Monday, August 31, 2009

Crazy 'death panel' claims? Thank Roe vs. Wade

(Note: Here's my latest LA Times op-ed Link:,0,6001884.story)

As reported in several articles in The Times, including the Aug. 21 story, " Obama tries to 'cut through the noise' on healthcare," the president has been forced to address claims from those who oppose his healthcare reform proposal on the grounds that it would fund abortions with taxpayer dollars. Even some Roman Catholic bishops, who would normally support universal healthcare (perhaps even a sweeping single-payer plan), are vocally opposing President Obama's plan. Their reason: abortion.

I'm a former antiabortion leader. I was part of the early evangelical pro-life movement, as was my late evangelist father, Francis Schaeffer. We were instrumental in turning the heretofore nonpolitical evangelicals into antiabortion activists who went on to become the backbone of the far right of the Republican Party.

I have long since changed my mind. I'm still appalled by the procedure, but like Obama, I now believe that abortion should be legal but that we should also help women bring their babies to term by fostering a humane country that supports women, children and families.

That said, the anti-healthcare reform backlash from what might be called the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican Party is once again proof that the way abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court in 1973 was foolish. Roe vs. Wade is the root of our culture wars, and it is partly why healthcare reform is threatened by antiabortion activists who have joined forces with self-interested insurance companies.

Roe was a winner-take-all act of extremism that wasn't even necessary. At the time, abortion was being legalized state by state, with New York and California leading the way. But in an act of judicial activism that many observers on all sides of the abortion debate found disturbingly sweeping, the Supreme Court aborted all discussion of the issue and "solved" the problem by forcing the most permissive abortion law in the Western world onto an American public, which was very far from ready to accept such a thing.

It still isn't. More than 30 years after Roe, poll numbers are moving against the decision. The battle continues.

Not all prominent pro-choice liberals have given Roe support. In a 2007 interview, Justice John Paul Stevens said that Roe created a "new doctrine that really didn't make sense." Before joining the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg criticized the decision for terminating the democratic movement to liberalize abortion laws. Law professor and New Republic columnist Jeffrey Rosen wrote in 2003: "In short, 30 years later, it seems increasingly clear that this pro-choice magazine was correct in 1973 when it criticized Roe on constitutional grounds. Its overturning would be the best thing that could happen to the federal judiciary, the pro-choice movement, and the moderate majority of the American people."

Roe energized the far right like nothing else and sparked a slow-motion second American revolution. Every time there is a new effort to curtail gay rights, you can thank Roe. Every time the posting of the Ten Commandments becomes an issue, you can thank Roe. Now that Palin and others on the far right are warning us about "death panels" and other such complete fabrications, you can thank the hostility to all things government that Roe exacerbated. Only the bitterness over Roe can explain the paranoia of the evangelical far right, wherein they see death panels lurking where others see only sensible end-of-life counseling.

It is worth noting that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy died while this healthcare debate was raging. Kennedy was the ultimate example of a wise progressive incrementalist. He had a broad liberal vision but was willing to bring change one step at a time. If pro-choice advocates had used the Kennedy approach to legalizing abortion, there would be no religious right today as we know it -- and no irrational anger in response to issues such as gay rights and, now, healthcare reform.

Roe should be overturned, and the debate over abortion should be settled in individual states. In most states, little would change: Abortion would remain legal, but half the population would also feel enfranchised and respected. The process would be messy, but the poison of Roe would be drained from the American bloodstream and allow everyone from bishops to evangelical leaders to follow their best (and often surprisingly liberal) instincts on matters such as healthcare reform.

Frank Schaeffer is the author of, most recently, the forthcoming book "Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism)."

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Note to my readers: Feel free to pass the link on to this piece. It was rejected by all the usual places I post -- LA Times, Wash Post, Alternet, Huff Post etc. -- as too "over the top." What do you think?

LOrd RupErt MuRdoch aNd Thee Last REpubliKan

By Frank Schaeffer

When Fox News' most loyal watcher -- otherwise known as The Last Republican -- was born he was placed in a small box. His mother fed him through a hole drilled in the side. I'll let The Last Republican tell his own story in his own words:

"WhEn Home SchcOolings beginn theY enlargededd the whoLe just enuf so's I could reAd the Bible through it. I were knot allowed to meet any poeple eXXcept Mom and Dad and there frieEnds. But I have one big woNderful treet-- the TV Set outside my box! It's set to Fox News, 24/7 hours a day all day 7 DaYs a weak.

"One dAy my Mom let me out of my bocs 'to do the will of my Heavenly Father Lord Rupert,' like Daddy sAys. I had to live out in the big evile world of fag-Atheist-Negros Of AmeriCka. But I was safe cause Daddy's strapps my TV To My Face so there'd be no seeing or hEaring Lies. That way even though I was in the sinful world full of fags, Democrats, colleges educates comMunists and Negros, I carries my Very Own Perfect Truth over my face. So I was just like the Bible says so-- 'in the wOrlds but not Of It.'


"While the fAggs and Democrats believe that life on Earth evolve from one selled 'simple orgasms,' I knoW that the Lord Rupert Created The Eorld in Six Days 6000 years ago.

"While figs and Democrits believe that Iraqq has nothing to do with the attacks on 9/11, I know that the Lord Rupert tOld the only trUths and that Saddam Hussein's was responsible and that the Lord Rupert's Best Prophet (except for Glennn BEck) -- George Bush -- was a great man for attaKKKing SadDamm.

