It took the most innocent, helpless life to show avowed atheist the Light
By Dave Myers
Southwest Kansas Catholic
So ingrained was her atheism, that while only in the fourth grade, Jennifer Fulwiler quietly moved all the bibles in her school library from the religion section to the fiction section.
“I was always an atheist, from earliest childhood,” Fulwiler told thousands of college-age youth at the national SEEK conference in Indianapolis (see Page 3). “My father was an atheist. I didn’t ever wonder if God might exist. I never said a prayer just in case. …It just seemed kind of obvious: You only believe in what you can prove. I believe this microphone exists because I’m holding it. How can you believe in something there is no material evidence of?”
Fulwiler was one of several guest speakers at the annual conference Jan. 3-7. Among the 17,000 youth attending from around the country were 26
students from the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City, including diocese Director of Youth Ministry, Adam Urban, and Director of Young Adult Ministry, Gentry Heimerman.
“Modern atheism is very well branded,” Fulwiler explained. “It is branded as well as Gucci and Tommy Hilfilger. It’s branded as being for the inteligencia. Smart people are atheists, right? People who question assumptions. Highly educated scientists and engineers.
“I adopted the view that’s very common in atheism: scientism. Everything must be provable by the scientific method. I clung to that because it was safe. It’s safer to say that I don’t believe in this extra stuff. I’ll never be vulnerable, never risk looking dumb.”
She took her atheism to college. It was part of her identity, she said. So, when she learned that the guy she had fallen in love with was a believer, it blew her mind.
“When I found out he believed in God, I was shocked! My husband ended up going to Yale, graduating in three years with honors, then to Columbia Law School, then Stanford Business School where he earned a masters in computer science.
“So, when I found out he believed in God, I said, ‘But you’re smart! That’s so weird!’
“Then it got even weirder! He said he believed in Jesus, which seemed so absolutely crazy to me! He said, ‘I don’t go to church, I don’t read the Bible, I rarely pray. But, I’ll tell you this. I was baptized [in the Baptist Church] when I was 13 years old. When I came up from those baptismal waters, I encountered something. I encountered someone. … I know that I encountered the living person of Jesus Christ when I was baptized, and I will never deny that. No one can every take that away from me.’”
Fulwiler was shown for the first time that you can be a reasonable, intelligent person and still believe in things that can’t be proven by the scientific method.
She didn’t immediately abandon her atheism.
Then came the birth of her first child.
“It was a shattering experience to be a part of a vulnerable new life,” she said. “I looked at this baby and I said, I know that the love that I feel for this child—the love that has come into my family since his birth—has a source that is external to the neurons in our brain. I can’t prove this. But I know more than I know anything else in the world that this love is real, and if the whole world blew up tomorrow, this love would still exist.
“And that was the moment I let go of atheism.”
The couple believed in God and in his Son, Jesus, but they had no faith center. In fact, when they were married, their common beliefs included an expressed anti-Catholicism.
In their search for faith fulfillment, the couple decided to allow themselves to examine the Catholic Church, certain they would find reason to dismiss it.
“When we studied what the Church actually believes, it was like we found the owners manual to the human soul,” Fulwiler said. “This Church knows us better than we know ourselves! … This Church had been saying the same truth for age after age as empire after empire has fallen away around it. We said, We see the fingerprints of God here. We see things human beings can’t do on their own. At the Easter Vigil 2007, both Joe and I became Catholic.”
Later, when they had their child baptized, Fulwiler began an introspection. How did I get here? she asked herself as she looked back on her unlikely journey.
“I opened a drawer and to the front slid a long narrow box. It was my baptism candle. I had been baptized in a Catholic Church when I was six months old (as per the wishes of a dying grandparent).
“The moment the priest said the words of baptism and poured waters on my head when I was a baby, I was sealed with an indelible mark of belonging to Christ. Even a life of atheism could not take that away.
“You will have moments when you doubt your faith,” she concluded. “You might fall away, have difficult times, but you can always count on the grace of your baptism to guide you home.”