Samantha Bee interviews Frank Schaeffer, who helped create the religious right



Make it a reality competition show: “Search for the savior.” Require the contestants to perform social work as their competitions. The elimination phrase (the equivalent of Survivor’s “The tribe has spoken.”) would be “Go in peace, my son.” The winner gets to tour the country speaking on social issues and matters of the faith.


I’d genuinely watch that. It would make for some great television and would actually push forward some of the characters who are naturally pushed to the back.

I just wonder how you’d really get the contestants for that. The recruitment process would be interesting and the interactions would be pretty priceless if you made sure to grab from extremely different denominational profiles.


Assuming “Bill Marr” refers to Bill Maher he doesn’t exactly speak the truth:

He’s long been an alt-med wing nut, has a reputation as a serious misogynist, and his approach to Atheism seems mostly focused on smugly shitting on brown people. He will (continually has) advocated obviously bonkers positions and falsehoods provided they allow him to smugly judge others.

Its the difference between a law that looks moral, says “HEY! Look how moral we are!” but allows the thing its supposed to contain to continue unabated, and often with much greater harm. And a law that practically tries to deal with the issue. Its OK if abortions happen, its OK if they’re deeply dangerous and expensive back alley abortions. So long as we don’t have to hear about it, Make a legal/public statement that its bad, and can putative punish anyone who makes us pay attention. That way we can still keep shouting about how moral it all is. Meanwhile in the real world we know exactly how to reduce the amount of abortions, eliminate the harm they may cause, and address the actual issues that drive it. Comprehensive sexual education, broad access to birth control, and accessible legal abortion regulated as a medical procedure. It doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzies of the government endorsing your religious or moral positions via law while letting it all go to pot. But it fucking works.

I’m more confused by the lack of a consistent religious left. And how the Evangelicals ended up and remain the be all end all of “religion” and Christianity in America. They’re a pretty damn small group over all. More than out weighed by the mostly liberal Mainline Protestants. And if you look back before the rise of the religious right, the left was the driving political force in American Christianity. And the big coup there was using Race and Abortion to tie the Catholics (and later the Mormons) in with right wing Fundamentalists and evangelicals who were driving far right opposition on those wedge issues.

That makes a certain amount of sense. Catholics are huge, like a quarter of the population here. But how then did the evangelicals, who traditional saw Catholics as pretty much evil incarnate (this is where “The pope is the anti-christ!” lives); and are much, much smaller end up in the drivers seat? And the Catholic Church is hardly entirely in-line with these guys. The church itself is obviously anti-choice, anti-birth control, and aligned on other wedge social issues. But they accept science, evolution and a hell of a lot of religious concepts that are totally at odds. And once you get out of the church hierarchy its a lot less consistent. The majority of American Catholics are out of line with the church itself, often to the left of it. Particularly with regards to the exact wedge issues used to bind the christian right together. And they’re increasingly non-white (Hispanics are the driving force behind whatever increases they’re seeing in membership), and we know where non-whites sit in American politics. Even among the clergy significant (and growing) groups are increasingly involving themselves with politicized liberal aspects of mainline Protestantism (especially Nuns and Jesuits).

Frankly there are more than enough politically involved, left wing Christians in this country to well out way the religious right even as it stands now. And especially if the Catholics backed away, which looking a the current pope might end up happening. And there have never been enough evangelicals or fundementalists to justify or explain their influence in our politics or control of religious/christian identity. So what gives?


It wouldn’t (necessarily) have been so organized or rallied around the specific issues it did (issues which weren’t really concerns of theirs, previously).


His books are pretty fascinating reading, too, as cranky as he can occasionally get.

Crazy for God in particular goes into enormous detail about exactly the topic discussed in the interview.

Sex, Mom, and God is a more personal memoir but also very interesting.


Hmm … after a quick brainstorm, how about soliciting nominations from the public for people who have influenced their lives for the better through their good words and actions? If a person is nominated repeatedly, seek them out and interview them to determine if the testimonials are true and if they are interested in participating. Those people who have the “best” stories as to how their candidate showed their goodness and are willing to have those stories played on the show as background for why their candidate was selected get some level of reward.


The blog “Slacktivist” documents the relation between evangelical theology (primarily Southern Baptist), racism, sexism and purity culture. Fred Clark, a former reporter and theology student, does a masterful job of unpacking the problems related to evangelical opposition to Civil Rights.

This can be found along with Frank Schaeffer’s own blog under the “Progressive Christianity” section at Patheos. You can get a greater sense of how being at the center of this kind of culture really messed up Frank’s life. Frank tends to be very reactionary and frustrated, but often for good reason.

