Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary: Part 2

Here is the promised video:

Conversion of an Atheist - Jennifer Fulwiler from Renewal Ministries on Vimeo.

It is from EWTN's show The Choices We Face, with host Peter Herbeck of Renewal Ministries. What follows is not a full transcript; I picked the parts I found interesting; my responses are in bold. Please watch the full video or my commentary probably won't make sense, or make less sense than usual if that's possible.

[7:33] Jennifer: "It's not surprising that intelligent people are atheists, because it is in some way a reasonable worldview. I mean, I still don't see atheism as totally crazy. I see where they draw the conclusions that they have because it's--you know, you just--A + B + C is, most things in the material world you have physical evidence. We know this table exists because we can see it and we can touch it and God is completely different. You look for evidence in a different way there."

This is where I began to be disappointed. She had me up until this point. Why does one look for evidence of God in a "different way"? There is only one way for evidence: observation, experiments, hypothesis testing and the very important peer review. If "evidence" is found through other methods it's not evidence, because it hasn't been demonstrated to make a fact evident. Hello!

So at this point she has opened her mind to the possibility that believers aren't stupid by default, and that maybe she was missing something because there were intelligent atheists and believers. A year later, her atheism was over, due to the birth of her first child.

[9:39] Jennifer: "I held this baby in my arms--and it was actually from my atheistic perspective, I always tried to see the big picture and not focus in on my own little world. And I thought, let's think about infant mortality. If I'd lived in any other time, in any other place, more than 100 years before it would be very commonplace for this child to die. Children died all the time. And I thought, let's think about what this child is from the atheist perspective. According to my own worldview, this baby that I'm holding right here, he is nothing but a collection of chemical reactions. He is no different than a gnat other than in his complexity and the way I assessed, and many atheists assessed, the reason that we humans are more valuable than say a gnat is simply that we're more complex, we have more cognitive abilities, we have self-awareness. This child had none of that. So from an atheistic perspective, in the spirit of intellectual honesty, 'cause that's how I was raised, you have to be intellectually honest. It doesn't matter what you feel, you have to look at what is true. In the spirit of intellectual honesty, this child was not that valuable, because what did he do for the world? I knew different. The first time he looked at me and I recognized the flicker of recognition and the love in his eyes, I was done with atheism. Because I knew at that moment that love exists as a reality external to the material world. That if a meteor landed on us right now and we were pulverized into dust that what just transpired, that love, that it was real. And that it came from a source external to the chemical reactions in our brain."

Where to start? She touches upon so many delicious things! Firstly--atheism is simply a lack of belief in anything supernatural; it is completely separate from an opinion on the personhood of an infant. You can be a pro-life atheist, you can be a pro-choice atheist and anything between. I don't know any atheist who would say that a newborn is "nothing but a collection of chemical reactions", but it doesn't have anything to do with atheism, anyway. There are, however, many people--atheists and not--who believe that fetuses in the early stage of pregnancy are nothing but a clump of cells. This has nothing to do with atheism. You can be an atheist and still marvel at your fetus, your newborn, your pregnancy, your child, and passionately feel that your offspring (at whatever stage) is a wonder, a little human person with rights.

For someone who says several times that she was raised to believe what was true and not what you feel, she sure did a 180!
"The first time he looked at me and I recognized the flicker of recognition and the love in his eyes, I was done with atheism." Gaaaaghghhhh!! What the fuck does your baby recognizing/loving you have to do with God? "Because I knew at that moment that love exists as a reality external to the material world." Ahhh, ok. Because love exists and is a non-physical emotion (well, duh), therefore God exists! Makes sense. "That if a meteor landed on us right now and we were pulverized into dust that what just transpired, that love, that it was real. And that it came from a source external to the chemical reactions in our brain." Love absolutely is real. But as to it coming from a source external to our brain, fat chance! You need to prove it, not just be overwhelmed by loving mommy emotions. Besides, there is a shit ton of evidence for emotions being a direct product of our brains. Hmmm, I think I shall write a blog post about that soon.

Basically what happened is in the rush and tender emotions of post-birth motherhood, she was flushed with bonding hormones that made her maternal love/protection emotions kick-in full time. So maybe in that instant she became completely pro-life, I can grant that. But what the hell does it have to do with knowledge of evidence of God? It is only evidence of her bonding with her baby, and her feeling love for her child.

[11:19] Peter: "That worldview cannot account for love and the power of love or the universality of love or personhood."

Oh, it most definitely can. Science can prove pretty damn conclusively that emotions are a product of our powerful brains. Generally, the more intelligent a species, the more capable of emotion. Dogs can be very smart and they are obviously bursting with emotions. Our brains are a product of evolution, and part of the reason for the evolution of our emotions is that it ensures humans' safety and collaboration with each other. We are social beings and have had to evolve a system of rights and designated personhood in order to get along and be social, which benefits everyone. This is such an interesting topic, and I've written some about it here and there, but I will have to write more in another post... this is long enough already.

