because they were steeped in the Christian culture and beliefs of their times.
That ignores a larger question I began asking myself: Is it really likely that great minds like Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Descartes and others didn’t know how to ask tough questions? Do these people seem to be men who didn’t know how to question assumptions and fearlessly seek truth? Of course not.
Was your husband a help in this process?
Eventually, but not at first. Religion wasn’t something we talked about. Joe was a non-churchgoing Baptist, which was fine by me. In fact, since I was an atheist, I considered not talking about God to be a good compromise. Our lives were completely secular — just like our wedding.
No church wedding?
Definitely not! I wore a purple dress; we married in a theater with a friend officiating, using vows we wrote ourselves. The ceremony took seven minutes, then we all partied all night long. In fact, we didn’t even technically get married at our wedding: We did that at city hall a few days before.
Was there ever an aha moment that finally made you abandon atheism?
Several, but one in particular actually shocked me.
I asked myself two questions: What is information? And: Can information ever come from a non-intelligent source?
It was a shocking moment for me because I had to confront the fact that DNA is information. If I remained an atheist, I would have to believe that all the intricate, detailed, complex information contained in DNA comes out of nowhere and nothing.
But I also knew that idea did not make sense. After all, I don’t look at billboards — which contain much simpler information than DNA — and think that wind and erosion created them. That wouldn’t be rational. Suddenly, I found that I was a very discomfited atheist.
Is that the point at which you began to believe in God?
No. But now I was a reluctant atheist. I had lots of questions but knew no one who might have answers: I had always consciously, deliberately distanced myself from believers. So, coming from the high-tech world, where did I go for answers? I put up a blog, of course! I started posting tough questions on my blog.
One matter stood out from the beginning: The best, most thoughtful responses came from Catholics. Incidentally, their answers were consistently better than the ones from atheists. It intrigued me that Catholics could handle anything I threw at them. Also, their responses reflected such an eminently reasonable worldview that I kept asking myself: How is it that Catholics have so much of this all figured out?
Was your husband helpful to you at this point?
As I started telling Joe some of the answers that I was getting, especially from Catholics, his own interest in religion — and Catholicism — was piqued. We have always been a great team, so it was wonderful that we were exploring these issues and questions together, especially since we were so anti-Catholic.
Both of you?
Yes. I thought the Church’s views on most things, but especially marriage, contraception and abortion (since I was then ardently pro-choice), were simply crazy. Joe’s anti-Catholicism, while different, was stronger and more settled. He didn’t understand any Catholic doctrine or apologetics, so he fell into a stereotyped view of Catholics, thinking that they made idols of the pope and Mary, etc. Also, it never really occurred to him to take seriously the idea that Jesus founded one Church. He just assumed the way to pick a church is to find one that fits your personality.
Your conversion has impacted your daily life. What change, in particular, stands out in your mind?
Community! There is nothing like it in atheism. I never understood what people meant by members of the Church being part of the body of Christ, but now I really get it. By being part of the one, holy Catholic Church, there is a palpable connection I now have with other Catholics, even people I don’t know. It’s been amazing to experience that connection and community.
Nona Aguilar writes
from New York City.JENNIFER FULWILER'S BLOG IS: ConversionDiary.com
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