... in my head.
This particular one has taken less than 24 hours to come up with some sort of cohesiveness, and I think that the amount of time it took is inversely proportional to the amount of vitriol I have on the subject.
I've been reading a most lovely book, lent to me by the lovely melly13, called Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Between that and reading other feministy blogs, including the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's RSS feed, my inner feminist has been reasserting itself lately.
The book is about an English professor, the author, and her days teaching English literature during the return to hardline Islamic teachings in Iran. It's impossible to ignore throughout the book how it took literally a matter of a couple of years for women to become completely irrelevant in the country's scene. In making women irrelevant, Nafisi points out, Ayatollah Khomeini succeeds in destroying Iranian culture by trying to reform it.
It got me to thinking about other reformists who've succeeded in ruining the original message of the culture or doctrine in question. Being closer to home, of course, my mind first turned to the Christian right. It should be noted here that the Christian right, for the purposes of this essay, is considered entirely different and separate from traditional Christian doctrine, and extends into the faction which believes in making Christian teachings a matter of political law.
In my traditional Catholic way, I began from the beginning. I have always analyzed and interpreted scripture rather literally, in the context of the time that it was written. For a long, innocent period of time, I was convinced that most Christians did too. In my opinion, this contextual interpretation of scripture, especially of the new testament, is a basic tenet of modern Christianity, as in today's time, many of the oldest teachings have become irrelevant.
One understanding I have come to about the scriptures is that they were written during a period when scientific fact was lacking; in fact, the Christian right at that time condemned the scientific method, saying that the experimentation involved was tantamount to playing God. As a result, their church spent a lot of time and money trying to suppress the whole concept of science altogether.
Science, for example, taught us that when Onan spilled his seed upon the ground, he was not, in fact, committing an act of murder; science has taught us that semen does not in fact contain all of the products necessary for life, as was previously believed. It has taught us that for reproducton to occur, the two products of the same must be mixed together, more or less, and that any alteration in this mixing can and will prevent a pregnancy.
The Christian right took this scientific information and ran with it. Instead of re-thinking the sin of Onan, (perhaps his actual sin was in failing to conform to the laws of Levirate marriage?) they instead re-branded his sin to include all forms of birth control. This was originally intended to apply to condoms, which, aside from the rhythm method or coitus interruptus, is the oldest contraceptive method still in use today. It's certainly the most effective out of the three, and when latex condoms are used, even has the side-effect of preventing the spread of disease.
We know now that catching semen in a condom doesn't have the effect of slitting a baby's throat in heaven; however, the Christian right has seen fit to use science to pervert the original meaning of the scriptures. Since we know that there is as such thing as conception, and that the products of conception are a mix of two individuals' genetic materials, Christianity can no longer longer push their old viewpoint. They took the scientific fact which was outlined to them, and used it to change the meaning of the scriptures. To put this bluntly, the dude didn't want to knock up a broad who wasn't his wife, and so instead they changed the definition of the sin to include birth control.
Yeah, because that's a shining example of linear reasoning.
Science has also taught us that even when a blastocyst is created by the union of two sets of 13 chromosomes (hopefully), it is incapable of growing and living unless implantation occurs. The fact of the matter is that without implantation, as far as science is concerned, there is no pregnancy. We can't even test for fertilization without implantation, when it happens in vivo. Pregnancy tests only detect the presence of the human chorion, a structure designed to support embryonic life, created only AFTER implantation. Conception without implantation isn't even considered a miscarriage; because there's no way of proving a pregnancy ever existed, and considering the products of conception usually fly right out the series of tubes in the same fashion as menstruation, most women never know the difference.
The Christian right will argue that life begins at conception. Nevermind the fact that the conceived products completely lack an organ necessary to support its life: namely, the human placenta and its aforementioned chorion. That doesn't seem to matter to them, though. They consider the failure of implantation as tantamount to abortion, hence their opposition to the birth control pill, and the morning-after-pill, colloquially referred to as Plan B. These same people would never look at a child born without lungs, for example, and insist that letting it die was a violation of the commandment against murder; the child lacks an organ which is necessary for life. Why then, I ask, is this same assertation not made when the blastocyst is still in utero?
