Monday, September 7, 2009

At Last Dobson Is Done In By the Truth

By Frank Schaeffer

For me reading Max Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah--Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, (Nation Books) is like looking into a mirror. That might be because Blumenthal extensively interviewed me and drew rather heavily on my book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back as a reference for his in-depth exposé of what has gone so very wrong with the Republican Party. He's on my turf so I happen to know he's telling the truth as its not been told before. But there's more.

Republican Gomorrah is the first book that actually "gets" what's happened to the Republican Party and in turn what the Republicans have done to our country. The usual Democratic Party and/or progressive "take" on the Republican Party is that it's been taken over by a far right lunatic fringe of hate and hypocrisy, combining as it does, sexual and other scandals with moralistic finger wagging. But Blumenthal explains a far deeper pathology: it isn't so much religion as the psychosis and sadomasochism of the losers now called "Republicans" that dr ives the party. And the "Christianity" that shapes so much "conservative" thinking now is anything but Christian. It's a series of deranged personality cults.

The Religious Right/Republicans have perfected the method of capturing people in personal crisis and turning them into far right evangelical/far right foot soldiers. This explains a great deal that otherwise, to outsiders, seems almost inexplicable--the why and wherefore of "Deathers" "Birthers" et al. Blumanthal brilliantly sums up this pathology as:

"...a culture of personal crisis lurking behind the histrionics and expressions of social resentment. This culture is the mortar that bonds leaders and followers together."

Tracing the thinking of the fathers of the Republican Party, including my dad, the late Francis Schaeffer, who I teamed up with when I was a young man to help launch the Protestant wing of the "pro-life" movement, along with other such as Rousas John Rushdoony and the philanthropist Howard Ahmanson -- who used to donate generously to my far right work -- Blumenthal explains where the current Republican Party came from. He also details who it's foundational thinkers were, and just why it's still so dangerous. (A threat proved again this summer as the gun-toting fringe derailed the health care reform debate.)

He has their number. For one thing this book -- at last! -- will forever put James Dobson where he belongs: onto the top of the list of the American n ational rogue's gallery of mean-spirited, even sadistic, cranks.

Blumenthal first came to my attention when he was doing his in-depth reporting on Sarah Palin. He was a guest on a TV program I was on too. There was something accomplished and in depth about the quality of his reporting on religion that I hadn't seen from other progressive sources. I've been following his work since. Blumenthal understands the philosophy, psychology and religion of Religious Right figures like Palin, Dobson, Robertson et al in a way that no other reporter (with the exception of the always amazingly perceptive Jeff Sharlet author of The Family) does.

Now, having read Blumenthal's book I know why he seems to really understand the nuances of far right religion. No one else has ever investigated this subject with as much insight into the psychological sickness that is the basis of the Religious right's power to delude other people who are also needy and unstable.

In another time and place the despicable (and sometimes tragic figures) Blumenthal describes would be the leaders of, or the participants in, local lynch mobs, or the followers of the Ku Klux Klan. But today figures such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson, (the late) Jerry Falwell, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin have led a resentment-driven second American revolution, not just against Democrats and progressives but against the United States of America itself. And this group of outsiders (in every sense of that word ) now control one of our major political parties.

As I explained to Blumanthal when he interviewed me, one of the reasons I left the far right movement in the 1980s was because I perceived it becoming the bedrock of anti-Americanism. The worst things got the better we right wing activists liked it. We loved crisis. We manufactured crisis! Crisis (public or personal) would force the country to embrace our radical solution: a radical turn to Old Testament law that would put homosexuals to death, see adulterers stoned at the city gates and so forth.

There were exceptions to the hard edge, my late father Francis Schaeffer was one. And Blumenthal (in his chapter on Dad and I) describes how my father was a compassionate man who opened his ministry to all before something "snapped" after the Roe v. Wade decision when he became a leader in the pro-life movement.

But with a few exceptions (like my late father) most of the people described in Blumenthal's book have no "other side" to them. They are the sick bedrock of what, at any moment, may become a full-blown American fascism. (Sharlet has done great work on showing how these Religious Right folks have also invaded the US Military, especially the chaplaincy ranks.)

