Monday, May 08, 2006

Polite debate, cultural controversy or civil war: What’s the next step in the sex wars?

While the blogosphere has been tied up in screaming fits about the politics and possible scandals surrounding Porter Goss’s resignation as CIA director and Gen. Michael V. Hayden’s appointment to that position, I have been pondering what goes on in people’s beds. Most specifically, I am wondering what is going to happen when American heterosexuals realize that their sex lives are being targeted by Christian dominationists.

At the same time, I wonder what the future of our great and continuing culture war will be. What will we do as those dominationists, who are more properly known as dominionists, attempt to control the most intimate parts of all of our lives?

Think I’m exaggerating? Take a look at Russell Shorto’s fascinating article in this Sunday’s New York Time’s Magazine. Shorto argues, quite convincingly, that the next step for the anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-anything-but-them movement is to take control of everyone – and I do mean everyone’s – sex life. Shorto writes (the emphasis is mine.):

Many Christians who are active in the evolving anti-birth-control arena state frankly that what links their efforts is a religious commitment to altering the moral landscape of the country. In particular, and not to put too fine a point on it, they want to change the way Americans have sex.
In other words, these folks want to control every heterosexuals' sex life. Shorto reports that the anti-birth control folks want to reserve sex for married heterosexuals who are jumping into bed for the sole purpose of making babies.

Shorto continues:

The subject is talked about in evangelical churches and is on the agenda at the major Bible-based conservative organizations like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition. It also has its point people in Congress — including Representative Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, Representative Joe Pitts and Representative Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma — all Republicans who have led opposition to various forms of contraception.
Although I’ve never seen this discussed in such detail, the idea doesn’t surprise me. I’ve heard it bouncing around Kansas for at least a decade, coming out of the mouths by both ministers and politicians.

As a lesbian, I’m familiar with the rip-out-your-gut feeling of knowing that a group of people – well funded, well organized and determined – want to do nothing less than walk into your bedroom and keep you from expressing your love the way you need to. People do desperate things when they feel this way. I wonder if the anti-birth control people realize that?

All of this is coming as I’ve been enjoying a new column in Newsweek. (Who knew I’d be so enamored with the mainstream media this week?). Written by Jon Meacham, the author of “American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation,” the column is tackling the central issues of the culture war.

Meacham says he came in for some harsh criticism after he published his first column. In it, he suggested that it was possible to actually talk to Christian dominationists, and he suggested some theological arguments to use. I discussed that here.

I have received a number of replies; the most interesting—and, to me, most discouraging—were from people who seem to think that we are trapped in a permanent conflict that will admit no resolution. One reader wrote: "When dealing with zealots, your logic makes no difference in what they hear/believe or feel should be forced upon others—the only folks that would read your article and agree with you are the same folks that already agree with you."
Mecham adds:
If we decide that it is impossible for people who do not believe that they are in possession of the ultimate, only truth to speak reasonably to those who do, then it is not a far jump to saying civil society is unsustainable. The point of a republic like ours is for opposing forces to contend against one another peaceably, within a sphere of checks and balances. Given that some fundamentalists believe in forced conversions or in holy war, what are we to do in the face of such threats to our security and serenity? Surrender? Do nothing?
I would add that many people who would be my allies might well feel that the only alternative is to do to them before they do to us. In other words, use force. I suspect that people would first support the use of political campaigns. However, if these folks from this one, narrow band of Christianity are so determined to march into all of our bedrooms, how long will it be before people feel backed into a corner and decide they have to fight back physically?

It seems insane to even suggest that could happen, but when you mess in the most intimate parts of peoples lives, all bets are off.

And yet, I put my faith in Mecham’s approach. It’s an approach that I’ve argued for vigorously and have been attacked for taking. (Call it the “Respect-Their-Right-to-Exist / Argue-With-Them / Organize-Against-Them Approach.) As a lesbian, I’ve had to deal with these people and their desperate need to control my bed for my entire life. I am truly tired of it, yet what good does it do if we become as bad as they are? Where will it lead us if we don’t even try to talk?

Thus, I throw my lot in with Meachem:

It seems to me that we must keep the conversation going.


Anonymous said...

First, there is a little gem floating around that I wish to share: "There are three boxes used to defend liberty: ballot box, jury box, ammo box. They are to be accessed in that order.

I would argue, in fact, that we are very nearly ready for step three. Sexuality is one area that has become unbearably oppressive, but there are others: Eminent domain, the drug "war", all of the infrastructure that comprises our "laws for money" system, the acid-like erosion of civil liberties; Sadly, I can go on.

The worst part is the complete feeling of helplessness. There is absolutely no venue or means available to me, as a citizen of only average resources, to have any real effect upon the situation. I can speak to like-minded individuals, as I am here, but aside from outright revolt, what am I accomplishing? You already agree with my distress over the extant situation.

It is truly a sad time to live in for those who value freedom and liberty, as I do.


8:20 PM
Jordan Glassman said...

An interesting question, due in no small part to the fact that many have been faced with situations where a sour debate ended with one or both sides wondering if the other person was even listening. Sometimes, following a discussion, argument, or debate with a person with extreme conservative, religious views, I walk away, shaking my head and wondering how a person could possibly think that stuff. And if they actually heard or understood anything I just said.

Let's assume for the moment that the answer is no, that zealots pay no attention to logic or reason, and believe what they may, in defiance of empirical data. Then how does positive change ever occur?

The answer, I think, lies with children. These zealots are parents... too old, too invested, too hardwired to change their ways. Maybe they are in a rut, or maybe they can't change. It is the children, modern children, with unlimited access to information. Though influenced by irrational parents, they are gradually introduced to and influenced by different points of view, and reach the only logical conclusion.

Of course, this has been going on for years, independent of contemporary technology. Maybe it just happens faster now.

Either way, the conversation must keep going, else the next generation will have nothing to read. But it is not at all difficult to imagine that there are many, if not most, of my ultra right-wing implacable peers who hardly listen or think at all, and certainly can't be convinced of anything.

10:17 PM

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