"While fags and Democrats believe that the health-care indrustry, and the pharmcuticAl medicsin indUrsty and the insurance indUsty are giant we've-got-you-by-the-balls rip off, I know that if the government regulates the insuranse industry and gives Americans a so-called 'government-sponsored alternative' that deth panls will be noking on my door. Lord Rupert said it and so did Sarah and I believe it.

"While fAAgs and Democrats believe that Obama Hussien Hitler is a negro citizen, I know Lord Rupert Speaks The Truth and that OHuseins is a secret Kenyn Negro and blacker than he looks Hitler a Communist, a babby kiler.

"While fags and Democrats believe that America has sold its suol to Walll St I know that just like my Lord Rupert says, reglating the banking guys, taxing the rich and closing corporate tax looOpholes is just like Socialism like France and America will be taken over by the United Nations because All Taxes Are Unconstitutional.

"While fags and Democrats believe that it's nuts to allow Free White People to carry asssault rifles and ammunition, i Know that All Lord Rupert's children have the Right To Bare Arms and Must Cary Wepons at aL times, specially to publik meeatings where NegrOs is speaking to show The Uppity O'Hussiens that Lord Rupert's children is Fee White Men ready to watter the Tree Of Libertie with the blood of trirants! Lord Rupert says even talking about gun ownership means I must by more guns and ammmo, stock up so when They Will Come to Take Away My Guns won't the Negros get a surprize!

"While fags and Demokrats beleve that immigration is something okay, I know that Lord Rupert is right and that all those people talkin funny are only commming to America to steal welfare and medical and free education and that they should be shot at the border by Lord Rupert's vigilantes.

"While fags and Democrats beleve that America is safer when peopel in other so-called countrys like us, I know because around the world they cheer wen OHusssein speaks that just like Lord Rupert says this meens we're weaker and proves MonkyBoy Is One Of Them!

"While fags and Democrits belive that America is a gret place and say they "love our country,' I hate Amerika for Lord Rupert has told me to fear everyone not liKe Me and there' lotse more of those hear now than Us. Lord Rupert and me know that so-caled "Facts": "education," what other people say, "sience," "homosexul-fags," and anything to do with the The Fredral Goverment or the Left Costs (except for Alasca) is evil. Reel Amerikans like Lord Rupert's is all that's left of descent Americans nOw. So I must hate our cuntry for Lord Rupert's sake til we get her back and make it Our Cuntry again!.

"While, fags, and, Democrats, believ, we, shuld, 'work, together,' to, "make, Amerika, be tter," I know i just'll have to wate, hold my guns and pray because Lord Rupert will come back soon and take, all, the, good ;White/ People? Watching, Fox; TV: away. and kil everyone else. Those Comminists, Musslims, Negros, Fags, Jews, Colege Kids, Demokrats, and anyone who ever said Sara Palin is dumb and people who believe that ObHussein is Amerikan, anyone whwos laughing at Joe The Pumlper, people who don't buy Glennn Beck's book's, All Of You Will Fry!

"My Sweet Lord Rupert is sending me messages and telling me all I need to know To Be Saved! I've got my guns, gold coins, ten years of free-dried food, precious bobilly fluids and my ammo. Lord Rupert tells me my Very Own Personal Truth and My Personale Truth Will sSve Me fRom thE FactS. An SooN it Will Be Time to Act and SheD the BlooD of Tyrants and I Am Ready To Do It and water The Trea Of Libertty!!"

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How the Right and the Left Destroyed the Public Option

What's the common denominator linking crummy public transport, military contractors and the public option being taken off the table in the health care reform fight? Why is a single-payer health care provider "unthinkable"? The common denominator is that the United States is in the thralls of a demented cult that combines the idea of privacy and the profit motive into what is, in fact, our civil religion. It's a crap religion.

The Cult

If the "public option" for health-care reform is off the table who's to blame? We all are -- left, right, moderate, progressive, we have glorified the notion of privacy, profit and individual space for so long that we wouldn't know a public option if one bit us in the ass.

A weird convergence of factors has resulted in United States of America being one of the only places on earth where all sense of a public space, let alone public duty, is off the table as a matter of faith. Privacy, ownership and profit are what we are about.

Examples: Roe v. Wade (whatever your view of abortion) was argued on the basis of privacy. The right to own weapons has been carried such a ludicrous point, in terms of private ownership, that we have little mercenary armies marching around in the woods calling themselves militia groups and armed to the teeth with semiautomatic high-powered military-style weapons. Our trains are 50 years behind the rest of the world's because some genius addicted to the cult of profit decided that they aren't infrastructure but just another business.

"Privacy," "choice," "profit" -- these words are the only American religious creed. Hatred and fear of the government has been both a right wing and left wing preoccupation when government seems to be in a position to curb this cult.

What went wrong?

My son commutes every day to Boston from Newburyport, Massachusetts; a train ride that in Switzerland, France, Germany or even England would take 15 to 20 minutes but here drags on for an hour and 10 minutes. Here our trains must be "profitable" to exist so there is no money to update the system. In other places they work, are updated -- and lose money. The gain is an infrastructure that allows for massive wealth creation in other sectors.

Our train system is stuck in the 19th century. Our health-care providers have been taken over by today's equivalent of the robber barons. Even our prisons are being run by private corporations. When my Marine son fought in Afghanistan and Iraq he and the other soldiers and Marines were outnumbered by the private contractors earning 10 times what our soldiers were earning for doing the same jobs and while making hundreds of millions of dollars for a privatized defense establishment.

"Christian" Heretics

What is so curious is that in this religious country of ours the same evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics and others who are running around saying that we had a "Christian foundation" have forgotten that one of the great contributions of Christianity (going back to the fourth century) was public nonprofit hospitals and hospices. Since when are Christians against vocation? Since when does Christianity teach that profit must trump all other considerations? -- "I'm my brother's keeper, if I get paid"?

