The Francis A Schaeffer Foundation

Chalet Les Montaux, Chemin de Jermintin 3

CH 1882 Gryon, Switzerland

 Footnotes 23’3                                                                                                                                                            Winter 2015

Dear friends and other readers,

When I got up the other morning I read that there was renewed shooting in the Parisian suburb St. Denis. Police was looking for a further suspect in the horrible attack that took 130 lives in four different locations in Paris a few days before. The deliberate massacre at carefully selected places appears to be a coordinated effort to make all places, major cities and everyone’s life insecure. It is in any case an attempt to interrupt what we consider civil life. It affects what we think about, what we do, our schedules and the hopes and efforts to be human beings.

Certainly, neither death or life, the present or the future, nor any power or “anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God, which we see evident in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39). Yet that confidence and expectation does not free us from the task of seeking peace, resisting evil and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

We love life and the God who saw that it was good, who intended it to be eternal on earth. Working the earth for food, drink and shelter, training the mind for insight and understanding, exercising dominion over things created and inventing new combinations, conceiving and raising having children, making music and beauty, and enjoying the fruit of the vine is all part of a civil life. It corresponds, like a glove to the hand, to what we live and work for: a civilization of law against random acts of nature or deliberate evil at the hand of men and women.    

Acts of violence, whether committed in Paris or the Near East, in Burundi or Nigeria, are expressions of the very evil which the French Philosopher André Glücksmann, who was buried in the morning of the same day in the Parisian Pere Lachaise cemetery, spoke and wrote and fought against for the past 50 years. Together with Henri- Levy (both members of the “New Philosophers” in France after 1968, the year of Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and student protests in America, France and Germany) he saw such evil arising out of ideologies of perfection, whether the Marxism of their youth or any present religious and political idealism. When people want to impose the good (as an ideal), or even merely pursue an imagined good, they do more than what is our responsibility: Do no evil! The Ten Commandments come in the formulation of avoidance: “You shall not: forget God, exploit his name, reduce him into an image, neglect the Sabbath, forget your parents; you shall not murder, steal, commit adultery, bear false witness, or covet.” It is already good not to do these things.


The pursuit of goals will most likely produce evil along the way. Driving towards a glorious image of the perceived “perfect end” eliminates other considerations and will justify any “means” to bring it about. The path to any assumed perfection or purity is plastered with multitudes of sin and cruelties, not just mistakes and imperfections. In many areas dissent is punished with prison or slaughter. Forced marriages of children and adults, condoned rape of girls and women, children sent into crowds with suicide belts, beheadings as public spectacles, deliberate large-scale destruction of a culture’s valued monuments, murder of supposed heretics, persecution of homosexuals: today these are no longer occasional atrocities, but programs of deliberate evil in pursuit of an ideology.

Idealism is at fault in each case, even when the aim are much lesser goals: a wall built up against illegal immigrants, whom we first admitted to render the kind of services on which the whole nation depends; provisions to exclude refugees from horrors in specific areas of the world from the illusion, embraced by almost all presidential candidates, that excluding or returning Near Eastern immigrants and refugees will prevent terror at home. They do not trust the complex and lengthy vetting system in place now, nor do they acknowledge how easily assault weapons are available, which make murder and terror by the country’s own citizens already an almost daily tragic and unnecessary occurrence. Or the illusion that the appeal to an amendment from the time of musket usage should support people in an age of assault rifles. 

The possibility of complete security is another illusion. So is the “Schengen” ease of border-crossing between European countries no longer possible among people who are not natural friends, but people in need. Sadly, Schengen must be reviewed and altered, perhaps even possibly abandoned. The people whom we fear are not only the foreigners. We acknowledge that the terrorists in Paris held European passports! Having to show identity papers occasionally only slows the free flow of people, not the freedom of people itself. Is that not a price worth paying for the relative security gained from filtering out criminally known old or newer neighbors? It certainly differs from current proposals of reinstating racial, religious and gender criteria for acceptance.