The answer, of course, is because if they guilt women into thinking they're killing unborn babies, they can take control over women's reproductive lives. Science can't even back us up on this one because of the limitations of detecting life pre-implantation. Scientists don't even know for sure if the birth control pill interferes with implantation at all. They can't prove that it doesn't, and so, to be thorough, they have to say that there's a possibility that it will. And because good Christians trust the church, and science can't prove the church wrong (as they could in the case of Galileo,) there's presently a campaign waging in the United States against the birth control pill and most forms of hormonal contraception.
A prescription medication on the market which is consumed by the grand majority of women of childbearing years, a prescription medication with relatively few side-effects and which has actually been proven to increase the lifespan of the women taking it, is under attack. Because the Christian right is not concerned about using science to pervert the holy scriptures, there are individuals in the U.S. who believe they're justified in denying this legal prescription to responsible, grown women.
Let's have another example of Christianity perverting the scripture to control people, shall we?
An old Judaic teaching which lives rather comfortably in the Old Testament is the teaching to treat one's body "as a temple". This makes sense to me; your body's the only body you have got, and even minor injuries will often alter your body mechanics slightly enough that you'll never be quite the same ever again. This has been variously interpreted to mean that tattooing is sinful, that drinking and smoking is sinful, and, thanks to the late Ste. Thomas d'Aquinas, as has previously been discussed in this blog, masturbation is somehow considered tantamount to self-abuse.
Anyone who's masturbated in their life I would think should know that rolling in glass a la Iggy Pop and masturbating are on two ends of the Things That Are Fun spectrum. How is masturbation considered self-abuse? In order to explain that, we are supposed to accept as proven science Christianity's assumptions about human sexuality, circa the middle ages. Apparently, masturbation means men will rape women, men, children, and livestock. It apparently leads to the corruption of marriages, to adultery and divorce, to illegitimate children and sexually transmitted diseases. That's right, masturbation leads to sexually transmitted diseases.
Let me give you a moment to stop laughing hysterically, since the above diatribe means that literally 100% of marriages today are doomed from the get-go, and for some reason, around half of them manage to succeed. This means that Thomas D'Aquinas' diagnosis is correct only about 49% of the time. If this were medicine, we would call that man a fucking shitty diagnostician, and discredit him thusly. His solution is simply snake oil; by making people self-flagellate for a more-or-less invented sin, he believes he can curb sex crimes. Right.
A case has also been made that masturbation is sinful because it is an act of lust. Lust, as I think is probably common knowledge, is one of the seven mortal (unforgivable) or more commonly, 'deadly' sins. Lust was originally defined as 'extravagance', but that definition too, got changed, to more carefully control Christians' private lives. Lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, wrath, envy, and hubris is the list most commonly thrown around. Some of the definitions (pride/hubris being one) waver a little, but generally speaking, these are sins you're going to go straight to hell for. These are not sins which show up in an inkling in one's mind and are quickly squashed, these are consuming sins, sins which destroy personalities, which literally distort mental health.
We can all think of a situation where lust would lead to a destruction in personality and the possibility of a disruption in mental health; serial rapists, anyone? I want to know how the seriousness of a serial rapist and the innocent act of masturbation are somehow lumped together in the same category, the category for which punishment is to walk in flames in Purgatory. Isn't this kind of generalization not only incorrect and irresponsible, but also unproductive?
The interesting thing is that we can't even very properly prove that scientifically, masturbation has no negative effect on sexuality. Admittedly, we do have a mountain of research that shows that the grand majority of people masturbate and do not turn out to be serial rapists, however, there's a large chunk of important facts between point A and point B that have never been researched. In fact, most research on the topic of human sexuality has been fervently squashed. By whom? By the Christian right.
So we come full circle; the Christian right is more than willing to use science as a tool, to pervert the doctrine to advance their agenda, to commercialize religion and to try and control the secular by stating that since it's "proven" by "science", that means it's true for secular individuals as well, and they therefore must obey obscure Christian teachings. Let's make this perfectly clear: The Christian right has perverted not only the scriptures, but scientific findings and even the scientific method. They are now using this alleged science to manipulate the secular into adhering to religious teachings.
