Responding to Oppenneimer and Lizza:Defending Francis Schaeffer’s influence on believers such as Michele Bachmann(Part 10)

Both Oppenneimer and Lizza have attacked Francis Schaeffer’s view, but the way to know his views best is to take time to watch his film series. I said that in my first post and I will continue to show all ten episodes of his film series “How should we then live?”

This is a series of posts concerning presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and her religious beliefs. Particularly I will be looking at the identity of Francis Schaeffer who Michele said had major impact on her views. I also would say that Francis Schaeffer was the greatest christian philosopher of the 20th century. 

In 1979 I first watched the film series “How should we then live?” and it was so impressive to me that I returned to my high school with permission from my former teacher to view the series again. In fact, Mr. Brink would tell the seniors at Evangelical Christian School in  Cordova, TN something to this affect: “I hope you realize how important this film series by Dr. Francis Schaeffer is. Here we have Everette Hatcher who is in college now, but he is coming back to see this film again because he knows how valuable it is.”

The best way to understand Michele Bachmann’s worldview is to watch the film series “How should we then live?” by Francis Schaeffer. I have provided a 30 minute episode at the end of this post with a written outline.  In this film series the humanist worldview is seen as weak because it is not able to give adequate answers to life’s tough questions while the christian worldview can.  Humanism has a finite base because it is limited to finite man while the Christian worldview is based on information provided by the infinite-personal God of the Bible.

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Excellent article by Ross Douthat:

August 31, 2011, 9:48 pm <!– — Updated: 9:52 pm –>

Misreading Francis Schaeffer

The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza has posted a response to my criticisms of the way his recent profile of Michele Bachmann portrayed the evangelical writer and activist Francis Schaeffer. In his post, Lizza attempts to justify his article’s claim that Schaeffer’s 198o book “A Christian Manifesto” urges “the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed.” I had disputed this point, noting that Schaeffer only urged Christians to consider acts of non-violent civil disobedience against the post-Roe abortion regime (offering examples like the non-payment of taxes and public sit-ins), while explicitly warning his readers against an “overreaction [that] crosses the line from force to violence.” Lizza counters that Schaeffer did write that actual political violence was sometimes justified, citing this passage from the “Manifesto” as an example:

There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate. The Christian is not to take the law into his own hands and become a law unto himself. But when all avenues to flight and protest have closed, force in the defensive posture is appropriate. This was the situation of the American Revolution. The colonists used force in defending themselves. Great Britain, because of its policy toward the colonies, was seen as a foreign power invading America. The colonists defended their homeland. As such, the American Revolution was a conservative counter-revolution. The colonists saw the British as the revolutionaries trying to overthrow the legitimate colonial governments.

A true Christian in Hitler’s Germany and in the occupied countries should have defied the false and counterfeit state and hidden his Jewish neighbors from German SS troops. The government had abrogated its authority, and it had no right to make any demands.

This brings us to a current issue that is crucial for the future of the church in the United States—the issue of abortion …

Lizza also cites the following passage, which again invokes the case of the American revolution:

The thirteen colonies concluded that the time had come and they disobeyed. We must understand that for Rutherford and Locke, and for the Founding Fathers, the bottom line was not an abstract point of conversation over a tea table; at a creation point it had to be acted upon. The thirteen colonies reached the bottom line: they acted in civil disobedience. That civil disobedience led to open war in which men and women died. And that led to the founding of the United States of America. There would have been no founding of the United States of America without the Founding Fathers’ realization that there is a bottom line. And to them the basic bottom line was not pragmatic; it was on of principle.

These and other examples lead Lizza to conclude that while “Schaeffer was sometimes coy about the case he was making and the obvious conclusions he was reaching,” those conclusions pointed inexorably toward violent revolution:

Schaeffer advocates beginning with non-lethal means: legislation, legal attacks in the courts, political action against abortion providers, and sit-ins in legislatures and courts. But if the reader has been paying attention, he knows that this is all just a warm-up for more severe measures if these fail.

