Going to see Frank Schaeffer Speak

January 24th, 2012

On Thursday I am driving to Omaha Nebraska to hear Frank Schaeffer speak. Frank wrote the most excellent book, Crazy For God which I reviewed in a past post as well as a few novels that are currently on my favorite books of all times list. If you haven’t read his Calvin Becker trilogy, Portofino, Saving Grandma, and Zermatt, might I somewhat forcefully encourage you to do so? They are absolutely hysterical books and completely horrifying at the same time. His most recent book Sex, Mom and God is a non-fiction account that centers on his missionary mother’s preoccupation with purity in sex as well as policing the frequency of her adolescent son’s wet dreams.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of Frank’s other books – a bit too much pontificating on various topics such as abortion and parenting for me, but the parts about his mother are fun to read.

If you have enjoyed any of Schaeffer’s books, you will know that he often writes about his childhood, growing up in a Christian mission dedicated to saving the lost souls of all the European Catholics in the Swiss Alps.  His parents were evangelical fundamentalists tasked with the crazy job of informing the world of the life saving power of Jesus even though they wholeheartedly believed that God had already predestined all people to an eternity in either hell or heaven and therefore their “witnessing” was basically for naught.  But that did not stop them from doing it anyway!  In this regard Frank’s parents remind me of the Phelp’s family who form the notorious “God Hates Fags church” in Topeka, Kansas.  In some ways they share the same religious objective which is primarily to avoid the sin of blasphemy -  or infuriating a tyrannical God who is at all times poised to unleash all manner of plagues upon your head should you put one toe out of line.

Frank’s parents regarded everything that happened to them, whether it be a flower they found in the woods or a lack of meat at dinner, as a message from God.  So trapped were they in their superstitions, they could not see the damage they were doing to their children by ostracizing them from their community and poisoning them against anyone who had an even slightly different theology than they did. Frank grew up watching his parents attempt to convert anyone who came within shouting distance and as a result he learned at a very young age to deceive and manipulate his sisters and his parents in order to create a space for himself outside of their crazy belief system.  It is these attempts at deception by Frank that blossom into the crux of his stories.  In spite of the grim belief system of his parents, Frank’s stories are largely hilarious.  He frequently manages to circumvent the rules of his kooky parents and outwit his obedient and ever watchful older sisters to experience life on his own terms.

There is also a tremendous amount of violence in these books, especially in the fiction series.  Frank’s stories show the extreme cognitive dissonance of the Christian faith especially when practiced on a literal and fundamentalist level.  Frank depicts a religion that encourages parents to beat their kids, that regards sexuality as something to hide, that glories in self denial and demands complete submission to an invisible and tyrannical God.  The father in the Calvin Becker series regularly abuses his wife while the children are beaten with a belt in a detached manner that teaches them that violence can be a cold and calculating act.  The mother in these stories is highly manipulative, but couches the power she wields in her family as merely acting as an “instrument of God”.  To me, she is the true villain in these books, craftily caging her family in a belief system that she completely controls in spite of humbly playing the part of a help-meet and submissive, obedient servant of God.

Schaeffer’s book Portofino was turned into a film in 1998 starring John Lithgow as the half crazed missionary father and Dianne Weist as the simpering and calculating missionary mom who take an annual trip with their children to the Italian beach resort town of Portofino where they maintain their buttoned up Christian lifestyle, judge everyone who doesn’t and continue to witness for the Lord among the chain smoking, speedo sporting, slick and oiled Europeans who share the beaches with them.  Unfortunately the film has never been released.

Schaeffer upcoming lecture is entitled

How Both Atheism and Christian Fundamentalism Miss the Mark on Faith

Afterwards there will be a question and answer session.  I have a few questions for Frank.  Mostly I want to know if the film is ever going to be released and what percentage of the Calvin Becker books are based on true events and if his mother was as horribly conniving as the character of Elsa Becker. I also hope to ask Frank why he, a man who has witnessed first hand the deprivations of religion, continues not only to believe himself, but to push the idea of belief on others through talks like the one he is giving in Omaha.

If you enjoyed his books and have a question – leave it in the comments.  Maybe I will get a chance to ask him.  This presentation is also available via live streaming at 7:00 p.m. CST on Thursday January 26th Here’s the link for the video stream – www.darkwoodbrew.org.

I hope to get a few autographed copies of Frank’s books.  Look for a giveaway in the near future!


  • Shelley:

    Can’t wait to hear about it! I read “Crazy for God” in Oct. 2010 based on your recommendation, & loved it.

  • Véronique:

    I’m on my way to the library to check out Portofino and Grandma. I have no question myself yet, but I like your last question about pushing faith. I also can’t understand that. Thanks for the info.

  • Véronique:

    I just went to darkwoodbrew, and I had to smile at the title of their other speech from Dr. Grace Wolf-Chase on “Extraterrestrials, Science and Religion” my three kids would love that!

  • amy:

    Frank Schaeffer frustrates the hell out of me. He talks like he’s going to offer a middle ground between faith and atheism but he can’t define it worth a damn. He comes up with this mushy version of a touchy-feely, Jesus inspired version of faith that is based on nothing more than his love for his granddaughter.

    I would like to ask him how intellectual integrity allows him to believe in Jesus when there is no rational reason to believe anything about Jesus is any more true than any other religious figure in history.

    That said, I’m glad you get to go hear him. I’ll be interested to read your review!

    • Rechelle:

      I agree with you entirely Amy. He is a man who is extraordinarily articulate on all the problems with the Christian faith and yet cannot seem to see his way out of it. I hope to question him about it in some way. I know that his books are very popular with the formerly religious and among young atheists too. I wonder how he feels about that as well.

      • amy:

        Hope you are enjoying Frank’s talk. Listening online right now. Not sure if you’re the one who asked about the movie for Portofino. My quick impression is that Frank is softening in his stance about christianity/jesus. He’s a little more reticent to use the regular christian jargon and is qualifying his statements quite a bit. He still makes up his own definitions about spirituality (you can only “worship” in community?) but he’s a little less strident about his views, at least in this talk! That’s my quick thought. I’ll be really interested in what you think!

        • Rechelle:

          Yes – he really was very open in his religious approach. He basically just insisted on a “Creator” but only because he can’t personally seem to let go of the idea and not at all because he thinks he is right. I really enjoyed his talk. Especially when he got all hot under the collar towards the woman who asked about his priest allowing him to take communion.

  • Véronique:

    Thanks for recommending Portofino. I just finished the book and found it very interesting. I think the violence against the kids was at that time not the privilege of evangelical fundamentalists. As I can witness in my man’s family it was pretty common in catholic rural Germany to use violent means to “educate” the kids. On the other side, I had to laugh very hard at the scene on the train with the walnut. I grew up with a mother involved with Catholic Charismatic Renewal and I witnessed quite of few things of the same kind. I can’t stand anymore people attributing every single thing to the work of God. I’m anxiously waiting for your comments on the speech.

  • Véronique:

    The speech is still available online for those who missed it live.
    Woaw! I completely agree when he says that the only thing that matters are the loving relationships in our life. What I understand from his speech is that it’s up to everyone of us to put a name or not on that warm feeling that emerges when we interact with people. He chose to call it God and needs a community to experience it better. He also want to believe in something after death. But he leaves us free to decide what works for ourselves. I guess because of his upbringing he couldn’t completely abandon the idea of God, but I didn’t feel he was pushing it on us. I must say I only know him from what I just saw here.