Fulwiler is a popular Catholic blogger and homeschooling mother of six
who writes about faith, family, media, and culture at her website, Conversion Diary. Fulwiler, whose memoir about her spiritual journey from atheism to Catholicism is titled Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It and is available today from Ignatius Press, has been published in America, Our Sunday Visitor, Envoy, and National Review Online and has appeared on Fox and Friends and Life on the Rock. She was also the subject of the reality show Minor Revisions with Jennifer Fulwiler for New York’s NET TV. She recently spoke with Catholic World Report's managing
editor Catherine Harmon about the new book, blogging through the
process of conversion, and the personal challenges she faced when the
practice of the Faith became more than an intellectual pursuit.
CWR: Let’s start with the title of your book, Something Other Than God. Where did the title come from and why did you choose it?
The title came from this wonderful C.S. Lewis quote, which is
particularly meaningful because C.S. Lewis is also an
atheist-to-Christian convert. The full quote says, “All that we call
human history…is the long terrible story of man trying to find something
other than God which will make him happy.” And the reason I chose that
is because at first, I thought this story was just a standard conversion
story, but as I got into the writing I realized this was more of a
story of a search for happiness. So that’s why I chose that quote,
because it talks about how we’re all searching for what will really make
us happy, and we can only find that in God.
In the book you describe the very intense, almost arduous intellectual
process you went through of coming to understand Christianity and what
Christians believe. During that time what was your attitude toward
“cradle Christians” or those who believed in Christ in a perhaps
somewhat unreflectiveor at least less intellectually rigorousway?
It changed over time. When I was younger, because I had had some bad
experiences with Christians, I was very disdainful of “cradle believers”
and just thought that they bought into these lies for self-serving
reasons. As I got older, though, I began to see it as just a cultural
thing. I didn’t think that people’s religion actually meant anything to
them; I thought that’s what they did because it was the tradition in
their family, or whatever.
CWR: At what point do you think your attitude started to change?
I think after I met my husband, who was a very lukewarm Christian. But
he was enough of a Christian that he knew some other believers, and
considered himself a believer. It was getting to know him and getting to
know his friends on more of an intimate levelI think anytime you hold
stereotypes, those are always shattered when you actually get to know
the people you’re stereotyping. So once I started forming real bonds
with people who believed, that really made me see that there was more
complexity to Christians and Christian beliefs than I had originally
CWR: What made you turn to blogging in your exploration of Christianity?
I was a web developer by background, and so it came very naturally to
me to have an online presence to talk about anything that I was going
through. But specifically, I still didn’t know very many Christians, and
frankly, the Internet was the only place I could find a forum with lots
of Christians to dialogue with. The other thing was that, because my
social circles were almost entirely atheistic, it was very embarrassing
to me to be exploring Christianity. And so my blog was anonymous
initially, and that was a way for me to talk about these ideas without
anybody knowing I was talking about these ideas.
In the book you describe some of the relationships you developed with
your readers, especially in that early stage of your conversion. Have
you maintained any of those relationships?
Yes, I have; it has been wonderful. Many of the people I originally got
to know when I first started that blog, before I was even Catholic,
have become real friends, in person, not just through the Internet. And
so it’s been wonderful to see how the Internet was what originally
forged those connections.
CWR: In one of my
favorite scenes in your book, you describe one of your first sincere
prayersfor the murdered rapper Tupac Shakur. Can you talk a little
about what moved you to make that particular prayer, for that particular
Fulwiler: It must have just been the
Holy Spirit. I’ve always been a fan of Tupac Shakur’s music and the
reason that I talk about it in that chapter is that in a very, very
strange way he reminds me of Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. I want to be
very clearI’m not holding him up as a role model or anything; obviously
he was into some pretty bad stuff. But I did see an intellectual
honesty underlying everything he ever did. So I felt a great pity for
himthat his life ended up where it did. And when I thought about it in
light of what Catholics believe, I just felt so sad that he never found
the truth for which he was so obviously looking. And so I was very moved
to pray for him.
