Unfortunately, I have had to agree with my fellow Leftist activists who say that, for the most part, the Church is just another institution of indoctrination to maintain the status quo for the benefit of those with wealth and power. And from my limited experiences, I have observed this mainly in Churches that are on the conservative side of the political spectrum. And in many cases, it seems that Conservative Christians embrace conservative politics because of the conservative label. I do know individuals from liberal Churches who also indoctrinate from the liberal side as well but I am usually hanging around the religious conservatives because of my religious beliefs.
In today's post, we are going to look at how a former religious and political conservative contributes to this indoctrination from his new liberal side. This person is Frank Schaeffer and we are going look at a talk he gave at UCLA (click here for the talk). I would provide biographical information on Mr. Schaeffer except that he does more than an adequate job of that in his talk. We should note that he is the son of a well known Christian apologist and social critic, Francis Schaeffer (click here and there for biographies). His mother, Edith Schaeffer (click here and there for a biography and list of books she wrote), is also well known in Christian circles.
What Frank Schaeffer said came as a surprise to me. As much as he has distanced himself from his parents' religion, he displays a sincere respect for their piety. He does say that his dad was better than his theology and that his dad would reject the persecution of gays and others that many Christian Fundamentalists currently engage in. His objections to the religion of his parents have both a rational and personal component. On the rational level, he rejects any religion that puts a higher priority on orthodoxy than on orthpraxy (that is he rejects right belief as being more important than right behavior). The personal component of his rejection of his parents' religion has to do with the absolutism and certainty of their beliefs, intolerance towards those who are different, self-righteousness, and divisiveness.
It seems that he regards some of his past conservative politics as a politics of hate. However, his past politics combined his parents' religion with conservative politics. It is important to note here that there are conservatives from the past whom he deeply respects. One of those conservatives is Jack Kemp.
However, Schaeffer has no respect for today's Republican Party. In fact, he states that this party as he knew it no longer exists. Rather, the party has become a utilitarian joining of the Religious Right with the Neoconservatives. Both parts are actively involved in trying to conquer others. The Religious Right is trying conquer on the domestic front while the Neoconservatives want to dominate the world. Schaeffer has an utter distain for both of these groups.
Though Frank doesn't hold to a religion that revolves around orthodoxy, he strongly opposes the atheism preached by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Schaeffer sees in this form of atheism some of the same personal traits he saw in Christian Fundamentalism which he found very repulsive.
The keys to Schaeffer leaving the faith and conservative politics can be found in his political experiences as well as the kind of person he was becoming at home. Schaeffer talks about how the revolving bedfellows he found on in the abortion issue and on the Presidential campaign trail confused him. To oppose abortion, Schaeffer was told that it was ok to work with Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics are the theological arch rivals of those who come from the Reformed Faith as Schaeffer's parents did. This permission to work with Catholics as well as the accompanying new compliments that were given to Catholics who opposed abortion baffled him.
Something similar happened when Schaeffer supported John McCain. During one campaign, McCain had criticized some Evangelicals as being intolerant. That changed when during the next campaign, McCain picked Sarah Palin as a running mate.
In addition to the above mixed messages, Schaeffer didn't like how he was treating his own family during a certain period of time. The combination of these factors helped push Schaeffer away from the faith.
According to Schaeffer, what he does believe varies from day to day and this is fine with him considering that he now rejects the absolutism and certainty he saw in fundamentalism. But the religious side of Christian Fundamentalism is not what bothers Schaeffer the most here. It is how this fundamentalism involves itself in the public sphere through politics that is his major concern. The absolutism and certainty combined with their narrow views of the world and their hatred for those who are different makes fundamentalists' involvement in American politics almost an obsession to Schaeffer.
Because of the danger posed by both politically active Christian Fundamentalists and Neoconservatives, Schaeffer displays the same little to no tolerance for Leftists who criticize Obama. He scolds such Leftists for being impatient with Obama as if the pace of Obama's reforms was his biggest sin. Schaeffer believes that we must unite around Obama and support him for his courageous and wise efforts to help the country and stand against what has become of the Republican Party.
What can we learn from Frank Schaeffer, a person who is no longer a believer? We can look at how our fellow Christians have so offended him that he now looks down on the faith and sees it as a threat. One criticism that we might take to heart is how much we emphasize orthodoxy over orthopraxy. It isn't that we have to put the same emphasis on the latter as Schaeffer does; it is that we need to look at ourselves to see if we use orthodoxy as a way to excuse ourselves from how we treat others.
