Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My New Book (Out Very Soon)

Subject line: Note From Frank Schaeffer about my new book



Hi: Frank Schaeffer Here: I wanted you to know that Patience With God -- Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism) will be in bookstores in a few weeks now. If you are going to get this book please help me out by doing so early so that bookstores get behind it.

You may also order today from Amazon at:
http://www.amazon.com/Patience-God-People-Religion-Atheism/dp/030681854X/ref=pd_sim_b_3

or from your Independent bookstore at:

http://www.indiebound.org/


Here are some comments on "Patience" ....

"Frank Schaeffer is a patient writer but a passionate one too. This beautiful argumentative and even funny book is popular theology at its best, an explanation of tradition and its absence from a man who has lived both, a writer who knows better than most that God -- whether you do or don't believe -- is always a brilliant story."
Jeff Charlet, New York Times best selling author of "The Family."

"Ever feel straitjacketed by the Church? Convinced that God can't be put in a box? You've got to read Frank Schaeffer's explanation of why you're not alone, and how contradictions can be a paradox to be celebrated.&nb sp;You'll be intellectually challenged and spiritually heartened by his life story and lessons learned."
Richard Cizik, President, The New Evangelicals, Fellow, The Open Society Institute

"Patience With God does more than celebrate the gift of paradox-it's a feast for those hungering for something truly greater than themselves and their own ideas."
Charles E. Moore, editor, "Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard"

"With remarkable skill Schaeffer exposes the flaws of fundamentalists and atheists alike, only to reveal the true meaning of faith."
Patricia Fernández-Kelly, Princeton University

"Patience With God gives us voice, it validates our experiences, it starts a conversation-one that has been needed for a long, long time."
John F. DeFelice, University of Maine at Presque Isle

"Patience With God presents an alternative that we would do well not to ignore. It is an appeal for sanity, compassion, tolerance, and authentic spirituality."
Reverend Antony Hughes, St. Mary Orthodox Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts

"A meditation on the follies of religious and atheist fundamentalism . . . [Schaeffer's] criticisms . . . are on target."
Kirkus Reviews

in bookstores soon or order from:

http://www.indiebound.org/

or
http://www.amazon.com/Patience-God-People-Religion-Atheism/dp/030681854X/ref=pd_sim_b_3

If you want to contact me do so at frankaschaeffer@aol.com

Very Best,

Frank

PS. I'm putting together my speaking schedule for this fall, winter and spring so please let me know if you have an ideas on that.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When Freedom Is a Dirty Word

Note first published on Huffington Post


On what had to be one of the most disheartening media appearances I've ever made -- in terms of my usual shtick as an author and commentator -- I was just on Court TV yesterday. Court TV was fine. The case we were talking about made me want to throw up.

I was commentating on Oregon v. Carl and Raylene Worthington, involving Christian fundamentalist parents who refused to give their child medical care on the basis of their trust in faith healing. (I was invited because as a former Religious Right leader -- long since departed from that shadow land -- they thought I'd bring an "inside" perspective.)

The Worthington's fifteen-month-old little girl died surrounded by her parents and other members of their congregation praying for healing. No one called 911. As far as I'm concerned they used their daughter the way Islamic suicide bombers sometimes use children to carry their bombs.

When right-wing evangelical Christians say they fear government death panels and a "takeover of medicine" by the federal government it seems strange to me that what they fear the federal government might do would be to save people like this child's life. So much for the "pro-life" community.

I just wish the government really would take over health care, and for that matter remove children from any family that is crazy enough to deny care to a minor. And while they're at it they should curb the rights of redneck loons to carry loaded weapons into public meetings.

In fact it's time to roll back the extremes of freedom in freedom's name.

The religious right, the gun-carrying paranoids all have one thing in common: they are taking a libertarian/religious view to an extreme that will unhinge this country. It's time to make certain types of freedom a dirty word.

Here's the case as it was laid out for me by the folks at Court TV:

Carl and Raylene Worthington are lifelong members of Followers of Christ, a controversial religious group which doesn't believe in using medical doctors. (Children have died in this group before who needed medical care.) On March 2, 2008, their 15-month-old daughter Ava died at home after she developed pneumonia. The Worthingtons were indicted by a grand jury for not providing adequate medical care.

On Sunday, March 2, 2008, 15-month-old Ava Worthington took her last breath at approximately 7:15 p.m. as her parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, along with a host of members of the Followers of Christ Church, prayed for her recovery.

The "healing," which took approximately 45 minutes, began sometime near 6:00 p.m. According to the Worthingtons and church members a short time later, (estimates range from 15-30 minutes), Ava died in the master bedroom of the family home. Following church practices, the infant was anointed and the county medical examiner's office was called to report the death.

In July of 2009, Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Maurer today announced the verdicts in the trial of Carl and Raylene Worthington. They both faced manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges. Raylene Worthington was acquitted of both charges; Carl Worthington was convicted of a criminal mistreatment charge.

How can this happen in America?

Make no mistake about it, there is a scarily large subculture within our society that, in terms of its "life values," is utterly hypocritical. At the recent so-called Values Voter Summit (September 22, 2009) held by the top Republicans and their Religious Right supporters where were the protests against bad parenting where crimes are committed in the name of God?

Where were the speeches against gun-toting nuts?

Nowhere.

Because the Religious Right is not religious or conservative: they are nihilists. Call 911 for that child? No! Arrest someone for carrying a loaded weapon to a presidential meeting place? Don't tread on me! I have rights!

Every day the "family values" religious extremest chip away at actual family values, and not just when they're letting little children die of neglect in the name of God. The evangelical/fundamentalist America within the ordinary everyday decent caring America is largely responsible for banning, effectively curtailing or harassing and minimizing effective sex education in our schools. This leads directly to a far higher incidence of abortion. This same group has now turned its collective will against reforming our health care system in a way that would give women and children an opportunity to have access to family care that would not just reduce the incidence of abortion but the incidence of mortality in everything from childhood diabetes to lacking prenatal care.

If ever a case pointed to the fact that we need government intervention in the curtailing of our insane levels of "religious freedom" the Worthington case is a perfect example.

It's time that all American children "belonging" to fundamentalist extremists come under the care of the state. It's time that all children are guaranteed an education wherein they will be taught facts rather than religious mythology. It is time to look at child-hurting homeschoolers and demand a curriculum that is fact-based.

With the Republican Party in the grip of the Religious Right it did everything in its power to turn the case of Terri Schiavo into a circus fraught with political "family values" overtones. Where were they as baby Worthington died -- killed by faith in God?

Thousands of children in this country are raised in everything from polygamous child-abusing religious communes to homes where medical care is denied because of "religious freedom." Tens of thousands more are beaten according to the teachings of James Dobson and his pro-corporal punishment child-intimidation manuals. Where is the law?

Religious freedom means freedom to worship in the Church of your choosing and -- after your're 18 -- to believe anything you want. Before you're 18, society should protect you. Freedom in the hands of fools is becoming a dirty word. It is time to reconnect with reality and real family values, free from abusive religion.

em>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)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

PATIENCE WITH GOD (Prologue)

The book will be in stores Oct 20, meanwhile here's the Prologue for my blog readers... (Note: this is the pre-copy edit version)

PROLOGUE

Why This Book May Not Be What You Expect


So let others admire and extol him who claims to be able to comprehend Christianity. . . . I regard it then as a plain duty to admit that one neither can nor shall comprehend it. The Sickness Unto Death, Søren Kierkegaard


When I place my five-month-old granddaughter Lucy on a blanket on my kitchen table, and I help her stretch by rubbing her feet, legs, and arms in what my wife Genie calls “Lucy’s Grandpa spa,” everything fades away—bills, the economy, who got elected, even the background “sound track” of my impending doom, that ticking clock of aging, never too far below the surface these days. Lucy loves stretching after her naps. She smiles and looks into my eyes with such contentment that I feel transported to a place beyond time and reckoning where nothing exists but my hunger to reward this little girl’s love.

I find myself praying, “Lord, may none but loving arms ever hold her.” That prayer has nothing to do with theology. I’d pray it whether I believed there is a God or not, for the same reason that on a lovely spring morning when I’m looking at the view of the river that flows past our home I sometimes exclaim, “That’s beautiful!” out loud, even when I’m alone.

Genie and I offered my son John and his wife Becky a place to live while they got on their feet financially. It has been a long haul since John unexpectedly volunteered to serve in the Marines right out of high school, was deployed to war several times, returned home, concluded his time of service, went to the University of Chicago, married Becky, graduated from U of C with honors, had Lucy, and started a new job. This is the son I was on my knees praying for while he was being shot at. He came home! My son’s baby daughter Lucy is in my arms! Life is sweet! When I hold Lucy, belief in God seems natural.

Why do I write about faith and/or include religion and religious people in so many of my books? What’s it to me if I disagree with the New Atheists and with religious fundamentalists? First, one writes about the life one has experienced. I’ve lived religion. Second, I don’t like to be forced to choose between lousy alternatives. Third, I think that I keep writing about faith because my faith needs affirmation.

One person running around shouting “Jesus saves!” or throwing stones at the Devil while circling a large black rock, or proposing that science is the alternative to religion sometimes appears crazy, even to himself or herself. Fill a church with a thousand people moaning, “Lord have mercy,” or pack a million pilgrims on their hajj around that rock, or fill a classroom with students applauding someone’s declaration of atheism, and each member of the group can say to himself or herself, “So many of us can’t be wrong! There must be something to this!”

Speaking of God, there are thousands of books hanging around in my house worrying me. In those books are tens of millions of words. None of those words (including these) explain why the greatest pleasure that I experience during any given day is when I lose myself in the small yet overwhelming presence of my granddaughter. Caring for Lucy feels as if I’m diving through warm, crystal clear water above some shimmering Mediterranean reef. Body temperature and water match. Everything is stunningly beautiful. I disappear. The usual selfish “me” that is the sum total of my genes and/or God/Mom/Dad/whatever–induced worries, is temporarily forgotten.

