America's War On Sex

Marty Klein

Part 13

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PRYOR: And if you resume your duties as chief justice after this proceeding, you will continue to acknowledge G.o.d as you have testified that you would today?

MOORE: That's right.

PRYOR: No matter what any other official says?

MOORE: Absolutely. Let me clarify that. Without an acknowledg-ment of G.o.d, I cannot do my duties. I must acknowledge G.o.d. . .

PRYOR: If you do resume your duties as chief justice, you will continue to do that without regard to what any other official says. Isn't that right?

MOORE: . . . I think you must.a aJoshua Green, "Roy and His Rock," The Atlantic Online The Atlantic Online, October 2005, http://www.

theatlantic.com/doc/200510/roy-moores-ten-commandments.

who threaten our democracy, secular, pluralistical y minded people wil have to protect our democracy from them. This terrifying struggle is giving al American religion a bad name. The ma.s.s media is complicit in this, giving religious radicals far more exposure than moderates because their extreme, divisive opinions make for dramatic, conflict-oriented shows and stories.

Extreme Religion and Public Policy 147 In Planned Parenthood v. Casey Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Supreme Court declared it is up to each individual to determine "the concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."4 This summarizes what makes America different from Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and other totalitarian societies. Every American is expected to agree to tolerate his neighbors' wacky ideas about the meaning of life in exchange for tolerance of his own ideas. The lack of this single idea led to hundreds of years of brutal religious warfare in Western Europe. (1992), the Supreme Court declared it is up to each individual to determine "the concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."4 This summarizes what makes America different from Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and other totalitarian societies. Every American is expected to agree to tolerate his neighbors' wacky ideas about the meaning of life in exchange for tolerance of his own ideas. The lack of this single idea led to hundreds of years of brutal religious warfare in Western Europe.

In contrast, Pope John Paul II warned against this very "alliance between democracy and ethical relativism." Christianity Today Christianity Today says, "This means that when truth itself is democratized-when truth is no more than the will of each individual or a majority of individuals-democracy is deprived of the claim to truth and stands naked to its enemies."5 says, "This means that when truth itself is democratized-when truth is no more than the will of each individual or a majority of individuals-democracy is deprived of the claim to truth and stands naked to its enemies."5 By "truth," they and the Pope mean religious truth-that is, belief. By "truth,"

the Supreme Court means scientific truth-that is, facts. This truth is not up for referendum. Gravity exists whether people believe in it or not. Racism and s.e.xism have real, measurable consequences. Similarly, belief is not up for referendum. People believe what they believe, no matter how little grounded in fact or possibility. Truth is eternal, and belief is eternal. But they are not the same thing. When belief is elevated above truth, when religion and "morality"

are taken as some ultimate, factual measure for law, democracy is deprived of the claim to truth and does stand naked to its enemies. We all hate that this enslaves a hundred million people in Iran and its neighbors. We must prevent it from taking over here as well.6 BELIEF VERSUS ACTION.

No matter how misplaced, many of the battles to control and limit Americans' s.e.xual expression have a heartfelt component. In addition to (il -informed) practical concerns (p.o.r.n causes rape, s.e.x on TV hurts kids, contraception causes sterility), people often invoke "moral" considerations (teens shouldn't be s.e.xual, p.o.r.nography enables infidelity). These "moral" concerns are particularly common in the battle over reproductive rights/abortion.

Abortion can be located in morality (both the autonomy of the woman and the value of fetal life), complete subjectivity (when does life begin), a tiny bit of science (ditto), and some (mostly recent) religious doctrine. Thus, those opposing abortion can sound like they're on solid ground-that at the very least, their argument is as legitimate as any other. But it's a familiar, multifaceted program-attempting to control everyone's s.e.xuality, saying anything necessary to justify it, even referring to an alleged "culture of life" (which is ad hoc nonsense, given their other public policy positions).

Some people claim a religious doctrinaire approach to oppose abortion and contraception. History shows that this argument is an artifact of political, very human decision-making. No less than St. Augustine (fifth century), 148 148 Pope Innocent (thirteenth century), and St. Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century) believed abortion in the first trimester was at times acceptable.

