Monday, August 25, 2008

Coming to terms with one's faith

The twists, turns, and rocky trail of my spiritual past occasionally have made their way into my postings here at Words Matter.

I’ve written about the fundamentalist years in Indiana, and my return to Maine, as an avowed post-Xian (which is the label I’m still most comfortable with). While I’ve written some about my former spiritual mentor Jack Hyles, and derogatorily about the likes of James Dobson, Falwell, Robertson and the others in the pack of Gantry, I’ve only made one brief reference to the late Francis Schaeffer.

When I was first testing the waters of my newfound born-again faith, as my baseball career unraveled at the University of Maine, I discovered the writings of Schaeffer. For the uninitiated, he was a Calvinist theologian and philosopher, whose trilogy of books, The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent formed the basis for what later became my own personal apologetics.

I won’t go into too much more detail about Schaeffer, as non-Xians and those for whom religion is a mystery will end up being lost. What I want to emphasize about Schaeffer is that he was no mental lightweight. Say what you want about religion, but the Calvinists, particularly the Van Til, Dooyeweerd brand of apologetics where Schaeffer cut his teeth, learning to argue for the Xian faith, forced followers to think, and give a reasoned defense for their belief in God.

Schaeffer’s books, and in particular, his approach at reaching the unconverted through his unorthodox approach at L’Abri (compared to the American brand of “churchianity”) was of interest to me. Schaeffer himself had much to say about the failure of American Xianity.

After a decade and a half away from organized religion, I made brief foray back into the orthodox fold, post 9-11. While I had discarded most of my previous religious materials, for some reason, I kept Schaeffer’s books packed away in one particular box I never threw out. In early 2002, I reread much of the trilogy, as well as his book, A Christian Manifesto that ratcheted up his popularity with what we now define as the religious right, and made him a rock star for God.

Throughout the 80s, Schaeffer became a hero to people like Randall Terry, of Operation Rescue, and others of the Christian Dominionist movement. Along with his son, Franky (who now goes by Frank), and wife Edith, the Schaeffers helped fuel the yoking of politics and faith in America, helping to propel the movement that is now headed by Dobson, Gary Bauer, and others into the mainstream. See how faith is mentioned at the drop of the hat in this year’s horserace.

Over the years, I’ve occasionally come across a reference to Schaeffer. Several years back, prior to having access to the internet (s), I tried to find information on what had become of his son Franky. I didn’t have much luck. Recently, however, I’ve run across a wealth of material, including this interesting post he penned for Huffington Post.

It’s ironic that Schaeffer, who was so instrumental at one time, promoting the militant pro-life movement, believes that the fate of the unborn is better with an Obama presidency, than a McCain one.

Schaeffer, who still self-identifies as pro-life, believes that the right have “milked the abortion issue, as have the Evangelical and Roman Catholic leadership, for every dime it's worth for fundraising, votes, power and empire-building, without changing much if anything.”

A year ago, Schaeffer came out with a memoir, 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 that I’m eager to read, since I was such a big fan of his father, and hung on much of what he wrote about the faith I held at the time.

Schaeffer has some things to say about the right, power, and the wealth that holding certain positions visits on acolytes of the right.

As he writes, “…for the record: my annual income was a lot bigger and more secure within the Evangelical fold than without. The big bucks in America are all about selling God, as Rick Warren, James Dobson or Joel Osteen can tell you, not earned blogging for lefty sites such as Huffington Post or writing novels as I do now.”

I have no trouble believing what he says, as I saw firsthand how so-called servants of God, the leaders, lived regally, while me and my Bible school chums lived poor as church mice, back in the day, when I was a student at Hyles-Anderson College.

I urge you to read Schaeffer’s piece. In a day when so much passing for journalism is just a rehashing of the same old meme, Schaeffer offers some things worth considering, unless you’re so wedded to your ideology that you no longer use the brain that God gave you.

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