Much imagination, when it is nurtured by religion, is equally hostile to a civil society. For example, Islam’s teaching about heaven encourages some to martyrdom as a quick and certain way there; for all others it justifies blind submission, neglect and blind obedience as virtues. Christians likewise err, when the pursuit of perfection – the image of a perfect church or community, of obedient children, of their government in the hands of believers– prevents them from working for what is only possible in a world where there is no perfection achievable. “If you want perfection or nothing, you will always have nothing,” was Dr. Schaeffer’s frequently given recommendation. The need to compromise in all areas of life is not a sign of weakness, or a readiness to accept something wrong, but of complexity, of required and needed patience, where much wisdom must be sought, gleaned, and applied in light of present imperfections.

Unless one feels obligated to turn society or the state into a mirror image of the church, as parts of Islam now teaches from the marriage of the state to religious practices, the public space must be open more widely for human beings of all persuasions. There is no “better than that” in the always unfinished nature of reality. Christ’s kingdom is not yet found on earth, nor can it be created with what we have at hand, prior to his physical return in time and space. Even the church is not the pure presence of Christ’s reign. The wheat and the tares from Jesus’ parable are with us always, until the angels sort them out. That is their task, not ours.


The attacks in Paris, claimed by ISIS, are much more than cowardly and senseless crimes. They are in fact acts of a kind of war, not between civilizations, but against any civilization that respects the rights of people to create, shape and enrich their individual and communal lives. It is rightly pointed out that the victims are people who were relaxing from a day’s work by talking, eating, dancing and listening to music in the “City of Light”. The freedom of such choices sets apart people who, without always acknowledging it, are made in the image of the God of the Bible to be creative people. To such God gave mandates to create, to imagine, to relate with others, to explore a world of tastes and textures, smells and shapes, colors and sounds. That is all part of interacting with “our kind”, that part of creation that is like each one of us.

According to the Bible, God created an unfinished world, which lively minds and the hands of people would continuously enrich, and which, similarly, people after the fall of Adam and Eve would improve, correct and protect in their efforts to resist evil death and depressing impersonal monotony. All things personal are precisely not bound to laws and do not require obedience and repetition. Most choices of people are not subject to moral restraints or prohibition. Prohibited are only those that lead to chaos, that do great harm by denying the shape of the created order of things. God’s law is given to define and prevent greater evil, not to prescribe what is good in every activity. God expected the world to become more divers, richer and more colorful through Man’s choices, creativity, effort and learning.

That does not change after the fall, nor at any time in the present when nature’s impersonal forces attack the health and security of people, or when they do evil. That needs to be named, acknowledged and repelled with wisdom, by law in line with justice, and by force.


The Bible’s view of human beings includes mandates to love, create, discover and to work with the mind, with hands and with tools. Dominion is exercised over all things by means of knowledge and inquiry. It becomes active when we figure out how things work and use them responsibly. It opens the way to enjoy and benefit from the freedom to create variety, to interpret the present and to shape the future, as well as to review one’s actions and prevent acceptance of error and the rule of evil.

This outlines a picture for human existence in which good and evil are distinguished by holding them up against the One Great Command which contains all other laws: to love God, oneself and each neighbor. In the very openness found in human minds and skills we find substance to “being in the image of God” rather than being subject to a controlling regimen of impersonal nature or ruling powers. 


This unfinished openness in each person’s life, this curiosity to figure things out among the constant changes of complex social realities, are found in an active mind that so fully transcends the constraints of an impersonal material reality. Thought as memory or hope leads to debate and the enjoyment of imagination, of alternatives, and of life as an always unfinished project. Anyone who desires the ideal of perfection will perceive this “unfinished-ness” as dangerous and troublesome. Indeed, it escapes all efforts of total control and admits predictability. It makes conformity impossible. Perfectionists, or anyone uncomfortable with such open-endedness, will always want to impose tight rules about everything to gain their power over others. Already Plato saw great dangers in the work and lives of poets and musicians, for their minds are impenetrable and their work is disorderly.

