The Blessing of Paradox: Book Review of Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God

I have read and listened to material from Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I have also paid attention to different things from people like Bill Maher. And I often come away with the same response:

They are just as close-minded and narrow in their views as the Christian talking heads they rail against.

Something that distresses me is when Jesus followers say things that seemingly go against all that the Bible actually teaches. It hurts me when prominent Christian leaders say hurricanes and school shootings are God’s retributive justice. It pains me when people manipulate the Scriptures to justify their bigotry. Too many prominent people in Christianity use their platform to exclude and divide, rather than to love and to serve.

Yet many of the New Atheists have the same attitude. They behave as if they are right and anyone who would dare disagree with them is mentally deficient.

This is why I really appreciate Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How To Give Love, Create Beauty, And Find Peace by Frank Schaeffer. Schaeffer is the son of Francis Shaeffer, the prominent evangelical theologian of the 70s and 80. Frank Schaeffer is also one of the founding members of the Religious Right.

And that is something he truly regrets.

Schaeffer shares his journey since leaving the fundamental, religious background in which he was raised. Throughout talking about that journey, he shares the blessing of paradox. Schaeffer is able to talk about how he both believes and does not believe in God. How he understands the Bible as myth yet finds meaning and comfort within its pages. How science has expanded our knowledge of life and the universe yet cannot explain the transecendant. His life is one of paradox; paradox that he is comfortable with not completely understanding.

The book starts with a story of a chance encounter on his way home from his mother’s funeral. At the same time, he believes it was a chance encounter and that it was something his recently deceased mother somehow arranged. Chance encounter and divine arrangement cannot both be true, yet both exist.

Early in the book, he writes:

With the acceptance of paradox came a new and blessed uncertainty that began to heal the mental illness called certainty, the kind of certainty that told me that my job was to be head of the home and to order around my wife and children because ‘the Bible says so.’ Embracing paradox helped me discover that religion is a neurological disorder for which faith is the only cure.

Paradox cures certainty. Additionally, asking a new question can cure certainty. Atheism, agnosticism, and theism are all answers to the question, “Does God exist?” Instead, we should ask what our relationship to God is.

Schaeffer’s journey is riveting because it is so honest. He does not presume to have any of the answers. He is not writing a treatise that all people must follow in order to live an enlightened life. His story is how someone who now does not necessary believe that God exists can still participate in the liturgy of a local church. It is the story of someone who has come to learn that we are more than any label.

It is a story that has learned that hope is found in love and not correct theology.

I do not agree with everything Schaeffer says. I believe he is inconsistent in part of his discussion about Scripture (Chapter XX). He is unwilling to embrace that paradox can exist there even though he enjoys the blessing of paradox in other areas of his life.

But his attitude is incredible. He is not close-minded. He comes across as the type of person who would be an awesome conversation partner, unlike Dawkins, Maher, Limbaugh, Robertson, and others who want only people to yell at. He makes me feel comfortable reflecting on my own journey. I think he will make you feel comfortable as you reflect on your own.

I recommend reading this book in the spirit it was written: one person’s narrative.

3 thoughts on “The Blessing of Paradox: Book Review of Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God

  1. I’m confused. You said that according to the book he both believes in god and doesn’t, so which is it? Does the book give you an answer? Because an atheist by definition doesn’t believe in god. So is he actually an atheist, or is he more of a theist or a deist? And how can an atheist ponder the question of what our relationship with god is? How can we have a relationship with something that we don’t believe exists?

  2. God who answers prayer. Yet he also believes he has experienced many things that are transcendent and cannot be logically explained.

    I don’t know how well I am summarizing what he says, but the book only took two h

  3. Sorry. I have been having computer issues today and the reply got messed up. That is the point of the book. At the same time, he does not believe in a God who answers prayer. Yet he also believes he has experienced many things that are transcendent and cannot be logically explained.

    I don’t know how well I am summarizing what he says, but the book only took two hours to read. I recommend you read it and learn about his journey and how he describes his own belief system.

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