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This Week: In Trouble

Guess What? Jennifer Fulwiler is Still an Idiot.

When we last met Jennifer Fulwiler, the self-described “former atheist” was pointing out some “misconceptions about atheists.” Rather than debunking them, her article only seemed to be aimed at affirming them.

Don’t assume that atheists have a sense of sad emptiness, she said, but they do have one. They just haven’t noticed it yet!


The only thing that the article demonstrated was that for all of her self-applied expertise, Fulwiler really doesn’t know the first thing about non-believers.  My skepticism actually goes farther than her claim of having been an atheist earlier in life. I have serious doubts she’s actually even ever talked to one of us.

Well, nothing has changed in her latest article for the National Catholic Register. This time she wants to point out the “Five Catholic Teachings That Make Sense to Atheists.” That is to say, these are the five best inroads that she thinks a Catholic can exploit while trying to convert one of us.

They’re actually worse than I thought they’d be.  Let’s get this over with. I’m going to post her arguments in their entirety.

1. Purgatory

Growing up as both an atheist and a nerd in a particularly status-conscious section of the Bible Belt, I was occasionally on the receiving end of unkindness from Christians. When these same people also announced that they were going directly to heaven when they died because they’d accepted Jesus, it didn’t make any sense to me. I knew enough to know that heaven was supposed to be a place of perfect love and peace, so it seemed illogical to say that people could act like jerks until their dying breaths and then walk right on through the pearly gates. On the other hand, being a jerk sometimes isn’t the worst thing in the world, and it also didn’t make sense to say that a loving God would have people spend an eternity in hell for a few slip-ups. When I heard about the concept of Purgatory when I was exploring religion years later, it made sense to me because it explained how heaven can be a place of perfect love, and God can still be merciful to people who had some work to do in that department when they died.

Um, got any evidence that Purgatory exists? That’s pretty much the only way this argument can have any weight with me.

And besides, how does tossing a Diet Hell into the mix going to change my mind about the existence of gods, deities? Alright, so we now have three options for post-life eternity, instead of just two. Rather than just eternal bliss or agony, I can now also endure…exile in the Phantom Zone?

And if her goal is to fish for compliments that her afterlife dogma is less punitive than that of some other Christians, um… congratulations? Jennifer, there are some Christians who believe that everyone goes to Heaven, does that make their unfounded mystical assertions any more true than yours?

The pleasantness of the delusion says nothing about its truth.


2. The Communion of Saints

The idea of deceased friends and family members being aware of what goes on here on earth is nearly universal. When I studied anthropology in college, I found it fascinating that so many cultures that were separated by time and geography had this same idea about the afterlife—it seemed like we’re wired to believe this. So when I was in the process of converting to Catholicism, I didn’t struggle with this doctrine at all—it struck me as an articulation of a spiritual truth known to the human heart from time immemorial.

Most cultures in the world have had slavery as well. Most people once thought that the world was flat and that disease was caused by evil spirits. Most people can be wrong, and have been before. Frequently.

Atheists know we’re in the minority on the god topic, and we know that our minority status doesn’t make it wrong. Simply pointing out that everyone else is jumping off of a bridge doesn’t make it a good idea.

3. Veneration of Mary

This may not be the case for atheists who had a Protestant upbringing, but most of the atheist-to-Catholic converts I know who had no religious background didn’t struggle with the Church’s emphasis on Mary—and many say that it always kind of made sense to them. To me, overlooking Mary was an example of intellectual inconsistency within Christianity: If you believe that there is a great Creator who, in his unfathomable power, brought forth the universe out of nothing … and you believe that he chose his own mom … why on earth would you not freak out about this woman? How unbelievably special would she have to be to be fit for God himself to call her “Mommy”? So when I heard that Catholics place a huge emphasis on the Mother of God, my reaction was basically to shrug and say, “Yeah. Of course.”