But Lizza is misreading Schaeffer’s argument. To the extent that his book even hints at “more severe measures,” they aren’t being recommended if civil disobedience fails. Rather, he’s suggesting that Christians have the right to consider using “defensive force” in situations where civil disobedience isn’t permitted — as in Nazi Germany in the 1940s, or in British-occupied Boston in the 1770s. That’s the point of the line about “when all avenues to flight and protest have closed,” and it’s the point of the paragraph that follows immediately after the second one quoted above:

Please read most thoughtfully what I am going to say in the next sentence: If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the Living God. If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been put in the place of the Living God, because then you are to obey it even when it tells you in its own way at that time to worship Caesar. And that point is exactly where the early Christians performed their acts of civil disobedience even when it cost them their lives.

If there is no final place for civil disobedience. In other words, when Schaeffer discusses situations when “force in the defensive posture” may be appropriate, he’s giving his readers advice for a hypothetical authoritarian situation in the future, not for the democratic present. (And note that even when he’s talking about resisting authoritarianism, he reaches for two explicitly non-violent examples — the martyrdom of the early Christians, and the righteous Gentiles who hid their Jewish neighbors during the Nazi era — to supplement his references to the American Revolution.) He never urges “severe measures” as a legitimate response to Roe v. Wade itself, or implies that violence might be justified if the pro-life movement fails to overturn the decision. (Indeed, as Lizza himself allows, Schaeffer specifically worries that some of “many kooky people around” will misinterpret his support for civil disobedience as a warrant for violence.) Rather, he cites that the Roe decision as a symptom of a creeping illiberalism in American politics that might eventually make genuine civil disobedience impossible, forcing Christians to choose between martyrdom and revolt.

Was the late-in-life Schaeffer much too paranoid about the dangers of creeping secular authoritarianism in the United States? Absolutely. Is it fair for Lizza to link his Reagan-era paranoia to the paranoia that’s sometimes manifested by figures like Bachmann today? I would say yes again. (Though such paranoia can be a bipartisan temptation …) But is it fair to accuse Schaeffer of urging “the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed”? Once again, the answer is no.

 

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E P I S O D E 1 0

How Should We Then Live 10#1

FINAL CHOICES

I. Authoritarianism the Only Humanistic Social Option

One man or an elite giving authoritative arbitrary absolutes.

A. Society is sole absolute in absence of other absolutes.

B. But society has to be led by an elite: John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert Theobald.

C. Daniel Bell’s prophecy of technocratic elite.

D. Bell’s warning of cultural contradiction: no absolute ethic to accompany absolute power.

II. Nature of the New Authoritarianism

A. Do not think of the model of Hitler and Stalin.

B. Probably a manipulative, authoritarian elite.

III. Possible Forms of Manipulation

A. Review from Episode Six: Koestler—chemical agents; Krantz—birth control in world’s drinking supply; Clark—political leaders should take anti-aggression pills; Lee—psychological tests for public officials; Skinner—reinforcers to modify behavior.

B. Genetic condition: Francis Crick.

1. He advocates:

a) That some group of people is to decide who should be the parents of the next generation and who should be born.

b) That some group of people should determine what kind of people they want in the future and will set out genetically to make them.

2. Once Man is no longer seen as made in God’s image, there is no reason not to “tinker” with Man genetically.

C. The mass media.

1. TV conditions by selective editing. Illustration: simulated riot filmed in San Jose.

2. No collusion needed if views of elite and newsmakers coincide. Media not monolithic, but total control not needed to achieve manipulation.

IV Authoritarianism in Government. Illustration: United States

A. The dilemma of people who speak out for civil liberties but are also committed to the government’s having a responsibility to solve every problem.

B. Christian freedoms without Christian base produce chaos.

C. In the United States an authoritarian, manipulating government could come from the administrative (executive) side, the legislature, or from the courts functioning on variable, sociological law.

