In the toxic mix of religion and politics, the metaphysical question is whether sex is procreation or recreation. Liberals get it, conservatives don’t. The practical dilemma, though, is why government is peeking into our bedrooms at all.
Or put another way, don’t we have better things to do?
Congress and the Obama Administration are hung up on the issue of contraception. The Little Sisters of the Poor have filed suit over whether they should be compelled to provide free birth control to employees under the law of the land. A couple of businesses, notably Hobby Lobby, contend that their personal religious beliefs should extend to the workplace and have asked the courts to allow them to decide what health benefits (contraceptives) they can offer to their employees.
The Obama Administration upended “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” And President Obama, in a painstaking process that was slower than evolution, finally concluded that marriage between gays is a right to be bestowed on anyone who chooses that direction. States that are trying to scoot around the Supreme Court’s knock-down of the Defense of Marriage Act are being rebuffed by the courts one by one. Texas is the latest of a half dozen states to have its ban on same-sex marriages invalidated by a federal court. And the mayors of Boston and New York have threatened to boycott their cities’ St. Patrick’s Day parades unless gay organizations are allowed to participate.
There was cause for celebration when Michael Sam, a roughneck football player at the University of Missouri, announced in advance of the draft that he is gay. The NFL was mute. In Baltimore, the Ravens said he would be welcome. Jason Collins became the first professional athlete to declare himself openly gay. Collins was signed by the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. The locker rooms were quiet, except for a grumble or two about having to shower with Collins. What are they afraid of, Collins or their own manhood?
Not to be eclipsed by breaking news, the vainglorious lobbyist, Jack Burkman, who struts even when he sits, has unveiled what seems to be the athlete’s version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” He has threatened to push for adoption of “The American Decency Act of 2014,” which would make it illegal for the NFL to employ “self-declared [italics added] homosexual football players.” Kindly step aside Michael Sam.
So what’s the big deal? It’s not as if sexual orientation is something new among professional athletes. As far back as the 1970s, Cheech and Chong did a hilarious riff on gay football players in one of their recorded comic routines called the Steubenville Studs. And at about the same period, John Irving’s sensational novel The World According to Garp was built partly around a National Football League transsexual tight end, Roberta Muldoon. “She had great hands,” a fictional announcer intoned.
The reverse of the medal is what the cultural conservatives like to call normalcy, although nobody can define precisely what that is. The 18th century German philosopher and misanthrope, Arthur Schopenhauer, wrote that “throughout history, all of man’s activity has been directed at a point on a woman’s body midway between her navel and her knees.”
The practitioners of normalcy like to quote Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination…” They also invoke natural law, a system of binding moral behavior as determined by nature and reason. Which the 16th century metaphysical poet Fulke Greville dissected when natural law bumps up against free will: “What meaneth nature by these diverse laws/passion and reason self-division’s cause.”
All of which segues to Arizona where, for the second consecutive year, the state legislature enacted a law that would have allowed businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians if they thought it would violate their religious beliefs. And for the second consecutive year Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed the bill. In the detritus of its passage, businesses complained, the NFL threatened to withdraw next year’s Super Bowl from the state, several GOP legislators said they made a mistake in voting for the bill and the state’s two Republican U.S. senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain, urged the veto. Done.
Still, in one of those curious convergences, there are 12 other states considering the identical legislation, mostly in the midwest and west. The model (?) legislation is the handicraft of the Alliance Defending Freedom and the bill travels the conservative circuit under the banner of religious freedom. Any such law that would be enacted is cynical performance art for the home folks and certain to be spiked by the courts.
ADF’s website describes itself: “Alliance Defending Freedom is a servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” Under that theocratic pronouncement, one person’s freedom is another’s bondage.
Even Pope Francis has admonished the Catholic clergy to back off the cultural wars and concentrate on Christ’s example of loving and helping each other. If a person is homosexual but has love in his heart, “who am I to judge?” Pope Francis said. This, to reinforce the point, is not a change in doctrine but a new tone and attitude.
But the culture-hawk wing of the Republican party persists in the implosive embrace of a time gone-bye. The GOP is a shrinking minority and is on the cusp of another extinction, which in political palaver means irrelevance.
Much of the cultural agitation traces back to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. If the Court hadn’t stretched the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to achieve it, government wouldn’t be peering over our bedposts like an avenging Peeping Tom. From that decisive point, the Roman Catholic Church also redefined capital punishment, which it had supported, to align it with its anti-abortion stance in support of the right to all life, in the womb or in the cell.
Until then, there was little or no talk about abortion and contraception within the Church or in the public square. It was not until 1930, when the pope of the moment issued a teaching, that contraception was even discussed within the Church. Today, about 90 percent of Catholic women admit to using some form of birth control despite the Church’s teachings.
The Catholic Church, and most fundamentalist religions, has amplified its preachings against homosexuality. In many instances, it has banned homosexuals from the sacrament of Holy Eucharist and, by definition, does not condone or perform gay marriage ceremonies.
A recent worldwide survey sponsored by the Catholic Church showed that the most doctrinaire of its three billion members live in third-world countries and are likely the most recent to embrace the faith. But those least likely to cling closely to Church teachings live in the United States and Europe, where change travels faster than traffic on the autobahn.
Fundamentalist Protestants of various denominations cling to many of the same rigid cultural and moral beliefs without the binding strictures imposed by the Catholic Church. Together they form the bedrock of conservative beliefs infusing the political system in America as well as a measurable contributor to the narrowing base of the Republican party. Much, if not all, socio-retro activity is about sex, mostly other people’s.
The recent cultural upheaval is not a case of feckless social drift or easy acceptance. It is more of a gradual quest for rights and a thoughtful attempt to reach a studied balance in a society that is a complex mosaic. Democracy, observed the poet T.S. Eliot, swings constantly between tyranny and anarchy. Religious exceptions are not without the dangers of extremes in the nation’s new social order.
“There is a sense of alarm within the pro-family movement and among conservative Christians that there are growing threats to religious liberty, and many of those threats do relate to the agenda of the sexual revolutionaries,” Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, was quoted as saying. Okay, but do your own thing and let others do theirs. And stay out of other people’s bedrooms.