Pope Sixtus (sixteenth century) said abortion at any stage was murder and should be punishable by death; only three years later, Pope Gregory reversed this, accepting abortion through 16 weeks of pregnancy. So today's Christian who screams that al abortion is murder would be condemning several cherished saints and popes.

In 1869, Pope Pius IX once again reversed the Catholic church's tolerant stance on abortion, where it has remained for 137 years-just a mere coffee break in the 20 centuries of Church time.

The construct of Limbo was adopted almost a thousand years ago as the destination of unbaptized infants' souls; last year Pope Benedict started eliminating it, wanting it replaced by a more "compa.s.sionate" doctrine.7 No American is prevented from believing what he or she wants about abortion or Limbo. But when the Church changes its position on abortion or Limbo again in a decade, a century, or a millennium, presumably the rights it will support for nonbelievers will change again. Will believers then apologize for how they have forced, or tried to force, nonbelievers to live?

YEARNING FOR THE SIMPLE, YEARNING FOR.

THE DIVINE.

Complex times such as ours demand a great deal of self-direction and confidence from individuals. The wish for a simple morality to help one through complex times is understandable. Some people also yearn to connect with the Divine, and, of course, that's a key promise of religious observance. Americans who want this, though, typically want it now, not after a lifetime of medita-tion and prayer. So for those who want to connect with the Divine now, acquiring ritual purity has far more appeal than painstakingly developing actual ("moral") purity. For many people, that's what religion is for: to tell them what they can do to have certifiable contact with the Divine.

Many Christian spiritual leaders have said that the key is doing good works.

Jesus himself proposed that getting to heaven involved, more than anything else, helping others in tangible ways (see Matthew 25). But for some Christian fundamentalists, the modern route to heaven isn't so much what you do, it's what you believe-which is a lot easier. It can be done without any sacrifice of position or comfort, and almost none of time.

So for many fundamentalist Christians these days, the way to experience the Divine is to believe. And how do you show that you real y believe? By attempting to force others to act the way you think is right. Wanting other people to forego behavior you think is immoral is a very low-cost way to feel religiously intact. Write a check, vote for an antichoice candidate, go to Extreme Religion and Public Policy 149 Extreme Religion and Public Policy 149 church and commune with those who also believe. No sacrifice-just force others to sacrifice.

In some Christian sects, being against unauthorized s.e.x is a certifiable way to contact the Divine. Conceptualizing "unauthorized s.e.x," of course, is the first step. Attacking s.e.x is a way to live in the modern world and feel spiritual, without foregoing the comforts of technology or material goods.

Most Western religions have problematized the body (e.g., early influen-tial Christian philosophers, such as Tertullian and Anicius Boethius, called woman "a temple built over a sewer").8 At various times, Judaism has been obsessed with seminal emissions and menstrual impurity.

Believers, therefore, have to "solve" this "problem." Seeing s.e.x as the representative of the body calls for a philosophical policy about it, and seeing s.e.xuality in a highly limited way makes this project much easier. Conceptualizing s.e.xuality as impure then simply presents the religious community the task of purifying it. That means giving those who would be pure two choices: authorized s.e.x or no s.e.x.

With the two most revered figures in Christian history (Jesus and the Virgin Mary) both considered celibate (and she celebrated for that far beyond other qualities such as compa.s.sion or wisdom-it's her name!), there's a limit to how much believers can embrace s.e.xuality and stil feel spiritual. Eschewing eroticism (however that is intel ectual y justified) is a far more internal y coherent solution to this Christian dilemma. And so any rationalizations that conceptualize and then condemn "uncontrol ed" or "unspiritual" s.e.x are very convenient.

In fact, today's fundamentalist Christians are often pietistic; they observe or profess beyond what's required as a way of making a statement about themselves to themselves. Piety reinforces one's self-identification as spiritual. It is always symbolic at its core, which makes it easier to profess than to actually live Jesus' project of empowering the powerless. Jesus never said, "Fighting abortion is more important than feeding the poor." But it is easier, cleaner, more exciting, and it doesn't upset the neighborhood. Similarly, Jesus never said, "Since your time is limited, and you can't rescue everyone, care about the unborn more than the born. Way more."

