I love reading and I read a lot. It is rare to find a book that is refreshing and new and somehow puts into words all of the feelings you haven’t been able to utter. I wasn’t looking for Frank Shaeffer‘s new book, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God (and at $2.99, how could you go wrong?) I ran across a review at Religion Dispatches and was completely intrigued by the title, as it perfectly describes the spiritual journey I’ve been on for the past few years. (Start reading about it here) In my fundamentalist days, I had the Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer in my library as a teen. I loved pre-suppositional apologetics and would have moved to Switzerland to study under this fantastic teacher at his school, L’Abri Fellowship, if my parents had let me. In the middle of my fundamentalist years, I had heard of Francis’ son, Frank, leaving the faith of his father. I couldn’t believe it! How could such a gifted philosopher and Christian teacher have an apostate son? Little did I know that a few years later I would be right there in that same apostate boat. That word, apostate, might not be the correct one. Apostate has the connotation of forsaking and leaving behind your beliefs. In Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God, Schaeffer reveals his innermost thoughts and beliefs.
These days I hold two ideas about God simultaneously: he, she or it exists and he she or it doesn’t exist. I don’t seesaw between these opposites; I embrace them. I don’t view this embrace as requiring a choice between mere emotion and fact, or between evolutionary biology and spirituality. Reality can’t be so neatly parsed.
If you have never questioned your faith, or participated in a severe existential crisis of your belief, those above words will not make any sense. To those of us who have lost our belief systems but want to still make sense of world where faith in something makes more sense then faith in nothing, then those words are a pure godsend. When I read those words, I almost jumped out of bed and shouted HE GETS IT!! I’M NOT CRAZY!! FINALLY SOMEONE TOOK MY JUMBLED THOUGHTS AND CONVEYED THEM CLEARLY!! Schaeffer continues by saying:
I don’t view my embrace of opposites as a kind of agnosticism. I view it as the way things actually are. An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God. I’m not that person. I believe and don’t believe at the same time.
Again, if you are coming from the black and white world of evangelicalism, where the Bible is right and everything else is wrong, then you see the above statement as a contradiction. Schaeffer asserts that we must find a third a way, a paradoxical way of describing belief:
Maybe we need a new category other than theism, atheism or agnosticism that takes paradox and unknowing into account. I believe that life evolved by natural selection. I believe that evolutionary psychology explains away altruism and debunks love and that brain chemistry undermines my illusion of free will and person-hood. I also believe that the spiritual reality hovering over, in and through me calls me to love, trust and hear the voice of my Creator. It seems to me that there is an off-stage and an on-stage quality to my existence.
Schaeffer easily navigates the chasm between belief and unbelief by removing it completely. As he winds his way through personal stories of children, grand children, life, love, pain, agony, and death, we see the culmination of years of living on the faith/doubt razor. One particular topic of interest to me was Schaeffer’s brilliant deduction of scientific materialism and the New Atheist’s fundamentalism:
Today’s secular science of human insignificance inspires its own theology. This secular theology assigns us a contradictory groveling insignificant, significance. We have evolved to a high enough level of ethical consciousness to understand that we’re guilty as charged, and are merely insignificant and yet, morally culpable destroyers of life.
Secular humanism stresses the fact of our cosmological insignificance, but holds humans responsible for the death of the Nature. Accordingly, life on Earth is worth nothing, but at the same time Schaeffer makes this astute observation:
Yet even post-Duchamp and post-Sagan, we value life so highly that we seek it elsewhere in the universe as if on a quest for the Holy Grail. The secular theology of nothingness is in conflict with itself.
I have never heard secular humanism critiqued in such an honest way. There is no judgement there, just an honest observation. There are so many great insights in Why I am an Atheist Who Believes In God. If you are someone who is interested in broadening their scope of belief as to how science and faith and art and love all intersect, I can not recommend this book enough. Schaeffer is a gifted author who makes his stories come alive in your mind’s eye.