Somehow right wing evangelical Christians now seem to believe that Jesus commanded that all hospitals be run by mega corporations for profit. Somehow the right also thinks that it's normal for the state to hand over its duties to private companies for military operations, prisons, health care, public transport and all the rest. The word "infrastructure" seems to have lost its meaning along with the word "community'"as something for the common good. The common space never needs to "turn a profit" because it is the lifeblood that allows private profit. (Every small business owner about to go under because of health care costs knows this, as does my son, who wastes hours each day on a slow train!)

In fact Christianity was the modern root of the whole idea of public spaces for health care, the rule of law, even public transport and safety that started with the idea of the "king's highway." Public space is what made Western civilization possible. A common law, that applied to all, a common sense of sacred duty to others, a common road system protected by the crown and so forth.

Christianity teaches altruism and altruism is not profit-based. Check out New England's Puritan-established villages. What do you think all those "quaint" post card village greens are? Why do you think they were called the "commons"? The greens are the shared grazing land. Public space was the essential ingredient of Puritan life: church, town meeting house and common grazing land, civic work and hospital building, defense and law. And as for privacy, the community was involved in everything we now hold private.

On the secular side, public space to was also paramount. The dynamism of Western civilization, beginning with the Renaissance in Florence and other European cities, was based on an understanding of the value of public works, public space and public projects combined with private initiative. Walk the great piazzas of Italy and you will be enjoying the public spaces created by civic-minded people who were the forefathers of the Europeans who would build high-speed rail systems that work. Private fortunes were made in the context of a public sector that worked. This is no new thing or "socialism." This is what made the West the wealthy West. (The Medici bankers were no socialists and they understood the need for public spaces!)

If it's Not For-Profit it's Evil. Since When?

Now in the USA we have the worst of all possible worlds: a leftist/libertarian addiction to personal private space, in which no one is allowed to tell anyone else what they should do, combined with this weird anti-Christian "Christian" right wing notion that everything -- even trains, the post office, our infrastructure and medicine, and now even a big chunk of the military (via "contractors") -- must be run for a for-profit motive.

The left, the right, the secular community and the religious community have denied the best of their own heritage when it comes to America. The problem of not getting a public option for health-care reform relates to a philosophical shift in our culture wherein everything has to be justified on the basis of profit and/or privacy. Result: there is no concept of public space at all. Result: idiots shout "socialism" about common sense solutions to our problems that -- very ironically -- the Medici princes of Florence and the Puritans would have all agreed needed to be matters of common public space.

Until Americans -- left and right, atheist and believing -- begin to take another look at where this road of absolutist privacy combined with absolutist profit leads we'll be stuck with the health care that's a mess, trains that don't work and for-profit lunacy: deified individualism.

The Solution

The only real solution is to attack the idea that profit and privacy is sacrosanct. Privacy and profit must be once again balanced by common obligation, public space and civic mindedness trumping individual choice.

We need to get back to the idea of civic space, and public works, not just in health-care but in all sectors of our economy. It's not a question of being anti-capitalist; rather, it's a question of rediscovering a more narrowly defined capitalism that thrives because of a thriving public space. For instance, we need a single-payer health care system and we need it now.

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).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Left Is Also Obama's Problem

Can the left learn to keep its mouth shut once in a while? Does the American left know how to win wars or just skirmishes? Does the left want change or does it demand perfection? You can't have both in this life.

No one has been a tougher critic of the Republican Party, the Religious Right and various wing nuts out to destroy the Obama presidency than me. Few ordinary Americans (that I know of) have taken more heat (and hate) for their support of the President than me either. Former right wing religious right leaders like me are never forgiven for joining the reality-based community!

Believe me, with my old "friends" on the right I don't need more enemies! (Just check out Fox News smearing of me last week with insanely out-of-context clips on the O'Reilly Factor lifted and edited from Maddow interviewing me.) So I'm hesitant to knock the left. I guess I don't like the idea of all sides pissed off with me at once. But in the light of how and why the debate over health care is being dominated by the loony right maybe the left is partly to blame for the stalemate on health care reform.

Last week the New York Times noted a lack of enthusiasm on the part of Obama's former foot soldiers when it comes to rising to the occasion and pouring on the support for health care reform. ("Health Debate Fails to Ignite Obama's Grass Roots," August 15.) Why the lack of enthusiasm?

It's because the left has made the classic mistake of going for a whole loaf and therefore risking getting nothing. The left has proved itself as impatient as the right and just as shortsighted, given that the lefty sniping at the Obama administration started almost from day one. And now after barely six months in office the people who worked so hard to get him elected have seemingly lost their enthusiasm for another fight on behalf of Obama.

What sapped the yes-we-can optimistic, hope-filled bedrock supporters' will? Who sapped it?

There is a connection between sniping from the left -- the drip, drip, drip of criticism, the demand for instant perfection, be it from those taking shots Obama's economic policy and claiming that the President is in the hip pocket of Wall Street -- and those saying he cut some sort of evil deal with pharmaceutical companies, and the lop-sided "debate" on health care. The right didn't sap anyone's will who voted for Obama. The left shot itself in the foot.

It seems to me that Obama's critics on the left just don't understand governing. If Franklin Roosevelt had had this quality of "support" from his bedrock constituency there would have been no New Deal and we would have never entered the war to defeat fascism. In fact today's left seems to have a death wish of exercising the "right" to snarky frivolity when it's time to get serious.

