Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God

Frank Schaeffer, author of such anti-Evangelical memoirs as Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and Sex, Mom and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway, has a new book coming out on May 15 that released today: Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God

 Like so many postmodern Christian authors' recent books, publishers didn't know how to categorize this new book--it's too religious for a secular publisher and too heretical for the religious ones--and shunned his latest effort. Also like so many other authors whose work won't fit conventional categories, he has turned to self-publishing for his new title.  And self-marketing.  For this book Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God, Schaeffer is dependent on the word-of-mouth promotion of social media. When he put the plea out on Twitter for advance readers who would review and promote his book, I jumped at the chance.  I've read all of Schaeffer's post-Evangelical nonfiction and reveled in the sense that I'd found someone who really understood my love-hate relationship with my hyper-religious childhood.  Here was someone whose memories were as bittersweet and painful-poignant as mine.  His bitterness and nostalgia commingled in awkward harmony that echoed my own longings.

In Why I Am an Atheist, Schaeffer brings his paradoxical and sometimes schizophrenic love-hate for religion to a new reconciliation he has not reached before in his writing.  Previous books acknowledged the contradictions in his spiritual life and his acceptance of the incompatible elements. Patience with God: Faith for Those Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) expresses this acceptance most clearly in showing how fundamentalist dogma breeds angry ranting whether it's religious or atheist.  Yet even that book didn't seem to have the inner peace that comes from moving beyond acceptance of contradictions to a transcendence of contradiction itself, a reconciliation of Self that comes from the realization that contradictions are different faces worn by the same Truth.

This book spends much less time dropping names or alluding to the royal houses of American Christianity than his previous memoirs do, a fact which pleased me as Schaeffer's previous frequent references to celebrity Christians seemed only to underscore his bitter longing for wanting to belong again while never wanting to be again the man who had belonged.  I had to laugh--cynically and with a kind of almost-been-there, didn't-quite-do-that smirk--at his wry acknowledgment that leaving the establishment of Christian celebrities hasn't been any too good for his back pocket:
My dogmatic declarations of faith once provided status, ego-stroking power over others and a much better income than I’ve ever earned since fleeing the Evangelical machine. Certainty made things simple, gave me an answer to every question and paid the bills.
People will pay good money to those who promote the party line in fresh packaging. When you can cut the certainty drug with ever new and exciting fillers and enhancers, you will always have a ready market who will pay good money for their next fix.  Why I Am an Atheist is for people who have left behind the party line, have embraced uncertainty, and are beginning to experience a new certainty:  that Truth exists beyond dogma, past religion or no religion, in an inner space where neither religion nor atheism exist but both are true.

(I received a copy of this book for my review in hopes that I would say wonderful things about it but with no obligation on my part to be nearly so generous.)