My one -- very slight -- criticism of Republican Gomorrah is that Blumenthal neglected to do something that would have bolstered his arguments and given them deeper credibility: introduce a bit of paradox and nuance into his book. He could have made a better case for the left by frankly looking at some of the extremism on the left that has played into the hands of the cynics who control the Religious Right: for instance the the way Roe v. Wade was (in the view of many liberal pro-choice advocates) a tactical mistake preempting what was already happening in states including California and New York, in terms of legalizing abortion, and thereby galvanizing the culture war as we know it. And in the same vein perhaps when it comes to the current ethics of abortion and porn Blumenthal's case would be stronger if he had pointed out that there are many progressives, who have serious moral qualms on these issues as well.

That said Blumentha's case against the Religious Right is breathtakingly damning. What these folks want -- to destroy our pluralistic democracy and replace it with theocracy -- appears so far-fetched to most Americans that unfortunately their agenda is not taken seriously. The great service Blumenthal performs is to not only enlighten those who didn't grow up in the movement (as I did, sad to say) but to offer a genuine warning as to the seriousness of what these people will unleash if not stopped, then stopped again and again--because they are here to stay. And they just happen to control the republican Party!

Why should Blumenthal's book to be taken seriously? Take it from this former "insider" he knows what he's talking about. His thesis is less about politics than about the deviant psychology that people like Dobson have cashed in on by feeding delusion, victimhood and failure as a means through which to build a political movement. What Blumenthal reveals is the heart of the most dysfunctional and truly dangerous -- not to mention armed -- darkest reaches of our country.

What should we "do"? Read the book! Then fight like hell to keep Republicans out of power come what may. And maybe (note to progressives!) be a little less critical of President Obama and a little more grateful that he's in the White House!

Once in a while a book comes along about which one can say: If you love our country read this! Republican Gomorrah is one such book. One other thing: if you know any sane Republicans that would like to save what's left of their party beg them to read this book. If you have to beg them in the name of Jesus!

Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and the forthcoming Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don' t Like Religion (Or Atheism)


Freedem said...

From te start abortion was a Church/State issue, it was won on those grounds, and then suddenly it became an issue about Choice. It was indeed the religious choice of the woman, those who believed that it was the death of a full person were welcome to make the choice that fit their beliefs and those who did not were able to make theirs.

But just as a Jain can choose not to kill those they consider of equal personhood, it will not disturb me to eat my hamburger. If the most extreme cas must rule then we must all live as the Jains.

Unfortunately the Left abandonded that argument, and did not even mention the lack of miscarriges or even very young children in graveyards (some children but not in their real numbers) The religion argument was assumed but almost never expressed. I think that is why that argument was lost for so many.

But Blumenthal's deeper point that actual belief was at least irrelevant, and that those at the lead knew the distruction in people's lives that they were causing, and still callously caused it anyway needs to be shouted from the rooftops by anyone in the know who is still able to be gagged by the knowledge.

Enerqy said...

Literal understanding of the Apostle Paul's teaching directs Christians to not be involved in judging those outside their group.

"For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges." 1 Corinthians 5:12,13.

For all the literalness promoted by people like Dobson, earliest Christianity had a hands-off policy when it came to penalizing those who did not believe in Jesus as the Christ, that is, as the Jewish Messiah. Paul went so far as to say that believers WERE to associate with immoral people, just not with "so-called" brothers who were currently in immoral practice.

A great confusion and inability to apply the above mentioned doctrine practically comes with twisted theologies such as Calvinism, to which a predominant segment of American protestantism adheres. Since Calvinism teaches that no one can know whether he or she has faith in Christ until death, there is no rational way to understand who is outside the faith. Therefore, such zealots have no way of practicing the prescribed restraint, as taught in the New Testament.

Often people who are not of Christian persuasion are repulsed by Christians who purport literal interpretation of the Bible. Yet a predominant segment of supposed literalists are not taking the teachings of Jesus or His apostles to the full literal extent. They instead follow more modern distortions of Christianity (like Calvinism), which manipulate politics to push theocratic utopian agendas.