The American left has a choice: follow our moderately progressive Democrat president and support him when he most needs it most, or allow our whole project to be derailed by the far (increasingly fascist) right. If it is derailed, sure -- the Republicans played a part. But so did the know-it-all left, all because the left's pontificators -- including those right here in the Huffington Post -- would rather be heard than humbly offer their support to our President (or anyone else) and see change actually happen.


It strikes me that the left suffers from a sort of crazy First Amendment knee-jerk twitch comparable the the right's sick Second Amendment twitch! The right thinks it must collect guns, the left thinks it must express opinions, and damn the real world consequences. Hey, so Obama fails! Well at least I got my say!

The right is irredeemably sick. The left is just silly. Together the silly and the sick may just do us in. If Limbaugh gets his Obama-must-fail wish, look in the mirror.

On the right the election literally broke their racist brains. This is now the day of the old angry white men once again. And how has the left responded? Did we circle the wagons and hang tough with our young black president? No everyone waded in.

The open question is this: Is the left going to be dominated by its talkers or get on with governance that can only happen with near infinite patience and loyal support? Does the left know how to follow a leader and get something done?

Q: "You mean I have to behave like a regular citizen once in a while and let the people I elect do their job?!"

A: If our self-styled free thinkers decide loyalty is beneath them and have forgotten how to compromise and live in the real world, a few election cycles from now the left is going to find itself reduced to screaming down their far right opposition at town hall meetings.

We have a great president. We have a chance for real change and we'd better use it. Sarah Palin and company are waiting in the wings.

My old friends on the far right are counting on the stupidity of right wing white America to believe their lies. They are also counting on the left being so in love with the sound of its own voice that the left can't govern.

How different things would be right now had everyone who voted for President Obama stuck by him and his administration with total determination, and waited until he had a chance to implement -- and test -- his programs, before wading in with the nit-picking.

The left faces the implacable and loony right. The chips are down. Support the President.

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).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Patience With God --Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism).

(Jacket copy for my new book)

From the bestselling and controversial author of Keeping Faith and Crazy for God, a spirited, witty, and provocative challenge to atheists and fundamentalists alike

Frank Schaeffer has a problem with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, and the rest of the New Atheists—the self-anointed “Brights.” He also has a problem with the Rick Warrens and Tim LaHayes of the world—the religious fundamentalists. The problem is that he doesn’t see much of a difference between the two camps. As Schaeffer puts it, they “often share the same fallacy: truth claims that reek of false certainties. I believe that there is an alternative that actually matches the way life is lived rather than how we usually talk about belief.”
Sparing no one and nothing, including himself and his fiery evangelical past, and invoking subtleties too easily ignored by the pontificators, Schaeffer adds much-needed nuance to the existing religious conversation. “I discovered from the emails I’ve been inundated with since my memoir was published that there are more of us perplexed former (or currently) religiously inclined or religiously raised folks on a journey from past certainties to points unknown than I’d been aware of. We want to have faith in God in spite of our bad experiences with religion, oppressive family relationships, and/or doubts and questions. We too worry that we been hoodwinked by a fairy tale. I hope that this book will provide a meeting place for those of us who count ourselves among the scattered members of what I’ll call the Church of Hopeful Uncertainty.”

[author photo]
Frank Schaeffer is the author of the New York Times bestseller Keeping Faith and the memoir Crazy for God. His novels, including Portofino, have been translated into nine languages. He has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, including Fresh Air (NPR) with Terri Gross and Oprah, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Alternet. He and his wife, Genie, live in Massachusetts and have three children.

Also by Frank Schaeffer, and available from Da Capo Press
[show covers for as many as possible, then line-list the rest]

Crazy for God
Keeping Faith
Faith of Our Sons
Voices from the Front

Baby Jack
Saving Grandma

[back panel]
[some blurbs to be superseded by blurbs for Patience]
Praise for Crazy for God
“A brave and important book.”—Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog

“Crazy for God offers considerable insight into several issues that have bedeviled American life in the past thirty years…it gives us not only a handle on the mess we are in but also quite a few laughs.”—Jane Smiley, The Nation

“Schaeffer describes a life that was by turns happy, difficult, idyllic, and completely nuts….He’s a world-class storyteller.”—Christianity Today

“Crazy for God is a brilliant book, a portrait of fundamentalism painted in broad strokes with streaks of nuance, the twinned coming-of-age story of Frank and the Christian right.”—Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Open Letter To The "Respectable" Evangelical/Republican Party Leadership

You evangelical leaders have a choice before you: rejoin American society as it is and love the actual country you're part of, or stick to your mythical Disney remake of a Little House On the Prairie fantasy and fade away -- forever.

To you "moderate" and "respectable" evangelical Christians and you "middle-of-the-road" and "ordinary" Republican fellow travelers -- as distinct from the extreme fundamentalist lunatic fringe and far right of both of your groups -- a word of warning.

You know me and you knew my late father Francis Schaeffer. Without his (and my) work evangelicalism and its close tie to the Republican Party would not exist as we know it. You also know that some 30 years ago you were giving me standing ovations in your biggest meetings, from the Religious Broadcaster's annual convention to the Southern Baptist annual convention. I preached in your leading churches from Falwell's church to Dr. Kennedy's. Now I'm like a pebble in your shoe that you wish would just go away. And believe me, I'd like nothing better than to forget my past. But before stepping back to the reality-based community I offer you a few words of warning.

The bubble of unreality and mythology you have chosen to live in is now coming back to haunt you. American "believers" are out there arming themselves, comparing our president to Hitler, saying that reform of health care would lead to "death panels." You respectable evangelical leaders -- and I'm talking about the editors of Christianity Today magazine, the people running the Billy Graham Association, you presidents of the evangelical universities and colleges from Wheaten to Gordon College and, yes, and you too Rick Warren -- you know perfectly well that the "birthers" and the "deathers" and all the rest represent the equivalent of your very own evangelical village idiot.