V. Threat of Authoritarianism

A. Leftist or Rightist authoritarianism are only two roads to the same end.

B. With the loss of Christian consensus, no reason for young or old committed to apathy not to give in if promised personal peace and affluence.

C. Roman bridge simile: humanist values collapse under pressure.

D. Some overwhelming pressures which progressively tend to prepare modern people to accept a manipulative, authoritarian government:

1. Economic breakdown.

a) Spiral of inflation leads to economic recession.

b) Fear of economic breakdown swamps concern for liberty.

2. Random violence and political terrorism. Fear can be so great than any compromise is worth security.

3. Threat of War between the West and expansionist Communist Block. Fear of war opens the way for many to accept authoritarianism as lesser evil.

4. World food shortage and change in world distribution of wealth and goods.

a) Threat of lower living standards alters basic attitudes.

b) Authoritarianism more likely to be accepted in a descending spiral of prosperity and a country’s place of power.

E. As in the days of Caesar Augustus (Episode One), authoritarianism is most easily accepted if it is brought in while seeming to keep the outward forms of constitutionality.

VI. Two Alternatives to Chaos:

Either authoritarianism—or society’s affirming once again the original source of freedom, God’s revelation in the Bible, and His revelation through Christ.

A. Reconsidering the second alternative.

1. Nonpragmatic nature of biblical Christianity.

a) Christianity not a superior utilitarianism to mend society; Christianity is truth that gives a unity to all of knowledge and all of life.

b) Stems from the infinite-personal God who exists and who was the Maker of the heavens and the earth.

c) The acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord, living under the absolutes which the Bible gives.

d) Christians have a responsibility to influence society across its whole spectrum and the entire spectrum of life.

e) Christians can influence consensus without being a majority.

2. The message of Paul to the Greek and Roman world applied.

a) Classical-humanist answers insufficient.

b) World is guilty of suppressing God’s truth and living accordingly. The universe and its form and the mannishness of Man speak the same truth that the Bible gives in greater detail.

c) Biblical Christianity is a message that people can return to God on the basis of Christ’s work alone, but it also gives the base for form and freedom in society.

d) It is this which can give us a hope for the future.

e) It is either this or an imposed order.

B. A reminder about presuppositions.

1. People act out their thoughts, whether they know it or not.

2. All depends on the world view one accepts and lives upon.

Questions

1. The theory of human biological manipulation, granted its premises, is entirely consistent. Outline these premises and the way in which various programs of manipulation are derived from them.

2. In a world moving steadily towards authoritarian regimes, does the relative slowness of Western democracies to lose their freedoms increase or decrease the likelihood of the West’s political survival? Give reasons.

3. Can you think of ways in which you and your church’s attitudes to society betray the utilitarian approach to the world? Does this approach reflect ignorance about the Truth and guilt about our failure to live it? What is the alternative approach and what does it reflect?

Key Events and Persons

Paul’s speech in Athens: c. A.D. 53

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: c. A.D. 60

J.K. Galbraith: 1908-

Francis Crick: 1916-

Daniel Bell: 1919-

The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society: 1973

Robert Theobald: 1929-

Further Study

As an exercise, you might find it valuable to collect clippings which deal with the subjects discussed and see what attitudes are betrayed by the authors. To pool such clippings in a group for the purpose of joint examination would be very illuminating.

Daniel Boorstin, The Image (1961).

Jacques Ellul, Propaganda (1965).

Francis Crick, Of Molecules and Men (1967).

Francis Crick, Origins of the Genetic Code (1968).

Gordon R. Taylor, The Biological Time-Bomb (1969).

Daniel Bell, The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society (1973).

E.M.B. Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (1970).

Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City (1969).

Nevil Shute, On the Beach (1952).

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Communism: A Legacy of Terror (1975).

Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (1965.)

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