When my busy dad Francis Schaeffer and I spent time alone together, I discovered a quiet and humble man who seemed sadder than he was angry while struggling to conform his personality and natural interests – art and hiking — to a theological ideal that he questioned. As a result of his deep unanswered questions he defended his views all the more loudly in public. Don’t we all? Besides which; Dad was genuinely moved by compassion for the “Lost” and just because he was needlessly worried for their souls’ eternal destination doesn’t take away from the fact that he cared enough to try to help many people who benefited if not from Dad’s theology then from his innate kindness.
Turns out; Mom, like my father, was right about so much that’s important to me now, even if she arrived at her conclusions by the wackiest of theological paths and failed to follow much of her own good advice. For instance; a marriage that works well really is “a blessing,” but maybe not because the married state is a “picture of Jesus and His Bride the Church.” And perhaps a marriage that falls apart really is “a tragedy for the children” but not proof that, “Those People never were Real Christians to begin with.”
What my parents never seemed to have done is consider that the Bible contains a paradox: it’s full of self-evidently civilization-building wisdom and full of self-evidently civilization-destroying gibberish too. I have a view different form theirs and have expressed this in my new book — And God Said, “Billy!“ exploring the roots of American religious delusion, and offering another way to approach true spirituality. The book charts my own journey from fundamentalist delusion to a more open and questioning Christian tradition.
My proposal is this: To be true to the heart of the gospel message — redemption through selflessness, hope and Love — necessitates a fearless repudiation of parts of the same book (and tradition) that also brings us a message of hate. To find the spiritual truth that’s hidden within the Bible it must be edited by people of good will who are informed by the spiritual truth we carry within us.
The loyalty of those who wish to live as Christians as opposed to those who wish to force others to be like them, by using Christianity as a weapon, must shift from fidelity to the Bible (or any other text), to seeking the life-affirming message of transcendence buried within the madness, ignorance and fear that we discover not just in the darker portions of all “sacred” texts, but in every human heart.
Atheism is no help. Human beings are spiritual and look for ultimate meaning. Period. Deal with it!
Science holds answers but not THE answer we look for and long for. Family life and love, continuity of relationships, come closest for fulfilling our longing for purpose. The answer to fundamentalism and literal-minded religion and all the horror and absurdity it creates, is to work on the evolution of religion and take it back from false certainties rooted in myth. Then embrace our myths as a window into the unknowable. Something can never have happened and still be true.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book — And God Said, “Billy!“ exploring the roots of American religious delusion, and offering another way to approach true spirituality, is on Kindle, iBook and NOOK for $3.99, and in paperback.