Sunday, May 11, 2014
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?
Posted by Andrew at 12:04 PM