Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Religious Right is Oh So Wrong

The public image of the leaders of the religious right I met with so many times also contrasted with who they really were. In public, they maintained an image that was usually quite smooth. In private, they ranged from unreconstructed bigot reactionaries like Jerry Falwell, to Dr. Dobson, the most power-hungry and ambitious person I have ever met, to Billy Graham, a very weird man indeed who lived an oddly sheltered life in a celebrity/ministry cocoon, to Pat Robertson, who would have had a hard time finding work in any job where hearing voices is not a requirement.

—Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God (selection quoted in "oldspeak," an online journal)

Frank Schaeffer is the son of evangelical minister Francis Schaeffer. Together they had a significant impact on American Evangelical Christianity, essentially forming the modern Religious Right movement. Frank's life journey, which has led him to be a filmmaker and prolific author, as well as the father of a marine who served in Iraq, has brought him to the writing of a memoir called Crazy for God that focuses not just on his life, but the lives of his parents, many Evangelical leaders and the Religious Right movement.

Below are select quotes of his during various interviews. These interviews are either printed in their entirety at or linked through his
website. Please go visit for more of his insights as well as to learn about him and his works.

I became aware of Schaeffer through the Bob Edwards Sunday (12/9/07) broadcast, where Schaeffer gave a fascinating interview. Unfortunately the Edwards broadcast requires purchasing a copy, but fortunately many of Schaeffer's points and insights are captured in other interviews, exerpts of which appear below.

I was profoundly impacted by his thoughts on how modern Christianity is a cult of personality; that all one has to do is say the right things at the right time to the right people to make millions virtually overnight. He describes modern Evangelicals as hungry for the next big person, forgetting those who become tainted or imbroiled in scandal; the focus has gone off of Christ and onto people. In a similar vein, in another radio interview (link below), he discusses the Disney-fication of American Christianity.

Schaeffer was particularly insightful about the Religious Right being anti-American. Members of the Religious Right are striving, hoping for, and amplyifying the signs for their apocyliptic vision of the world. He discusses how they revel in bad fortune and outcomes because it enforces their view that, as Jerry Falwell once put it, God has removed his hand of protection from America because of its sins.

Slightly less fascinating, but strangely comforting was his insight into the nasty character of figures like Dobson and Falwell. Both he and his father thought that Pat Robertson was just plain insane, a sad confirmation of what most people suspect. He certainly does not spare George W. Bush, pointing out that he believes Bush to be a sincere Evangelical, which makes him all the more dangerous as president since he believes in the rightness of his actions, sincerely believes that he is in league with God and so fails to properly contemplate and consider the situation fully and to look for points of compromise, so sure is he of his actions.

I had hoped to bring you some direct quotes from the interview; my personal summation is lacking; Schaeffer spoke far more eloquently. Hopefully, these other interviews will provide you with a good idea of his eloquence and pointed and unique insights. What follows are his words.

Interview with John W. Whitehead

A lot of people in the evangelical and fundamentalist communities speak theoretically about homosexuality being no worse than adultery or divorce. However, in practice, they are not undertaking national campaigns to single out evangelical people who were married to somebody else at one time and got divorced. So actually there is a tremendous moral hypocrisy there because the whole gay issue has been singled out for special treatment.

In other words, the Religious Right was as negative and anti-American as anybody I ever talked to on the Left. I personally came to believe that a lot of the issues that were being latched onto by the Christian Right, whether it was the gay issue or abortion or other things, were actually being used for negative political purposes. They were used to structure a power base for people who then threw their weight around.

[The Religious Right's] idea was that without fundamentalist Christian beliefs being absolutely imperative for everybody in the country, the country would go to hell in a handcart and that would be the end of everything. So negative things were always accentuated. ... By the time they tell you over and over about all the bad things happening, such as statistics on crime, teen pregnancy and so on, I begin to get the feeling that they don’t want things to get better. This is their shtick. This is the way they raise their money. This is how they maintain their central power base.

[George W. Bush] is arguably the worst president in the history of the United States. He is unfit for the office of president of the United States. He has trouble speaking the English language and articulating a point of view....It is ironic that someone who proclaims he is a Christian president has single-handedly started a war that has undone the last Christian minority in the Middle East.

Schaeffer to the Dallas Morning News

"Unless you know who you are and have a life outside of your ministry, you will be corrupted by the control you have over other people's lives. You can begin with the best intentions, but the success itself will take you farther away from God than any failure ever will.
Big-time American Christianity is incompatible with the Gospel. It is part of the entertainment business. No matter what you think you are doing, you are really just another celebrity in a celebrity-obsessed culture. If you want to serve God, get out of the evangelical machine while you still can and save yourself. "

No matter how good a cause, when you think you are on a mission from God you eventually get crazy. I wasn't exempt. The problem is that the evangelical world is really a series of personality cults. And for a while there I was a personality.

But this brings up another point: Evangelicals just don't "get" what writing – or art for that matter – is.
The problem with the evangelical slant on writing (and all art) is that in itself it isn't worthwhile, it must serve some "higher purpose." In the evangelical's case, that's "bringing people to Christ."
This reduces human expression to propaganda. It also means that no artistic conversation is honest. There is always an ulterior motive. Religious fundamentalists always look for what is not there.

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

Interfaith Radio Interview with Frank Schaeffer (about 20 mins)


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