Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Join Me in Carson City NV April 1-2

Frank Schaeffer is coming!
April 1-2

Register Now!

Join us at St. Peter's as we host best-selling author Frank Schaeffer for our annual Lenten Lecture Series. Do you get tongue-tied when attempting to share your faith and church community with others? Are you fed up with stiff-necked religion, yet unable to commit to full-blown atheism? Join us to hear Frank Schaeffer who will help to articulate authentic faith beyond a religious culture of extremes.
Friday, April 1st, evening lecture (by donation) 7 - 9 p.m.; AND Saturday, April 2nd, workshop 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Please register in advance for the Saturday workshop as space is limited. For more information, please contact The Rev. Kim Morgan atkamorgan@pyramid.net
or call 775-883-1681.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Front Cover Copy

Sex, Mom, and God

How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics—and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway

Frank Schaeffer

Bestselling author of Keeping Faith and Crazy for God

Flap Copy

$26.00 / $30.00 CAN

[keynote endorsement]

“A penetrating analysis of political extremism, with a moving and at times hilarious account of growing up in one of the Christian right's most influential families. Few writers command Frank Schaeffer's intimate understanding of right-wing radicalism, and even fewer are able to share their insight as entertainingly and with as much moral weight as he has in Sex, Mom, and God.”—Max Blumenthal, author of: Republican Gomorrah

[book description, with quotes from the book set here in ital]

“Mom was a much nicer person than her God. There are many biblical regulations about everything from beard-trimming to menstruating. Mom worked diligently to recast her personal-hygiene-obsessed God in the best light.”

Alternating between laugh-out-loud scenes from his childhood and acidic ruminations on the present state of an America he and his famous fundamentalist parents helped create, bestselling author Frank Schaeffer asks what the Glenn Becks and the Rush Limbaughs and the paranoid fantasies of the “right-wing echo chamber” are really all about.

Here’s a hint: sex.

The unforgettable central character in Sex, Mom, and God is the author’s far-from-prudish evangelical mother, Edith, who sweetly but bizarrely provides startling juxtapositions of the religious and the sensual thoughout Schaeffer’s childhood.

“If the recipient of the Schaeffer family’s evangelical attentions happened to be a forty-year-old Italian businessman at the beach, clad only in a “tragically immodest” Speedo bathing suit, the scene would become surreal. The women—my mother and sisters—were radiating disapproval of the man’s Speedo. The little boy—that’s me—was thinking of bolting for the water and swimming to the horizon.”

Charlotte Gordon, the award-winning author of Mistress Bradstreet, calls Sex, Mom, and God “a tour de force . . . Sarah Palin, ‘The Family,’ Anne Hutchinson, adultery, abortion, homophobia, Uganda, Ronald Reagan, B. B. King, Billy Graham, Hugh Hefner –it’s all here. This is the kind of book I did not want to end.”

Back Flap

[Author photo caption:] Frank and Edith Schaeffer, Gryon, Switzerland, December 2010

[Author photo credit:]

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 The Oprah Winfrey Show and NPR’s Fresh Air, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and AlterNet. He and his wife, Genie, live in Massachusetts and have three children.

Da Capo Press

A Member of the Perseus Books Group


Jacket design

Jacket photography

Back Panel Copy

Praise for Crazy for God

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

“We are fortunate that Frank Schaeffer's path has taken him from the rigid fundamentalist thinking of his youth to where he is now, working not in stark black and white, but in the blessed gray from which true art arises. Crazy for God is a brave and important book.”

—AndrĂ© Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog and Townie

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

Praise for Patience with God

“A humble and beautiful narrative . . . a deep and rich reflection on authentic faith in the contemporary world that focuses on how to live rather than on what to believe or not believe.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“This beautiful, argumentative, and even funny book is popular theology at its best.”—Jeff Sharlet, New York Times best-selling author of The Family

“Beguiling.”—John Cornwell, Financial Times

ISBN: 978-0-306-81928-5

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sex, Mom and God (Excerpt)

By Frank Schaeffer

(This first appeared on Huffington Post)

There seems to be a consistent pattern when it comes to the right wing leadership of American religion: The louder the protest against "the lack of morals," the more likely it has been that the person doing the protesting and/or trying to make others conform to his or her beliefs was also mired in doubts that, if known, would have given a lie to the protester's moralizing. I think that is why sometimes the sons (or daughters) of some religious leaders are harsher and even more extreme in their rants against "the world" than their parents were.

The next generation must shout down its own doubts all the more loudly since the children of religious leaders have seen firsthand that their parents had feet of clay. These children know that in fact their parents' public image and private lives were often wildly different. For instance, having an evangelical-leader father who hit my mother made it a little hard for me to take his book about love The Mark of the Christian -- described by the publisher in the sell copy as "what a true Christian witness looks like in our needy and broken world" -- terribly seriously.

