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The Lodestar Films of the Baby Boomer Right:
The Francis Schaeffer Movies

[1]

Francis Schaeffer

2,760 words

Whatever Happened to the Human Race? [2]
Directed & produced by Franky Schaeffer
Starring C. Everett Koop & Francis Schaeffer
1979

How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture [3]
Directed by John Gonser, produced by Franky Schaeffer
Starring Francis Schaeffer
1976

From the mid-1970s until roughly 2006-2008, the Evangelical Protestant movement was a major force in American politics. During the Nixon and Ford administrations, this movement crystallized into a major force within the Republican Party. After the 1980s, most Republican politicians could not get elected without professing some sort of support for the Evangelical movement or its aims. Republicans talked about “family values” and claimed to oppose both homosexuality and abortion, and Evangelical mega-churches became power projection platforms for the GOP. Tellingly, Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “evil empire” speech [4] occurred at a convention of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The Evangelical Protestant movement was the “Right wing” of the Baby Boomer generation. Much of the movement’s philosophy was developed by Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984). Dr. Schaeffer was an ordained Presbyterian minister who founded a ministry called L’Abri in Switzerland. He also authored a trilogy of religious and philosophical books:

The God Who is There [5] (written first but published in 1972)
Escape from Reason [6] (1968)
He is There and He is Not Silent [7] (1972)

These books are high-end philosophical works that explained the foundation of Schaeffer’s worldview, and consequently much of the worldview of the Evangelical movement. They aren’t light reading. In summary, Schaeffer’s trilogy explains how Protestant Christianity offers an answer to the despair that resulted when philosophers gave up on the attempt to reconcile reason and meaning. Essentially, one uses reason from the point of view of despair, and this prevents there from being a deeper meaning to anything. Schaeffer argues that the philosopher Hegel (1770-1831) brought modern thought to a line of despair and that Kierkegaard (1813-1855) crossed it. On the post-Kierkegaard side of this line, Schaeffer argues, there is no philosophical ability to find truth and there are no moral absolutes. Schaeffer further argues that the hippie/counterculture revolution of the 1960s was an irrational leap of faith within the humanist/existentialist philosophical paradigm, and he believed that the spiritual-minded hippies would come full circle to the despair of their parents. Schaeffer argues that if the youth (i.e., the Baby Boomers) were to turn to the Bible and Christianity, they would find a way out of their despair.

Schaeffer contends that the ugly turn in art represented by atonal music and the paint-splattered works of Jackson Pollack is the result of modern philosophy turning away from truth and moral absolutes after crossing the line of despair. Schaeffer is especially critical of the ideas of the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Schaeffer rejects the humanist philosophical idea of a silent God and insists that God has indeed spoken to man, and that his words are found in the Bible. Schaeffer’s books were published during the spiritual revolution that occurred in the young adulthood of the Baby Boomers, and many in that generation connected with Schaeffer’s ideas.

Why the Baby Boomers responded to Schaeffer has been explained by Schaeffer’s son Frank (or Franky). Francis, argues Frank, was really a hippie who happened to be a Presbyterian minister, so he was fortunate in that his personality, published works, and profession fit perfectly into the social mood of the time. The who’s who of the Baby Boomer spiritual revolution passed through L’Abri; this included Timothy Leary, Joan Baez, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page. There were also a host of run-of-the-mill hippies as well as already-faithful American Evangelicals seeking to “increase their walk with the Lord.” Even African students who were being sponsored by the Soviet Union to further Communist aims spent time with Schaeffer.

Francis Schaeffer not only wrote books but also attempted to convey his ideas in two film series. The first was How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. This 1976 series explains how Christianity (especially Protestant Christianity) offers an answer to Western civilization’s various ills. The series is organized by epoch: ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, and so on. According to Schaeffer, the Roman Empire persecuted the early Christians because a totalitarian government couldn’t handle a religion which judged society according to “moral absolutes.” And yes, Godwin’s Law [8] holds true in his work as well. The central thrust of his ideas are found in the contrast between the Reformation in northern Europe and the Renaissance in southern Europe.

According to Schaeffer, the Reformation was a philosophical and religious movement which had God at its center, while the Renaissance had man at its center. As a result, northern Europe produced stable, just societies. According to Schaeffer, because northern European societies were God-centered, were aligned with “moral absolutes,” and recognized man’s sinful nature, the English “Revolution” of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1776 were bloodless affairs that produced economically and politically dynamic societies. In contrast, the humanist French Revolution, derived from Renaissance ideals, and the later Communist revolutions were bloodbaths. He demonstrates this by citing examples from art and architecture.

Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979) addresses the issues of abortion and euthanasia, featuring a doctor opposed to abortion, C. Everett Koop (1916-2013). According to Frank Schaeffer, who directed the film, Francis didn’t wish to get involved in the abortion controversy. It was a political rather than a philosophical issue, and until the 1970s it was a concern for Roman Catholics rather than Protestants. However, Frank persuaded Francis to do the film. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? launched the pro-life movement, and its success helped make C. Everett Koop the Surgeon General of the United States under Ronald Reagan.

