Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A classic for our times: reviewing Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found ItSomething Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can think of an awful lot of people who I'd give this book to:

Christians trying to understand atheists (like a pal of mine who said, "I just don't know how those people don't believe in God." I almost shoved my copy into her hands. Almost. Hey, I wasn't finished with it yet.)

Atheists trying to understand Christians.

Protestants trying to understand Catholic teachings.

Catholics trying to understand Church teachings.

Catholics who understand but struggle with following Church teachings.

Anyone wanting an inspirational story of change and redemption.

Yes, that really is an awful lot of people ...

Jennifer Fulwiler was raised by loving parents who didn't push their atheism on her or do more than tell her to think for herself. However, that in itself was enough to produce a dedicated atheist, especially when told to an intelligent youngster who applied herself with the passion that only youth can muster to facts and logical conclusions.
I looked at the ammonite settled in between my soggy sneakers and I understood for the first time that my fate was no different than its own.

I had always thought of these creatures as being fundamentally different from me. They were the dead things, I was the alive thing, and that's how it would be forever. Now I wondered what had kept me from understanding that to look at these long-dead life-forms was to look at a crystal ball of what lay in store for me—except that, unless I happened to die by falling into some soft mud, I wouldn't end up a fossil. Ten million years from now, there would be nothing left of me.


There was no solution to my problem, because it wasn't even a problem; it was just a new awareness of reality. But as I took one last glance at the pickup before it disappeared from view. I felt like there was some answer in that brief flash of happiness I'd experienced while driving the truck. The grim truth I'd uncovered hadn't gone away, but it was somehow rendered less significant when I'd been immersed in the distraction of having fun.
Her only encounters with Christians were, frankly, off-putting and tended to be with friends who were not at all equipped to discuss faith versus scientific truth and logic. So Fulwiler spent many years losing herself in fun to distract herself from the awareness of mortality.

When Fulwiler became a wife and mother, the life-altering love she experienced defied logic. It defied scientific explanations. It tipped the scales against atheism. With this realization, she began searching for the truth. That truth led her to a place she'd never have expected, conversion to Catholicism.

On the surface, this is Fulwiler's story of her  conversion. However, because she required so much reflection, connection, and research before relinquishing her old beliefs, it is also a primer on logical investigation and thought. Finally, it is a exploration of Catholic teachings and how they apply to modern life. It was key for Fulwiler to fully understand all the implications of what she was accepting so she takes care to make sure the reader also understands.

This isn't done in a dry or preachy way. Au contraire, I often found myself laughing, especially at the time she sat in a bathroom stall for hours, reading a Bible furiously searching for answers and just as furiously spinning the toilet paper roll to send away people who knocked on the door.  And there are moving and insightful moments such as when she is reading C. S. Lewis, listening to Tupac Shakur, and melding her thoughts about both into realizations about hell, heaven, and purgatory.

I recently read St. Augustine's Confessions, the first autobiography ever written. It is a moving and completely honest book about one man's search for ultimate truth. On many levels Fulwiler conveys the same passionate desire to know what is true, what can be trusted, as that young African seeker did 1,600 years ago.

Augustine's book is a classic because it spoke so directly to the people of his time and yet sounds its message through the ages. Other Christian classics do the same. Francis de Sales with his Introduction to the Devout Life, Teresa of Avila with her Interior Castle, and Thérèse of Lisieux with The Story of a Soul all addressed problems of their time with advice that is still applicable and invaluable today. They reach us now because the human soul always struggles with the same problems and they speak in a way that transcends their own particular eras.

Why do I bring them up? Only time will tell if this book is a classic that reaches beyond our time. I think it is nuanced, well written, and relatable enough that it could.

What I do know is that, as with those classics, this book was written to address a dire need in the author's own time. Right here, right now, our country and the Western world are crying out for a way to make the world make sense. Jennifer Fulwiler's book spells it out in a way that cannot be ignored by any honest truth seeker. She tells of the truth that transcends mere facts while speaking the language that our modern, science loving, atheistic world understands.

It is truly a classic for our times.


  1. If you on enjoyed theirs book, I think you'd also enjoy "Catholic by Choice" by Richard Cole. It, too, is a conversion story that's entertaining, easy-to-read and surprisingly moving.

    1. Hi K.C. - I did enjoy Catholic by Choice (my review at the link).

  2. I have been seeing interviews with her all over the place. From her story, it seems to be that it should relate to many, many people out there nowadays who are just as lost as she was.

    I'll probably be putting this on my list.

    1. They really are doing a thorough job with publicity. She did work on it for five or six years though and I'd say it shows. Really well done.

  3. I will probably get it too but I have to say I found St. Augustine's Confessions on the boring side...lol. It was 20% personal development and 80% philosophy.

    1. St. Augustine did not have six children nor Texas scorpions. Unfortunately the scorpions do not make an appearance in the book, nor do all the children. However, read
      and see if you think she would write a boring book.

    2. Oh I did not mean to imply that her book would be boring. I was just making a statement about St. Augustine's Confessions.

    3. Manny ... I didn't say I LOVED the Confesssions, you'll note. The middle third of the book was fascinating. The beginning and end much less so. But the comparison remains valid.

      Marie ... I specifically did not mention Jennifer's blog as I have seen the hundreds of reviews that begin with "I've been reading Jennifer's blog since ..." and then go on to praise the book for little more than their long connection with this story. I was trying to write something simply about the book itself and its value. Just to be honest, once she began mostly writing about scorpions and her children, I began to find it boring. It began to turn more into a "mom blog" than something about her faith. There is nothing wrong with "mom blogs" but they are just not my cup of tea. And this book shows the value of being forced to rewrite for several years. It is much more than the sum of its parts. :-)