As I describe in my new book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics -- and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway my flawed Religious Right leader father was just famous in the Evangelical ghetto, not famous in the entire world. Imagine the discrepancy between evangelist Billy Graham's semiofficial status as the American Protestant "pope" (and chaplain to presidents) and the reality of his actual human self as seen daily from the Graham children's perspective. I happen to have become close friends with Gigi Graham when we were both in our twenties. (We've since fallen out of touch.)

Suffice to say that when Billy Graham's daughter Ruth wrote to me after reading my memoir Crazy For God to say that she loved the book and that she and the other Graham children were also "sacrificial lambs," I knew just what she meant. So the story of evangelist Billy Graham's son Franklin Graham strikes scarily close to my own experiences.

I met Franklin several times while we were both coming of age as the sons of religious leaders. Our first meeting happened when we were both nine and he visited my parent's ministry of L'Abri Fellowship (with branches in Switzerland where I lived then, the US, the UK, Holland, Korea etc.,) with his whole family and stayed for church and Sunday tea. (Franklin looked as if he'd rather have been just about anywhere else.) A few years later, Franklin was poised to follow in his father's footsteps. But just before that he (all-too-briefly) deviated from the usual nepotistic path. Rumors abounded about Franklin's "wild living" and the rejecting of his family's faith.

When I was in my early twenties (in the 1970s), I remember talking to Franklin's mother and his sister Gigi about Franklin's "period of youthful rebellion" and how sad they were that he'd "fallen so far from the Lord." But later Franklin "repented" and then rejoined the team and took over his father's ministry.

Franklin's story is typical of the preposterous nepotistic "model" of Protestant leadership, what might be called entrepreneurial ministry through the Divine Right of Succession to the Mailing List If You Can't Find Anything Better To Do. But Franklin also represents something else: the second generation in an Evangelical empire being even harsher and more strictly fundamentalist than the first.

Franklin's father (Billy Graham) became less political as the years passed. He also toned down his earlier (1950s) hellfire Protestant fundamentalism, allowing, for instance, that Roman Catholics and other non-born again people might even be saved. During one of our meetings in the mid-1980s, Billy told my late father and me that he'd got burned by getting too close to Nixon and being identified with his policies and that he did not intend to be seen endorsing a political figure or cause again. In the 1970s Billy had even point-blank refused to become part of the antiabortion crusade we waged, no matter how often Dad and I begged him to join our "call to save babies." Billy said that we'd become "too political" and "too harsh." (He was right.)

By contrast, Franklin Graham became one of the shrillest of the Far Right Republican Party boosters and also a harsh anti-Islamic activist who capitalized on the post-9/11 political climate of fear that burgeoned, in many instances, into paranoia about the Muslim "other." Franklin disparaged Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion" that does not belong in the United States. And Franklin embraced overt politics. For instance, in an interview with Newsmax Television, Franklin was asked if he thought there was a "pattern of hostility to traditional Christianity by the Obama administration." "I don't know if it's exactly from President Obama," Graham responded, "but I'm certain that some of the men around him are very much opposed to what we stand for and what we believe."

Franklin continued, "It seems as though Muslims are getting a pass [from Obama]." In the same interview Franklin was asked about "secular oppression of Christians" in the United States. "No question, it's coming!" Graham said. "I think when you preach that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, I think we're going to see, one day, people will say this is hate speech!"

In 2010 Franklin even managed to get his father to sign a pro-Sarah Palin endorsement. There was something about that action that struck scarily close to home for me because in the 1970s and 1980s I was the Schaeffer version of a Franklin Graham, well positioned to succeed my father as a powerful Religious Right leader all the while goading my father into taking political stands he would have avoided otherwise. Tragically, I was the person who pushed my father into the antiabortion movement.

The more doubts I had, the farther to the Right I moved ideologically, as if shouting loudly enough and demonizing any who disagreed with me could solve my real problem: the growing realization that the Bible is horribly flawed.

And I think there was another factor in my tilt to the Right that might also have been the case with Franklin: Politics is sexier than mere evangelism.

The secret wish of every person dedicated to "full-time religious work" is to somehow be (or at least appear to be) relevant.

The history of theology (Christian or otherwise) is the history of people desperately trying to fit the way things actually are into the way their holy books say they should be. (Think of the billions of words written in tens of thousands of books on religion "explaining" pain and suffering in the light of God's purported goodness.)

