Sex, Mom, and God: A Book Review


I just read one of the most spiritually, politically, and psychologically significant books I have ever read:  Frank Schaeffer’s Sex, Mom, And God:  How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics—And How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.  My God, America needs this book.  We need it like a slap in the face, like a long cold drink of water, like a goodnight kiss on the crown of our beloved heads from a long-lost father.  We need this book to heal.

I realized just how important this book was going to be when I read the following passage, on page 50:

“Since the 1970s the American culture wars have revolved around a fear of Sex and women no less insane and destructive than any horror story to come out of Afghanistan.  The issues of gay rights, abortion, premarital sex, virginity, abstinence, and the ‘God given role’ of women (make babies, love Jesus, and shut up) have dominated our political and social debates.  Why?  Because sexual politics (American style) illustrates how deranged societies become when ideas about Sex are based on literal interpretations of the biblical ‘account’ of the ‘facts’ of existence.”

BAM.  Now that is succinct.  And revelatory.

Then, on the very next page, I encountered this:

“…what started in the 1950s and 1960s as an attempt to balance sexual fear with sanity tumbled into yet another example of dysfunctional American extremism.  This happened because the practitioners of three American belief systems (that are so intense they might as well be religious) unwittingly colluded:  Progressives (absolutist believers in unregulated Free Speech), conservatives (absolutist believers in unregulated Free Enterprise), and conservative Christians (absolutist believers in the uncleanness of Sex between anyone not married in a heterosexual ‘traditional’ marriage) created a sordid monster—Porn-Gone-Nuts.”

Damn, y’all.  Who says stuff like this—who sings this kind of truth?  Frank Schaeffer, that’s who.

And that is one of the most beautiful things about this book:  it was written by a man, a former member of the Religious Right.  Other people could have said the things he has said—the truths are there to be read and spoken, as surely as the words my grandmother used to scrawl on the back of her hand, personal notes for the world to see—but to hear them spoken by someone who used to promote the distorted world views that have contributed to the problem of American sexual dysfunction?  That’s significant.

Here is a writer who is both very brave and very necessary, a voice of reason who gives depth and shape to what can seem like a reasonless landscape.  I underlined and starred and put exclamation points by so many passages in this book—passages about religion, about women, about human conceptions and misconceptions of God.  Part self-deprecating memoir, part searing political commentary, the book invites you in, makes friends with you, and then gets brazenly, breathtakingly real.

Obviously, I could go on and on.  This was one of those rare books that opened my eyes to new horizons, whatnot like a trip to Europe.  Mr. Schaeffer educated me about abortion and Evangelical Christianity (he even explained Sarah Palin, God bless him), and the book resonated with me both spiritually and intellectually.  I believe this book needs to be read by a very wide audience—there are many people, like me, who don’t entirely “get” what it means to interpret the Bible literally, and therefore have trouble wrapping their minds around the things that are happening to women’s rights in this country.

While the author’s politics are clear—he certainly isn’t aligned with the Republican party anymore—this book lives according to its own values.  For example, when discussing the Left’s view of abortion, Mr. Schaeffer says:  “Pro-choice advocates made some mind-bogglingly dumb (and extreme) choices in the tactics they used to pursue abortion rights.” (p. 144)  And then there’s this:  “The Right and Left seem agreed on one thing:  Fighting over Roe is easier than struggling for education rights and tax and social reform to help the poor women who are the people who have most of the abortions.”  (p.212)

Commentary like this—that calls both parties out on their political posturing—is what this country needs to move forward on just about every issue there is.  What we need to have a real conversation, with real results.  You know why?

It speaks the truth.  And, as Jesus said, the truth shall set you free.

4 thoughts on “Sex, Mom, and God: A Book Review

  1. Astra says:

    Well, I’ve come to value your book reviews so here goes another on my Hold list at the library! Not sure if we have the same crazy politics here in Canada but I’m sure it will provide interesting perspective!


    • Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

      Awesome, Astra! I’ll be interested to hear what you think, and how the issues here compare to the political situation in Canada!


  2. C.F.Benz says:

    As an Episcopal priest formerly of the shrinking Evangelical party, and now transformed by a long struggle to leave the kind of culturally submerged “Church -i-anity” that Mr. Schaeffer writes about, I am pleased to see another such post-modern man emerge.

    For 40 years now, and with increasing numbers and pace, it is actually women who are leading in such transforming of themselves in pursuit or embrace of their goddess nature. They will do well to absorb Schaeffer’s book. These women remind me that it is mostly we men who need and can profit from their brave, enlightening leadership, guidance and partnering with us.

    Durham, NC


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