Something Other Than God Review


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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently read Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler. I mentioned before that I didn’t find it very convincing, and I will go into why in a bit. But first I want to mention what I did like. Jennifer Fulwiler is a great storyteller. The book was very easy to read and had a great flow to it. She is great at conveying emotion through her writing. And the writing itself was great. But, as great of a story as it was, it is not something that could ever could ever convince me that there must be a god. I’ll explain why as I go through some of the major points in the story.
Jennifer began her book by discussing her childhood growing up without religion. She talks about how she had two loving parents that supported her, and that she had a good childhood. I think all of that is great. But then she talks about how she decided that she was an atheist at the age of 11 after her camp leader at a secular summer camp tried to convert her to Christianity. While I feel bad that she was put through that at a camp that was meant to be open to everybody, I do not think that that is a good reason to become an atheist. I won’t say that she wasn’t an atheist, because she very clearly believed that there was no god, but I would not say that she had put any thought into her atheism. In fact, she only gave herself the title to elicit a reaction from others. To create an us vs. them paradigm. In case you’re wondering, she was the “them.” She also never took it any farther than that. She didn’t try to learn about Christianity, or any other religion. She didn’t try to discuss their beliefs with her friends to gain a better understanding of their positions, or to better understand her own. She never bothered to read up on atheism or learn any philosophy pertaining to the situation. In short, she was about as knowledgeable in her atheism as a Christian who never goes to church, never reads the Bible, and never thinks about their Christianity.
Jennifer then talks about an existential crises she had at 11 when she realized that she was one day going to die. As I had a similar crises at a similar age, I understand what that can be like. However, unlike Jennifer, I didn’t bury my fear, refuse to think about it, or let it control my life. I realised that my feelings were normal by talking to other people and (most importantly) reading books. Jennifer seemed to assume that nobody else ever had those types of experiences (an assumption that she makes numerous times) and she never bothers to try and understand them or talk to anyone. If she had, she’d realise that such feelings are a part of growing up. As a result of not dealing with her feelings, She mentions that her crises lasted well into her adulthood. She mentions that she tried to bury the existential crises by having fun and trying to be successful. This, again, is very silly. For one, burying emotions is never healthy, for another, she behaved very immaturely as a result. She avoided religion like the plague. She never bothered to educate herself about what religions are out there. She never bothered to learn about what people actually believed. And she still didn’t bother to learn about her own experiences or beliefs. Seriously, a few philosophy classes in college would have helper immensely. And, despite not knowing her own beliefs let alone the beliefs of others, she still felt entitled to sit around and criticise others for their beliefs. Seriously, at least know what you’re criticising before you criticise it.
She continues to avoid all things religious for years after finishing college. She had managed to achieve her success where her career is concerned (which is, for some reason, the only type of success that many people consider success), but she still hadn’t bothered to learn about religion. Even after she began dating a Christian, not only did she not learn about his beliefs, but she actively avoided learning about them. To my mind, that’s a first date conversation:
Me: So are you religious or spiritual at all?
Imaginary date: Yes, I’m a Christian.
Me: Oh, really? What denomination?
Imaginary date: Baptist.
Me: That’s interesting. May I ask your views on evolution?
Imaginary date: I’m a young earth creationist.
Me. I think it’s time for the bill.
However, given her boyfriend’s opinion of atheists, I can understand why Jennifer would keep it a secret. I don’t, however understand why she’d stay with him: her then boyfriend (now husband) antagonizes her about her not being a theist and says that she will one day see things his way. He mocks the idea of evolution (assuming that she accepted it, which it turned out she didn’t), then he told her that she’s rational and would one day see that there had to be a god. Seriously, who the hell would be such an asshole to someone they loved? We’re not talking about a 16 year old boy either. This is a 29ish year old man. The way he spoke to her was very much in an “I don’t respect you, you’re just a status symbol.”
Her husband continues his self-centred worldview by deciding to quit his job and start a business despite having a pregnant wife who will soon be unable to work. This, understandably, puts Jennifer in panic mode. But, despite it being a terrible time to drastically change lifestyles, her husband continues with his plans. Jennifer does support him, but, given that he quit before telling her, I can’t imagine her support was truly necessary. Jennifer even mentioned a few times that she felt like she was just along for the ride. So much for marriage being a partnership.
When Jennifer’s child is eventually born, she mentions having felt a lot of fear. She was terrified to let anybody hold her child, or to have her child away from her side. Basically, she felt like every other first time mother. However, Jennifer concluded that her fear could only be as a result of her atheism and the inevitability of death. This is very silly reasoning. Given her sleep deprived and stressed out state, I understand that her logic wasn’t really working that well, but she remained adamant that her feelings resulted from her atheism and the permanence of death, and not her new motherhood. She ends up concluding that god must exist. This really does not follow. For one, it assumes that only first time mothers who are atheists can experience these fears. For another, it assumes that god somehow changes how people feel about death. We may believe that different things happen after death, but both atheists and theists can fear death. As such, I don’t think this is a very good reason to suddenly assume that god must exist. Especially since this assumption apparently comes out of nowhere.
