[Welcome Frank Schaeffer, and Host Peterr. As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]
How do you follow up a book called Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of it Back? If you are Frank Schaeffer, you write Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism).
After all, once you’ve been through a little craziness, a little patience sounds like a good idea.
If you’ve seen Frank Schaeffer interviewed on television, you know he isn’t one to sugar-coat his opinions. His take on the evangelical subculture of the GOP on Rachel Maddow last September gives you a quick sense of his style. Speaking of the “beyond crazy” folks in the religious right, he said, “Can Christianity be rescued from Christians? That’s an open question.”
Schaeffer came to FDL last June to discuss Crazy for God — an autobiographical look at his life. Now he’s back with a look at the conversations about religion taking place around him. Oh, he’s still very much a part of the conversation, but in Patience Schaeffer looks as much at the voices of others as he does at himself.
The title calls for patience with God, but it’s clear that Schaeffer has little patience for some of the people arguing about religion these days. In Part One, entitled “Where Extremes Meet,” Schaeffer looks at folks like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins in the New Atheist movement, as well as evangelical fundamentalists like Rick Warren. While many see these folks at opposite ends of the spectrum of belief, Schaeffer sees a great deal of commonality between them: showmanship, chasing a buck, and a great deal of certainty and absolutism (even in the face of evidence to the contrary).
In Part Two, entitled “Patience With Each Other, Patience With God” Schaeffer moves from critiquing the craziness of extremes to the more difficult task of putting forward his own beliefs. (It’s often easier to say what you are against rather than what you are for.) Words like “paradox” and “uncertainty” figure prominently, as does the idea of “apophatic theology” — that is, that we cannot ultimately describe God because all attempts are by definition incomplete and imperfect. It’s easier to speak of what God is not than what God is. (He also notes that this is the same kind of approach that many scientists have to their work, especially physicists. It’s easier to say what isn’t happening, ruling out false hypotheses, than it is to define what is.)
In many ways, this patience of which Schaeffer speaks boils down to knowing and accepting your own limits and imperfections. “If you have to be correct all the time, while knowing that you are wrong most of the time, you become an actor. Been there, done that.” (p. 99)
The “been there, done that” is central to this book. From his earlier years within the evangelical culture, especially its media-savvy political manifestations, he knows how that world works. Under the rubric of “it takes one to know one,” Schaeffer uses his own background to spot the actors around us.
In his own spiritual travels, Schaeffer has moved from that world into the Orthodox Church. In reading Patience, I was reminded of a conversation I had years ago with an old Russian Orthodox priest who told me that the riches of his church were found in mystery. Schaeffer has moved from a faith tradition that prizes absolute answers, and found a place more amenable to wrestling with questions. With this book, Schaeffer invites his readers who have rejected the religion of absolute answers to consider a belief system that loves discussion.
I have no idea where the conversation will go this afternoon. Much depends on who comes to chat and what questions and experiences they bring. I trust that with a bit of patience, however, the conversation will be illuminating.