Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Book Review: Blest Atheist

The title of this book captured my attention. How often do you hear an atheist use the language of blessing? Before I read the book, I wondered whether it was a current atheist writing about how they were blessed despite being an atheist. That wasn't so. Instead, the author, Elizabeth Mahlou, is a Christian who once was an atheist.

Mahlou describes her horrific childhood of constant physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Through it all, she has an indomitable spirit that always hopes and always survives. She recounts the way in which, looking back from her now Christian perspective, she sees how God blessed her, even when she was an atheist.

For Mahlou, God is intimately involved in everything that happens(ed) in her life (indeed, in everyone's life). Prior to her conversion, she ascribed all the "miracles" of coincidence to Serendipity, not realising, at the time, that it was God working in her life.

Mahlou developed into a scholar with expertise in K-12 education and many languages who travelled widely and was highly influential (it would seem). She calls herself a Good Samaritan because of her natural tendency to help those in need — seeing this tendency now as the impulse of the divine working in her life.

Mahlou writes poetically. There are some inconsistencies here and there and, in my opinion, she gets bogged down in detail at times — I became bored with some of the story. And, at times, one gets the impression that she praises herself a little too much, despite the ultimate message of the book that the glory should go to God. But perhaps that can be forgiven when you think of her origins and what she has had to overcome.

The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the story of her conversion to Christianity and her move from a predominantly rationalist view of reality to one which is quite mystical. The book finishes on a very spiritual note with a hope that atheists (and others) who read the book may come to appreciate the reality of God in their lives even before they may come to recognise God. Some may find it hard to describe as miraculous some of the coincidences that Mahlou describes (I certainly did). But whatever you think about it, the story of her journey from abuse, to atheism, to Christianity is interesting. I just would have liked her to spend a bit more time on those mountains rather than spending so much time in the valleys of detail.

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