Coming out – Part II

Though the final decision about my faith may not have fully been made in my head (though it’s close), it’s been made in my heart for quite some time now. As I’ve said before, when I try to picture myself going any route other than becoming Catholic I get stuck. I literally can’t imagine it. In some ways it feels like it’s not even my choice: my doubts are still there, but that indescribable, intense pull is stronger than ever. I feel like I have no choice but to resolve my doubts since I’m obviously going to end up being an orthodox, practicing Catholic.

So that leaves me with the next step — one that, thanks to these medical issues, I must make sooner than I’d planned: “coming out” as a Christian and a Catholic. And I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be. I’ve never made a firm verbal statement of faith. I’ve talked about it on this site but nobody I know personally reads it. To my husband and the few Catholics I know I’ve come really close to defining myself as a Christian Catholic but always manage to blurt out a bunch of qualifiers like, “I guess I’m sort of a ‘Christian’ because my husband and I are, you know, pretty much Catholic, mostly.” And to my family and most of my friends I still skirt the issue and don’t dispel the impression that we’re just going to church every Sunday because we think the priest is an interesting guy.

I can hear most of you thinking, “Why on earth is it a big deal to tell people about your religious beliefs?” It probably isn’t if you haven’t spent most of your life wrapped up in the Church of Atheism.

One thing that you’ve probably noticed about atheists (the people who vociferously describe themselves as such, not necessarily all people who lack religion) is that their beliefs are founded on pride. The reason they love to “debate” religion is because they think it’s an opportunity to show everyone how smart they are. The quality they prize above all else is intelligence, particularly their own, and they spend a lot of time making sure everyone else is aware of their reasonableness and intelligence. And they fancy that announcing their lack of belief to the world is great shorthand for, “Check out how scientific and smart I am: I don’t believe in anything I can’t see or measure or prove on paper because there is nothing in the universe that’s not understandable to clever people like me.” A glance through the comments on the Raving Atheist or other theological debate sites will show you what I mean. It would not be incongruous to tack on “Check out how scientific and smart I am:” to the beginning of almost every anti-religion comment made on the site.

And, I’m embarrassed to say, I was always one of these people. I didn’t even fully realize it until I tried to tell the hematologist of my religious beliefs last week, but I’ve spent my whole adult life building my ego around the very fact that I didn’t believe in God. It’s what made me smart (so I thought), and being smart made me valuable — and, if I did say so myself, quite superior to the average Bible-beating yahoo. So when I went to tell the doctor that I needed him to take a moment to discuss alternatives to Coumadin because I’m Catholic and don’t believe in contraception, the words got stuck in my throat. Those old demons jumped back up to yell, “You’ll sound like some unreasonable, superstitious fool!”

Ah, pride. I now understand why they say it’s the most dangerous sin. It’s what kept me away from God for so long, and what keeps me from proclaiming my beliefs now. As I said in Part I of this post, my medical situation would be a lot less complicated if I would just be open about the fact that I’m Catholic and my beliefs are non-negotiable. I think one of the reasons I’m excited about finding a Catholic doctor is so that I can slink away from my current medical team without having to stand up to them for what I believe. I guess I’d rather them see me as a flaky patient than a religious nutcase.

Obviously, this must stop.

So I’m in really new territory here. Becoming Catholic in my heart was an experience unlike anything I’ve ever known. But, oddly, becoming Catholic to the world is an even bigger change, because it has an even bigger impact on my ego. It involves a 180-degree change in the way I’ve always presented myself to the world, and one the requires a whole lot more humility.

This is why St. Augustine’s advice, “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand,” is the only path to God for lifelong atheists like myself. As I heard Fr. John Corapi explain the other day, faith must come first because it forces you to set your pride aside and admit to yourself that you don’t (and can’t) know it all, that your little brain cannot comprehend everything about life and the universe. And when you’re willing to shut up and admit that you don’t know much at all and that you need help finding the answers, a whole new world unfolds before your eyes.

