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Roy Anker

Deliver Us from Evil

The films of Paul Schrader show that he got the most important part of his Calvinist upbringing right.

In the fall of 1967 a restless, really smart Grand Rapids boy was working hard on getting kicked out of Calvin College, doing everything he could, in fact, to make that happen so he might fulfill his image of himself as hip firebrand out to vandalize the cultural guts and soul of the old tradition.

Paul Schrader had gone to Calvin as a matter of course; it was the college for brainy "covenant children" of the staunchly creedal, ardently cerebral Christian Reformed Church, a school at once rigorous and safe, adept at molding mind and spirit to fit the purposes of "kingdom work" and the CRC. Schrader entered Calvin pre-sem, but he fast grew discontent and rebellious, getting himself kicked out, says he, for vandalism and general trouble-making (the college has no record of the expulsion, but Schrader says that his father bought his way back in with a big donation).

In any case, by his senior year at Calvin, young Schrader had imbibed ample quantities of ideas, literature, movies, and booze, the last a first installment of long-term addiction problems. After the "expulsion," older brother Leonard introduced him to the intellectualist malcontents of the newspaper crowd. It was this arena that gave Schrader his last chance for Calvin to boot him permanently when, in a fuss over inviting black activist Dick Gregory to campus, Chimes published the private phone numbers and addresses of college board members.

By this time, too, Schrader had already become a huge pain for his lead role in finagling film into the college's life (the CRC condemned film until 1966, when Synod belatedly sanctified it as art). With this as a backdrop, Schrader hoped the newspaper ploy would finally bring his coup de grace. By this time, though, the college was on to Schrader's stratagem, and so it only slapped the wrist of the enfant terrible. In the spring of 1968 Schrader graduated, a simmering mix of idealism, bravado, protest, zeal, and the troubled hell-bent rowdyism that passed for virtue in the ...

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