Saturday, March 01, 2008

chapter 57 of Crazy for God

If there is a thesis statement or a central premise to Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of The Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take it All (or almost all) Back then perhaps chapter 57 is where the thesis statement finally appears, somewhere around page 347 of the 408 page book (not counting the index).

Yes, this would seem to be relatively late in the game to reveal the topic sentence.
Frank opens up with a statement that he considers abortion to be an unmitigated tragedy, still, decades after Roe vs Wade. He goes on to explain how the pro-life leaders in the Christian Right like Dobson, Falwell, and Robertson, have played Christians for suckers, using a single hot-button issue as a way to manipulate and rouse political support and sustaining their hold on power.

Frank holds Bush 2 accountable for the deaths of Christians in Iraq, who he believes were in better conditions prior to the war than they have been since. In fact Frank seems to believe the hypocrisy of Bush 2's administration is essentially intolerable.

Frank lays at the feet of Roe vs Wade the blame for three decades of terrible leadership from both political parties who jumped on this decision as the rallying cry for their respective teams. If there had been some moderation on either side to allow for something beyond a strictly binary decision, Frank seems to believe, politiccs in America wouldn't have become the sharp delineation of Religous Right and Secular Left it has become in the last two or three decades. And I think in one sense he's right, he's right that for years the secular left and mainstream media didn't take anything said by evangelicals seriously and for years abortion really was essentially a "Catholic issue" (which was why Francis was so loathe to jump into the political fray and address the issue until Frank, by his own account, cussed his dad into taking a stand on the issue).

As Frank puts it seemed like the requirement of ideological purity on abortion and any number of single-issue political topics) led both parties to prevent the development of any intelligent, pragmatic, and competent political leadership. Left in the wake of this is a series of ideological litmus tests, loyalty oaths, and partisan loyalties that reveal very little about applied principle and more about idology. Politics becomes less about the implementation of policy for the public good and more about the implementation of policy to reward those who fight over policy. This is a relatively old observation since complaints of this sort were rumbling in the United States in a few corners when I was a kid twenty years ago.

There are a handful of statements I admit to not quite getting from Frank. Frank seems to recognize some hypocrisy inherent in either side--the pro-life side opposes abortion but supports the death penalty and the pro-choice side supports abortion and opposes the death penalty. Ironically the Catholic position of the last decade or so seems to often oppose both abortion AND the death penalty and even war in a few cases. Personally I distrust the role and right of government to kill or sanction the killing of citizens without a warrant based on defending the citizenry. War as an act of self-defense I can understand because it is a matter of defending your own people from attack, but killing your own people pre-emptively because they are not wanted or killing them because they are considered too unsuitable to deserve life is bothersome to me and I don't think either should be done lightly.

Now the thing Frank says that seems to clearly indicate how he feels and thinks is something I will quote briefly:
page 349 from Crazy for God:

If it had been the other way around and the left had championed the unborn, perhaps against corporate medical industry interests, or in the name of euqality--or because of the lessons taguht by the rise of the eugenics movement of the 1920s and 1930s, or because of being queasy over a recently slave-owning society once again deciding who was more equal, even more human "legally" than others--my father would have been embraced as a religious leader on the left. And if Dad had been allied with the left, it would have ultimate been a much better fit for him--and for me.

That Frank notes how evangelicals ignored his father's passion for conservationism and environmentalism is easy to establish earlier in the book and that Francis was undoubtedly more broad-minded and inquisitive than most evangelicals and fundamentalists on the arts is something that ought to be universally agreed upon.

But the idea of Francis Schaeffer as a hero to the religious left? That's an amazingly big what-if. I don't see how given Francis Schaeffer's approach to epistlemology worked, let alone how he actually interpreted a great deal of modernist art, music and literature, that such an alternate reality would be possible. Schaeffer was bold enough to embrace, digest, absorb, and interpret a lot of 20th century culture but at the end of the day he was decidedly old-school in his interests and passions. This isn't bad, but it's the kind of thing that in the long run would have made him a hard-sell as a leader amongst the religious left. To the religious left of the 1960s was he something other than an irrelevant sideshow. Frank obvi0usly loves his dad and I think this love for his dad may cloud his perceptions when he goes so far as to suppose that if the left had championed the opposition of abortion that his father would have been a hero to the religious left. It was the religious left that Francis had been partly reacting to all along and Frank himself seems to even know this better than anyone.

If I were to fault the book it's not because Frank reveals that Francis and Edith were fallable human beings who loved the Lord, it's not even that their zeal for the Lord made them crazy because the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. Nor is the fault of the book that the Religious Right is a movement that has done some terrible things or even done nothing much at all because that is the provence of any political movement, having a terribly mixed track record. I've been wondering for two decades when the Republican party will actually implement smalle rand less invasive government instead of simply claiming that's what they stand for. No, if I were to fault Frank's book it's that he gets to his real point so late in the book that I can't quite say I've experienced the "joy in the journey". His life was no doubt interesting but then so was mine and that doesn't mean I ought to write a memoir about it.

