Crazy For God – Go Read it Now.

July 14th, 2010

Crazy For God by Frank Schaffer is a hilarious, often scandalous, frequently compelling and highly entertaining look at the curly innards of evangelical extremism.  Frank was raised by two highly renowned evangelicals – Francis and Edith Schaeffer in a Christian compound in Swiss Alps called L’Abri which means ‘the shelter’.  Francis and Edith regarded themselves as appointed by God to purify Christianity and bring it back to it’s bible based roots, but at the same time both of Frank’s parents were passionate about art and culture and longed their whole lives to be a part of the artistically literate realms.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  Even if you have zero interest in Christian evangelicalism, even if you could care less about a splinter group of whacked out religious extremists, because this book is much larger than religious boonwhackery.  It is about one man’s discovery of the limitations of his own beliefs.  It is about one person slowly realizing that maintaining his dogmatic views requires a healthy dose of deception.  It is about a devout Christian family that is passionate about art, music, history and culture and is constantly embattled by this love affair as it frequently conflicts with their faith.  Francis and Edith Schaeffer are truly fascinating, complex, compassionate, caring, cruel, and bizarre human beings.  Their son Frank’s honest portrayal of them is horrifying, mystifying and wonderful.  I guarantee you will enjoy this book.

As a person who is in the midst of separating herself from a lifetime to devout belief, I enjoyed this book greatly because of it’s piercing look at the inner workings of the powers that be in American evangelicalism.  As the author, Frank worked on various Christian film projects throughout his career, he came into the close and intimate orbit of James Dobson, Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.  He has stories about all of them that display their bigotry, hatred, purposefully contrived theatrics, and most of all, their lust for power and control of the American Christian church.  I have to admit that every time Frank Schaeffer knocked James Dobson down by proclaiming him to be the most power hungry man in American evangelicalism, my heart did a little happy dance. I have long abhorred James Dobson and his ‘Focus on the Family Fucked-uppedness’.  I vividly remember listening to his show several years ago when he announced that ‘no one should ever let a teenage boy babysit their children’.  Dobson was convinced that all teenage boys are so incredibly deranged, that any private opportunity to sexually assault a female child would just be too hard for them to resist and they would most likely be just as likely to sexually assault little boys as well.  As the mother of four sons, I was sickened by these comments.  The idea that one of my boys would harm a little kid (especially sexually) while they were babysitting infuriated me.  Not to mention the fact, that my son’s favorite babysitter was a teenage boy!  He brought over extra video game controllers and taught my boys all the ‘sneaks’ in their favorite games.  He was funny and goofy and my boys loved him.  A few years later, we found out that their favorite babysitter was gay!  Yet somehow, this wonderful young man managed to heroically hold himself back  from ever harming one of my kids (stated very sarcastically folks and without one ounce of ever believing that he would have considered it anymore than one of my own kids would).  After I heard Dobson issue these dire warnings against hiring a teenage boy to babysit, I snapped off his show and never turned it on again. So every single time that Frank demonized Dobson in this book – I was unable to stop myself from dancing around the house in utter joyful abandon.  Kind of like when David danced naked before God – except I kept my clothes on.  (Is this where Dobson got the idea of all young males being sexually deranged?… Or was it something from Dobson’s own deranged past?)

Frank’s book is an honest look at the inner workings of American evangelicalism and how he played a pivotal role in creating the religious right.  At one time, he was the central peg from which this movement hung.  He and his father breakfasted with presidents and partied with powerful politicians.  They basically formed the ‘pro-life movement’ and helped to villify abortion for American women.  Frank is still pro-life to this day, but no longer believes that abortion should be illegal.  The book takes you from a childhood in the Swiss alps to his education in the UK, to his wild hippy teenage years at the crossroads of the counter culture and Christianity, to his young adulthood as a teenage father (he managed to have lots and lots of sex during his years at the conservative Christian mission, L’Abris right under his parent’s holy noses.)  to the pinnacle of power among the religious right and finally to spiralling down and out of the ultra right wing movement, stealing pork chops in a Hollywood grocery store while struggling to find a new career outside of the faith he could no longer stomach. (Years later, he returned and paid for those stolen porkchops).

Frank tells his story deftly, with massive amounts of humor and a decidedly jaundiced eye towards his past.  A great book.  Go read it now.

You can find a great interview on NPR with Frank here.

His website is here.

Frank on the huffpo.

Comments

  • Kait:

    Can I just say that I have always found evangelists to be a frightening bunch? Thankfully there are not that many in Canada, but we have our share of lunatics of a different stripe. Like a whole town of polygamists!

  • Adding it to my “self” right now. Love your book reviews.

    I think all boys need to babysit at least a few times. What better way to learn just how much work kids can be!

  • Thank you for this review & recommendation! I will definitely put this on my “must read” list (I’m reading a book called “Zeitoun” right now about a Muslim family in NOLA before, during & after Katrina – can’t recommend it enough!)