CWR: It is clear, in reading
your account, that you were very determined to be as intellectually
honest as possible as you investigated Christianityexcept on the
subject of abortion. You say frankly that for a time it was more
important for you to remain “pro-choice” than it was to take an honest
look at the morality of abortion. Why was this subject different from
other areas of Christian belief for you?
Intellectual honesty was so important to me, but I willingly threw it
out the window with that subject. The reason was that I believed in my
heart of hearts that women need to be free, that they can’t be slaves to
their own bodies. And because I bought the lies of contraceptive
culture hook, line, and sinker, I thought: everybody knows that
contraception isn’t 100 percent, and so when the contraception doesn’t
work, women just have to have abortion as a back-up. Otherwise the
sexual actwhich they were assured did not have to have life-changing
consequencessuddenly had life-changing consequences.
So it was
this idea of women’s freedom that trumped intellectual honesty. And, as
you see in the book, I had this huge, thunder-and-lightning moment in
which I realized what takes away women’s freedom is not the pro-life
movement, it’s not anti-abortion stuff; what takes away women’s freedom
is the lie of contraceptive culture.
you were pregnant with your second child, and while you and your husband
were going through the process of converting to Catholicism, you were
diagnosed with a blood disorder that makes pregnancy very risky for you.
You write that you and your husband were “kind-of-sort-of-mostly sold
on the Catholic anti-contraception stuff,” and consequently you decided
not to go on contraception after giving birth, against the advice of
your doctor. Can you describe what it was like to make the decision to
abide by Church teaching in that pretty high-stakes,
rubber-hits-the-road situation, all while still going through the
process of coming into the Church?
think it was actually really good for me. Up until that point I had
thought of Christianity as ideas that happen in the pages of books. And
suddenly those ideas jumped off the pages and got really real, really
quickly. It brought me face-to-face with the truth that this isn’t about
concepts or evaluating data and ideas; this is about, “Do I believe in
Jesus Christ? Do I want to follow him? Do I want to be part of the
Church that he founded?” It just made everything so real, so quickly for
me, and it forced me to take it very seriously, because it was going to
involve some very serious sacrifices in my life. It wasn’t just, “Oh
good, I’ll become Catholic, and that means I’ll read about Catholicism.”
I was really going to have to live Catholicism. It made me ask myself,
how much do I really believe this?
CWR: Would you say that that decision made the rest of your conversion process easier, or did it make it harder?
It made it difficult in the sense that it did involve sacrifice and
suffering. It made it easier in the sense that it forced me to look at
the issue of contraception. And what I saw was that the Church was
right, and that nobody else was rightno one else on the face of the
planet was speaking these truths. When I saw that the Catholic Church
was not only right but that it is the only institution that is right on
this issue, it made me realize that this Church really is guided by God,
that these teachings come from God, not from people. And so in that
sense it actually made my conversion easy, because I fully, 100 percent
believed at that moment that I had found the Church that Jesus Christ
CWR: And your husband was completely on the same page with you about this?
Yes. What was interesting was that he started out an anti-Catholic
Baptist, and I was an anti-Catholic atheist. At the beginning of this
exploration process, we both agreed to look at what is true, to set
aside our biases and our baggage and just say, “What is true?” And when
we took an honest look at the contraception issue and all the other
Church teachings it was very clear to both of us that this is true.
Your book ends shortly after you and your husband are received into the
Church. In the years since then, you’ve had four more children, your
blog has become one of the most popular Catholic blogs out there, and
you’ve even starred in a reality show about your family life. But your
blog is still called “Conversion Diary.” Is that process of conversion
one that’s squarely behind you now, with all your questions answered?
No, not at all. In fact, that’s why I wanted to call it Conversion
Diary. The original name was “The Reluctant Atheist,” way back when, and
so I wanted to change the name when I wasn’t an atheist anymore. When I
announced the new name I was going on this wonderful quote from Pope
Benedict in which he talks about how conversion never endsevery day of
the Christian life is a constant journey of conversion, of growing
closer to God. And I wanted to give the blog that title as a reminder to
me that my conversion is not something that ended in 2007, that my
conversion is something that will happen until the day I die.