Monday, October 5, 2009

A REVIEW OF -- Patience With God:


Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion {or Atheism}

Reviewed by Richard Ettelson

(Richard is a Reform rabbi and a licensed psychologist with a special interest in chemical dependency living in Southern California.)

Frank Schaeffer, a former evangelist who once rubbed shoulders with such luminaries in that world such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson has come out with a book that delivers far more than it promises. The subtitle hints that Frank will take on both the right wing fundamentalist and the left wing atheists in one fell swoop. There is a lot more here than meets the eye, and it is profound.

In many ways, religion has turned into a consumer good. If there is market for some belief or religious practice, or if someone can come up with some that are popular enough, that person can amass wealth and become influential. Apparently, to my amusement, Frank in a few chapters lets us know that atheists like Richard Dawkins can do the same thing. Religion largely exists as a product on the market. If a lot of people buy one particular brand, it must be the best. Right?

Wrong, according to Frank, religion is a natural part of being human, something inherent in our species. In fact, it is one of the things that makes us human. Our individual and group spirituality is dynamic and ever changing, Fundamentalist Christianity, as Frank points out, is nothing like the Christianity of the early church fathers. No religion has ever stayed the same for centuries and has thrived.

Religion is not based on objective facts revealed by a deity, but rather, it is the interaction of frail human beings with the ineffable they encounter in their daily life. Frank Schaeffer is one human being who is willing to share his daily life with us. I feel like I’m an old friend of his, although we have wildly divergent pasts, and we’ve never actually met except by email. Because of the warmth and genuineness of the narrative of his family life, his spiritual stirrings, and his successes and failures, this reader could relate to him, because what is particular to him is common to so many of us. This ability to relate subjective spiritual experience to a wide audience is Frank’s special gift, which he is now using for everyone’s benefit, not just for his.

For the theologically minded there is plenty of meat in this book, with a quotation form Kierkegaard at the front of every chapter. My theological heroes are not far from Kierkegaard, existentialists like Heschel and Buber. But one does not need to be a theologian to enjoy this book, nor is it intended for theologians. It is written in a very accessible and easy to read style, in the manner one would talk to a friend.

What I most loved about this book is that it is a call to all people to support and nurture the spirituality of all, regardless of “brand,” regardless of tradition, and regardless of label. I certainly feel a lot better about enjoying the music of J.S. Bach better than a lot of contemporary synagogue music thanks to this book. It is a call for religion to bring us together into a wider community of fellow seekers, and to include those who claim no religion at all. I agree with Frank that rootedness in one’s tradition is not an impediment to unity, but rather should be an impetus to unity. As we learn more about compassion, understanding and love from our respective faith groups, we move closer together. This book is not an effort to sell a religious product, nor is it a self-help book. It is a book about how to keep faith alive in an age where excess and extremism thrives, and where the still, small voice is hardly ever heard. Thanks, Frank to help keep a compassionate, non-judgmental and non-divisive faith alive in a world today,


BeamStalk said...

Frank in a few chapters lets us know that atheists like Richard Dawkins can do the same thing

Again, Mr. Schaeffer, this seems like demonizing. Without having read your book, I have a long list of books to read, I can only go by what you post here and what I read in other reviews of it. I notice the use of the word "can" in this review. This suggests to me that you are describing what can or could happen to the new atheist movement. I understand giving a warning to those so they don't do this but in previous statements you made direct comparisons between new atheists and fundamentalist Christians. I am just asking for evidence of this "mirror" of the "hostility of the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture" as you have stated before.

I enjoy your writing and your incite into the fundamentalist movement in America. I just feel that you are taking soundbites about new atheists without actually reading some of the written works of these people you listed as new atheists. It all seems to me as a straw man argument used to demonize people that you don't agree with.

Gregasaurus said...

I've read Dawkins and truthfully not my favorite amongst the Atheist so called upper crust. Mr. Schaeffer allows non believers like myself the opportunity to keep that open mind and realize there are many different ways to believe, or not believe. My focus is to become a better person, Mr. Schaeffer has, if nothing else, allowed me to see that change is possible. Not looking to become a better Christian, but a person who is open to varying opinions and mindsets. I really look forward to the new book , working on "Crazy for God" as I write this

Pattyanne said...

Mr. Schaeffer, I have not read any of your books yet but I shall! Yesterday I read your article on Right-wing hatemongering on Alternet, and I can't agree more! My husband and I have been IPHC ministers and started a church 10 years ago. To make a long story short, we have since retired but now see things so differently than our Christian friends. It keeps me awake at night wondering what is wrong with the Church. Where is the Holy Spirit? Whatever happened to love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control? Where is Jesus in all of this? My husband and I are are viewed as "one of those liberals" because we don't agree with the right-wing politics or much of the church doctrine we ourselves have taught for years. I see a trend in Christians which only can be described as hateful and haughty. I don't want any part of it anymore. I have not lost my faith in God at all, I just feel sad because of the cancer that is corrupting the Church. And Christians say there are no miracles anymore....I wonder why! The only ajenda I see is fueled by money and power. Man power...not God power. I am so happy I found you! We are no longer alone! Thanks.

Dawna Schultz said...

Be cautious of someone who is trying to bring pluralism of atheism and other religions into some neo-thinking. Even though Mr. Schaeffer claims to have some sensitivity to Christian roots, he is no friend of those who choose the Christian faith. The man talks out of both sides of his mouth, and his rambling book is not worth a dime. He attacks without true justification, just slander and half truth. Try reading the Bible before you criticize it, you might learn something.