Monday, December 13, 2004

Onward, to 1950

Kathleen Parker, a writer for the Orlando Sentinel, has a new column out that suggests that some of us are worrying needlessly that El Presidente is trying to steer the U.S. into a theocracy, where the likes of Pat Robertson might be Secretary of State and Jerry Falwell could hand out tracts on The Rapture over at Health & Human Services. It's a bum rap, says Parker: "Indeed, some close observers of the Bush-evangelical dynamic predict that Bush will have caused more consternation than consolation among his conservative Christian brethren before the first year of his second term is up."

We hope she's right. But on the very same morning that we read Parker's calming words, we see a lengthy article about the Christian Right beating the tom-toms on the Faith 'n' Ignorance warpath in various state legislatures and on state boards of education: "Energized by electoral victories last month that they say reflect wide support for more traditional social values, conservative Christian advocates across the country are pushing ahead state and local initiatives on thorny issues, including same-sex marriage, public education and abortion."

Though abortion is listed last in that string of inflamers, we suspect it should be placed first in what ticks off the brethren. And no matter how "moderate" an "incrementalist" El Presidente may yet turn out to be, his troopers in state legislatures are feeling "emboldened," and nothing motivates them more than the thought of women having sex without consequences. Make no mistake: abortion rights are on the chopping block.

"Take America back," the Christian Right has been saying. Back to what? Back to the rural "values" I remember from my childhood in West Texas? Let's see ... that would include:

• No official sex education. That way, young women can be truly ignorant, and young men, truly enflamed by locker-room swagger and empowered by the stupidity of their prom dates.

• The return of the double standard. Whereas young women must be made to suffer fully the heavy consequences of pre-marital sex, young men will be relatively less burdened. Some of them will, naturally, be forced into shotgun weddings, which is always a good basis for a long-lasting and stable relationship, no? Others will flee to Tennessee, or worse, South Carolina.

• The return of shame (which is, we take it, this project's number-one goal). In Texas in the 1940s, one of my close female relatives got pregnant in her 20s and was so shamed that she simply disappeared for several years. She put the baby up for adoption. No one knew. She felt trapped in her shame and spent several years alone with it. The truth only came out in the family recently. No one, as I recall, congratulated my relative for bearing that humiliation so stoically. Of course, stoic shame is not nearly as productive as public shame, which is where Jerry Falwell wants us to head: the Scarlet Letter, awarded with fanfare.

• The triumphal return of ignorance and its proud offspring, disease and desperation. In West Texas in the 1950s, no young woman was on the pill. It simply wasn't available. And few young men used condoms, because to obtain them meant going to the city druggist and risking his wrath and/or scorn in front of other customers. The current movement of so-called Christian druggists not to fill birth-control prescriptions for unmarried women shows us where we're headed. It ain't just abortion they're after; it's birth-control itself. With no options in either direction, we will have achieved what the Christian Right apparently wants: a high birth-rate and perfect misery for any young person who chooses to have sex prior to marriage.

• The free-lance practice of female health care services by a new criminal class, with all its attendant benefits.

• The reinstitution of official and private hypocrisy as the American Way: if we don't see inequity and injustice, they don't exist. And even if they do exist, they don't pertain to us.

• And by the way, there is not and never has been anything in nature called "evolution."

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