Sunday, May 11, 2014

Book Review - Frank Schaeffer: Why I am an Atheist who Believes in God

I am an Atheist.

It is hard to put a date on when that happened. After decades in the Christian faith, it is a little fuzzy to try to pinpoint where amid my years of liberalizing Christianity, to broad Theism and Agnosticism, finally settled into Atheism.

During those transition years, I read a few books and articles by Frank and enjoyed catching him on various TV and radio interviews. Though I felt he might be overly harsh at times, I could completely relate to his religious upbringing and his rejection and critique of American Evangelicalism.

Now that I am on the Atheistic side of the theism divide, I found his new book title to be intriguing. For the most part, I am happy to be out of church life; but I know and have met Atheists who wish they could still keep a foot in religious waters or they HAVE to due to family constraints. Was Frank now an Atheist who still liked religious teachings and hoped for an after-life? If so, what has been his experience navigating between these worlds?

That is not what I found. Frank is still very fixed in his theism and the use of Atheism in the title is a bit of a misnomer.

Let me state upfront that I like Frank. He is an honest writer. His desires, hangups, contradictions, frustrations, and passions are all laid out in this book. He is an engaging wordsmith and there would probably be little difference between reading the book and sitting down with him at the pub for a beer.

When he writes of his thoughts and experiences, he gives you the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is no pretense in his writing. One thing age and experience have obviously bestowed upon him is honesty.

When Frank was telling of his former and present religious experiences, he had me. Pages flew by.

However, as an Atheist, I kept getting hit by buckets of cold water. Frank sets forth a proposition in his book and it is this: Religious Fundamentalism sits on one side of his religious sweet spot, and Atheism sits on the other. Atheism is simply the co-evil twin of religious fundamentalism. He occasionally tries to back pedal from that premise and give some Atheists some credit; but it is clear Atheism brings to Frank a frustrated eye-roll.

Which makes me wonder what prompted the use of the term Atheist in his title. He may be a theist who wavers on his opinion of who or what god is. He may be unclear as to whether humanity survives beyond the point of death, but none of those questions have anything to do with Atheism.

Again and again, Frank went after Atheists throughout the book. That itself was not a problem. If we merely disagreed on conclusions, that would have been fine. However, each time seemed to stem from a misunderstanding of the Atheist perspective... and I found myself giving a frustrated eye-roll.

I tried to give grace on those passages. I can't be too frustrated with Frank for not understanding the Atheist perspective... he is not an Atheist. Every commentary he gives on Atheism is made from within the theist framework. It is like the theist lives on a planet Atheists have left. When we look in our rear-view mirror, we now see that planet as one pinpoint of light among a myriad of others... but the theist still references our position as if we are looking at their sky.

So do I recommend the book? Yes, I enjoyed it. If you are a liberal Christian or SBNR, you will probably love it. If, like me, you are an Atheist who came from a conservative religious background there is probably a lot here for you to enjoy... and you will get a good peek into how liberal Christianity tends to view Atheism. I have heard authors like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren echo similar sentiments.

I highlighted and noted a lot in this book, both in frustration and agreement... and occasionally just because I wanted to mull over a thought again later. In the end, isn't that what a good book should cause you to do?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Kathryn is 16!

Kathryn at 5 and 16
Every dad remembers holding his little baby girl and at some point thinking, "Someday, she will be 16..." You hear older fathers tell you how quickly the years pass, but you shrug it off... it all seems so far away.

Then here you are, the little girl that you used to toss up on your shoulders is now looking eye to eye with you as she talks about high school, dances, cars, jobs, and boys.

Here we are....

I find myself wanting to "circle the wagons" (as a friend of mine said); I can count on one hand the years we have left as our little family under the same roof. I want to make all of our moments count and I want to minimize things that take away from family time.

I can understand why parents and teens sometimes struggle. Her world is expanding and broadening with every passing day... I am trying really hard not to be overwhelmed while part of mine is nearing an end.

