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Talking with Best-Selling Author Frank Schaeffer

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Joan Brunwasser     Permalink
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Welcome to OpEdNews, Frank. You have written extensively about the threat of the Religious Right. Your words ring true because you know that world inside and out. You were once a major player in it. You have a new book out. Can you tell our readers what it's about?

Patience with God

Patience With God 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 want to change the tone of the religion/anti-religion debate.

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. 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 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.

How much of that life have you left behind and why?

I've left all of it -- the politics and the religion of the evangelical right wing subculture. I'm a religious person but far from my evangelical roots.

As to why -- The North American evangelical/fundamentalist brand of Christianity is the religious version of the American civil religion: consumerist individualism. Which brings up an interesting point: The curious parasitic habit of evangelicals borrowing intellectual (or artistic) respectability from Christians who never were and never would have been American-style (let alone right wingnut) evangelicals--for instance, from Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.

Because, in the Protestant world, the word "Christian" can mean anything, Protestants need to discover and then hang on to some sort of distinctiveness. One person might be a "C. S. Lewis--type Christian," another might describe herself as a "Francis Schaeffer-- type," and so forth. And given Americans' love of material success, there are plenty of people who look at Rick Warren's 50,000- member church and say, "Hey, now that's what I call a church! I'm a Rick Warren--type Christian!"

Today, the American evangelical/fundamentalist consumer of religion is even more prone to the truism that nothing succeeds like success. Talk about unregulated banks and hedge funds, the biggest unregulated American market is big-time religion (and it's tax-free!). Its success isn't measured in spiritual gain that changes anything for the better. As big-time as religion is in the United States compared to highly secular Europe, nevertheless America's teen sex statistics, abortion rates, spread of STDs, divorce statistics, and rates of child rape are higher than those in non-church-going Europe. So the "success" of Warren's type of born-again entrepreneurship is a failure when measured against actual results in terms of what used to be called the fruits of the Spirit.

What do you see as the biggest threat of the Religious Right?

Hate. Killing. Violence.

Warren, like C. S Lewis before him, and like many an evangelical/ fundamentalist leader or "writer" today, knows that he must park his conscience at the door of his golden cage, or his empire will melt away under the intolerable weight of the gossip of the Church Ladies. Warren got a whiff of this when he was foolish enough to go on Larry King Live, in the spring of 2009, and mention that maybe he wasn't as firmly against gay marriage as he was said to have been in the wake of the battle over gay marriage in California during the 2008 election season. As the Washington Times reported on April 11, 2009, "I was extremely troubled," said Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. "Absolutely baffling," huffed Wendy Wright, president of the far-right Concerned Women of America organization. Warren learned, if he didn't already know, that the only thing evangelicals will never forgive is any letting up on hating the "other."

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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