Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism) by Frank Schaeffer - a review

I read this book because my friend Lorna interviewed the author for Chronogram, and he seemed to have interesting insights about the considerable overlap between evangelical religion and what he refers to as the "new atheism" - Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. Unfortunately, although Schaeffer's ideas are interesting and found a receptive audience in me, he is not a very strong writer. It was a bit of a struggle to get through the book. I do have to give the author credit for penning one very good chapter; he wrote about a mason he knew when he was growing up in Switzerland, someone who almost never spoke but focused intently on his job and always produced superlative work. The only time the author saw this master craftsman rise to anger was when his mother tried to rush him in a job, and he replied, "Non, il faut faire ├ža comme il faut" - "No, this must be done the way it must be done." This story is compelling to me because this is the way I always hope to work, no matter what the task, and on those rare occasions when I rise to this level of ability, it is sheer bliss to do whatever it is that I am doing. I understand why Schaeffer included the description of this man in his book; work, when done this way, is a form of prayer or meditation. It gives one the experience of connection (or "communion," if you like) regardless of one's beliefs or lack thereof.

Schaeffer's main thesis is that both evangelicals and the "new atheists" are insufferably obsessed with their own rightness, and more importantly, everyone else's wrongness; thus do they miss the point entirely - that mystery is the fundamental condition of existence. I agree with him, and he supports his thesis well enough, but he does so in the first hundred pages of a 230 page book. The rest is repetitive and/or tangential, much to the detriment of the book. Also, Schaeffer's anger, though understandable, does not serve him well here.

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