The next little bit in the video is rather hilarious. I'm going to sum it up rather than quote it, though. Fulwiler describes how she started praying after her son was born but for 8 months nothing, nothing, nothing until one day--ta-da!!!!! She walks into a bookstore and sees a book about Jesus that seems to be in the spotlight from across the room and it just must be a sign from God! 'Cause bookstores never put books in spotlights or on shelves where they can be seen because the book stores don't want to sell books!!!!!!!!! Nah, that would make life too ordinary. Much more interesting to believe God sends us secret little signals throughout the day. But are you ready for this? The book was Lee Strobel's Case for Christ. *Facepalm* What would have happened if she were in India and saw a glowing book across the room about Shiva?

Is God so disabled that he can't just appear and put all atheists' doubt to rest? A phone call would even do. But, alas, he remains invisible and unprovable. This poor woman prays without an answer for nearly a year, wanders into a bookstore and then, "OMG, it's Jesus!!!!" That's desperation.

[13:45] Jennifer: "What that book did was that it got me to a place where I could finally ask, "What if? What if it's true? What if God exists and he became man in the form of Jesus?" And I wasn't convinced. I didn't necessarily think it was true but for the first time I had the humility... I had the humility to ask, "What if?"

No, no, no... for the first time she had the gullibility to believe.

Once you take down the roadblock in your mind that requires evidence and reality, you can let anything in.

[19:55] Peter: "What I love about your story is that love and beauty and truth captured your heart. 'Cause everyone of us knows [looks into the camera at the atheists] we're made for that, we're made to love it, to follow it, to embrace it, to live in it. The atheist worldview can't explain all that... it's impossible to live that way!"

Excuse us atheists for having the balls to say "we don't know", instead of swallowing the Kool-Aid of the religion that can "explain it all."


Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary: Part 1

A few years ago when I was just beginning to question the existence of God, I desperately wanted to give him as many chances as possible to prove himself. With this purpose, I Googled the hell out of "proof of religion", "proof of God", "does God exist?", "atheist to Christian", "origin of religion", and all manner of variables of God, religion, truth, proof and philosophies. I thought that surely someone had been through what I had gone through, but had found the answers to all the questions and had related their story and not lost their faith.

And so I read testimony after testimony, but no one had any sort of explanation or experience that was in the least bit compelling. I asked as many friends and acquaintances as I politely could: What do you believe and why? I got answers all over the place, but the most consistent, basic reason for belief that I encountered was "I know it in my heart to be true; I have faith." Um, how can you know anything in your heart? The heart is an organ that pumps blood, firstly; we have someone come to colloquially referring to the heart as the origin of emotions and feelings. So obviously what people meant is that they felt something was true.

This was enormously unsatisfying. Their rock-solid convictions were based on feelings? Really? *facepalm* Feelings and faith aren't much different. They are both based upon, at some point, a decision to believe in something for which there is no evidence. Believers find this action endearing and dub it faith; I find it plain foolish. If you base your entire life on--and would die for--something, it should damn well be real, and it had better be able to be understood and proved to people with zero familiarity with your religion. Irony of ironies: my mother, brother and sister--who have collectively disowned me for my lack of religion--remain the only ones who refused to discuss religion to me when I asked. Oh, but religion is so unifying. Bitch, please.

For a while I gave up hope of finding anyone who could explain and prove their faith to me, coming from a "does God even exist?" basis. There were millions of stories of Catholics becoming Baptists, or Christians becoming Muslims. All these people never questioned God's existence. But what about starting from the ground up? Let's build a strong foundation, and go from there. And no, saying, "look, trees exist! There is beauty and love! Life is so complex! Therefore, God did it!" does NOT count.

Then one day the Google gods had mercy on me and guided me to Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary. Fulwiler went from 0 to 60, i.e., atheist to Catholic--finally, someone who was going to explain it all! I was so curious and excited. To make a very long story short, after reading many, many things on her site I am just as clueless as before as to how she came to her beliefs from an atheistic position.

Since then, I pop on to her blog every few months just to sniff around and see what she has to say. She seems to be a very beautiful person, inside and out, and not a religious nutjob--although, obviously, the dogma she believes makes me nutty. But lo and behold!!! I checked her blog yesterday and she had just posted the video of her one-on-one interview at EWTN. I was E-X-C-I-T-E-D! I will finally get to satisfy my curiosity--but oh shit, will it make me be Catholic again?

My response to the video would make for one very long post, so please see Part 2.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011


There are rare moments when I like humanity. This is one of those:

60 Awesome Portraits of Gay Couples Just Married in New York

I have my reservations about marriage as an institution--just had to throw that out there--but this isn't about marriage. It's about equality. These people's lives will go on pretty much the same, save for a few legal perks, and they know that, but they are no longer being denied those perks because of discrimination! This is a beautiful thing.

