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Wild Goose Festival: Day 2

Today, progressive evangelicals crowded under a massive white tent to listen to Frank Schaeffer comment on “Childlike Wonder for Jaded Cynics.” Son of famed evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, the former film director and current author has since vigorously denounced his conservative Christian upbringing. His angry condemnations of “Christian fundamentalism” have landed him spots for commentary on MSNBC and approval from disaffected evangelicals.

First, Schaeffer described the Wild Goose Festival as an event “where cynics like me feel at home.” He further cajoled his gaggle of eager listeners: “What we’re doing here is important since it is a political year…Christianity is more identified with the Republican Party than with Jesus Christ.” “Religion is less spiritual and politics is less pure,” he worried.

Schaeffer then left off political themes for a moment to recount his meandering spiritual migration to a postmodern Eastern Orthodoxy. “I was a success in the Religious Right the same way as with a North Korean dictator: nepotism,” he joked. Growing more somber, he grieved, “There is no faster way to lose your faith than when being a big success in the God business.” The younger Schaeffer likened himself to the Wizard of Oz, who was “pitching magic” while realizing that it was all a sham. He highlighted his teen pregnancy with his wife, which resulted in his first daughter. He admitted to slapping his daughter when frustrated, only to tout family values in front of large conservative audiences. Soon, Schaeffer found himself at a spiritual crisis with no theological resources to help him.

The renouncer of fundamentalism had been raised in a Reformed household that adhered strongly to Scripture coupled with Calvinist systematic theology. “I come from a tradition that asserts that you must make God love you through learning the right theology,” he complained, “Is God my right ideas and beliefs?” He also contrasted orthodox Christianity with Islam: “We believe in a person, not a book.” “There were 400 years before there was a Bible,” Schaeffer contested, “Many of us don’t even know what the Bible is.” Similarly, he argued, “We all believe selectively regarding our sacred Scripture…Don’t let any fundamentalist tell you they follow the whole Bible until they stone their daughter for losing her virginity.” He added, “A lot of it is crazy.” At the end of his presentation, he deemed theology to be “mumbo-jumbo pie-in-the-sky that no one knows about.”

Soon, the wild goslings heard Schaeffer credit his spiritual re-awakening to his granddaughter, Lucy. From her he learned about unconditional love, where he evidently could never get mad at her, no matter what she would do. He fondly told of his interactions and conversations with her. Schaeffer concluded that God must be the same way: always compassionate and never angry with human beings. He contrasted this revelation with the erroneous assumptions of fundamentalism: “If you disagree with me, you disagree with God. And—nothing personal—but you’ll burn forever in Hell.” In addition, he teased, “My fundamentalist friends, to put it bluntly, think I will go to Hell when I die. And I’m okay with that if they’re not going to be there.”

Looking back on his past, he regretted “selling God to people for a good cause, i.e. becoming like me.” Now, Frank Schaeffer seems to be teaching his granddaughter high church Eucharistic theology, yet also equating love with energy, all physical creation with “stardust.” Nevertheless, the writer protested that he revoked Christopher Hitchens’s call to apostatize for atheism. Instead, Schaeffer observed that “the Hubble Telescope can’t tell you everything” and “the church is always full of jerks and idiots, but that doesn’t tell you anything about God.” “Let’s fight for the leaven of the Gospel…not fighting for [a person’s] soul since they’re already saved,” he encouraged the audience, “Enough cosmic statements on who’s in and who’s out.”

Eventually, Schaeffer took another gander at American politics. “I can’t fix the world, but I can go down fighting that Obama can get re-elected,” he exclaimed to eager applause. He proclaimed, “I think he’s one of the greatest presidents that America has ever had!” The speaker castigated liberal purists since the current executive “faces the most vile and hateful lies ever faced by an American president (and they dare not call it racism!), and you complain that he is not meeting all the checks on your list.” He asked, “Have you considered the alternative or are you clinically insane?” The “alternative” position Schaeffer  described as “blow up the universe and sell it to Exxon to sell back to you.”

With this lecture, Frank Schaeffer once again unleashed his usual angry diatribes against his religious heritage. So much approbation erupted from the audience that one would think he was laying golden eggs. One may suppose what’s good for the relativistic goose is good for the post-evangelical gander.  For others, on the other hand, Schaeffer’s virulent screeds may simply drive them north for the summer.