A Beautiful Atheism…

Last week I had the honor of continuing a three year tradition of sitting down and chatting with my friend, the artist and prolific author Frank Schaeffer at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Every year that I have sat down with Frank, I have been blown away by his compassion, spiritual fervor, and honesty. Every year, I walk away from our conversation filled with hope and a renewed energy to continue pressing in to my mission and vision for a new kind of Christianity. Every year, I leave our meeting thanking God for Frank Schaeffer.

Now, many people, primarily conservative Evangelicals, have a very negative view of Frank. He doesn’t often seem like such a nice guy when he appears on MSNBC offering his fiery commentary on the latest tea-party Republican controversy. Many see him as an extreme, anti-Christian voice that is rebelling against the faith of his iconic evangelical father, Francis Schaeffer. But anyone who has the privilege of getting to know Frank, either through his many books or through personal interaction, knows a different side of him. The Frank Schaeffer I know is a man whose heart is overwhelmingly large, whose faith and worldview are refreshing and eclectic, and whose passion is a constant source of inspiration for those of us who identify as spiritual nomads, wandering the vast deserts of religion and spirituality. He is a man whose voice is important and whose insight is innovative and essential. In short, Frank Schaeffer is a man who we all could benefit from listening to.

During my conversation with Frank, we talked a bit about his new self-published book, Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God. This short book beautifully summarizes Frank’s life mantra, “Give Love, Create Beauty, & Find Peace.” In our conversation he summarized what he meant by “Atheist who believes in God” using this mantra as the foundation. Frank’s spirituality is one of complexity, paradox, and tension. He is ruthlessly honest, not afraid to acknowledge to truth that science has revealed about humanity and our attempts to create meaning through inventing religion. Frank explained to me that beauty and not necessarily “God” (though the two terms can be interchangeable) is the purpose of our lives and the source of our ultimate hope. When we spend our lives creating beauty through art, justice, and relationship, we naturally become people who love well. The pursuit to create beauty draws us deeply into loving one another and loving our planet because we learn to see each other and every created thing as a work of “divine” art. One doesn’t need theism to explain how beauty gives us meaning and why we find it so inspiring- it’s simply the way the human brain has evolved to work. When we live our lives in pursuit of beauty and giving love, peace will naturally emerge and sustain us through our day to day lives.

But where does belief in God come in? Frank explained to me that sometimes, as he stands in his backyard at night, he looks up at the stars and feels a Divine pulse vibrating through him, telling him that he is loved. Sure, this can be explained away scientifically, but it can also be understood to be a genuine encounter with the Source of all Life. At times, Frank said, he doesn’t feel the need to explain away his intuitive sense that he is experiencing God, and it is out of those experiences that a sense of faith emerges. Yet Frank does not allow faith to blindly lead him into following doctrines, dogmas, and traditions. Instead, he reiterated the importance of remaining ruthlessly honest about what we know to be scientifically true. But his “atheism” doesn’t lead Frank to a dry and lifeless existence like it has too many other atheistic writers and thinkers. Instead, it leads Frank to a place of awe and wonder, a place of ethics and morals, a place that opens him to be filled with the Spirit of God- whether God exists or not.

At the end of our conversation, as I looked deeply into Frank’s eyes, I said to him, “You are so full of hope and life. Your message is deeply true. I so appreciate who you are and the journey you’re on. Thank you so much.” Frank looked at me with watery eyes and extended his hands to mine. As I placed my hands in his, he kissed them gently, a beautiful gesture that reminded me of Jesus. As Frank and I stood up from the table and left, I turned my eyes to the sun that was beaming down from the trees and smiled- a silent gesture of thanksgiving to God (or life, universe, creation, reality….whatever) for my friend Frank Schaeffer.

I spent the rest of the week reading through his book and continually found myself laughing out loud at his wittiness, dumbfounded by his honesty, and encouraged by the message that he presents- a message that I know first hand, that he embodies in his day to day life. As an Evangelical Christian, you wouldn’t expect me to find such inspiration from Frank Schaeffer’s work, but I really do. His writings and friendship serve as a fuel for my faith in many unexpected ways. While I know that many of my readers may be skeptical of Frank and his book, I want to encourage you to take a risk and buy Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God today. I am confident that you will be edified by Frank’s story and message, just as I have been. After all, God often speaks to us in the most unlikely places, doesn’t he?

Frank Schaeffer’s atheism is absolutely beautiful and is a message that I can fully get behind as an Evangelical. I think you will get behind it too.

For more information about Frank Schaeffer and his books, visit his website by clicking here.

To read past interviews I’ve done with Frank, click here

Grace and Peace-

Brandan

 

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  • frankschaeffer

    Hi Brandon, Thanks for the very great kindness to me. Your pal, Frank

    • jeffstraka

      Frank – I respectfully ask that you take some time and listen to this podcast where a Christian PhD student interviews atheist David Smalley for his dissertation. I think most of the atheists who responded here with disdain for your mischaracterization of atheists as dry and lifeless will agree that David Smalley is far more representative of their (and my) worldview. After listening to it, I would love to hear your response. Thank you. http://www.spreaker.com/user/smalleyandhyso/133-an-interview-w-david-smalley?utm_source=widget&utm_medium=widget

  • jeffstraka

    “But his “atheism” doesn’t lead Frank to a dry and lifeless existence like it has too many other atheistic writers and thinkers.”

