What my Parents Never Seemed to Have Done is Consider that the Bible Contains a Paradox

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.

The next great task for the human race is to wean ourselves off literal interpretations of religion. We need to eradicate fundamentalism in all its forms.

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.


About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.

  • erichansmeier

    Very interesting and mirrors my own journey, to some extent. I am perhaps a bit more reluctant to repudiate parts of scripture based on the judgment of people of good will informed by internal spiritual truths. I continue to hold to the idea that scripture is the living word of God. Although every tradition interprets scripture, this has traditionally been viewed a a dialog between and among God, his living word, and those who hear the word. I think if we lose that idea and see interpretation as merely something we do guided by our internal spiritual truths (or that denominations do guided by their traditions), we end up no better off than fundamentalists.

    • Guest
  • Raymond

    “Atheism is no help. Human beings are spiritual and look for ultimate meaning. Period. Deal with it!”
    Sorry. Wrong about that. Human beings do look for ultimate meaning, but that meaning does not depend on “spirit” or anything supernatural or anything that is not part of the world as we all perceive it.
    Deal with it.

    • http://faithlikeaman.blogspot.com/ Ryan Blanchard

      Agreed. That was a dogmatic certainty statement, and an unnecessary one.

    • jeffstraka

      I agree. As a post-theist (and fairly recent), I find it quite offensive that theists and Oprah (not sure what she is) feel the need to tell others how to define themselves and how to see the world.

    • frankschaeffer

      Good point Raymond, I should have been clearer. I’m talking about the same longing shared by us all. Best, F

      • Raymond

        I’m certainly not denying the longing. But there are plenty of people who are able to satisfy that longing without the trappings of religion, and plenty of people who have NOT been able to satisfy that longing even though they are religious.

        Thanks for your reply.

      • jeffstraka

        You should have simply left the swipe at atheism out of there, Frank.

      • Raymond Watchman

        Hi from New Zealand, Raymond and Frank. I can only speak from my own experience, and have come to the conclusion that people who identify themselves as atheist are in fact coming from the same deep place of longing Frank is talking about. For various reasons, religion has failed to meet that longing for them, primarily, I suspect, because churches, fundamentalist sects in particular, misrepresent “spirituality” as “supernaturalism” – a belief paradigm that by and large has now run its course, at least in enlightened western society. Its historical purpose served, we need to move on, and allow our understandings of “spirituality” to evolve (and this is happening, as writers such as Frank, Marcus J Borg et al attest.) As a resting point along the way of my own journey, I found atheism to be fine, but I realized if (and I say “if”) it became a closed-minded belief system, it could become a tyranny as every bit as debilitating as an entrenched fundamentalist religious belief system. The tragedy is, in both cases, when we confuse the kindergarten with the university and deceive ourselves into thinking we have no more truth to discover. Einstein once described (militant) atheists as “tormented souls who cannot move beyond what they do not believe.” In some cases I think that is so, but I know plenty of people who are, by their own definition, atheist, but by my own understanding, deeply spiritual. In fact, I think we all are. I too, do not believe in the God that Dawkins does not believe in. Having accepted that, I have continued to press on to what I would described (indeed, as Borg does of his own perception) as a panentheistic perception entirely compatible with both science and the gospel of Jesus – and in fact frees the latter from magical explanations and the shackles of redundant doctrinal absurdities. I certainly do not believe in some anthropomorphic “spirit being” “out there” who “created” the Universe. But I do believe the Universe, of which we are an integral part, is the manifestation of God – and on that belief and its profound implications for our relationships, I try to develop my spirituality, intellectually and experientially. Which is to say, it is how I try to live my life.

        • JenellYB

          I have a few atheist family and friends that I get along with, and can converse deeply with, very well. Actually, better than with most Evangelical Christians. Many of them do have a background of upbringing, or at least childhood exposure, to religion, mostly Christian, and tending toward the intellectual side, I find it seems to me it is more the human created images and concepts of God they have rejected, more than the possibility of some supreme intelligence or coordinating/orchestrating overarching ‘presence’ that pervades reality as a level of which we are just not fully and consistently consciously aware just yet. Many, whether they recognize of acknowledge it even to themselves reflect in some of their ideas and talk, seem to at ties allude to the possible universal and interconnecting force or intelligence or ;’something’ that interconnects us all, and all the cosmos into one big organism or ‘thing.’ I’m careful about suggesting what they may be speculatng about may be God. ;) Between us, as I noted, many are intellectual, and also academic, and within the such of such atheists, we have between us areas of degreed studies and passionate interest in such a range as English literature, development of languages from ancient Mesopotamian to present middle eastern and European, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and religious studies, and its amazing how we draw from one anothers’ stores of information from all these diverse areas of study, things to pull together larger ideas. Presently, through one family member’s personal life connections, it seems “we” may be about to gain a Physicist and tenured professor, a Jewish atheist hoping to meet him and begin drawing him into the family circle, and maybe into our little intellectual discussions,(and he’s only expecting Thanksgiving dinner with his fiancé’s eccentric old mother and geeky brother :) ) I can see some interesting possibilities from the field of physics. There is some really interesting stuff going on in physics, getting down into the nature of reality, what everything is actually made of, why and how whatever particles and energies and energies that everything is made of do as they do to create the diversity or material reality as we perceive it.
          In a sense, my own “God concept” would have to be, if followed out through consequences of thought processes, actually a “God of the Gaps’. But the ultimate “God of the Gaps’, what is at the center, the core, of what everything is, why it is, and how everything interacts to create this reality that we perceive. I’m saying, to me God IS REAL. Just not as defined by religion. That God is whatever reality is made of, and why its made as it is,

          • Raymond Watchman

            Hi Jenell, thanks so much for your thoughtful sharing – I think we are very much on the same page. Yes, God is real and relational so far as I am concerned. And of course authentic spirituality embraces atheists (and all other people of goodwill) in creative, mutually enriching dialogue. If it does not, or cannot, it is religious dogma, not spirituality. After all, ego prancing around in a religious frock doesn’t make for spirituality! Spirituality usually comes naked, vulnerable, and with open arms.