But somehow, that's what millions of Christians are choosing to rescue- the unborn, rather than the born-and choosing to adopt-frozen embryos instead of warm foster children. How are they choosing their projects? Apparently, to maximize their political impact. Not coincidentally, they keep selecting projects that limit others' s.e.xual choices. Their War on s.e.x around reproduction helps them feel holy, although it doesn't help (and demonstrably harms) the disadvantaged already living.

It isn't that the Right has no heart, it's that it applies its heart to causes that pay off in control ing s.e.xuality. So it claims it cares for "degraded" p.o.r.n actresses, "vulnerable" prost.i.tutes, and heartbroken teenagers. It doesn't show the same concern for poor women who need day care, immigrant women who need Eng-150 lish cla.s.ses, or single women who need contraception to avoid pregnancies that wil damage or destroy their families.

Many leaders of the Religious Right explicitly say its goal is installing a moral, Christ-centered government in the United States. That is, they want a government that will abandon America's 200-year-long tradition of pluralism.

That is, they want to change the most fundamental rules of America. And if 51 percent of America votes for this, or if 99 percent of America votes for this, it will still be wrong. It certainly won't be "traditionally" American.

GOVERNMENTAL COLLUSION.

America's religiously themed antis.e.x program couldn't succeed without active, enthusiastic government action. So why have America's federal and state governments fallen in with these repressive elements?

There are presumably a variety of reasons, but they are primarily the twin evils of politics-money and power, along with something rarely found in American government-personal belief. And the impact of the irrational belief is enhanced because of the piety factor described above.

President George Bush describes himself as ardently "pro-life," and has said he believes the laws of America should reflect his religious beliefs as much as possible. In 2002, he declared January 18 the first annual "Sanct.i.ty of Life Day," describing America's "essential moral duties, including . . . caring for children born and unborn." And when he signed a 2004 bill recognizing that fetuses have rights separate from the mothers carrying them, he said, "We reaffirm that the United States of America is building a culture of life."9 Thousands of other American politicians explicitly say they are attempting to inject Christian values into American governance. And former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore says G.o.d is the basis of American government-his vision amounting, according to The Atlantic, The Atlantic, to "a theocracy." "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers," says Moore. "Separation of church and state does not mean separation of G.o.d and government! We must return G.o.d to our public life and restore the moral foundation of our law."10 to "a theocracy." "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers," says Moore. "Separation of church and state does not mean separation of G.o.d and government! We must return G.o.d to our public life and restore the moral foundation of our law."10 In 2000, presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said that RU-486 is an abomination to G.o.d, and therefore, if elected, "I would use all the power of my office, including FDA appointments, to prevent RU-486 from being put on the market."11 Note the logic: Buchanan's decision that his G.o.d disapproves of RU-486 is the reason that all Americans, including those who don't believe that Buchanan's G.o.d exists, should be denied access to this medication. How different is this from saying that since Elvis would disapprove, no one should have access to the drug?

This idealism is horribly misguided, a fundamental misunderstanding of the American system. But it is idealism nevertheless. Unfortunately, that means Extreme Religion and Public Policy 151 Extreme Religion and Public Policy 151 that not even a high-quality civics lesson would be enough to change such att.i.tudes about the role of belief in democratic government. There is no difference between President Bush and Judge Moore saying 'the law must conform to my religious beliefs,' and Ayatollah Khomeini and President Ahmadinejad saying 'the law must conform to my religious beliefs.'

Money and power are the more sinister reasons that politicians are attempting to destroy Americans' reproductive rights-and their influence, of course, is everywhere. Churches and religious organizations are giving more money to political candidates and officials than ever before. And in return, the government is giving churches and religious groups more money than ever before.

President Bush's 2001 "faith-based initiative" was an honest declaration of his intention to do so, and he has been extremely effective. Under this plan, tens of millions of federal tax dollars are distributed to religious (i.e., Christian) ministries to provide social services that have historically been provided by government agencies or secular grantees, including health care "counseling," abstinence education, after-school programs, job training, drug treatment, prison rehabilitation, and pregnancy "counseling."

