The Christian Propaganda that Inspires Michele Bachmann

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Republican presidential candidate Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is performing strongly in Iowa polls, and while some are skeptical that she has the momentum necessary to win the Republican nomination, we are often told to not underestimate her. So until such time as it becomes clear that Bachmann won’t be able to grab the brass ring and face off against President Obama in 2012, or perhaps get the nod as a Vice Presidential candidate, we should take her potential rise to the executive branch of the United States government seriously. In the past I have pointed out that Bachmann funneled tainted campaign money into an anti-Pagan Christian charity (which they later returned), has had a long friendship with pseudo-historian David “paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses” Barton (Bachmann wanted Barton to teach the 2010 freshmen House Republicans about the Constitution), and has been a longtime supporter of virulently anti-gay Christian musician/activist Bradlee Dean. Any one of those instances is enough to give any Pagan pause, but a recent in-depth profile of Bachmann by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker provides one more. In the New Yorker piece, Lizza recounts how Bachmann tells an audience in Iowa how the 1970s evangelical Christian documentary “How Should We Then Live” had a “profound influence” on her life.

“[“How Should We Then Live”] also was another profound influence on Marcus’s life and my life, because we understood that the God of the Bible isn’t just about Bible stories and about Bible knowledge, or about just church on Sunday. He is the Lord of all of life. Every bit of life, including sociology, theology, biology, politics. You name the area and walk of life. He is the Lord of life. And so, as we went back to our studies, we looked at studying in a completely different light. Not for the purpose of a career but for a purpose of wondering, How does this fit into creation? How does this fit into the code and all of life that is about to come in front of us? And so we had new eyes that were opened up as we understood life now from a Biblical world view.”

This documentary showcased the ideas of influential evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer, a man whom Bachmann calls “very inspirational” and “a tremendous philosopher.” These opinions aren’t that controversial within evangelical circles, where Schaeffer is widely credited as inspiring the politically engaged “Religious Right,” but I think few outside evangelical and conservative Christian circles know or understand the message Schaeffer was sending. Let’s look at two excerpts from the first part of his ten-part documentary series.

Aside from peddling misinformation about pre-Christian religion (and the fall of Rome), he delves into conspiracy theory in later episodes, insinuating that perhaps the government is trying to control us by spiking our drinking water.

At the end of his life, Schaeffer penned “A Christian Manifesto” in which he railed against pluralism, secular humanism, and advocates for Christian civil disobedience in the face of secular “tyranny.” In a sermon given after the book was published, Schaeffer said that “we must absolutely set out to smash the lie of the new and novel concept of the separation of religion from the state” and that  “Christ must be the final Lord and not society and not Ceasar.” Bachmann’s admiration of Schaeffer isn’t some inch-deep put-on for conservative Christians in Iowa, Lizza points out that Bachmann is also of fan of Nancy Pearcey (her book “Total Truth” is “wonderful”), a student of Schaeffer’s who has worked to continue his message. Pearcey is something of a creationist superstar among conservative Christians (she co-authored the infamous “Of Pandas and People”), and believes that only monotheist Christianity could have created the scientific advances we enjoy today.

“Why didn’t polytheistic religions produce modern science? The answer is that finite gods do not create the universe. Indeed, the universe creates them. They are generally said to arise out of some pre-existing, primordial “stuff.” For example, in the genealogy of the gods of Greece, the fundamental forces such as Chaos gave rise to Gaia, the great mother, who created and then mated with the heavens (Ouranos) and the sea (Pontos) to give birth to the gods. Hence, in a polytheistic worldview, the universe itself is not the creation of a rational Mind, and is therefore not thought to have a rational order. The universe has some kind of order, of course, but one that is inscrutable to the human mind. And if you do not expect to find rational laws, you will not even look for them, and science will not get off the ground.”

Frank Schaeffer, the son of Francis Schaeffer, who helped his father make those films back in the 1970s, has since recanted much of his evangelical past, and now categorizes politicians like Michele Bachmann as “religious fanatics,” noting that “she got into politics because of reading my father’s work. And she is one of his extremist followers.” When Michele Bachmann says that she “will have doors locked and lights turned off” at the Environmental Protection Agency, that isn’t simply conservative populist economic rhetoric, it’s a stance that is synergistically merged with and informed by the strains of conservative Christianity that formed her worldview, many of which see environmentalism as a false religion.

Bachmann is the embodiment of what the Christian Broadcasting Network calls the “Teavangelical Movement,” further blurring the lines between economic and religious conservatism. Whether or not you agree with Bachmann on some issues, what is clear is that her commitment to Francis Schaeffer’s idea of a “Christian consensus” American government runs deep throughout her history, she’s no late-arriving cynical opportunist. The question we need to ask Michele Bachmann is what place religious minorities have in her vision for the United States, and how she would govern a secular nation with millions of non-Christians living in it.