I seldom write “bad” reviews, feeling that (1) writing a book would be a hard feat to pull off and (2) I don’t want to encourage people to spend money on a book simply by making the cover pop up on their feed. This is not exactly a counterexample to those feelings, just a warning that this is not the book I thought it was when I started it,* and I am not recommending it.
Mike McHargue, Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost my Faith and Found It Again through Science (2016) describes the author’s path from fundamentalist Christianity to atheism to . . . well, it’s hard to say exactly. Notwithstanding the subtitle, McHargue does not claim to have found the same faith again, but something quite different. He ends up with a faith which is uncertain about the Bible, uncertain about the resurrection, uncertain about hell, uncertain about whether a personal creator God actually exists. His faith at the end is not in any way orthodox.
“What I’ve learned to do is be certain that I am uncertain. To revel in the fuzziness of my understanding of the world. And to look with great anticipation toward the next moment I’ll figure out that I’m wrong about something. And that lets you get on this trajectory where you just become more and more and more open.”
I think that to his credit, he would agree with what I wrote in the paragraph before the quotation. He seems to be trying very hard to be honest about his life, and that is the best part of the book. He describes the anger that church Christians expressed when he decided (based on The God Delusion and other books) that he (a deacon and a Sunday School teacher) had become an atheist. He eventually describes the similar anger he felt from his online atheist/anti-theist community when he began to travel to his new faith. The turning point is a mystical experience which he has on a beach – as troubling to him as it is overwhelming. He describes this openly, though it does not fit with his self image (“science Mike”), and it does nothing to persuade the skeptical reader.
The problem, quite frankly, is that by the end of the book McHargue has created a God that is smaller than he is.
He seems to feel (and who hasn’t felt this way?) that when he reads something shocking in the Bible (the commands in Joshua to utterly destroy the Canaanites, for example), that he is qualified to decide that that, at least, cannot be part of God’s character. Part of what Christianity would have traditionally called God’s holiness is trimmed away because it does not fit well with what we (McHargue and I, as 21st century educated Americans) think is “acceptable.”
But the God of historical, orthodox Christianity is first and foremost a God who requires obedience to a standard we do not find entirely agreeable.
McHargue hasn’t yet found his way back to that. Then again, maybe the God of all grace is not done with him.
*I thought it would be more like Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic (2013) [link], which I do recommend.