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

Frank Schaeffer
(Carroll & Graf)
Schaeffer had the childhood you and I would die for. He grew up in a small, clean village in Switzerland. His mother and father, famous evangelists, left him on his own to sled, ski, hang out with the mountains and villagers and the massive number of visitors that came through their retreat, L'Abri, as students or interns.

There was always food fit for the gods, fresh bread, clean air, exhilirating company, nights around the fire, and vacations skiing at Zermatt or swimming at the Riviera.

He was articulate and smart --- though, he claims, discovered later, dyslexic ---and his father (also Frank Schaeffer) was a hot ticket on the evangelistic religious route. His mother also became famous and he got to vacation in luxurious homes of those doing right by doing well in the name of God. No penance nor poverty in the name of poor Jesus here.

Oh, he gives us asides from time to time to convince us it wasn't the perfect life: his father used to yell at his mother now and again, throw potted plants at her; those rare times he was in school, he had to deal with nut cases (teachers, masters, students); Franky --- to be distinguished from Frank, Senior --- got polio at age two, had to have a small operation on his leg before he could ski again.

But from what I read here, this kid was coddled and cared for and raised with love in a lovely place, achieved paradise at a time when you and I were still being beaten for talking back to Pops. Franky's sisters were wonderful, his mother was great --- though her prayers could be very long --- and his father taught him how to ski before he was even walking. When he got to the proper age, he would sled down to the local pubs to ogle the big-busted Swiss barladies.

Part of Crazy for God is a biography of two of the most successful evangelists of the mid-century U. S. evangelical movement: Frank Senior who wrote the best-selling How Should We Then Live, and Mother, who wrote "The L'Abri Story," equally successful (and still in print).

Junior subsequently made movies of How Should We Then Live and its sequel Whatever Happened to the Human Race? The former was turned into a twelve part series which is still shown at fundamentalist hoe-downs. According to the author, it bonded fundamentalists all over the western world in their abhorrence of abortion. In fact, the influence was so great that he can assert, "What Dr. Koop, Dad, and I helped to start was a slow-motion civil war of reaction [to Roe v Wade] that has morphed into 'red-' and 'blue-' state America." Pretty good for a kid of twenty who grew up in the mountains and never directed a movie before.

§     §     §

All this would be too much to take from a young self-inflated whipper-snapper except for the fact that his writing style is up to snuff, he can move the story right along, the tale he has to tell is a hot one, and it all ain't peaches and cream up there in Jesusland.

First of all, Dad may have been an old line evangelical, but, unlike the current curmudgeons, he was more than a little fond of Western art, music, and philosophy. At one point, the author notes that this "looney group of fundamentalists ... Robertson, Falwell, Dobson, Rex Reed" would have "made my father throw up."

There is a wonderful exchange between Schaeffer Senior and Pat Robertson on modern art. "Pat Robertson told us proudly about burning a reproduction of a nude by Modigliani that he used to have over his fireplace."

    As Pat told us his art-burning story with many a shiver, as if he was confessing to have once been a mass murderer before he "met Jesus," Dad squirmed. I stared in his direction, but he wouldn't meet my eyes. My father loved Modigliani, and sometimes talked about how Modigliani "retained the human" in his art, in contrast to Marcel Duchamp.

An even funnier sequence has Junior in the make-up room of The 700 Club,

    Pat still had the paper makeup ruffle tucked around his neck. it made him look like a stripped-down Dutch seventeenth-century pastor in a Rembrandt ... And any sober Dutch Reformed pastor would have had Pat burned at the stake as soon as he heard him speaking in tongues, let alone the stream of gibberish he was about to unleash on us.

Autobiographies of turncoats are usually great fun, and here one can get the inside skinny on the scamps of fundamentalism at their worst (away from the cameras). Schaeffer went from being the fair-haired money-raiser for his two movies and other fundamentalist causes to a proud member of the Greek Orthodox community. En route, he became a (sometimes) very funny writer. His insider's view of being a traveling-salesman for the business of Christ is one of the best I've come across.

When he was on the road, raising money, he knew "'The Speech' so well, I could think about other things while I delivered it; for instance, about how I wished God had never made any men or women with a 'ministry in music.'"

    I wished he'd strike them all down so I'd never have to spend another minute listening to another fat lady (even the men were "fat ladies" to me) sing another Jesus-is-my-boyfriend song to synthesized violin playback.

Schaeffer is sure that Roe v. Wade did a dandy job of polarizing the country, and claims that ACLU's and Planned Parenthood's stands on crèches-in-the-public-parks and "partial-birth abortion" may have pushed just too many people from the middle into the Republican camp. He points out that the abortion laws of Europe are far more careful, and notes that even Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, "had called abortion murder and, following her lead, so had Planned Parenthood in their literature, right up to 1968."

Schaeffer is no sanctimonious fool: he admits to moments of violence and depression. His symptoms may even border on schizophrenia; his wild mood swings hint at a touch of "the bearded lady disease." Along with Koop and dear old Dad, he claims to have made the red/blue division of America a reality, and then in the next paragraph he will denounce his own movies, his role as a parent, and can wallow in sieges of mania. When he was living in Hollywood, for example, he'd go to Von's and shoplift pork-chops in order to survive. Pork-chops! With his taste in exotic French and Italian cuisine, the least he could have done would have been to pocket some arugula and caviar.

--- Diane Hermans
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