    I am SO tired of this blatant and repeated LIE. I don’t know who in the hell he is talking to, but it’s not ANY atheist I’ve encountered. We have a DEEP love and appreciation (though there is no one to thank) of this amazing brief life we’ve been fortunate to experience. We are in DEEP awe of the universe and of this fragile earth and want to protect our planet for future generations to enjoy.

    Knowing that THIS life is the ONLY one we will ever have, we find it to be more precious and want to be sure EVERY person has the opportunity to live out their life to the full. This is why I weep when a child dies a horrible death locked in a hot car by his father (recent story here in Georgia) and the mother at his funeral claims “he is in a better place now”. No. He is NOT.

    There is no “Creator” to “give” us meaning, but we are able to MAKE meaning for ourselves every single day. It seems to be far healthier psychologically to be the creator of your OWN value-based meaning rather than constantly seeking and chasing it from the OUTSIDE.

    So STOP it with atheism as a “dry, lifeless existence”. IT. IS. NOT. TRUE.

    • Whitesnake Jackson

      If I could like this 100 more times, I would.

      • http://www.lacourt-m.com/ MarilynLaCourt

        Me too.

        • Apostaste

          Here here, they cannot win an argument on intellectual grounds so they keep resorting to emotional appeals and demonetization. Absolutely shameful.

          • Adam King

            Christianity leads to a dry, lifeless existence, dragging your corpse around trying to obey a tyrannical god, waiting to die so you can find out if you get the goodies.
            How’s that for a lying stereotype?

  • http://www.lacourt-m.com/ MarilynLaCourt

    There is no ultimate meaning to our existence. We attribute meanings to that which we perceive.

  • Lausten North

    Brendan must have read a different book than I did. In the one I read, Frank talks a lot about his love for Jesus, and his annoyance with scientists. It has its high points, but the low points really ruin it.

  • BeaverTales

    Brandon, you don’t understand atheism at all.

  • http://www.yearwithoutgod.com/ Ryan Bell

    I’m not sure you read the same book I did, or the words mean different things to you. I dunno. The book was anything but complex.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    Perhaps if you’re ever in Chicago, you’ll be willing to sit down and have a chat with an actual atheist about our dry and lifeless existences. Unless you would prefer to continue to assume since we don’t find meaning in what you do, we cannot possibly have any in our lives.

  • TheSquirrel

    Oh sure I feel really great when I look up at the night sky at the infinite expanse of beautiful lights. It sends a thrill through me, a shiver. It’s great.
    Don’t see any need to attribute it to any unproven supernatural entities…

  • Frank2918

    Their is only one conclusion for the atheist; death

    • jeffstraka

      What exactly does that mean?

      • Frank2918

        It means exactly what it says it does. Atheist will die both physically and spiritually.

        • jeffstraka

          Well, yes. We will all physically die, theists and atheists alike. One can hope for a continuation beyond death, but in all likelihood, that’s all it is: hope. We are one of the few species that is aware of its mortality and so have concocted stories over our long history to ease our fear of death. This is why the book, “Heaven is for Real” (is the “for” really necessary?) has been in the NYT best seller list for so many months: people are simply afraid of death. I would much rather live my life – and value the lives of others – based on the likelihood that this is it. We might put more importance on gun regulation, as one example, and we might be a bit more reluctant to send people into war. And we might not leave children in hot cars.

          • Frank2918

            Everything and everyone has so much more value when you accept eternity. You can settle for second best I’ll stick with God.

          • jeffstraka

            I couldn’t disagree more. (I was a believer for 50+ years) I found the prospect of spending eternity with my mother-in-law to be quite depressing. ;)

          • Frank2918

            She might not be there but even if she is she will be a new creation. You’ll probably even like her.

          • Giauz Ragnarock

            Can we at least agree the prospect of eternity produces inconsistent results. For some people, the love that such an eternity demands means being charitable, but for others it means being as destructive as possible so long as it is “helping” ones fellow man (ex would be environmental destruction and “he who does not work shall not eat”, which more often than not causes suffering in some misguided way of trying to get people in horrible circumstances out of their control, like mental illness or being refugees from an impoverished war-torn country, to suffer). Both sides and all positions outside of them when keeping eternity in mind are seen by their adherents as loving. The main dig against wishful thinking of eternity is that without it we seem to get the same results (we should try to help in any way we can, you should help yourself, the ends justify the means, etc). Eternity adds nothing to human absolute meaning.

          • Frank2918

            I am sorry you have chosen the path that you have. Shame really.

