Tag Archives: Salon.com

Here’s an Angle on the Continuing ‘Crisis of Authority’

The article was posted on Feb. 7, 2015, on Salon.com, and it is entitled “Anti-vaxxers are not the enemy: Science, politics, and the crisis of authority,” which you can read in its entirety.

But, for a quicker read, here’s a highlight:

“Most people making the decision not to vaccinate are mothers who are being demonized for a confusion and mistrust that is in fact widely shared, if in less dramatic form.

“For better or worse, at least climate denial and the vaccine debate are in the forefront of public discourse. Numerous forms of authority still lie concealed, or are carefully protected. I don’t know how to evaluate a former German newspaper editor’s recent claim that for years he published stories supplied to him by the CIA, because the story has been entirely ignored by the American media. Then there’s the new government in Greece, the first one in Europe to directly challenge the fiscal austerity regime imposed by global financial institutions. That’s a story of political and economic confrontation that could reshape the history of our century. It has been covered, all right — in a defensive and patronizing tone transparently designed to reassure readers that the neoliberal order often called the ‘Washington consensus’ is not in danger, and that the silly radicals in Athens will have to grow up and take their medicine like everybody else.

“Critical thinking about the nature of authority might induce us to wonder why those stories are invisible, or spun as dry policy questions for readers of the business pages, while so much bandwidth is occupied with making fun of a few vaccine loons. It might cause us to notice that treating people who feel genuine uncertainty about mainstream medicine as if they were low-achieving children only makes the problem worse, and that it’s absurd to assert that questioning the Catholic Church or the National Football League is good, but questioning the name-brand institutions of the scientific world is bad.

“Science considered as a method and a process is likely, over the long haul and after a lot of trial and error, to provide us with good answers. Science expressed as a social and historical institution – as a source of authority, in other words — is another matter entirely, and a far more complicated story than we can tell here. It has extended life and cured disease and improved agriculture, and it has brought us eugenics and the Tuskegee experiments and Hiroshima and Zyklon-B and a whole host of amazing pesticides and herbicides and preservatives and plastics that have permeated every square millimeter of the planet’s surface and the bodies of all its creatures, and whose long-term effects are not known but don’t look that great.”

From “Anti-vaxxers are not the enemy,” by Andrew O’Hehir

Draw from that and infer what you will.

The inaccurate and irrational rhetoric of Frank Schaeffer, Part Three

This post continues a critique of Frank Schaeffer’s Christmas Eve article in Salon.com. Please also see Part One and Part Two of this series.

I had a mixed reaction to the following sentence by Schaeffer:

“I was friends with the Human Life Review founder and editor: brilliant Roman Catholic anti-abortion crusader Jim McFadden.”

It’s the only time, in an article of approximately 2,224 words, Schaeffer calls anyone “brilliant,” or calls anyone within the conservative movement anything remotely positive.

I was happy to see that pro-choice Schaeffer would still, these days, identify an “anti-abortion crusader” as “brilliant.” Aside from President Obama, everyone else in the article is either condemned on his own merits or damned by his association with the conservative movement, particularly the anti-abortion vein within the movement.

What’s missing, however, is a balanced assessment of Schaeffer’s own late father Francis Schaeffer, who over the course of decades was a compassionate and humane pastor to numerous troubled and searching young people.

It’s incredible to me that in an article about abortion, Schaeffer continues with the same polarized, all-or-nothing, black-or-white-and-no-grayscale thinking that marked his tenure as a conservative, anti-abortion evangelical.

In an article in which Schaeffer deploys the word “extremist” as an undesirable epithet, isn’t it kind of strange that he has swung from one extreme to another? In the article, he makes no qualification of his current pro-choice point of view. The difficulty with that has everything to do with Schaeffer’s strange moves around the issue of abortion, and almost nothing to do with the issue itself. Consider, for a moment, the extreme poles of the abortion debates:

– A newly fertilized egg is fully human, not potentially human, and ending its growth is just like first-degree homicide of a (born) child.

– An unborn fetus can be ethically and morally terminated as long as it is in a woman’s body, (including) throughout the third trimester.