The experience evokes the fondest of childhood memories, of being once again truly carefree, as I was when my family traveled by train each year from our home in Switzerland to Portofino, Italy, where we vacationed, where sand and sea, freedom to wander, and the blood-warm water and languid pace of life left such a lasting impression of joy that the childhood memory of “my” Italy defines happiness for me fifty years later. So it is with Lucy; I stop worrying when I hold her, and simply am.

Thanking someone for Lucy seems natural to me. I pray even though I’m a “faith person” who often wishes he weren’t. I’m sick of religion for the same reason that I’m tired of my body, how it’s getting old, how every morning when I wake up, the dreary realization crashes in: I’m still me. Sick of being me or not, I still brush my teeth, take a daily vitamin, stick to my low-dose aspirin regimen, drink red wine because I like it and it’s better for me than white wine, and get colonoscopies from time to time. I still go to church, too, regardless of the fact that I get dumb hate emails signed “in Christ,” blasting me for everything from my support of President Obama to my having fled my evangelical/fundamentalist roots and
the Republican Party.

This is a book for those of us who have faith in God in the same way we might have the flu, less a choice than a state of being in spite of doubt, in spite of feeling wounded by past religious contagion, in spite of our declared agnosticism or even atheism, in spite of the sorts of idiots like me who are attracted to or, more accurately, bred to, religion and run around defending and /or criticizing it. This book is part of a conversation, not a sermon. I’ve written it the way faith in God, and everything else, happens, to me. Happens is the right word. In Hollywood when I used to work as a movie director, the producers always wanted an “arc” to the story. The worse the script was, and the more formulaic, the more obvious the arc. There was a beginning, a middle and an end; good guys and bad guys; first, second, and third “acts” leading to the conclusion. But faith in God, and great movies made by the greatest directors (of whom I certainly was never one) such as Bob Altman and Federico Fellini, don’t string along like cars of a train or come in tidy packages. They are a
slice of life, not a story about life.

My only promise is that I’m trying to tell the truth about my slice of life as I see it, even when the best I can do is to say that I don’t know the answers. So there are ideas here but also stories memoir and memory of what shaped the person writing down the ideas. That means we jump from ideas to stories that could be from a novel about the person writing the essay. Don’t be surprised by these twists and turns. This is how conversations go. This is what life, rather than false “arcs,” is like.

In Part I, the first chapters are a critique of the New Atheists. The next chapters are a critique of the religious fundamentalists. Then in Part II, I write about my experiences related to faith or lack of faith in God, and the evolving nature of what I describe as the catalysts that may take us to whatever the next stages of our personal and communal spiritual evolution may be.

Bob Altman said of his movie directing that “accidents are what push the ‘truth button.’” I’ve tried not to edit out those accidents, even in the parts of this book that tend to essay style. In other words, this book is for those of us who are stuck feeling that there is more to life than meets the eye, whatever we call ourselves or say we believe. Or put it this way: If an angel showed up outside my office window and explained “everything” to me, I’d simultaneously question my sanity, be scared as hell, and feel mightily relieved, because
believing in invisible things is tough.

I’m not the only person wrestling with issues of meaning, religion, and purpose. You will find a small sample here of the several thousands of emails from my readers who have been responding to my writing, radio, and TV interviews and lectures about religion, politics, and society. Their emails, including the following note, inspired me to write this book. (I’ve omitted names to protect privacy and have indicated trims by ellipses. And each email represents many similar to it.)

Hello, Mr. Schaeffer. I watched your Princeton lecture. I found it interesting, but I learned nothing of your new religious beliefs, except that you enjoy Greek Orthodox liturgy. I presume you still avow some form of Christianity.


I do still avow some form of Christianity in spite of my doubts, the attack on faith by the New Atheists, and the “certainties” of the religious fundamentalists who claim their way is the only truth, which is another way to attack faith because it drives people away from experiencing God. I believe that the ideological opposites I’ll be talking about—atheism and fundamentalist religion—often share the same fallacy: truth claims that reek of false certainties. I also believe that there is an alternative that actually matches the way life is lived rather than how we usually talk about belief. I call that alternative “hopeful uncertainty.”

My hopeful uncertainty will either resonate with you eliciting a “me too” and “been there” or not. I am not trying to make converts. If what I write resonates, it will be because we’ve shared certain experiences, for instance your own childhood stories and your own love for a friend, lover, or a husband or wife, children, and grandchildren, not because I convince you of anything. I offer no proofs. There are none. When talking about the unknowable, pretending to have the facts is about as useful as winning a medal from the Wizard of Oz. In this game—the meaning game—it’s all about intuition, hope, and the experience of life, a letting go of all concepts, words, and theologies because they can only be metaphors and hinder our experience of the truth as it is—not as we desire, believe, or hope it might or should be, but as it is.

Before continuing I have several disclosures to make. To begin with, I have a vested interest in keeping faith in God relevant. Also, I’ll be talking about religion but concentrating on Christianity. That is the tradition I know a little about, having been raised by evangelical/ fundamentalist American missionaries.

As a young man in the early 1970s I did a really stupid thing and stopped painting, drawing, and sculpting, thus truncating what was becoming a promising art career. I’d had successful shows in New York, Geneva, and London by the time I was twenty-two. I got greedy for a faster track with a steadier income, and I became my parents’ (Francis and Edith Schaeffer) sidekick. I then became a leader in my own right on the big-time evangelical/fundamentalist circuit after we Schaeffers got famous—famous within the evangelical/ fundamentalist ghetto, that is.

By the early 1980s, at the height of my involvement in the evangelical/ fundamentalist religious right, I was invited to preach from Jerry Falwell’s pulpit, appeared many times on The 700 Club with Pat Robertson, and met privately with many of the top Republican leadership of the day. In the midst of these heady experiences I began to change my mind about what I believed, and not just about religion but about politics too.

By the mid-1980s I began the process of escaping my family’s literal-minded religion and the political causes that had become indistinguishable from it. I went to Hollywood, directed four indifferent to- pretty-terrible R-rated feature films, quit the movie business, and then started to write novels in the early 1990s. I received encouragement from the critics and my readers. I’ve been a “secular” full time writer of both fiction and nonfiction ever since.

Although I’m no longer proselytizing, I’ve profitably (in every sense of that word) mined the divine mother lode of my background through my Calvin Becker trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma and also in Baby Jack (where God shows up as an African American Marine drill instructor
on Parris Island), not to mention my memoir Crazy for God. As my religion-preoccupied writing demonstrates, one can run from a religion but can never entirely escape.

I not only grew up in the fevered atmosphere of an American religious commune—L’Abri Fellowship (located in Switzerland of all places)—but at age ten I was sent to an evangelical British boys boarding school called Great Walstead, where I encountered an easygoing and refreshingly new to me, Anglican-derived faith that embodied a level of religious tolerance I wasn’t familiar with. Later in life the memory of that encounter shaped my sense that there might be better alternatives to the strict fundamentalism I was raised on. It may also be one reason why, much, much later when in midlife, I discovered that sacrament-based liturgical worship was a comfortable fit for me and I joined the Greek Orthodox Church.

So please note, as I conclude this disclosure, that my only “qualification” for meditating on faith in God is no more than the better part of a lifetime spent thinking about faith and reading about religion (and a few other things) and then living among, and then fleeing, the faithful. I’m with Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard when he says of Christianity that “one neither can nor shall comprehend it.”

Kierkegaard’s view was closer to many of the early Church Fathers— in other words, to the first leaders in the early Christian Church (during the first to sixth centuries) than it is to today’s fundamentalists. Until I was on my way out of my evangelical/fundamentalist subculture and actually read a little church history and some of the writings from the earliest Christians, I assumed that older is always stricter. In the case of the Christian religion, this is not so. It’s mostly the later eras of Christianity that produced the most rules-based approach to faith, something like the transition from the sixties and early seventies to the “Reagan eighties,” as hippies got haircuts and put on suits and turned out to be more middle class and “bourgeois” than their parents.

So for people who think that Christianity was strict, literalistic and fundamentalist and filled with nothing but rules and regulations from the beginning and that a more “mystical,” “tolerant,” “progressive,” or “liberal” approach to faith is a lax modern phenomenon, the writings of some of the most important early Christian figures are a startling wake-up call. For instance, one fourth-century ascetic—Evagrius Ponticus—was a revered spiritual leader. He led by example rather than by official standing because he was not a bishop. Writing in The Gnostikos, he made this anti-fundamentalist statement: “Do not define the Deity: for it is only of things which are made or are composite that there can be definitions.”

Speaking of “the Deity,” I have a love-hate relationship with God—well, actually not with God (as Evagrius said, who knows anything about that?) but with the people who have tried to define God in ways that the more tolerant earlier Christians didn’t. My love-hate relationship is with fundamentalists who say they believe in God and with people who are so sure there is no God that they’ve turned atheism into just another brow-beating religion. That means I have a love-hate relationship with myself, because I find both sides of the faith/no faith debate coexisting within me. Those “sides” are expressed well by juxtaposing the following emails from two men with very different viewpoints:

Frank: Any religious faith is nothing more than an adult fairytale. . . . Now I admit that I may be wrong . . . you may enjoy Orthodox liturgy for its own sake. . . . Still, I find it perplexing. . . . My question to you is: Why do you, a very smart person, continue to hold to a fairy-tale? Respectfully, T.


Just as I was about to try and come to the defense of the “fairytale,” I received an email from an Orthodox priest. Unlike a lot of the emails I get, at least this one was signed—but for current purposes, let’s just call the sender Father X.

The email questioned my Christianity because I supported a prochoice candidate like Obama. Since Fr. X believed that Obama represented everything Christianity does not stand for, where did I get off calling myself a Christian? Not to mention that I blogged on the Huffington Post, that internet portal to damnation. OK—comes with the territory. But here’s the kicker. The sender signed what was a very insulting note: In Christ, Father X.

