"All I had to do was survive the hour or two without being caught rolling my eyes, without exploding in laughter, and without initiating a debate. How hard could that be?
… That day on June 26, I sat in a little white building expecting nothing. I was not there to begin a noble search. I was not there to embark on a spiritual pilgrimage. I was not there to find a god; I was there to get rid of a Christian.” p. 150-151
These are Alicia Britt Chole's thoughts moments before she has an experience that rocks her world. She describes what happens and its aftermath in Finding an Unseen God – Reflections of a Former Atheist.
Alicia is the only child of loving parents. She remembers long talks with her atheist father and loyal support from her Catholic mother. Sometime in high school she comes to the conclusion there is no God. She recalls her decision:
“Personally Atheism was somewhat of a balm for my fiercely realistic soul… If there is no God, then we do not have to question him, her or them about why the innocent are condemned and the guilty freed… if there is no God, then we do not have to struggle with why the young mother of three dies and the old molester of hundreds lives to see and abuse his grandchildren – it is simply human sickness striking the weak in different forms.” p. 63.
Through high school, as Chole struggles to fit in with her peers, fights depression and witnesses the despair of her entrepreneurial but impractical father, her atheism hardens. But she does have two loyal friends. Shawny and Christi, the “Bowheads” (nicknamed for the trendy bows they wear in their hair), are her inseparable companions. They are also outspoken Christians but they don’t sway her.
The summer after graduation she visits a childhood friend. It is to stop the nagging of this friend’s mother that she goes to church that fateful June day.
A word-search puzzle provides a metaphor and graphic element for the book. Chole extends that metaphor by telling her story in a puzzle-like way. In successive chapters she switches from past to present and from narrating her story to discussing subjects like what is atheism, how to talk to an atheist, the current state of western spirituality, the reasonableness of faith and more. The Table of Contents gives clues as to which type each chapter is. The chapter titles of the narrative parts appear to the left of the centered chapter numbers, while the discussion / opinion chapter titles are on the right. If you want to read the story chronologically you’d start with Chapter One (pages 15-16) which follows Chapter 52 (pages 11-15). But good luck with that, as the Table of Contents contains no page numbers.
Chole has a distinctive writing style which ranges from chatty and rambling (in some spots the book felt like a transcribed talk), to reasoning and argumentative. But her writing is always lively, exudes personality, and her story is certainly compelling with its “I was there” tone of certainty.
An aspect of the book I found especially helpful was the list of four filters through which she suggests one should view any belief system:
“Is my belief system … consistent (at its core)?
Is my belief system … livable (and not just quotable)?
Is my belief system … sustainable (through life-size pain)?
Is my belief system … transferable (to others)?” p. 88.
I also enjoyed the chapters on five things she especially likes about God.
This slim book is a quick read (it took me about three hours) but packs a big punch. Not only is Chole’s story absorbing but the apologetic chapters discussing faith, spirituality and religion are persuasive and easy to understand. Read the book to open your mind to the possibility that God really exists, or to strengthen the faith you already have, or to learn how to relate to those whose bieliefs differ from yours. Finding an Unseen God would be of special interest to atheists and those who love them.