Browsing Archives for July 2010

I spotted these shoes in a catalog the other day.

And even though the price was ludicrous, I decided that I must have them.

Yes.

I must.

I must have them and I will wear them to…

I will wear them when I…

I will wear them when I am at the…

And that is when I decided to go back to college.

So that I have somewhere to wear these shoes.

Because I just don’t see myself wearing these while I am working the cash register at the garden center.

Nor could I find a good enough reason to wear them while chauffeuring the kids, shopping for groceries, or watching movies on Netflix.

I also don’t think they would be very good gardening shoes.

I guess I could get a different job instead of going back to school. One that might require the occasional uppity ensemble that would go with a pair of bright red wedges, but that seems like a lot of hassle and commitment just for a pair of shoes. Plus, I really like my job.

So college it is.

I’ve been thinking about going back for a while anyway.  But with the urgent need to purchase these shoes pressing down on me, it feels kind of like an emergency now.  I am not sure what I would study, but I have long wanted to do some exhaustive research on the topic of whether Jane Austen was possibly an atheist.  I know she was a vicar’s daughter, but could not that very fact only serve to point her more in the direction of atheism?  And when you add in her rapier wit, her ability to slice through the bullshit of her time and the way she made fun of everything and everybody in her books, you could regard her at the very least as an extreme skeptic. I see no evidence for a devout faith in her books, but I do see a profound desire in her writing for people to treat each other well.

It would be easier to consider Jane an atheist if she had been able to read Darwin’s Origin of Species.  So I decided to find out if that was even a remote possibility and quickly sketched out a time-line to see if their paths could possibly have intersected.

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Charles Darwin/ Jane Austen (and other literary figures) timeline…

1809 – Charles Darwin is born

1811 – Jane Austen publishes Sense and Sensibility.

1813 – Pride and Prejudice published

1814 – Mansfield Park published

1816 – Charlotte Bronte is born and that same year Jane writes Emma

1817 – Jane Austen dies – Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published posthumously.

We pause momentarily here wishing Jane had lived to write a hundred more books…

1822 – Louis Pasteur is born

1830 – Emily Dickinson is born

1832 – Louisa May Alcott is born.

1838 – Best sellers this year are Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist both by Dickens

1847 – Charlotte Bronte writes Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte writes Wuthering Heights

1850 – Nathaniel Hawthorne writes The Scarlett Letter

1852 – Harriet Beecher Stowe writes Uncle Tom’s Cabin

1856 – Neanderthal Skull is found near Dusseldorf Germany and five pro slavers are murdered by John Brown in my own neck of the woods – Pottawatomie Creek.

1859 – Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species is published.

From this time-line one can see that Darwin would have had no influence over Jane, and yet Jane had considerable influence over Darwin.  She was one of his favorite authors.  Which brings me back to the idea of Jane having the kind of mind that could have doubted the existence of God, in the midst of a religious family, even without the overwhelming scientific evidence that Darwin would eventually provide (that being that the world could easily have created itself without the intervention of a deity.)  If a mind like Jane’s was appealing to Darwin, it is interesting to consider what Jane’s reaction to Darwin might have been.  I’d like to imagine the two of them exchanging letters, though I dare say that Jane’s letters would have been a lot more fun to read than those of Darwin.

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A few Jane Austen Quotes that point towards her general attitude of skepticism…

A woman, especially, if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?

How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!

I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.

I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.

Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.

Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.

Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.

Respect for right conduct is felt by every body.

Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.

Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

They are much to be pitied who have not been given a taste for nature early in life.

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be

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Now, what was this blog about?

Oh yes!

Shoes!

I guess I don’t really need to go to college to find out if Jane was an atheist.  I can do my own research on the internet and Google is far less expensive than a Master’s Degree.   Although it doesn’t really give me an opportunity to wear a pair of fabulous red wedges does it?

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.

You never know what you are going to experience on a river deep in the Ozarks of Missouri. Wild boar, rabid coons, wild-eyed hillbillies, and then there’s the times when a guy gets his face smashed in by a mad man on a canoe and wobbles into your picnic spot with a bleeding head.


We had stopped for lunch on a sandy island in the middle of the river and the man in the photo and two of his friends pulled up beside us in their canoes. The guy with the bleeding face said he had just been attacked by a man ‘for no good reason.’

His friends were strangely quiet about the attack.

We weren’t sure what exactly ‘no good reason’ meant so we kept our distance from Mr. Smashed Face and his entourage making quiet clucking sounds of sympathy as we quickly herded the kids to the other side of the island.

The guy was clearly in distress. He held his bleeding face in his hands. His friends waited patiently beside him until he pulled himself back together and then they all took off together in their canoes down the river.  We never saw him again.

When we reached the end of our trip, there were half a dozen rangers lined up on shore. Evidently, Mr. Smashed Face had reported the crime and the rangers were waiting for the head basher to show up. There were rumors flying around about a severely unbalanced man out there… somewhere… on the Current River… who randomly bashes people in the head ‘for no good reason’.  Scenes from the movie Deliverance flashed through my mind. I was glad we were done for the day.

Strangely, the strange times were not yet over.

When we got back to camp there was a different guy in a pick up truck who kept circling the campground with a confederate flag flying proudly behind him. Eventually, the rangers asked Mr. Confederate Flag to stop his parade, which was a relief, because I don’t know what kind of person circles a campground with a confederate flag flying unless they are looking for trouble.

Turns out that Mr. Confederate Flag was not a Missourian. He was from further south and we were to eventually learn that one of his  buddies was from Illinois as he stopped by our campground to give us an update on how the rangers were treating (or mistreating) Mr. Confederate Flag.  We asked him why his friend was parading the flag in the first place. The Illinoisan said that his friend was a soldier and he didn’t really know why he was doing it. Then he made sure to remind us that ‘Illinois is where the union was born.” We just nodded our heads and let the silence fall between us. He eventually wandered down the road to his own camp probably stopping at each site on his way to give everyone else an update too.

The rest of the trip was without incident and I have some photos up under ‘snapshot’ on the header, but the confederate flag incident made me wonder what people think about that particular symbol.  To me it is an emblem of slavery and war and general backwards thinking. But to other people it means something entirely different.  What does the confederate flag mean to you?  And in the spirit of the river weekend when the following type of question was asked by they boys several times – who do you think would win in a fight?  Mr. Smashed Face or Mr. Confederate Flag?