Yet freedom and spontaneity are essential to the nature of persons, as it is to the nature of God. Without it, there can be no responsibility, for which a person needs space to freely choose. In the pursuit of such freedom and responsibility, flowing from the Biblical perspective, we hold that religion be free from state control (American model), and that the state be also free from religious control (French model). The absence of total control by either institution over the other enables people to progress, to invent and to judge, in contrast to being victims of mindless dictates. Respect of individuals, the esteem of each neighbor as a principle of operation, and the recognition of a now always imperfect world all nurture the dynamic search for what is still possible and often better, while recognizing that there will not be no finality to personhood, no “final” solution”.

Any religion, secular or spiritual, including many past and present expressions of Christianity, which do not make room for both form and freedom, for the life of the mind, will tend to respond to human freedom with the imposition of controls, even monstrous evil, to remove their fear and resentment. Their practical steps will always defy the supposed good of their stated intentions.

The freedom of belief is a threat to conformity, when it is demanded by either religion or state.  According to the Bible, the freedom to act out one’s belief is limited only by those civil and penal laws, which reflect orderly measures intended to prevent harm in the defined and dangerous world we inhabit, and which are also unfiltered by religion and its cultural expectations.  

Such affirmation of human freedom is not first derived from French philosophy or the German Enlightenment. It is rather the core of our understanding of human existence found in the Bible. The burghers in European cities practiced it for hundreds of years and contributed to the Renaissance; the Reformers rediscovered it, traders in Arab Souks, poets and musicians practice it. God created it in making more than stones, trees and other things according to their kind, following their nature’s laws. Freedom alone admits both success and failure. Without it, no distinction can be made: failure and success, good and evil, enterprise and boredom are without review and improvement when everything happens from natural or cultural necessity.


Forms of openness in a civilization borne from the Bible is suppressed by all religious and political ideologies of perfection. Whether ISIS right now, or any religious fundamentalism at home and abroad, or even any social arrangement centrally controlled by an ideology: the end goal is always a final home, an impersonal existence, a peace ultimately found  only in perfect intellectual and physical silence.

Perfection is a Greek notion. It is not a mandate found in the Bible, where we are called to strive for holiness instead. That is an existential, i.e. moment by moment, activity. Perfection is closure. It is reached when everything is resolved, stands still, or is dead! Perfection assumes that nothing can or need be added, varied or newly made. In Plato’s thought death leads to perfection, death as the way to be free from the ups and downs of human existence, the fulfillment of all striving, and the liberation of the soul from the material world.

By contrast, the Bible speaks of life, justice and love cleansed from evil, but not concluded. We walk (humbly, but actively) with our Lord. Life is continuous, enriched forever in eternity. There is nothing concluded in God’s being, nor in life, nor in the presence of the Lord, and therefore also no end to good human efforts, discoveries, enterprise and artful expressions by persons.


Besides a philosophical reason for the attacks in Paris, New York, Nigeria, London, Libya Baghdad and Copenhagen, other factors are suggested: the insult of Western life styles to Islamic religious sensitivities through cultural colonialism, the corrupt Islamic governments we support for our economic benefits, the lack of integration and poverty of Muslims in our countries, etc.  

Kamel Daoud, the Algerian author of “The Meursault Investigation” (in which we meet the anonymous person whom the Meursault of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” randomly killed in Oran), wrote a very insightful piece in the NY Times: “Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It”.

The central theme is that Saudi Arabia presents an acknowledged alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical and radical form of Islam that DAESH or ISIS feeds on. I observed this in a small way when I saw and heard in Bangladesh in the mid-eighties how Saudi development money for a hospital came only in conjunction with funds for a mosque and a Qur’an school on the hospital grounds. For decades Saudi development set out develop a fundamentalist, narrow and brutal interpretation of Islam around the world.