On a brighter note, having gone to Fuller Graduate Schools in California, I can attest to the fact that the delicate balance between liberal and conservative elements in theology is still alive there, just barely. A broad range of people form all parts of the political spectrum have been there: Rob Bell and John Piper were both there, as well as Miroslav Volf and Mel White.

It was a well-known secret that many professors were regular attendees of the Episcopal church while also maintaining an active “evangelical” position in the purest sense of the word-- that is discipling faith intelligently, rather than seeing conversion as a notch on one’s belt to get to heaven.

While I tend to be Progressive or Emergent-based in my own theology as a Methodist, as well as much more attuned to Eastern Orthodoxy as the source of my faith, the political propaganda of right-wing religion has been something I had to deprogram from like many others who are still Christian.

Don’t count all of us out yet.


Not entirely, but people like him didn’t help. The right wing wasn’t solely responsible for endless decades of western interventions in the middle east, for one. Blaming him also misses that the rise of religious fundamentalism and right wing populism based on “traditional values”, across the globe, which has been a reaction to modernity, as much as it has been to western imperialism. The failure of the soviet union, local communists, and the pan-arab movement to provide a workable alternative to the rise of Islamism. Plus, assuming that a westerner was the sole cause of an organization like Daesh assumes that people in the middle east have no agency of their own, but merely exist in opposition to and because of American/European machinations. The powers that be in the region has been just as active and reactive to events on the ground within their own countries, as to western demands or interventions.


For a short period I worked with some organizations that are apparently at the center of left wing Christianity. Both theologically and politically. And really heavily involved in progressive activism and social justice. So I saw first hand that that element is there. And that its really large. Its just nothing like a consistent movement. Even in a place that was built to produce that, and had in the past, and was in a uniquely strong position to tie the various elements of the Christian left together into a single political force there was nothing that really looked like a “christian left”.

I saw a lot of panic about dropping attendance, often described as the “death” of mainline Protestantism. Often futile strategies for increasing membership were prioritized or described as more important than the sort of political action and public out reach that would increase membership. There was a lot of infighting. For example a surprising amount of people involved were quietly very suspicious of Unitarians. So of them not so quiet. Left wing theological students (and sometimes clergy) talk about Unitarians the same way right wing Christians talk about Obama being a secret Muslim. A lot was bogged down in the messier end of Identity politics. Such and such theological school, protest movement, activist agenda, catered lunch was less important/wrong/evil/unchristian because it did not directly address such and such group and only such and such group. All of it was very much pointed inward. Jockeying internally for influence, attacking your allies, and reaching out to or speaking to only those already involved. And only about the movement (or a movement) itself. Preaching to the converted as it were, very little in the way of consistent attempts to have a voice nationally, or reach out to amenably groups (outside the immediate geographical area) to build something larger. And where national scale attention was garnered it was only in reaction to shit pushed at that level by the right. A pithy reaction/denial for the news. They always reacted and never set the conversation on their own terms.

And as you pointed out even in that group a lot of the conversation was still fundamentally based on terms set by the christian right. A lot of the internal dickering was predicated on “reconciling” x, y, or z with your christian faith. With christian faith assumed to be, at its best purest and most technically defined, basically conservative evangelicalism. Despite that strain being pretty new as a force nationally, pretty at odds with long trends in theology, and pretty out of the ordinary. Most of the people arguing over this came from denominations with much longer histories, much more sensible theological basis, and a liberal political bent that well pre-dates that particular concept of Christianity as definitive. And yet they were spending a huge amount of effort justifying themselves on its terms. Even linguistically you could see how embedded it had become. I once heard an interviewer ask a question on the subject of Faith Based Initiatives: “what do you say to people who believe there is a separation of church and state in this country?” This guy was from a denomination that totally accepts separation of church and state, and who worked for an organization that believes it to be sacrosanct and deeply important to religious freedom. At event featuring groups that actively work to combat violation of church/state separation. Often in concert with secular or explicitly atheist organizations. And yet he asked his question in language that assumed that the separation of church and state wasn’t real, was a belief, or was under debate. Rather than using language that more clearly asked the question he was after, and just treated church/state separation as the settled law it is. Should have been “Does this violate the separation of church and state?”. No body even blinked, I seem to be the only person who noticed that was odd or problematic, and I saw that sort of thing regularly.


With christian faith assumed to be, at its best purest and most technically defined, basically conservative evangelicalism.

Right, exactly. Why do people think dogma is pure? I hear it among my Jewish friends, too, the idea that the Orthodox Jews are somehow more religious, more pure in their religious practice, than Reform Jews.