(Rant starts here:) When I got this email I thought it might be a joke, because my long experience with Orthodox priests and bishops has been almost uniformly positive. I googled the name and found that this man was an actual priest. Father X badgered me for several weeks since I chose not to answer him.Then I began to receive emails that Fr. X had been sent a copy of, as had a growing list of others whose names showed up from then on in my email letterbox. It seemed that Father X had “introduced” me to his far right friends. Abortion was their big issue, as were Obama’s “communism.” Several people accused me of “supporting the Antichrist.” Nearly all of them told me I was due for a severe punishment from God. None of these prolific email writers seemed to bother to read my replies, to which I attached articles I’d written for the Huffington Post explaining in some detail why I was both pro-life and pro- Obama, given that I believed that his social programs might help reduce the numbers of abortions, just as he said that he hoped they would, and that, conversely, the Republicans had been cynically using the “life issue” to drum up votes while cutting funding for health care, contraceptives, sex education, and child care. Of course I could have been wrong about all my political ideas on the subject, but I certainly hadn’t become a “leading abortionist,” as three of my email correspondents said I had.

I can only imagine the steady diet of junk ideology that must have been spewing from right-wing websites, evangelical/fundamentalist leaders, talk radio, and bizarre newsletters into the heads of these email writers to have pushed them—including a priest no less, supposedly a confessor, shepherd, and comforter—to put politics ahead of faith and berate a complete stranger and question his faith on the basis of who that stranger voted for and what websites he writes for and because of a disagreement over tactics regarding how best to
reduce the number of abortions.

The Religious Right has seduced millions of Americans with titillating hatred and lies: The earth was created in six days and is not warming; Obama is a secret Muslim (perhaps even the Antichrist!) and wants women to have more abortions; gays are trying to take over America; the United Nations (and/or Obama and/or the president of the European Union) is the Antichrist; an unregulated market economy is Christian; guns keep people safe; taxing the rich is “communism”; capital punishment is good; immigrants are the enemy; national health care is “communist.” Some or all these paranoid fantasies are accepted as truth by a whole substratum of “Christians” determined to judge their country as “fallen away from God.” They believe America is “doomed” because they don’t agree with their fellow citizens’ politics or because, as their signs routinely proclaim, “God Hates Fags!” They call people like me “abortionists” because I and others say that maybe the best way to reduce abortion is to keep it legal but to also help women escape poverty, educate young people, and provide contraception rather than trying to reverse Roe v. Wade (realistically an impossibility, on which prolifers have wasted almost forty years of effort and untold tens of millions of dollars).

Appeals to facts get nowhere with these folks because they don’t trust any sources but their own and listen only to what emanates from an alternative right-wing universe. Thus arguments become circular. The more impartial the source, the more suspect it becomes. Propaganda, fulminating (and fundraising), and hatred of gays, women, our government, big-city folks, black people, the educated “elite,” everything-not-like-us-Real-Americans supplant compassion and even common sense. And one is guilty by association. Write for the “wrong” people “these people,” in the words of Fr. X or vote for the “wrong” president, or make the “wrong” call on a practical way to reduce abortions, and it’s off to the stake.

The late Neil Postman, author, New York University professor, and prophet, predicted how and why people such as today’s members of the evangelical/fundamentalist movement and other right wingers would be living in a dream world cut off from reality. Postman is best known for his 1985 book about television, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he wrote

Television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. Disinformation does not mean false information. . . . What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there
would be no one who wanted to read one. . . . Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumble puppy.


Postman is not the only person to have accurately predicted where we are headed and the sort of society that our disjointed news-media-as-entertainment, texting as “writing,” blogging as “news” would produce. RoboCop (1987) was a mediocre (and nastily sadistic) little movie, but director Paul Verhoeven got one thing right: the “news” shows on TV in his futuristic dystopia. His parody of glib, cheerful trivia clips as news has come horribly true, even more so with the advent of the ideologically divided
Web, wherein people have their “information” filtered by likeminded ideologues and rarely encounter views they disagree with. As Postman predicted, Huxley’s prophetic vision came to pass: We are “a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies.”

We have become a nation of not terribly bright children who essentially have a collective learning disability manifested by an inability to concentrate or defer gratification, to hold one thought long enough to see it through to a conclusion, or to contemplate making real sacrifices for the sake of long-term benefits. The Father Xs of this world are one result.

Just in case you think that Father X’s excesses let atheists off the hook—and also to capture a little of the tone of the atheist/religion debate these days—here is another email I got from a reader objecting to an article I wrote criticizing the New Atheists. (Misspellings
n the original)

Sir, You had an insolence . . . to call the brightest people of our time “the fundamentalist Atheists.” These people: Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris are the great Heroes of our time. . . . These heroes are withstanding to the thousands and thousands of years of corrupted, filthy religious fanaticism. . . . We would avoid many,
many deceases if not for religion. Religion is the opium for the masses. It was said by a smart man. I completely agree with this comment. You are, Sir, brainwashing people and are filling your deep pockets with the dirty money using people’s stupidity. Shame on you! Sincerely
Y


No, I didn’t make that up. Though I was tempted to forward Y’s email to Fr. X, feeling that these men would understand each other quite well!

(End of rant!)

Okay, about that “fairy-tale” of religion. 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’ve 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 in the same way that this man’s email helped me feel less alone.

Frank: Growing up, I attended a private Christian school which was started by a very conservative religious right church connected with Bob Jones University. . . . I have studied to be a preacher, and seem to have no desire to be one but have no experience to do anything else. . . . Truth be told, I have more questions than answers. . . . I have broken through the false, religious right, closed minded doctrine of hate that was my past. However, I have not found any answers from the religious left. The left is good at saying what the right has done wrong but not at giving me anything to hold on to. Thank you, K.


This book is a search for that “something” to hold on to. I don’t know if my up-and-down, hot-then-cold-then-hot-again faith in God persists because I was conditioned by my parents to see everything in spiritual terms or if faith is a choice. Either way, whatever I believe or feel, or think I feel or think I believe, it’s flawed at best. Like most people, I’ve changed my mind before about the so-called Big Questions and will again. Opinion is a snapshot in time.

Because I belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, there are parts of this book that reflect my personal experience with one form of liturgical worship. In those Orthodox-oriented parts my aim is to offer an example of one approach, knowing that other people take other religious paths (or none) and find spiritual comfort. And I certainly do not speak for the Orthodox Church. Nor has being in the Orthodox Church answered all my questions. Far from it. And I know that some of what I say here may be a departure from what some Orthodox (especially to the political right) think is true. But I believe that my journey is worth describing because my life experiences have led me to believe that there are better choices than being asked to decide between atheistic cosmic nothingness and fundamentalist heavenly pantomimes.

... To be continued in Chapter 1

CONTENTS

PROLOGUE Why This Book May Not Be What You Expect ix

PA RT I
Where Extremes Meet


1 How the New Atheists Poison Atheism 3
2 How Many Ways Are There to Say, “There Is No God!”? 15
3 Why Does Dawkins Oppose Faith with Lapel Pins? 27
4 Determinism Religious and Secular Is the Ultimate
Insanity Defense 43
5 Dennett Says Religion Evolved the Way Folk
Music Did 59
6 Hitchens Poisons Hitchens 71
7 The Only Thing Evangelicals Will Never Forgive Is
Not Hating the “Other” 89
8 Spaceship Jesus Will Come Back and Whisk Us Away 109

PA RT I I
Patience With Each Other,
Patience With God


9 So Naked Before a Just and Angry God 125
10 There Is More in Man Than the Mere Breath of His Body 143
11 That “Truth Button” Should Humble Everyone 165
12 How Do Spiritual Catalysts Work? 175
13 “Shedding over Every Daily Task the Light of Love” 185
14 He Never Left a Trace That He’d Been There 201
15 Much More Miraculous Than a Good Cup of Coffee 211
16 “First and Last Alike Receive Your Reward” 221
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 229

To pre-order:

http://www.amazon.com/Patience-God-People-Religion-Atheism/dp/030681854X/ref=pd_rhf_p_img_2

Friday, September 18, 2009

About My Interview From TMP

This is from "TMP Cafe"

September 18, 2009, 9:00AM

Wednesday night, after Pres. Carter's remarks identifying the racism attendant to the teabagger rally in Washington and the other virulent eruptions of the right, Rachel Maddow interviewed a fellow named Frank Schaeffer about what it all means. She introduced the segment by pointing to some of the survey results about New Jersey "conservatives" and how many of them believe that Obama either is the antichrist or might be. Schaeffer grew up in the "Evangelical" movement and was an influential player early on in organizing the Christian right. Like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, Schaeffer, at a certain point had an epiphany and changed the course of his life. He now recognizes Christian fundamentalism for what it is and does what he can to combat it's continued malignant growth.

I think Mr. Schaeffer has a great deal of wisdom to impart about the Christian right, what it's all about and why it manifests itself politically as it does. People should listen carefully to what he has to say on this subject.

Rachel noted that about 60% of McCain voters in New Jersey do not think Obama is an American citizen. She wondered aloud why this is and how this could be and this is what Mr. Schaeffer said:

Those of us who come from the evangelical subculture have been weaned with our mother's milk on a changing cast list of villains. It might be Kennedy to one generation, Obama to the next, but I think the larger point this brings up is that the mainstream, not just media, but culture doesn't sufficiently take stock of the fact that within our culture we have a subculture which is literally a fifth column of insanity that is bred from birth through home school, Christian school, evangelical College, whatever to reject facts as a matter of faith. And so this substitute for authentic, historic Christianity, and I may add a little caveat here I'm a churchgoing Christian, really brings up the question can Christianity be rescued from Christians?