Life as a Catholic for me is, truly, a whole new world. It’s more gratifying and fulfilling and calming than I could ever describe, and I look forward to telling the world about it.

[RCIA starts August 28th]

New here? Come say hi on Twitter at @jenfulwiler!



Enter the Conversation...

18 Responses to “Coming out – Part II”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Jen–Courage or fortitude is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given in Confirmation. How brave will you be then! You, your family, and your doctors remain in our prayers. Jim McCullough, DRE, Our Lady of Grace Church, Greensboro, NC

  2. Jennifer says:

    RCIA WOOO HOOO!

    How wise you are—it IS empowering isn’t it, the atheism thing? I remember my friend, the daughter of two British professors, telling me that God was all in my mind—a trick I had made up for comfort. That he wasn’t real.

    She was very frustrated with why I couldn’t see how BRILLIANT that idea was.

    It was compelling—I dabbled in it and felt the power of it. I remember writing in my college journal (you know the kind with no lines written in small letters across the page with drawings? Gosh so artsy) “I’m in free fall now no gods before me except reason and GRAVITY.”

    I felt exhilirated.

    That lasted about three months and then the depression hit. LOL.

    I also remember my Catholic convert hippy friend, Phil, tripping out on acid during his atheist years, in an emergency room, screaming “I CAN’T BE GOD ANYMORE I CAN’T BE GOD MYSELF ANYMORE”—and becoming devoutly Catholic thereafter.

    My English friend thought I was weak for believing in the contrivance of God.

    I am.

    Thank GOD.

    Like Phil, I think my brain being the only God of my universe might trip me out, too.

    Sans acid.

    Praying for you still. Your story is inspiring.

  3. Andrew says:

    I applaud you in listening to your own soul, in responding to your own needs, and in the face of pressure to go another way. That takes courage. One might think of it, in a way, as similar to the courage it takes for a teenager to say no to drugs or alcohol when all of his friends are dabbling. Both situations involve standing up for yourself in the face of pressure. It’d be a nicer world, I think, if each of us was happy to fulfill our own needs and to let others do the same, even if their path is different from ours. Seems your atheist friends don’t live that way.

    To Love, Honor and Dismay

  4. Amy Caroline says:

    Ah, Jen… I have been there too. My father was an atheist and I was surrounded by people who were not religious. If there were people around me who claimed to be religious, it was simply a sham front put on to impress others. Even though I was already a convert, I was one of those cafeteria Catholics, who picked and choose what I wanted and didn’t want. “I’ll take female clergy with a side order of birth control, thanks… oh and hold the whole true body and blood thing.”

    I was in my final year of college studying for my English degree when things started to change. I was working on my Capstone project under a teacher I had loved for all my college years. She was a devout Buddhist and ultra-feminist. I wanted to write a paper on feminism and the modern romance novel. Something I had been working on for years, stating that romance novels were not a negative thing for women but a good thing because they showed strong women who were not afraid to be women. I had defined feminism as a woman’s choice to choose what she was to do with her life, whether that was work outside the home or stay at home raising her children. You should have seen my professors face. She was horrified. She told me that I was not a real feminist and that I should become a member of NOW so I could truly learn what it was to be feminist.

    I guess, I was just pro-woman.

    And then the year came to a close, I chose to do my paper on Bi-lingual education instead. And as that year came to an end I was pregnant with baby number four. You would have thought I had grown another head. Teachers were so disappointed in me. I was not going on to grad school. I was going to stay home? What was wrong with me? And then after I graduated and decided to homeschool my kids, those same professors were actually talking bad about me behind my back to former classmates.

    And in all this time I was becoming a more conservative Catholic. I lied to family, “Oh you know, I still believe women should be allowed to be priests. I just don’t think abortion is right anymore.” Family wanted to “debate” with me on topics about abortion and I refused. This made me even more simple in their eyes. I must not know what I believe or I would be willing to fight it out with family… I didn’t want to debate it because I wasn’t going to risk loosing family. I would be willing to talk but not debate.

