Atheists abound–that is no secret. Yet many do find their way to the Catholic Church. What does that look like, when it happens? No doubt many of the Church’s detractors would very much like to nurture the misconception that a woman who converts from atheism to Catholicism necessarily transforms into a frumpy shade of her former self, haunting the earth in bad shoes and looking down her nose at all the non-Christians passing by in a parti-colored parade on its way to hell.
A reality show about a convert from atheism would help shatter misconceptions like that. Minor Revisions, which airs this Thursday, is that show. In three episodes produced by DeSales Media (based in Brooklyn), we see my friend Jennifer Fulwiler, author of Conversion Diary, living her day to day life as a woman who left the banks of atheism and swam across the Tiber.
It is an intelligent, cleverly produced show. It is also rich with paradoxes. We see Jennifer wrangling with all the silly, familiar challenges of raising multiple rowdy children, while at the same time struggling to pen the perfect memoir in accordance with professional deadlines and her meticulous literary agent. We see her fleeing scorpions in her Austin, Texas home, and on the other hand deftly dissecting the philosophical underpinnings of rationalism. She has all the awkwardness of a stereotypical science geek, yet it is somehow arranged perfectly within the persona of a witty, sophisticated, attractive human being. There is no hyper-religious sappiness. No sanctimony. It simply shows how perfectly natural being a believer in God really is.
Dan: Going into this, you surely must have weighed the cons of having a camera crew invade your life for x number of weeks against the pros of spreading the Gospel. Was there anything in particular that pushed you in favor of going ahead with all this?
Jennifer: Yes, it was certainly a daunting proposition. My husband, Joe, and I both had a lot of concerns. First, I did some homework to make sure that the production company was reputable, and got to know the executive producer to make sure that I could trust her to represent us fairly. After both of those things checked out wonderfully, we decided to pray about it and just see the path that seemed to be clear. We told God that if it was his will that we do this, he would have to make the doors fly open in front of us so that we’d understand that this was the direction we were supposed to go. As it turned out, he took us up on that. One thing after another kept on working out much more easily than we’d expected it to, and before we knew it we had camera crews in our house!
Dan: When the possibility of doing this show first came up, what was Joe’s reaction?
Jennifer: Confusion. Trepidation. Wondering if I was playing a joke on him. Joe is a very private person, so I never dreamed that he’d agree to this. That was one of the big “doors” that opened in the discernment process: I simply threw out the idea, and didn’t push Joe to one decision or another. I was positive he’d say no. So when he agreed to do it, I knew that it was the work of the Holy Spirit!
Dan: It is human nature for vanity to raise its ugly head during any filming project. Did you have any struggles with that? How did you maintain your humility?
Jennifer: Absolutely. I was very concerned about how I would look on camera, how our family would come across, if everyone would watch this and realize that I’m actually a boring nerd, etc. One thing that helped was that I’d gotten to know the producer well. She’s a devout Catholic whose passion for creating a great show is infectious, and so I completely trusted that she would not intentionally do anything to make me or my family look bad. After that, I just reached a moment of surrender where I said to God, “You led our family to this project. I trust that you’ll have me appear the way you see fit, and I trust that it’s all part of your plan.” (Though, admittedly, I sometimes still worried that the plan was going to be one, huge lesson in humility for me.)
Dan: Among other things, Minor Revisions shows how an atheist might find his or her way to Christianity. Do you have any advice for people who are in dialogue with atheists? What, in your opinion, are mistakes that some people make in their efforts to reach atheists?
Jennifer: The best advice I ever heard on this subject came from Dr. Peter Kreeft. When he was asked what he thought was the biggest obstacle facing orthodox Christianity today, he replied simply: “Our own sins…Only saints can save the world. And only our own sins can stop us from being saints.” This is never more true than when we’re trying to reach out to atheists. Yes, having the right facts and arguments makes a difference, but nobody was ever argued into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Especially with those of us with an intellectual bent, it’s tempting to think that converting atheists is all about showing them the falsehood of their presumptions. It’s not. It’s about showing them the light of Christ; everything else is secondary.
Dan: What’s the latest news on your book [the aforementioned memoir of her journey from atheism to Catholicism]?
Jennifer: After five years of setbacks and toil, I finally have some big news on that front. In fact, the big moment came when the crews were here, so it’s the climax of the show.
Dan: I happen to know for a fact that your husband, Joe, owns a Banana Suit. Will we, in any future episodes of Minor Revisions, ever get to see it?
Minor Revisions is a three-episode special that airs on December 13, December 20, and January 10, all at 8 PM EST (7 PM CST). You can watch it online live at http://netny.net/watch-now/