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Frank Schaeffer

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Debt Ceiling Chaos Is a Born-Again Religion Problem

Posted: 07/15/11 01:10 PM ET

Foreigners, visitors from another planet and Americans living in a bubble of reasonable or educated people might not know this but the reality is that the debt ceiling confrontation is by, for and the result of America's evangelical Christian control of the Republican Party. It is the ultimate expression of an alternate reality, one that has the mistrust of the US government as its bedrock "faith," second only to faith in Jesus.

To understand why an irrational self-defeating action like destroying the credit of the USA might seem like the right thing to do you have to understand two things: that the Republican Party is now the party of religious fanatics and that these fanatics -- people like Michele Bachmann -- don't want to work within our system, they want to bring it down.

In the scorched-earth era of the "health care reform debates" of 2009 and beyond, Evangelicals seemed to believe that Jesus commanded that all hospitals (and everything else) should be run by corporations for profit, just because corporations weren't the evil government. The right even decided that it was "normal" for the state to hand over its age-old public and patriotic duties to private companies -- even for military operations ("contractors"), prisons, health care, public transport, and all the rest.

The Religious Right/Far Right et al. favored private "facts," too.

They claimed that global warming wasn't real. They asserted this because scientists (those same agents of Satan who insisted that evolution was real) were the ones who said human actions were changing the climate. Worse, the government said so, too

"Global warming is a left-wing plot to take away our freedom!"

"Amtrak must make a profit!"

Even the word "infrastructure" lost its respectability when government had a hand in maintaining roads, bridges, and trains. In denial of the West's civic-minded, government-supporting heritage, Evangelicals (and the rest of the Right) wound up defending private oil companies but not God's creation, private cars instead of public transport, private insurance conglomerates rather than government care of individuals.

It only remained for a far right Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to rule in 2010 that unlimited corporate money could pour into political campaigns -- anonymously -- in a way that clearly favored corporate America and the super wealthy, who were now the only entities served by the Republican Party.


Where does this all come from?

The 1970s Evangelical antiabortion movement that my father Francis Schaeffer, C. Everett Koop, and I helped create seduced the Republican Party. By the early 1980s the Republicans were laboring under the weight of a single-issue religious test for heresy: abortion. Abortion was "murder" and since the US government "allowed abortion" it was no longer seen as legitimate by the anti-abortion activists.

I was there -- and/or Dad was -- participating in various meetings with Congressman Jack Kemp, Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush, Sr., when the unholy marriage between the Republican Party and the Evangelical "pro-life" community was gradually consummated. Dad and I -- as did many other Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell -- met one on one or in groups with key members of the Republican leadership quite regularly to develop a "pro-life strategy" for rolling back Roe v. Wade.

And that strategy was simple: Republican leaders would affirm their antiabortion commitment to Evangelicals, and in turn we'd vote for them -- by the tens of millions. Once Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, "we" would reverse Roe, through a constitutional amendment and/or through the appointment of antiabortion judges to the Supreme Court or, if need be, through civil disobedience and even violence, though this was only hinted at -- at first.

When Evangelical and Republican leaders sat together, we discussed "the issue," but we would soon move on to the practical particulars, such as "Will blue-collar Catholic voters join us now?" (They did.) Soon Evangelical leaders were helping political leaders to send their message to the "pro-life community" that they -- the Republican leaders -- were on board.

For instance, I organized the 1984 publication of President Ronald Reagan's antiabortion book with Evangelical Bible publisher Thomas Nelson. Reagan's book had first appeared as an essay in the Human Life Review (Spring 1983). I was friends with Human Life Review founder and editor: the brilliant Roman Catholic antiabortion crusader Jim McFadden. He and I cooked up the presidential project over the phone.