So, while glossing over a complicated and complex issue to make a self-agrandizing public confession and to throw Dad under the bus, Schaeffer seems to have swung from one exasperatingly extremist position to another exasperatingly extremist position. Worse yet, Schaeffer takes the extremist position of maligning his Dad for his position on one issue.

Meanwhile, Frank Schaeffer ignores the significant, compassionate help offered by the late Francis Schaeffer to the hundreds (a safe guess?) of people who circulated through L’Abri Fellowship in Huemoz, Switzerland, who heard his humane lectures that took contemporary film, literature, and philosophy seriously — something his fellow Presbyterians were very, very rarely inclined to do. That might be why the late Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s small decision to open their Huemoz home eventually became a larger fellowship with branches in different countries.

Of course Frank Schaeffer had his own experiences with his late father.

Of course he has a privileged insight into the movement in which he worked.

But Schaeffer’s article is not just one-sided but singularly based upon a faulty premise (see Part One). The article brings to mind a line from a Blues Traveler song: “…a bad play where the heroes are right / And nobody thinks or expects too much.”

Schaeffer has inaccurately assessed the Tea Party movement, overlooked obvious complexities in abortion ethics, and oversimplified his late father’s generally good legacy.

I suspect Frank Schaeffer’s fundamental self has not changed. He’s still a desperate guy deploying extremist rhetoric to get attention. He’s just looking for someone to listen to him, and he seems willing to place any content within the vehicle of his extremist rhetoric, in an attempt to be heard.

The inaccurate and irrational rhetoric of Frank Schaeffer, Part Two

If you haven’t already, please read Frank Schaeffer’s article at Salon.com and then read Part One of this series.

Let’s begin this installment with the following excerpt from Schaeffer’s article:

Fast-forward 30 years to the early 21st century: The messengers, leaders and day-to-day “issues” changed. For instance, we were into taking away a woman’s right to choose. Today it’s about gay bashing and denying climate change — and now the nakedly racist anti-immigrant movement threat is part of the reaction to the black man in the White House.

Schaeffer’s mention of “denying climate change” is incredibly unfair and exasperating.

Whatever environmental concern can be found in the evangelical movement owes itself at least in part to Schaeffer’s father. The late Francis Schaeffer’s book Pollution and the Death of Man (1970), co-authored with Udo Middelmann, made Christian environmentalism and, by extension, acknowledgment of climate change, possible and intellectually respectable within upper levels of the evangelical movement, if not always among the rank and file.

Oddly enough, when I attended a 1999 L’Abri Conference in Greensboro, North Carolina, Tim Keyes, one of the sons of L’Abri leaders Dick and Mardi Keyes, gave a presentation — to an auditorium full of avid Francis Schaeffer fans — about the biblical, Christian reasoning behind concern for the environment. I’ll take that as evidence not only of the impact of Pollution and the Death of Man, but also of its continuing influence. (I say all this, of course, with the backdrop of my own frustrations with the word “biblical” and its variety of referents.)

So with irresponsible writing and sweeping rhetoric, Franky carelessly associates his environmentally sensitive father with climate-change denial. That is a fundamentally indecent and inaccurate thing to do.

Schaeffer seems more and more like a sensationalist. The tricks he once appropriated for the religious right he now has re-appropriated in a quest to ingratiate himself to the conventional left. His thinking is unclear and irrational, no matter in whose service he employs it.

In Part Three, I’ll explain Frank Schaeffer’s oversimplification and degradation of his father’s legacy. I hope to show how Franky has made anti-abortion politics his late father’s unforgivable sin, while ignoring Francis Schaeffer’s many decent and humanizing accomplishments.

The inaccurate and irrational rhetoric of Frank Schaeffer, Part One

For the record, I’ve been an admirer of Frank Schaeffer — both Frank Schaeffer Past and Frank Schaeffer Present.

That admiration, however, doesn’t blind me to his inexcusably horrible Christmas Eve article at Salon.com.

In the article, he criticizes his and his late father’s anti-abortion efforts in the 1970s and 1980s. He claims he and his late Dad are responsible for making the Republican Party an “extremist” organization, and for making the Tea Party movement happen. He also apologizes for doing so.