And that's an open question and when you see a bunch of people going around thinking that our President is the antichrist you have to draw one of two conclusions. Either these are racists looking for any excuse to level the next accusation or they're beyond crazy and I think beyond crazy is a better explanation and that evangelical subculture has rotted the brain of the United States of America. We have a big slice of our population waiting for Jesus to come back. They look forward to Armageddon. Good news is bad news to them. When we talk about the Left Behind series of books that I talk about in my book Crazy for God, what we're really talking about is a group of people who are resentful because they know they've been left behind. By modernity, by science, by education by art, by literature.

The rest of us are getting on with our lives. These people are standing on a hilltop waiting for the end. This is a dangerous group of people to have as neighbors and they are our national neighbors. And this is the source of all these insanities that we see leveled at the President, one way or another they go back to this evangelical subculture. Uh, it's a disaster.


Rachel then went on to discuss the large numbers of self-identified "conservatives" who pay heed to the birthers and deathers, etc... She then asked...

Q: How do you work to move people off of that position? It doesn't seem like facts are relevant in trying to move people away from these beliefs.

You don't work to move them off this position. You move past them.

Look, a village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot. It's as simple as that. And we have to understand we have a village idiot in this country: it's called fundamentalist Christianity, and until we move past these people, and let me add as a former lifelong Republican, until the Republican leadership has the guts to stand up and say it would be better not to have a Republican Party than have a party that caters to the village idiot there's gonna be no end in sight. The next thing they'll do is accuse Obama of being the antichrist and then who knows what comes next? On and on it goes. There is no end to this stuff. Why? Because this subculture has, as it's fundamentalist faith, that they distrust facts per se.

They believe in a young earth, 6000 years old, with dinosaurs cavorting with human beings. They think that whether its economic news or news from the Middle East it all has to do with the end of time and Christ's return. This is La La Land and the Republican Party is totally enthralled to this subculture to the extent that there is no Republican Party. There is a fundamentalist subculture which has become a cult. It's fed red meat by buffoons like Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and other people who are just not terribly bright themselves and they are talking to even stupider people. That's where we're at. That's where all this is coming from and it's becoming circular. It's becoming a joke. Unfortunately a dangerous joke because once in a while one of these looney tunes we see brings guns to public meetings. Who knows what they do next? It's a serious thing we all have to face but the Democrats and sane Americans just have to move past these people and say, go wait on the hilltop for the end. The rest of us are going to get on with rebuilding our country.


You can go to the following url which will take you to Mr. Schaeffer's website. The clip from the Maddow show is front and center and can be watched by clicking on the link:

http://www.frankschaeffer.com/

Mr. Schaeffer knows these people and their beliefs very, very well. He understands their mentality. Mr. Schaeffer does not dispute that much of the vitriol for Obama comes from racism but interestingly, he thinks that racism is only a part of it and even the racism we see emanates in large part from fundamentalist Christianity. I went and looked around on his blog and he believes that soon they may well turn to violence. I think he may well be right. The paranoid, sensationalist rhetoric of the right is very reminiscent of other times in the not too distant past when right wing violence sprang up. Speaker Pelosi was warning of that today and was all but ignored by the Republican leadership. People need to be prepared. And we need to be prepared to smack down any further violence by the right quickly and effectively so they do not pick up anymore momentum.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Defines American Evangelicals These Days?

Former president Jimmy Carter went on the record to point out that he believes that racism is at the heart of the great deal of the extreme animosity being leveled at President Obama (NBC News September 15). Carter identified himself as a Southerner with an insiders understanding. There's something he didn't mention however: the special culpability of his own religion -- Evangelical Christianity -- for the anti-Obama hyperventilating and furious reaction to our first black president. And that reaction has less to do with race and more to do with the ugliest side of religion.

The fact is that if you're going to blame one group above all others for the willful ignorance and continuing ugliness of the response to President Obama the best candidate would be the evangelical/fundamentalist community. The angry part of the South Carter spoke of is racist because it's dominated by a certain type of "Christian" culture.

Since Carter is also an evangelical Christian (as well as a Southerner) he would have done well to use his evangelical insider status to point to not just racism but to scream bloody murder about a bigger problem today: the hijacking of Christianity as the source of the hate and anger directed against all things "other" by a vocal (and health care lobby-organized and funded) angry minority of voters who are poisoning the American body.

American Christianity Is At The Heart Of Our Worst Problems

Are the New Atheists leading us to enlightenment? The problem with the recent New Atheist attacks on Christianity is that they mirror the hostility of the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture toward the secular society that it so disdains. The real answer to the question; "Can Christianity be saved from the Christians?" is not going to be found coming from people like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris et al. Instead that answer may be found in the life and work of Christians such as former president Jimmy Carter, President Obama, the late writer John Updike, and other public figures from Desmond Tutu to Nelson Mandela who's faith can be taken seriously because of the moral authority given them by their achievements outside the realm of theology.

The people running around calling Obama is "Hitler", the so-called "birthers" and all the rest can't be understood outside of the context of the hermetically sealed world-hating gated community known as Evangelical Christianity. As a former Evangelical and son of an Evangelical Religious Right leader, let me share a little of the insider perspective that I wish Carter had brought to the subject.

What Defines American Evangelicals These Days?

The key to understanding the Evangelicals is to understand the popularity of the Left Behind series of books about the "return of Christ" (and the whole host of other End Times "ministries" from the ever weirder Jack-the-Rapture-is-coming!-Van-Impe to the smoother but no less bizarre pages of Christianity Today magazine). This isn't some new or sudden interest in prophecy, but evidence of the deepening inferiority complex suffered by the evangelical/fundamentalist community.

Left Behind

The words "left behind" are ironically what the books are about, but not in the way their authors intended. The evangelical/fundamentalists, from their crudest egocentric celebrities to their "intellectuals" touring college campuses trying to make evangelicalism respectable, have indeed been left behind by modernity. They won't change their literalistic anti-science, anti-education, anti-everything superstitions, so now they nurse a deep grievance against "the world."

This has led to a profound fear of the "other." Jenkins and LaHaye (the Left Behind authors) provide the ultimate revenge fantasy for the culturally left behind against the "elite." The Left Behind franchise holds out hope for the self-disenfranchised that at last soon everyone will know "we" were right and "they" were wrong. They'll know because Spaceship Jesus will come back and whisk "us" away, leaving everyone else to ponder just how very lost they are because they refused to say the words, "I accept Jesus as my personal savior" and join our side while there was still time!

The bestselling status of the Left Behind novels proves that, not unlike Islamist terrorists who behead their enemies, many evangelical/ fundamentalist readers relish the prospect of God doing lots of messy killing for them as they watch in comfort from on high. They want revenge on all people not like them--forever.

Generations Of Indoctrination

We are several generations into the progeny of leaders such as James Dobson and his radio show Focus On The Family. These offspring extol the virtues of corporal punishment, patriarchy, applying biblical law to public governance and so forth. Millions of evangelicals have been raised in homes where they've been isolated from the wider culture, home schooled and/or sent to "Christian schools" where they have been indoctrinated to believe that the Federal Government is the enemy of all true believers, that the "End" is near, that secular society is their enemy as is art, learning and culture.

They now form a Fifth Column of the deliberately intellectually disenfranchised. They know they are out of the loop and hate the rest of us for their own self-imposed isolation. I'm afraid they will soon turn to violence.

Here Are The Alternatives To Change the Theologically-Induced Hate Landscape:

A) all sane Americans must become atheists or agnostics,

or...

B) those of us who are Christians must rescue Christianity from the willfully ignorant evangelicals and fundamentalist.

I favor the second alternative. First, having been raised in an evangelical/fundamentalist home I've long since moved beyond my background when it comes to my politics and my theology. That proves something; people can change their minds! I did.

But I believe more strongly than ever that we human beings are spiritual beings with or without the permission of those who take a purely rationalist approach to human existence. The better -- and I think only realistic option -- is to regard religion as an evolving process of human consciousness and work to reform rather than eliminate it

In my soon-to-be published book Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism) I have very deliberately started a radical conversation through which I hope many of us can carve out a position that embraces religion while absolutely rejecting the type of insanity that has become synonymous with the word "Christian" in contemporary America.

Two "Threads" In Religion

As I argue in my new book the choice between the absolutist secular fundamentalism of the New Atheism and the authoritarianism of James Dobson's-type of "Christianity" is no choice at all. The better alternative is to understand that there are two main threads running all through almost all religions including Christianity:

1) an open, inclusive and questioning thread

and...

2) a closed and exclusionary thread.

The more open thread is not some modern phenomenon developed by "liberal thinking." As I explain in Patience With God this "thread" can be found in the earliest Christianity and Judaism.

If you look around and see good results from Christianity, say from the invention of modern hospitals, which have their roots in religious groups or the music of JS Bach, you're looking at the fruits of the best of the open tradition and thread. When you see a group of scared racist white people like Joe Wilson in Washington DC screaming "liar" or "Obama is a socialist" or "Obama wasn't born in America" you're seeing the madness of the other thread: fundamentalism that wants absolute certainty about everything, and forces its followers to live in a narrower and narrower field of existence.

Conclusion

Christianity is worth saving from the Christians for two reasons. First, because as moral and spiritual beings religion should feed our souls rather then strip out our humanity. Second, because whether we like it or not, religion is here to stay. Better to shape it rather than to simply denounce it.

I may be an idealist but I believe that if others will step forward and add to what I have tried to begin with my new book together we can give good answers to both the extremes of the New Atheists and to the hate of the Evangelical fundamentalists. Join me to build a better vision. We might actually be able to change the conversation in America about religion.

Is that important? Yes, like it or not religion will not go away. It motivates the worst in the American psyche and some of the best too. It is Joe Wilson's religion of hate but it also motivated Martin Luther King Jr.

Perhaps a generation from now the image of a typical Christian won't be a hate-monger like James Dobson but rather a lover of peace such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, or a literary giant like John Updike, and yes, a President Obama.

Sure race is still an issue for too many of us. But hate-filled religion is the bigger problem. The only real answer to the hijacking of Christianity by the Religious Right, the longevity of religion-based racism, and the backward and inward looking movement we now call "American Christianity" is not to talk everyone out a having faith but rather to fight for the humane and ancient thread found within the Christian tradition. Blaming everything on race is too easy.