Throughout the first few months of her son’s life, Jennifer experiences extreme distress. Despite this, her husband continues to spend all his time working. Yes, they have a new business that requires a lot of work, but he is not really a father for months. This is something he really should have, and probably didn’t, consider before quitting his job.
As a result of her conclusion that god exists, Jennifer tentatively begins researching religion, beginning with Buddhism. I’m glad that she is finally bothering to learn about something as important to human society and interaction as religion, but this is something she should have done years ago. And her initially research is very much half-hearted. She never really considered Buddhism (probably because she had a very Westernised view of it) and she never really bothered to consider any other religion. In fact, she seemed to assume Christianity (something many people do in the west) the moment she assumed god must exist.
She eventually started a blog to talk about her changing beliefs. She even specifically picked people to follow her blog (something that seems quite dishonest to me) based on how much she agreed with their arguments. The fact that she began her blog and reached out to people is great, because it shows that she was finally thinking about religion. But I wonder how much deeper her understanding would have gotten if she had talked to a more diverse group and gotten more diverse answers. Yes, it would have increased her confusion, but she also would have thought about things in a more nuanced way. She ends up realizing that everybody that she had picked based on having decided that they were the most well versed were Catholics. I highly doubt this. It makes sense that they would mostly be Catholics: she was picking based on her assumption that Christianity was true, and most Christians are Catholics. But it is unlikely that she didn’t think that one or two protestants defended their beliefs well. After all, the types of people who start blogs and write about their beliefs tend to be quite well versed in their beliefs, and they can generally defend their beliefs well. Of course, there are people out there who don’t, but convincing arguments are not only made by Catholics. She initially brushes the Catholics off as crazy, but decides that they are right because her husband said they were. Seriously, she assumed they must be crazy for no other reason than because they are Catholic and then changes her mind because her husband is convinced by their arguments. This is another bad reason to accept a belief. She’s merely appealing to her husband’s authority.
Her husband eventually decides he’s pro-choice. Jennifer initially disagrees with him, but she doesn’t really know why. Or at least she says she didn’t. She eventually looks deeper into Catholicism and decides to follow every rule. She assumes that the Catholic Church must have a good, God-given reason to create those rules, so she decides to follow them all. She finally decides that being pro-choice is wrong as a result. And as a result of reading some court cases on the topic. But again, she never looks at the actual debate. She never tries to understand what the pro-choice (or pro-life) arguments are. She never tries to understand why a woman might choose to abort. And she never considers that the woman’s life isn’t the only life that is considered when people get late term abortions. Once again, her reasoning is very poor.
She ended up deciding that God let her uncle die horribly at the age of two because earth is full of nothing but suffering and there is no suffering in heaven. This is after feeling very angry for a while that God would allow a child so young to die. This seems to be a commonly accepted reasoning for accepting tragedy among Christians, and it shows that she was listening in church, but it is still poor reasoning. She never really looked into what different people had to say about it. She just went why, why, why, why, earth is terrible. This, again, is very black and white thinking.
She finds out she has a rare blood disorder during her second pregnancy and disregards her doctors suggestions because faith. She was told that her condition is very dangerous and can kill her, but she puts herself and her unborn child in danger because her religion tells her that contraception is bad. I can’t help but think that this is very stupid: if her church tells her that she should continue having children regardless of the consequences, that means that her church only values her for her ability to have children. But, I have to say, I was more angry with the American medical system at this point. Due to the privatization of medicine, Jennifer was looking at $10-20,000 for treatment. She was sent to a high-risk pregnancy centre so that she could have the baby safely. The lady who dealt with payment plans (a concept that is very foreign to me as a Canadian) told her that she had to pay $2000 up front for treatment. When Jennifer said she couldn’t afford it, the lady basically told her that she had no choice. She could either pay $2000 or she could go elsewhere (aka she could die). Wow. That is absolutely the most fucked up thing I have ever heard. $2000 is more important to the US medical system than a persons life. I am so fucking glad I live in Canada where my government doesn’t value my pocket book more than it values me. But how dare Obama try to make this kind of situation unheard of in the US (as it is in every other developed nation). How dare lives be put ahead of profit.
She ends up having four more children despite knowing that she was risking her life because faith. Again, to me this is very stupid.
As you can see, I do not think that Jennifer’s reasons for becoming a Catholic. If she is convinced, fine. But her reasoning was not very thoughtful. For me, I’d have to be reasoned into faith before I could accept it (something that Jennifer doesn’t really accept). But then, I’ve never ran from religion, or from learning new things. I never felt comfortable mocking things that I don’t understand. And I certainly don’t think about religion in shades of black and white.

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15 responses to “Something Other Than God Review

  • amberlisa

    Wow I was blown away by this review…amazing how incredibly simplistic another person’s worldview can be. I have to ad no I generally steer clear of your Atheist stuff because I’m not an atheist and I don’t think it will interest me, but I have to admit I found this review of this book utterly intriguing!

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  • sittingwithtommy

    You mentioned that her story isn’t something that could ever convince you that there is a God. As someone who has placed his faith in Jesus and the work of the cross, I fully acknowledge that I could never reason anyone to a belief in God. I do believe that my actions should point you to Jesus. I believe that I should live my life in a way that causes you to think about the things of God, but I do not believe that I can ever do anything that would cause you to believe in God. Does what I just said make sense?

    I’m a new follower and I look forward to reading some more of your stuff!

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    • hessianwithteeth

      Why would your actions tell me anything about God? Your actions tell me about you. They tell me what kind of a person you are. They say nothing about anybody else.

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      • sittingwithtommy

        I never said my actions tell you anything about God. However, a person’s actions tell a lot more than just about themselves and what kind of person they are. A person’s actions tell of their upbringing, their family, their values, their motifs, and so much more.

        I did say that my actions should cause you to think about the things of God. I do not give of my time and resources because of myself. I do not take time off to go around the world telling people about myself. I do not visit sick and dying people in the hospital because of myself. I agree that a person’s actions tell you what kind of person they are, but their actions also tell you much more.

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        • hessianwithteeth

          Your actions don’t tell me about your parents either. If they did, that would mean that everybody grows up to be like their parents. But this isn’t the case. You can be a great person who does all they can to help others, but that doesn’t mean your parents weren’t abusive scumbags. So no, I can’t say anything about your parents given your actions.
          And saying that your actions would make me think God is the same as saying that your actions tell me something about God. Maybe if I were a Christian who believed that all good deeds were done done by God or at God’s will, then I would think about God after having witnessed you doing something good. But I’m not that Christian, so why would I think of God at all? You may believe that you only do good things because of God, but I don’t think that’s the case. I do think that the good you do you do because of yourself. Though I don’t think that missionary work should be considered good. If you want to feed the hungry and build shelters, great, but don’t add any conditions. Visiting the sick and dying can be much the same. If you’re going there just to talk to people and have a pleasant conversation, that’s great. If you go there because they asked you to, that’s great. But if you’re going there to visit people who never asked you to come, and you’re going there to tell them about your religion to attempt to “save” them, or even just to pray for people who never asked for your prayers, that’s not a good action. In fact, both of those are bullying tactics. They’re a way to use your power to force people to submit to your will.

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          • sittingwithtommy

            There are a lot of assumptions in your reply. You do not know my parents, so you really do not have the information needed to know whether or not my actions say anything about my parents, or not. I cannot speak for you and your environment, but I can for mine and here in Oklahoma a lot of the things we do we do because of our parents. It’s called influence. Sure, we aren’t mirror images or exact replicas, but in a lot of ways we are similar. The things that our parents teach us, the values the instill in us, their attitudes, etc., definitely have an impact on this. Parents are HUGE agents of socialization.

            My initial comments were a generalization, not an absolute. I did not make them only for you. With that said, we agree that my actions would cause some, not all and maybe not you, to think on the things of God. Which takes me back to my original point I was hoping to get across…I cannot reason anyone to a belief in God.

            My convictions cause me to do the things that I do. Maybe not 100%, but they are a significant reason for what I do what I do. This convictions and values are found in the teachings of scripture. I do think that people who have no faith in God, or a supreme being, can do good. Those people can do good, and they do it often. I can only speak for myself and my motifs are definitely not driven by me and me alone.

            I don’t know how current missions could be anything but good. I do participate in missions hoping to engage people in Gospel-oriented conversations but I do not offer them something and force them to hear about Christianity before I give them assistance. When medical mission teams go to offer assistance, nobody is turned away because they refused to convert or listen to what we wanted them to hear. In my experience, conditions are never added for people we help. Historically, there is most certainly many examples where people did terrible things in the name of missions. I can only speak for myself and what I have experienced and continue to participate in. My church has ministries that feed and clothe the needy in our community, we help with utility expenses. We provide school supplies for the kids in our area. We have helped to start and fund an orphanage in Cambodia. We give over a million dollars each year for outreach and missions projects. I could go on and on, and in all of these things we expect nothing in return. Their faith, or lack thereof, has no bearing on what they receive from us.

            Thanks for your responses tonight. I hope that we’ll get to have many more conversations in the near future. Good night!

