(A New Eden Oil on canvas 18 x 18 by Frank Schaeffer)
Why couldn’t my father Francis Schaeffer have stolen from God and God’s children like everyone else? I mean I wouldn’t have to be on an endless book tour actually scraping out a writer’s living staying in shit motels if he had.
I miss Genie, my gorgeous luminous muse and wife of 44 years, and my soul-filling grandchildren Lucy (6), Jack (4) and Nora (7 months) who live across the street and that Genie and I do child care for 5 days a week.
If only Dad had been a thief like the other evangelical leaders! I’d be home!
(BTW for the ‘literalistic‘ reader who reads with a deficient awareness of metaphor, symbolism, genre, literary style, inexact numbers, out there this is a satire, a means to carry another message altogether. I’m glad there was no money, in case you are so stupid that you want to lift this quote and put in World magazine as further “proof” of my evil!)
But Dad gave his book royalties to his ministry for real. He didn’t even have an office but worked on the corner of his bed in his bedroom on a tray. Dad never flew first class and didn’t own a car. Dad stayed in people’s spare rooms when he traveled or in modest motels.
I mean what the fuck? Didn’t Dad “get” it?!
So when people ask what Dad would think of me “leaving God’s work,” translation, leaving all that money on the table I was making when I was his nepotistic sidekick for a few years before I dropped out and went to Hollywood… I have to say he’d approve.
I must be an idiot too like Dad! I mean I was off to a great start! Dr. Dobson gave away 150,000 copies of my evangelical anti-abortion screed A Time For Anger, and it went on to earn me lots and lots of money. I mean Jerry Falwell lent his jet for that “book tour”!
Falwell had recently been given that plane by the Israeli government in gratitude for his twisting Ronald Reagan’s arm to let the Israelis’ use their new F-16s as offensive weapons bombing Iraq, thus breaking the conditions of the US weapons sale. At least that’s what Falwell gloated over when told me the story between mouthfuls while eating a thick steak when I was at his school speaking.
See, Dad believed in what he was doing. Agree or disagree he had integrity.
No jets from the Jews, no “team” of drivers and guards and butt-kissers, no deal with Christianity Today magazine to trade favorable “book reviews” for “ministry” co-op deals…
And so I don’t think I walked away from Dad’s example, I think I followed it.
Instead of cashing in on the evangelical money machine I walked.
So now I’m on this fucking book tour more or less hand selling my new book WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace to other refugees from religion like me.
When I say “refugees” from religion I don’t only mean survivors of evangelical BS-harshness and hate. The email traffic from Jews and Roman Catholics is heavy too. I’m even getting letters from atheists sick of the victimology and bitterness of the “new” atheism that sometimes mirrors the paranoid religion they just escaped!
Wow, we are a sorry bunch out here licking our God-inflicted certainty wounds!
Embracing paradox and not lying to ourselves or to other people is bad for business! If only I could bring myself to return to the evangelical fold! Here’s an idea: Maybe I should declare myself an atheist who DOES NOT believe in God! Then I could cash in on that market. Certainty sells so much better to people afraid to abandon easy labels that identify them! There’s good money in them thar atheist hills too! Just ask Richard Dawkins when you buy that T-shirt on his website.
But as I say in my book WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD in chapter 3:
I’ve never met an unequivocal atheist or religious believer. I’ve only met people of two, three or four or more minds—people just like me. Atheists sometimes pray and eloquent preachers secretly harbor doubts. The evangelist Billy Graham preached certain salvation and heaven guaranteed yet privately told my dad, a friend and fellow evangelist, that he feared death and had many doubts.
We’re all of at least two minds. We play a role and define that role as “me” because labels and membership in a tribe make the world feel a little safer. When I was raising my children, I pretended to be grown-up Daddy. But alone with my thoughts, I was still just me. I’m older now, and some younger people may think I know something. I do! I know how much I can never know.
Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Christian, you are that because of where and when you were born. If you are an atheist, you are that because of a book or two you read, or who your parents were and the century in which you were born. Don’t delude yourself: there are no good reasons for anything, just circumstances.
What a mess we’re all in! How fucked up our brains become in our quest to stop thinking!
Anyway, I was selling more books by the pallet load to evangelicals in the early 1980s, than I sell of individual copies to real readers with un-broken brains.
And I love it! I love being a small voice in a big organic growing movement of people feeling our way out of the labyrinth of certainty and false hope in “THE” answer, when of course in this quantum universe of ours there are always many answers…
There is freedom in being a painter selling pictures to real people for a few hundred dollars apiece, and a writer for people who mostly never heard of my parents, instead of being a person using people’s hunger for meaning as a tool to rip them off as a family business of the kind Franklin Graham now runs.
Franklin Graham pays himself a million a year plus (when you count benefits) out of funds donated to help the poor and spread the gospel. He’s not alone. Pat Robertson’s son shares in the billion-dollar “ministry” his dad started– with a little help from idiots like me when I went on the 700 Club in the early days many times. And so forth. That’s the norm.
I write for a living. I don’t mostly write about religion (my New York Times bestseller Keeping Faith was about the Marines of all things and I was one of the first and most read political bloggers on Huffington Post) but when I do the “God bit” it reminds me of how proud I am of my father. He never latched on to that big old evangelical tit to suck it dry.
And here’s a word from both Dad and me (trust me on this point I’m accurately reflecting his views!) to my fellow artists, writers, composers, dancers: Get the hell out of the evangelical world before they suck your talent dry.
Don’t make art for evangelism. Make art for art’s sake. Make art for God’s sake. He, she or it didn’t fuck up the world by scrawling Bible verses on everything, nor edit his creation to make it nice for evangelicals.
After all he, she or it created a world dependent on both sex (lots of it!) and death. God is “X”-rated.
If God (he, she or it) showed up with the Bible as an example of his, her or it’s writing he’d never get hired by a Christian publisher.
The only “message” you need is to make is to make something well. If you look art art as Jesus-propaganda it will be shit.
Can you imagine any sane child saying that when they grow up they’d like to be an editor at Christianity Today magazine? Maybe as children even these folks had dreams of being actual writers.
And if you make this shit over and over again when you know better, because “it’s a living,” your soul will die. Only you’ll be the last to know. Look at the pastors around you sticking with theology they don’t believe because “I’d lose my job if they knew what I think now…” For that matter think of the gay men and women working in places like Gordon College and Wheaton chained into their closets…
If you stick in the ghetto instead of getting out and being willing to fail—and to, say, live part time in shitty motels selling books or art, or music to other wanderers like you—you will never forgive yourself.
I am so damn lucky my wife Genie had more integrity than me and waited for me to snap out of the God-bullshit and urged me to write real novels and real nonfiction books and to let the chips fall where they may! My reward is real readers and… and a happy home!
On the other hand I can’t say “come on in the water is fine!” It is not fine! I’m sitting in a damp motel room that smells like mold. Being a writer is a nonstop struggle.
I’m a scavenger on this trash heap of a “culture” picking up scraps. But my wife loves me, and I can look my grandchildren in the face. Maybe that’s enough to have inherited.
Lucky me that my dad also taught me that art is more important than theology, beauty more lasting than trying to be right all the time, that empathy trumps rules, and that Jesus hated religion.
Dad’s example is why I’m a believer—in both God and paradox.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace
Available now on Amazon