Brief review of Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God

Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to give love, create beauty and find peaceWhy I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to give love, create beauty and find peace by Frank Schaeffer
Originally written on goodreads while 30,000 feet over the east coast.

Like someone else said, the book is full of one liners. As I tweeted my way through the book, you could see how offended dogmatic people were by the title.

If you can make it past the title, though, you will find that he has written an book full of honest uncertainty, one that shows how you can give up on the certainty of youth without becoming lost in cynicism and bitterness.

Salt of the Earth

Via Dan Lyke, this story seems to be making the rounds: Christian Salt.

“I said, ‘What the heck’s the matter with Christian salt?'” Godlewski said, sipping a beer in the living room of his home… “This is about keeping Christianity in front of the public so that it doesn’t die. I want to keep Christianity on the table, in the household, however I can do it.”

We could just say he was confused. Or, more likely, cynical. Last I checked, Christianity was in no danger of dying out. And tagging music or food with the “christian” label never seemed like a good way to actually be a Christian. But I do think he’ll make plenty of money from all the publicity he is getting. (That, and any anti-semitic foodies will buy the stuff in bulk.)

Two Religions

(via Jim’s shared items feed)

It has long seemed to me that there are really just two religions in the world, and they show up in each tradition: one runs on risk/ welcome/ abandon/ grace/ transformation/ forgiveness/ creativity/ multiple-possibilities; and the other, on security/ control/ rules/ order/ stability/ only-one-possibility. – Two Religions

This does seem to be a theme that shows up a lot. But I would argue that it is possible to fuse the two strains of thinking. It is hard. It is very difficult to be at once about rules and grace; transformation and order do not easily co-exist, but it is possible to have both. The Orthodox are obviously all about order and stability. There are also, if you can handle them, a lot of rules. But I’ve only seen “control” and “only-one-possibility” from one very bad priest. He was young and a convert, though, so it is easy (for me) to forgive him. Instead, I’ve seen an abundance of grace and forgiveness within the Church. And not just at the parish level. It seems to be throughout the fathers. I won’t go so far as to say that welcome, creativity, or multiple-possibilities is widespread in the Church, but then, I don’t see a lot of emphasis on security and control.

Habitual Riding

On Monday, Eric asked me why I thought I would need to use a consistent route to get back to 20 miles today. Today I went out at 6:30 in the morning to ride for an hour and half over that 20 mile ride that I used to do and I thought of the answer. Like the Mennonite man that passed me by, it is easier to compete against yourself if you are covering the same ground every day. You can push yourself to go a little faster and get done a little quicker. If you have a Heart Rate Monitor (which I plan on getting), you know that today’s readings are comparable to yesterday’s readings. Also, less thought is involved in the process. Fewer decisions (“Turn this way?” “Turn back now?”) mean I have time (like the woman Nathan ran into) to pray. I try to use the Jesus Prayer. It works something like this: (Inhale)Lord Jesus (Exhale)have mercy (Inhale)on me (Exhale)a sinner. Of course, you can tell by the fact that I was thinking about Eric’s question and coming up with answers for it that I am easily distracted from prayer.

The following is a lightly edited copy of an email I sent to a friend. He suggested that I post this. You’re uncomfortable with Dogma. So am I. Dogma is one of the reasons I love the Orthodox. Yes, there are plenty of bad apples, but, the good stuff is completely Orthodox. The triune God and the divine man Christ. That’s all I need to be Orthodox. Well, yes, I do have to be comfortable with Liturgy, otherwise Orthodoxy isn’t going to “speak to me”. But that’s the point: orthopraxis is absolutely as important, if not more important, than orthodoxy. What we believe is important. But what we do is absolutely vital. I remember clearly when I started to see that we (“we” being the western church, especially prots) put to much importance on orthodoxy and not enough on orthopraxis. Somewhere in high school, I was involved in my church’s Evangelism Explosion program. “You believe in Christ,” was the verse we were using. “Good! The devils believe… and TREMBLE!” I’m sure I had begun to grok this sooner, but I remember this clearly. We don’t practice what we preach. If we really believe this stuff, it would be reflected in our action. If we claim to believe something, but don’t follow through, then we don’t actually believe it. All this is a long way to say that I’ve come to believe (and I think the church teaches) that godly action is more important than getting all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed in your belief system. I think I read River of Fire (RoF) for the first time about 10 years ago. It was an eye opener. Reading the RoF was the first time I encountered a spiritual authority that I felt comfortable with who said “God is entirely Love” and didn’t couch the terms. Everyone else said “God is Love, but…” and felt the need to explain an angry God who was so pissed off about sin that he had to send people to Hell. It provided me with a way to reconcile my belief in the reality of Hell with the belief in a loving God. We’re the ones who choose God or not. He doesn’t force himself on us. And, as a loving God, I think he recognises cultural and geographical limits. I don’t think he automatically condemns someone to eternal torment simply because they’re a Hindu who’s never heard of Christ. I think God has some subtlety. So, I’m not really interested in judging Mennonites, Christian Scientists, Mormons or Scientologists. Each of us has a conscience. We instinctively know what is right. If we seek God, I think he will, in Love, respond to us despite our limitations. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still critical of each of the above. But I’ve at least gotten to the point where I’m not going to smack them over the head with the Gold-bound Gospel book from liturgy and force them to repent. And I absolutely agree that we should be able to find truth and beauty (From the philokalia: truth is beauty, beauty is truth) in other spiritual traditions. We should be able to respect the Buddhist Koans or Hindi poetry. “Be able to”, as in “go ahead and appreciate it” not “everyone has to do this”. Most people aren’t comfortable with that sort of ambiguity. We claim to know the Truth and anything outside our tradition makes us uncomfortable. God said, “I AM”. Not “I AM ONLY FOUND IN EASTERN CHRISTIANITY”. Jesus said “I AM the WAY, TRUTH, and LIFE” and he showed us true love. Anger was a rare thing for him. And he didn’t tell his disciples “Go tell everyone about me because they’re condemned to hell without knowing my name.” His words were positive statements: “He who believes in me will be saved.” And we’ve assumed that the converse is also true. In fact, this brings me to another thing I appreciate about the Orthodox. The focus is almost exclusively on me and how I don’t measure up. It is clear that I’m loved and I bear the image of God, but it is clear that Deification is the ideal, that it is what we all desire (even if we don’t know it), what we all strive for. Theosis is the goal, but God is Love. He doesn’t demand Theosis of us. And never have I felt it necessary to judge a good person simply because they haven’t achieved Theosis. Nor have I felt judgement because I haven’t yet been deified. What I have felt is envy for those with a closer relationship with God. I’ve envied other people’s devotion. And I freely confess that since I don’t feel it is a sin to envy spiritual achievement. But I still feel loved. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by guilt. I hold myself responsible for my sin — sin contrary to my true, image-of-God nature. And I fall short of the possible Glory that God placed within me. The glory that he enables me to realize. But the focus is on me and my shortcomings. I can see how others fail, sure, but they’re sin isn’t my responsibility. And when they find beauty, its a good thing. “All Truth [beauty] is God’s.” Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but I don’t really see seekers. I don’t see people who desire God. I see people angry at God (just as the RoF said), people building mudpies when the entire beach awaits them. It is those people that I’m concerned about, not the devout Muslim or the God-fearing Baptist. And when I say “concern”, I don’t mean “concern for the eternal state of their soul”, though, hrm, I do wonder if they’ll be a dwarf tasting hay. I mean a sadness. There is so much more than this. And they reject it.