on 27 August 2011
Frank Schaeffer is the prodigal son of Francis Schaeffer, the well known fundamentalist leader, rumoured founder of the Christian right and real founder of L'Abri. Frank eventually broke with his father's views and became an unsuccessful Hollywood director and moderately successful author of both fiction and non-fiction. "Patience with God" is a kind of summary of his life and current views.
The book is meandering and very uneven. Sometimes, the prodigal says interesting things, but most of the chapters contain gossip about himself, his parents and Christopher Hitchens. Add to that boring preaching of an almost agnostic kind, a misplaced chapter eulogizing the U.S. Marines and a rather idiosyncratic interpretation of Eastern Orthodoxy, and you end up with "Patience with God". But OK, I admit that the gossip about Hitchens was quite revealing. A veritable guilty pleasure!
Frank Schaeffer's own ideas are hard to pin down, and he seems to like it that way. Nominally a convert to the Greek Orthodox Church, Frank's religious opinions sound rather like a blend of liberal Christianity (except on the abortion issue), vague New Age notions about cosmic evolutionism, and agnosticism. He endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and is considered an "Obama Republican" by Wikipedia.
I'm not a fundie either, but I find it more difficult than Frank to "live with paradox". Perhaps that's why I *want* to pin him down, even pidgeon-hole him. And perhaps that's also why I didn't really like his book. For the effort, however, I'll give it three stars.
on 21 November 2011
I have enjoyed Frank Schaeffer's biographically based fictions (the Calvin Becker Trilogy) and Crazy for God and Sex, Mom and God. (Last two mentioned confirming biographical nature of first mentioned.) In spite of the weighty subject - fundamentalist Religion - I found them all amusingly entertaining. Patience with God, however, is different. It is of special significance to me, as I identify with Frank Schaeffer's spiritual journey; a journey that took him from an activist, in support of fundamentalistic Evangelicalism, to an advocate for a non-exclusive perspective of Christianity. Whilst Frank finds comfort in the unchanging liturgy and worship through the Greek Orthodox tradition, I appreciate that he also acknowledges that interpretations of the Bible are not static, but subject to change, like anything that is alive: In the past many a bible-believer`s image of their god did not contradict the church's brutal treatment against unbelievers, heretics and devotees of other religions; fortunately this cannot be said about today's majority of `possessors' of ultimate and absolute truth. Most of today's believers, even some fundamentalists, remain silent on the subject of the brutal side of the biblical portrait of god, a god who condemns non-believers to eternal punishment! Frank is right in his perception that his fundamentalist parents' battle was one preoccupied with cleaning up this bad reputation of their god and that they were often kinder than HIM, in whom they believed. To me, this contradiction is one that is (as Nietzsche would say) too human - all too human and can only be identified as a paradox created (or `biblically' interpreted) by paradoxical human beings who would like their god of love to hate people who disagree with them. I guess that this ambiguity is too hot to handle for anyone believing that the Bible is the foolproof and non-contradicting word of god. I find Frank sincerely human in his ontological approach, because he takes into account that we are all not as sure as we (have to) pretend to be, and that authentic humanness shows mostly through our ambiguity and also in our paradoxes, characteristics which are avoided by so many black-and-white fundamentalists, religious or secular. And if any one now thinks that Frank is the odd one out, he/she is wrong! Frank is in good company, with no one less than some of the otherwise acknowledged church fathers, such as Evagrius Ponticus, Tertullian, St.Cyril of Jerusalem, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom and Basil the Great (Frank's listing), all of whom, for their sincere 'uncertainty' expressed through their apophatic- also known as negative theology, would be put down as liberals by many of today's evangelicals. Not to forget the mystics, who live a nonetheless living faith and find peace, not by certainty but through silence and inner stillness. And furthermore (as Frank says) "hold clues to the understanding that paradox must not be resolved", because it "is the blessed, creative, and freeing nature of reality, not a problem"! Maybe I don't understand Frank right, but if I do, I would add that this "creative and freeing nature" can then be released, when we recognize our own paradoxical nature and in doing so finding something profoundly true about ourselves. Maybe Frank is basically an artist at heart, which he (much to his later regret) denied himself to develop outwardly; he sacrificed his passion for painting for the sake of supporting his parents on their evangelical mission to us lost christianised, but not bible-fundamentalist Calvinists. I am aware that Frank has being accused of defaming and shaming his parents, (more so provoked by his other mentioned books). Although such accusations are to be expected and can be understood, I don't see it that way. I sense strong feelings of compassion in Frank's writings, for his still living mom and his deceased dad. I observe it as a kind of love-hate relationship: love because he loves them for who they, as human beings, basically were (his mom still is) and hate because of the cause they have invested their lives in. What Frank fails to understand when he tries to separate the two, is no different from the believer who, in his keen attempt to convert people, loves the sinner but hates his sins. What makes Frank's attempt even of a bigger challenge is that whilst sinners do not always love their sins, fundamentalist are always inseparable from their beliefs. I also appreciate this particular Schaeffer book, because here Frank not only takes a stand against religious fundamentalism, but also against the equivalent black and white obstinacy of the New Atheists. Hence I take this book as warning: aren't we all tempted, when rejecting one worldview, just to find ourselves fighting it with a superficial verbal artillery that is just as extreme and black-and-white as of the one we rejected!