Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Book Review: Patience With God: Faith for Those Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) (2009) by Frank Schaeffer.

"Rigid purity is the ultimate denial of paradox. And that denial is the only blasphemy there is. It's the blasphemy committed against God by all fundamentalists with every false certainty they mouth about Him." --Frank Schaeffer, Patience With God (p. 194).

This quote reveals much about the book (as well as inverts the biblical definition of blasphemy). In sum, Schaeffer contends God is "ineffable". (149.) So he's against anyone asserting anything with certainty, including "evangelicals/fundamentalists" and the "new atheists" (which he lumps in as fundamentalists of a different stripe).

He prescribes a third way, "an apophatic view". (150.) He calls it "a humble thread that runs through many religions parallel to the deadly we-know-it-all thread of the theological hubris." (150.)

For one ardently arguing we cannot know virtually anything about God, and chastising both "evangelicals/fundamentalists" and the "new atheists" for their disdain of "the other" (among other things), Patience With God inconsistently advocates a particular view about God and often vitriolically attacks "the other". Rick Warren as well as Richard Dawkins each receive sharp barbs from the author (among others), although attacks are mostly about their commercialism.

In the end, despite promising "'something' to hold on to" (xxi), the converse is the result. Employing Schaeffer's amorphous prescription is akin to grasping air or "shoveling smoke" as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously observed (about lawyers' work).

Moreover, this book's an exercise of ignoring the evidence. Schaeffer simply doesn't deal with it in arriving at his conclusions. Rather, he relies more on his experiences, content to produce another memoir. (125.) In this regard, Schaeffer recycles stories about his childhood contained in 2007's Crazy for God and provides new ones. In doing so, Schaeffer seems to working out issues he had with his parents who "forgot" him as they pursued their ministries. Nevertheless, that experience of religion, albeit painful, doesn't prove or disprove its underlying tenets.

Accordingly, in the end, the book should be understood simply as one man's memorialization of his circuitous spiritual journey. It's not a polemic that undermines the sides Schaeffer attempts to debunk or discard.

Labels: , ,