    Typical atheist stuff, right? They don’t want to talk, they want to “debate,” which is really yelling at each other and I so won’t do that with family.

    I remember my husband asking me after this transformation what had brought it about. And I had told him that it was actually learning what my faith was about. I had gone through RCIA in a very liberal, lets light candles and meditate, church. I learned not one thing about the faith I was about to join. It took homeschooling my children and many years of stupidity to get it right… to finally learn what my faith was about and to take it seriously.

    I was brought into the Catholic faith when I was just eighteen years old. But I didn’t really become a Catholic until I was in my thirties. I am glad I did join the faith back then because all my kids were baptized and I was married in the faith… things that today mean so very much to me.

    Anyway, I transgress. My point was, that atheists and the like all claim to have a superior knowledge, but in truth it is a very stilted one. Like your reader Jennifer said, their knowledge is only in the self, worshipping only themselves. It takes even greater intelligence and love to give into faith and accept it for what it is and not make it what you want it to be.

    Congratulations. You are a great Catholic! I wish I could see the day you are baptized in the faith. It will be a wonderful day. Do not be afraid of what you are. Remember always that God is with you and you are a brilliant woman.

    Bless you on your journey! Keep us updated!

  5. laurathecrazymama says:

    It IS quite a leap of faith you are taking. I will pray for you in your journey to the Church. You are surely being tested and your faith will be all the stronger for it! God bless you!

  6. SteveG says:

    Jennifer! RCIA, how wonderful! I am so happy for you! I don’t even know what else to say. I just keep hearkening back to this post….

    When Christians and atheists debate*

    …I can’t believe that it’s been just shy of a year since then.

    Your transformation has been inspiring to watch. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I feel so blessed to have been able to watch, and even participate in, your journey.

    *Isn’t it freaky how this has come almost full circle? It’s neat that just 11+ months after the observations in that post, you got to participate in your recent ‘debate’ with your atheist acquaintance. And now you are the calm, rational Christian explaining your faith in a friendly manner. :-)

  7. RobK says:

    Hi Jen,
    You give us Catholic’s too much credit. Pride is an easy sin for all of us and humility must be worked at (at least for me). For the longest time, I was resistant to certain ideas out of pride. But when we do put it aside, watch out! :)
    Rob

  8. Krystalline Apostate says:

    Well, Jen, I’ve been meaning to get to this for some time.
    We both became the ‘Reluctant Atheist’ approx. the same time, so I suppose that’s just synchronicity.
    One thing that you’ve probably noticed about atheists (the people who vociferously describe themselves as such, not necessarily all people who lack religion) is that their beliefs are founded on pride.
    Ummm…no…founded on the empirical method.
    It probably isn’t if you haven’t spent most of your life wrapped up in the Church of Atheism.
    The church of who? Atheism isn’t a religion. I haven’t been in a (Catholic) church since childhood.
    A glance through the comments on the Raving Atheist or other theological debate sites will show you what I mean.
    I would suggest perhaps that you go look up the word ‘theology’.
    The reason they love to “debate” religion is because they think it’s an opportunity to show everyone how smart they are.
    That’s but a small facet of the whole.
    It doesn’t take a Ph.D to see the harm religion has (& is doing) done to our species.
    So when I went to tell the doctor that I needed him to take a moment to discuss alternatives to Coumadin because I’m Catholic and don’t believe in contraception, the words got stuck in my throat.
    That sounds like lifelong ambivalence to me.

    Andrew:
    It’d be a nicer world, I think, if each of us was happy to fulfill our own needs and to let others do the same, even if their path is different from ours. Seems your atheist friends don’t live that way.
    I think, andrew, that perhaps you should read the newspapers more often.

