Newsweek is going out of its way to portray Michelle Bachmann as a nutter, and taking heat for it. But then we have been there before with Newsweek. They don’t like religious people, apparently of any stripe.
That could be discounted if it stopped there, but Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker is piling on. Lizza does some great reporting, but his piece is heavily spun, and not merely anti-Bachmann, but anti-religion. The piece relies heavily on a tone of “these people are nuts.” It is a treatment that Mormons are no doubt used to, but for Evangelicals it is a relatively new experience – average Evangelical views spun in terms of our extremists, therefore rendering them incredulous to the average observer.
The classic example comes in a section discussing the influence of the work of Francis Schaefer on Bachmann:
At the time, evangelicals were becoming a major presence in American politics. In 1976, like many other fundamentalist Christians, the Bachmanns supported Jimmy Carter, a born-again Baptist. The Bachmanns attended Carter’s Inauguration, in January, 1977. Later that year, they experienced a second life-altering event: they watched a series of films by the evangelist and theologian Francis Schaeffer called “How Should We Then Live?”
Schaeffer, who ran a mission in the Swiss Alps known as L’Abri (“the shelter”), opposed liberal trends in theology. One of the most influential evangelical thinkers of the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, he has been credited with getting a generation of Christians involved in politics. Schaeffer’s film series consists of ten episodes tracing the influence of Christianity on Western art and culture, from ancient Rome to Roe v. Wade. In the films, Schaeffer—who has a white goatee and is dressed in a shearling coat and mountain climber’s knickers—condemns the influence of the Italian Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Darwin, secular humanism, and postmodernism.
First of all, note how the first two sentences of that pull quote confuse Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, while casting Bachmann in both. Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism are two opposing views in Protestant Christianity. They have indeed become confused in the modern reporter’s mind but they are two very different things. Schaeffer and L’Abri were dedicated to one simple idea – we are influenced by forms of communication without realizing that we are. The idea is that when we listen to say Wagner, a known and virulent anti-Semite, we expose ourselves to some extent and are therefore open to influence by wrong headed ideas like Wagner’s antisemitism. It requires education and training to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in such circumstances. Schaeffer’s efforts were to provide such education and training. A fundamentalist would say “don’t read anything from the Enlightenment.” Schaeffer, an evangelical, would say “when you read such things be sure and engage your critical facilities.”
But by confusing the two, Lizza paints Schaeffer and his disciples as near theocrats:
Francis Schaeffer instructed his followers and students at L’Abri that the Bible was not just a book but “the total truth.” He was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Sara Diamond, who has written several books about evangelical movements in America, has succinctly defined the philosophy that resulted from Schaeffer’s interpretation: “Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.”
Now this is, in fact dishonest. While Dominionists have drawn on Schaeffer’s work in the development of their ideas, Schaeffer himself got no where near the extremes Lizza describes. But by this tenuous thread, that Bachmann and Dominionists have read the same materials, Lizza manages to make Bachmann look like such an extremist.
Just as a second comment, Lizza, in his depiction of Schaeffer’s film work “How Should We Then Live,” interviews Schaeffer’s son, and the film’s director, Franky Schaeffer. Franky has turned liberal of late and spends most of his time denouncing the work of his father:
Schaeffer died in 1984. I asked his son Frank, who directed the movies—and who has since left the evangelical movement and become a novelist—about the change in tone. He told me that it all had to do with Roe v. Wade, which was decided by the Supreme Court while the film was being made. “Those first episodes are what Francis Schaeffer is doing while he was sitting in Switzerland having nice discussions with people who came through to find Jesus and talk about culture and art,” he said. But then the Roe decision came, and “it wasn’t a theory anymore. Now ‘they’ are killing babies. Then everything started getting unhinged. It wasn’t just that we disagreed with the Supreme Court; it’s that they’re evil. It isn’t just that the federal government may be taking too much power; now they are abusing it. We had been warning that humanism followed to its logical conclusion without Biblical absolutes is going to go into terrible places, and, look, it’s happening right before our very eyes. Once that happens, everything becomes a kind of holy war, and if not an actual conspiracy then conspiracy-like.”
While I never went to L’Abri personally, I have a number of close personal friends that did, and they did so in the post-Roe v Wade era. Their descriptions of Francis Schaeffer and their time at L’Abri bear no resemblance whatsoever to the picture that Franky paints here, or has numberless times elsewhere. And this is not merely in recollection, but is also reflected in personal correspondence I had with them while they were in attendance at L’Abri. In fact I find no reference to “war” terminology or Roe v Wade whatsoever. I wonder why Lizza did not bother to interview any of the 100′s of people that lived at L’Abri during the period that Franky describes his father as going over the edge?
There are many other nits that could be picked with the piece, but I am supposed to be starting a vacation. There is one thing that is clear. These examples illustrate that the treatment Mitt Romney and his faith was given last cycle is now the treatment that will be given to anyone of sincere and deep faith of any type if it opposes the liberal agenda. The confusion of schools of thought and the resulting distortions of commonly held and reasonable belief that was used to paint Mormonism as “weird,” are now being used, sadly as this blog predicted those years ago, to paint us all as weird.
As the current occupant of the White House works paint the current financial crisis as the fault of anyone but himself, so the liberal elite work to paint those of us that disagree as somehow illegitimate to engage in public discourse.
It’s gonna be a loooooong cycle. And now, another shot at beginning that vacation.
Addendum – a few hours later
Sarah Pulliam Bailey also takes down the Lizza piece, noting many of the same things we do, plus much more details. (She must not be on the verge of leaving for vacation!) With this kind of stuff going on one is forced to wonder – How long?