If you get the chance to read Patience With God please let me know what you think of it. I'm asking one big question in the book: Can Christianity be rescued from the Christians? You tell me.

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).

Hi I was on the Rachel Maddow Show last night. To watch the clip go to my website at http://frankschaeffer.com/

click and watch (if you care to!)

Best, Frank

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The 9/12 Marchers and the Far Right Subversives

By Frank Schaeffer

Who are these people?! Where do they come from?! Ordinary Americans might wonder why anyone would stoop so low as to follow Glenn Beck, Fox News and Dick Armey (and their corporate sponsors masquerading as "FreedomWorks") as they organize their "9/12 March On Washington" to cynically exploit the 9/11 attack.

Patriotic Americans might question the organizer's aim to provide a media forum for dimwitted right wingers to scream "Liar!" "Socialist!" "Antichrist!" "Muslim!" "Death Panels!" "He's not an American!" and so on and on and on about the commander in chief charged with defending us from further attacks. And some people might even cry "shame on you!" to the more mainstream Republicans participating that include Dick Armey of FreedomWorks, as well as GOP Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Pence of Indiana, Tom Price of Georgia, and South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint.

Ordinary folks from Planet Earth may ask why the Republican Party, right-wing activists and members of the Religious Right seem so unreachable with mere facts let alone decency and decorum. (As the proud father of a US Marine who fought in Afghanistan I'm particularly outraged that these people would exploit the 9/11 attacks after my son and others were prepared to give their lives in response to our enemies.)

As a former Religious Right leader, who was raised (and home-schooled by my Evangelical-leader parents, Francis and Edith Schaeffer) in the movement, let me explain just why the ordinary rules of decency don't apply to the right these days.

Let me also answer this question: Who are these people?

Protecting Your Children From Satan

A big part of the answer to understanding the heightened climate of outright hate and fear of the "other" is the home school and Christian school movement. It is a modern incarnation of the anti-federal government ideology of earlier firebrands such as John Calhoun who was the 7th Vice President and a Southern politician in the 19th century. Calhoun embraced slavery, states' rights, limited government, and said that Americans should secede from the union if it went against their wishes. (See: "Calhoun Conservatism Raises Its Ugly Head" by Mike Lux in the Huffington Post Sept 11/09.)

In the early 1970s the evangelicals like my late father and James Dobson decided that the our society had fallen so far "away from God" and so far from "America's Christian history" that it was time to metaphorically decamp to not just another country but to another planet:. In other words virtually unnoticed by the media and mainstream political operatives, a big chunk of American society seceded from the union in all but name.

What they did is turn the white race-based in "Christian school" movement of the 1950s into a countercultural phenomena. As tens of thousands of new Christian schools opened, it was no longer just about "protecting" white kids from minorities and African-Americans. It was about protecting your children from Satan in other words the United States government's long reach through the public school system.

To protect your children from Satan -- in other words mainstream, open patriotic and pluralistic America -- you either kept them at home where mom and dad could teach the children right from wrong or send them to a cloistered private evangelical/fundamentalist school. At home or in school you used curriculum prepared by the likes of James--beat-your-child-and-dare-to-discipline-Dobson, RJ-slavery-was-a-good-thing-Rushdoony, or many and other right-wing anti-American activists. That curriculum presented "secular America" as downright evil. Hating the USA became next to godliness.

The Anti-American Home Schoolers Come Of Age

We are now several generations into this experiment of holier-than-thou withdrawal from our American mainstream culture. If you wonder who it is that's both running and underwriting organizations such as the Family Research Council, Focus On The Family, Freedom Works and other organizers of the 9/12 March and who are most faithful followers the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh or viewers of Fox News your answer is: it's the home school/Christian school generation of men and women now hitting their thirties and even forties who might as well have been raised on a different planet.

What are these home school and Christian school children taught? Here's a quote from one of the far right's leading home school curricula creators:

"The stranger in ancient Israel did not serve as a judge, although he received all the benefits of living in the land. The political question is this: By what biblical standard is the pagan to be granted the right to bring political sanctions against God's people? We recognize that unbelievers are not to vote in Church elections. Why should they be allowed to vote in civil elections in a covenanted Christian nation? Which judicial standards will they impose? By what other standard than the Bible?"

(Gary North of Institute For Christian Economics)

The generation raised on the belief that the US government is illegitimate because it is trying to "impose" non-biblical laws on people has hit the streets. These are the people who grew up indoctrinated into an alternative reality. Today they are out there waving signs of Obama dressed as Hitler. They are buying weapons and ammunition. Some are in the growing and revived militia movement. They are Dick Armey's foot soldiers. People like Armey and Beck can count on the ignorance of their dupes. It's against their religion to read a real newspaper, watch anything but Fox or go to a real school.

Evangelical Red Guards

Over the last 30 years Evangelical fundamentalists have managed to do what Chairman Mao failed to do with his Red Guards: indoctrinate a whole generation of evangelical people to see their own society as the enemy and act like subversives from within the culture. These people are more anti-American than Al-Qaeda. The "Christian Reconstruction" movement is working for theocracy. Reconstructionism (of which Gary North is one leader) says that the law given for the political and legal ordering of ancient Israel is intended for all people at all times.

Reconstructionist leader David Barton gives a definition:

"The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God's law."


Who are Glenn Beck's foot soldiers? In effect what we have is a group of indoctrinated people who have never actually lived in America because they were brought up deliberately cloistered from it by their parents and churches. Because they are legally "Americans" they can move freely around our democracy trying to destroy it working within the United States. Today they are acting like a fifth column, no, they are a fifth column. Some of them have not just seceded metaphorically, there is even a growing movement for states to secede literally.

Today the right wing America haters actually are doing to America what no "illegal" immigrants ever do: work to overthrow our democracy and replace it with a theocracy. The home-schooled, privately educated brainwashed horde are an antidemocratic, fundamentally anti-American political movement. For a start they do not accept the results of the last election.

Liberal/Progressive Wishful Thinking and Blindness

Meanwhile those ordinary Americans including many Democrats, progressives and liberal's who work within the system can hardly imagine that there are people so far outside the lines of what they regard as ordinary decent behavior that the progressives seem psychologically unequipped to deal with this reality.

President Obama is one such person. His talk of bipartisanship is a pipe dream. Why?

Bipartisan Pipe Dream

Because you can't be bipartisan with people who don't play by the same rules--say accepting the will of the people -- as you do. Obama is not alone in his gentlemanly wishful thinking. For instance consider New York Times book review editor Sam Tanenhaus saying in his book (The Death of Conservatism) that the the conservative movement is over.

Tanenhaus rightly points out that the extremism of the right has driven away traditional Republicans. I ought to know! I, as a life-long Republican and former Religious Right activist helped create this situation. But Tanenhaus and others like him just don't get the fact that the far right is resurgent, in fact more dangerous than ever as a wounded animal is dangerous. They don't get it because kindly liberals also live in a bubble.

The kindly liberal reasonable bubble of an open liberal culture in which reason, argument in fact prevails is far removed from the other America, one of militia training camps, fundamentalist churches, parents who follow Dobson's "parenting" advice by "breaking" their children and whipping them (as Dobson tells them to do in his books) and thus raising the damaged and dangerous automatons of biblical vengeance and sadism.

The Last Chess Game You'll Ever Play

What reasonable people don't understand is this: if one person is playing chess abiding by the rules and their opponent is losing at the chess game it may appear that they have lost the match. But what if one person is willing to change the rules? For instance, if you're playing chess against someone who -- if they start losing -- takes a lead pipe out of their back pocket and smashes you over the head with it the "rules" change.

Serial Killers

The real story of the Religious Right and their power to destroy is told by Max Blumenthal in Republican Gomorrah, and Jeff Sharlet in The Family and by me in Crazy For God. What our books have in common is the understanding that you can lose in the political system but still "win" -- according to your destructive agenda -- if your agenda is non-political but rather religious and apocalyptic in nature.

To understand the Religious Right today and how dangerous they are don't think politics-- think serial killers who "win" by "getting even" with the society they perceive as having disrespected them. It isn't about facts. It isn't about election results. It isn't about truth. It's about victimhood and revenge on the "elite" in other words on everyone not like you. It is about the weird combination of sadism and masochism Blumenthal describes in his book.

Think Republicans who have no plan of their own for health care reform other than stopping Obama. Think "Deathers" and "Birthers" who are all about de-legitimizing our system as "evil" because it includes rights for gays.

New Rules: Anarchy and Scorched Earth

What those who think that the power of the Religious Right and/or the Republicans is ended don't understand is that it's only ended if you believe in the rules. When I say the rules I mean, for instance, that if you lose an election the other side gets to legislate. However if your opponent is not interested in the rules and is, A) waiting for Jesus to return and consume all the "infidels" or, B) you are just waiting to take that "lead pipe" out of your back pocket -- say go to public meetings and intimidate people by carrying loaded weapons to those meetings -- or worse, maybe even use them to shoot down someone -- all polite bets are off!

The fact of the matter is we now know what the experiment in raising children outside of the American mainstream means. It means that there's a whole subculture within American culture that mistrusts facts precisely because they are facts. They glory an alternative view of not just politics but of reality.

They frequent the creationist museum and look at dioramas of dinosaurs cavorting with humans. They believe that gay people choose to be gay just stick it to the rest of us and could change if they invite Jesus into their hearts. They believe that before you run for governor of Alaska, for instance, you should get a preacher specializing in "casting out the spirit of witchcraft" to anoint you so you can win against the demonic forces of secularism -- as was the case with Sarah Palin when she first ran for governor. They believe that the NRA was telling the truth when they claimed that Obama would "take away your guns" and so have loaded up with more guns and ammunition. They think the time has come to rise up and overthrow the government. And yes, most of them also believe that black people are inferior to whites, so to have a black man in the White House is itself "proof" of American's fall from grace.

