Atheist to Catholic–Two Brainy Women Get Religion

Outdoor portrait of Jennifer Fulwiler, author of "Something Other than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It"

Software programmer Jennifer Fulwiler resisted God–then went from atheist to Catholic

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

An atheist friend of mine once confessed that if he were to give up atheism and go over to God, he’d do the thing whole hog – he’d become some kind of born-again, true believing Christian.

Many people, including lots of atheists, want that kind of clarity and certitude. Me, I’m good with murky.

Portrait of Holly Ordway, author of "Not God's Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms"

Academic Holly Ordway — another atheist cheerfully bites the dust

My friend the atheist is a smart, charming man who likes to think and likes to talk about his thoughts, but his take on faith and doubt, belief and disbelief, strikes me as simple-mindedly black and white: the intellectually scrupulous person must opt for one or the other, belief or disbelief, he seems to think. 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 so it is with two atheist to Catholic memoirs from Ignatius Press. Two writers – both very smart, very conscientious and very good at telling their stories on the page—move from atheism to belief in God, and from there, smack, dab into full-fledged Catholicism.

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.

The green and orange dust jacket of Jennifer Fulwiler's book, "Something Other Than God"

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. Yet 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 conference in Decatur, Georgia, last month 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.

Green-gray dust jacket of Holly Ordway's book "Not God's Type"

I can recommend both of these books heartily. Fulwiler and Ordway are great company, thoughtful and self-scrutinizing. 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 Catholic.

Another atheist to Catholic book that I’d like to spend some time with one of these days is Kaya OakesRadical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church. I hear it’s funny.

More stories of belief and unbelief at “The Somethingists: They Don’t Believe in God, but They Do Believe in Something” and “Buddhist Writing–Wisdom or Chicken Shit?”






  1. You reach out like a spider ‘s web and draw us in to the center of your creative thinking.

  2. Cheryl McLaughlin says:

    Hi Barara,
    I read this because I like your writing but wasn’t necessarily interested in the topic…however, you drew me in with the stories of the journeys of these two women along with your experience of reading their stories. Thank you!

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