Although you’d think the Right couldn’t do anything to surprise me any more, I have been unsettled by the visceral disgust of female sexuality that’s spewed forth from the Right in the past few days. In tweets, on blogs, in most of the usual quarters, the monster being revealed is something terrible to behold.
But let us not forget this is an old beast that’s been with us all along. It’s just that recent events have coaxed the creature into the light of day.
That right-wing extremists see women as a substandard Other is a given; it is, in fact, a universal characteristic of reactionary politics and religions, in all their many forms. But it’s been fifty years since The Pill became available, and wingnuts still can’t handle the thought of women as sexual free agents. Male sexuality is fine with them, of course. I don’t see objections on the Right to Viagra, or the idea of health insurance paying for Viagra, even though its primary application is to allow some men to have more sex. But The Pill, which has a variety of medical applications beside contraception, is Evil and Immoral because it allows women to have “consequence-free sex,” a condition not placed upon Viagra-enhanced men. And Erick Son of Erick is not the only troglodyte spouting that line.
Even though religion is the most common excuse given for this sick view of women, there is nothing in the Bible that forbids women from using birth control. I don’t know enough about the Q’ran to comment on that, but it appears opinions against birth control are coming only from the most conservative parts of Islam.
I’ve never heard of objections to birth control coming from Buddhism or any other Asian religion, even though Asian cultures often are as patriarchal as cultures get. However, these cultures generally are less hung up about enjoying sex.
Some religious traditions, such as Orthodox Judaism (although not Conservative or Reformed), point to the “be fruitful and multiply” line from Genesis to declare that God forbids birth control. But notice that nobody’s running around demanding restrictions on the sale of condoms. This is because of deeply entrenched sociocultural values, not religion. Those values say “consequence-free sex” is a birthright for men. It’s only when women are given some power over their own sexuality and reproduction that alarm bells go off, and the sickos grab frantically for anything they can grab to support their bigotries. And some grotesque misapplication of religious dogma is about all they’ve got, although I have seen some other even more bizarre and fact-free appeals to “science” and “nature.”
If you’ve read my book (Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World), or if you’ve read up on current research in sociology, you know that our moral views are mostly dictated by our emotions, and the “moral judgments” we create in our rational minds are all post hoc. See, for example, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (Pantheon Books, 2012).
Why is this craziness apparently coming from right-wing Abrahamic religion? This is from my book —
… Haidt says thatâ€™s basically what weâ€™re all doing â€” allowing our rudimentary emotions to dictate what we think. And the rudimentary emotions come from our cultural programming and many other influences, such as the groups we hang out with. Researchers have found they also can influence peopleâ€™s responses to moral questions by exposing them to foul odors, giving them something pleasant or unpleasant to drink, or even keeping a hand sanitizer within view. Reason actually has little to do with it, however much we might want to think otherwise.
When you understand that much of â€œmoralityâ€ is about rudimentary emotions and biases, you might also understand why conservative and dogmatic religions of all persuasion tend to get hung up on sex and on keeping women under control, often going way outside the teachings of revered founders as they do this.
For example â€” going by the Gospels, Jesus said very little about sex and nothing at all about homosexuality, abortion, or birth control. And we know that there was homosexual sex, abortion, and attempts at birth control going on in his time, and he must have been aware of these things. But it appears he didnâ€™t bother to address them.
Instead, he went on and on about loving God and everybody else, including your enemies. He was also big on feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners. The episode with the money changers in the Temple suggests he was not keen on people trying to make themselves wealthy on other peoplesâ€™ piety. For a man of his time and culture he was extraordinarily courteous to women, sometimes speaking to them in public (which was a tad scandalous, Iâ€™m told) and telling Martha that Mary didnâ€™t have to go to the kitchen to make coffee and sandwiches if sheâ€™d rather listen to his sermon.
Flash forward to todayâ€™s right-wing Christianity. See the difference? Do I really have to point it out to you?
The obsession with sex and repressing women and their tempting ways is one of the most common features of conservative, dogmatic religion, whether weâ€™re talking about Christianity or Islam or any other major spiritual tradition. Currently factions within Islam are going to unprecedented and grotesque extremes to subdue women. But I say there are factions within many other faith traditions that differ from the Taliban only in degree, not in kind.
And this tells me that the men in charge of things are channeling their own anxieties about sex and women and projecting them into their scriptures. In doing so, they sometimes wander quite a distance from what their scriptures actually say, revealing how pathologically deep those anxieties are.
Ultimately, all this flap about birth control has nothing to do with genuine religious devotion. It’s coming from sick, neurotic weenie-men (and some women, e.g. Ingraham and Coulter, who notably are unmarried and childless, although Ingraham has adopted children) who are terrified of female sexuality and can’t deal with the world unless women are kept under control. They are using the authority of religion — with assistance from conservative men in the courts — to impose their bigotries and emotional pathologies on the rest of us.
So let us be clear that the Great Divide in the birth control issue is not between the secular and the religious; it’s been the emotionally healthy and the deranged.