There's no arguing with such people and no winning against them using mere elections. They are not playing by American rules. Their idea of winning is not fair elections but Armageddon.

Religious Right Growing Again

Those who say that the Religious Right and the far right have lost their power are looking through the lens of rule-obeying democratic liberalism. They don't understand that their opponents will always carry the proverbial lead pipe in his or her back pocket. To the progressives who think that the Religious Right and the right wing has lost its power I say this: You're correct when it comes to political facts (for the moment) of the last election, but you're dead wrong when it comes to the way revolutions work.

Second American "Tea Party" Revolution

Revolutionaries never have played by the rules. They don't have to win by the rules. They hate the rules. They don't live in a rule based or fact based universe.

They believe they are serving a "higher cause" so it makes the "mere human" rules unimportant. They're ready to shout down opponents, call out "liar" about someone telling the truth, undermine public meetings and/or commit physical violence. They are also willing to become the tools of cynical corporate lobbyists using them for ulterior purposes, say stalling health care reform.

In order to "win" -- in other words destroy our country as we know it -- the far right merely needs to be true to its own rule which is, to put it very mildly, that coloring outside the lines is not only perfectly okay but required.

Conclusion

Not only do the Religious Right distrust facts to them facts are evil. You are "satanic" if you believe in evolution. You're also satanic if you believe health-care reform is about anything but death panels and abortions. You're satanic if you don't believe that gay people are evil or that if you think sex education is sensible. You're satanic if you don't believe in Satan!

The tactics that progressives develop for actually winning against the right have to involve far more than politics. They have to also involve ceaseless vigilance against an enemy that has now -- literally -- raised up an armed, paranoid and deluded alternative nation within our borders and created a fifth column to undermine the United States and our democracy. They need to be called out by the rest of us in no uncertain terms.

Long term the Religious Right subculture has to be understood, then exposed for what it is: an anti-democracy movement built on willful lies with potentially violent underpinnings in the thrall of an apocalyptic cult of revenge on everyone not like "us." It is also the useful tool of corporate lobbyists. Who use these shock troops of the proudly ignorant for non-ideological reasons.

The Religious Right may have lost a round politically but they've still got a "lead pipe" in their back pocket. They can still "win" by making the rest of us lose our democracy by increments. They will even spit in the rest of our faces by exploiting the national tragedy of 9/11 in their 9/12 March.

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, September 7, 2009

At Last Dobson Is Done In By the Truth

By Frank Schaeffer

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Military Contractors and Our Buck-Stops-Nowhere "Wars"

(Frank Schaeffer on the Huffington Post)

The truth is that if (post-9/11) America wanted to fight two wars simultaneously -- and apparently endlessly -- protect our shores and project power into other parts of the globe simultaneously we needed draft. But we are a culture that refuses to make hard choices and likes happy endings, in other words we're experts at lying to ourselves. Instead of facing the fact that if you're going to fight wars you need to raise taxes and mobilize the whole country and draft citizens, we pretended we had a military adequate to the task. Besides, anyone who questioned the civilian wartime leadership would be accused of "disrespect to our wonderful men and women in uniform."

What is disrespectful to people who serve is to do what we're doing now. We keep lying to ourselves by hiring contractor personnel to do the job the military could be doing -- if it was big enough and if we stopped lying to ourselves. More "contractor" (read mercenary) abhorrent behavior is surfacing. This time it's not civilian murder in Iraq, or child prostitution from XE (formerly Backwater). It comes from a US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Some contractor guards have come forward with sworn testimony and visual evidence of sexual deviancy and drunken hazing.

In my capacity as the proud father of the United States Marine I wrote a series of opinion pieces for the Washington Post and several books on what it's like to be in military parent in the all volunteer military era while my son was a war in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of those books Keeping Faith -- A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps became a New York Times bestseller (once Oprah invited me on her show.) I also co-authored AWOL--The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country. After that was published I established close contact with hundreds of military families and many military leaders. What I say here comes from the perspective of someone connected to the military as a civilian author and also as the proud father of a son who fought in our ongoing wars. I have a deep personal love for the military family.

That said, I have less and less respect for the way our civilian leaders lack the courage to tell the truth about our wars.

Lies From the Right and Left

Which brings up a point: both the right and the left, the military and civilian leadership, Democrats and Republicans have a stake in either lying about or ignoring a very inconvenient fact: given the scope of American foreign entanglements our "all volunteer" military is a sham. It is the same sort of sham that fighting wars without paying for them is idiocy.

We are so over-extended that we hire professional contractors to bulk up what in fact is a military far too small for the onerous rotations that military people are now being deployed on again and again and again. High divorce rates, custody battles where military people, including women and mothers who come back from war are denied access to their children, and suicides are just the tip of the dysfunctional iceberg. The real problem is that the right and the left the Democrats and Republicans and our top military establishment and the government all have a percentage in keeping quiet about the truth.

As reported by various news sources, including NPR, ( Sept 2, 2009), The Pentagon's civilian contractor work force in Afghanistan outnumbers the deployment of uniformed U.S. soldiers, with contractors accounting for 57 percent of Defense Department personnel there, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service-- "the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DOD in any conflict in the history of the United States," concludes the report. Overall, as of March 31, 2009, the Defense Department employed more than 240,000 contractors in the two war zones, compared with approximately 282,000 uniformed soldiers.

How Have the Contractors Worked Out?

The founder of Blackwater USA allegedly deliberately caused the deaths of innocent civilians in a series of shootings in Iraq, attorneys for Iraqis suing the security contractor told a federal judge. The attorneys singled out Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who is the company's owner, for blame in the deaths of more than 20 Iraqis between 2005 and 2007.


Amid allegations that the contracted security force guarding the Kabul embassy have run riot the State Department a team to investigate. Alcohol has been banned at Camp Sullivan -- the compound where the guards live -- and diplomatic security officers have been assigned to keep an eye on the guards.

As reported by AP and many other sources, Blackwater's secret work for the CIA has leaked out. The company's involvment in the assassination program and the CIA drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan are front-page material in the Washington Post and New York Times. Blackwater also offered "foreign" operatives to work on the CIA assassination program.

The Real Problem

The fact is our all volunteer military has long since departed from the citizen soldier military our founders had in mind and is now professional force that is close to becoming a permanent class of mercenaries set apart in virtually gated communities rather than citizen soldiers. And with today's contractors we've taken the fateful next step: America now fields a truly imperial mercenary force.

To appease the left who will not countenance a draft, we pretend we have a military global force that doesn't need public support. And to allow the right wing Republican fat cats to send other people's children to war without asking them to commit their own children, we say the all volunteer force "works just fine."

Fighting wars without national mobilization is a sign of decadence. It means that sacrifice is denied and ignored by most while a few pay the price for a system that depends on an out-of-sight-and-out-of-mind military. This is also part of a crazy anti-government right wing nuttiness, wherein "privatizing" everything, now even our military, is seen as "good." Everything must turn a profit, right? Everything is about choice. right?

Wrong!

The Truth

The United States needs to face the truth: If we don't have the stomach to reintroduce the draft and have a military large enough to do the military's job we should stop fighting wars around the globe. We should also stop lying to ourselves. If the American public doesn't support our wars to the extent that they will tolerate a draft and much higher taxes then our wars are bogus.

The military needs to stop selling itself to the American public as the greatest American military ever while it lacks the numbers to do the military's basic job. The generals should be screaming bloody murder about the fact that traditional military roles -- such as Marines guarding our embassies -- are now being farmed out to private (and grossly incompetent, largely unsupervised) companies who answer to no one. Talk about dishonoring our men and women!

It's time for the military leadership to tell the President and Congress that the need for the hundreds of thousands of civilian workers bolstering the military proves the military can no longer do the job the President is asking it to do.

Here Are the Honest Choices:

1) Get out of our wars now or raise taxes, and raise a force commensurate with our global obligations by the draft.

or...

2) Trim our military to a true defense force and stop thinking that we can fix the world.

or...

3) If we are attacked, hit our enemies with everything we've got, then go home. Let them fear us or pay the price, no more dreams of Marshall Plans applied to completely different situations, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

To believe our own BS: that we can fight wars without costs, is leading to a bad end. Nation-building is after-the-fact nonsense. War is hell, not nation building. We aren't the good guys. We are just one more country protecting its interests. Deal with it!

Blame the Right and the Left

The left is culpable because it so denigrated and politicized military service coming out of the Vietnam era that the military brass ran for cover and are still hiding behind the all volunteer concept to protect the military from political scrutiny.

The right is culpable because it keeps launching wars without asking for moral or financial accountability from the whole American people, including higher taxes and a draft of our sons and daughters. This is lazy man's war: no need to sell it to the American people, because they aren't involved. "Other people" fight and our grandchildren will pay the bill. Let's call decadence by its name.

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)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Patience With God (the Prologue)

The book will be in stores Oct 20, meanwhile here's the Prologue for my blog readers... (Note: this is the pre-copy edit version)

PROLOGUE

Why This Book May Not Be What You Expect


So let others admire and extol him who claims to be able to comprehend Christianity. . . . I regard it then as a plain duty to admit that one neither can nor shall comprehend it. The Sickness Unto Death, Søren Kierkegaard


When I place my five-month-old granddaughter Lucy on a blanket on my kitchen table, and I help her stretch by rubbing her feet, legs, and arms in what my wife Genie calls “Lucy’s Grandpa spa,” everything fades away—bills, the economy, who got elected, even the background “sound track” of my impending doom, that ticking clock of aging, never too far below the surface these days. Lucy loves stretching after her naps. She smiles and looks into my eyes with such contentment that I feel transported to a place beyond time and reckoning where nothing exists but my hunger to reward this little girl’s love.