In addition, we Christian Fundamentalists need to check our religious ambitions at the door when it comes to our political goals. We must ask ourselves why we are trying to dominate others by the policies and laws that we want our government to pass and enforce. Another question we must ask ourselves is whether we are showing compassion to the vulnerable.
Something else we can learn from Schaeffer is to be careful in how closely we associate our faith with our politics. It's not that there should no relationship between the two, that would be impossible. Faith and politics share moral issues and the morality we learn from our faith will affect the political views we support. However, when we strongly believe that a Christian must have a particular political view, we set others up for an unnecessary conflict of faith if they find it necessary to change their political views. I found this in my own life as I was switching my political views from being conservative to being a Leftist. It was a real tearing process especially for my faith. So as much as our faith might drive our politics, we must realize that Christians can believe a variety of political views. To fail to teach others, especially our children, this is to put a potential stumbling block before their faith.
However, we are not the only ones to have something to learn here. Schaeffer must realize that, according to the talk he gave, he tends to view Christian Fundamentalists as a monolithic group, which they are not. There are fundamentalists who are literalists and they are some who use literalism both selectively and Biblically. There are fundamentalists who are ignorant of science but there are scientists who are also Christian Fundamentalists. We should also note that the strong American association between Christian Fundamentalism and conservative politics does not always occur in countries. And younger Christian Fundamentalists are starting to come out in different political flavors besides conservatives. Finally, Christian Fundamentalism is about the core beliefs of Christianity, not about a single personality type.
In addition, Schaeffer gives us Conservative Christians a false dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Part of this is our fault because of how we have behaved in the past. And we can prove him wrong by showing how orthodoxy and orthopraxy are related by living out our faith. Of course, this means that some of us must change. We must put more emphasis on serving than on seeking to either rule over others or escape from the problems of this world.
What else could Schaeffer learn from others? Schaeffer needs to learn what the Left is really about because it is here where Schaeffer follows much of the church in how it indoctrinates others in relation to the status quo. In the talk he seems to be saying that that the Left's biggest problem with Obama is that Obama is not implementing their reforms fast enough. So Schaeffer denounces the Left for not standing behind the President. But his criticisms of the Left only show a limited binary view of the politics in America. And this view is driven by his hatred for how he has defined the political Right, that it is the joining of the Religious Right with the Neoconservatives. Thus, out of urgency to battle them, he sees the protests against Obama from the Left to be foolish. But his intolerance of the Left rivals the intolerance he attributes to most fundamentalists.
The Left criticizes Obama because of his support for both the current economic classism and the militarism of American Exceptionalism. Obama has done nothing to change the economic course of this nation. There are no significant legal changes to keep our financial institutions from crashing the economy again and there have been no criminal prosecutions for past fraudulent activities or present criminal practices--practices such as money laundering. Instead, the Obama Administration has tried to show its commitment to law through fines many of which can be quickly and easily paid. And though the Obama Administration is hampered from getting laws passed through Congress, it is free to criminally those in our financial institutions but it won't. Also, the Obama Administration favors a free hand for energy companies in their extraction of resources. The Obama Administration supports the Keystone Pipeline, has said nothing against mountaintop removal, and has allowed fracking to continue despite the damage it has done to the environment.
The Left criticizes Obamacare because of its cost. By relying on the private sector, such as what Obamacare does, his healthcare plan not only continues America's high cost of healthcare, it will become unsustainable and will further America's problems with deficits and debt. At the same time, some see the primary beneficiary of Obamacare as being the healthcare industry itself.
Finally, the Left criticizes Obama's embrace of American Exceptionalism. Obama has only followed the Bush timelines in returning troops home but he has expanded the war into Pakistan through the use of drones. In addition, his use of drones in countries like Yemen is very likely creating terrorists for the future. There are other foreign policies to criticize but we should summarize the theme of Obama's policies as being without accountability. That Obama has assumed the power to assassinate anyone in the world, even American citizens, with impunity. In addition, through the 2012 NDAA, Obama has gained the power to indefinitely detain any American citizen and that without accountability. And though there are other items to criticize, we should note that Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.
So Schaeffer shows an ignorance of the concerns of the Left when he scolds them for not supporting Obama. And part of this is because Schaeffer sees far more differences between Obama Democrats and the political conservatives who strike fear into him than the Left does. The Left sees the Democrats and the Republicans as belonging to the business party so that supporting either is to support the same old, same old.
Are there things we can learn from Frank Schaeffer's life history? Certainly! He has some valuable things to say to us. But at the same time, he must realize that he has some valuable lessons to learn from others too. And he must realize that to some extent, he has become what the targets of his criticisms are. He is simply part of an institution of indoctrination.