Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late evangelical Christian theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer, talks about how the “religious right” actually came into being in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. See Part One and Part Two. See also these detailed interviews with John Whitehead and with NPR.
I was a part of the subculture Schaeffer is discussing during the 70s when all of these events were unfolding, and the story he’s telling is accurate. His father was theologian in the same Reformed/Calvinist tradition that I grew up in and was affiliated with the same church denominations and seminary. The pastors of my church were all graduates of the same seminary as Francis Schaeffer, and in 1976 and 1977 my church used to hold special services in the evenings just to show Schaeffer’s films. His books were used a teaching materials in Sunday School classes for adults and older adolescents. Frank Schaeffer mentions Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin carrying around a copy of one of his father’s books, “Escape from Reason,” which was the book my former pastor sent me in 1987 in an obviously failed effort to convince me to return to the faith. Francis Schaeffer’s book, “A Christian Manifesto,” was also hugely popular in the subculture I originated from.
Like Frank Schaeffer, I no longer subscribe to the ideas of that subculture, and haven’t for 30 years. Though I was never a mainstream pro-Democratic Party “liberal” or “progressive” like Frank is today, what he says about the religious right subculture today is basically what I would have said during my conventional leftist days in the 80s. But what I now find interesting about Frank’s discussion of the religious right in these interviews is his claiming that they are essentially a secessionist movement that has already seceded culturally and institutionally if not politically and geographically. Frank observes how they already have their own schools, universities, media outlets, publishing firms, entertainment, and other parts of a huge subculture that is really something of a parallel society. Writers like Bill Bishop in “The Big Sort” have suggested that Americans are in the process of self-separation along cultural, religious, and political lines. It would seem that formal political secession would be the next step. Frank observes that about 20 million Americans belong to this subculture, which is about six or seven percent of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, research shows that while the evangelical subculture grew substantially in the 70s and 80s, its growth leveled off about 20 years ago and has remained static ever since. Meanwhile, membership in mainline church denominations has actually declined and unbelievers are the fastest growing religious perspective in the U.S.
What this means is that as the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture remains static (and as its younger members even move leftward), its adherents will increasingly come to understand that “taking back America” is something they will never achieve. Meanwhile, as totalitarian humanism becomes more deeply entrenched the evangelical subculture will come under increasing attacks from the state, thereby heightening their sense of alienation from the mainstream society and from the state in particular. This would seem to indicate that the evangelicals may well be ideal constituents for a pan-secessionist movement at some point in the decades ahead. A subculture of 20 million people that rejects the existing state and simply walks away would certainly be of significance to our own struggle. Their static growth rate and declining numbers indicate they will likely pose no significant threat of re-imposing a tyrannical state of their own. Rather, it is more likely they would isolate themselves in their own sectarian enclaves and counter-institutions.
This possibility presents us with a real opportunity. The difficulties and obstacles we face would be the obvious ones. Most of us are not Christians of any kind, much less their kind, and many of us clearly hold to ideas they would find appalling (with yours truly probably being at the top of the list). That said, if the secular, atheist, Jewish, neo-Jacobin, Trotsky-influenced neoconservatives could cultivate these people as constituents, it might not be so difficult for us. The biggest issue would probably be the question of Christian Zionism. Most of us are anti-Israel, either out of sympathy of the Palestinians, or opposition to Zionist influence over American foreign policy, or out of opposition to the American empire generally. An important part of the anarcho-pluralist/pan-secessionist struggle would probably include attacking the US-Israel alliance, which would not play well with the evangelicals. Therefore, a crucial question will be the way in which the evangelical subculture balances it support for Israel (which does not include all fundamentalists, btw) versus its sense of alienation from the political establishment from which it will be the recipient of increasingly strident political attacks.