I think the trick is always to enjoy the stage you are in... to be present. They are precious when you carry them on your shoulders. They are precious when you first take them to school. They are precious when they go on their first date, get their first apartment, blossom in their career, walk down the aisle.

My baby is 16 and she is so precious!

Happy Birthday Kathryn!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Movie Review: Amazing Spiderman 2

What a mess!

All I could think throughout the movie was.... what a mess!

Spoilers ahead... this is only for folks who equally want to complain about this movie.

I felt the first movie was rushed. Sony had to get the ball rolling or surrender all those merchandising rights and it felt like a movie that was thrown together.  However, I was hoping for round 2, Spider-man would find his footing.

No such luck... I actually think this movie was worse than the first. Here is my list of gripes:

  • Opening scene was overly long and in the end pointless... 
  • I knew in the first fight scene that they were setting up the Rhino, and he was a detestable moron.  Really, you are going to entrust that suit to that guy?
  • Every character, from Electro to Aunt May, was riddled with angst... but it ALL seemed so contrived.
  • The setup clues for Peter to find his Dad's train were ridiculous... and finding the train was even more ridiculous.
  • I just could not get into Electro... almost every word he uttered grated on my nerves.
  • There was no sense of development to the Green Goblin... and he just looked and acted like someone who showed up late for the party and was not sure why he had been invited.
  • The only characters who had any chemistry in this movie were Peter and Gwen... and they did nothing with it.
Ughhhhh!

What did you think?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Facebook Faith #43 Look Kids, Big Ben!

The American Atheist association is in town this week for their annual convention.  I was able to attend a discussion/debate between David Silverman (Atheist) and some local Mormon professors.  One point the professors kept trying to underscore, and which they kept coming back to, was the uniqueness of their faith. I recognized their thought lines because I felt the same way about the uniqueness of my faith when I was an evangelical.

I run into this problem regularly of Facebook.  Either on my page or a friends, a believer comes in to instruct all of us about "the true religion".  The common element in conversations like this is that many believers enter with a bagful of assumptions that they hold, and because they spend so much time in their own circles, they assume everyone holds those same assumptions. They start from a place where their god, scriptures, and practices are a GIVEN.

The skeptic insists they back up and first legitimatize their claims. The apologetics that worked so seamlessly for the believer while in church, doesn't tend to translate so well outside. Believers often mistake the reaction of others as stubbornness or rudeness.  The reality the believer struggles to see is that their claims have no more validity than any other religion.... and believers hate it when you lump them in with every other religion (because everyone should KNOW that THEIR religion is different!)

So conversations often sound a bit like this:

Believer: My Faith is the one true faith.

Skeptic: Yeah, but the guy down the street says that about his faith.

Believer: But mine is REALLY the one true faith.

SkepticThat's what he says!

Believer: But my faith has miraculous signs.

SkepticThat's what he says!

Believer: My faith has revelation!

SkepticThat's what he says!

Believer: My faith has holy scriptures!

Me: That's what he says!

Believer: My God speaks to my heart!

SkepticThat's what he says!

Believer: You are just going to have to believe what I am telling you on faith!

SkepticThat's what he says!

and so it goes....

If you get this far into the conversation, a believer of this stripe will then return to the top of the list - rinse and repeat - just like Clark Griswald in the roundabout. There really is no choice for this believer. The only alternative is for the believer to admit the claims of his or her religion are more or less identical to every other religious claim out there.... and that simply will not do.

So into the roundabout we go!

Monday, April 07, 2014

For My Liberal Religious Friends

I feel for all of my more liberal and independent religious friends, I really do. They have all these subversive notions of love, acceptance, and equality that their conservative religions just want no part of. My friends want to change these religions, re-work their texts, and make their houses of worship a more livable place for everyone.

But they keep ending up disappointed. They can't seem to square this circle.

A few weeks ago believers watched as Christian Evangelicals shamed their faith by using starving children as pawns in their never ending war against homosexuals.

