Book Review: Something Other Than God (updated)

Benjamin Being Catholic

Fr. Joel ( 21 Jul 2014): Jennifer is a passionate woman and her passion for life is evident on every page of this memoir. Sometimes the sentences and writing style feel overwrought; she seems to be exaggerating for dramatic effect. But when she talks about free-lancing so she can jet-set with her boyfriend and hiring waitstaff to cater parties at their condo, you realize that this really is the authentic Jennifer. She has the all-star list of objections to being Catholic:

  • She doesn’t believe in God.
  • She doesn’t like Jesus Christ.
  • She finds Christians annoying.
  • She thinks that the Catholic church is medieval, corrupt, and generally horrid.
  • She’s decidedly pro-abortion.
  • She can’t imagine not using birth control.

In the post-modern, post-Christian world of jet-setting Austin, she turns to blogging to ask religious questions. Jennifer won’t stop searching for the truth, and one by one God slowly answers every objection. There are moments of beautiful Providence punctuated by the agony of admitting God into her life. This book is really a romance with the Almighty, with all the joy and agony of every romance. I was reminded of my own deep struggles to try and reconcile the mess of my life with the loving presence of God. I’ve always found answers, and so does Jennifer.

My one knock against the book is that the chapters don’t flow smoothly from one to the next. They feel like disconnected snapshots or separate blog posts. The story needs to flow better between them. I would also have liked a little more glimpse into life after conversion. She mentions peace and getting help, but looking back, can she say for certain that becoming Catholic really was the right choice? Still, the book covers a lot of ground in a way that’s delightful and fascinating. The chapters are short and focused and move along quickly. Some of the moments are truly priceless. No matter what your religious background, you’ll find this book an enjoyable read.

Overall I was impressed with her honesty and her tenacious search for nothing but the truth. So many Catholics object to one or many church teachings but they never make the time to honestly seek the truth. The image of Jennifer pouring over stacks of internet print-offs from the Vatican website should make one stop and think: am I passionately seeking the truth, or am I just content to believe comfortable lies?


Fr. Benjamin (16 Jun 14): I don’t follow a lot of blogs, but once in a while I drop in on Conversion Diary to see what’s going on with Jennifer & the Fulwilers. Her journey from Atheism to committed Catholicism have given her some powerful insights into faith and every day life. What I enjoy most about her blog is the self-deprecating honesty that does not ignore the pains of life (and her own weaknesses) but struggles to offer them up to God in the light of faith.

After a great number of struggles (and weaknesses), she has finally published her conversion story under the title Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found it. I had a rather tight schedule in which to read this book since I had borrowed in from my twin brother and promised to give it back soon. Fortunately for me, the book is very well written and moves along quickly. I managed to finish it in a handful of days.

The book is tightly written (perhaps a little bit too much), and every chapter reads as a snapshot on her journey. The whole book is like a collection of colorful snapshots that flesh out the whole picture. While the book moves quickly there is a lot of substance and some deep insights. Several times I needed to pause and take time to reflect.

There were a number of things I loved about the book, besides the details of the overall story which are quite entertaining in themselves. First, there is none of the simplicity that one sometimes sees in Christian circles that regards the existence of God as a self-evident truth. She doesn’t abjure her former life of falsehood and beg those still in the grip of Atheism to see the light of reason. Instead, the story carefully gathers up the beauty and truth and goodness that she experienced as an atheist and demonstrates how those lights led her gradually towards Christianity and then Catholicism.

I particularly like her assessment of Biblical (Protestant) Christianity as an outsider looking in. It appears to her as a flawed and imperfect human system, one which only works for someone who has access to books and concordances and the luxury of time to read the Bible frequently.

I just recently recommended the book to my father to use in his RCIA class. Besides confronting the question of Catholicism vs. Protestant Christianity, she also has to confront the questions of abortion and contraception before she is ready to enter the Church. Her discussion of these issues is excellent because, like her whole conversion story, it is not totally emotional nor is it totally intellectual but a healthy combination of the two.

In her efforts to explain her conversion and live her faith, Jennifer is a great example of a new generation of Catholics that are focused on living their faith as best they can. I was a little shocked to realize that she is only three years older than me, meaning that this is my generation! I had not realized we were supposed to be picking up the torch quite so quickly. +