According to the title of his new book, Frank Schaeffer is an atheist.
But he prays every day. And he goes to church every weekend. Catch him on the right day and he’ll admit he believes in God.
“The fact that I have had a transformative journey has meant one thing,” Schaeffer says. “I reject labels. The way I identify is as a human being. Life is a journey, not a series of conclusions, and I know that I have changed my mind on things before.”
And how. Once evangelical royalty--his father, Francis Schaeffer, was a preacher and theologian who, with his wife, Edith, founded the religious community L’Abri, a kind of Taize order for evangelicals--Schaeffer became something of a pariah in Christian circles when he turned his back on evangelicalism and repudiated the Religious Right.
Schaeffer has also changed his mind about publishing. His new book, Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace, is his 22nd, but it will be the first he publishes himself. His Keeping Faith (Da Capo, 2003) was a bestseller, and Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right and Lived to Take All (Or Almost All) of It Back (Carroll & Graf, 2007) was widely read--and reviled by many Christians--for its take-down of the Religious Right, which he cofounded.
This time he’s going it alone and publishing with Amazon’s Create Space. “I understand the impulse to regard giant companies as downright evil,” Schaeffer says. “Only there is another side to this: Amazon has literally allowed me, as a mid-level un-famous author, to take control of my writing career.”
Whether he is un-famous is arguable, and Schaeffer isn’t turning indie from a lack of success with traditional publishing. Crazy for God sold more than 75,000 copies and still earns him royalties, he says. Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marines Corps (Da Capo, 2003)--a memoir he wrote with his son--sold more than 100,000 copies.
Though Schaeffer says two religion publishers and one general-trade house were eager to publish Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God, they wanted it either more atheist or more Christian, he says. So he fired his agent of 12 years and turned to Amazon.
“Over a 30-year writing career, every time I turned around [my publisher] was bought and folded into a bigger conglomerate,” Schaeffer says. “What writer-editor relationship? What nurturing of talent? My editors got fired, moved on or were otherwise shoved aside.”
And, he adds, “As e-books have moved center stage, my traditional publishers overpriced them, doing everything they could to hang on to print in a digital age. Traditional publishers are clinging to an inept, dishonest, and backward bookselling system where cozy insider gatekeepers—agents, editors, celebrity authors, and print-media reviewers—scratch each other's backs.”
That’s left Schaeffer in charge of his own publicity and marketing; he plans to dedicate six full months to promoting Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God, appearances already lined up on C-SPAN, NPR, MSNBC, and other media outlets. Over the July 4th weekend, he appeared at the Wild Goose Festival, a kind of Woodstock for liberal Christians, in Hot Springs, S.C. He plans to meet with book clubs on the Web and to continue blogging for Huffington Post. Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God will be in bricks-and-mortar bookstores in September, distributed by Continental Sales. “I will go anywhere, do anything, for this book,” Schaeffer says.