Growing up in Michele Bachmann’s Alternate Evangelical World
Michele Bachmann and I grew up in the same evangelical world. We heard similar sermons, read similar books – most importantly the Bible – and we followed the same anointed leaders.
By the time we were in college our generation of evangelicals had been educated into a profoundly different worldview than that of the secular, anti-Christian, Satan-following Ivy League elites we had been taught to fear. We understood the world to be a spiritual battleground with forces of good pitted against forces of evil. Real angels and real demons hovered about us as we prepared to wage these wars. We sang songs like Onward, Christian Soldiers in our churches. At summer camps and vacation Bible schools we stamped our feet, and waved our arms as we sang with good Christian gusto I’m in the Lord’s Army. We knew which side we were on.
Our religious literature was filled with the ideas of people like Francis Schaeffer, a fundamentalist Pennsylvania pastor who transformed himself into a guru by moving to the Swiss Alps, making himself look like Heidi’s grandfather, and turning his home into a refuge for troubled pilgrims called “L’Abri”. Schaeffer, the intellectual architect of the religious right in America, helped a generation of young evangelicals understand that the corrosive forces of secular humanism were eating away at the foundations of the Christian west. We were heartened that such an impressive intellectual – a fundamentalist counter to Jacob Bronowski or Carl Sagan – was on our side.
Schaeffer’s 1976 bestseller, How Should We Then Live?, chronicled the decline of the Christian west, which had flourished with God’s blessing for centuries, but was now in decline. With broad brushstrokes, our alpine sage showed us how the west had sold its soul for a mess of secular pottage and sham materialism. Schaeffer’s million-selling manifesto was made into an impressive film series, narrated by Schaeffer. Clad in his iconic Swiss leggings, with a flowing mane of white hair and trademark goatee, Schaffer took viewers to all the great cultural spots in the west to help us understand what had gone wrong. The book and film series were widely used at evangelical colleges and universities across the country.
Michele Bachmann told the New Yorker recently that Schaeffer had a “profound influence” on her developing worldview as a young person. Millions of evangelicals would murmur “amen” to that. I read Schaeffer and watched his film series at Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts in 1979 as part of a capstone general education course required of all students.