I really don’t what else to say, but… so what?
It seems to me that the weight of this argument rests of a foundation of a priori belief.  It’s not really a big deal that she’s Jesus’ mom unless I already believe that (1) Jesus existed and (2) he was the divine son of the creator of the universe. The former belief is unlikely and the latter is laughably implausible.
Meh. Moving on.

4. Salvation for Non-Catholics and Non-Christians

Another thing that always struck me as intellectually inconsistent about Christianity was the idea that people who hadn’t heard about Jesus through no fault of their own would spend eternity in hell, or that God would bar people from heaven who sincerely sought him but worshiped the “wrong” way. It didn’t see how people could believe this and also believe that their God was good and loving, since the punishment of innocents is inherently unloving. It struck me as fair and consistent when I came across this in the Catholic Catechism:

 Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.

This is probably the funniest one on the list. If there’s an escape clause for people who’ve never heard of the Gospel of Christ, isn’t it terribly immoral to go around the world telling people about it? Aren’t you just putting billions of souls into danger of burning in Hell?

It’s difficult to sincerely believe this sort of thing and not see Catholic missionaries as the biggest assholes who’ve ever lived. They’re just traveling around the world, removing the ignorance escape clause and consigning people to eternal damnation.


You’d think that the solution would be to destroy all copies of the Bible, suppress all knowledge of the Gospels and work to eradicate all memory that the Gospels ever existed. That way belief is no longer a factor for salvation — just being a good person would be.

But seriously, this is another one of those, “but my faith isn’t as awful as those other Christians’” rationalizations. There’s no attempt to provide evidence, only to point out that her insanity is less nasty than it could be. Still doesn’t make it true.

You may want to sit down. As bad as the arguments have been so far, they didn’t prepare me for what Ms. Fulwiler had saved for last:

5. Apostolic Authority

One of the biggest atheist pet peeves I encounter—and one that I shared when I was an atheist—is the way much of modern Christianity interprets the Bible. It was baffling to see Christians go back and forth about how to interpret some section of the Bible, each person convinced that his own interpretation was the correct one, despite the fact that there were as many other different interpretations as there were people in the group. It fed into the stereotype that religion is a tool that people use to manipulate others when I’d see Christians come up with their own personal spin on what the Bible said, then tell everyone else that they had to conform that that view. Years later, when I was beginning to explore Christianity, I almost gave up on the religion altogether because I couldn’t even figure out what its doctrines were. I couldn’t fathom which church I should go to when there were thousands of different denominations, each claiming to be based on the Bible. Then someone told me that Jesus founded a Church that he guides to this day, and that this one God-guided Church has final authority on matters of doctrine. Finally, I saw a system that made sense.

Wow. The Catholic Church thinks so you don’t have to!

Now I know she didn’t try these out on an atheist, because she would have been knocked over by the gales of laughter that she would have provoked with that last one.

I will repeat her argument, because it is so mind-numblingly stupid that it needs to be repeated: Jennifer Fulwiler thinks that the problem atheists have with Christianity is that parishioners are allowed to interpret the Bible for themselves, and that this confuses atheists. The solution is hand over the keys to our brains to a single church leadership — in this case, the same church leadership that protected recidivist pedophiles from prosecution — so that atheists will find Christianity more appealing.

I don’t feel safe knowing that this woman is allowed to use a fork and knife.

Just once, I wish people like Fulwiler would actually ask an atheist what it would take to convince them that the supernatural claims a religion makes are true. These examples just reek of the sort of preaching that she’s only tried out on those who are already convinced. This is why so many of these attempts fail, and fail badly.

They work on her and the members of her church, so she just seems to assume that they really work on anyone.

If you want to know if your argument is convincing, try it out on someone outside of the echo chamber. Someone who isn’t already biased in favor of your desired position. Someone who isn’t already persuaded.

An umbrella that only works on sunny days is an umbrella that doesn’t work.

The holes in her reasoning are so big and so obvious that a field test with just about any religious skeptic would have exposed them and forced Ms. Fulwiler to take her arguments back to the drawing board.

