Living with a Wild God : a nonbeliever’s search for the truth about everything is Barbara Ehrenreich’s memoir about her growing spiritual awareness. However, by the end of the book, despite some mystical experiences, she is still a confirmed atheist, so the book’s title is misleading. She has no desire to live with a wild God.
The book begins with Barbara’s early childhood experiences. Her parents are hardcore atheists. Her father is a scientist who seems disappointed that he never reached his full potential but did significantly improve his social-economic standing. He expects his daughter to pursue science as if it’s self-evident that this is the only worthwhile pursuit in a world without God. He teaches her to ask why about everything with the expectation science will eventually provide an answer. Her mother’s behaviour is erratic and she seems jealous of her daughter’s relationship with her father.
Barbara’s parents deal with the hopelessness of life and their disillusionment by abusing alcohol. This seems to me to be the natural outcome of hardcore atheism but this doesn’t occur to Barbara. Her parents eventually divorce and her mother commits suicide. She says the only reason her father didn’t die a drunk was because he ended up in a nursing home where alcohol was unavailable. Yet despite all this, she continues to hold her father in high regard but I couldn’t see why.
After 50 pages of describing her dysfunctional childhood, Barbara writes about her mystical experiences which are hard to visualise from her descriptions. Since these experiences were incompatible with an atheistic world view she buries the memories until her 60’s when she comes across her teenage journals and decides to write a memoir. As she is an established writer, this is a reasonable thing to do and gives her the chance to explore her experiences more closely.
Barbara continually dismisses theism as if science has disproved belief in the supernatural and yet for someone so keen on research, she never researches the historical basis of Christianity as if science and related fields are the only worthy disciplines. Yet paradoxically she does admit to some of science’s shortcomings.
Towards the end of her book, Barbara writes: “I told my children that there is no God, no good and loving God anyway, which is why we humans have to do our best to help and care for each other. Morality, as far as I could see, originates in atheism and the realisation that no higher power is coming along to feed the hungry or lift the fallen. Mercy is left entirely to us” (p.203).
While this sounds logical, a brief look at history would show it to be completely untrue. Christians were at the forefront of creating hospitals, orphanages and other compassionate organisations, not atheists. Her comments again show her lack of interest in historical research as a valid discipline.
Overall, although her worldview is vastly different to mine, it was still an interesting read.
More reviews of this book can be found on Goodreads.