About Larry (the good & the gossip)
Larry in eighth grade
Religion, or the lack of it, would become another theme in Larry’s life. He flirted with atheism but concluded that such a worldview was intellectually untenable. The problems of suffering and evil remained barriers to his belief in a personal god, while beauty, and man’s ability to create it, plagued his unbelief. He compromised with himself and settled into an Enlightenment-style deism and a philosophy of meaninglessness. A mentor then introduced Larry to the works of Francis Schaeffer. Larry’s life might have taken a very different turn were it not for the knicker-wearing theologian with the Colonel Sanders beard. Schaeffer became a portal to a world of ideas that captivated Larry’s young mind. Most influential of all was Schaeffer’s attempt to understand the flow of intellectual history through art and his willingness to push a given philosophy to its logical conclusion. This prompted a more serious and systematic reflection on the questions then occupying the boy who wanted to know if his life had significance beyond that which he artificially manufactured for it. Schaeffer led Larry to the thought of such disparate luminaries as Plato, Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, Gibbon, Emerson, Nietzsche, Karl Popper, Etienne Gilson, Dostoevsky, and ultimately the book with which they were all (except Plato) contending—the Bible. This period in his life initiated a lifelong interest in the God Question and a compassion for those searching for meaning in their lives.
Working his way through college, Larry changed tires in an auto repair shop, was a forklift operator, a tractor-trailer driver, a security guard, a tutor for college athletes, a commercial artist, worked quality control on the night shift in a chemical plant, waited tables, and taught history and literature. In addition to these things, he earned extra money from the ongoing sale of his art and by entering—and winning—essay contests. What little spare money he had was spent on books and travel.
During his undergraduate years, Larry was greatly influenced by the renowned Oxford historian (and spy) M.R.D. Foot. Foot, who had survived both a tragically famous love affair with the beguiling writer Iris Murdoch and a Nazi prison camp before marrying atheist moral philosopher Philippa Bosanquet, was a man with a reputation of his own.
It was on the basis of the intelligence he provided that the decision to drop the atomic bombs was made. In 2001, Foot was awarded the rank of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. Even novelist John le Carré paid him homage when, in his bestselling masterpiece A Perfect Spy, he gave Foot the distinction of being the only man to whom he referred by his real name. Foot’s experience not only as a historian but as a participant in history itself gave Larry his first glimpse of a writer as something more than a mere observer and chronicler of events.
It was Foot who expanded Larry’s horizons by identifying in him future promise as a writer. Stimulating Larry’s thinking with a steady stream of books that the two would discuss over coffee or on walks around the British Museum, the old professor bequeathed to Larry a deep respect for the rigors of research and writing in addition to an appreciation for what constitutes great literature as opposed to the merely mediocre. Perhaps Foot’s most significant contribution to Larry was in pushing him to defy academic convention and write in a manner that the intelligent layman could not only understand, but find entertaining, a methodology that was even more heretical then than it is now.
In graduate school, Larry was a student of the celebrated author Forrest McDonald. A subtle thinker and one of the few openly (and proudly) conservative intellectuals in academia, McDonald ranks among the great American historians. A heavyweight academic, he was called before Congress during the Impeachment Trial of Bill Clinton to explain the meaning of the constitutional phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors.” McDonald eschewed political sensitivities that came at the expense of truth and inculcated a similar spirit in his student. McDonald’s willingness to challenge reigning academic opinion when he knew he was right, even at the risk of public denunciations and enraged colleagues, left a lasting impression on Larry. In guiding his graduate thesis, McDonald developed Larry’s bold style and taught him to love writing as an artform. Indeed, it was McDonald who encouraged the publication of Larry’s thesis and his later career as an author. McDonald delighted in forcing his students to defend their opinions, all the more so when they did it capably. Upon the successful completion of Larry’s oral examinations, McDonald congratulated him with a hearty handshake, a proud wink, and an offer of beer money.
Graduate school years with firstborn son, Michael, and first (and unsuccessful) attempts at a beard
Since many of the primary influences in Larry’s early life were either atheists or agnostics and, very often, people he deeply admired and from whom he had learned much, his entry into the debate over the role of religion in public life seems inevitable. Just as Dostoevsky’s passionate refutation of atheism in his novels Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov was inspired by his early-in-life atheism, Larry’s passionate writing and engagement on similar questions was likewise born from his own youthful consideration of the godless alternatives to Christianity.