Ms. Fulwiler, if you’re really interested in learning what it would take to change an atheist’s mind, I suggest actually asking one. Our show did an episode on this very question and I don’t think you’re going to like the answer.

We’re not won over by appeals to popularity, appeals to unity through conformity or by dodging the question of proof by just pointing out that your dogma is less objectionable than someone else’s.  Most of us are convinced by one thing alone: evidence.





About the Author: Mike Gillis

Mike Gillis is co-creator, and co-host of Ask an Atheist. He hosts the Radio vs. the Martians! and Mike and Pól Save the Universe! podcasts. He also enjoys comic books, the Planet of the Apes, and the band Queen.

Feedback and Commentary

27 Comments 2 Trackbacks
RobC July 28, 2011 at 1:40 am

I’ve gotta say, her arguments really aren’t doing a lot to convince me that a: there is actually a God in whom I should place all my trust worship and worship blindly and unconditionally, and b: that I should want to.

This one in particular really stuck out to me:

“The idea of deceased friends and family members being aware of what goes on here on earth is nearly universal.”

It may be nearly universal, but that doesn’t make it true. And if it is…this is supposed to be some kind of eternal reward? If I was to die tomorrow, and I had to watch my kids from behind some kind of cosmic one-way glass, never being able to interact with them, to touch them, to intervene when I see them going wrong, to share their successes…that sounds more like hell to me. Screw that. Give me oblivion.

Paul July 28, 2011 at 1:44 am

“An umbrella that only works on sunny days is an umbrella that doesn’t work.”
Wow. Is this an original expression or a quote?

Mike Gillis July 28, 2011 at 1:53 am

I just made it up.

fenchurch July 28, 2011 at 5:28 am

It’s too bad that she didn’t do much research. Maybe the only atheist she interviewed was her early self, in which case all she did was “talk” (voices in head put to some good use?) to a *former* atheist, not a living atheist.

If I want nutritional advice for eating well on a vegetarian diet, I don’t approach a *former* vegetarian at a rib shack who’s telling me what to eat whilst wearing a bib, mouth smeared with grease and belching pork fumes.

At least the author of “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God” extensively sampled and tried to understand believers before questioning their reasons.

Fulwiler seems to only be speaking of her own journey, in her facile formula for reconversion.

fred jones July 28, 2011 at 6:24 am

“Don’t assume that atheists have a sense of sad emptiness, she said, but they do have one. They just haven’t noticed it yet!”

What a nasty condescending woman.

Magenta July 28, 2011 at 7:48 am

Wouldn’t I have to ‘kneel before Zod’ to get into the ‘Phantom Zone’?

download July 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I’d be willing to take her at her word that she was an atheist at one point, but it sounds like she wasn’t particularly skeptical.

Dylan from Cambridge July 29, 2011 at 7:27 am

This woman is welcome to claim she “used to be an atheist”. She’s not welcome to claim possession of basic reasoning skills.

Mike H. from Central Illinois July 30, 2011 at 8:22 am

My guess is that she was someone who simply never considered it that seriously, or she was an atheist for purely emotional reasons. It seems to me that all of her points would make sense if they were viewed through a purely emotional lens with the skepticism and critical thinking filters removed.

RobC July 31, 2011 at 1:00 am

In other words, she seems to have put as much thought into her atheism as most people put into their religion.

Mary January 3, 2013 at 12:27 pm

She does not claim to be reasoning apologetically, in the sense of presenting arguments. She is reporting experiences and impressions, and reasoning only in drawing conclusions from those. It’s a human thing. I see no reasoning of any kind in the response of this blog.