This week, Mormon women were given the cold shoulder by many in their faith, and they watched as once more the door was sealed against them.

Take heart my friends, if Jesus showed you anything, it is that loving outside the boundaries and breaking down the divisive walls of religion will.... well, it will get you crucified.

Personally, I would prefer you join me on the other side... really, the water is fine.

But if you want to keep at it.... I have your back. Keep preaching love, acceptance, and equality... and who knows ... maybe someday those walls will come down.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Why Am I Happy?

One of my friends wrote this status on her FB page:
below, please list one, two, three, four, or five words to explain how in the world you are surviving.
I usually enjoy the challenge of working a whole thought down to a single phrase, but this was stumping me. Then it occurred to me that the reason I couldn't come up with anything was that I am not just surviving. I am really, really happy.

Over the past few days, I have been reflecting on WHY I am happy and I found that all of my analogies kept spinning back to Fight Club.

In one scene of the movie, the Narrator and Tyler Durden pull a convenience store clerk into a back alley and threaten to kill him.  Tyler asks the clerk some questions about his life goals and finds the man had given up on his goal of becoming a veterinarian because it was too difficult. Tyler tells him that if he is not on the road to being a vet again within the next six weeks, he is going to come back and kill him. The Narrator can't understand Tyler's point until Tyler responds:
Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.
Death has a startling ability to focus you in the present moment.

Leaving religion gave me a death sentence; something I had never had before. Rather than living forever, I only have another 40 years or so at best. Religion often encourages people to disdain this life and pine for the next. Suddenly, this was the only one I would get.

Most religious people tend to find the notion of no after-life depressing. I had thought that way. However, when I truly came to grips with the fact that I probably have less years in front of me than behind, something shifted. My days became more beautiful.

My breakfast tasted better.

I also realize I have been living by another piece of Tyler wisdom:
The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.
Religion has a way of heaping a myriad of dogmas, pressures, and tasks into one's life under the guise that these things matter. I did not leave religion to get away from these things, honestly I did not realize how much these things held me back until I was out. Nevertheless, leaving brought a beauty and freedom I had not anticipated. An endless list of things that seemed so pivotal were now able to slide. I was like Dorthy, stepping from a world of Black and White to one saturated with vivid color.

Is my life perfect? No. There are areas that I hope to change. There are other areas I cannot change. And here is where I use my last bit of Tyler wisdom:
I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.
My religious notions of perfection always left me feeling like I did not measure up. No matter how hard I pushed or how fast I ran, it was never enough.  I never realized until I was out that it was just one big hamster wheel.  It never let you progress and never intended to.  It simply makes you exhausted.

Everything in my life does not have to be complete or perfect for me to enjoy myself - to do things that are important and to do things that are fun.

My life is a brief opportunity to enjoy relationships, experience beauty, breathe deeply, and leave this world a little nicer for those who will come after me.

I don't need eternity.

This is enough.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Facebook Faith #42 Stronger Than Superman

I read this conversation on Facebook this morning between a mother and her son:

Mother: Well you at least believe in God still don't you?

Son: I think that all gods were invented by people because of and to take advantage of people's insecurities and superstitions.

Mother: So you think you're smarter than the God who created you?

Son: Do you think you're stronger than superman?

Mother: Superman is a counterfeit created by Satan to distract us from the truth.


I have had numerous conversations online with various religious friends, family, and complete strangers whose logic progression follows a similar path.  Once you enter into that vortex, there is little hope of escape.


It is similar to escaping Earth's gravitational pull; you have to be traveling over 11km a second or you just end up spinning around the planet.

Over and over.

Just like these conversations.

I still get sucked into these conversations on occasion, spinning around the same illogical points, never reaching an escape velocity to break through.

When someone is tethered to an idea and they feel safe with that tether, or too scared to let go of that tether, no amount of explanation will keep them from spinning back to where they were.
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