Wahhabism originated in the 18th century. “It hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. That translates into an obsessive hatred of imagery and representation and therefore art, but also of the human body, nakedness and freedom. Saudi Arabia is a DAESH that has made it.” 

Islamic culture was not at all times like this. The cosmopolitan markets in Istanbul, Cairo and Baghdad, the vibrant interrelationships of Christians, Jews and Muslims in Andalusia, the study and application of Greek philosophic texts by Muslim scholars all bear an opposite witness against the exceptionally cruel and anti-intellectual focus of Wahhabism and its followers from Afghanistan to Egypt.   

Certainly, their efforts to fight through international terrorism must be confronted with the mixed forces of weapons, arguments and social integration. It calls for criminal law to oppose criminal acts, and the re-possession of territories, especially as they now also spread to other “failed” areas on which they plan and execute their aims.

In addition we must engage in a cultural battle involving different ideas about life, people, and minds. These were once rooted in the Biblical view of human responsibility. However, for the past two generations our culture has failed to exhibit a content weightier and deeper than what someone has described as “vapid emptiness and hateful bigotry”. We find it today in the political climate, in social relations, in many churches even, and TV and films. That is not only insufficient as a purpose for life, as content to communicate to a new generation or as invitation to learn from and apply: it is cruel and insane.

We expect moderate Muslims to speak against the excesses in their community, and blame them when they do not; must we not also ask where the moderate Christians are who speak against excesses in the name of Christianity? Is it not shameful when religion blinds us from truth, tolerates ignorance, prevents attention to the neighbors’ needs, and breeds selfishness?



Large numbers of people, whole populations, now escape for their lives from failed states, from social chaos and horrendous persecution. The size of the problem is unprecedented. Never since the last world war have there been so many refugees all over the world. (I exclude those Palestinians who have not fled from persecution, but whose authorities hold them hostage in camps since 1948 by refusing the normalization of their lives). Among evidence of great acts of practical compassion, the size of the movements provokes resentment, anger and also selfishness. The fear of death which makes people flee, is met with the fear of people from unknown cultures. Fear, ignorance and small minds make hearts grow colder.

The practical and political consequences created by refugees are enormous. They take up space, time and effort. They dilute public social budgets. The needs of an unexpected growth of the population, locally and in the country as a whole, are massive. Initial generosity is tempered by suspicion and resentment, a welcome evaporates where fear reigns. People arrive from afar, geographically and culturally. How will the arrivals fit in, what are their expectations, what foreign habits will challenge, even threaten us? Will they become sleeper cells of a foreign authority, the way Roman Catholics, or Germans, once were seen and Muslims are often considered in the US?  

We may be proud of how many people in need have found shelter and integrated over generations in our various Western countries. The same André Glücksmann, whose burial I mentioned above, interceded successfully with France to accept 100’000 Vietnamese in the 1970s. Australia, Canada and the US welcomed millions after various 20th century wars. My own father was responsible after WW2 for finding ways to integrate 12 million with German background from Eastern Europe, whom Stalin forcefully evicted. Their labor and skill contributed to the rapid adjustment of Germany’s the economy.

This practice is clearly grounded in the Bible’s outlook and its continuing influence on our view of life in the real world. The Bible alone speaks of a single human race before any later separations into tribes and nations, believers and not, Jews or Gentiles, nationalities and genders. Differences of biology, or chosen religions and cultural patterns with all their wonderful (and often also dreadful) diversity, from family feuds to tribal rivalries, follow later. From the beginning everyone has the same legal designation: all are human beings made in the image of the Personal God of the Bible.

Consequently, ‘no defensible moral framework regards foreigners as less deserving of (basic rather than acquired) rights than people born in the right place at the right time.’  The protection of the right to life and security should extend to all members of the one human race: citizens, aliens, foreigners, and strangers. Law safeguards against the normalization of conflict; to punish selfishness; it is a reminder of what we must strive to accomplish against everything that would divide the original human family.

