Frank Schaeffer Reminisces About Growing Up With Fundamentalist Parents

It always bothers me when non-believing apologists for religion, those whom Jerry Coyne dubs “faitheists”, who have what Daniel Dennett characterizes as “belief in belief” claim that religion is either minimally harmless or outright beneficial for the faithful and therefore we should make no efforts to dissuade them of their errors.  The reason I get most bothered is because of the effects of conscientiously religious parenting on their kids.  Frank Schaeffer describes his experience dealing with such dangerous parenting with as much humor and free thought as a kid coming from controlling and closed-minded parents could muster:

In 1954 I got polio. I was two-years-old and fortunate that the doctor Mom took me to didn’t kill me. This “polio specialist” talked Mom into allowing him to replace some of my spinal fluid with a “special serum” he made from tapping the spinal fluid of chimpanzees.

Years later Mom admitted she knew that this sounded crazy but she prayed for guidance anyway. Apparently God told her to proceed. They administered one “treatment.”

When I told this story to Dr. Koop, a friend who was about to be appointed by President Reagan as Surgeon General, he said that you couldn’t design a better method to murder a child.

Teasing Mom was one of my favorite childhood pastimes. On any given night, say when I was ten, Mom would be about to close my bedroom door, having tucked me in and turned out the light. I didn’t want to go to sleep. It was time to challenge the received wisdom and stay up a bit longer.

“Mom?” I’d ask.

“Yes dear?” Mom answered opening the door just wide enough to pop her head back into the room.

“Mom, if monkey serum cured me then maybe it proves we really are evolved from monkeys.”

“Don’t be ridiculous dear.”

“But would lizard blood have worked?”

“It wasn’t blood dear and you’re just trying to tease me.”

“I’m not, Mom. I’ve been thinking that maybe this proves the atheists are right.”

“I hope you’re joking,” said Mom opening the door a little wider.

“No, I really do think that maybe we should change what we believe because it looks like my treatment proves evolution.”

Mom stepped resolutely back into the room and turned on the light. I struggled to keep a straight face. Mom gave me a look and sighed.

“You might be joking and you might think this is funny but you are coming awfully close to joking about things we never joke about.”

“Monkeys?”

“You know perfectly well what I mean!” Mom snapped. “We don’t joke about the things of the Lord! Now goodnight dear!”

Mom flicked off the light, turned and closed the door.

“I think Dad should change what he teaches about creation!”

The door opened. Mom was standing there with her hands on her hips.

“Now you really are being absurd dear!”

“No I’m not. Dad says that Christianity is so true that if someone, anyone, can really show it isn’t true or show the Bible is wrong about anything that he’ll give up his faith! He says we must have absolute confidence in the Scriptures!”

“Well, the Bible is true and you know that!”

“But I have monkey blood in me so I’ve become sort of a missing link!”

Mom shut the door. I heard a muffled laugh.

“I evolved!” I shouted triumphantly.

“You DID NOT!” Mom called back from halfway down the stairs. “Now that is quite enough! Go to sleep! You have crossed the line and are perniciously close to taking the Lord’s name in vain!”

“I didn’t say Jesus has monkey blood!”

I heard the rush of her steps on the stairs and the door flew open. Mom’s face was flushed.

“That’s IT! One more word and I’m getting your father! And you know that will put him in a MOOD! So don’t you dare make me!”

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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