Baffler contributing editor Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book comes out today: Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything. In this very personal book, she revisits a series of “mystical experience” from her childhood and teenage years, and examines it with a rational, atheistic-leaning, journalist’s eye.
In a beautiful piece for the New York Times Sunday Review this week, Ehrenreich described one particular experience and the shattering effect it had on her at the time. “It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heartbreakingly beautiful to let go of,” she wrote. “Of course I said nothing about this to anyone. . . . It took an inexcusably long time for me to figure out that what had happened to me was part of a widespread category of human experience.”
In an interview with Dave Itzkoff for the Times magazine, too, Ehrenreich admits her initial discomfort in writing a memoir after so much hard-hitting investigative work, like Nickel and Dimed. But still, she says, she had felt compelled to explore these Big Questions about God, life, and her place in the universe.
Part of her process involved writing shorter essays on these topics as her book developed—The Baffler has published three of these over the past few years. They are all thoughtful, probing, complex pieces of work, and they’re all available online. Some very brief excerpts:
• “The connection between animals and religiosity may predate fully evolved Homo sapiens. . . . The rise of the monotheistic religions, featuring either anthropomorphic gods like the Christian “father” or deities so abstract that they are impervious to representation, drove the animals, so to speak, from the temple of the human imagination.”
— “The Animal Cure,” from Issue 19, in 2012
• “Atheism has become a respectable intellectual position, in some settings almost de rigueur, but . . . morally inspired opposition to God remains almost too radical to acknowledge.”
— “The Missionary Position,” from Issue 21, in 2012
• “For the last few hundred years, Western science has been on a mission to crush all forms of agency, which I mean in the philosophical sense as the capacity for action. Scientists never allowed that hydrogen atoms might lust after oxygen atoms or that living creatures might swim and run and fly for the fun of it.”
— “A Thing or Two about a Thing or Two, a.k.a. Science,” from our current issue, number 24
Enjoy, and check out her new book, out today.