  • jeffstraka

    This will be my last comment on this particular blog post and on Brandan’s blog at-large. I find it quite telling that neither Brandan nor Frank will respond to the push-back offered by atheists here or elsewhere (Frank has been called out by atheists on NUMEROUS online book review posts and never responds). I replied to Frank here with a link to an in-depth interview with atheist David Smalley with the hopes he might listen to hear the heart of the atheist. I sent this same link via a FB message to Brandan Sunday afternoon (it shows he saw it at 4:28 pm) and NO response. They apparently wish to hang on to their off-base stereotypes of atheists because it makes their Christianity seem more appealing. I think they very well see the writing on the wall that the church is in decline and the “nones” are on the rise. So in order to keep the institutional money wagon going for a few more years, they need to create a fear of atheists to try to keep questioning people from leaving.

    The church has been an expert in the fear game, haven’t they? Hell worked for a long time, and in the conservative, evangelical church it STILL works. So when the progressive/emergent church essentially gave up hell as a reality, what leverage do they have to keep butts in the pew? Voila! Scary atheists! If you give up God, you might not go to hell, but your life will be meaningless! Your moral compass will be gone! You will be depressed and angry! So, obviously, Brandan and Frank are not interested in changing their perspectives on atheists – they would loose that one remaining fear that might keep people in check just a while longer.

    What’s even more disappointing to me, is that I WAS a progressive/emergent Christian – it was through the deconstruction path that they encourage that led me out of theism. I wasn’t aware at the time that there was a line that I dare not cross. I wasn’t aware that I dare not keep going down the rabbit hole. Since that time (about two years ago) I do see that they are making a concentrated effort to warn others of this line, that, yes, doubt is a part of faith, but you need to come BACK to God after your little “dark night of the soul” experience. Radical Theology (Peter Rollins), Weak Theology (John Caputo), Anatheism (Richard Kearney) are all attempts at creating a God After God. Frank’s book was a very poor attempt at trying to join this trend. It’s time to stop trying to reanimate a dead God. It is looking a lot like “Weekend at Bernie’s”, for crying out loud.

    • Greg Gorham

      Could it be that it isn’t fear driving these articles, but an honest statement of belief? Perhaps they actually do believe in a God. That may be hard to fathom, but believe it or not, not everyone’s journey has led them to the same place as you. You’re so blinded by your conviction that there is no God that you can’t see any of these as honest theologies and label them all as poor attempts to “reanimate a dead God.” And then you’re shocked, shocked, when you have a hard time getting progressive Christians to partner up with you.

      • jeffstraka

        If it were simply a matter of anatheism (god after the death of god), I would have no issue with that. I understand that there still still is a need for a god in many people. My issue is what appears to be an intentional campaign by many emergent speakers/authors (and in academia) to deceive their audience over what atheism is. They continue to use the straw men of 19th century “old atheists” and the “four horsemen of the new atheism” as examples, intentionally leaving out who the current day atheists are. And Frank’s book (which I did read!) was purely this straw man argument. If you read most of the responses here from atheists, you will see that we are not the nihilists of old or followers of pure scientism. Here is but one more example of this trend: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/07/atheists_the_origin_of_the_species_by_nick_spencer_reviewed.html

        Remember, Greg, that I am a product of progressive/emergent deconstruction (I just kept deconstructing!) and am especially grateful to Peter Rollins and his work that opened me up to the world of atheism in the first place. I don’t recall in Pete’s books anything that was derogatory towards atheism – that seems to be a more recent phenomenon, and I am far from the only one to have noticed this trend. Lillian Daniel’s book of rants against the “nones” is but one more example of extremely poor research or intentional deceit, as is Diana Bulter Bass’ latest book.

        So, THAT’S my beef, Greg. Sure, I kinda went overboard a bit with my “Weekend at Bernie’s” as I truly am fine with those who still see God (I am part of a progressive cohort in Marietta that is a mix of theists and atheists and we love and respect one another immensely). I am simply disappointed in this recent trend of dismissing the REAL atheists out there AND the apparent reluctance of these authors to engage in listening. If you listen to this podcast, you will find this more prevalent atheist is not at ALL like the atheists portrayed in Frank’s book. http://www.spreaker.com/user/smalleyandhyso/133-an-interview-w-david-smalley?utm_source=widget&utm_medium=widget

        • Greg Gorham

          I think we have similar problems in some respects. Progressive Christians get tired of the New Atheists acting as if disproving a sky-god who exists somewhere and created the world 6,000 years ago means they’ve made an airtight case for atheism and disproved Christianity. I also know a good number of atheists who get tired of being caricatured as if they’re all like Richard Dawkins.

          It would be great if we could get to some kind of mutual understanding and cease-fire. Progressive Christians highlight the best and most thoughtful atheists out there and not direct all their energy towards people like Harris/Dawkins/Hitchens etc., and atheists stop denigrating all people of faith as being anti-science, not being real progressives, not taking the Bible seriously, and propping up a dead God, Weekend at Bernie’s style.

          • jeffstraka

            I would suggest the largest obstacle we have is the news media who get the highest ratings by featuring the poles and not the middle. They do this in both the political and the religious arenas. Progressives (theists and atheists) should (and likely do) know what’s portrayed is not where this country is and they need to wrest that microphone to set the record straight. In order to do that, we first need to (as you suggest) have a cease-fire, and then have an exchange of real stories and viewpoints so that we can dissolve the untrue and unhelpful stereotypes.


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