The Documentary That Inspired Michele Bachmann

Ryan Lizza’s excellent profile of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), which I mentioned earlier, frames the GOP presidential candidate as the product of a very particular brand of Christian conservative thought—one that extends far beyond the basic abortion–gay marriage axis. To wit: Lizza catches Bachmann touting the work of an historian who argued that the Confederacy was actually an Evangelical state that was raising blacks up from the depths of heathenism to a more even moral foundation. But the most interesting character in the profile is Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a theologian whose film, How Should We Then Live, Bachmann cites as life-changing.

As it happens, I’ve watched Schaeffer’s movie (or at least much of it), and it’s easy to see how various aspects of it rubbed off on Bachmann, then a student at Minnesota’s Winona State University. The timing was fortuitous—America’s heartland was emptying out and its urban cores seemed to be falling into disrepair. Schaeffer stepped in to make sense of the situation and prescribe a miracle cure: We could turn things around by learning from the mistakes of the past and getting back to our Christian roots. Take a look at the introductory segment, for instance:

That opening scene is scary, right? Those police sirens you hear are the sound of secular humanism in action. Schaeffer’s arguing, essentially, that a relativistic society, built on a lesser belief system like that of the Roman gods, can do quite well when times are good and everyone’s happy. But when things begin to head south, such societies lack the necessary fortitude to fight vice, and give in to their basest impulses—sex (Schaeffer goes on to discuss the “cult of the phallis” in Pompeii) and dependency (relying on government handouts).

As Lizza notes, things get downright conspiratorial: “In the sixth episode, a mysterious man in a fake mustache drives around in a white van and furtively pours chemicals into a city’s water supply, while Schaeffer speculates about the possibility that the U.S. government is controlling its citizens by means of psychotropic drugs.” That reflects an extreme level of distruct of government—but then, so does suggesting that we are locked in a United Nations plot to end resource extraction entirely, and warning that a moderate Democratic president will launch “re-education camps” for our children.

See also: Michelle Goldberg.

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