Crazy for God : Frank Schaeffer on the Rachel Maddow Show

[There was a remarkable segment on last night’s Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC (Nov. 17, 2009). Former evangelical leader Frank Schaeffer described for Maddow and her audience some genuinely frightening activity that is occurring on the fringes of the religious right, including the use of biblical verse to make thinly-cloaked calls to violence against the President of the United States. Schaeffer asks why the moderate Christian leaders are not up front denouncing this activity. — Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / November 18, 2009]

Frank Schaeffer on Rachel Maddow:
The religious right and the marketing of violence

This is not funny stuff any more. They cannot be dismissed as just crazies on the fringe.

November 18, 2009

See ‘I’m Now a “Liberal” Because I’m a Conservative,’ By Frank Schaefer, Below

[Rachel Maddow reports on the latest racist and disturbing attacks on President Obama, including the merchandising of Psalm 109:8 on T-shirts and teddy bears. The Biblical verses are threatening when taken out of context as they do and applied to the President.]

MADDOW: And then there’s this, a Biblical quote making the rounds in anti-Obama circles, as reported this week in The Christian Science Monitor: Pray For President Obama — Psalm 109 Verse 8. What’s Psalm 109:8? Well, it reads “Let His Days Be Few, And Let Another Take His Office.’ Let his days be few. Uh, it’s followed immediately by another verse: ‘Let His Children Be Fatherless, And His Wife A Widow.”

And don’t forget, that sentiment is now being merchandized on bumper stickers, on mouse pads, on teddy bears, on aprons, framed tiles — those are nice — keepsake boxes, T-shirts. Let his days be few, ha, ha, on a teddy bear. Is anybody else creeped out by this?

Joining us now is Frank Schaeffer, whose father Francis Schaeffer helped shape the evangelical movement in the United States. Mr. Schaeffer grew up in the religious far-right. He’s the author of Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don’t Like Religion Or Atheism. Mr. Schaeffer, thanks very much for coming back on the show.

SCHAEFFER: Thanks for having me on.

MADDOW: “Let his days be few and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.” This is such strong language in secular terms about President Obama. Can you tell me if this means something less threatening to people hearing this in a Biblical context?

SCHAEFFER: No, actually it means something more threatening.

I think that the situation that I find genuinely frightening right now is that you have a ramping up of biblical language, language from the anti-abortion movement, for instance, death panels, and this sort of thing, and what it’s coalescing into is branding Obama as Hitler, as they have already called him, as something foreign to our shores -we’re reminded of that, he was “born in Kenya” — as Brown, as Black, above all, as not us. He is Sarah Palin’s “not a real American.”

But now, it turns out, that he joins the ranks of the unjust kings of ancient Israel, unjust rulers, to which all these Biblical allusions are directed, who should be slaughtered, if not by God, then by just men.

So there’s a direct parallel here with Timothy McVeigh’s T-shirt on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing, in which he said that the “tree of liberty had to be watered occasionally by the blood of tyrants,” and that quote we saw again at a meeting at which Obama was present being carried on a placard by someone carrying a loaded weapon.

What we’re looking at right now is two things going on. We see the evangelical groups that I talk about in my new book, Patience With God, enthralled by an apocalyptic vision that I go into in some detail in there. They represent the millions of people who have turned the Left Behind series into best-sellers. Most of them are not crazy, they’re just deluded. But there is a crazy fringe to whom all these little messages that have been pouring out of Fox News, now on a bumper sticker, talking about doing away with Obama, asking God to kill him…

Really, this is trawling for assassins. And this is serious business. It’s un-American, it’s unpatriotic, and it goes to show that the religious right, the Republican far-right, have coalesced into a group that truly wants American revolution, and if it turns out to be blood in the streets and death, so be it. This is not funny stuff any more. They cannot be dismissed as just crazies on the fringe. It only takes one.
MADDOW: And, to be clear, I mean, over-the-top political criticism is as American as apple pie, and incredibly intense criticism has been leveled at George W. Bush and against every President that’s gone before him in modern times, but you’re saying that there is essentially a religious inflection in the most extreme of the commentary against Obama that’s operating on a religious level, that’s a signal to a religiously-minded audience.

SCHAEFFER: Absolutely. Look. This is the American version of the Taliban. The Taliban quotes the Qu’ran, and al Qaeda quotes certain verses in the Qu’ran, in or out of context, calling for jihad, and bloody war, and the curse of Allah on infidels. This is the Old Testament, Biblical equivalent of calling for holy war. Now, most Americans’ll just see the bumper sticker and smile and think that it’s facetious. Unfortunately, there are 22 million Americans or so who call themselves super-conservative evangelicals. Of this, a small minority might be violent. But, the general atmosphere here is really getting heated.

