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Book Review of Crazy For God By Frank Schaeffer
Near the end of his book Frank Schaeffer writes, “The puny ‘president’ I indirectly helped elect sent my son John to an ill-conceived, ineptly carried out war, a war where my son’s friend Alex Del Ray had his legs blown off, where Mark, the only son of my friend Mindy Evnin, was killed. And Bush Jr. was elected with the help of millions of evangelicals that Dad, Koop, and I-directly or indirectly-helped galvanize.” I can only imagine the regret and self loathing that would descend on a person who sees himself carrying responsibility for events of such a personally heartbreaking nature.
Frank Schaeffer’s memoir Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (Or Almost All) of It Back spares no one, certainly not himself. Not his famous parents either. We learn his mother ignored him, neglected his education, flirted, had to be better than everyone at everything, wore martyrdom like a badge, and embarrassed the heck out of him. His father threw things, sank into depressions, yelled at his wife, bruised her arms, and lost all perspective in the fight against Roe V. Wade.
I think Frank Schaeffer did a good job demonstrating his sincere admiration for aspects of his parents’ characters with his overall frustration at how their lives over shadowed his. They overshadowed all their children. All four children joined their parents’ L’Bri Mission, even as they married and tried to forge lives of their own. One sister suffered three nervous breakdowns; the brothers in law completely fell out with each other. Edith Schaeffer, matriarch of the clan, had written a shelf of books about Christian family, and could not admit how bad things were behind closed doors.
Frank doesn’t whitewash himself either. He used his parents’ missionary work among college age young people as a supply of pot and sexual partners, he swore like a sailor, he fought with his parents, he got a girl who came to L’Bri to learn more about God pregnant. He fundraised and spoke at evangelical events when he was disillusioned with these causes because he had no education and couldn’t think of another way to support his family. He hit his daughter and pulled her hair. Like his father before him, he hit his wife: unlike his pious mother, Frank's wife fought back.
Does this all sound like a litany of what everyone did wrong? One could look at the book that way: a history of how we all screwed up, in excruciating detail. A cautionary tale of fame, especially spiritual fame, in my opinion a particularly pernicious variety. One could look at it as a story of flawed people, trying to fulfill the calling they felt from God, while not immune to self deception, burnout or the lure of compromise. I was unaware of the Schaeffer’s role in the rise of the Religious Right before reading this book. Now that I’ve read Frank Schaeffer’s side of events, I truly feel for him. Disillusionment with one’s own role in history must be incredibly painful to carry.
Strengths of the book were the many vividly drawn characters, the author’s honesty, and the many places described, from English boarding school to Pat Robertson’s makeup room. It can be a fun roller coaster ride. The author has been accused of whining. Fair enough, he whines. He had a lot to whine about. Lots of people don’t like him. I can see why: he’s abrasive. But he has challenged me in my own family life, to let my loved ones be themselves, to not ask them to take up my dreams, to let nothing be more important than integrity in my personal life.
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