    I’ve been in the process of questioning evangelical ideas & the “religious right” myself. I am still a Christian – although I’m abandoning the ideas of many idiots associated w/the “church,” I don’t want to throw the baby out w/the bathwater.

    I’m always wondering: When did Jesus become a Republican? Why is global warming a religous issue? A political issue? But, those are whole new cans of worms….

  • Martha in Kansas:

    Ooooohh, that sound good. OK, I’ll read it.

    You are just too funny. Dancing around the house! LOL!

  • I was going to get a Steig Larsson book at the library tomorrow, but I think I’m going to look for this one, too.

  • carrie:

    Just requested this one from the library… It’s now next on my list to read once I finish “36 Arguments for the Existence of God, a Work of Fiction,” by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. I’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s a great book so far. I was especially interested in the appendix where the author presents the 36 arguments and debunks each one.

  • Diane:

    You’ve made the book sound ever so enticing; your own story and remarks are excellent and insightful.

    As for James Dobson, I feel as you do – nice to read someone else’s opinion on him and his ‘philosophy’.

    Thank you for an excellent post!

  • This sounds like a great book. I worry about the future of American politics (and therefor America itself) with the extremism I see with religion going on down there. (up in Canada here)

    However…there was one line in your post that broke my heart and stopped me in my tracks. It was your comment regarding your boys babysitter
    QUOTE: Yet somehow, this wonderful young man managed to heroically hold himself back from every harming one of my kids.

    People need to understand that gay men are not child molesters and do not NEED to”somehow” nor “heroically” hold themselves back from harming children…they have no more desire to do so that the average adult abusive male. I hope you did not mean this comment in the way it appears because it has the same biased opinion as what Dobson said regarding stereotyping young boys.
    Please don’t misunderstand my comment., it’s not a critizismt it’s just that in relation to the rest of your post it screamed out as totally misfitting to your other opinions.

    Other than that comment this post is wonderful!! :-) Would be interested in your comment on this?

    • Rechelle:

      Sue – I realize that. The comment was meant to be humorous and not serious. I know that being gay has nothing to do with being a child molester. I know this so well, that I can make fun of the idea. Perhaps I shouldn’t make fun of it, but I did anyway. I have a bad habit of making fun of things I shouldn’t make fun of all the time.

      • Ha! You got me. I guess my jet lagged state did not pick up on the humor…. and it makes total sense..as I said…it stuck out like a sore thumb on the post :-)
        Thanks LOL.
        Sue (back home and resting up )

  • Sorry..after reading my comment (I am jetlagged in Australia at the moment) I should have said “they have no more desire to do so than the average adult male” not abusive male..that did not make sense..
    (Sorry i am a flight attendant and should probably be sleeping now LOL)

  • I have this book and started it but got utterly bored with the stories from L’Abri. I might give it another shot if there are goodies awaiting me later in the book. Thanks for the review!

  • What a great review for one of my favorite books I have read over the past couple of years. I also really enjoyed his Portofino trilogy, which are fictional novels paralleling his experiences growing up. Schaeffer is remarkable in both his ability to expose what Evangelicalism is (or can be) about, but also his ability to paint a hilarious caricature of the religion.

  • Rechelle, have you ever read Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer? It’s a similar look into the Mormon faith, but from an outsider. I think you’d really enjoy it.
    I’m going to have to check out Crazy for God. Sounds delightful in that bone-chilling way.

    • Kay in KCMo:

      Nadine, I second your recommendation. Under the Banner of Heaven is terrific.

      The Mormon Murders by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith is also really interesting. It’s about the Mark Hofmann forgeries and murders in Salt Lake City in the ’80′s. A lot of stuff about the bureaucracy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints came out and it wasn’t pretty.

      I know zillions of exmormons and they love these books.

      • Speaking of Mormons, last night my husband and I watched a documentary called ’8: The Mormon Proposition’. It was a fascinating, disturbing look into the church and their leaders as they poured millions of dollars in to getting Prop 8, the ban on same sex marriage passed in California. I can’t recommend it enough.

        I’m going to look for ‘Under The Banner of Heaven’ today at the library.

        • Kelley, I saw the trailer for that! Looked really interesting. Glad to hear a good review.

  • Christine from Canada:

    Spoiler alert (kinda):

    I read this last year and liked it, albeit grudgingly.

    Grudingly because, despite the hypocrisy he could plainly see and the spiritual questions that went unanswered, Frank still considers himself a Christian (now of the Greek Orthodox variety).

    I was REALLY REALLY hoping he’d renounce religion altogether, but it was only wishful thinking on my part. I guess not all stories have a truly satisfying ending.

    • amy:

      Christine, I’m right with you. I bought his newest book, “Patience with God” and Schaeffer now drives me nuts. He manages to understand the idiocy that is evangelism and then somehow justify enough of what he wants to believe to still call himself a christian. It’s strange and annoying. I guess maybe he’s just in process? I went through a similar phase, where I tried not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Until I came to see that there was no baby in the bathwater to begin with…

      • Christine from Canada:

        Good analogy!

        • amy:

          Thanks :) I take it you’ve discovered the same?

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