Don’t forget to breathe :wink:


What does breathing have to do with typing? :wink:


Well aside from the entire train of thought being ridiculous, with Judaism there’s at least a basis for it. Orthodox Judaism hews closer to the way the religion was practice and the culture operated in the deep past. Its older, and has been changed less match up with the modern world. Particularly that whole black hat orthodox thing.

But with Christianity the whole evangelical/Pentecostal/fundamentalist thing is really, really new. Though the theological basis for it is older, it basically dates to 19th century America and a handful of early movements in the 18th. Its position as the default, assumed, form of Christianity is even newer. Basically dating to after the formation of the “religious right” movement in the 80’s with roots in the civil rights and abortion fights of the 60’s. So not only is it a frankly absurd argument to begin with. But in the details it doesn’t seem to have any basis or validity at all.


This is half-true. The Orthodox movement, as it stands now, would be partly unrecognizable to the Jews of 1000 or even 500 years ago (beyond the generalities of practice like the words of the liturgy, although certainly not the melodies), although the movement would like to present itself as being identical in practice to ancient Judaism. But it is every bit as much an adaptation to the modern world as Reform Judaism is, just in the opposite cultural direction. Ancient Temple Judaism it isn’t, or even the Judaism of the eras of Rashi or Maimonides–not in the interpretation of the halahka, not in the mode of dress or other surface cultural practices, or even in the specifics of the minhagim (a minhag is the specific tradition that a specific sub-branch of Judaism practices–such as the Ashkenazi not eating rice during Passover, while Sephardi minhag is that rice is acceptable).

Furthermore, the “black hat Orthodox” thing is Chabad, which is a new movement within Judaism , only dating back to the late 1700s, and has numerous examples of rapid cultural evolution and practice (the shtreimel, for example, is a fur hat that was directly borrowed from Eastern European dress within the last 200 years). So, while Chabadniks are certainly earnest and faithful, calling their specific brand of Jewish observance to be “closer to the way the religion was practiced in the deep past” is inaccurate (with apologies to @Israel_B).

Heck, there has been massive amounts of cultural drift just within the last 60ish years. For example, the Orthodox educational system for boys (of which I am a product) has been completely retooled towards output of rabbis and knowledge workers like doctors and lawyers. In Lakewood, NJ, there’s a yeshiva that, when the students sit down for Torah study, has more individual people studying in that room than the sum total enrollment of every European yeshiva for the last 300+ years.


Ha ha ha. Wow, that shot was really off target. Evangelicals and and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not even close to the same.


With all due respect you are painting with an odd brush here. The fact that the Orthodox siddurim (pray books/liturgical texts) would be recognizable to a time traveling Jew from the past isnt a minor point at all. Were said time traveler also familiar with the halachik process, they would also be comfortable with the ways in which rabbinic decisions are made now, etc. etc. etc. When the Orthodox speak of being “identical” they dont mean in a static way as “The Torah is not in Heaven” (1).

The idea that Orthodoxy is “as much an adaptation to the modern world as Reform” is essentially laughable if one understands the operating principles involved, what separates one from the other, etc. Were our time traveler to see how Reform Judaism treats the Torah as something written by humans and more of a set of guidelines than law, she or he would be under no confusion as to if Reform was similar or not. Same for how Reform has changed their liturgy to the point of being unrecognizable and for its abandonment of kashrut, * taharath hamishpacha* and lack of shabbat obsrvance.

Again wrong. “Black hat” is far more of a general Orthodox thing than just Chabad and is far wider spread than Chabad. It is pretty much any of the yeshivish types of Orthodoxy even including some parts of Modern Orthodoxy. Since you mentioned Lakewood you should know this.

First off thanks, but again the statement has to be understood in context.

Not as different as you present. The idea of combining a profession and Torah study is not new at all. Rashi was a vintner, Maimonides worked as a court doctor and ran a clinic for the poor and all the big name rabbis of the Talmud were professionals as well. As the Talmud says “a man who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to be a thief”. In any case, only some yeshivas combine education towards a profession with Torah study, many barely focus on secular studies at all.

  1. For those following along this is a well recognized Talmudic reference to mean that the law is to be interpreted by the courts of the times according to established methods and traditions.


The siddur might be recognizable, but davening is just a small part of the Jewish culture, and I specifically noted it as being a bit that would be somewhat recognizable.