And what surprises me is that responsible, if you can put it that way, Republican leadership and the editors of some of these Christian magazines, etc. etc., do not stand up in holy horror and denounce this. You know, they’re always asking “Where is the Islamic leadership denouncing terrorism? Why aren’t the moderates speaking out?” Well, I challenge the folks who I used to work with… I would just say to them: ‘Where the hell are you? This is not funny anymore. And be it on your head if something happens to our President…

Source / Democratic Underground

I’m now a ‘liberal’ because I’m a conservative

By Frank Schaeffer / November 4, 2009

People ask me why I’m a progressive these days and “changed sides” from being a conservative. I didn’t change sides.

I grew up in a fundamentalist missionary family that in the 1970s and 80s morphed into my father’s activity as one of the founders of the religious right. We would hobnob with Republican leaders from Ronald Reagan to Gerald Ford and the Bush family, Jack Kemp and many others. One day it dawned on me that the far right of the Republican Party — in other words its base — actually hates America.

The religious right reveled in rising crime statistics, “family breakdown” statistics, failing public schools and so forth. As I explain in my book Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism), if crime started going down, or public school test results started going up — without the country “turning back to Jesus” — then that would prove that somehow “we” were wrong.

We wanted our country to fail because it had “turned away” from what we believed to be true.

Combined with the fact that we began to lose parts of the culture war, when it came to other Americans beginning to recognize gay rights, expanding women’s rights, abortion rights and such, the religious right and the Republican Party infected gun-toting America with a chip on its shoulder about a mile wide. This led to the myth that “they” (fill in the blank, gays, Jews, blacks, liberals — whatever) are “taking away our country from ‘us.'”

“Conservative” means that you believe it’s right to legalize torture, but reject health care for all.

These days to be a conservative means that you hate the United States government elected by the people; believe that if millions of citizens are out of work that it’s their own fault and that the rest of the community should not help them by spending tax dollars; think that Sarah-believes-in-casting-out-demons-before-she-ran-for-governorship-Palin speaks for you.

To be a conservative means you believe that healthcare reform will lead to “death panels”; that the president of the United States is not a “real American”; that a university education is a dangerous thing; that Americans who live in big cities are less American than those who live in small towns; that brown people, blacks, progressive whites, gays, public school teachers, Hispanics, immigrants, are somehow conspiring to subvert the “real America” with a “gay agenda” or a “Muslim agenda” or at least the browning of “our” white America.

In other words to be a conservative today is to be an anti-American, nihilistic libertarian know-nothing who believes in unregulated consumerism and the theology of dominion, and the Rapture that many conservatives also subscribe to along with such ‘facts’ as that Obama is the — literal! — Antichrist.

In other words to be a conservative today is to be an anti-American, nihilistic libertarian know-nothing who believes in unregulated consumerism and the theology of dominion, and the Rapture that many conservatives also subscribe to along with such “facts” as that Obama is the — literal! — Antichrist.

Other than trying to stop women from having abortions and fighting the whole world, our “terrorist enemies,” in other words everyone “not like us,” conservatism today is nothing more than a pent-up reaction against everything “we” don’t understand — like art, literature, government, history, geography, diversity, how people get to be gay, black or female… things like that.

Conservatism today is actually not for anything. It is just against everyone but “us” and a few like us bound together by an alternative reality, otherwise known as Fox/NRA/Beck/Palin/Jesus’s Return — “News.”

The irony is that conservatives used to wrap themselves in the American flag and belonging to a cause built on higher ideals than pure selfishness and individual choice. Patriotism was based on principle, not fear and anger. Conservatism led by people such as the late William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater and others had its feet firmly planted in what it regarded as the reality-based community as opposed to liberal wishful thinking about progress coming from government, human nature, etc.

The problem for the conservative movement — hence the Republican Party — is that the us in “us” was never more narrowly defined.

No one said it openly, in fact it was denied, but it really amounted to we “real Americans” boiling down to mostly uneducated white people, dumb enough to believe things such as Sarah Palin’s barefaced lies about Obama consorting with terrorists, and/or, post the Obama election, conspiring to unleash “death panels” on unsuspecting elderly and/or handicapped Americans while turning us into a “Communist state” as everyone knows Hitler did to Germany, that other “communist country” famous right up there with Canada and the UK for killing its sick, tired and poor.

What is the conservative movement today, and/or the Republican Party?

It’s about as far away from conservatism as it can get. It is a party ready to trash its own country in support of nihilistic, selfish market-driven “values” — the very opposite of conservative values of family, community and stability. It is in fact what conservatives of the 60s said the hippies were: selfish brats with no sense of responsibility to anyone.