Nationalities and their boundaries distinguish between languages and preferences. They acknowledge changes in the flow of more recent history and do not always follow natural ones. They mark off subsidiary identities with a flag and passport, and create a sense of identity and ownership of ideas and things. But they easily brew a nationalism, giving rise to a sense of nativist exceptionalism. This was the breeding ground for two ‘Great’ and many smaller wars in recent centuries.  Today we are at risk to return to nationalistic justifications under resurging right wing politics in many countries, including in Switzerland and the US, the Balkan countries, France and Austria among others.

The safeguarding of preciously embraced ideals must not be an end in itself. They must be presented on a market to which all people have access. When opportunity is not limited by protective walls or fences, it facilitates every effort to introduce, support and responsibly practice those ideals about all areas of life which our laws reflect, protect and prescribe.  


There is an obvious intellectual and cultural link between our Western history of welcome to refugees, and the Exodus account of Israelites fleeing from Egypt, and with Mary and Joseph’s flight from murderous Herod, with the escape of many Huguenots from Catholic persecution in France and their welcome in – and subsequent economic contribution to – Prussia, Holland, Switzerland, South Africa and the US.

Much more than a ‘story’, a series of events, these are experiences in keeping with the law of God that bears fruit in our consciousness.

Immediately following the “Constitution” (or the “Foundation Law”) of God’s people, the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, the next section of the Law, the Mishpatim from Exodus 21:1 to Exodus 24: 18, addresses the common practices of treating any outsider differently: of acting like the Egyptians before, who for generations had enslaved the Israelites among them. In these three chapters the text speaks on 36 occasions of ways in which the same law must be applied to everyone: Widows and orphans, the poor, the stranger and native-born.

The text does not address questions of social arrangement, but of moral integrity in the one and same human race.

Israelites were to remember how Egyptians treated them, and not do likewise! They were to overcome the habit of diminishing or removing basic rights, which was common everywhere. Abraham’s and Isaac’s lives were at stake in Egypt. Egyptians would not even eat with Hebrews (Gen 43:32). The inferiority of outsiders reflected the view of the superiority of one’s own people: Jesus later gives us the ‘splinter and beam’ parable.

This pattern always descends from tribalism, where “others” are what the Greeks called barbarians (“making sounds that Greeks do not make”: like the bleating of sheep!). They are not granted the same claim to a common humanity.

The social admonitions and laws in Exodus stand out with sound repeated reasoning: fact is that we must see all people first as members of the human race, regardless of national origin, social capacities, gender, even religion, etc. The text lays out a vision of a just and gracious social order. One should “not ill-treat a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in Egypt (Ex 22:20). You know how it feels to be a stranger (lit: ‘you know the soul of a stranger’, Ex 23:9).

Everything from the 1st to the last command in this section is to prevent harm to a Ger (i.e. a stranger). He or she is not a foreigner, but one who has come to live in Israel without being a Jew by birth. An example is Ruth or any other resident alien willing to live under the same law from reverence for life, for reason and from compassion, as contained in the Noahic Covenant (Gen 9).

This forbids for all persons any ill-treatment and all forms of oppression, like making someone’s life hard materially or emotionally. It can be monetary exploitation, verbal abuse or simply labeling a person in a category (and thereby affecting the whole person), or harsh or derogatory speech, since language both creates and destroys social bonds. While material damage can often be rectified, wounding speech or wounding one’s reputation cannot. This is the community, a way of life, to which strangers and refugees are exposed, will connect to and need to live with.  

Precisely because of such definitions, contained in laws, other ways of seeing god and man require review and evaluation. How one relates to the material and intellectual worlds, the nature of human relations and what habits require change is part of living in a new social context, which needs to be explored and always explained.