For example, Herb Lusk is a Philadelphia preacher with a long history of partisan activity on behalf of Republicans. In January 2006, his Greater Exodus Baptist Church hosted a nationally broadcast rally to support the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, Jr. Sponsored by the Family Research Council, speakers included Jerry Falwell, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, and Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA, who's facing a tight reelection campaign).12 Reverend Lusk has been awarded $1.4 million of taxpayers' money in faith-based grants by the Bush administration-and despite his work's obviously partisan nature, he can administer the funds through tax-exempt organizations. Is his pa.s.sion for Alito or for money and power? According to The New The New York Times, York Times, Lusk said, "I don't know enough about him to actually think he's the right man to do the job."13 Lusk said, "I don't know enough about him to actually think he's the right man to do the job."13 Another personal cause of President Bush is so-cal ed embryo adoption.

At a 2005 press conference on stem cel research, he introduced a (now federal y funded) agency, Nightlight Christian Adoption. He spoke of the value of human life and that there is no such thing as a "spare embryo." Twenty-one children born from adopted embryos ("snowflake children") were paraded on stage to, as the agency director put it, "put a face to these embryos under discussion."14 This pattern is repeated in abstinence programs, crisis pregnancy centers, and other tax-exempt religious inst.i.tutions across America-state and federal officials funnel money to local and national groups, which support these officials and elect others. These groups now brazenly boast of their influence in destroying Americans' reproductive rights: Concerned Women for America, 152 152 RELIGIOUS PLURALISM.

Fortunately, not all religious believers are intent on controlling others' behavior, whether through forced conversions, or by changing the laws to criminalize that which they consider sinful and requiring that which their G.o.d demands.

There has always been a tolerant side to the American religious tradition, expressed variously by Quakers, the civil rights movement, social justice theology, and the antiwar movement. Now that s.e.xuality is the focus of so much hostile and dangerous religious input into public policy, America desperately needs that religious tolerance applied to it as well.

And so, the Religious Inst.i.tute on s.e.xual Morality, Justice, and Healing, was founded in 2001. Now directed by Reverend Debra Haffner, it advocates for s.e.xual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society. It supports religious leaders and congregations in creating s.e.xually healthy faith communities.

The Inst.i.tute has published an historical declaration, now endorsed by more than 2,500 religious leaders from dozens of traditions. As a reminder of how religion and s.e.xual health can pa.s.sionately coexist, and as a way of honoring the Inst.i.tute's life-affirming work in a s.e.xually hostile world, the declaration is reproduced here in full. Readers are encouraged to find out more at http://www.religiousinst.i.tute.org.

Religious Declaration on s.e.xual Morality, Justice, and Healing s.e.xuality is G.o.d's life-giving and life-fulfil ing gift. We come from diverse religious communities to recognize s.e.xuality as central to our humanity and as integral to our spirituality. We are speaking out against the pain, brokenness, oppression, and loss of meaning that many experience about their s.e.xuality. s.e.xuality is G.o.d's life-giving and life-fulfil ing gift. We come from diverse religious communities to recognize s.e.xuality as central to our humanity and as integral to our spirituality. We are speaking out against the pain, brokenness, oppression, and loss of meaning that many experience about their s.e.xuality.

Our faith traditions celebrate the goodness of creation, including our bodies and our s.e.xuality. We sin when this sacred gift is abused or exploited. However, the great promise of our traditions is love, healing, and restored relationships.

Our culture needs a s.e.xual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular s.e.xual acts. Al persons have the right and responsibility to lead s.e.xual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure. Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to al persons, without regard to s.e.x, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status, or s.e.xual orientation.

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(continued) Extreme Religion and Public Policy 153 (continued) G.o.d hears the cries of those who suffer from the failure of religious communities to address s.e.xuality. We are called today to see, hear, and respond to the suffering caused by violence against women and s.e.xual minorities, the HIV pandemic, unsustainable population growth and over-consumption, and the commercial exploitation of s.e.xuality.

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