Thursday, January 24, 2008

Crazy for God

Today I finished Frank Schaeffer's book about growing up in the shadow of his famous parents. As I've read the book, it stirred-up many emotions and conflicts. One part of me was saddened by the revelations of the "feet of clay" both Francis and Edith Schaeffer hid so well from public view. Part of me cringed at Frank's, well, frankness, about his life, including more details about his sex life than I really cared to know. Another part was shocked by the revelations Frank made about the evangelical rise to power in the U.S., and the role he and his father played in it. Part of me was nodding my head and wondering how so many Christians in this country came to be so completely duped by the power-hungry, exclusivist, narrow-minded, greedy "Christian" demi-gods posing as leaders. Part of me saw myself and my faith journey all tied up in that "plastic Christian" world of evangelical super-stars. And part of me wondered how much credibility Frank Schaeffer had left, and how much I need to take with a grain of salt.

The Author's Note:
I'm sure I have placed some of the events in the wrong years or have written that something happened in one place when it happened in another. this is a memoir, not a biography. To footnote this story or to have done research into dates and places and to correct the chronology would have been to indulge the conceit that my book is objective history. It is not. What I've written comes from a memory deformed by time, prejudice, flawed recall, and emotion.

Several places in the Schaeffer repeats this in some way or another, just to let us know he knows these are his experiences and memories, and not rigid history. I appreciate his confession and the recognition of this often over-looked truth. On the other hand, the book is still mostly written as a fact-filled look at not just Frank's life, but at the characters of many evangelical leaders. Because of that, I find myself keeping some of his observations at arm's length. I don't doubt the very negative opinion he has of James Dobson, among others, is true to his experience. I simply reserve the right to nuance Frank's view with the experiences of others.

Frank Schaeffer's book is an important read, even if it isn't always pleasant or comfortable. It will make many people mad. It will help other's feel vindicated. It will confuse some people because they will try to be like Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, who tried to find a way to make both Darcy and Wickham come out virtuous in their conflict. The problem is, there is no completely virtuous character in this book, or in real life. Life is messy, and Crazy for God shows one person's life at its messiest.

The look at the pro-life movement and how the Democratic Party blew the chance to gain credibility when it hardened its stance on abortion was fascinating, and perhaps some of the best information in the book. The look at how pro-life ended up a Republican party plank is so informative. Especially considering this was a "Catholic" issue for so long and most Catholics were Democrats.

How am I feeling now after I've thought about the book for a while? I don't know where I am theologically, but I know that even if I agree on specifics (like the sanctity of life) evangelical leaders don't speak for me anymore. This book only confirmed what I've been seeing for a while. Along the way someone (more than one, of course) co-opted Christianity, narrowed its scope, set the rules in stone, and built walls to exclude people and concentrate power...all in the name of "purity" and "godliness."

So take a deep breath and plunge in. It's not so much refreshing as cathartic.

On another note: I don't know much about writing, but I found Franky's book to be unevenly written and unnecessarily confusing in its timeline. It somehow fits his volatile personality. ;-) I plan to get some of his fiction to see how that reads.


Phyllis said...

What a great review. I haven't read the book, but you've certainly piqued my interest.

Phyllis said...

Carrie, Thank you for your comments on my blog. I responded to you there, but thought I'd better write here too. I hope to explore your site and links more as I get the time. Would you be interested in an email conversation on your Catholic journey? lgeleynse AT cogeco DOT ca

Carol said...

Oh my Carrie, I don't get many opportunities to go around the blogs and read, but I am definitely getting this book! I had a friend who worked with one of the leaders, and it was not a good experience. :(

julieunplugged said...

Hey I agree with this review almost entirely.

His writing is uneven. I felt the third section moved into his old voice - more of a rant, more telling and not so much revealing, showing or vulnerably offering. He wrote to me! I shared my views with him. I got from his email that he is looking for that next level of writing skill, vulnerability and openness.

Personality interferes, though, and I do see him as still struggling with some of his demons. Also, the third section about the rise of the evangelical movement... no doubt there is veracity in many of his reports. But it appears he still has tangled feelings about all of it, less peace, less nuance.

I loved reading about his dad and their walks in the Alps. Favorite part.

Also, did you get a kick out of reading about his boarding school experiences? I felt like I was back in Harry Potter! :)