    Prison populations are composed mainly of religious folks. Atheists don’t go around bombing clinics, forcing others to live by their rules, discriminate against others due to their beliefs (or the lack thereof), or go knocking on people’s doors proselytizing.

    I am all for a ‘live & let live’ scenario.
    From what I can ascertain, most religious folk are not.

  9. Jennifer says:

    First, congrats on entering RCIA, I have enjoyed reading your story. Watching your faith grow has helped me to grow in mine.

    Second, the Catholic Church does provide for your unique circumstance with contraception. “Pope Paul VI stated it this way: ‘. . . the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from – provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever’ (Humanae Vitae, 15).” I found this particular quote (of a quote, lol) on Envoy’s NFP article. Clearly, you do not have such intent. I am not offering this as the magic solution to your problems, but I am offering it as an option to discuss with a priest at your chosen parish.

  10. David B. says:

    I will second what Jennifer has said (since I helped her find the reference :).

    It should be ok to use contraceptives in your case, so long as you aren’t using the medicine because you don’t want kids, but because of your health. Catholic moral theology allows for the use of contraceptives for good and just medical reasons so long as you don’t use them because you want to avoid pregnancy. Your case is definitely unique, but could fall under this category. This is something you can (and should) talk over with a priest in order to determine the rightness/wrongness of using contraception in this case. He will help you. Of course, it is ultimately up to your conscience even if you and your priest judge it is morally defensible.

    Congrats on your starting RCIA. I have been reading this blog since the reluctant atheism days. I understand the issues discussing religion causes, trust me. In my household religious beliefs are held very dear, and bringing them up can create unwanted controversy. Balancing the need to stand up for yourself and the need to not create needless trouble for you or your family/friends (or appear that you are a zealous nut, lol) is tough. I rarely suceed at it. Most of the time I either come out too strong and don’t say anything :).

  11. David B. says:

    My first line in the last post should read “It could be ok to use contraceptives in your case.” Your case is unique and should be discussed with a priest. I am going to ask a priest and see what he has to say.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Every best wish to you, Jennifer, as you continue your journey home. I admire your courage, and the strength of your faith. You no doubt know that the start date your RCIA program is the feast of St. Augustine — a good patron to adopt, if you haven’t done that already! I’ll keep you in prayer as you travel “home to Rome”. God bless you!

    Warmest regards from Canada,
    Patricia Gonzalez

  13. Bekah says:

    Welcome to the church, Jennifer!! I was received 2 years ago, though I never was in the atheist camp.

    I have been in the situation you describe, however. I have been struggling with some sort of hormonal issue for awhile. Apparently it isn’t bad enough to keep me from conceiving, yet, though. However, before I conceived my last (who is now 6mo), I began seeking medical attention more seriously. It was difficult to explain why I was making initial contact with a family practice, not a Gyn. It was difficult to explain why I wouldn’t accept birth control, even though my intentions were not to be pregnant. It was difficult to explain NFP and how it was supposed to work. I felt like a freak. But I did it anyway. I figured, in the end, it doesn’t matter what they think of me, just that I figure it out. Of course, by the time I got my endo referral, I was pregnant (I was hoping to get the hormonal thing straightened out so that NFP would become more usable for me). And the tests they were able to run were no help, and I can’t have any more done until I have weaned (like when baby is 6 mo, the endo says. More like 2 y, I think to myself).

    So, I’ve sought other solutions. Part of what is going on is influencing temps. So I switched methods. I discovered Creighton through Alicia of Fructus Ventris, who I met on a Christian midwife list we both sub to. It is a mucus only method, and to me it seems so much easier to use, interpret, and so much less guess work. Less guess work means greater accuracy. Plus it is affiliated with Pope Paul VI Institute.