The president's book expressed his antiabortion "views" as ghostwritten by McFadden in order to cement the Reagan "deal" with the antiabortion movement. We called the book Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation. I suggested to Reagan's people that two Schaeffer family friends -- C. Everett Koop and Malcolm Muggeridge (a famous British writer/social critic and convert from Far Left politics to rabid Far Right Roman Catholicism with whom my father once led a huge "pro-life" demonstration in Hyde Park, London) -- provide us with afterwords to "bulk out" an otherwise too brief book, which they did within a week or two after I called them.

Once they were "on board," Republican leaders like Senator Jesse Helms and Congressmen Jack Kemp and Henry Hyde (to name but three whom I met with often, in Jack's case in his home, where I stayed as a guest) worked closely with my father and me, and we (along with a lot of other religious leaders) began to deliver large blocs of voters. We even managed "our" voters for the Republican Party by incessantly reminding our followers of "the issue" through newsletters, TV, and radio broadcasts.


Fast-forward thirty years to the early twenty-first century:

The messengers, leaders, and day-to-day "issues" changed, but the volume and tone of the anti-government "debate" and the anger in reaction to the Obama presidency originated with the antiabortion movement. To understand where that anger came from and who first gave voice to it, consider a few prescient passages from my father's immensely influential book (influential within the Evangelical ghetto, that is) A Christian Manifesto, which was published in 1981.

As you read these excerpts, bear in mind what would take place in the health care "debates" over what came to be disparaged as "Obamacare" thirty years or so after my father's book was read by hundreds of thousands of Evangelicals. Anti-health-care-reform rhetoric -- "Death Panels!" "Government Takeover!" "Obama is Hitler!" -- that the Far Right spewed in the policy debates of 2009 and beyond seemed to be ripped from the pages of Dad's and my writings.

Note the ominous rhetorical shadow Dad's book cast over a benighted and divided American future, a future that produced the climate of hate that eventually spawned the murder of abortion providers such as Dr. George Tiller in Wichita in 2009 and the threat of destroying America's credit in an effort to literally defund the USA.

Here's a bit from Manifesto on how the government was "taking away" our country and turning it over to Liberals, codenamed by Dad as "this total humanistic way of thinking":

"The law, and especially the courts, is the vehicle to force this total humanistic way of thinking upon the entire population.*

And this:

"Simply put, the Declaration of Independence states that the people, if they find that their basic rights are being systematically attacked by the state, have a duty to try and change that government, and if they cannot do so, to abolish it."

Then this:

"There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate. . . . A true Christian in Hitler's Germany and in the occupied countries should have defied the false and counterfeit state. This brings us to a current issue that is crucial for the future of the church in the United States, the issue of abortion. . . . It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God's law it abrogates its authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation."

In other words, Dad's followers were told that (1) force is a legitimate weapon to use against an evil government; (2) America was like Hitler's Germany--because of legal abortion and of the forcing of "Humanism" on the population--and thus intrinsically evil; and (3) whatever would have been the "appropriate response" to stop Hitler was now appropriate to do here in America to stop our government, which Dad had just branded a "counterfeit state."

Dad's books sailed under the radar of the major media. But his work, and the work of other anti-American religious right leaders shaped a generation.

For instance Michele Bachmann credits reading my father's books as to what inspired her to enter politics as a means to "serve the Lord."


Republican Apocalypse Now

To understand the extremism coming from the right, the fact that there are members of Congress who seem to be genuinely mentally unhinged leading the charge on the debt ceiling, you need to understand that this hatred of all things government has theological roots that have nothing to do with facts.

Theology is -- by nature -- not about reason but about faith. If God's will is to be served then so be it if America is plunged into chaos! This debt ceiling fiasco is just another chapter in the "culture" wars.

The extreme language of Evangelical/"pro-life" rebellion has now been repackaged in the debt ceiling showdown. It is the language of religion pitted against facts.

And the anti-government charge is being led by people who are either true believers, thus unable to reason, or people catering to the true believers so that they can remain in the good books of the Tea Party, which is nothing more than the Evangelical far right repackaged and renamed.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.

 
 
 

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