How Should We Then Live? has aged well and the ideas it presents can be taken in several ways, whereas Whatever Happened to the Human Race? is much more simplistic, consisting mostly of dated propaganda. Baby dolls lying in lifeless poses are shown on the salt plains of the Dead Sea in order to represent aborted fetuses, and the viewer is reminded that the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah once stood there. Another scene shows a baby in a cage after the camera pans past lab rats. There is even a politically correct baby sporting an afro, and there is a statement by Francis Schaeffer himself opposing the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade. We are also informed that six million (!!!) abortions had been performed since Roe v. Wade.

The ideas Schaeffer presents in his books are important, but ended up being of lesser impact than these two films, which reached a mass audience. That audience was rightfully angry about the social movements of the 1960s that had caused so much trouble. But now that enough time has passed, the successes and failures of the Baby Boomer “Right wing” can be examined. Unfortunately, while the Baby Boomer “Right” gained considerable influence over the course of several Republican administrations, on the whole the movement has been a failure. These failures can be blamed, in part, on what Francis Schaeffer missed.

What Schaeffer Missed, Part One: The Abortion Issue Misdirected Moral Anger towards a Dead End

The pro-life movement did alert Americans to the fact that judicial rulings can be highly ideological, and thus judicial appointees must be closely vetted. However, it has turned out to be a mostly dead-end response to the sexual revolution and the decline of marriage as an institution. This follows from several problems in their philosophy.

First, there has always been a demand for getting rid of unwanted babies. This is a tragedy; it’s always been a tragedy. In the past, children born out of wedlock were sent off to orphanages, thrown in rivers, sacrificed to gods such as Moloch, left to die, and so on. Should abortion become illegal, it would go underground, because the demand would still be there. Worse, things that are illegal are thus unregulated by the government. If abortion is made illegal, practices such as partial birth abortions will likely still be performed clandestinely, unless the police are alerted in time to intervene.

Next, for most people, abortion is an abstract thing. Indeed, if the most innocent-looking girl in the youth choir has an abortion, and nobody at her church finds out about it, nothing whatsoever will change for her socially. The comparatively peaceful results of Roe v. Wade must be contrasted with the social disorder which resulted from the rulings on school integration and busing. Furthermore, opposition to abortion results from misdirected anger at the decline of marriage. The Evangelicals missed the problem posed by feminist-inspired, no-fault divorce, female careerism getting in the way of family, and the economic decline that has made having children less affordable.

Finally, abortion is an easy thing to oppose. The people who perform and receive abortions are rarely pleased with the situation. It is a private tragedy, and thus those involved in abortion don’t really fight back against its opponents. By focusing on the abortion issue, the Baby Boomers ignored moral travesties that the Democratic Party ended up taking up as their own causes. For example, the Republican Party that the Evangelicals supported abandoned worker protections, outsourced industry to Asia, and carried out dubious military crusades. The Evangelicals never said anything regarding these issues. The Boomer “Right” also did nothing about immigration or the rising danger of Wahhabi Islam, failed to address the failings of the “civil rights” movement, refused to be critical of Wall Street, and dogmatically supported Israel even after it became an appalling burden on America.

What Schaeffer Missed, Part Two: How Should We Then Live? Misses Many Targets

How Should We Then Live? is a film that has aged better, but still misses the mark almost from the outset. Schaeffer presents an ahistorical examination of the Roman Empire, insisting that the old gods of the Romans were just enhanced humans, and thus were of no help in response to the social problems, apathy, and despair which eventually claimed Rome. Its art and architecture declined as a result of this apathy. Indeed, the Roman Empire declined for many reasons, one of which was a loss of civic virtue in its Latin heartland. However, Rome’s decline didn’t really begin until after it adopted Christianity as the state religion, not before, as Schaeffer implies. Strictly speaking, the Roman Empire didn’t fall because of “apathy.” Indeed, its Byzantine successor eventually fell because Muslim Turks conquered the city in 1453. The Christian Romans in the Hagia Sophia fervently recited Christian prayers as the Turks cut them down.

Schaeffer likewise obfuscates the real issues with his concern over the philosophical split between the Renaissance humanists and the Reformation Protestants. This split shrinks to insignificance in the face of the Islamic threat. It hardly matters if a statue of David’s hands are oversized and thus represent humanism if Islamists end up dynamiting the statue after they conquer Europe through immigration.

Schaeffer’s other ideas are also somewhat strange even in light of Christian theology. For example, Schaeffer argues that the line of despair he identifies was crossed during Kierkegaard’s lifetime. One would think that a believing Christian would rather say that it was crossed with Original Sin.

