In an excerpt from his new book, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God, Frank Schaeffer pulls no punches about how he approaches the message of Jesus:
Jesus certainly was not a “Bible believer,” as we use that term in the post Billy Graham era of American fundamentalist religiosity that’s used as a trade-marked product to sell religion. Jesus didn’t take the Jewish scriptures at face value. In fundamentalist terms, Jesus was a rule-breaking relativist who wasn’t even “saved,” according to evangelical standards. Evangelicals insist that you have to believe very specific interpretations of the Bible to be saved. Jesus didn’t. He undercut the scriptures.
The stories about Jesus that survived the bigots, opportunists and delusional fanatics who wrote the New Testament contain powerful and enlightened truths that would someday prove the undoing of the Church built in his name. Like a futurist vindicated by events as yet undreamed, Jesus’ message of love was far more powerful than the magical thinking of the writers of the book he’s trapped in. … Jesus believed in God rather than in a book about God. The message of Jesus’ life is an intervention in and an acceleration of the evolution of empathy.
In an interview about the book, Schaeffer unpacks what he means by its paradoxical title:
I do not always believe, let alone know, if God exists. I do not always know he, she, or it does not exist either, though there are long patches in my life when it seems God never did exist. What I know is that I see the Creator in Jesus or nowhere. What I know is that I see Jesus in my children and grandchildren’s love. What I know is that I rediscover hope again and again through my wife Genie’s love. What I know is that Mother Maria loved unto death. What I know is that sometimes something too good to be true, is true. …
Maybe we need a new category other than theism, atheism, or agnosticism that takes paradox and unknowing into account. I believe that life evolved by natural selection. I believe that evolutionary psychology explains away altruism and debunks love and that brain chemistry undermines my illusion of free will and personhood. I also believe that the spiritual reality hovering over, in, and through me calls me to love, trust, and hear the voice of my Creator.
One reviewer, an atheist, cautions that Schaeffer’s appropriation of the term isn’t exactly literal:
Frank sets forth a proposition in his book and it is this: Religious Fundamentalism sits on one side of his religious sweet spot, and Atheism sits on the other. Atheism is simply the co-evil twin of religious fundamentalism. He occasionally tries to back pedal from that premise and give some Atheists some credit; but it is clear Atheism brings to Frank a frustrated eye-roll. Which makes me wonder what prompted the use of the term Atheist in his title. He may be a theist who wavers on his opinion of who or what god is. He may be unclear as to whether humanity survives beyond the point of death, but none of those questions have anything to do with Atheism.