On proving God | Conversion Diary September 18, 2013 at 9:43 am

[…] been a while since I’ve had large numbers of people calling my conversion, my sanity, and my mental coherence into question, and it’s provided me with a good opportunity to take a step back and ask […]

Tomas mcewen November 9, 2013 at 5:02 am

Strange that Idiots are reserved for non-atheists. I come from a land where atheist ruled, they learned they first just killed the priests and destroyed their churches, then they realized the people were not on their side because there was reasons given for the deaths. So they buried rifles and dug them up for the trials, then they hung the priests. The people were still not convinced, so they drafted the priests into the army, where they were assigned to the black brigades and sent to mine uranium so they would die of cancer. The religious sisters were arrested and stripped to their shifts and sent out in the early snows to glean the fields in their bear feet, to stop this all they had to do was to curse God, none did so they started to rape them to curse God. For the people who was just religious they would ban their children from high school and forbidden for college, the parents were given the worse jobs possible. You did not to dig in the beautiful meadows,a lot of people just disappeared and some are being found stacked like firewood in the ground. You are right of course to let atheists live is the act of an idiot.

Mike Gillis November 9, 2013 at 11:09 am

I have no idea of what mythical strawman land of which you speak, because you are being quite evasive. Nice to you that you follow up what sounds like chastising me for intolerance with prescribing that all atheists be put to death.

Very nice.

If you want to see a land “ruled by atheists,” I suggest you look at countries in Scandanavia, where no such things happen and quality of life and personal freedom are quite high. Either put names on your claims and back them up, or I’m going assume you’re just talking out of your ass.

What I most enjoy about Jennifer Fulwiler — who I *individually* called a dummy — is that she continues to link to this page as an act of smug self-martyrdom. All it does is bring us new web traffic, and move this page (with its non-flattering title) to the first page of search results for her name.

Her and her supporters seems to completely miss the point of what I’ve said about her. I call her an idiot, because she laughably pretends to be an expert on the subject of atheists. She says that she was once one and positions herself among Catholics as an authority on talking to us, understanding us and converting us.

Speaking as both an atheist and someone who knows a lot of atheists, it’s clear who clueless she is about us every time she posts a new article. This article with the more provocative title is the second such piece I’ve written about her.

The first, which she doesn’t link to because it doesn’t play to her poor victim narrative, is here.

I contrast it with another Christian author who wrote a similar “how to understand atheists” article who gets it right. Fulwiler doesn’t understand us, because she isn’t curious to. She just wants to parrot the line about how sad and broken we are. The same line you’d get from the Church, but as an “ex-atheist” she can pretend that she speaks from authority.

Her writing, to an actual atheist, is like reading a piece from an “ex-astronaut” telling you that the moon is made of cheese.

M. Pascal February 11, 2014 at 7:33 pm

What atheistic country? Check out Russia, the Soviet regime, Stalin and his successors their efforts to wipe out religion.
Millions of their own people killed.
Communism(the Karl Marx brand): “there is no God”, etc.

Prove someone loves you rationally. they say they love you, but they might have ulterior motives. How can you prove that someone loves you, or that you love someone else?

Sam Mulvey February 11, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Oh, you beautiful ridiculousness.

This Sunday, 6PM your time, call the station our show appears on. It’s 253-584-1480. If you’re worried about the expense, I’ll reimburse you if you shoot me a paypal or something. I haven’t had anyone throw communism at me in a month, of Sundays, and I would love going over that old chestnut with you.

Mike Gillis February 11, 2014 at 10:16 pm

If you think the Soviet Union is an example of the sort of world built on the foundations of reason and secularism, please excuse my laughter.

While the U.S.S.R. was indeed officially atheistic, little of their propaganda was centered on it. Most railed against the evils of capitalists. Religion was largely an afterthought in the mouths of most of the party leaders and publications.

Also, it was far from a rational or science-based ideology running the place. I highly recommend you look up the Soviet Union’s long running and utterly disastrous dogmatic embrace of bad science in the form of Lysenkoism, a then-long debunked junk science agricultural method that led to the deaths of millions.

As for proving that someone loves me, I do what everyone else does. I judge the way they treat me when they have nothing to gain by it.

While I’m no mind reader, I can observe two people in a relationship and make judgments based on their behavior toward each other to decide whether I think they love each other.