There is another choice: To admit that the best of any religious tradition depends on the choices its adherents make on how to live despite what their holy books "say," not because of them. "But where would that leave me?" my former self would have asked. "I'd be adrift in an ocean of uncertainty." Yes, and perhaps that's the only honest place to be. Another name for uncertainty is humility. No one ever blew up a mosque, church, or abortion clinic after yelling, "I could be wrong."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Max Blumenthal Endorses my new book: "Sex, Mom and God"

"Schaeffer's latest blends a penetrating analysis of political extremism with a moving and at times hilarious account of his experience growing up in one of the Christian right's most influential families. With characteristic courage and sensitivity, Schaeffer brings the dark sexual obsessions of the movement into the light, describing the pathology behind its politics while exposing the damage it has done to designated enemies and naive followers alike. Few writers command Schaeffer's intimate understanding of right-wing radicalism, and even fewer are able to share their insight as entertainingly and with as much moral weight as he has in 'Sex, Mom, and God.'"

Max Blumenthal author of: Republican Gomorrah

Order Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway



(Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute. His book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Prologue to "Sex, Mom and God"

One of the things I love most about being with my grandchildren is that they only know me now. So before I explain why I had sex with an ice sculpture and how my family helped push the Republican Party into the embrace of the Religious Right and chronicle my family’s complicity in several murders, let me say that my granddaughter Lucy has just turned two. She, along with my three other grandchildren, is my second chance now that I’ve carved out a spiritual identity as dramatically eclipsing of my former self as if I’d disappeared into a witness protection program.

My four grandchildren, Amanda, Benjamin, Lucy, and Jack, notwithstanding, I’m still prone to label people and ideas as my mother labeled them. Mom divided everything into Very Important Things, say, Jesus, Virginity, Japanese Flower Arrangements, Lust, See-through Black Lingerie (to be enjoyed only after marriage), and everything else, say, those things that barely registered on my mother’s To-Do List, like home-schooling me. So I’ll be capitalizing some words oddly in this book, such as Sin, God, Love, and Girls, and also words like Him when referring to God. I’m not doing this as a theological statement but as a nervous tic, a leftover from my Edith Schaeffer–shaped childhood and also to signal what Loomed Large to my mother and what still Looms Large to me.

Blessedly, Lucy and Jack live only a few hundred feet up the street. I walk to their house every day and collect them for playtime. When it’s Lucy’s turn, she perches in my arms and talks to me. (Jack is six months old and pulls my nose and laughs a lot but isn’t saying much yet.) Lucy likes to be carried when we stroll back to “Ba and Nanna’s house.” (I’m “Ba” and my wife, Genie, is “Nanna.”) Lucy’s big brown eyes scan the eighteenth-century clapboard houses of our New England neighborhood to see which of the ubiquitous American flags are wrapped around their above the- front-door flagpoles “by the wind, Ba,” and which are waving free in the ocean breeze.

When we get to my house, Lucy commands me to read The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter. It’s a story about two deluded mice, Hunka Munka and Tom Thumb, who mistake a dollhouse dinner laid out in the dollhouse’s miniature dining room for real food. When they discover that the lovely looking ham, fish, and pudding can’t be eaten, they smash up the plaster “food” in revenge and then spitefully ransack the dollhouse.

When she wrote the book in 1904, Potter couldn’t have known that her classic story would someday be an allegory aptly illustrating the delusion suffered by members of the American Religious Right. Some people who helped lead that movement—including me—were very much like Hunka Munka and Tom Thumb. We lived lives informed by beliefs that were not based on fact and that led to deep-seated resentments that couldn’t be cured because what we resented never actually happened. We took it as a personal insult that the real world didn’t conform to the imagined religious“facts” that we’d been indoctrinated to believe in, and so we did our share of smashing.

My late father, Francis Schaeffer, was a key founder and leader of the Religious Right. My mother, Edith, was herself a spiritual leader, not the mere power behind her man, which she also was. Mom was a formidable and adored religious figure whose books and public speaking, not to mention biblical conditioning of me, directly and indirectly shaped millions of lives. For a time I joined my Dad in pioneering the Evangelical antiabortion Religious Right movement.

In the 1970s and early 1980s when I was in my twenties, I evolved into an ambitious, “successful” religious leader/instigator in my own right. And I wasn’t just Dad’s sidekick; I was also Mom’s collaborator in her mission to “reach the world for Jesus.” I changed my mind. I no longer ride around “saving” America for God, nor am I a regular on religious TV and radio these days. Nevertheless—like those two bad mice who later felt remorse and so put a “crooked sixpence” in the dolls’ Christmas stocking to pay for the damage they’d caused—I’m determined to acknowledge the destruction I contributed to before Lucy grows old enough to inherit the vandalized “dollhouse” that she’ll soon discover lurking beyond her childhood horizon...

Sex, Mom and God is available from Amazon and will be in bookstores everywhere by May 10.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Financial Times of London Reviews "Patience With God"

Patience with God

Review by John Cornwell

Published: March 14 2011 07:05 | Last updated: March 14 2011 07:05

click HERE to see original review

Patience with God: For People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism), by Frank Schaeffer, Da Capo, RRP£9.99, 256 pages

If you want to infuriate the so-called “new atheists”, taunt them with this quote from a Dostoevsky novel: “If God does not exist then everything would be permitted.” Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens vehemently denounced this sentence in their anti-God books (The God Delusion and God Is Not Great), because they resent the inference that without religion there can be no morality – and rightly so.

