Community Life or Disbelief?

Tom Flynn

The Reluctant Agnostic by Loren Bauman (New York: Page Publishing, 2017, ISBN 978-1-64027-843-9). 196 pp. Paper, $14.95.

 


As a rule, Free Inquiry does not review books that are self-published or issued by subsidy or vanity presses. An exception is made for A Reluctant Agnostic because of the work’s unique character. Loren Bauman spent much of his life in the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, a “plain people” denomination that shares some qualities with the Amish and Mennonites. Bauman describes his former theology as fundamentalist and his community life within the sect as warm and rewarding. When doubts undermine his Biblical faith—Bauman describes the process as “like being born yet again”—he adopts a naturalistic, agnostic viewpoint. Yet he writes, “I’m still fond of the Christianity I now disbelieve.” He knows his faith is bankrupt, yet he remains nostalgic for the community life he knew. It’s a juxtaposition of viewpoints seldom seen in the how-I-lost-my-religion literature.

Sophisticated atheists may find Bauman’s theological journey naïve at points. He began as one of those young-Earth creationists who have no trouble accepting that God stuffed the ground with fossils that seem falsely ancient and the skies with new light that only appears to come from distant stars. The whole of Bauman’s Christian faith collapsed when he attained the insight that the evidence for an Earth far older than Genesis permits was irresistible. We profit by being reminded that this is how countless real people—as opposed to theologians and atheist atheologians—approach questions of belief or disbelief. This is how deconversion happens in the real world—or at least one way in which it can happen.

The Reluctant Agnostic offers a deconversion story whose start and end points differ meaningfully from those presented in most such books. Also, in welcome contrast to so many subsidy-press titles, it is well written and decently edited. It is a unique entry in a crowded field.

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).


As a rule, Free Inquiry does not review books that are self-published or issued by subsidy or vanity presses. An exception is made for A Reluctant Agnostic because of the work’s unique character.

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