A meditation on the follies of religious and atheist fundamentalism.
Schaeffer (Crazy for God, 2007, etc.) fled the evangelical Christianity of his father, the late evangelist Francis Schaeffer, and today is Greek Orthodox. Here the author criticizes both the religious right and the recent wave of angry atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett. Schaeffer stresses that ethical behavior, not certitude about supernatural creeds, was an early Judeo-Christian teaching. It’s a solid though unoriginal argument—recent books by Harvard theologian Harvey Cox and British author Karen Armstrong cover much of the same ground. Schaeffer argues for “hopeful uncertainty,” a humility about one’s beliefs that rejects the certitude of doctrinaire believers and atheists alike. His openly contemptuous insults of both groups may put off readers who admire the Franklin Grahams or, alternately, Richard Dawkinses of the world, but his criticisms, buttressed by quoting his targets’ own words, are on target. It’s when he turns to personal recollections that Schaeffer becomes tedious, save for the occasional interesting anecdote. One gem is the story about his British boarding school’s headmaster teaching him compassion instead of bullying. Schaeffer also writes movingly about finding God—not in creeds about a virgin birth or Jesus’s miracles, but in his baby granddaughter, Lucy. Noting that strokes have reduced his 94-year-old mother to a cognitive level similar to Lucy’s, he muses that while they may never meet, their consciousness is similar: “Mom is slowly falling asleep. Lucy is waking up.”
The wisdom about shunning rigid thinking outweighs the meandering memoir and lack of original theme in this hybrid volume.