Given the pithy title and the lengthy subtitle I was hoping Frank would, uh, get to the point less than fifty pages away from the end of his book. And his point seems to be not only that he regrets playing a crucial part in forming the Religious Right (okay, I grant him that, I guess) but that if things had gone the other way his dad could have been a leader of the religious left. Okay ... sure I suppose ... but at that point would we even be talking about the religious left of the Western world that rose up in the last two centureis? Soemhow I doubt it.

Of course by eliminating a strictly scriptural approach to knowledge of Christian ethics and practice you can jump to the other side of the Proestant/Catholic/Orthodox divide but the political and historical reality is that Francis Schaeffer couldn't have done that based on his personal convictions. He was far too Prostetant. Would the Francis Schaeffer who seriously believed Billy Graham had compromised the Gospel by working with Catholics have REALLY become a hero to the religious left? Not likely. Did Francis have any interaction with non-Protestant Christians? Here I simply profess my ignorance because it is easy for Protestants to forget that left and right political debates happen within Catholic and Orthodox circles, too. God's kingdom every where has been divided since the time of Solomon's death so it's hardly a surprise that claims of unity are often a facade or mere optimism in the face of reality.

Still, what I appreciate about Crazy for God is that overall Frank seems to be able to admit in the crudest possible terms what evangelicals and really many Christians of every stripe and people of every stripe seem reluctant to admit. He doesn't just say "I'm not perfect [but I'm better than these other people]." He sometimes seems to lack the directness needed to say, "I helped contribute to the destruction of civil discourse in America and helped lay the foundation for nutjobs like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell to polarize discussion of politics and religion in America." He seems to be TRYING to say that but doesn't quite say it directly, but then maybe he's going for the indirect approach.

But what he does manage to say often, even if indirectly is "I screwed this up. I screwed up pretty much everything and some of that was because of my parents." But a lot of it, he knows, was simply because he was an asshole and he seems to recognize that getting the nickname "the little shit from Switzerland" was deserved, at some level.

I am almost doen with the book and I have no less respect for Francis Schaeffer now than when Is tarted reading Frank's book. I actually have more respect for Frank now than before when I had only read his books from fourteen years ago, tripe like Addicted to Mediocrity that seemed to brazenly use his father's name to plug for political battles that were deeply problematic. Christians so often forget that the Jesus who came to redeem the world said His kingdom was not of it. Frank's memoir is an awkward reminder to me that many Christians willfully ignore this saying of Jesus. It's not that we can't get involved in politics but that what unites us is Christ Himself, not the subsidiary things that we often put at the front alongside Christ.

We are too often tempted to decide that someone is in Christ or not based on political and social views. Not that these aren't important, but I can relate to some of what Frank writes about. If you have been in a position where family have told you that you're not really a Christian, perhaps, if you didn't vote for the Republican or Democrat they told you you must vote for then in some sense Frank's memoir can be read asn apology from a man who willingly and zealously persued that sort of spirituality, that definition of how spirituality ought to inform politics. Whether it's refusing to spend time with Christians because they are Republican and therefore stupid or potentially deciding that a fellow brother in Christ is guilty of treason for opposing the current war the moral outcome is the same, we end up being guilty of judging our brother and thus break the law. And it's so damned easy to do we can often not recognize that we're doing it.

So whether or not I agree with everything Frank has written I think I appreciate him more now. The odds that Francis Schaeffer could have been a leader on the religious left seems like wishful thinking of a very high order but if that's what Frank feels and believes, oh well. It's his book. He can say what he likes.

Having felt for years, even more than a decade, that Francis Schaeffer has been cherry-picked and retroactively edited to serve as a tool for the religious right that doesn't want to engage cultural, historicla, and artistic issues with a heart toward evangelism and service but toward political and social control while using the appearance of political martyrdom as a means to mask their play for control I feel that in some sense Frank has revealed that the Francis Schaeffer I sensed in his famous books (Francis') was still the same Francis that was father to Frank. That probably doesn't make sense but since Frank has written things that don't make sense to me it won't surprise me that I write things that won't make sense to anyone else.

All this is to say is that Frank's memoir reminds me of what I have felt for a long time, that there is a big difference between the actual Francis Schaeffer who lived and died and loved the Lord, and the Francis Schaeffer bill of goods we have been sold by Christian culture warriors who professed admiration for him but in some sense finally used him. If Frank's memoir debunks the elements of Francis' legacy that make him useful to culture warriors then in that respect Frank has done us immeasurable good by the grace of God.