The “Great Commandment”, the foundation of all existence according to the Bible, is to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength, and one’s neighbor as oneself. This reflects the essential nature of reality, from God who is love (in his nature and not only on occasion) to the way we ought to approach all reality. Three times this Law is stated in the O.T. as the foundation of everything: in Lev 19:33, 34; 19:18 and in Deuteronomy 10: 17-19.

Like any other law, its neglect has obvious consequences. Israelites always remembered they were not without an advocate: God delivered Israel out of Egypt. He saw their tears, just like those of widows and orphans at any time. They know from experience that being a stranger makes one feel depressed, weak and abandoned. As Israel’s cry came to God, so will the cry of the neglected people at any age.

God’s people are therefore called to relieve the powerlessness from lack of family, friends, and former neighborhoods. We must assist to diminish and remove the vulnerability of being alone and insecure, having lost all. Many former habits, thought patters and convictions need to be replaced with more coherent reasonable insights to escape the old sources of bondage, persecution and distress.

The source of universal human rights lies in the scope of these Exodus commands. Only the Bible teaches the unity of the human race and the need for a welcome to outsiders. Even the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man in France was formulated also in connection with the persecution of Jews in Alsace. The UN declaration of 1948 is a response to their denial under communism and fascism. There was a need to enshrine in law the obligation to not dislike the unlike. Israel, after all, is born from two migrations: Abraham’s from Ur and Moses leading the people out of Egypt were secure in the company of the God of the Bible.

Jonathan Sacks points out that the Bible is a book against empires: Against absolute power of rulers, who not only employ the masses for building projects like Babylon, Egypt, Persia and Rome. (Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini favored an imperial architecture. Washington DC, unlike London or Paris, does not have people at its center, they come and go, but monuments!). Human absolutes always create in people’s minds national, racial and cultural exclusions, making it much harder to welcome stranger.

Exceptional about Israel is not their God, but that the creator of the universe would make anyone his people. God’s people at all times must welcome strangers into the promise God mandated into a fractured, damaged and wounded world. That is The Law, because sentiment, good will, and emotion (sufficient to guide us according to Adam Smith and David Hume) are not enough to accomplish it. Neither does Reason have power enough to make us do the right things. Kant assumed that with the categorical imperative of “Do unto others as you wish to be done by”. But who does that?

God makes Israel recall what it was like to be strangers. Where many of us have no personal memory, it can be refreshed from texts, reports and the awareness of how terribly far human cruelty can go. Then we should fight for strangers, not against them! Sufficient vetting of their views and their history should diminish our fears, though not our watchfulness. 


As we prepare for the annual Christmas Eve Service in Champéry I recall how much Herod’s killing of two thousand baby boys at the time of Jesus’ birth and the necessary flight to Egypt by the Holy Family is continued at our time. The cruelty of the world we witness continues. The Son of Man came to such an earth, so that with a body he could die to redeem us from God’s judgment, and to direct us towards a new life.  “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” overlooks the conflict God engages in against all that is wrong: Herod’s rule, poverty, ignorance, pride, removing gender and age bias. There is no model childhood presented, but the judge of the world. Jesus, compassionate, loving, angry and furious, comes to point out, fight and condemn all corruption, murder, theft, exploitation and injustice. Having made payment for our sin by being forsaken himself in death, he will return, physically resurrected, one day to set all things right in the physical world, to bring in righteousness.   


Just a year ago I mentioned the terrible state of the roof on the Foundation’s Chalet “Mon Abri” to all of you. I reported since how wonderfully the urgent repairs were provided for by special gifts from many friends and readers of these FOOTNOTES. A year later now, I continue to be amazed and very thankful to each of those who contributed to it. When students were with us here during the year they could stay and study there. At other times we rent out a flat and a studio to cover the regular expenses of the house. Thank you each again, especially you, who continue with unique or regular gifts the work of the Schaeffer Foundation. We depend on your help each month. As a 501 (c) (3) Foundation we are able to issue and mail tax-deductible receipts.

With warm greetings and wishes for a Christmas of peace and joy


Udo and Deborah Middelmann


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