Curiosity to Belief

BOOK PICK: Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms

Not God’s Type

An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms

By Holly Ordway

Ignatius Press, 2014

215 pages, $19.95

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If asked to conjure up an image of an atheist, a leftist-academic English professor from New England may be the archetype.

For many years, Holly Ordway relished filling this role, first as a student and later as a professor. She maintained a dismissive view of religion, particular Christianity, bristling at believers and being content, as she noted, in building a “fortress of atheism.” She sought but failed to find fulfillment in worldly pursuits, from fencing to Star Trek. As time wore on, Ordway — who grew up without religion — felt a nagging pull that, over a period of many years, led her to become a Christian and, ultimately, a Catholic.

In Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, Ordway uses her gift of prose to describe her evolution from having no faith to entering the Catholic Church.

In addition to being an English professor, Ordway also spent many years as a competitive sabre fencer. As such, the book is sprinkled with many appropriate references to fencing and to many authors and literary works that have inspired Ordway, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Unlike some conversions, Ordway’s was not one of dramatic immediacy. Rather, Ordway’s journey unfolded over a number of years as she painstakingly researched faith, guided along the way by her fencing coach, a practicing Christian.

A gifted writer, Ordway recounts her journey using vivid allegory: “By the spring of my thirty-first year, something had begun to change in my interior life. Like tree roots that slowly grow below sterile pavement, until one day the cement cracks and green shoots push up between the fractured bits of stone, the grace that had infused my imagination began to have a noticeable effect. I was drawn, against my own inclination, to be consciously interested in matters of faith. I had a desire to push into territory that I vaguely feared and yet found compelling.”

At first, the good scholar that she is, Ordway pursued faith as a topic of academic inquiry. Ordway set out on a rigorous quest to prove God exists. She recounts studying various works on faith, eager at first to scratch out any arguments in support of God that she deemed to be suspect. But as this effort wore on, it became more and more difficult for Ordway to uphold her atheist views.

Even when Ordway got to the point of believing in God, her faith journey would continue to wind its way through a variety of settings, aided by her coach and faith-infused literary works such as Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. And throughout much of the trip, hesitation and trepidation would remain. Over time, Ordway’s travels landed her in the Anglican Church. But her scholar’s curiosity, particularly into the 19th-Century Oxford renewal movement of the Anglican Church, pushed her to continue her journey until it culminated at the Catholic Church.

Not God’s Type is a well-written and engaging story of conversion by a most unlikely source. It provides hope, showing that kindness and patience are among the most powerful conversion instruments at our disposal.

Nick Manetto writes from

Herndon, Virginia.