But how did your "village idiot" get so damned crazy? What did you do to contribute to this insanity where people get in the face of senators and congressmen and scream: "God will judge you"?! And if violence is used against our leaders because of the ramping up of the rhetoric who is to blame?

You respectable leaders are! Your silence is to blame! Your complicity in preaching myths is to blame!

Who is Glenn Beck's and Fox News' audience? Who are those 20 million Americans on the fringe of the fringe sucking up every lie told by Rush Limbaugh? They're mostly some of your people and you know it.

How did they get this way?

Because if you live in a mythical universe and parallel society you eventually begin to believe your own bullshit. If you divide the world into "lost" and "saved" and say God will punish the lost -- forever -- your hate of the "other" will someday explode.

How long did you think you could go on telling people that because of the legalization of abortion the federal government is your sworn enemy, before someone would take you seriously and kill an abortion provider thinking they are doing "God's will"? How long was it before people would entirely abandon reality and facts after they'd been weaned on your creationist anti-science myths? What about all your groups, such as the so-called Reconstructionists, that so many of your leaders quietly have been either part of or followers of that have a deeply embedded racism in their "theology?" What of the bizarre C-Street gang, and your tie-ins with them through such exercises in getting close to power like the Presidential Prayer Breakfasts? When have you all -- the respectable leaders -- stood up and denounced and called out your haters?

You the "moderate" evangelical leaders and "respectable" Republican leadership have nurtured the beast of ignorance in your bosom. Now it's about to bite you -- big-time. Your willfully ignorant followers are inflicting the rest of this country with the image of hate, intolerance and sheer stupidity on a level that is hard to believe. One of your own idealized leaders, a member in good standing for 25 years of the Assemblies of God denomination -- your very own fellow evangelical Sarah "Death Panel" Palin -- is what's left of the evangelical movement that used to follow sane writers like CS Lewis.

If you want to salvage anything of the movement that my father helped you build and that I contributed to (back in the day when people like James Dobson were giving away 150,000 copies of my book A Time For Anger), you'd better wake up and smell the coffee.

Here's the reality: by unhooking yourself from our culture, through your own hermetically sealed mirror image imitation culture, with your own TV stations, radio stations, publishing houses, bookstores, homeschool curriculum and on and on you've been living in an unreal universe. While you've been away there have been changes.

Let me bring you up to speed: The United States of America is a diverse, multicultural, multiethnic multireligious society. It doesn't belong to white middle-aged men yelling at meetings surrounded by their ignorant equally dumb rube women. This crap may have worked for 1920s lynch-mobs, but we've moved on.

This country belongs to black and brown and white people, to Asians to Hispanics, to atheists and agnostics and believers, and to the folks like me who used to be Republicans and left in disgust and voted for President Obama. It belongs to gay people who have the right to live together, marry and raise families. It also belongs to people like me who consider themselves to be Christians but are ashamed to be addressed as such, given that your village idiots are the image of what our faith has come to mean: the hate-filled, anti-gay, anti-Obama party of reaction.

If you wish to save what is left of your movement, it might be an idea to begin to tell your people that you've been wrong about a lot of things. Rejoin the rest of us. Let your kids go to schools with other children instead of hiding them away like jars of last year's jam in your homeschool and Christian "school" cupboards. Watch, listen and read something once in awhile it isn't derived from your own hermetically sealed subculture. And while you're at it, get used to the idea that our black President is a great man and that he has a good chance of leading us out of the wilderness the born-again idiot Bush led us into -- if you will call off your attack dogs and allow our President to do his job.

Do any of you still follow Jesus? Would Jesus make himself the tool of the insurance companies' and lobbyists depriving the poor of care?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Right-Wing Turncoat Gives the Inside Scoop on Why Conservatives Are Rampaging Town Halls

(Note: this article first appeared on Alternet August 7. It led to my most recent appearance on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC.)

The Republican Old Guard are in the fix an atheist would be in if Jesus showed up and raised his mother from the dead: Their world view has just been shattered. Obama's election has driven them over the edge. Consider Former Congressman Dick Armey. Several far right foundations and the multitrillion dollar health-insurance industry have teamed up with him to organize the far right foot soldiers of the Republican Party to intimidate people speaking on behalf of health-care reform. They are using my old shock troops -- given many of these folks were first energized by the Evangelical pro-life movement that my late father and I started in the 1970s. What we did to clinics they are now doing to congressmen and others speaking out for health care reform.

Having failed at the ballot box, having watched their Fox News-organized "tea parties" fizzle the intimidation tactics which the Republicans have embraced are being used in a well-financed, top-down orchestrated fake grass roots campaign by corporate interests to try and protect the profits of the insurance business. Armey's FreedomWorks is organizing against health care reform. Armey's lobbying firm represents pharmaceutical companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb. Armey's lobbying firm also represents the trade group for the life insurance industry. FreedomWorks is supporting the status quo at all costs. (They are also fans of fossil fuels. Armey's lobbying firm represents Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE, on energy related issues.)

Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed FreedomWorks for building "amateur-looking" websites to promote far right interests of Armey. FreedomWorks represents a top-down, corporate-friendly approach that's been the norm for conservative organizations for years. How do I know this is the norm? Because I used to have strategy meetings with the late Jack Kemp and Dick Army and the rest of the Republican gang about using their business ties to help finance the pro-life movement to defeat Democrats. I know this script. I helped write it.