I know that my mother loves me, not just because of the support, advice and protection she’s given me over the years, but also because there were times that she worked two jobs to support my sister and I growing up.

Could it all be an elaborate ruse? I guess. But that likelihood would require me to make a number of bizarre assumptions that are cartoonishly improbable.

I know that I love other people because I feel that I do. Love is a word to describe the feelings, emotions and relationship that I feel towards another person.

I know that I love a person based on the same method I use to determine whether I dislike or even hate another person. Or if I like a television show, food or type of weather.

Do I like this thing? If so or if not, how much?

I don’t need to appeal to a deity, faith or supernatural agency to answer your question.

And if you cannot, I can only imagine a complete lack of imagination on your part.

hope more February 12, 2014 at 11:40 am

Mike, it’s funny you went all through all that elaborate answer what how do you measure “love” and I didn’t get anything out it. You really can’t explain love. There’s just no explanation to it. If you asked your mom, whey she loves you (Bless her btw), she’ll probably say, because you’re my child and you’ll probably argue “you don’t have to love me because i’m your child. Other children are not loved by their mother”. she’ll probably give another answer and you can probably come up with something to counter that… and eventually…. she’ll end up saying… I love you just because…or I just can’t explain it…or I don’t know why I love you but I love you so much…and that’s it! you can’t explain and measure it because it’s from God.

Bogdan November 21, 2013 at 4:37 am

Funny that “idiots” are only the religious people. Everyone against atheism is an idiot and everyone who is atheist is smart. Talking about being rational….

Tony January 7, 2014 at 3:19 am

The only idiot I can see after reading this is yourself.
Childish, idiotic rants who really has no answer to Jennifer’s conversion other than to make fun.
I have met so many atheists who after having no concrete response can only use so called humour in their defence.
I would say I feel sorry for your small mindnedness but all I can say is I will pray for you and for your own conversion to the wholeness of truth.

Trevor February 1, 2014 at 1:24 am

I’m honestly more sorry for you… because it’s clear you don’t know how to read.

MarinaM. February 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

It’s far more small-minded for Ms. Fulwiler to strip the humanity from so many people by making such condemning assumptions about them and their motives. Just because she played at atheism once upon a time in college doesn’t mean she knows anyone else at all. In fact, if you look at her blog, she spends very little time getting to know even her fellow Catholics. She is utterly self-involved. Other people only exist as extensions of her ego.

hope more January 30, 2014 at 12:28 pm

If you think you have to be an idiot to be catholic (or even religious)… Surely you read about these people, Rene Descartes, Galileo Galilei, Fibonacci, etc… You say there are lay catholics? Then, How about these clergy catholics? Nicolaus Copernicus, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaître, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, etc… If you really think you’re so smart and you can’t stomach the idea of a life after death, then check out “Pascal’s Wager”… only an idiot will stay an atheist.

MarinaM. February 7, 2014 at 11:02 am

It’s clear the author isn’t equating being Catholic with being an idiot. It’s Fulwiler who equates emptiness with being an atheist. Maybe that was so for her, but it is not the case for others. When she insists this is true and then claims that those who disagree with her conclusions as “just not knowing it yet”, she denies their humanity. That’s anti-Christian and supposedly anti-Catholic.

Jim March 9, 2014 at 1:13 pm

This article makes you look petulant and foolish.

Jullianna March 15, 2014 at 11:17 am

Wow. A sarcastic atheist? Uh, yawn.

Allis Chalmers April 2, 2014 at 7:24 pm

It is pretty obvious that Fulwiler discovered that she can make loads of money with her story and her new catholic job. She is a clone of Hannegraf, Olstein, Graham, Ham, Ovind and all the other charlatans. Make no mistake, THEY KNOW!

Allis Chalmers April 2, 2014 at 7:27 pm

She is a clone of Hannegraf, Olstein, Graham, Ham, Ovind and all the other charlatans. It is pretty obvious that Fulwiler discovered that she can make loads of money with her story and her new catholic job. Make no mistake, THEY KNOW!


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