Again, for the record, I’ve been a fan of his father, too. The late Francis Schaeffer founded L’Abri Fellowship, the Greatham, England, branch of which still has a warm place in my heart, even if I’m more doubtful and skeptical (and less conservative) than I used to be, as many recent posts here testify.

My intersections with L’Abri as well as the writings of Frank Schaeffer and his late father were not political. They were refreshing and life-giving to me, attentive to the arts and philosophy as they were, and so they really helped me at specific times.

My departure from my own past involvement with the religious right makes me more likely to appreciate Frank Schaeffer’s departure from the same. So when I began to read Schaeffer’s article at Salon.com, I wanted to find something good to mull over.

But instead, what I read was irrational and indecent.

Just for radical clarity, I rejoiced at several sentences in his article, including, “You see, only in the Mafia, the British Royal family and big time American religion is a nepotistic rise to power seen as normal.” Ha-ha and amen to that!

I also shared Schaeffer’s disgust with the smug power-plays in the overlapping zone where the Republican Party and the evangelical priestly class mingle.

And here is Schaeffer’s knock-out punch, an excellent right-hook that should have appeared in a decent article:

What began to bother me was that so many of our new “friends” on the religious right seemed to be rooting for one form of apocalypse or another. In the crudest form this was part of the evangelical fascination with the so-called end times. The worse things got, the sooner Jesus would come back. But there was another component. The worse everything got, the more it proved that America needed saving, by us! Plus, it was good for fundraising.

YES, that is so friggin’ true.

But I’m still dismayed and astonished by Schaeffer’s abuses of rhetoric and misuses of his own credibility.

Let’s take a look.

First, if you haven’t already, read Schaeffer’s article.

Then, closely mark what Schaeffer says in the following two early sections of the article:

This zealous negativity has a long history. I was part of it as the nepotistic sidekick to my religious-right evangelist father. The 1970s Evangelical anti-abortion movement that Dad (Evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer), C. Everett Koop (who would be Ronald Reagan’s surgeon general) and I helped create seduced the Republican Party. We turned it into an extremist far-right party that is fundamentally anti-American. There would have been no Tea Party without the foundation we built….

You can’t understand why the GOP was so successful in winning back both houses of congress in 2014, and wrecking most of what Obama has tried to do, unless you understand what we did back then.

Schaeffer’s nonfiction, here and elsewhere, is full of hyperbole. The phrase “extremist far-right party” is just one example, a phrase that only applies if one is looking only at America with only conventional, contemporary perspectives, in other words, looking as if some perfectly moral social norm had always existed and the GOP is unique in its political transgressions.

More importantly, notice how Schaeffer conflates the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party (a.k.a. GOP) is an “extremist far-right party,” yet strangely enough, the Tea Party was unhappy with Mitt Romney as the official candidate.

So, the GOP has been taken over by Tea Party extremists who weren’t able to control the presidential nominee? Apparently, a group can take over a party without controlling the party. That doesn’t make sense, but that’s what Schaeffer is saying.

The heart of Schaeffer’s article deals with abortion. He assumes, wrongly, that today’s conservative movement within the GOP had everything to do with his and his father’s anti-abortion efforts. I can’t decide if that move is an oversimplification or a gross generalization or a bogus claim.

I’m leaning toward “bogus claim.” Anyone familiar with the conservative movement knows National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr., presidential candidate and senator Barry Goldwater, and author and professor Russell Kirk were crafting the movement long before Schaeffer & Son decided to get evangelicals fired-up about abortion. Maybe it’s a bogus claim combined with a side of self-importance.

The problems with Schaeffer’s assumptions about abortion, the Tea Party movement, and the GOP don’t stop there.

I don’t recall seeing anti-abortion signs in media coverage of Tea Party events. Of course it stands to reason I missed some, but I thought the T-E-A in Tea Party stood for “Taxed Enough Already,” which was a clever way to allude to the original Boston Tea Party anti-tax revolt, which was fundamentally foundational  to America.