The snarky bitch in me must quip, "Now, they can be equally as miserable as the rest of us!" Ok, now that that's out of the way: the beauty is that they have choice, and that LGBT rights are inching forward. This is an incredible milestone, and I'm so excited!!!!!

Many, many happy thoughts for these people and those who have helped them reach this goal. What an amazing thing when people can work together, and can let people just be themselves without judgment and quit trying to squish people into a neat little box.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Does your ferret have religion?

Do you ever wonder why your ferret doesn't have faith? Why your dog doesn't have religion? Why your cat doesn't give a damn about church, morality and whether or not he was created? Has your fish ever hosted a Bible study?

When I was a child, I couldn't understand why animals didn't get married. Even as young as 5, I knew that having babies outside of marriage was wrong. I didn't know why, but this dogma had already been pounded into my head. There seemed to be a double standard: one cannot have babies outside of marriage, but animals do it every day and animals were loved and praised and protected. But that nice woman down the street who never married the father of her child? What a harlot!! So why do animals get a free pass? Why can they fornicate with reckless abandon and still rank higher than the human members of society when they all do the exact same thing?

It was this same time that I wanted my Kermit the Frog doll to make an honest woman out of me, and so in a very small and private ceremony, we wed. I didn't want to marry Kermit because I felt we loved each other but because I thought our relationship should be made proper--yes, I was brainwashed early.

One day I asked my mother why it was that animals could joyfully do the very things that we Christians were forbidden from doing. Because humans have souls, she explained, and animals didn't (never mind that humans are animals too--I wouldn't realize this for another 20 years). At the time, this made perfect sense. Animals didn't have a soul to blemish, so they could rape, murder and pillage each other and still be innocent. "Dog be dog" my mother would say, when my dog would mangle a kitty or hump another dog or gleefully spread his legs and lick his balls with gusto.

Without realizing it, the religious community embraces this kind of thinking and creates a giant moral conundrum: morality has become subjective. No longer is the morality of the act itself judged, yet the morality of the act is entirely dependent on what species you are. Morality, dependent on biology? Heaven forbid! I thought morality was God's Standard, unchangeable and perfect. How, then, can it be dependent on what species you are?

The other major problem is that no one asks for proof of the soul. What is this soul thing? Can it be seen, touched, felt, heard, measured? No. Like everything else in religion, it must be taken on faith. It is another one of those dogmas that you just decide to believe in it, rather than have a reason to believe in it. Why do we have souls, and all the other animals don't? What makes us so friggin' special?

Nothing. That's my answer, anyway. Doesn't mean we're not awesome (we are!), but do we really need to make shit up to have a basis of morality? I wish the religious would stop and think about how suspiciously human God is. God thinks this and that, likes this and that, hell--he even looks like us! How cool! Somehow God always manages to believe in the same things you do, and those people over there who believe differently from you... well, they've just got it all wrong. They don't understand God. They are bad, evil people who willfully reject God's Truth.

The main thing that separates humans from the rest of the animals is our brain: our brain is uniquely capable of rational and complex thought. So capable, in fact, that we are the only species able to believe in shit that doesn't actually exist! We can also communicate immaterial things like concepts, ideas, and philosophies that certainly do exist even though they aren't material. The bad stuff happens when we diverge from ideas based off of observations of fact and jump into the crazy world of ideas based on It Would Be Really Neat If This Were Real, or I Don't Know All the Answers So God Did It!

In my opinion the "I Don't Know All the Answers So God Did It" concept is what birthed religion. Over time religion has become exceedingly diverse, and Weird Shit gets compounded onto Older Weird Shit and before long you have a Really Big Ball of Weird Shit but It Must Be True Because It's So Old and Complicated!!!! I remember when I first told my sister that I was questioning religion. It really freaked her out. How dare I presume to know more than what the Church had taught me? "The Church is over 2,000 years old--I figure it knows what it's doing," were her exact words. *facepalm* Neither the age nor complexity of a religion has anything to do with the factuality of its claims. Christianity is by no means the oldest religion, nor the first. There are a number of sociopolitical reasons that the world's major religions have survived this long, but again, that's another post.

My point to this whole rambling post is that humans are animals, and are unique in their ability to think complex thought. This ability leads to imagination and false logic as well as good logic; unfortunately it's the false logic (or lack of any logic) that has led to the invention of religion and imaginary deities. Our brains can work for us and against us. How do we fix this? We make sure that our logic, our beliefs, our investigations, our thoughts, our everything are rooted in FACTS of testable, observable phenomena. I'm not talking about being militantly scientific--although that would be awesome--but I'm talking about making sure that you have concrete reasons to believe in what you do. Investigate and challenge everything that you believe. I'm open to believing in anything, but the time to believe in something is when there is evidence for it and not before.

We don't have all the answers, but please, let's not Make Shit Up to solve mysteries. It's ok to say "I don't know, but I am working to find out."