With the above, it becomes clear to the reader with half a logical mind that science appears to be good enough for the Christian right only when it can be used to advance their theocratic agenda. When science could potentially be used to prove the Christian right wrong, as is the case with the study of human sexuality, the Christian right does its best to squash any influence this research may have. Nevermind the fact that said research is rooted entirely in the meticulous concept that is the scientific method. It doesn't suit the needs of the oppressors, so they decide to make it irrelevant.
Take the infamous Kinsey project as an example. Kinsey proved, using the scientific method, that alternate sexuality was not in fact a perversion confined to a slim minority of Americans; in actuality, it was more common and pervasive than anyone would have ever guessed. We have similar research today; well-written properly-organized research studies, proving, among other things, that abstinence-only education in the United States is failing miserably at suppressing teenage sexuality in any way, shape, or form. In fact, they've proven with this same research that the abstinence-only agenda is having the opposite effect of that intended. The intelligent thing, if your goal is to prevent teenage pregnancy and the spread of STDs, would be to act on this research, using evidence-based practice, and withdraw the requirement for abstinence-only education from the American sex-ed curriculum.
They won't, however. And here's why: the point of the abstinence-only curriculum is not to prevent teen pregnancy. It is not to reduce the abortion rate. The goal is not even to reduce the spread of STDs or to increase the average age of the first sexual encounter. It isn't even intended to help teenagers avoid making serious emotional decisions before they're personally ready. It's intended to take the control of their sex lives out of their own hands, and to put it in the hands of their parents, in the hands of school administrators, in the hands of the church. It's not difficult to make the comparison between what's happening in the American sex-ed curriculum and the tendency for members of the Christian right to appropriate control of the sex lives of adult Americans.
The worst thing isn't even that they're trying to control peoples' most private parts of their private lives. It isn't even that certain Christians literally believe in all of the above, and can't understand any of my points. It's the fact that good Christians, who would believe in the present doctrine without political enforcement, are getting screwed in the crossfire. As in the example I pointed out so far above, the Christian right has succeeded in destroying the culture of Christianity by turning into a political agenda. Spirituality becomes irrelevant when religion is distilled down to a series of rules, and inserted into state doctrine.
Not only is the state trying to convince the secular faction that they are required to believe in these Christian teachings because they're allegedly "proven" using the "scientific method", (nevermind that religiously-funded studies or federally-funded studies conducted by religious groups have a shitty record of adhering to the scientific method), they're also distorting what is considered a very sacred text, quite literally altering its meaning on a whim to further a patriarchial, totalitarian agenda.
I try very hard, despite my secular leanings, to be very Christ-like in my life. I try to be open-minded and open-armed, to turn the other cheek, to accept the individuals most commonly rejected by society. I try to be mindful of my ability to be Christ-like, and generally try to avoid spreading gossip and drama, choosing instead more productive and anonymous avenues to let go of my frustration. Most of all, I believe that it is Christ-like indeed to condemn those who use Christianity and Christ's image to control the masses or to further their own agenda. Even Jesus lost his temper on those who sought to advance in life by exploiting religion; remember the scene where Jesus kicked over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple? "How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" Indeed, and how dare you turn my father's words into a savage guilt-trip for good people! To me, that's the most anti-Christian thing the Christian right has done.
How do we stop it? Fight, and be active. Fight for reproductive rights, fight for gender equality. Fight for acceptance of the GLBT community in the world at large. Fight sexual oppression; the reason AIDS in South Africa is a one-in-nine statistic isn't because people aren't adhering to scripture, it's because it's estimated that a man rapes a woman once every 35 seconds. Fight sexual obscurity; pass around unbiased, comprehensive websites on human sexuality, teach your children, be in touch with your own sexual self. Be active politically. Reject politicians on whose agenda is sexual oppression. Reject laws which allow your pharmacist or health care provider to deny his medical duty and refuse legitimate treatment for ideological reasons. Reject misogyny in all its forms; speak out against it as you would racism. Love all you can. And know thyself.