But anti-abortion politics are not foundational to the Tea Party. In the TeaParty.org’s “15 Non-Negotiable Core Beliefs,” not one mention is made of abortion.

Schaeffer’s premise for the article is his culpability for the entire Tea Party movement because of his and his Dad’s work as anti-abortion activists. Yet the Tea Party movement didn’t list it.

So Schaeffer (guiltily) takes credit for providing the seedbed for today’s Tea Party movement. This is his zaniest move. He assumes that the pro-life evangelical influence in the Republican Party walks hand-in-hand with anti-tax and anti-regulation folks.

He completely misses or ignores the real aggravations experienced by every-day people who were going about their business only to discover they’d violated a jot or a tittle in some inane law known only to busybody bureaucrats.

Maybe Schaeffer could scroll through Reason‘s frequently updated Brickbat blog to learn more about absurdities that fuel at least a healthy portion of the current anti-government backlash.

Instead, he subtly ties anti-government feelings to racism, as if the black people who have been screwed by their own government would just continue to support their government.

Of course, it’s easy and hip to peg the anti-government backlash on racism while the first black president is in office, and apparently the Salon.com editors, much like Schaeffer, don’t find it necessary to think beyond their own implicit political biases to the possibility that someone, somewhere, might just disagree with an Obama policy because of the policy.

But to clear things up, Franky could tell us why — in his post-evangelical, post-anti-abortion life — he (by apparent default) supports so many invasions of privacy outside the womb. He could go through each absurdity in the Brickbat blog and defend it, and then he could get back to accusing Them and Those and other random strangers of being racists.

(I’m glad you’ve overcome your own implicit biases, Franky. You can be proud of that, too, while you’re patting yourself on the back for throwing your Dad under the bus — justified violence in your mind, I’m sure.)

Schaeffer’s remarks about the anti-immigration movement as “part of the reaction to a black man in the White House” are baseless, unless ignorance counts as a basis for saying something.

Schaeffer apparently wrote his article without looking at the TeaParty.org’s “15 Non-Negotiable Core Beliefs” page, which most certainly deals with immigration, just not in the way the reader is led believe.

On that “nakedly racist” page we find, among others, Dr. Ben Carson and Lt. Col. Allen West, who, like the president, are black. “Nakedly racist” is a radically inaccurate description of the movement.

No one is accusing Schaeffer of being a racist just because he is a white guy who opposes black Tea Party leaders Dr. Ben Carson and Lt. Col. Allen West. That would be ridiculous — and inaccurate, and irrational.

But, unfortunately, Schaeffer is just that ridiculous throughout most of his article.

He uses an old trick among inflammatory political activists of all stripes: When you disagree with someone, lob a rhetorical hand grenade in his direction.

In the mind of an inflammatory activist like Schaeffer, a racially diverse group can be called “racist” because Salon.com’s editors and Franky won’t let accuracy get in the way of their special beliefs. Truth is chased-down and run-over by strong feelings.

(People can have all kinds of strong feelings. Some are found in stadiums and some in churches and some in mental wards.)

As a writer, pro-government Schaeffer could also defend the government’s decision to spy on an Associated Press office and to steal telephone records from reporters.

But no, instead, he’s subtly defending the Obama administration, which includes the Justice Department that broke the law and pissed on the First Amendment while spying on the Associated Press and stealing protected, confidential information from reporters. It’s irrational to support such a government.

And notice how Schaeffer smuggles in the assumption that everything Obama has done has been golden.

He writes, “You can’t understand why the GOP was so successful in winning back both houses of congress in 2014, and wrecking most of what Obama has tried to do, unless you understand what we did back then.” (emphasis added)

Buried therein is an assumption about Obama’s work even Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would question on their most kind-hearted days!

But that’s not stopping Schaeffer, who makes his appeal to the Salon.com crowd and then drives it full-speed into grotesque pandering.

I didn’t think smart people did that kind of thing. I thought Franky was smart. There’s a syllogism brewing here, but you can work it out for yourself.

Next time, we’ll look at even more egregious indecencies in Schaeffer’s article.

Read Part Two here.