Book Review: Something Other Than God
During the three days it took me to read Jennifer Fulwiler’s memoir, Something Other Than God, my husband made the same joke every time he picked it up. He would skim the endorsements on the back of the book from famous Catholic authors, radio hosts, and even Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and then become extremely impressed when he saw that on the inside of the front cover C.S. Lewis had also “endorsed her book” saying this:
“All that we call human history…[is] the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
He would then laugh at his own joke, hand back the book, and move on to something other than my reading.
As I was reading Something Other Than God, I realized that my life has been so much simpler than the life of an atheist convert, having Catholicism taught to me from a young age. Yet, she was taught to investigate the world and seek to learn everything she could about it. Fulwiler starts her story with childhood encounters with zealous Christians and her realization of her own mortality. She spent the next years of her life trying to escape from the haunting realization that everyone dies. Once she started dating and then married her husband, Joe, she lived a life of traveling almost continually and attending parties regularly. She immersed herself in distractions so that she would not have to face the reality of death.
Then they had their first child. It was during the first few months of motherhood that she realized that her experience of love for her husband and her baby did not fit with her atheism. From there she slowly moved toward faith, starting a blog to investigate the questions she had about God and Christianity. She eventually, after a long intellectual and emotional struggle, converted to Catholicism with her husband.
The genre of memoir is interesting in how one picks very specific episodes from a lifetime to highlight as crucial to the endpoint of the story. Fulwiler was ultimately explaining how she moved from being a happy atheist to a happy Catholic. It makes sense that it took her six years to write the book, tossing out entire drafts several times.
It leads me to wonder, if I were to write a spiritual memoir, would it look anything like hers? If I looked at where I am now in my Catholic faith and where I was as a young child, I would be able to pick out moments of grace in my life that solidified my faith at a deeper level. I would see where God had impacted me as His child and drew me into loving and serving Him more. I would find where I had made deeper commitments to forming myself in virtue. A life of faith is one full of moments of conversion, where we enter little by little deeper into our faith. Fulwiler had a parallel experience, starting from where she was raised and ending up in the Church.
But for her, as for all Christians, the story does not end there; it continues. Christians cannot stop with the point of conversion or the moment of full initiation into the Church, we are all called to go deeper into relationship with God. I am reminded of the end of The Last Battle, the final story in the Chronicles of Naria by C.S. Lewis. The Earth and Narnia has been destroyed and made new. When the main characters enter the new Narnia, the deeper they go into it, the more beautiful and new everything becomes. They are told by Aslan to, “Come further up! Come further in!” That is what the Christian life is; going deeper continually. We can never be satisfied with where we are now, and that is why reading about someone’s conversion is so beneficial. It reminds us that we are called to be more than what we are, that God is always calling us to love Him more fully. It is easy to be caught up in our daily distractions and to seek something other than God to satisfy us, even when prayer and the Sacraments are a regular part of life. Fulwiler encapsulates the first part of her journey into faith so beautifully in Something Other Than God, and it is inspiring to read, and to remember that we are always called to know God better and to grow deeper.