Frank Schaeffer is no atheist but he believes people can be good without God, and they can have “faith” without religion. Since Schaeffer doesn’t quite get around to defining what he means by religion, his point is somewhat elusive. But this beguiling ramble of essay and memoir is worth the effort: childhood in Switzerland, boarding school in Sussex, early adulthood as a born-again evangelist in America’s Bible belt, director of Hollywood B-movies.

Schaeffer eventually became a writer of novels on spiritual themes and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Now he has joined the Eastern Orthodox Church. I found this perplexing. The Orthodox Church is surely a form of organised religion; hence his real quarrel is not so much with religion per se, any more than with atheism per se. Rather he hates fundamentalism, whether religious or atheistic.

His argument becomes manifest in a discursive reflection around the public spat between Christopher Hitchens (atheist), and his brother Peter Hitchens (Christian). The brothers are, in Schaeffer’s view two peas from the same pod. Western Christianity and militant atheism, he argues, are both characterised by logic, rationality, dogma.

The Christianity of the East, which separated from Rome and western thinking a thousand years back, is marked by imagination, mystery and non-judgmental love. Eastern thinking does not seek to combat militant atheism with knock-down proofs, but rather with what Pascal calls “the reasons of the heart”.

Schaeffer insists, moreover, that the eastern church is a religion of Easter, the Resurrection, forgiveness; whereas the western churches are religions of Good Friday, sacrifice, punishment. I’m not sure that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who links Orthodox spirituality with Anglicanism, would agree; but I sympathise broadly with Schaeffer’s point. And I liked his citation of the early eastern Christian writer St John Chrysostom on the story of the prodigal son. When the prodigal returns and gets the big feast and reconciliation, the goody-goody stay-at-home brother is seething.

“You must remember,” writes Schaeffer, “that many Christians prepare for Easter by fasting, or at least we’re supposed to ... Yet Chrysostom declares that those who have not kept the fast – in other words, people like me – are equally welcome.”

The depressing thing about Schaeffer’s gentler Christianity, sans sin and Hell, is that the liberalising impetus in all three religions of the Book tends to incite conservatives to greater extremes of fundamentalism. The fear of the Christian west, and of rigorous Islam, is that liberalism means relativism: that one religion is as good, or as bad, as any other. And there lies apostasy, the decline of religion, and its eventual oblivion. The eastern Orthodox tradition, however, has fostered extensive pluralism, mainly based on ethnicity and local culture. The Russian Orthodox church, nevertheless, survived the long persecution of Soviet atheism to flourish anew after 1989.

Schaefer’s quiet endorsement might well signal a trend towards an eastern Christianity whose God is non-judgmental towards its doubting, erring prodigal children. Be that so, Schaeffer’s title, Patience with God, does not quite fit his thesis. His drift is more in praise of a God who is patient with us, rather than the other way around.

John Cornwell is author of ‘Newman’s Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint’ (Continuum)

(Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011. You may share using our article tools.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Muslim Like Me

By Frank Schaeffer

Until Peter King helped me understand I didn't know that my Religious Right father and me were both MUSLIMS! Now I know that the domestic terror we helped inspire - say the murder of abortion providers - made us part of an Islamic terror plot.

Turns out my late father, Francis Schaeffer, who was a key founder and leader of the Religious Right was (unknown to me back then) a MUSLIM! For a time I joined my Dad in pioneering the misnamed "Evangelical" antiabortion Religious Right movement. I changed my mind, as I describe in my new book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway

Thank God for one person in government willing to prove that all terrorists are Islamic by only investigating MUSLIMS for terror threats! Hence all domestic terror is - by definition - the work of MUSLIMS! Hense, Dad and I were MUSLIM activists.

Before the patriotic action taken by former IRA bomber-supporter Peter King, Dad and I might have been misunderstood, so might some other (okay lots of) people. So now we know that on the night of December 14, 2008, Bruce Turnidge who was in handcuffs and sitting next to an FBI agent in Turnidge's farmhouse in Oregon, was a... MUSLIM!

He was ranting about the "need" for militias and cursing the election of an African American president. Hours earlier, his son, Joshua - also as we now know thanks to Peter King, a MUSLIM! -- had been arrested for allegedly causing a fatal bomb explosion.

"Bruce started talking about the Second Amendment and citizens' rights to carry firearms," said George Chamberlin, the FBI agent. "Bruce talked at length that the government should fear the people and that the people should not fear the government."