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          • hessianwithteeth

            How can your actions tell me anything about your parents when I don’t know them? That’s kind of the whole problem.
            Missions are first and foremost about converting people. That’s why I say they aren’t a good thing. That isn’t to say that people who go on missions trips can’t be good people. However, I think a good action should be done for the sake of doing a good action, and not for some ulterior motive. That’s why I don’t think the trips themselves are good. There’s also the issue of the white man’s burden where missions trips and other similar charitable trips. It’s important to think about how much good is actually being done by people who go to other countries to perform charity.

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  • Blaine Arcade

    As an American atheist who was born in the north but raised in the south, I can tell you that these kinds of attitudes are pretty common. Many people rely on very specific emotional moments as justification for grand belief structures. They think of it as a ‘revelation’ and confuse intensity with clarity. If you attempt to question a revelation or a message from god, they become defensive and assume you’re insulting them.

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  • Ain't No Shrinking Violet

    OK Hessian, you seem to be up for a good debate most of the time, so I want to put some thoughts out there to you. You are a college educated feminist (as am I, though I’m quite a bit older than you). The problem with being in college is that you’re surrounded by people who are like you…they know how to reason and argue and know different philosophies and are taught different world views. The thing is, once you leave college, you will discover not everyone comes from this same mold. Your reasons make sense to you because of the culmination of your life experiences.

    The lady who wrote this book…you knocked her for being submissive to her husband. Perhaps in her life, she’s not been exposed to the ideas of feminism that we have, therefore how would she even understand how she’s being subservient? Is she subservient because of faulty reasoning? No, it’s possible she’s just not been exposed enough to a different ideas about women to make an educated decision.

    You knock her for not being an atheist for the “right reasons,” yet it sounds like she’s not had any college philosophy classes or maybe no college at all. What else would you expect? She bases her reasoning on her life experiences and it make sense to her.

    We, as college educated feminists and atheists do not have a grounds to call her reasoning “right” or “not right,” because we do not have her life experience.

    If there’s one thing I take issue with, it’s that any 11 year old on earth has a mind developed enough to have an “existential crisis.” To me that is absolutely laughable…but then I was a catholic when I was a 11, so who am I to judge.

    I’m just saying be very careful before you judge others, who may come from a completely different perspective, on whether or not they’re “right” or “wrong” about something. Logic and reason aren’t the only two things that make the world go around, even if we think they should be. Life experience is also hugely important, and everyone’s is remarkably different.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hessianwithteeth

      I never said her answers are right or wrong, I said her reasoning is poor. And by poor, I mean I didn’t need university to out reason her. If she had bothered to put thought into her decisions, I would not criticize her reasoning, but she real didn’t do much deep thinking. In fact, she actively avoided thinking critically.
      I had a similar crises at about 10. I was still a theist at that point too. However, that was around the time when one of my cousins died in a car accident and one of my aunts committed suicide. As such, I feel I got a bit of a head start in the thinking about death thing.

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  • zareenn3

    I haven’t read the book yet and I don’t think I want to. I mean, okay religion is a funny thing and it’s different for all of us out there or whatever, but I totally agree with all your reasons.

    Specially, the husband seems kinda like a douche bag.

    Thanks for the review and letting us know that the book is absolute shit. 🙂

    Like

  • Home And Spirit

    I haven’t read the book and after what you wrote about won’t. It’s just so sad. I absolutely agree with all your reasoning. Her marriage certainly doesn’t sound like a partnership and she doesn’t appear to have any confidence in her own reasoning skills. She could just as well have been a Jehovah Witness if she had fallen in love with one.

    I only noted two small irrelevant points which I believe are false. One being there are more Catholics than Protestants, In the US there are more protestants than Catholics though once upon a time the opposite was probably true….not sure about world wide The other point you made was when you wrote: “… she was about as knowledgeable in her atheism as a Christian who never goes to church, never reads the Bible, and never thinks about their Christianity”, Going to church and reading the bible, in my opinion, doesn’t make one a Christian any more than being raised one. Religion and faith are personal choices.

    Very interesting reading. Even though I am a Christian I found your viewpoints so refreshing. I wish many people of faith or those at a crossroads could read it. Although it may seem than you are being critical of the author, to me your compassion for her comes through.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      I wasn’t talking strictly the US with the comment about Catholicism. Remember, these were people she met online, so they could be from almost anywhere. Worldwide, Catholicism is still dominant. The Pew Research Forum has Catholicism at 50.1% of all Christians worldwide.
      I added “and don’t think about their Christianity” to show that this person doesn’t have any knowledge of their Christianity because Christians disagree on the importance of church and the Bible.
      Thank you for reading and enjoying my post. I tried not to be critical of her as a person while sharing why I disagreed, which can be hard sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

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