Democratic members of Congress are being harassed by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior at local town halls. It's the tactic we used to follow abortion providers around their neighborhoods. "Protesters" surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and forced police officers to have to escort him to his car for safety. We used to do the same to Dr. Tiller... until someone killed him.

How Can The Right Stoop So Low?

I used to know Dick Armey quite well. One of my sons even worked for him as an intern. I knew Armey in the context of his being a fan of my late Evangelical Religious Right leader father Francis Schaeffer. (Back in the day when I was a right wing "pro-life" organizer who has long since quit the Republicans in disgust at their -- our -- descent into extremism and hate.) Armey was once a decent guy, whatever his political views. How could he stoop so low as to be organizing what amounts to America's Brown Shirts today?

I think I know what happened to him, Gingrich and the rest: They can't compute that their white man-led conservative revolution is dead. They can't reconcile their idea of themselves with the fact that white men like them don't run the country any more -- and never will again. To them the black president is leading a column of the "other" into their promised land. Gays, immigrants, blacks, progressives, even a female Hispanic appointed to the Supreme Court... for them this is the Apocalypse.

The last presidential election (to paraphrase Bart Simpson) "broke their brains." What else could explain their embrace of intimidation -- rather than discourse -- over the health care debate and such unsavory moments of madness as the Republicans accusing Obama and Judge Sonia Sotomayor of racism, knowing full well that they'd just destroyed their chances with the Hispanic community forever?

The "Scorched Earth Policy"

Dick Army and company have been driven mad by their reversal, not just of political fortunes but of seeing that they've wasted their lives. They now know they were wrong: about the country, the free market, war for fun and profit, and what the American people really want. They made their best case and were rejected by the American people -- and by history. Bush was their man and he turned out to be a fool. So now all the the Republican gurus have left is what the defeated Germans of World War Two had: a scorched earth policy. If they can't win then everyone must go down. Obama must fail! The country must fail!

The Lobbyist-run Groups "Americans for Prosperity " and "FreedomWorks/ Dick Armey-Orchestrated Memo:

Here is a leaked excerpt from the folks organizing the intimidation campaign:

- Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: "Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington."

- Be Disruptive Early And Often: "You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early."

- Try To "Rattle Him," Not Have An Intelligent Debate: "The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions."

The Last Republican Tactic: Outright Lies

A barrage of outright lies, wherein the Democrats are being accused of wanting to launch a massive euthanasia program against the elderly, free abortions for everyone, and "a government takeover" of health-care is now being combined with physical intimidation that in several cases has required police escorts to protect pro health-care reform speakers surrounded by angry plants sent to disrupt public forums on the health-care issue. Demonstrators hung Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) in effigy outside of his office. (Missing from the reporting of these stories -- with the notable exception of Rachel Maddow -- is the fact that much of these protests are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama's reforms.

There is no daylight between the Republican Party, the health-care insurance industry, far right leaders like Dick Armey, the legion of insurance lobbyists, and now, a small army of thugs. All we're missing is actual uniforms, otherwise we now have a full blown American version of the Nazi Brown Shirts.

No, I don't believe that these people are about to take over the country. No, the sky is not falling. But the Republican Party is. It is now profoundly anti-American.

The health-insurance industry is run by very smart and very greedy people who have sunk to a new low. So has the Republican Party's leadership that will not stand up and denounce the likes of Dick Armey for helping organize roving bands of thugs trying to strip the rest of us of the ability to be heard when it comes to the popular will on reforming health care.

Conclusion: the Fascist Formula

Here's the emerging American version of the fascist's formula: combine millions of dollars of lobbyists' money with embittered troublemakers who have a small army of not terribly bright white angry people (collected over decades through pro-life mass mailing networks) at their beck and call, ever ready to believe any myth or lie circulated by the semi literate and completely and routinely misinformed right wing -- Evangelical religious underground. Then put his little mob together with the insurance companies' big bucks. That's how it works -- American Brown Shirts at the ready.

What's the results of the fascist formula for the rest of us? Well, think how this "method" worked against Dr. Tiller's abortion clinic and how that story ended. In this case a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save our economy from going bankrupt because of spiraling health care costs may be lost, not because of a better argument, but because of lies backed up by anti-democratic embittered thuggery. The motive? Revenge on America by the Old White Guys of the far right, and greed by the insurance industry.

What Can Be Done?

It's time that this whole shabby (and insane) business be exposed, vilified in run out of town on a rail by whatever responsible Republicans -- if any -- that are still in the party and who want to see the fortunes of their party revived. Republican leaders taking insurance industry money via lobbying firms and using it to organize what amounts to roving bands of thugs not only need to be exposed but thrown out of the public debate forever. They should become absolute pariahs.

It's time to give this garbage a name: insurance industry funded fascism.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Watch this

Denouncing the Far Right on Maddow

Please watch my appearance on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC TV show here

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Latest On "Religion Dispatches"

Here's the first paragraph of my latest blog posted on Religion Dispatches--

In his book The Family, Jeff Sharlet has done a masterful job of exposing the machinations of the of shadowy Evangelical group known variously as "The Fellowship,"or "The Family," (or, most recently, "those nuts from Congress living in a far right commune on C Street who counsel wayward congressmen regarding adultery.")

Recently, Rachel Maddow has helped bring the whole issue of subversive far right Evangelical religion to a wider public (and gotten some flak for it). But in the light of the Obama presidency — and the rabid right-wing opposition to it — it's worth noting that the majority of the lies being told about our President, his programs and the Democratic Party are originating not just from the right wing but from the Evangelical right wing in particular.