According to press reports, people who knew Turnidge and his son said that they loved their guns, hated President Obama, and fantasized about starting a militia and a tent city in the woods for people who shared their radical MUSLIM beliefs. Prosecutors said that the Turnidges acted on that anger by planting a bomb that blew up inside a small-town bank in 2008, killing two police officers and maiming a third. Turnidge Senior lectured anyone who would listen about the need for citizens to be armed in order to defend their freedom, and he had cheered the Oklahoma City federal building bombing since that too was carried out as Jihad! His son shared similar MUSLIM views! Prosecutor Katie Suver said both men believed the Obama administration would crack down on their rights to own guns, and pray 5 times a day! The attack occurred about a month after Obama was elected.

In February 2010, a little more than a year after Obama's inauguration, the (little known) MUSLIM leader, Joseph Stack, a fifty-three-year-old software engineer, piloted a plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, and killed one innocent man and injured several others.

Before killing himself, Stack posted an online suicide note railing against the federal government and expressing grievances felt only by all MUSLIMS. A MUSLIM Facebook group celebrating Stack had thousands of members sign on almost instantly after he was "martyred for our freedoms," as one contributor called it. The site featured the Gadsden flag (the flag with the logo "Don't Tread On Me") and these words: "Finally an American MUSLIM man took a stand against our tyrannical government that no longer follows the constitution and the KORAN -- and turned its back on its MUSLIM founding fathers and the beliefs this country was founded on."

In March 2010 the so-called Hutaree Militia, a right-wing, biblically inspired fundamentalist group, was alleged to have hatched a plot to kill police officers. Members had planned attacks on police officers as a way of acting out their hatred for the government as well as a way to launch the civil chaos "predicted" in (as we now know) MUSLIM End Times biblical prophecies. (Had it not been for Peter King Christians might have been blamed!)

Following the election of our first black president, the "politics" of the Evangelical, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Mormon Far Right was not the politics of a loyal opposition, but rather the instigation of revolution, which means they must all BE MUSLIMS TOO! And so must Rush Limbaugh be a MUSLIM! He advocated treason when even before President Obama took office he said, "I hope Obama fails!"

In a country awash in weapons and wallowing in the rhetoric of MUSLIM rebellion against an "evil" government, sporadic outbursts of murder tinged with political overtones seem as inevitable as they seem horribly "normal." It doesn't seem like much of a stretch to foresee a day when a right-wing "secessionist" group and/or members of some "militia"--let alone one lone individual--will team up with America's Islamist enemies. Such co-belligerents already hate and fear the same "enemy": the U.S. government. Until now most of theses groups, say all those state secessionist groups were hiding behind the false front of pretending to be Christians! No more! IRA terror supporter (thus an expert) Peter King has shown us they are all MUSLIMS!

My family played a part in this MUSLIM TERROR PLOT. Here's a bit from Dad's writing (in his 1985) book A Christian Manifesto) on how the government was "taking away" our country and turning it over to Liberals, codenamed by Dad as "this total humanistic way of thinking":

"There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate. A true Christian in Hitler's Germany and in the occupied countries should have defied the false and counterfeit state. This brings us to a current issue that is crucial for the future of the church in the United States, the issue of abortion. It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God's law it abrogates its authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation."

Dad's followers were told that (1) force is a legitimate weapon to use against an evil government; (2) America was like Hitler's Germany--because of legal abortion and of the forcing of "Humanism" on the population--and thus intrinsically evil; and (3) whatever would have been the "appropriate response" to stop Hitler was now appropriate to do here in America to stop our government, which Dad had just branded a "counterfeit state."

Dad's books sailed under the radar of the major media, which weren't paying much attention to MUSLIM religious books despite the powerful influence they were having on the (secretly well hidden MUSLIM) direction of American politics.

Manifesto sold more than 1 million copies in Evangelical bookstores to Evangelicals who didn't yet know they were all MUSLIM terror suspects for supporting the terrorist "pro-life" movement.

It also set the stage for countless acts of civil disobedience and antiabortion vandalism. The book became the "Bible" for such activist antiabortion groups as Operation Rescue and for Far Right leaders like Dr. James Dobson (of the Focus on the Family ministry), who would (from then on) often quoted from Dad's (and my) books on air.

And Manifesto was far from unique. It was just the first drop of what would become a river of Religious Right (and secular right-wing) books, radio shows, and TV programs viciously blaming "Liberals" and the U.S. government for all that was wrong in America. Now it turns out that all of us were MUSLIMS!

Dad and I contributed to a government-is-the-enemy climate in which eventually Timothy McVeigh found it thinkable to bomb the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. We had no personal connection to McVeigh, and he'd probably never heard of us, but some of our followers did kill abortion providers.

In the 1970s to mid 1980s Dad and I both visited several of our antiabortion "troops," as Dad called them, in various jails serving sentences for blocking access to clinics. And Paul Hill, a Reconstructionist Presbyterian minister had read and loved Dad's antiabortion books before Hill murdered Dr. John Britton and James Barrett (an abortion provider and his security escort) in 1994.

