Book Review: Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) by Frank Schaeffer
(Blogcritics Nov 10, 09)
Reviewed By Jordan Richardson
(Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and maple syrup enthusiast. His film reviews can be found at the Canadian Cinephile's Reviews and his music reviews are located at the Canadian Audiophile's Reviews and News.)
As the son of Francis Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer has been no stranger to the rigours of evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity. Francis believed he had the answers to the questions of the ages with his belief in fundamentalist doctrine and he was largely responsible for the rise of the Religious Right in American politics. As his son, Frank lived through and participated in the despicable intersection of religion and politics.
But with passing years came clarity and Frank has gone from the obnoxious assurance of fundamentalist religion to the quiet doubt and curiosity of a more open faith. As an author, film director, and blogger for the Huffington Post, Schaeffer’s life is a testimony that rings true for many of us who have found themselves on similar ground.
In his new book, Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism), Schaeffer goes well beyond the typical pat answers of specious Christians who allude to Christianity as a “relationship, not a religion” and deconstructs the eager certainty, venomous literalism, and widespread insincerity that taints and has since formed the mould for the modern evangelical and fundamentalist movements.
Not content to merely strike at one side of the aisle, Schaeffer also volleys a fair-sized wad of equitable critique at many of the so-called New Atheists. He gears up harsh criticisms for Richard Dawkins, chastising him for his “self-serving compassion” and slogan-bearing T-shirt sales, and guts Bill Maher’s cowardly Religulous for asking softball, juvenile Sunday School questions of easy targets. Schaeffer also offers up a biting if simplistic critique of Christopher Hitchens and rounds off the torture-hungry Sam Harris in brief fashion.
But Patience With God is not a book about pegging down the “New Atheists” or stacking the odds in the favour of his particular Belief of Choice. Instead, this book is a war on the evil concept of certainty itself. In applauding Daniel Dennett and his brilliant Breaking the Spell, Schaeffer tilts his hand not as an argumentative pundit against all things atheist but rather a critic against a certain brand of, well, anything.
For Schaeffer, he believes that the brand of vitriolic “evangelism” from the “New Atheists” sells their overall message short and, further to the point, erodes any opportunity for unity among people of faith and people without faith.
As hard as Schaeffer might be on the “New Atheists,” he reserves the bulk of his bile for the evangelicals and fundamentalists. Targeting the likes of Rick Warren, Franklin Graham, John Hagee, and the two cretins behind the senseless Left Behind series of “books,” Schaeffer is on the money when he describes their hazardous conviction and criticizes their pursuit of profit and political pragmatism.
In the chapter entitled “Spaceship Jesus Will Come Back and Whisk Us Away,” Schaeffer details the dangerous philosophy of the book of Revelation and offers clarifying history, all the while admitting that he’d much sooner choose to share a lifeboat with Hitchens than with Tim LaHaye or Jerry Jenkins. After all, Schaeffer notes, “He might even bring along a case of wine.”
Patience With God is part “sermon” and part memoir, interlacing Schaeffer’s quest for a united world filled with compassionate, knowledge-hungry folks with stories from his past and present. It is beautiful to read how some of his stronger spiritual moments come from holding his granddaughter or looking at the moon in the sky.
At the core of Patience With God is Schaeffer’s discovery of the “gift of paradox” and his general worship of the uncertain. His faith in God is couched in not knowing what or who God is rather than in identifying the deity (or perhaps deities) with a number of self-serving characteristics. His exploration of faith is one of existing in the universe, of unity with other human beings regardless of personal faith and conviction, and of compassion with an emphasis on tolerance and authenticity.
It is, indeed, a refreshing book and incredibly easy to read. While many atheists and religious people alike will feel targeted by Schaeffer, his is an even-handed approach that does well to strip away the childish shell of fighting over who’s “right” when the question can’t be answered. “The point is not to argue over how we got here but to agree to a better vision of where we want to evolve to now,” he says after linking Charles Darwin’s “liberating truth” with Jesus’ “selfless example.”
In the end, Patience With God is not going to be the magic answer or the key that opens the door to a united humanity. That is, however, not a failing of the book nor is it the failing of any of those men and women who have pleaded incessantly for compassion over wickedness, tolerance over bigotry, reason over ignorance, and love over hate for centuries. Instead, our lack of unity on issues of faith and, indeed, anything else can and should be blamed on nothing more than our frail, malicious craving to be right.