Additionally, many of those on the Baby Boomer Religious Right insisted that society would correct itself by following the moral absolutes alluded to in How Should We Then Live? However, Schaeffer is not entirely clear on what these moral absolutes are. Schaeffer believed in the inerrancy of the Bible. So are his absolutes the Ten Commandants? Or are they the various laws presented in the Book of Leviticus? Or are they the laws of Leviticus, minus those which were rejected by the Apostle Paul? Or are they the Beatitudes, and/or the Golden Rule? How does Schaeffer reconcile “thou shalt not kill” with the genocide carried out by the Israelites in Canaan, as described in the Book of Joshua? And if slavery is allowed in the Bible, why does Schaeffer say it’s wrong?

In fact, moral absolutes are created out of thin air and change over time. The Church of England granted Henry VIII two divorces and later dethroned Edward VIII for marrying a divorced woman. The Baby Boomers, including the Religious Right, decided that “not discriminating” was a moral absolute – a philosophical position that eventually got a suspicious airline clerk to suppress his concerns [9] and issue boarding passes to two of the 9/11 hijackers. The Religious Right decided that adoption rather than abortion was a moral absolute, so now there is a racket with links to them to get baby Chinese girls adopted into American families.

Another target they missed was the Jewish Question.[1] Those at L’Abri missed it by a mile, given that Schaeffer’s wife Edith (Seville) Schaeffer (1914-2013) wrote a book entitled Christianity is Jewish (1975), which is very much in contradiction to the Gospel of John, among other parts of the New Testament. Because of this off-kilter approach, Francis Schaeffer naïvely argues that the Berkeley Free Speech Movement [10] was an attempt to get out of the materialist trap of “personal peace and affluence.” Schaeffer insists [11] that the movement started out well but “. . . quickly it slipped into the New Left following Marcuse. Marcuse was a German philosopher, Marx-see-ist (sic), and at that time he was teaching in San Diego.” Schaeffer then goes on to say, “They had the right analysis. Let me say that.”

Actually, let me say there is no right analysis here. Francis Schaeffer got so lost in the philosophical clouds that he failed to realize that much of the tumult of the 1960s was not a philosophical escape from the materialist values of “personal peace and affluence,” or an irrational leap of faith out of existentialism, but an ethnic conflict of Jews versus Aryan Americans. Wilmot Robertson said of the New Left that “[b]y the close of the 1960s, American Jews composed ‘at least half of the active protestors among the New Left,’ and ‘the nonpopulist brand of radicalism [was] noisy, intellectual, ideological, and primarily Jewish.’”[2] Additionally, Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) was not a German, he was a Jew.[3] How Should We Then Live? also shows one of the Berkeley Free Speech activists, the Jew Bettina Aptheker. Schaeffer seemed to think that her heart was in the right place.[4]

We now know the Free Speech Movement was a fraud all along. It was only a front for advancing Jewish interests in the 1960s. At the time, these interests included supporting Communism, the ideas of Marcuse, and drug use among students, as well as subverting the Vietnam War effort. These issues were unpopular, but were protected as free speech. Following the 2016 elections, Berkeley then dropped all pretense of free speech, as we have seen when mobs of violent Leftists shut down conservative speakers while the Berkeley police do nothing.

Francis Schaeffer had a great mind, indeed. However, it is clear he was trapped by much of his religious and philosophical upbringing. Schaeffer’s philosophy could be both rich – the ideas of the Renaissance do deserve to be discussed – and poor, as when he condemns [12] the exploration of “Eastern” religions an escape into “non-reason.” His prejudice was unfortunate given that studying Indo-European religious works such as those of Zoroaster [13] in Persia or India’s Bhagavad Gita [14] are not unreasonable. And in spite of the richness of his analysis, he ultimately failed to grasp the real problems threatening Western civilization. In short, Francis Schaeffer’s failings are also those of the Baby Boomer “Right.” For future activists, studying Schaeffer, while being aware of his shortcomings, will be well worthwhile.

 

Notes

1. Although Schaeffer disliked atonal music, he didn’t seem to notice that its main proponent was a Jew, Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951).

2. Wilmot Robertson, The Dispossessed Majority [15], 4th rev ed. (Cape Canaveral, Fl.: Howard Allen Enterprises, 1996), p. 364.

3. “Herbert Marcuse, the late mentor of the New Left, constructed a synthesis of Marx and Freud, modifying and rearranging the Oedipus Complex in such a way that the father stands for capitalism and the parricidal son, the proletariat. Such fanciful nonsense would make interesting footnotes in a history of scholarly tomfoolery, if it were not taken seriously by many liberal intellectuals.” Ibid., p. 284.

4. This reviewer is somewhat more cynical regarding the place of Ms. Aptheker’s heart. Throughout the 1960s it is likely that she was promoted and supported by the organized Jewish community in order to support their interests. Today, Ms. Aptheker is a Professor [16] in the Women’s Studies department of the University of California, Santa Cruz. One suspects that the Jew Aptheker’s preaching of feminist ideology concerning sexual behavior and reproductive rights is her method of manipulating the “shiksas” in order to damage their reproductive organs.