          • zola98

            Thanks for explaining it better than I ever could. Personally I think spiritualism is separate from religion which is man made. I think when we show compassion, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, respect etc., we demonstrate a spiritual ethos that’s beyond any religion.

      • Dedangelo

        Yes, that’s unfortunate, Frank. I am Unitarian and our church includes atheist members who are an integral part of our beloved community.

    • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

      “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can
      satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another
      world.” C. S. Lewis

      • Raymond

        C.S. Lewis was a fantasy writer..

  • Guest

    So, from what I read here… Jesus was wrong to reject Cain’s sacrifice since the Jesus in the Bible requires, on the basis of an absolute command, worship on His terms and not our own!

    The 2 dudes offering strange fire… They were treacherously dealt with as well.

    Who does this Jesus think He is to require anything of His people? That silly guy…

  • AnnieOly

    Very interesting article. I’m not sure however that we need to edit the spiritual truths of the Bible so much as we need to do the in depth study necessary to be able to separate literal truth from story from poetry etc. and all this within proper context with an understanding of cultural differences of those times. And yes, definitely guided by the same Spirit who tells us to love others as ourselves.
    For example, I was just reading a very excellent reply from a rabbi on how the OT ‘terror texts’ are interpreted by some Jewish reformed. Really fascinating and (for me) very eye opening. Hope it’s OK to post a link to it here.

  • jeffstraka

    “Atheism offers nothing to me,
    it never has and it never will,
    it doesn’t make me feel good or comfort me,
    it’s not there for me when I’m sick or ill,
    it can’t intervene in my times of need,
    it won’t protect me from hate and the lies,
    it doesn’t care if I fail or succeed,
    it won’t wipe the tears from my eyes,
    it does nothing when I’ve got no where to run,
    it won’t give me wise words or advice,
    it has no teachings for me to learn,
    it can’t show me what’s bad or nice,
    it’s never inspired or incited anyone,
    it won’t help me fulfill all my goals,
    it won’t tell me to stop when I’m having fun,
    it’s never saved one single soul,
    it doesn’t take credit for everything I achieve,
    it won’t make me get down on bended knee,
    it doesn’t demand that I have to believe,
    it won’t torture me for eternity,
    it won’t teach me to hate or despise others,
    it can’t tell me what’s right or wrong,
    it won’t tell anybody that they can’t be lovers,
    it’s told nobody they don’t belong,
    it won’t make you think life is worth living,
    it has nothing to offer me, that’s true,
    but the reason Atheism offers me nothing,
    is because I’ve never asked it to.
    Atheism offers nothing because it doesn’t need to,
    Religion promises everything because you want it to,
    You don’t need a Religion or to have faith,
    You just want it because you need to feel safe,
    I want to feel reality and nothing more,
    Atheism offers me everything,
    that Religion has stolen before.”

    -Richard Coughlan

    • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

      We look into outer space, and because we cannot “see” a God we can
      touch, a God we can comprehend with our rational intellects, we invent
      new gods to take his place, all the little gods of technocracy, little
      gods who have eyes and see not, ears and hear not, hands and touch not,
      and who have nothing to say to us in our time of deepest need.
      Montaigne said, “O senseless man who cannot make a worm, and yet makes
      gods by dozens.”

      • Raymond

        Not exactly sure what your point here is, but from doing a little research on Montaigne, it seems likely that he was an atheist.

  • Mark Pixley

    I sort of agree here…it may be time for another reformation…I mean at one point someone somewhere made a decision about the canon of scripture, we have no biblical texts telling us how to do it, when to do it or who should do it…but history is clear we have done it…who is to say the guys who did it before were any more. or any less informed than we are?

    The fact remains if we do not do something along this line of radical circumcision of our fundamental “parts” ( I really wanted to use slang here, I will do penance later) we will not enjoy the benefit as a human family in covenant…

  • Lausten North

    If you can’t at least include atheism in the conversation,
    then you’re not really exploring the mythology. If you are attempting to examine
    degrees of belief, then you have to accept that, in your analysis, you may find
    all of your beliefs are false. If not, you are a-priori deciding something is
    true with no basis, no system, no axioms contingent on future data. You are
    dismissing a growing population, one that finds no current theism to be better
    than common sense based on experience. Your conversation with be stuck there
    and I predict it will eventually fizzle out.

  • Peter Lloyd

    It’s a pity you said anything about atheism, since now the whole point of your article will be dismissed by atheist “fundamentalists” who cannot help themselves from knee-jerk reaction (like most any other fundie).

    • newenglandsun

      Jesus isn’t an advertising industry. ;p

  • Marty Cox

    Frankly, I see nothing finite in Bible interpretations. Theologians, Scientists are constantly certain allegations and improving their ability to transcribe ancient items and languages, etc. Whether agnostic or atheist we should be open to the same.

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