It’s also a party of armed revolution not so subtly egging on its lunatic fringe to commit violence. It applauds white rubes who show up at public meetings carrying loaded assault weapons “to make a point” and signs reminiscent of Timothy McVeigh and his famous T-shirt; “the tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants” and the like are held up by Murdoch/Beck/Fox and company — those profiteers off the unregulated market — as paragons of good sense and free enterprise and gun rights.

To be an actual conservative today is to be a progressive Democrat.

An actual conservative believes in community and accountability to a moral tradition that puts the greater good of others ahead of oneself. Take a look at the way the very conservative communities of New England’s Puritan towns were arranged around the village green known as “the commons.”

Shared public spaces were owned by the community, for instance grazing land, and town meeting houses. People were obliged to show up and participate in the fledgling democracy and vote. Taxes were dispensed by committees for charitable purposes. A duty to government and obligations placed on citizens by other citizens — when it came to putting the life of the community ahead of the self — were the norm.

The free market and individual enterprise were strictly curtailed based on not just the needs of the community but, when it came to things like banking and lending, the Old Testament teachings that frowned on “usury” — in other words banks making more money than they should from ordinary people — were upheld.

President Obama is a conservative. He believes in the brotherhood of all people. He believes in the freedom of the individual to make moral decisions. He believes that sexuality, religion and skin color should not define us but the content of our character should define us. He believes that we are our brother’s keeper. He believes in loyalty to community and country — in other words patriotism, whether that’s the honor of serving in the military or the honor of paying taxes to support not just national defense but how we treat what the Bible calls the least amongst us.

People ask me why I’m a progressive these days and “changed sides” from being a conservative. I didn’t change sides.

What changed — ironically with my father’s and my nefarious “Help!” — was a conservative movement that became an enclave for hate-filled ignorance, anti-American sentiment and nihilistic individualism. What changed was my bare faced self deception as I profited from the God business and the far right even though I knew better. Today I am an independent voter, and an Obama supporter, and a progressive because I am a conservative.

[Frank Schaeffer is the author of 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, and the forthcoming Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism).

Source / The Brad Blog

The Rag Blog

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4 Responses to Crazy for God : Frank Schaeffer on the Rachel Maddow Show

  1. Sarito says:

    Thanks so much for posting this excellent pair of pieces. Frank Schaeffer’s unique perspective deserves a much broader audience than it has been able to reach so far.

    I continue to be struck by how nearly everybody – progressives, the media, liberal politicians and talking heads – seems to want to minimize or deny the very real, and very dangerous “powder keg” quality of this particular form of craziness, in this particular convergence of historical and cultural circumstances. These people are not cute, not funny, not to be dismissed as a mere side show, or giggled at for being so ignorant and uninformed. The reality they are operating from is life-and-death territory to them, and we take them lightly, or try to ignore them and hope they will go away, at our own peril.

    Not sure how much is possible in terms of direct dialogue, but we can certainly keep up the pressure on the politicans who are angling for these folks’ votes by pandering to them, or who legitimize them by calling them “concerned citizens.”

  2. Mike Hanks says:

    Having met the Shaeffers in the late 70’s I can attest he knows from whence he speaks. At that time he and his family were part of was known as the “charismatic” movement. It was not, generally speaking, political but focused on a spiritual renewal of the churches which had become deadened by ritual and secular concerns.

    The first “politicization” of the movement was around the issue of abortion.

    Eventually the movement evolved, coalesced, and became known as “evangelical” – reflecting the increasingly active nature of the participants.

    As the movement became more cohesive and began to have universally recognized beliefs and myths it became a political force waiting to be discovered.

    The reaction against perceived shifts towards a more permissive and, some would say, less moral society catalyzed the divergent evangelical factions into a solidarity of like-minded believers.

    The Republican party exploited this “moral majority” to great advantage. It forms the core of Republican support today guided by powerful established interest in finance, business, and industry.

    The danger of course is that it is not simply a political movement. When religion is invoked the truth is no longer grounded in reason but in belief which is not subject to reason.

    That opens the door for psychopaths to justify their actions not on reason but “a higher authority”. The comparison with al Qaeda is a good one and shows the problem is not one of a particular faith but resides darkly in human nature waiting for the justification of violent acts.

    The peacemakers seem to have the quietest voices. I’m glad that some have the courage to speak.

  3. Bob Sam says:

    Excellent. Schaeffer’s most urgent point is in asking when the decent and honest men and women of God will stand up to this American Taliban and denounce them for the murderous fanatics and manipulators of the feeble-minded that they are.

    His palpable sense of outrage is refreshing.

  4. Anonymous says:

    God help us from demonic beliefs!

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