James Kopp, who shot Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998, had written to Dad. And (as I've noted) Dad and I were close to the radical elements that started Operation Rescue, and they in turn were the breeding ground for individuals who began to break the law. They too, must have all been MUSLIMS!

As I said, the same sort of "discourse" we'd used to denounce abortion when calling it "murder" and to predict that euthanasia and infanticide were going to be the "next step" resurfaced with a vengeance during the Obama presidency. Turns out the people screaming about that must all be MUSLIMS too since they trashed meetings, threatened people and carried on just like an ISLAMIC mob!

Some anti-Obama agitators even seemed to be trawling for assassins. For instance, one group started selling a Psalms 109:8 anti-Obama bumper sticker that read "Let his days be few; and let another take his office." The underlying message was clear, at least to anyone raised in a Bible-believing uh... I mean... KORAN-believing, home. The next verse in that Psalm reads, "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

Who knew that Dad and I and all these other people were actually MUSLIMS?!

Who knew that the Bible is actually the KORAN?!

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway

Friday, March 4, 2011

To Dress a Cat-- God vs. Dawkins Et Al.

This post first appeared on the Huffington Post. I was struck by how thin skinned the response was from people identifying themselves as atheists. Here's my question readers of my blog site: Why are today's atheists so thin skinned? (Check out the response on Huff Post HERE)

By Frank Schaeffer

The "debate" about God is hopeless, as unsatisfying as trying to dress a cat. When religious people and/or atheists talk about God and/or pit science against God they are expressing their psychological need for certainty, not indulging in anything that could be described as an intellectual debate.

They aren't talking about God (if any) but rather referring to the "God" of the Bible (or other religious books), as opposed to whatever might really be out there -- or not.

The discussion isn't about God but about what the "Bible says" (or the Koran or whatever else says) about one conception of God. And that may or may not be about God since there is no reason to take anything any religious book "says" seriously, let alone literally -- unless it corresponds to some deeper truth we've experienced ourselves about how to treat others.

I come from an evangelical background. (I describe why I quit that background and the the right wing politics of my youth in my book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics -- and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.) So given my background I'll stick to a look at the Christian attitude to the scriptures here.

The Bible "Says..."

Most Christians who say they "believe in God" really mean they believe in the Bible. As I describe in my book Sex, Mom and God that is how it was in my family. Most believers' starting point (say my religious leader father's starting point) is a book and a belief in something called revelation in that book -- in other words in magic -- not a belief in the person or persons or force or forces that we/they mean when they use the word "God."

The so-called New Atheists do the same thing evangelical Christians, like my parents, did. For the New Atheists it's also all about a book and/or dumb people's dumb actions, not God. They say they are debating about God but really are only attacking religion and religious books -- say the Bible or the Koran -- and/or that actions of people taken in the name of those books, and think they have successfully attacked the idea of the existence of God.

Is There An Alternative to the Circular Atheist vs. Religion "Debate"?

Maybe the best thing a believer in God can do is to declare that a lot of the Bible is hate-filled blasphemy -- against any actual God.

Maybe the best thing an atheist can do is admit that the question of God has nothing to do with religion, let alone with the actions of religious people.

This possibility undermines most "arguments" for atheism made by most "professional atheists." It also renders all theology, let alone doctrine, irrelevant.

The books written by New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris attack God by attacking religion. But that's not an argument that even begins to address the question of God or some other outside power's meddling in the formation of the universe, let alone first causes in cosmology pre-Big Bang.

Conversely the "arguments" put forth by evangelicals and others take the Bible as a starting point which makes everything they say as irrelevant as that book is.

The New Atheists' arguments make sense only as attacks on religion while the evangelicals' "defense" of God makes sense only as a defense of the Bible.

When it comes to the atheists' attack on religion, there's plenty to attack. But who says religion as practiced today, let alone as "revealed" in so called holy books, has anything to do with any actual Creator, Force or Final Reality outside of the cosmos?

When it comes to all the little questions like evolution and morals etc -- and I mean "little questions" in the sense that these are fluid details of our existence not THE question of origins and cosmology -- almost everyone is battling over a silly book or silly people's actions, not over God. And/or they are battling over what has been done in the name of religion or the name of secularity, not over any actual God.

Is Stalin an "Argument" Against Atheism?

What the Bible "says" about creation, or the fact that Christians went on crusades or that Stalin was horribly evil etc., means nothing when it comes to the actual existence or non-existence of God. That the Bible is stupid in places proves nothing about belief in God. That Stalin (an avowed atheist) was a monster proves nothing about atheism's truth or non-truth.

All the atheist vs. God charges and counter charges prove is that humans are dumb and evil and follow self-evidently stupid books and leaders. All any of this "discussion" proves is that there has been no moral evolution of humans that we can see. There are no good guys or bad guys, there's just us.