To read the rest go to:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Purpose Driven Atheism: Secular Maharishis Seeking True Believers

I agree with the New Atheists: it’s time for religion to go. Intolerant, politicized, ugly, right-wing religion, that is. I agree with religious people too, atheism has killed more people in the name of godless ideologies than all religions combined. Or put it this way, the atheist says “Crusades!” and the religious believer answers “Pol Pot!” Are we to be stuck trading insults like schoolchildren, or is there a better way to discuss the two eternally unanswerable questions: the quest for ultimate meaning and the search for the origin of everything?

At a time when Islamist extremists strap on bombs and blow up women and children; when the United States has just come staggering out of the oppressive thirty-year-plus embrace of the dumb-as-mud, hate-filled religious right; when evangelicals are bullying, harassing, and persecuting gay men and women in the name of God, it’s understandable that decent people run from religion. There is a problem though, for those who flee religion expecting to find sanity in unbelief: they will discover that the madness never was about religion, nor was it caused by faith in God. It was, and is, about how we evolved and what we evolved into.

In other words Pogo, the Walt Kelly possum cartoon character, was correct: “we have met the enemy and he is us!” If only making ourselves happy, kind, and tolerant was as simple as giving up religious faith. If that’s all it took, the Soviet Union under Stalin or China under Mao would have been such nice places to live, and our largely secularized Ivy League universities would not be filled with backstabbing intellectuals ready to kill each other (metaphorically speaking) over who gets tenure.

The Context of the New Atheist Crusade

I suspect that the intensity of the New Atheists’ anti-religion crusade has less to do with religion per se, and more to do with a post-9/11 reaction (Islam is bad!), and then a further reaction to the reaction (Bush is just as bad!) The context of the heating up of the New Atheist movement has to do with the justifiable anger felt by reasonable people everywhere at the horrible way the born-again and smugly self-righteous evangelical George W. Bush led the United States, and was put (and kept) in power by his willfully ignorant evangelical base.

An unnecessary war-of-choice in Iraq, “legalized” torture, a carelessly managed war in Afghanistan, little-to-no action to repair the earth’s environment, presidential sniping at evolution being taught in schools, an anti-sex education campaign, ties to the apocalyptic “End Times” evangelical/fundamentalist Christian Zionists (that skewed Bush’s Middle East politics toward the State of Israel in a way that was harmful to all concerned—not least to the State of Israel)… this and more was the context of New Atheist reaction.

The problem I have with the more radical aspects of the New Atheists’ answer to religion—which is to get rid of religion—is that we are spiritual beings, self-contemplating animals, with or without the New Atheists’ permission, and despite the fact that there are so many national village idiots saying and doing things “in the name of God.”

The New Atheists have proved how inescapable religion/spirituality is (by whatever name we call it) by turning their movement into a quasi-religion with priests, prophets and gurus, followers, and even church services. Check out Richard Dawkins’ Web site and you could be looking at the Web site of any televangelist suffering from an acute messianic delusion. Add a dash of hucksterism, replete with scads of merchandise, including a “Scarlet A pin” to be worn by the faithful to identify them as followers and to provoke “conversations” with the uninitiated leading to their conversion to atheism. A secular “Maharishi” of atheism may also be a fruitcake cult figure leading a “church” in all but name.

Speaking of churches, and the need to reinforce one’s faith, Bill Maher’s 2008 movie Religulous provided the atheist version of a church-going experience [see Brent Plate’s “Why Bill Maher Gets a ‘C’ in My Introduction to Religion Class”]. When I was watching Religulous in an Upper West Side theater in New York, it seemed to me that the laughter and shouted comments were just another version of “Amen!” and “Preach it brother!” I assumed these cries of affirmation were from the more spirit-filled atheists in the audience! In a moment of unintended self-parody, Maher even delivered an altar call at the end of his film begging believers to join him in his unbelief.

It seems to me that the various New Atheist prophets have one thing in common: they are old-fashioned literalists. The tone of their books strikes me as stuck in a premodern time warp that is ironically shared by evangelical authors such as Rick Warren. For Warren and the New Atheist authors it is, as it were, never about “A” purpose driven life but always about “The” purpose driven life.

While the term postmodernism is often used to describe an aesthetic, artistic worldview characterized by a distrust of theories and ideology, I think it usefully applies (or rather should apply) to the “certainties” on both sides in the religion vs. atheism debate. When it comes to the New Atheists pitting atheism’s truth claims against religion’s truth claims, postmodern nuance, let alone humility, is nowhere in sight. The New Atheists turn out to be secular fundamentalists arguing with religious fundamentalists. (I explore these various forms of fundamentalism in my forthcoming book Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don’t Like Religion—Or Atheism.)

Secular and religious fundamentalists seem to overlook the reality of our actual situation: we are specks on a tiny planet and our concept of truth, time, and space is relative to our perspective. When Dawkins proposes his alternative to God (in The God Delusion), he talks about the billions and billions, perhaps trillions, of solar systems increasing the probability of life starting in a kind of Russian roulette. Since everything must have happened at least once in an infinite universe maybe that explains, well, everything! Problem is; these are just words. They could just as well be used to argue the “probability” of the existence of God in a limitless universe where everything might happen once someplace, say a virgin birth.

Certainty Kills

Words were invented by people to describe what they perceive to be “true” from what amounts to an ant’s roadside view of passing cosmic traffic. Dawkins knows no more about the vast, forever-beyond-our-reach totality of the universe than I do about God. He thinks, hopes, surmises, does a bit of reading, uses metaphors to describe his ideas about things (which is all words are) grows old and dies, as do we all. When he makes the jump from proven Darwinian biological evolutionary science and tries to apply it to cosmology (the origin of everything), his is a leap of faith worthy of Sören Kierkegaard—though it has nothing to do with science. Whether we are embracing the life of the spirit or running from it, most of us seem to affirm or reject faith too vehemently to claim that we just don’t care.

