Living with a Wild God

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything
Barbara Ehrenreich
Grand Central Publishing (April 8, 2014), 257 pages
Kindle Edition  $12.99,  Amazon Hardcover  $26.00
e-book borrowed from the Santa Clara County Library System

Barbara Ehrenreich began her career as a scientist, but her move to political activism in graduate school took her out of science and into writing and journalism. She is well-respected as the author of many nonfiction books. I consider her to be an accomplished muckraker, a term I suppose not to be in common use these days, but I mean that in the best sense of bringing to light those things in society which we would rather not see. I have to respect someone who takes a job with a house cleaning firm à la Merry Maids to document the conditions under which those (mostly) women work. (In case you were wondering, as she described to Terry Gross on Fresh Air, the objective is to work quickly moving diagonally across the room, and to provide more the appearance of clean than actual clean.)

Living with a Wild God, then, is a departure for Ehrenreich. The centerpiece of the book is a sort of burning bush experience she had as a teenager in the Eastern Sierra town of Lone Pine. This was a bit of a problem in that both of her parents were avowed atheists and she very much saw herself in that manner as well. She describes her life before that experience and her life afterwards in light of it.

For the most part it was only decades later that she really paused to reflect on the experience. She regularly described herself as an atheist, sometimes even when the circumstances might have dictated that she stay quiet of the subject of religious belief. But she eventually opened the door a crack. She describes how her aunt told her after one interview that she saw her hesitate just a bit on that question.

Ehrenreich concludes the book insisting that the God she does not believe in is the monotheistic God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But she has come to accept that there may be something else out there. She relies on Rudolf Otto’s idea of the “wholly other” as her best description.

It’s an interesting journey. Ehrenreich has much of value to share here, even with people, like me, of faith.

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