Belief in Jesus Christ has been mystified away from the simple and literal meaning of "belief." Mary of Bethany said affirmatively, "I believe that You are the Christ." She therefore became an insider, which would then mean to the Apostle Paul that she was not to judge those who are outsiders, that is, those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ.

So what do I have to do with Gays if I hold that they are immoral AND I also believe in Jesus Christ? The more pagan they are, the less I am to judge them. The invisible God judges them in His way without my assistance and without me prodding godless government to do so. As taught by Paul, my belief in Jesus Christ translates into my inaction to penalize Gays who are not my brethren through faith in Jesus Christ. That also goes for abortionists, extortionists, fornicators, etc. A more powerful tolerance is to hold that a person is wrong, AND to not judge.

Now even if an immoral person is found in the midst of a group of believers, the judgment is actually rather mild as prescribed by Paul, it is disassociation, not at all like certain extremists as Frank references:

"But now I have written to you not to keep company with ANYONE NAMED A BROTHER, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person"

Does Dobson or others like him have a Biblical leg to stand on while judging Gays outside their faith? I should think not.

Freedem said...

The problem is less the Christians, who should be following the teachings of Jesus, and indeed the New testament was written about living on a very pluralistic society as the Roman Empire definitely was. Physical isolation was at least as difficult as now.

The difficulty is with the Cuckoos, not just in the sense of a bit nuts, but more deeply in the sense of the camouflaged subversive that appears to be an even better example of what the ideal would be.

All the while if their true nature were known, normal Christians would react in horror, but their faith blinds them and they will even heavily defend the Cuckoos, which is why they camouflage in the first place.

johnson said...

I was pleased to hear the "Dr." D. has been outed, I always thought he was just too simpering and sugary sweet to be for real. I am going to enjoy reading Blumenthal's book.

But, the fact that Dobson might be whacked doesn't mean that abortion isn't an absolutely abhorrent practice. Choice isn't the issue. Life isn't the issue, although, it is close. The issue is the baby. Babies are such a rare outcome of sexual intercourse that they should be treasured. Between the numbers of sexual intercourses that don't result in conception and the number of conceptions that spontaneously abort, babies must be in the neighborhood of a million to one. And yet we kill them like they are squealing piglets.

There might be real and valid reasons for a very, very few abortions. And those few reasons certainly can muddy the whole waters. But there is no reason why someone like Whoopie Goldberg should be on the celebrity pedestal while at the same time she proudly speaks of her abortions like they are a badge of honour. Abortion is just one more tool to allow people to fuck around without having to face the consequences of that play.

If we men were truly honourable we would accept our responsibilities and fight abortion tooth and nail. Not as a power issue, or a women's rights issue, or a control issue, but as a baby issue. But we don't. Because, simply, we want to get laid, more than we want babies nagging at us.

That's sad.

Robert Booth

Freedem said...

-----"There might be real and valid reasons for a very, very few abortions. And those few reasons certainly can muddy the whole waters."------

Actually the reverse is true. The actual extreme difficulty of obtaining an abortion, is probably more difficult than even finding a safe one before Rowe. At the very least it is as painful as other surgery and as looked forward to as much.

If anyone had actually listened to Dr Tiller they would have learned that the majority of abortions he did, no sane person could argue about.

A very high percentage of "Pre-birth" abortions were because the fetus was already dead and rotting, or rapidly dieing from massive failure of development, would never be "born" and was killing the mother. And yet still the woman was subjected to all the venom these crazies could muster.

Another group that verged on the same thing was those in which the brain never developed, a condition all too common and getting more so. Suppressing the urge to equate them with the protesters outside, there is no human there, they look like odd children, and even make baby noises but cannot live for more than a couple years of horror no matter what is done.

It is only the third group, and greater horror than the others is there even the possibility of anything resembling a human child, and usually the mother is a child herself.

Raped by her father or other controlling male in the house, the pregnancy is hidden until it can't be hidden, and again the life of the child/mother is threatened as she has not grown enough physically herself for the ordeal.

Those were the vast majority of the cases seen by Dr Tiller. I would guess that hardly any were not desperate and facing dire enough consequences to do what it took to see him.

Earlier abortions may be less desperate, but they are much more about the foundation of a house and not a home by the understanding of the vast majority of non-extremists.