Larry has debated both prominent atheists and Muslims on CNN, Al Jazeera, and on stage. He has organized or chaired symposia on scientific and religious questions at Oxford University, The Edinburgh Literary Festival, Princeton University and also the now famous “God Delusion Debate” which reached a global audience and does so to this day. In 2011, he captured national attention as the executive producer of a “slick” Super Bowl commercial that asked viewers to consider the meaning of the culturally ubiquitous reference “John 3:16.”
In his book The Grace Effect, Larry develops a unique argument for Christianity’s profound effect on human nature and society. The book is essentially a reexamination of Max Weber’s famous thesis as contained in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism; a thesis that dominated historical interpretation for more than half a century before being largely rejected by the academy. Larry, however, believed that Weber was onto something, but that the late German sociologist did not fully understand the phenomenon he was trying to explain because his own agnosticism prevented him from penetrating the mysterious heart of the religion he rightly identified as driving it. Using his adopted daughter, Sasha, and his extensive interactions with the so-called “New Atheists” as vehicles to explain what he believes Weber got right and what he missed, The Grace Effect is at once history, philosophy, theology, and compelling narrative all held together by his irreverent humor.
It is in his capacity as a writer that Larry’s work tends to get noticed. Publisher’s Weekly has praised his “smooth and accessible prose” while Hardball’s Chris Matthews called his book The Faith of Christopher Hitchens “beautifully written.” That book caused such hysteria among many atheists, who didn’t bother to read it, that they mobilized from Pasadena to Oxford to discredit him, falsely accusing Larry of claiming the late atheist had converted to Christianity on his deathbed. (Readers of the book will know that.) These coordinated attacks led his editor to exclaim, “You have arrived! Now you have enemies!” Indeed he does. He has been attacked by such Leftist standard-bearers as The Atlantic (three times), The Guardian (three times), BBC, NPR, and The New Yorker, among others. But his work has also been praised by The New York Times, The Times (of London), Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and The Wall Street Journal.
In South Korea
The late author Samuel Eliot Morison once said that to write well, one must really live. This Larry has done in abundance to his immense enjoyment and occasional detriment. By all accounts, Larry has been (literally) killed and (literally) resurrected. That event, punctuated by extreme violence, a loss of half of his blood volume, and a remarkable photograph of a nun standing in solemn prayer over his body, was a watershed in his life. Unsurprisingly, the physical effects of that day linger, but so, too, does a renewed sense of purpose. He has been in more than fifty countries and on six continents. He has ridden camels in the desert with Bedouins; rappelled (unhappily) from the Great Wall; stood in the rubble in the terrible aftermath of 9/11; and, at 16, he swam across the Rio Grande to Mexico and back just to see how easily the border could be breached (the results were not reassuring). He has been hospitalized, smuggled, and presumed dead. He is a survivor of cancer, a Deliverance-like hike on the Appalachian Trail, and a really bad night in Turkey. He has stood in awe at the foot of Iguazu Falls and breathless atop the Kehlstein. And he has crossed swords with men posturing as the world’s intellectual elite. In sum, these experiences have served him well as a writer even if he accumulated more than a few bumps and bruises along the way.
To some, Larry is a champion of the persecuted, the voiceless, and the marginalized; to others he is controversial, an opponent of the progressive agenda, and an irredeemable rake. Nigeria’s great bishop, Jwan Zhumbes, has called him “a wonderfully daring figure,” while a New York Times columnist has both respectfully and backhandedly described Larry as a member of the “Christian intelligentsia”—whether you think that is a good or a bad thing really depends on your ideological commitments.
Debating in Hyde Park, London
With his beloved dog, Blitz
While Larry sallies forth into parts unknown from time to time, it is to his lovely wife, Lauri, that he always returns. A “steel magnolia,” she is a quiet, steady, and encouraging force and is unquestionably the spiritual heart of their marriage. Lauri is both Larry’s anchor and his source of inspiration. Together they have four grown children and enjoy a relatively peaceful existence at their home, Duck River Ranch.
A train station somewhere in Europe