Living with a Wild God

Wild GodThe title of Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book looked intriguing: “Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything.”

Unfortunately, Ehrenreich didn’t so much live with a wild God as she avoided living with a wild God, which makes her book a lot less compelling than it might have been.

Ehrenreich, author of the bestselling book “Nickel and Dimed,” is a smart lady with probably a high IQ: she mentioned her father had an IQ in the 180s. She also inherited her father’s worship of science and his self-label of “atheist.”

At age 16, Ehrenreich experiences a series of mystical moments in which “all meaning, inference, association, labels, and words” vanish, leaving her with just the raw data of the moment. In Buddhism, this is known as samadhi, and it’s something many meditators strive for. Ehrenreich doesn’t say how many of these samadhi moments she had, but ultimately they lead to a pivotal moment, which she likens to Moses’ burning bush revelation.

“This was not the passive beatific merger with ‘the All,’ as promised by Eastern mystics,” she writes. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once…”

The experience is described at about the halfway point of the book, and sadly, after that the spiritual adventure is all over, as Ehrenreich didn’t mention her experience to anyone for another fifty years or so because she was afraid of stigma. To make matters worse, she poured herself into science, earning a PhD in cellular immunology, in what seems to be a vain attempt to understand or prove her experience.

But reading about all the trivial scientific lab work and political nonsense that goes on among scientists is not very exciting reading. And later, she leaves science and puts her efforts into anti-war activities, feminist causes and journalism, all fine and well but having nothing to do with “living with a wild God.”

In the end, it’s unclear whether Ehrenreich still considers herself an atheist or if she has come to some acceptance of the divine. She writes: “I believe nothing. Belief is intellectual surrender; ‘faith’ a state of willed self-delusion…But experience-empirical experience-requires me to keep an open mind.”

The ironic thing is: she did have an experience, a blessing that many pray for. But apparently it wasn’t “empirical” enough for her.

-Linda Hardesty

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One Comment

  1. awak1082 says:

    Even though I was frustrated with the author because she didn’t seem to benefit from her own experience, I’m still grateful for her book. It’s always inspiring to read about ecstatic experiences.

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