From: Wright Nat (NHS LEEDS WEST CCG)
Sent: Tue, May 5, 2015 2:46 pm
Subject: Crazy for God – great book!
We’ve not met and the reason for my emailing you is to thank you for giving the world such a fabulous book in “Crazy for God”. I stumbled across the book a couple of weeks ago having read some pretty negative (and I can now see ridiculously unjustified) criticism of you on the internet. I was expecting a hollow, militant atheistic rant against all things divine but rather have enjoyed reading a thoughtful, funny, informative book in which I relate entirely to both your childhood experiences and how it affects one’s belief and behaviors well into adulthood.
My background was very similar to yourself – not in terms of location but in terms of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours displayed by my parents. I think it’s fair to say they were “frustrated missionairies” living in a mining town in England . So in my formative years of the 1970s and early 1980s my strongwilled mother would often talk about how I would one day be a “missionary doctor” and that I “had what it takes to be a missionary”. It was presented as the pinnacle of achievement and I can relate word for word to the direct quotes from your parents that you have provided in your book. It was, as you allude to in your book, a controlling and at times stressful upbringing in which one felt every action was subject to scrutiny by God and “unbelievers” – towards whom one was “seeking to be a witness”.
Anyway all went swimmingly until in my mid 20s I recall having a sense that large parts of what I’d been taught just failed to make sense anymore. I remember at medical school (I would have been aged about 22) talking to a friend and explaining how Christ died on the cross to forgive us of our sins and just having a feeling that I wasn’t sure I believed it anymore. Anyway I continued I suppose basically believing and after having duly spent a year “as a missionary” in Nepal (an experience in itself whereby I found the modern day missionary culture anything but culturally competent!) I returned to work as a general practitioner in a “Christian” GP practice. Anyway to cut a long story short there were clear inequities in workload and I struggled to reconcile the clear lack of fairness with Christian belief which led to me becoming severely clinically depressed for approximately 18 months. This was all 20 years ago and well in the past and I emerged with my mental health basically recovered but the key casualty was my theological belief in which evangelical belief just didn’t cut it at the lowest point in my life.
As I “lost my faith” my wife found it very difficult to cope with the change and some years later sadly we divorced. Predictably the vast majority of the church “took sides” with my wife. However bitterness is up there with jealousy and greed in as emotions I hate and I refused to become bitter. Rather I threw myself into being the best dad I could be, and also into my work – I have spent the last 20 years providing medical care to the homeless and prisoners in Leeds, written a number of medical textbooks on the subject and now enjoy sitting on a number of national and international committees in addition to holding medical and research director posts and an associate professor title with my local university. I write this not self-promote but rather to honour the good things that evangelicalism gave me – ie (in non church speak) a passion to help the “underdog”, the fact that every human being is equal, and a deep commitment that with the help and support of others we could positively change local communities, wider society and indeed have a global influence (albeit a small one!).
So all this brings me full circle to where your book fits into my life’s meandering journey. I think in my move from evangelical belief to atheism (I hate that word – it’s like saying I’m a triathlonist because I love triathlon!) I have been frightened to really talk to my parents in the way I have disclosed in this letter to yourself. I’ve felt responsible for their belief and having (I am sure) upset them in “rejecting their teachings” felt unable to sit down and talk to them to let them know the good things their “teachings” gave me as well as the dysfunctional. I now feel that there’s a sense in which your book is my “supporting document” as I converse both with my parents, my children and indeed my whole eclectic bunch of friends (Christian, atheist, Muslim, Sikh etc etc). In short I feel I can say “this is what it was like growing up for me, and I’m not weird or rebellious – I am not the only one who had this experience”. So again thank you, thank you, for such a wonderful book that is up there in the top three of the most significant I have read in my life (Mahatma Gandhi’s biography made it so I have you in esteemed company J ).
Take care and please don’t feel compelled to reply.
(Nat is short btw for Nathanael – my brothers all received biblical names – Gideon, Matthew, Samuel and Daniel. But that’s another story in itself)
Clinical Research Director Transform Research Alliance
Visiting Associate Professor Leeds University
(This letter was published with the permission of the author)
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Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace