Thursday, January 8, 2009

Liberal Morality and the Defeat of the Christian Right

We can all relate to Sarah [Palin] and the difficulties of raising kids. It's only the liberals - the very same people that don't even believe that there is any such thing as sexual immorality - that will make mockery of it.
So closes a lengthy comment on a Palinista blog that I monitor. The commenter wrote about her efforts to shelter her daughter from sexual immorality, including residing on a "Christian campus" for a number of years. She carefully controlled her daughter's television and movie input, and exposed her to "Christian courtship teachings...again and again and again." And yet, as teen, her daughter wound up in a "questionable" relationship and became pregnant. She concluded that hard as we all try to raise our kids a certain way, we are up against a monster in society...Our culture is just full of garbage and we parents are fighting against Goliath.
I'm not writing to criticize someone else's parenting techniques. Left, center, or right, we try our best against difficult odds. No matter how many good choices a parent makes, we inevitably make bad ones, whether out of inexperience, exhaustion, or ignorance. Every child who has a happy and productive life has two things in common: Loving parents and luck.

I take exception, of course, to the allegation that liberals deny the existence of sexual immorality. I suspect that we tend to have a narrower definition of it than conservatives, one based on notions of personal respect and informed decision-making. We may also be less willing to pass judgment on the choices of others. And of course, liberals view homosexuality as a function of genetics, a state of being that had no inherent moral component -- a stance at great odds with the Christian Right. 

That that this Christian conservative wrings her hands and blames our society is the height of irony, since for years conservatives ridiculed liberals for supposedly excusing poor individual choices as the result of the pressures of "society." In some ways, there's common ground here in that neither liberals or conservatives see the world as a picnic. But, I don't know of any liberals who see solutions in sheltering their children from perceived evils to the extent that they can't engage in popular culture.

Nor do I know of no parent of any persuasion who wants their children to be teenaged parents. And, I know of no parent who hasn't at one time or another expressed dismay over the early sexualization of girls or the promotion of consequence-free sexual behavior in films and on television. But if the Christian conservative response is to shield their children from all of this, the liberal response is to realize that it isn't going away any time soon, and to prepare and ultimately trust their children to deal with it. The liberal response also includes the recognition that humans are imperfect, that teenagers will make questionable decisions, and that it doesn't make sense for them to bring children that they are unprepared to raise into the world simply because of an absence or unawareness of contraception.

No matter how one views themselves politically, engaging with culture and society is a quintessential liberal value, whatever its risks. Conversely, disengaging, whatever its appeal comes at too high a price in personal growth and development. At the end of the day, the liberal embraces social and cultural diversity, trusting in his  or her intelligence, education, discernment, and skepticism to make mostly correct decisions. But we don't expect anyone to bat 1.000; because one can't be perfect, it's hard for us to hold it against people -- all of us, in other words -- who are not.

This conservative Christian view of society and culture as a "monster...full of garbage" drives them to both seal themselves off from society and to oppose as immoral anything that does not conform to their world view. It gave rise to a conservative religious movement to change the very nature of culture and society. The movement helped elect two presidents and control Congress for much of a 28-year period. During that time, it accomplished very little of what it set out to do. 

Despite the defeat of Proposition 8 in California, there is no better indicator of this than the outcome that the increasing rejection of the Christian right's war on the so-called "homosexual agenda." Not only have champions of the right like Larry Craig and Rev. Ted Haggard been exposed as self-loathing homosexuals, it has become plain that fewer and fewer people care whether someone is gay or not. This refreshing attitude is especially prevalent among young people, the very population that the Focus on the Family types most seek to "protect." 

Other examples of the defeat of the Christian right abound: We do not have prayer in public schools; nor do they teach Creationism or Intelligent Design. Roe v. Wade has not been repealed. Despite strenuous efforts, Christian pharmacists have not succeeded in gaining the "right" to refuse to dispense contraceptives and morning-after pills. Not only that, more businesses and governments offer domestic partner benefits. 

This is not to say that the culture war is won, and liberals can't relax because time is on our side. For example, it remains difficult for women in rural states to obtain abortions, and the gag rule tying foreign aid in the Third World to abstinence-only pregnancy counseling will stay in effect for at least another 11 days. But there is, I think, a gathering recognition of the value, the necessity, of that rich melange of creativity, expression, temptation, and struggle called culture. We can embrace it, debate it, cope with it, contribute to it, change it. But we can't destroy something so essential to the revelation of our humanity in all its greatness, despair, success, failure, and mediocrity. I'll stand behind the liberal view of culture, especially compared to the alternative:
I try to forget this is happening. I ignore every news story about Obama. I pulled my head out of the covers the other day just long enough for it to occur to me that this is really going to happen - he's going to be sworn in. Then I put my head back under the covers.
Like most liberals, I see morality as a confluence of personal (including religious) and societal values, a matter at times private and at other times public. It is a mystery to me how a conservative can rail against a "culture of death" that accommodates Roe v. Wade while at the same time supporting capital punishment and the preemptive invasion of another country.

But, then, those are my liberal values talking: Whatever my personal feelings about abortion, I oppose the state making a decision better left to a woman, her conscience, and -- if it comes to it -- her doctor. Whatever my personal feelings about the justice of capital punishment, I oppose the state sanctioning and carrying out the premeditated murder of another human being, regardless of what heinous crime may be involved. And I don't see how a nation can retain its moral standing by crying for freedom and liberty to justify acts that displace millions and kill and maim thousands.

Not that I think liberals have a corner on moral thought and action. We don't. When it comes to liberals and the Christian right, the awareness of that is the biggest distinction of all...

The Battle of Rebuilding New Orleans: June Cross writes that the Gettridge family rebuilt their 9th Ward home at great personal cost and with little help. Former Tulane professor Kera Mosely wasn't so fortunate...

Stone Soup Musings points out that while congressional conservatives are quite willing to drive down the wages of American workers, they don't mind giving themselves a raise...

Happy 74th birthday, Elvis Presley...

Larry Flynt sez the porn "industry" needs a bailout, too. Nihil Obstat shares his thoughts here...

Crabby Old Lady thinks that all of the carping about Caroline Kennedy's qualifications for the Senate is nonsense: 
Ms. Kennedy is an attorney, writer and advocate for public education. She has co-authored two books on civil liberties including The Right to Privacy which Crabby found useful during her internet career. Kennedy is also a member of the boards of directors of the Commission on Presidential Debates and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund – all of which entails a great deal more day-to-day involvement in public issues than a lot of congressional legislators have.
Citizen K. tends to agree, and believes that this is the business of the people of New York anyway...

Gallier Hall (St. Charles St., New Orleans), dedicated in 1853...

Report from Gaza: "The Israeli army issued a video of the bombing of the Hamas-run government compound, which it posted on YouTube. In it, I also can see my home being destroyed, and I watch it obsessively..." Note: I searched for the video and found this:


John Hayes said...

A sane take on this-- the conservative mindset can be extremely frustrating; living in rural Idaho I see this a lot; Eberle & I have music students who are home schooled to keep them sequestered from "the world," & tho I often like the kids, & the parents too for that matter in a lot of ways, it's troubling. On another note, you must have a fair degree of equanimity to monitor "Palinista" sites-- I wouldn't have the stomach for it.

For some reason I kept thinking of the Nietzsche line (I believe it was Nietzsche anyway) while reading your post: "Whoever fights the dragon becomes the dragon."

& on a totally frivolous note & as a very abrupt change I like the new look (with opening lines) of the blog links.


Kathy said...

Very thoughtful post. As a parent, I understand the instinct to shield one's children from sex, alcohol, etc., but as someone who was once a teenager I know that curiosity and hormones are strong foes. ;-)

Even stronger is the desire to find out about the forbidden. I never told my children they couldn't smoke cigarettes, but I warned them about the health risks. My best friend continually warned her children that she had better never catch them smoking. Result? None of my children smoke and both of hers do.