Let me be a bit more clear in what I meant, then: to the hypothetical Jewish time traveler from ~1500 CE, the idea of semi-organized movement affiliations would be looked upon as rather odd, but understandable in the context of the cultural changes. “Oh, so these people saw the changes and loosened their grip on the Torah, and these people saw that and tightened their grips.” Furthermore, “Orthodox” as a cultural signifier/affiliation didn’t start appearing until after the Reform movement got its start in the aftermath of Napoleon’s tearing-down of the ghetto walls. In that context–not the theological, but the socio-cultural–Orthodoxy is every bit as much a reaction to the modern world as Reform is.

I know. I have one, due to basically being ostracized by my Chabadnik classmates and teachers for failing to conform with the school norms.

But the cultural impetus/norms behind it come from Chabad’s influence, and it, and the stereotypical formal dress ‘uniform’ that goes with it, only became a norm in Orthodoxy since the 1950s.

But the focus on Torah study to the exclusion of all else, and the treating of the secular world as some combination of tamay and treyf is a completely different pattern of what came before, along with the ideal being now “Everyone is a Torah scholar, regardless of aptitude or economic viability”. That’s a change! We’re not allowed to be tradesmen or workmen anymore, in terms of cultural norms.

Look, basically what happened was, in the aftermath of the Shoah, Orthodoxy was seen as effectively dead; all of the infrastructure was gone, a massive percentage of the populace was dead, including most of the great rabbis and their schools. So the Orthodoxy survivors looked at what was left, and many shifted allegiance to Reform or Conservative. The ones that were left to rebuild Orthodoxy were, if you’ll pardon the term, the hardliners who would never give in, like Rabbi Schneerson, and he and the others he worked with ended up rebuilding Orthodoxy in the image that they saw as ideal.

I very much doubt that they intended it, or had some master plan, or were doing anything other than running from crisis to crisis and coming up with things as they went along, but the end result of their efforts is modern day Orthodoxy’s educational infrastructure and culture, which has an educational fixation on rabbis, lawyers, doctors, etc. to the exclusion of all else. No tailors, no plumbers, no builders, no carpenters (much to my father’s lifelong disappointment), no secular-subject teachers (the fight over that is what made me finally leave Orthodoxy), and so forth.


Well, remember all of the problems that one carpenter caused.


Partially my point. It hews closer (or tries to), that’s partially the point of orthodoxy and theological conservativism regardless of the religion. As I understand it a fair bit of the tradition there was based in social structures of European Jewry, rather than in a specific direct continuity with very early post-Temple Judaism (of course its not similar to Temple Judaism). That doesn’t mean its actually any more accurate, authoritative, or even broadly more similar to past iterations of Judaism. And it certainly doesn’t mean its any more valid. That’s what makes the whole argument just stupid. There’s beenmany centuries of cultural development, history, and people generally mucking around in the interim. Even if there was direct 1-1 continuity, with no exposure to outside influence or cultural exchange shit would have changed massively.

I was using “black hat” specifically to refer to those Ultra Orthodox movements that are not Chabad/Lubavitch. In my experience that term is typically used in that fashion. To refer to Orthodox groups that are not based in Hasidism, but are superficially similar (those black hats and coats!) and similarly extreme in their orthodoxy. From what little I understand about that particular strain of Judaism there’s a large basis in consciously rejecting more modern interpretations, theology, and cultural traditions. As well as a rigid adherence to biblical law as written (and as interpreted in the past rather than more recently). Regardless of whether there is direct continuity with past bodies and traditions.

In the end all I was saying is: With Judaism that argument can be made, and its at least intellectually consistent. In large part because Orthodoxy is intellectually structured to to do just that. Hew closer to past forms of Judaism. But that doesn’t mean the argument is valid, that they’ve succeeded, or that the argument doesn’t fall apart almost completely when you dig into the details.

But to argue or consider very modern evangelical/fundamentalist sects within Christianity as some how the definitive, most valid, and closest to the original default Christianity is just weird. Particularly when they are such a small piece of the overall Christian population. This strain of Christianity pretty much doesn’t exist before the late 19th century. There were earlier similar movements they grew out of, and a theological basis in some older European Protestant writings. But as we know them now they’re basically from the 20’s, and the highly politicized form with its direct ties to conservative political movements comes to the front in the 50’s and 60’s. Meanwhile there are multiple other traditions and bodies with actual direct continuity from the earliest days of the Christian religion. The biggest one being the Roman Catholic Church, but there are multiple other Catholic Churches, many different Orthodox Churches including ones in the Levant. And sundry smaller, weirder, and older churches and congregations. And there are very good records of how these bodies practiced at various times, when and why they changed and evolved, how they were formed etc. Though to come back to the whole concept being pointless what we know about very early pre-church Christianity doesn’t mesh too well with any of these bodies either.