The New Atheists have been so shrill in their attempts to put what they regard as religious Dims in their place that even some other atheists find them abrasive. These critics of the New Atheists might be called New New Atheists. They too have come forward to proclaim atheism, yet to denounce the New Atheists in a way that to me is reminiscent of the church splits that my evangelical/Calvinist missionary parents (Francis and Edith Schaeffer who founded the ministry of L’Abri in Switzerland) went through. We became members of ever “purer” churches through one “separation” after another, until the “True Church” more or less boiled down to just our family!

In The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, French philosopher André Comte-Sponville tries to present a “humanitarian foundation” for the life of unbelief. Comte-Sponville says that his “way of being an atheist,” was influenced by the Catholicism of his youth. He acknowledges the positive aspects of faith. And then there is Ronald Aronson, a philosopher teaching at Wayne State University and contributor to Religion Dispatches, who first laid out a critique of the New Atheists in a review of their books in the Nation published in June 2007. “Where does the work of the New Atheists leave us?” he asked. “Living without God means turning toward something.” Then in his book Living Without God, Aronson fleshed out his critique. He writes, “Religion is not really the issue, but rather the incompleteness or tentativeness, the thinness or emptiness, of today’s atheism, agnosticism, and secularism. Living without God means turning toward something.”

It might also mean that we should look for a less drastic alternative to fundamentalist faith in God than a fundamentalist faith in no God. The New Atheists and the religious fundamentalists have been looking through the wrong end of the same worn-out telescope. It strikes me that the idea—dare I say the fundamental truth—of paradox has been left out of the current atheist vs. religion debate.

At its best faith in God is about thanksgiving, shared suffering, loss, pain, generosity, and love. The best religious people and the best secular people learn to ignore our chosen (or inherited) religions’ nastier teachings (be those found in the Bible or in the “science” of eugenics and white racial superiority) in order to preserve the spirit of our faiths, be it a faith in secular humanism, science, God or in all of the above. It’s the tediously consistent fundamentalists, religious or atheist, who become monsters. They are so sure that they have the truth that they dare claim that only those members of “my” religion will be saved. This is the path to madness and, if history is any guide, to violence. Certainty kills.

The Trivialization of The Presidency: Obama Becomes Oprah

Oprah consciousness has invaded the White House. Is there a limit to the touchy -feely public reconciliation syndrome? Apparently not. Oprah rules! I have nothing against Oprah. Her providing a forum for public confessions and reconciliations makes for great TV. And she helped turn one of my books (Keeping Faith-A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps) into a New York Times best seller. But daytime TV is daytime TV, and the White House is (or should be) the White House.

Here's what I care about: that we get a public option on health care -- so that we can stick it to the insurance companies, who have been sticking it to us.

Here's what I don't care about: President Obama having a beer with a member of the Harvard elite who happens to be in the news because he happens to be black and famous and a cop from Cambridge, Massachusetts who happens to be famous for being white, thin-skinned and so stupidly arrogant he'd arrest a man who has committed no crime just for being rude to a cop.

Is an Joe the plumber consult next? How small time and silly does the President want to look? We have real problems in this country, and real police abuse of ordinary black and Latino men and women is one of them. But this wasn't the case or the time for presidential intervention.

President Obama should be occupied with health care reform, our economy, two wars and a failing education system, not to mention our failing global ecology. And Obama faces a Republican Party that's gone way past hostile and that is actually trying to bring his presidency down.

What was the context of the trivial beer party? This:

The Republicans are now the party for the insurance companies and against the rest of America. We are watching them pimping for the insurance companies, lying for them, literally selling their country. And they'll do anything (from lying about where our President was born to being bribed by the insurance companies) to bring President Obama down. They'll also do anything to support their corporate masters, as will the number of so-called moderate Democrats who also seem to be in the pocket of insurers and their so-called think tank's that are telling us that health-care reform is "dangerous."

And what is the President we elected doing about this? He's playing Oprah-style games, and still talking about "bipartisanship" with what amounts to meeting the national village idiot -- the Republicans -- half way on health care.

In this context the beer party was an embarrassment. It also happened in the same month that more Americans died in Afghanistan than at any other single period since the war began.

The Republicans are disgusting but the mainstream (and not so mainstream blog media) seem to have gone insane. They went for Oprah-style BS instead of sticking to the real story: reform!

Meanwhile... Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) joined radical conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his radio talk show for an interview. (Jones made a name propagating conspiracies ranging from the claim that Bill Clinton planned the Oklahoma City bombings to the idea that the attacks on 9/11 were orchestrated by a cabal of American and Israeli government officials.) During the 30-minute interview about "nation ending stuff," Gohmert used his opportunity on the Jones show to tell anti-Obama lies: Rep. Gohmert: "We've been battling this socialist health care, the nationalization of health care, that is going to absolutely kill senior citizens. They'll put them on lists and force them to die early." Gohmert teaches Sunday school at the ultra fundamentalist Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, where he's has served as a deacon.

It's time this administration take stock of their (and our) enemies -- the religious nuts, Republican leadership and the insurance companies -- and answer them. It ' time to end the bipartisan games. It's time to call out the Republicans and the anti-reform far right liars.

Here's the real question: rather than a silly season summer beer moment in the garden, not to mention the nonsense about bipartisanship, is our President going to force his party's majority in Congress to do the right thing and deliver reform while defending himself (and America) against the insane Republican lie machine?

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)