I find myself praying, “Lord, may none but loving arms ever hold her.” That prayer has nothing to do with theology. I’d pray it whether I believed there is a God or not, for the same reason that on a lovely spring morning when I’m looking at the view of the river that flows past our home I sometimes exclaim, “That’s beautiful!” out loud, even when I’m alone.

Genie and I offered my son John and his wife Becky a place to live while they got on their feet financially. It has been a long haul since John unexpectedly volunteered to serve in the Marines right out of high school, was deployed to war several times, returned home, concluded his time of service, went to the University of Chicago, married Becky, graduated from U of C with honors, had Lucy, and started a new job. This is the son I was on my knees praying for while he was being shot at. He came home! My son’s baby daughter Lucy is in my arms! Life is sweet! When I hold Lucy, belief in God seems natural.

Why do I write about faith and/or include religion and religious people in so many of my books? What’s it to me if I disagree with the New Atheists and with religious fundamentalists? First, one writes about the life one has experienced. I’ve lived religion. Second, I don’t like to be forced to choose between lousy alternatives. Third, I think that I keep writing about faith because my faith needs affirmation.

One person running around shouting “Jesus saves!” or throwing stones at the Devil while circling a large black rock, or proposing that science is the alternative to religion sometimes appears crazy, even to himself or herself. Fill a church with a thousand people moaning, “Lord have mercy,” or pack a million pilgrims on their hajj around that rock, or fill a classroom with students applauding someone’s declaration of atheism, and each member of the group can say to himself or herself, “So many of us can’t be wrong! There must be something to this!”

Speaking of God, there are thousands of books hanging around in my house worrying me. In those books are tens of millions of words. None of those words (including these) explain why the greatest pleasure that I experience during any given day is when I lose myself in the small yet overwhelming presence of my granddaughter. Caring for Lucy feels as if I’m diving through warm, crystal clear water above some shimmering Mediterranean reef. Body temperature and water match. Everything is stunningly beautiful. I disappear. The usual selfish “me” that is the sum total of my genes and/or God/Mom/Dad/whatever–induced worries, is temporarily forgotten.

The experience evokes the fondest of childhood memories, of being once again truly carefree, as I was when my family traveled by train each year from our home in Switzerland to Portofino, Italy, where we vacationed, where sand and sea, freedom to wander, and the blood-warm water and languid pace of life left such a lasting impression of joy that the childhood memory of “my” Italy defines happiness for me fifty years later. So it is with Lucy; I stop worrying when I hold her, and simply am.

Thanking someone for Lucy seems natural to me. I pray even though I’m a “faith person” who often wishes he weren’t. I’m sick of religion for the same reason that I’m tired of my body, how it’s getting old, how every morning when I wake up, the dreary realization crashes in: I’m still me. Sick of being me or not, I still brush my teeth, take a daily vitamin, stick to my low-dose aspirin regimen, drink red wine because I like it and it’s better for me than white wine, and get colonoscopies from time to time. I still go to church, too, regardless of the fact that I get dumb hate emails signed “in Christ,” blasting me for everything from my support of President Obama to my having fled my evangelical/fundamentalist roots and
the Republican Party.

This is a book for those of us who have faith in God in the same way we might have the flu, less a choice than a state of being in spite of doubt, in spite of feeling wounded by past religious contagion, in spite of our declared agnosticism or even atheism, in spite of the sorts of idiots like me who are attracted to or, more accurately, bred to, religion and run around defending and /or criticizing it. This book is part of a conversation, not a sermon. I’ve written it the way faith in God, and everything else, happens, to me. Happens is the right word. In Hollywood when I used to work as a movie director, the producers always wanted an “arc” to the story. The worse the script was, and the more formulaic, the more obvious the arc. There was a beginning, a middle and an end; good guys and bad guys; first, second, and third “acts” leading to the conclusion. But faith in God, and great movies made by the greatest directors (of whom I certainly was never one) such as Bob Altman and Federico Fellini, don’t string along like cars of a train or come in tidy packages. They are a
slice of life, not a story about life.

My only promise is that I’m trying to tell the truth about my slice of life as I see it, even when the best I can do is to say that I don’t know the answers. So there are ideas here but also stories memoir and memory of what shaped the person writing down the ideas. That means we jump from ideas to stories that could be from a novel about the person writing the essay. Don’t be surprised by these twists and turns. This is how conversations go. This is what life, rather than false “arcs,” is like.

In Part I, the first chapters are a critique of the New Atheists. The next chapters are a critique of the religious fundamentalists. Then in Part II, I write about my experiences related to faith or lack of faith in God, and the evolving nature of what I describe as the catalysts that may take us to whatever the next stages of our personal and communal spiritual evolution may be.

Bob Altman said of his movie directing that “accidents are what push the ‘truth button.’” I’ve tried not to edit out those accidents, even in the parts of this book that tend to essay style. In other words, this book is for those of us who are stuck feeling that there is more to life than meets the eye, whatever we call ourselves or say we believe. Or put it this way: If an angel showed up outside my office window and explained “everything” to me, I’d simultaneously question my sanity, be scared as hell, and feel mightily relieved, because
believing in invisible things is tough.

I’m not the only person wrestling with issues of meaning, religion, and purpose. You will find a small sample here of the several thousands of emails from my readers who have been responding to my writing, radio, and TV interviews and lectures about religion, politics, and society. Their emails, including the following note, inspired me to write this book. (I’ve omitted names to protect privacy and have indicated trims by ellipses. And each email represents many similar to it.)

Hello, Mr. Schaeffer. I watched your Princeton lecture. I found it interesting, but I learned nothing of your new religious beliefs, except that you enjoy Greek Orthodox liturgy. I presume you still avow some form of Christianity.


I do still avow some form of Christianity in spite of my doubts, the attack on faith by the New Atheists, and the “certainties” of the religious fundamentalists who claim their way is the only truth, which is another way to attack faith because it drives people away from experiencing God. I believe that the ideological opposites I’ll be talking about—atheism and fundamentalist religion—often share the same fallacy: truth claims that reek of false certainties. I also believe that there is an alternative that actually matches the way life is lived rather than how we usually talk about belief. I call that alternative “hopeful uncertainty.”

My hopeful uncertainty will either resonate with you eliciting a “me too” and “been there” or not. I am not trying to make converts. If what I write resonates, it will be because we’ve shared certain experiences, for instance your own childhood stories and your own love for a friend, lover, or a husband or wife, children, and grandchildren, not because I convince you of anything. I offer no proofs. There are none. When talking about the unknowable, pretending to have the facts is about as useful as winning a medal from the Wizard of Oz. In this game—the meaning game—it’s all about intuition, hope, and the experience of life, a letting go of all concepts, words, and theologies because they can only be metaphors and hinder our experience of the truth as it is—not as we desire, believe, or hope it might or should be, but as it is.

Before continuing I have several disclosures to make. To begin with, I have a vested interest in keeping faith in God relevant. Also, I’ll be talking about religion but concentrating on Christianity. That is the tradition I know a little about, having been raised by evangelical/ fundamentalist American missionaries.

As a young man in the early 1970s I did a really stupid thing and stopped painting, drawing, and sculpting, thus truncating what was becoming a promising art career. I’d had successful shows in New York, Geneva, and London by the time I was twenty-two. I got greedy for a faster track with a steadier income, and I became my parents’ (Francis and Edith Schaeffer) sidekick. I then became a leader in my own right on the big-time evangelical/fundamentalist circuit after we Schaeffers got famous—famous within the evangelical/ fundamentalist ghetto, that is.

By the early 1980s, at the height of my involvement in the evangelical/ fundamentalist religious right, I was invited to preach from Jerry Falwell’s pulpit, appeared many times on The 700 Club with Pat Robertson, and met privately with many of the top Republican leadership of the day. In the midst of these heady experiences I began to change my mind about what I believed, and not just about religion but about politics too.

By the mid-1980s I began the process of escaping my family’s literal-minded religion and the political causes that had become indistinguishable from it. I went to Hollywood, directed four indifferent to- pretty-terrible R-rated feature films, quit the movie business, and then started to write novels in the early 1990s. I received encouragement from the critics and my readers. I’ve been a “secular” full time writer of both fiction and nonfiction ever since.

Although I’m no longer proselytizing, I’ve profitably (in every sense of that word) mined the divine mother lode of my background through my Calvin Becker trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma and also in Baby Jack (where God shows up as an African American Marine drill instructor
on Parris Island), not to mention my memoir Crazy for God. As my religion-preoccupied writing demonstrates, one can run from a religion but can never entirely escape.

I not only grew up in the fevered atmosphere of an American religious commune—L’Abri Fellowship (located in Switzerland of all places)—but at age ten I was sent to an evangelical British boys boarding school called Great Walstead, where I encountered an easygoing and refreshingly new to me, Anglican-derived faith that embodied a level of religious tolerance I wasn’t familiar with. Later in life the memory of that encounter shaped my sense that there might be better alternatives to the strict fundamentalism I was raised on. It may also be one reason why, much, much later when in midlife, I discovered that sacrament-based liturgical worship was a comfortable fit for me and I joined the Greek Orthodox Church.

So please note, as I conclude this disclosure, that my only “qualification” for meditating on faith in God is no more than the better part of a lifetime spent thinking about faith and reading about religion (and a few other things) and then living among, and then fleeing, the faithful. I’m with Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard when he says of Christianity that “one neither can nor shall comprehend it.”

Kierkegaard’s view was closer to many of the early Church Fathers— in other words, to the first leaders in the early Christian Church (during the first to sixth centuries) than it is to today’s fundamentalists. Until I was on my way out of my evangelical/fundamentalist subculture and actually read a little church history and some of the writings from the earliest Christians, I assumed that older is always stricter. In the case of the Christian religion, this is not so. It’s mostly the later eras of Christianity that produced the most rules-based approach to faith, something like the transition from the sixties and early seventies to the “Reagan eighties,” as hippies got haircuts and put on suits and turned out to be more middle class and “bourgeois” than their parents.