Scrumpy's Baker said...

I always find this an amusing topic, being the daughter of a gay father and Southern Baptist mother. Luckily, they both taught me (in their own way) to respect myself and sort of left it to me to decide what that meant. I think I turned out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

Foxessa said...

Abortion is just about impossible to get in many places -- most places? -- in the United States now, particularly if you are young and you are poor. Particularly if you are poor. I think they've won this one. Not actually repealing RvW leaves it one the table as a perpetual political wedge issue.

As for Caroline Kennedy's lack of qualifications to be senator, the ways, let me show you the number of them, starting with she's no liberal, she's no more a democrat than Bloomberg, whose handmaid she is, and she's never worked a job in her life. Sitting on boards when you're rich means nothing, other than you often get a nice paycheck. She didn't write those books herself either. As for all that vaunted work she did for education? That was a volunteer part-time job, for which she managed to show up about one hour a week. She can't articulate for shyte -- she's never met an um, a conjunction or a preposition she didn't love and get confused with another part of speech. She and W have a lot in common that way.

Nor has she EVER FOUGHT FOR ANYTHING in her life. We need people who will fight for us, not a spoiled rich brat with a legacy name who suddenly got the bright idea that being a politician -- hey that's kinda cool! Feh.

She's never campaigned for anything in her life. She has zilch legislative experience. Feh.

More and more NYers realize this as she staggers around but refuses to actually, you know, put herself Out there with people, coz that's too much like campaigning, and royalty should not be asked to do anything so time consuming and crass. She won't reveal her financial records either.

We don't like her and we don't want her.

At least that guy the arrested Illinois gub threw into the shark tank knows how to fight, and does fight, like Al Franken fights, like neither Kerry or Gore, with their patrician profiles could sully themselves with doing.

We need people who fight! And are really Dems, not rethugz.

Love, c.

Anonymous said...

Foxess, as a fellow NY-er I couldn't agree more with your assesment on Mrs. Schlossberg-Kennedy. I keep asking when our country became so bereft of original thought, talent, genius and chutzpah that we have to rely on the same 3 Bush, Clinton and Kennedy families for all of our executive decisions ... And is Patterson so bedazzled by the opportunity to conect with American royalty that he'll hand the gig over to her because she asked for it ? A local congressman named Brian Higgins whose a decent South Buffalo irishman is supposedly on the short list ... but so is she ! Also, K is that video what the right watches when the porn store's copies of Nailin' Palin are all checked out ? Great work here today..

Sylvia K said...

Great post and I couldn't agree more! The whole religious right lights all the fires under my temper I'm afraid. I raised four kids thumbing my nose at those who preached against everything as being evil. They all turned out well -- would I have felt differently if they had turned out to be gay? No, I wouldn't. People are human beings, the ways in which they are different doesn't make them less human or less deserving of love and respect. Oh, I do get so pissed off listening the "palinistas"! I can't even really express how I do feel. Thanks for doing it for me! Have a great weekend!

K. said...

For better or worse, American politics has never had a shortage of political families that span generations. Heck, look at Nancy Pelosi.

I don't concede anything to the Christian right, but I do think we have them on the run. Whatever his accomplishments and failures are to be, Obama's election is a signal triumph for rationality. I'm not being overconfident, just trying to apply an old political adage: When the foot is on the throat, press down.

K. said...

BTW, I'm agnostic when it comes to Caroline Kennedy. I figure that this is a matter for New Yorkers. It would be interesting, though, were Patterson to appoint an upstate Democrat.

C., your post reminds of a 1962 exchange between Teddy Kennedy and a workingman. This came during Kennedy's first campaign for the Senate, in the early hours as workers arrived to their factory jobs in one of those manufacturing towns like Lowell or Fall River. Kennedy reached to shake hands with one worker who said, "Teddy, I hear you've never worked a day in your life...Let me tell you: You haven't missed a thing."

RobinB said...

I too love the opening lines of the blogs on the left--I've already looked at several I hadn't had the opportunity before. Thanks!