The Only Two God "Issues"

There are only two questions that actually mean anything related to God: the quest for meaning and the quest for love.

It is our human need that points to something "outside" and transcendent, not a book or a theory.

If there is a God then what we believe -- or not -- about Him, Her or It, is neither here nor there. Even less relevant is our sincerity. The same goes for science. All science is, is the naming and describing of what is there. Reality was doing fine before it was named or described.

Faith and/or Atheism is a Psychological Need

For whatever reasons humans seem to have a need that makes us confuse our ability to describe what we see or interpret -- as we believe this or that about what is outside of us -- with the actual reality of what is out there. But whatever reality is is that way without our help.

Non-Rational Is Rational

If there is a God then belief in that God will be non-rational because whatever that God is, is by definition, outside of the cosmos and therefore outside of anything or anyone in the cosmos and their/our ability to describe it.

"Non-rational" isn't the same as irrational. (This point has often been made well by writer Chris Hedges.) The only irrational thing we can say about God is that we can describe Him, Her, or It and/or say that there is no God.

It is irrational because we're making statements about what is outside of the cosmos as if we can or could know anything about that.

In that sense all religion is irrational and so is all atheism. Both begin and end with a false claim of certainty. (This point is well argued in a forthcoming book by Vincent Bugliosi, Divinity of Doubt.)

Can We "Know" God?

If there is a God our best road to that indescribable THING, PERSON or FORCE is through our daily non-rational experience of life, not through our ideas about that life.

The actual experience of love and beauty, longing for meaning and empathy can't be described or pinned down. These are non-rational, but not unreal, feelings.

Brain chemistry can name the chemicals that give us those feelings but that doesn't mean we understand why we have any feelings at all and don't merely exist in ignorant mute contentment and free from memory, greif and poignant nostalgia.


The whole "debate" between faith and reason misses the point because it is really a debate between the track record of what religious believers have done in the name of stupid religions (i.e., slavery) and what science has done in the name of stupid certainties (i.e., eugenics).

This argument is an irrational debate driven by our psychological need for certainties that can't ever be attained. It is a debate about human behavior (and books written by humans), but not about God.

Whatever is outside our cosmos is outside our understanding and doing fine -- or not -- with or without us. On the other hand I love my children and grandchildren beyond description. I am moved by music, art, film and literature. I have empathy for strangers. So do you.

And none of that means any less because these things are experienced more deeply than they can be rationally described. They are non-rational but not stupid.

And that is where -- in my opinion -- religious liturgy has a place: It helps us express the inexpressible. It is not about "correct" belief but about humanizing experience that "teaches" by doing. It also provides community.

As for my specific experience of religious community it happens these days in the liturgical context of the Greek Orthodox church my wife and I attend. To me that is not "the" path but a path where I may encounter both community and a liturgical experience that comforts an unanswerable longing.

As for the place of the person of Jesus in my experiential life some of his words or the words of whomever said them and attributed them to Jesus, reflect what I think is the best articulated truth of what makes sense to live by as a human: blessed are the peacemakers.

Love and meaning are intertwined, and the fact that love and meaning are beyond our descriptions gives me hope that there may actually be a larger reality that, for lack of a better term, we call God.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book (in stores May 7) is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why Evangelicals Enabled the Corporate Takeover of the Republican Party

(This article is also posted on Huffington Post)

If you accept just one given about today's Republican Party then I can explain why they seem bent on dismantling the U.S. government, unions (in places like Wisconsin) and defunding everything from high speed rail and NPR to Planned Parenthood.

Here's the "given":

The most powerful block in the base of the Republican Party are religious conservatives -- mostly Evangelicals.

So when you want to know why the Republicans are willing to destroy American jobs, the economy and the environment, all in the name of "small government" look no farther for "motivation" than the preoccupations of the Evangelicals that have been growing more and more irrational ever since the 1970s. Back then I was sidekick to my Evangelical leader father (Francis Schaeffer) and then became a "leader" in my own right in the antiabortion movement, until I changed my mind and got out.

And yes, much talked about "corporate interests" dominate the Republican Party agenda, but the question is-- why do the foot soldiers who are most of the Republican voters go along with the billionaire's agenda?

In my new book Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway (in stores May 7) I describe what happened to religion in America due to sexual politics, hypocritical double standards and finally... insanity. But here's a thumbnail sketch for now:

What's so curious is that in this religion-inflicted country of ours, the same Evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics, and others who have been running around insisting that America had a "Christian foundation" and demanding a "return to our heritage" and/or more recently trashing health care reform as "communist" have ignored the fact that one great contribution of historic Christianity was a commitment to strong central government. For instance, as early as the fourth century, this included church support for state-funded, or state-church-funded, charities, including hospitals.

