Miley Cyrus And The Line Of Despair

I’ve been reading up on Francis Schaeffer. If you don’t know him, he was an American guy who went to Switzerland and opened the famous L’Abri workshops. L’Abri means “shelter” in French. (Thank you, Zim! I thought it meant “open,” but that’s just the sign I see on my local taco stand). Anyway, Schaeffer created L’Abri to be a safe place for people to grapple with the Big Questions… and then he told them the answers.


Schaeffer holding a sling.
Or a cheese slicer.

Schaeffer goes way over my head when he gets into logic problems, like saying that “thesis + antithesis ≠ synthesis.” And he bums me out when he says that rational thought is the only avenue to absolute truth, because on the Myers Briggs test, I’m an NF: Intuiting, Feeling.” Which Schaeffer would probably label “Witchcraft PMS.”

But there’s one thing I really like about Schaeffer: his idea of “The Line Of Despair.” Once upon a time, philosophers and culture as a whole believed there was a God – an absolute Being; and there was also an absolute truth. This put us above despair. (Unless you were an orphan during the Industrial Revolution, like Oliver Twist). Then, along came the German philosopher Hegel. I’m going skip his synthesis logic problem, because it makes my brain hurt. But Hegel insisted there was no such thing as absolute truth; all you’ve got is your own experience to define what’s true and meaningful.

Above the Line of Despair there is an ultimate reality. Below the Line you have only individual experience. And that’s desperate: just ask a single guy over fifty.

Above the Line of Despair you can say with certainty, “There is a God; there is a right and wrong, Miley Cyrus is insane and Abercrombie & Fitch perfume smells like a cheap Romanian funeral.” Below the Line, they’ll tell you, “There is no God; all things are permissible…. (Actually Dostoyevsky wrote that, but he was being ironical)… There’s no absolute truth; there’s only your truth.” That opens the door to all kinds of moral relativism, like genocide, derivative traders, Abercrombie spewing that death spray out into the mall. And you can’t do jack squat about it. Why? Because there ain’t no truth no more. No right or wrong, no classy or assy. Truth belongs to whoever’s got the gavel, the microphone, or the Neilsens.

Schaeffer warned that the Line of Despair would start with the philosophers, then seep down into art, music, pop culture, and finally worm its way into theology.  Here’s a visual aid I created to aid you visually.


Take a good look at the above diagram. Once upon a time we celebrated Aristotle and the Venus de Milo. Now we worship John Waters and Lady Gaga. Tell me we are not living Below the Line of Despair. Of course, I didn’t need Schaeffer to tell me this stuff; I knew it the moment twerking was added to the OED.

Now, think about all the ways you’re tolerating life below the Line. Well, you need to name it as such. Had a bad date? That date was Below The Line Of Despair. Got overcharged for a manicure? That manicure store is below the Line Of Despair. Ate a burger at Jack In The Box? Oh, lordy, you are fast-fooding below the Line of Despair. You gotta call it for what it is, then remove it from your life. Stop doing eHarmony and go and meet some human people. Paint your own damn fingernails, son. Grill your own meat. And do not let your children listen to music sung by a weasel who can’t get a decent haircut. (I’ll tell you the One Direction they’re going… to the barber.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go read some Ptolemy. I love the Greeks; too bad they couldn’t spell.


  1. I had a spoonful of almond butter in my mouth when I read “witchcraft PMS” and still laughed out loud. That said, this concept actually sums up a lot about my beliefs.

  2. thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Also, thanks for the “visual aid to aid me visually” – cause it DID! 🙂

  3. The visual aid is suitable for framing.
    Perfect show and tell. And you’re the one to do it….
    Show and Tell!

  4. This is priceless! And true! I chuckled and mumbled my agreement while I read. Thank you for this. Its been so difficult for me to explain Shaeffer’s writings to others and your visual aid aided me visually so I can aid others. 😉

  5. Of course, saying “there is no absolute truth” is a statement of absolute truth, isn’t it? 😉 That’ll make your brain hurt! 🙂

  6. Love this. L’Abri actually means Shelter, though. Just sayin’.

  7. Susan – I love the visuals as well as your ongoing sassy wit. Keep the savvy engaging posts coming!

  8. Love it! My favorite line was this…as it seems this is the culture today…”Because there ain’t no truth no more. No right or wrong, no classy or assy. Truth belongs to whoever’s got the gavel, the microphone, or the Neilsens.”

  9. I am very comfortable living below the despair line. Giving up my belief in one monoloithic truth for all has been one of the least despair producing events in my life. Love your humor.

  10. So does the picture of Francis Schaffer remind anyone else of another great philosopher, George Carlin?

  11. I’m glad I stumbled upon this today because now I finally know my personality type: Witchcraft PMS. Thank you!

  12. Have you ever read of Calvin Seerveld’s Rainbows in a Fallen World? I just finished reading your angry conversations and your repeating theme of making art that isn’t cheesy or graphic (anti God really) and I’ve appreciate this (the books) reformed response to being an artist in a creative world. Anyhoo, I appreciate reading your post.

    • Thank you! I haven’t heard of that book, actually. Right now I’m reading Steve Turner’s IMAGINE: A vision of Christians in the arts. I think they touch on the same issue. I will investigate Seerveld’s book. Thanks for the recommendation!

  13. Thank you for this! I love how you were able to break it all down, I love Schaeffer, but sometimes he makes my brain hurt! I’ll be back 🙂

    • Thank you, Michele. I kind of wrote this as a lark, but Schaffer’s line of despair has stuck with me all these years. I think he had a lot to say, particularly to the latter-20th century minds. He was definitely for thinkers. I’m an NF, so after a while he makes my brain hurt, too. I like NT Wright; he’s my cup of tea.

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