So for people who think that Christianity was strict, literalistic and fundamentalist and filled with nothing but rules and regulations from the beginning and that a more “mystical,” “tolerant,” “progressive,” or “liberal” approach to faith is a lax modern phenomenon, the writings of some of the most important early Christian figures are a startling wake-up call. For instance, one fourth-century ascetic—Evagrius Ponticus—was a revered spiritual leader. He led by example rather than by official standing because he was not a bishop. Writing in The Gnostikos, he made this anti-fundamentalist statement: “Do not define the Deity: for it is only of things which are made or are composite that there can be definitions.”

Speaking of “the Deity,” I have a love-hate relationship with God—well, actually not with God (as Evagrius said, who knows anything about that?) but with the people who have tried to define God in ways that the more tolerant earlier Christians didn’t. My love-hate relationship is with fundamentalists who say they believe in God and with people who are so sure there is no God that they’ve turned atheism into just another brow-beating religion. That means I have a love-hate relationship with myself, because I find both sides of the faith/no faith debate coexisting within me. Those “sides” are expressed well by juxtaposing the following emails from two men with very different viewpoints:

Frank: Any religious faith is nothing more than an adult fairytale. . . . Now I admit that I may be wrong . . . you may enjoy Orthodox liturgy for its own sake. . . . Still, I find it perplexing. . . . My question to you is: Why do you, a very smart person, continue to hold to a fairy-tale? Respectfully, T.


Just as I was about to try and come to the defense of the “fairytale,” I received an email from an Orthodox priest. Unlike a lot of the emails I get, at least this one was signed—but for current purposes, let’s just call the sender Father X.

The email questioned my Christianity because I supported a prochoice candidate like Obama. Since Fr. X believed that Obama represented everything Christianity does not stand for, where did I get off calling myself a Christian? Not to mention that I blogged on the Huffington Post, that internet portal to damnation. OK—comes with the territory. But here’s the kicker. The sender signed what was a very insulting note: In Christ, Father X.

(Rant starts here:) When I got this email I thought it might be a joke, because my long experience with Orthodox priests and bishops has been almost uniformly positive. I googled the name and found that this man was an actual priest. Father X badgered me for several weeks since I chose not to answer him.Then I began to receive emails that Fr. X had been sent a copy of, as had a growing list of others whose names showed up from then on in my email letterbox. It seemed that Father X had “introduced” me to his far right friends. Abortion was their big issue, as were Obama’s “communism.” Several people accused me of “supporting the Antichrist.” Nearly all of them told me I was due for a severe punishment from God. None of these prolific email writers seemed to bother to read my replies, to which I attached articles I’d written for the Huffington Post explaining in some detail why I was both pro-life and pro- Obama, given that I believed that his social programs might help reduce the numbers of abortions, just as he said that he hoped they would, and that, conversely, the Republicans had been cynically using the “life issue” to drum up votes while cutting funding for health care, contraceptives, sex education, and child care. Of course I could have been wrong about all my political ideas on the subject, but I certainly hadn’t become a “leading abortionist,” as three of my email correspondents said I had.

I can only imagine the steady diet of junk ideology that must have been spewing from right-wing websites, evangelical/fundamentalist leaders, talk radio, and bizarre newsletters into the heads of these email writers to have pushed them—including a priest no less, supposedly a confessor, shepherd, and comforter—to put politics ahead of faith and berate a complete stranger and question his faith on the basis of who that stranger voted for and what websites he writes for and because of a disagreement over tactics regarding how best to
reduce the number of abortions.

The Religious Right has seduced millions of Americans with titillating hatred and lies: The earth was created in six days and is not warming; Obama is a secret Muslim (perhaps even the Antichrist!) and wants women to have more abortions; gays are trying to take over America; the United Nations (and/or Obama and/or the president of the European Union) is the Antichrist; an unregulated market economy is Christian; guns keep people safe; taxing the rich is “communism”; capital punishment is good; immigrants are the enemy; national health care is “communist.” Some or all these paranoid fantasies are accepted as truth by a whole substratum of “Christians” determined to judge their country as “fallen away from God.” They believe America is “doomed” because they don’t agree with their fellow citizens’ politics or because, as their signs routinely proclaim, “God Hates Fags!” They call people like me “abortionists” because I and others say that maybe the best way to reduce abortion is to keep it legal but to also help women escape poverty, educate young people, and provide contraception rather than trying to reverse Roe v. Wade (realistically an impossibility, on which prolifers have wasted almost forty years of effort and untold tens of millions of dollars).

Appeals to facts get nowhere with these folks because they don’t trust any sources but their own and listen only to what emanates from an alternative right-wing universe. Thus arguments become circular. The more impartial the source, the more suspect it becomes. Propaganda, fulminating (and fundraising), and hatred of gays, women, our government, big-city folks, black people, the educated “elite,” everything-not-like-us-Real-Americans supplant compassion and even common sense. And one is guilty by association. Write for the “wrong” people “these people,” in the words of Fr. X or vote for the “wrong” president, or make the “wrong” call on a practical way to reduce abortions, and it’s off to the stake.

The late Neil Postman, author, New York University professor, and prophet, predicted how and why people such as today’s members of the evangelical/fundamentalist movement and other right wingers would be living in a dream world cut off from reality. Postman is best known for his 1985 book about television, Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he wrote

Television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. Disinformation does not mean false information. . . . What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there
would be no one who wanted to read one. . . . Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumble puppy.


Postman is not the only person to have accurately predicted where we are headed and the sort of society that our disjointed news-media-as-entertainment, texting as “writing,” blogging as “news” would produce. RoboCop (1987) was a mediocre (and nastily sadistic) little movie, but director Paul Verhoeven got one thing right: the “news” shows on TV in his futuristic dystopia. His parody of glib, cheerful trivia clips as news has come horribly true, even more so with the advent of the ideologically divided
Web, wherein people have their “information” filtered by likeminded ideologues and rarely encounter views they disagree with. As Postman predicted, Huxley’s prophetic vision came to pass: We are “a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies.”

We have become a nation of not terribly bright children who essentially have a collective learning disability manifested by an inability to concentrate or defer gratification, to hold one thought long enough to see it through to a conclusion, or to contemplate making real sacrifices for the sake of long-term benefits. The Father Xs of this world are one result.

Just in case you think that Father X’s excesses let atheists off the hook—and also to capture a little of the tone of the atheist/religion debate these days—here is another email I got from a reader objecting to an article I wrote criticizing the New Atheists. (Misspellings
n the original)

Sir, You had an insolence . . . to call the brightest people of our time “the fundamentalist Atheists.” These people: Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris are the great Heroes of our time. . . . These heroes are withstanding to the thousands and thousands of years of corrupted, filthy religious fanaticism. . . . We would avoid many,
many deceases if not for religion. Religion is the opium for the masses. It was said by a smart man. I completely agree with this comment. You are, Sir, brainwashing people and are filling your deep pockets with the dirty money using people’s stupidity. Shame on you! Sincerely
Y


No, I didn’t make that up. Though I was tempted to forward Y’s email to Fr. X, feeling that these men would understand each other quite well!

(End of rant!)

Okay, about that “fairy-tale” of religion. 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’ve 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 in the same way that this man’s email helped me feel less alone.

Frank: Growing up, I attended a private Christian school which was started by a very conservative religious right church connected with Bob Jones University. . . . I have studied to be a preacher, and seem to have no desire to be one but have no experience to do anything else. . . . Truth be told, I have more questions than answers. . . . I have broken through the false, religious right, closed minded doctrine of hate that was my past. However, I have not found any answers from the religious left. The left is good at saying what the right has done wrong but not at giving me anything to hold on to. Thank you, K.


This book is a search for that “something” to hold on to. I don’t know if my up-and-down, hot-then-cold-then-hot-again faith in God persists because I was conditioned by my parents to see everything in spiritual terms or if faith is a choice. Either way, whatever I believe or feel, or think I feel or think I believe, it’s flawed at best. Like most people, I’ve changed my mind before about the so-called Big Questions and will again. Opinion is a snapshot in time.

Because I belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, there are parts of this book that reflect my personal experience with one form of liturgical worship. In those Orthodox-oriented parts my aim is to offer an example of one approach, knowing that other people take other religious paths (or none) and find spiritual comfort. And I certainly do not speak for the Orthodox Church. Nor has being in the Orthodox Church answered all my questions. Far from it. And I know that some of what I say here may be a departure from what some Orthodox (especially to the political right) think is true. But I believe that my journey is worth describing because my life experiences have led me to believe that there are better choices than being asked to decide between atheistic cosmic nothingness and fundamentalist heavenly pantomimes.

... To be continued in Chapter 1

CONTENTS

PROLOGUE Why This Book May Not Be What You Expect ix

PA RT I
Where Extremes Meet


1 How the New Atheists Poison Atheism 3
2 How Many Ways Are There to Say, “There Is No God!”? 15
3 Why Does Dawkins Oppose Faith with Lapel Pins? 27
4 Determinism Religious and Secular Is the Ultimate
Insanity Defense 43
5 Dennett Says Religion Evolved the Way Folk
Music Did 59
6 Hitchens Poisons Hitchens 71
7 The Only Thing Evangelicals Will Never Forgive Is
Not Hating the “Other” 89
8 Spaceship Jesus Will Come Back and Whisk Us Away 109

PA RT I I
Patience With Each Other,
Patience With God


9 So Naked Before a Just and Angry God 125
10 There Is More in Man Than the Mere Breath of His Body 143
11 That “Truth Button” Should Humble Everyone 165
12 How Do Spiritual Catalysts Work? 175
13 “Shedding over Every Daily Task the Light of Love” 185
14 He Never Left a Trace That He’d Been There 201
15 Much More Miraculous Than a Good Cup of Coffee 211
16 “First and Last Alike Receive Your Reward” 221
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 229

To pre-order:

http://www.amazon.com/Patience-God-People-Religion-Atheism/dp/030681854X/ref=pd_rhf_p_img_2