Friday, April 12, 2013

Frank Schaeffer On Leaving The Religious Right


Leonardo said...

I loved Schaeffer’s comment in the Q&A session (12:00–18:00) about American religion being more about entertainment, politics and personality cults. “Entertainment Empires” – if this doesn’t describe the COG’s and other fundamentalist organizations I don’t know what does.

Anonymous said...

Skip to 5:20 to avoid a longwinded introduction. Sheesh, I thought that guy was never going to shut up.

Leonardo said...

You're right, Anon. It's true that Schaeffer does tend to ramble off into many areas, as he seems to be a rather stream-of-consciousness kind of speaker who goes all over the place rather than maintaining a disciplined focus in his talk. The guy who introduced him does the same thing. But I watched both the main talk as well as the Q&A session, and felt they were worth wading through for the important points that he did make. COGism is definitely not the only weird system of fundamentalist thought out there. Schaeffer's experiences growing up in a heavily evangelical environment parallels many of the stories I've heard from those raised up in the WCG. Different doctrines and traditions, but the same spirit of bizarre weirdness behind them.

Head Usher said...

I just finished watching and I like when he said this:

"So my earliest memory of being an evangelical christian, beside from wanting the ground to swallow me, was that I was so saddened that whatever god had called us to, it had somehow involved being weird. So my first impression of what it meant to be called to be a christian was that you were called to be strange."

Man, oh man. Wasn't that ever a part of Armstrongism? If I had a nickel for every time I heard a minister say from the pulpit how we all were "odd," and "weird," and how that was just part of what it meant to be a TRUE follower of god. And then he says that there were so many other people who felt that same way. Maybe that's just how it feels to be an extremist, whatever it is you're extreme about. Armstrongism was always extreme, that's for sure. If some discipline is good, more is better. If some lawkeeping is good, more is better. And on and on it goes...

Leonardo said...

Head Usher, yes, that part of Schaeffer's presentation caught my attention as well! How true it is. And also the part where he talked about fundamentalist-like intolerance on BOTH sides of the political spectrum! That really struck a chord with me, because I often find that the ones ranting the most about their right to free speech are frequently the most eager to put the quash on those who don't hold their particular views! This is most especially true of the academic left-wingers in America, I’ve noticed. I've experienced this many, many times out blogging on the Internet. Quite an irony, isn’t it, when at a time we have the technology to potentially engage in more civil dialogue than ever before in human history, and yet we are growing ever farther apart in so many different areas. I see a clear parallel here with ancient Rome, which tried to accommodate so many different cultures and ideological persuasions under it’s umbrella that they eventually were weakened by the loss of a single, coherent commonly-shared culture.

I’m glad that at least TWO other folks here have been willing to give these videos a view, rather than just merely indulging in the endless arguments over COG religion and doctrinal disagreements. It heartens me to see that at least some value continual education, as opposed to the non-stop spouting of uninformed opinion! Such videos can increase and deepen our understanding, little by little, and they’re free!

Head Usher said...

This guy talks about what you're talking about, Leonardo. Check it out.

Leonardo said...

That video was excellent! Thank you, Head Usher! It was of special interest to me because I studied moral philosophy at AC, being very influenced by Dr. George Geiss, in my view the best instructor I ever had there, whose doctorate was in moral philosophy (Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, etc.).

I've read some of Jonathan Haidt's work before. Though I'm always a bit hesitant about the kinds of general categories such moral psychologists tend to propose. In broad, general ways they may be quite accurate. That’s why marketers are constantly trying to acquire more and more information about our personal habits, the kinds of books we read, the products we tend to buy, etc. But such categories are not always accurate at the individual level. For example, I would say I lean more toward the conservative side, and yet I consider myself to be very open to new or even radical ideas, assuming they’re remotely reasonable and can be sufficiently justified. I’m an ardent “Tedster” and I live in Colorado (“Dumbf_ckistan” on his map of the 2000 presidential election results) - so what category of Haidt's would I fit in? Neither of them, I suspect.

I think we both would very generally identify COG members to be overwhelmingly “closed individuals” to use Haidt’s terms. Though in my view they would have very little actual (as opposed to verbal) “in-group loyalty” – the weakest, most flimsiest bonds of “friendship” I’ve ever witnessed in my life are those existing within the context of the COG’s.

Haidt made other excellent points that really can help us escape from the either/or mindset so prevalent in both the secular world and that of organized religion.

Head Usher said...

Over the past couple of years I have gone back to rewatch this video several times. The first time I watched it, I thought he was being very edgy, controversial, condescending, and even insulting in the first 5 minutes or so, but that's only because I wasn't paying enough attention. What he's really doing is poking a huge hole in the value systems of every liberal in the room by telling them in unvarnished terms exactly what they believe (and what he used to believe). But he's doing it to challenge them to follow him on his journey out of the moral matrix, and showing them how they perceive the right is simplistic, unnuanced, and even total malarkey. Haidt describes himself as a centrist now.

I see what he's calling the moral matrix is just another viewpoint and way of understanding culture, as we've been discussing it in other threads, but one that can be researched and perhaps used to learn things about culture that wouldn't be discovered from other viewpoints.

Also, in regards to marketing and also political polling, Stanford Research Institute's Values and Lifestyle Surveys (VALS) which began around 1980, started categorizing people not according to gender, age, income, and other traditional variables, but instead categorized them by their values, beliefs, the way they perceived the world around them, and the way they interfaced with it. VALS polling correctly predicted the landslide election of Ronald Reagan and also the election of Margaret Thatcher, when traditional pollsters predictions were either wrong or inconclusive.

This is where I first learned about that several years ago, the segment that starts about 4:45 into this chunk and continues into the next.

Leonardo said...

I've seen that documentary, The Century of the Self, and liked it. Very few know about the work of Edward Bernays these days, and even fewer realize how easily we are all being manipulated by mass marketing and advertising. Religion very much uses research discovered by Stanford's VALS and other niche marketing-oriented psychographics in their efforts to reach the world. I would venture to say that there is a definite "demographic" in the wider population that is easily sucked into COG ideology.

Youtube can be a virtual classroom of useful information!

Head Usher said...

The story that documentary tells is so implausible that if everything were not documented with video of the people involved saying it out of their own mouths, I would have dismissed most of it as the imaginings of one more psychotic conspiracy theorist. But there it is undeniably on video.

Leonardo said...

But most of the time we don't learn these kinds of things until many decades after the fact. Just imagine the degree to which this kind of thing is going on now! The psychological and social sciences have advanced tremendously in the past century. There ARE conspiracies going on in the truest sense of the word, though not the loony kind the conspiracy buffs or religious fanatics are always talking about. I have several books from economist Juliet Schor, and she superbly documents the multitudes of ways marketers target and manipulate consumers, especially children, which was the topic of her book BORN TO BUY: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. Another author said of this book:

"We worry about so many dangers to our children - drugs, perverts, bullies - but seldom do we notice the biggest menace of all: the multibillion-dollar marketing effort aimed at turning kids into oversexed, status-obsessed, attention-deficient little consumers."

But most folks don't recognize this very real cultural threat. I mean, just consider the vast majority of comments made here on this blogsite. How many of these folks really are willing or possess the capacity to look at the far wider cultural picture outside of their rabid obsession with Armstrongism, or pushing their narrow little views of religion? Very few. Most of them live in their tiny little self-absorbed universes, and their shallow and mostly meaningless comments reflect it.

They bicker and banter back and forth about things that really are so trite - while things are truly happening that they aren't even remotely aware of, nor would care to be even if they did know.

I say this here to you because nobody else is interested in this particular thread. And why? Because it took effort to watch those two videos, and be willing to learn from them.

People like Bernays and HWA I think really did understand one primary thing very well: the vast herds of folks are truly quite stupid and shallow. And they knew how to capitalize on this regrettable reality, just like every effective dictator in history has.

Head Usher said...

Thanks Leo, I agree with much of what you've said. I've had to pay attention to culture because I've been caught between two competing ones just like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and found myself having doing my best to satisfy mutually incompatible directives. In order to find my way out of that maze, I had to figure out what was going on.

Part of what makes many movies and TV shows work is a cultural commentary because it creates tension between two opposing value systems that are forced to coexist uneasily. Recently I began watching Weeds, the Showtime series, which I had never watched while it was in production. It's about a woman who's living the suburban life typified by Melvina Rhodes' "Little Boxes" which is the theme song, when she is widowed, and in order to continue to appear to be made of ticky-tacky and look just the same, she turns to selling pot to make the money she needs to continue to keep a roof over her head, but also to appear to live that lifestyle, but the pot is a predominant symbol of the cultural revolution which rejected the mass produced lifestyle and focused on unique self-expression. AMC's Mad Men in it's first couple of seasons made a great deal of absolutely scathing and incisive cultural commentary. Maybe I'm missing it, but after that, they seemed to begin going in circles, not really saying anything anymore.

I have a vague sense that you live in a different part of the country, but I think we could learn much from each other.