And of course the thing is that I'm not quite done with the book. I'm not anticipating too much else popping up in the next fifty pages but I'll keep reading.

first they did it with Jesus, now J.S. Bach

I'd love to know how the CGI replication 250 years later is more the "real person" than the portraits painted in Bach's lifetime. I love me plenty of CGI movies and even I can't go so far as to say the CGI image looks more like a real person.

This must be why the world has French post-structuralists.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Emergent Islam?

Some journalists and authors have noted that Islam has never had the equivalent of what might be called the Reformation, the development of a Protestant type movement, which some believe may explain why Islam has retained a militant and violent aspect similar to the violence and racial isolationism often endemic in European Christianity for centuries. Now whether or not that is the case in either situation (or the extent to which it is true and historically verifiable) is hardly something a blogger who has a modicum of a life has any reason to write about.

But that Islam picked up a variety of traditions that are not necessarily inherent to Islamic belief that involved cultural syncretism is something I've come across here and there. Muslim views about women did seem to change after contact with Indian cultures and some have argued that the chauvinism and misogyny that sometimes appear may be less a sign of inherent Islamic views than culturally assimilated views from adjacent cultures. A similar argument could be made that early Christians did not endorse the kind of slavery that white American Christians often endorsed prior to the Civil War. And of course there's a niche market and niche element in historical research that points out that racism was at least as bad or worse in the North. So in that respect noting progressive elements within Islam suppressed by militant groups is not surprising to learn about. We Christians have similar stories within our own history.

In terms of framing this in the broader context of wars of religion then it may be the sometimes labelled new atheists would prefer this all goes further than reform to the elimination of religion entirely. That such a world is imaginable simply proves that such a world is imaginable. We are all tempted to wish for a land ruled as a single-party state, our party. This gets me thinking of some comments by Frank Schaeffer in chapter 57 of Crazy for God that I'll blog about later.

blow to the local economy

more thoughts, if I have them, later.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I really do love to read First Things every so often

Can't help but share the caveat about Wright as a good Bible teacher with some political views I'm not sure I agree with. Then again, he's Anglican ... what can I say? Actually, plan to get more on the matter of Anglicans later since Guinness mentioned that John Stott's question about the Schaeffer family was whether it would be a family dynasty (bad) or a family that brought others into the ministry circle at the highest decision-making levels (good). I'd venture to say that setting aside an question about Frank's objectivity the simple fact that Frank could even make any kind of career out of his father's name and legacy answers the question in the first category at least where Frank was concerned. But that is another musing for another time.

And FT link us up to the latest from Hal Lindsey. As The Door put it ... Planet Earth, Still Ticking. "Politically Incorrect, Prophetically Correct" ... right.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Os Guinness' assessment, pre scheduled outage

He mentions a few things that do seem patently obvious to me, that Frank as the family runt was, even by his own account, able to manipulate or outmaneuver his parents so as to get what he wanted. That Frank can lament that he was subject to neglect or abuse as a child can still mesh easily with Guinness' account of Frank the spoiled little hellion. After all, the capacity for distortion is equally possible from either side. It's not as though Schaeffer's book doesn't display a bit of self pity, or a lot, actually. When Frank writes that there's a particular power a son can wield over a father he seems a little too proud of it and how he used it even as he seems to set the tone through the book of somehow regretting turning his dad toward the Dark Side of Republicanism and politics. Apparently saying you're sorry for being a highly politicized right-wing asshole who used your dad's reputation to get what you thought you wanted isn't simple enough. Not that I don't think there's NO value in the book but at some level what Frank could have been clearer about was what he doesn't say so far, about 66% of the way through his book.

Since there's a scheduled Blooger outage at 6pm PST I will just choose to blog about this more later.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Unlike some of my fellow Protestants ... I actually read First Things

Not too often lately, but once in a while. :) Their website takes forever to load up from my computer here at home.

I find it amusing that this is happened. I could explain why but if it's funny to you it's because you already get it and if you don't, well, it's not that funny anyway.

church swap

Unsurprisingly most "converts" to evangelicalism may not be the completely unchurched but those who were raised Protestant. Protestantism is such a remarkable grab bag of doctrinal ideas that there's almost something for anyone who would, generally, like to claim Jesus Christ is both God and Lord and containing within Himself what we would tend to call hypostatic union.

The group listed as "no affiliation" where religion is concerned is growing, not a surprise.

But it has seemed as though most conversions within Christendom are just church swap situations. If someone converts from Protestantism to Catholicism or from Protestantism to Orthodoxy or from Orthodoxy to Lutheranism then for those converts, by all means, they trust they have converted to the one true Church from where ever they left. But in terms of tbe "mere Christianity" factor no conversion of any kind has taken place, people merely take sides in internecine bickering that is so typical within the divided kingdom of Israel (i.e. the Church since Christ's coming). So if some are Samaritans and some are Judeans they're all in Israel. It's the number of people who are taking no affililation with any religion that would be the unchurched, and the truly unchurched would potentially represent the most difficult group for evangelism because the worldly benefits of the Gospel in this day and age can't be appealed to. Not "worldly" in the biblical use of the term as a pejorative, but of this age in a more mundane sense.

