An Open Letter to Jennifer Fulwiler

Dear Jennifer

I have this sick habit of occasionally tuning into Catholic Answers Live radio show (www.catholic.com). I see that you are one of their upcoming speakers, a self-declared “atheist” who has definitely turned into a serious Catholic.

I find this whole show just fascinating, in a very similar way to watching a train crash. But of particular interest is when they talk about atheism as your upcoming show will do. In an effort to prepare a somewhat sensical question for your upcoming radio spot I listened to a few videos and read some of your posts about your “atheism” to Catholic conversion.

I put atheism in quotes not to demean but to suggest that your definition of atheism is like none I’ve ever encountered. It confuses me how your mom could be a Catholic and your dad explicitly reject the label atheist, yet you claim to be raised as such. But that withstanding, your view of atheism seems to be just a feeling that there is no god. Sure you say that at the time you saw no evidence but it didn’t seem like you were looking for evidence of a god where they ought to be some (theodicy, life on earth, cosmology), nor did you seem to require evidence once you converted.   Your conversion hinges on an intuitive / emotional appeal to “there must be something greater than this” when you stared at your newborn baby-boy.

I want to say that I do sympathize with that feeling (more on that to come…).  But, as you often says in your own talks, wanting something to be true does not make it true.  Yet this is exactly the logical fallacy you commit in your conversion. You want absolute morality, you want your and your sons’ life to have eternal value — and so you adhere to a belief system that provides such unsubstantiated guarantees.

One key point I keep coming back to is this idea of your baby-boy not having any worth (you explicitly talk about how an adult pig would be more valuable than a human baby) or that the love between mother-and-child is but a chemical reaction. If the earth were to be destroyed today there would be no remains of it.

I think it is true that our human emotions are temporary experiences.  But does that necessarily make them any less valuable to us living in the present?  I think that bio-chemistry plays a very important role in human love — but does not “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”?.  In my humble opinion, understanding the scientific processes at work in our human experiences does not diminish the experience.  To me, it makes it even more wondrous.  I experienced the birth of a child as a Catholic and as an atheist.  Both experiences were wonderful.  But as an atheist I understood much more about the evolutionary processes that made my twin baby boy and girl possible (and why it was such an arduous experience for my spouse).  Understanding does not destroy experiencing, for me,  it enhances it.

Maybe a good analogy for Catholics is drinking the left-over communion wine after mass.  Does the fact we know biochemically the effect alcohol has on the human body make you enjoy the buzz any less?  Didn’t for me.

Love.  Ah, what a sweet thing.  We as human beings get to choose our own purposes and meaning and value.  Does a divine despot’s edict that love has value make it valuable?  Or is it the day-to-day lived out experience of love in human relationships what gives it meaning? That love is temporary gives it all the more preciousness.

Jennifer, I’m sorry.  I’m not buying what you’re selling for one second.  You say you were an atheist, and I don’t want to play the no-true-Scotsman fallacy, but you’re description of atheism is unlike any I’ve ever encountered.

I want to finish with my sympathies for your intuitive and emotional attraction to Catholicism.  Atheist fellowship, though we we’re slowly improving, quite frankly, sucks.  Some research suggests (though many are quite skeptical about methodology and accuracy) that regular church-goers live happier and maybe even longer lives and tend to give more to charity and other selfless causes.  I get that.  I really do.  But none of the above makes Catholicism or even theism true.  What it means is that me and my fellow atheists need to work together to make our community a better place.  The Clergy project is a great example, that so happens to feature many priests turned atheists, of helping out people who are struggling.  Atheists helping the homeless.  Humanist chaplaincy.  There is progress…

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One response to “An Open Letter to Jennifer Fulwiler

  1. We as human beings get to choose our own purposes and meaning and value? So there are no objectives? No objective meaning? No standard by which we can attempt objective judgements?

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