    Which leads me to my next suggestion. Pope Paul VI Institute is primarily focused on infertility, I believe, but they may have contacts with doctors of other disciplines. I highly encourage you to check it out. http://www.popepaulvi.com/

    Lastly, how long are you required to be on this treatment? Though difficult, would you and your husband consider just being continent? It is not easy, but sometimes sacrifice becomes necessary to properly show love to our spouses, ourselves, and our children. I can say that it is possible to exponentially increase your appreciation and love for your spouse even while being continent. We have had longish periods of abstinence since the birth of our last, due to our absolute inability to afford another child right now. I don’t think I’ve ever loved my dh more (we’ll be married 10 years tomorrow). We each strive to show our love in other ways when we cannot be together, but he is so much better at it than I. It’s not the end of the world, and if this treatment is temporary, it may just be worth easing the worry by forgoing relations for a time. Just another option.

    I will pray. For all your concerns.
    Bekah of http://roadwelltraveled.wordpress.com/

  14. Russ says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I too am an ex-Atheist who “graduated” from RCIA eleven years ago.

    I very well remember going through what you describe – after years of militant atheism, to “come out” to co-workers and family was very difficult.

    I remember the burning in my cheeks as I meekly began to slowly “fess up” to becoming a Catholic publicly. I can’t quite put my finger on the emotion I felt, but it was something like embarrassment, though I wasn’t really embarrassed; it felt shameful though I didn’t feel shame. It’s very hard to describe. Perhaps it was the “purgatory” one experiences when his pride is demolished.

    Pride is truly a “deadly” sin, though it doesn’t seem to be discussed much any more.

    I once heard a homily on the prodigal son, which I will no doubt do a poor job of retelling here, but I’ll try.

    We were asked to put ourselves in the place of the returning son, AFTER he had come back. You’ve been dressed in the finest robes, a ring on your finger, and the party preparations are under way. Your brother has just returned from the fields and is in his room, refusing to come out to the party.

    Your father is banging on your brother’s door, begging him to come out and celebrate with the family your return.

    How would the returning son feel under these circumstances? I think a mix of embarrassment and shame would be pretty close.

    And maybe that’s the key: we do feel embarrassment and shame upon returning home, but not about returning home. We feel it about having left in the first place, and what we did while we were gone.

    God bless you, Jennifer, and good luck with your journey home.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Jennifer,

    Don’t be so hard on yourself……maybe you weren’t an atheist because you were a prideful, stubborn human being. I’ve known plenty of Atheists who were every bit as humble as many Catholics I know, but simply hadn’t been given the gift of Faith. Remember, Faith is a GIFT. I don’t mean to sound harsh to you, but it seems to me that it’s pretty dangerous to begin to look down on your former atheist friends (and self!) as you become more Catholic. Pride is just as much a problem for Catholics as it is for Atheists. Just look at all the schisms, etc, these days, and read some of the websites by “conservative” “traditional” Catholics, and you’ll see what I mean.

    God gives us ALL that we are. None if it comes from ourselves. If you have been given the gift of Faith, be humbly grateful for it, but don’t let the temptation to revile your former self overcome you. That’s just going to lead to more problems. Be thankful for your new faith, pray for those who have not been given it, and realize we ALL have a long way to go in this faith journey—whether we have been cradle-Catholics, or hard-core Atheists.

  16. ELC says:

    You are a gem. And you are already a Catholic, know it or not, formally or not. Welcome home.

  17. Tony says:

    Jennifer,

    I’d like to send you something. Do you have a post office box or something I could send it to (no, don’t give your address to strange guys in the internet).

    Go to the blog link in my name and click the e-mail button if you’d like to do that.

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  1. […] After all the spiritual flailing I’ve done these past few months it looks like I’ve reached a fork in the road. A decision is required. If I don’t have faith in the Church, if I’m not Catholic, then I need to just do NFP + backup contraception and stay on Coumadin since that’s by far the easiest option*. And, if I do have faith in the Church, which I think I do, then it’s time to start talking about it, and living it. Continued here in Part II […]