For instance, if we were to appeal to this or that Christian tradition as appealing to "real" men we've got a problem. Any other variation within the Christian tradition could make the same claim and then there's the question of what constitutes a "real" man? Some real men like beer, some real men like wine, and some real men don't drink. In the same way some real men are Catholics, some real men are Protestants, and some real men are atheists or whatever else they profess or don't profess. At some point, perhaps not very far into an attempt to prosyletize the convert, doesn't it seem that we are eventually selling a pet dog on the basis of, "This dog will poop in your house just like any other domesticated animal will"? What a great selling point? Real men are real sinners, after all.

And real men seems to be what many churches DON'T want. As I'm reading through Crazy for God it's interesting to read Schaeffer's undoubtedly biased but still interesting comments about Francis Schaeffer's disdain for Calvinists as arrogant, self-impressed jerks who would rather obsess about doctrine than reach out to real people. If there's even a kernel of truth to this then I can surmise why Calvinists aren't fond of the book, and it's not as though they have no reason to be. Knocking Francis Schaeffer off the pedastal evangelicals have put him on is only problematic where their idol worship and appropriation of the life of a flesh and blood man might be concerned. The idea possibility that in today's evangelical culture Francis Schaeffer might be denounced as a long-haired environmentalist hippie doesn't seem to be seriously considered but the seeds of such a possible state are there if you read his work carefully.

That Frank feels responsible for turning his dad back to his more fundamentalist roots ties into this Pew stuff. Sometimes a person can start in one path spiritually, veer off into another, and then returns. Instruct a child in the way that he should go and when he is OLD he will not depart from it. But there are all sorts of diversions and deviations that happen, and it doesn't meean the child will end up where the parent hopes he or she will. I'm not too close to where my parents would have wanted me to be theologically, in my aesthetics, or politically. On the other hand, I think that my parents and I understand each other more than we did years ago.

As yet, almost two thirds to three quarters of the way through the book Schaeffer does not really discuss his jump to Orthodoxy. The sense I get at this point in the book is that at some level he acknowledges that his writings from his nominally evangelical period were at some base-line level a sham. He takes this to mean that he turned his dad toward founding the Religious Right and that if Francis Schaeffer had known how his work and legacy would have been used he would have been very upset if he were still alive today to see it. It's not really something that can be proven even by Frank Schaeffer himself and to some degree the point is not the least bit useful for its factual accuracy or likelihood, since it's what might be called a huge example of a counterfactual.

But it is useful as a springboard for contemplating whether there is a difference between how evangelicals appropriate the life and work of Francis Schaeffer now and what the aim of Schaeffer's work was in his own heart and mind. Tim LaHaye invoked Schaeffer here and there in Battle for the Mind, a book a relative ran by me and LaHaye impressed me as someone who could quote Francis Schaeffer and still not seem smart, much like a professor at a university once quoted Dostoevsky and still, somehow, managed to sound like a total rube and a bureaucratic shill all at the same time.

But in some sense Frank seems to admit that what he did was basically turn his father's legacy into a brand for political activism, activism that began in a very sincere way that devolved into a jade and self-regarding, self-pitying turn. It wouldn't surprise me if Frank looked back on Addicted to Mediocrity and would simply agree with my assessment that it was a mediocrity.

What comes across as I read through the book more is the peculiar sense that in some way Frank feels he wasted his life on things that weren't important and that in some way he betrayed his own life's dreams and the best things about his family. If so then it takes some bravery to confront that you've wasted your life in your own eyes. Interestingly, he doesn't really seem to "turn to Christ" about this stuff, probably because his intended audience seems to be secular. This is not a book that seems to be written merely by a man raised to be a believer to believers but also to the liberal secularistts he once battled so often. He more or less impugns the liberals of the United States for choosing to ignore the nascent Religious Right until it was so well-established that there was nothing left to do but freak out. I think he's right about that. Choosing to ignore Christians who are culturally and politically conservative until they've actually formed the Religious Right as we know it now was amazingly stupid. The answer now is not to freak out about how eager they are to reshape culture and society because in this respect the Religous Right is simply doing what the newer Left elements wanted to do in the 1960s, except for wanting to turn the clock backward. But in essence both sides want to turn the clock backward to either the time of Reagan or the time of Kennedy. It's still a complete breach of the wry observation of the Preacher--do not ask yourselves, "Where are the good old days that were better than these?" because it's stupid to ask that kind of question.

Surreptitiously lurking throughout the pages of Crazy for God Frank seems to be letting us know in small ways that he knows this. the subtitle explains how he helped to found the Religious Right and lived to take all (or most) of it back.