The 5,000-plus emails and letters generated by my memoir Crazy for God (about why I left a leadership position in the religious right) made it clear that I still had questions to answer about my family's role in the rise of the American extremism, even violence.
People liked the book but some people knew that I'd ducked some questions, like the fact we were responsible for the murder of several abortion providers. It takes a while to work up the courage to be honest and after I got Crazy for God off my chest I wanted to take another step (and my gloves off) before moving on.
The reason I've written my (just published) new book 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 is because of the insane rightward tilt of the Republicans post-Obama's election has meant that the path taken by the religious right (the movement that most informs the present day Republican Party) was something I felt needed to be better understood and exposed... from the inside.
When I'd be interviewed on NPR or by Rachel Maddow it often seemed to me that the questions asked about the Religious Right showed that even at best there is a lack of understanding of what it is that has pushed America in the direction of a theocracy where people like Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck et al seem to want to turn the US into a "Christian" version of Iran.
In Sex, Mom and God, I use my life as a lens through which to view a larger narrative: the rightward lurch of American politics since the 1970s.
What is happening in America is an expression of mass sexual dysfunction "inspired" by the allegiance of millions of individuals to the Bible. That is all the culture war really is. I wanted to write a book about this but told as a personal story.
In Sex, Mom and God I go back to where I -- and millions of others -- began our journeys: in the grip of our bedtime Bible stories! From a child's perspective peering out at the larger world from deep in the cocoon of a "Bible believing home," every word of the Bible is understood to be true in ways that nothing else is or ever will be even if, years later, that child grows up and changes his or her mind.
To be true to what I hope is the heart of the best of the universal religious message, I want to say that redemption through selflessness, hope, and love necessitates a new and fearless repudiation of the parts of holy books and traditions -- be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim (or other) -- that bring us messages of hate, exclusion, racism, ignorance, misogyny, homophobia, tribalism, and fear. To find any spiritual truth within any religion's holy books, we must mentally edit them by the light God has placed in each of us. As Anne Hutchinson put it at her trial, "The Lord knows that I could not open scripture; he must by his prophetical office open it unto me."
Those who wish to live as Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, or atheists by following the humble thread of what I'll call divine uncertainty, as opposed to those who wish to force others to be like them by using Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or doctrinaire secularism as a weapon, must shift from unquestioning faith in their books, the Bible, Koran, Torah, (or science) to a life-affirming message of transcendence.
The "big issues" really do boil down to sex, mom and God. "Modernity" has changed nothing. We human animals seek out meaning that transcends the sum of our physical parts. That never changes. And we make the same mistakes in every age. What has changed is that the stakes have gotten intolerably high because of our growing capacity to do global harm.
Anyone raised in a home where one or more parent or sibling was driven by a sense of passionate mission, be that of the left, right, religious, political or social will "get" my book. How does one separate one's self from a driven tribe? That's the individual's question. Our larger societal question is: How do we box in, contain and then reverse the evil the American right is doing to our society? For instance, if anyone can look at the way religion has treated and treats women and not be pissed off they have something wrong with them.
I intend on pissing off every misogynist homophobic religious conservative and/or empire-building neoconservative imperialist supporter of our permanent war economy stuck in the ideological straight jacket that I used to so proudly wear.
I'd also like to plant a seed that changes a few minds.
Sex, Mom and God also makes an argument for rediscovering the human values that are what is far more important than politics. Or put it this way; at age 58 I've discovered that nothing beats a tea party with a two year old who loves you unconditionally.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest 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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