Government was seen as part of "God's plan" for creating social justice and defending the common good. Christians were once culture-forming and culture-embracing people. Even the humanism preached by the supposedly "anti-Christian" Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century was, in fact, a Deist/Christian "heresy," with a value system espousing human dignity borrowed wholesale from a once religious/biblical ethical system.

In the scorched-earth era of the "health care reform debates" of 2009 and beyond, Evangelicals seemed to believe that Jesus commanded that all hospitals (and everything else) should be run by corporations for profit, just because corporations weren't the evil government.

The Right even decided that it was "normal" for the state to hand over its age-old public and patriotic duties to private companies -- even for military operations ("contractors"), prisons, health care, public transport, and all the rest.

The Religious Right/Far Right et al. favored private "facts," too. They claimed that global warming wasn't real. They asserted this because scientists (those same agents of Satan who insisted that evolution was real) were the ones who said human actions were changing the climate. Worse, the government said so, too!

"Global warming is a left-wing plot to take away our freedom!"

"Amtrak must make a profit!"

Even the word "infrastructure" lost its respectability when government had a hand in maintaining roads, bridges, and trains.

In denial of the West's civic-minded, government-supporting heritage, Evangelicals (and the rest of the Right) wound up defending private oil companies but not God's creation, private cars instead of public transport, private insurance conglomerates rather than government care of individuals.

The price for the Religious Right's wholesale idolatry of private everything is that in today's America Christ's reputation is now tied to a cynical political party "owned" by billionaires.

It only remained for a Far Right Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to rule in 2010 that unlimited corporate money could pour into political campaigns -- anonymously -- in a way that clearly favored corporate America and the superwealthy, who were now the only entities served by the Republican Party. So on January 21, 2010, a decades-old system of rules that governed the financing of the nation's elections was overturned in the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. The Supreme Court decision on corporate spending in political races thereby allowed the big corporations to call the shots on these elections (anonymously!).

To the old-fashioned conservative mantra "Big government doesn't work," the radicalized Evangelicals (and their Roman Catholic co-belligerents) have added "The U.S. government is evil!"

And the very same community -- Protestant American Evangelicals -- who once were the bedrock supporters of public education, and voted for such moderate and reasonable union-friendly leaders such as President Dwight Eisenhower, became the enemies of not only the public schools but also of anything in the (nonmilitary) public sphere "run by the government."

As they opened new institutions (proudly outside the mainstream), the Evangelicals doing this "reclaiming" cast themselves in the role of persecuted exiles. (As I describe in my new book Sex, Mom and God I was part of this uprising in the 1970s and 80s).

What they never admitted was that they -- we -- were self-banished from mainstream institutions, not only because the Evangelicals' political views on social issues conflicted with most people's views, but also because Evangelicals (and other conservative religionists) found themselves holding the short end of the intellectual stick.

Science marched forth, demolishing fundamentalist "facts" with dispassionate argument. So science also became an enemy. Rather than rethink their beliefs, conservative religionists decided to renounce secular higher education and denounce it as "elitist."

Thus, to be uninformed, even willfully and proudly ignorant (Palin), came to be considered a Godly virtue. And since misery loves company, the Evangelicals' quest, for instance when Evangelicals dominated the Texas textbook committees, was to strive to "balance" the teaching of evolution with creationism and damn the facts.

In the minds of Evangelicals, they were recreating the Puritan's self-exile from England by looking for a purer and better place, this time not a geographical "place" but a sanctuary within their minds (and in inward-looking schools and churches) undisturbed by facts.

Like the Puritans, the post-1970s Evangelicals (and many other conservative Christians) withdrew from the mainstream (homeschool movement etc.,) not because they were forced to but because the society around them was, in their view, fatally sinful and, worse, addicted to facts rather than to faith.

And yet having "dropped out" (to use a 1960s phrase), the Evangelicals nevertheless kept on demanding that regarding "moral" and "family" matters the society they'd renounced nonetheless had to conform to their beliefs.

The Evangelical foot soldiers never realized that the logic of their "stand" against government -- often motivated by so-called pro-life issues -- has played into the hands of people who never cared about human lives beyond the fact that people could be sold products. By the twenty first century, Ma and Pa No-Name were still out in the rain holding an "Abortion is Murder!" sign in Peoria and/or standing in line all night in some godforsaken mall in Kansas City to buy a book by Sarah Palin and have it signed. But it was the denizens of the corner offices at Goldman Sachs, the News Corporation, Koch Industries, Exxon, and Halliburton who were laughing.

...And that is "why" the Republicans are lashing out at unions, government, and at anything "collective" in fact at anything that diminishes the fact-free go-it-alone "ethos" of todays embittered Evangelicals. Their real war is with modernity, facts, science and progress. But since religious conservatives choose to live in an imaginary and magical "universe" and can't turn back the clock to a time when everyone else did to -- say the thirteenth century -- they'd rather see the whole fabric of our civil society shredded rather than reconsider their most cherished beliefs.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway