Hobby Lobby’s Slippery Slope

Hobby-LobbyI scoffed at the Hobby Lobby case when I first about it. I figured the company’s position on birth control coverage would be easily dismissed on the grounds that Hobby Lobby  is a nonreligious, for-profit entity, and therefore its complaints regarding birth control coverage were as irrelevant as a complementation business owner’s views on women working outside the home.Since complementarians must hire women no matter how zealously they dislike women with careers, I incorrectly assumed the Hobby Lobby case would be dismissed.

But now that there’s a good possibility that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of Hobby Lobby, I think we’re faced with the possibility (and maybe even the probability) that Obamacare may ultimately become a trojan horse for the Right. Rather than usher in a new, more liberalized society, Obamacare may help reverse reproductive rights in this country.

I know that sounds alarmist, but it seems as though every concession Obama makes for conservatives, and every ruling the courts make, has undermined health coverage for women. Keep in mind that the very same companies who are complaining about Obamacare’s contraceptive policy had outsourced their insurance coverage to companies who did offer contraceptive coverage. Forcing women to pay out of pocket for contraceptives will mean fewer women have access to them. Combined with the war on women and the mass closing of women’s health clinics, I believe that we’re facing a return to the institutional misogyny of the 50’s.

Annual costs for contraceptives range between $131-$172 a year per person. That may not sound like much, but for many women that’s a financial hit they won’t be able to afford, and that in turn will result in more unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

And more than any principled stance against contraceptives, more unwanted pregnancies are social conservatives’ primary goal. Liberated women who are able to live the life they choose and marry whom they want to, when they want to, and have children when they want to (if they want any children at all) are viewed as The Enemy. In the view of social conservatives, modern society exists because patriarchy has lost its grip, and the best way for patriarchy to regain its hold over society would be to subjugate women, leaving them at the mercy of their reproductive system.

This also explains why evangelicals have so eagerly embraced their inner Catholic. What’s fascinating is how rapidly they’ve shifted from a long history of dismissing (and even mocking) the Catholic Church’s stance against contraceptives, to recasting their reading of scripture so it falls in line with an anti-contraceptive stance. Once again evangelicalism has shown itself to be extremely malleable when their societal ambitions conflict with their traditional theology, and society as a whole is being forced to submit to their views.

The Right Seeks Converts, The Left Seeks Traitors

alec-baldwinBack in the 90’s I used to hang out at Christian messageboards. Ar first they helped serve as an outlet for the frustrations I felt dealing with the evangelicals I was hanging out with. Locking horns with fundamentalists online had fewer social consequences than doing the same with my Bible Study friends.

For me the most fascinating discussions took place when two fundamentalists found themselves on opposing sides of an issue, like the dating vs courting craze: Fundamentalist A would say that closely monitored dating was acceptable, while fundamentalist B would call A a foolish liberal and insist that courting was Biblically mandated. Or Fundamentalist A would b an Old Earth Creationist, while B would be a Young Earther.

Inevitably the more extreme Christian would accuse their brother or sister in Christ of being a heretic or dangerously misguided. A fascinating phenomenon would then take place: the fundamentalist whose faith was being questioned would start speaking like a moderate, and their tone would become much more polite while they defended their positions. This dynamic would escalate – the extremist becoming more aggressive, and the accused more delicate even as they pleaded for a truce – until an atheist or feminist showed up to give both fundamentalists a sweeter target.

You don’t see that happen on liberal forums. Liberals have a much harder time coping with dissension within their ranks. Witness the recent blowup regarding Alec Baldwin’s videotaped rant. I won’t delve into the particulars of Baldwin’s case; Wes Alwan has a good summary of it. Russell Brand is another example of a lefty found guilty of not being pure enough. Brand’s worthwhile essay (from which I lifted this post’s title) sums up the conservatism’s built-in political advantage well:

The right has all the advantages, just as the devil has all the best tunes. Conservatism appeals to our selfishness and fear, our desire and self-interest; they neatly nurture and then harvest the inherent and incubating individualism.

With that kind of disadvantage, the Left needs all of the help it can get. Instead, we see liberals engaging in a constant cycle of purging sinners like Baldwin, and doing so with more zeal than the conservatives who already despised the man for his politics. Women’s heath care clinics are being shut down across the country and liberals are busy fretting over whether Hollywood actors known for their off-color remarks can still be a part of the club.

Now you might be thinking that I’m guilty of making false equivalencies here. That fundamentalists sparring over doctrinal issues are in no way similar to Baldwin’s gay slurs. But here’s the point: in my examples, Fundamentalist B believes that A is preaching a false Gospel. In the end they come to no compromise, and B still believes that A is facing damnation. But they know how to make a truce and focus on their real adversaries.

Think about this: many evangelicals adore Glenn Beck. I know many evangelicals who buy Beck’s books, subscribe to his website. and follow his radio show religiously (pun intended). These people all know that Beck is a Mormon. They also believe that Glenn Beck is going to hell when he dies. That Beck’s religion has doomed millions to hellfire. They believe that Rush Limbaugh is bound for hell, too. And so is that doomed Catholic Rick Santorum.

These people don’t just disagree on minor issues like whether you can tell raunchy jokes and still be called a feminist. They believe that the moral foundation of their allies is built on falsehoods. And they look away. They take a utilitarian view and decide that these people are useful for their causes. Limbaugh and Beck might be going to hell, but they’re great at giving marching orders and rallying the troops. Not only do they get to stay in the club, they get promoted to be their loudest voices. Santorum is a warrior for one of their biggest causes, so they hold their nose, tolerate his Catholic values, and praise all the good he’s done for the pro-life cause. In spite of their reputation of being simple-minded sheep, the Right is able to approach politics with enough nuance to recognize that even heretics can join the team if they serve a useful role. While liberals fret whether they should ever allow Alec Baldwin to utter another word on causes that he’s supported for decades.

What Happened To The Culture Wars?

harry-potter-groupYesterday I came across an article about Russell Simmons on Salon’s website, and it occurred to me how dramatically the Culture Wars have changed in the past few years. For most of my life this type of missive against a sexually explicit video would have come from a conservative organization like Focus On The Family or the American Family Association. But if you peruse conservative websites, you won’t find Simmons’ video mentioned, aside from a brief blurb on Fox News.

I know that a lot of people will say that race changes the dynamic of the controversy, and that’s true. But it had me thinking: what happened to the constant barrage of conservative outrage against media that offends their sensibilities? Why are liberals nowadays so much more effective at communicating their outrage at the scandal of the week?

Think about it. One of the predominant narratives since the 50’s has been the tension between conservatives and media that they feel mocks and insults their worldview. The examples are countless: Elvis’s hips; The Beatles saying they were more popular than Jesus (rock music in general has been a constant source of consternation), as well as movies like The Last Temptation Of Christ and Dennis Franz’s scandalous butt shot on NYPD Blue. The last big cultural firestorm I can recall was the supernatural dangers of Harry Potter.

I’m sure that readers can think of much better examples that I’ve listed, and that’s the point: for decades, conservatives had a 24/7 outrage machine going. Liberal outrages tended to be more short-lived, and most of them could be neutralized with accusations of political correctness. Just to confirm my hunch, I checked out the above websites (as well as the Family Research Council and World Magazine). I couldn’t find any recent articles about an offending musician or TV show. That’s amazing!

I figured this puzzle warranted some thought, so here are my current theories:

1. For conservatives, the Culture Wars have shifted to more substantive terrain.

I know that sounds strange, but if you look at the websites above, you’ll see that (for the most part) they’ve moved beyond the trivial. They’re focused on questions that impact our lives at a deeper level: gay marriage, gay rights within the Boy Scouts, and religious expression. Even though I disagree with their position on these issues, they’re a big jump from warnings about which movies to avoid or whether the Dixie Chicks have betrayed America. 

2. The Wars have shifted because Conservatives no longer assume America shares its values.

I’ll admit I’m iffy on this one. Certainly conservatives still speak as if they do assume this. The Tea Party’s rhetoric is founded on it. But I think that Al Mohler’s post-election column hits closer to what’s really going on in the conservative psyche. It doesn’t seem as though they truly believe that that they have a Moral Majority anymore. As a result, their activism has been focused on a big-picture attempt to plead their case for a conservative worldview. Whereas it used to be enough to accuse TV shows of promoting the “homosexual agenda, ” nowadays support for gays is so widespread that they have to backtrack and try to justify their animosity towards gays. Focusing on the big stuff means letting the little battles go.

3. Big Media is more in tune with their values.

Back in the 2000’s I noticed that most of the flash points in pop culture revolved around the behavior of young women. The age of misbehaving rock stars was over, and it had been replaced by gossipy outrage over Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsey Lohan. Even then the scale of controversy was trending down. Whereas conservatives used to worry about Led Zeppelin spreading Satanism, now they were worried about Paris Hilton’s blase materialism.

Perhaps it’s a temporary phase, but we seem to have arrived at an era of Domesticated Media: Rock is dead, rappers stopped singing about killing cops, and the biggest movies are superhero movies that affirm traditional story lines of masculine heroism, responsibility, and good vs evil.

When celebrities do get in trouble, it’s usually because of a poorly thought out tweet, and they always apologize profusely. Liberals scorn Anthony Weiner’s sexual misadventures as zealously as they do, if not moreso. Whereas drug addiction used to be glamorized, now shows like Celebrity Rehab show addiction in all its pathetic, camera-hungry glory.

4. Media fragmentation isn’t conducive to conservative outrage.

A few months ago a Facebook friend of mine posted a petition trying to get network TV to  clean up its prime time shows. It was the kind of thing conservatives used to love getting behind. Instead her fellow conservatives gently dismissed her efforts, pointing out that sex and violence are so widespread that getting four channels to fall in line meant nothing if a thousand more channels were broadcasting salacious fare at the same time.  The difference was that my friend was a homeschooling mom who never subscribed to cable. She’s still living in an Old Media world. Nowadays the audience for any one show is smaller, and the cultural influence of those shows is also smaller.

Same goes for music. Beyonce is probably the biggest star of the moment, but her influence pales in comparison to Madonna or Nirvana’s.

5. Media fragmentation makes it easier to ignore the unwanted noise.

Epistemic closure is a bane of our times. It’s a big reason why it’s so difficult for the Left to engage the Right; each side consumes its own news and entertainment, so a person can easily get by without ever being exposed to the ideas and values of the other side. Services like Netflix mean that my homeschooling friend has the capacity to just bring up the latest family-friendly offering for her kids any time she wants to. No one is stuck having to choose between the network options.

In terms of the culture wars, this means that conservatives are often only exposed to controversial media when a sympathetic news source writes an article about it.  The more organizations like Focus On The Family emphasize politics and advice columns, the less controversial media they are exposed to.

6. The scattershot nature of the web is much more conducive to liberal outrage.

To me the biggest contrast between liberal and conservative activism is their attention span. Liberals get revved up for presidential elections while conservatives keep their energy up for off-year elections, too. Liberals are prone for small-scale squabbles within their ranks, while conservatives find it easier to ignore shortcomings and close ranks for a common cause. Evangelicals ignore Glenn Beck’s Mormonism because he’s rallying the troops, so to say. They don’t care if he’s going to hell; he’s useful for their needs.

Liberals, on the other hand, parse whether Caitlin Moran is feminist enough, or whether the Newsroom communicates liberal ideas effectively. I’m not debating the merits of these dialogues. My point is that both of these were quick but testy discussions that garnered the desired results (i.e. apologies and promises to behave better and write more effectively). Then liberals are on to the next internal debate.

I think a lot of this happens because modern media is ADD by nature. Controversies rarely last more than four days, let alone a week, and celebrities are so conditioned to the “offend-apologize-pray for forgiveness cycle” that it’s an extremely effective means of getting your message out when you’re upset (provided your target self-identifies as liberal.) Conservatives don’t have this apology culture because they’re willing to forgive the most flagrant transgressions.

7. Conservatives have decided that it doesn’t matter  if they lose the Culture Wars.

Conservatives are predisposed in long term battles. They’re still fighting to shut down Obamacare; they’re still trying to turn the clock back against gay acceptance. They’re still fighting to get Roe V Wade overturned or gutted to the point where an abortion is impossible to acquire. They lose these internet scuffles or ignore them outright, so the liberal tendency towards the short-term infighting plays into their hands. Conservatives know they are faced with a demographic crisis, so they focus on redistricting to neutralize minority growth and having more kids so they can groom future true believers. Even though there are many passionate holdouts, many conservatives shifted their focus from fighting gay acceptance to persuading the faithful to stay strong.

From the conservative point of view, who cares what policies Obama advocates if they can stop them cold? Who cares about the growing minority population when they can rig state elections so they stay in power and make it harder for minorities to vote? Focus on the Family doesn’t need to heap scorn on Beyonce because they’re fighting a bigger fight. And while liberals fuss over whether Caitlin Moran is a true feminist, conservatives are learning that the Legislative Wars matter more than the Culture Wars.

Thinking Outside The Box On Abortion

Recently I got into a surprisingly civil discussion about abortion on Facebook.

Because of my beliefs I find these debates easier to navigate than most people probably do, since I can find common ground with both sides. The downside is of course that finding common ground with both sides means that I’m not perfectly aligned with either of them.

As I see it, we need a solution to the abortion issue that gives both sides something they want. Odds are my ideas will make both sides more unhappy than not. But this is my Quixotic attempt at finding a compromise.

Full confession up front: I am pro-choice. But i do think that the pro-choice side is on the losing side of the moral debate over the viability and humanity of the fetus. And as science improves, there will be more opportunities for treating infant disabilities and maternal health concerns in utero, which are two of the reasons women may choose abortion. In other words, over time science will shrink the number of cases where the life of the mother is at risk. Medical research will eventually reduce the number of cases where the child is irreversibly severely or fatally disabled.

I’ll address my moral reasoning on abortion in a future post. I want to spend this post on the policy solutions I have come up with. I presented these ideas to my pro-life friends, so much of this is skewed towards meeting their concerns. I hope that tucked within these solutions are ideas that will appeal to pro-choice people as well. I confess that most of these solutions play down my belief that a woman’s right to do what she wishes with her body outweighs the fetus’ life. However, since I geared these solutions towards my pro-life audience, the language here will mainly address their concerns.

First, the context. The conversation arose when a Christian friend of mine made the statement that he would be willing to go along with any politician or policy if it meant saving children from abortion. I was impressed with the flexibility within his statement.

You can parse whether you thought he really meant it, but I decided to treat his statement as if he did. It’s rare to get someone from the pro-life position make such a statement, so I leaped on the opportunity to get on my soapbox.

I began with presenting him with some rough date. The demand for adoption isn’t high enough to meet the number of abortions. Every year there are roughly 1 million abortions and 100,000 adoptions. I knew that in recent years the number of abortions has declined in the neighborhood of 700,00, but since most past years it has hovered around 1 million, I decided to go with it rather than debate data specifics.

While in an ideal world I’d love to see the the number of abortions go to zero and have all women give birth to babies who are healthy and loved and have no impact on overpopulation concerns, that’s not reality. We have to deal with the world we live in.

So to begin with, if we are going to fulfill my friend’s goal and save a million babies per year from abortion (or as close to that number as can be achieved), there has to be a place for those babies per year to go. I will assume her that Roe V Wade will not be turned ove. Again,I’m setting aside the debate over whether the Supreme Court might overturn it or the awful ways states are denying women access to health care and abortion.

So let’s look at some of the key reasons why women choose abortion. Among the most common reasons are: health of the mother or child; ignorance about birth control; inability to access birth control; concerns over quality of life for the child;  and concerns over career or losing a job to care for the child. I know that there are a lot of other reasons, and I think that all of these are good reasons to have an abortion. But I think there are ways we can address them to reduce the number of them.

As I see it,  adoption is a persuasive alternativs because many mothers are concerned about their child’s prospective quality of life. For a variety of reasons they may be financially unable to care for the child or fear they wil be unfit mothers. Adoption  helps assuage some of these concerns.

The problem with adoption is twofold: the demand isn’t high enough to meet the number of abortions per year, and the process takes too long and is too strict and costly for many prospective adoptive parents to endure.  Again, keep in mind that my language in these solutions was skewed towards a pro-life audience. My ideas are sincere, but I avoided making apologies or defending the pro-choice position in order get my ideas across:

So my first suggestion would be to make adoption as easy as having a child by pregnancy. Drop all fees related to the process. The only people who should be screened out are people with a criminal record related to abuse of children. Accept the fact that this will mean lots of abuse cases and awful stories. Since they believe that a live child with bad parents is better off than a dead child, let’s respect one of their primary solutions and expand it.

2. Guarantee that a woman can keep her job at full salary if she gets pregnant. Set up a government fund where the employer can apply for financial aid and temp assistance if needed. Make the employer rather than the pregnant woman obligated to apply for aid, because the goal is to eliminate areas of concern that might lead a woman to abortion.3. Treat sexual politics the way we treat other facets of political life. In my view, most Christians recognize that good foreign policy and good economic policy often results in actions that are inconsistent with scripture. My friend is a Republican so I knew I had a different set of moral inconsistencies in mind than he has. But aside from pacifists, even most liberal Christians agree that going to war against Hitler and Al Quaeda were justifiable actions even though they violated Jesus’ teachings. Heck, a good case can be made that the Revolutionary War was unbiblical. But consciously or not, almost all Christians accept that there are times when our worldly concerns supersede Biblical edicts against violence, deception, or loving our international neighbors.

(I don’t personally equate abortion with Hitler, by the way. But pro-lifers do. And if you’re going to persuade them to see the unfeasibility of their political positions on sex, then you have to point to an example they may be willing to concede. I know plenty of conservative Christians who will admit that killing Bin Laden doesn’t line up with the Bible, but they justify in secular terms. That’s an opening that allows for my analogy as a path into their thinking.)

But more than any other topic, Christians tend to want to have “everything” with sexual politics: abstinence, patriarchy (obviously I didn’t bring up that one!) and a culture that has a conservative Christian outlook towards sexuality and life. Waiting for that to happen is like waiting for all of the terrorists to drop their weapons and accept Christ. As I see it, to meet their goal of saving babies from abortion, the pro-life movement has to accept that their values (especially their conservative Christian values) are not values shared by most people who live in this country. Even those who self-identify as conservative Christians tend to prefer a secular society over a Theocratic one.  So they need to meet the interests of  people who would never seek out a church or a Crisis Pregnancy Center, or anyone else who might judge them for their pregnancy.

Currently studies show that usage of birth control prevents more pregnancy than abstinence education does. Abstinence education will persuade a percentage of women, so keep it for those families who will support abstinence values. Yes, I know that currently many states insist on abstinence only. That needs to change.

But I think we have to be realistic about the values at home. A teenager who gets an abstinence education but shares none of the values intrinsic towards abstinence education will end up being a person with a poor or misleading sexual education and no moral inclination to wait for sex until marriage. Studies show that teen pregnancy is most common in Red States, so obviously many teenagers aren’t on board with abstinence education. That said, I think we should give pro-lifers abstinence as an option for their child . It’s naive to believe that a “secular” sexual education wil get support in a conservative Christian home. These parents will nullify the benefits of a good sexual education by giving them alternative views that cause their kids to distrust and reject their  “secular” sexual education.

4. In terms of pro-life interests, the people who don’t accept abstinence values are the ones they need to be reach if they want to lower the number of abortions. (By “reaching” I mean options that do not include their pro-life intervention or their sexual values.)

So make it very easy for women (even teens) to gain access to contraception. No screening or judgement. Put the proverbial condom machine in the school if necessary. Since their primary goal is to lower the number of abortions as much as possible, they must sacrifice other related concerns. They can still teach their kids the value of abstinence, but they have to drop the push for getting other people to live they way they want them to. An atheist teen won’t see any point in waiting for sex until marriage, so they have to stop pretending that they can persuade them. Denying them contraception just raises the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore the number of abortions.

Finally, I think we should invest a huge amount of money into foster homes, prenatal care, and childcare. There should be almost as much money invested in supplying pregnant and new mothers with care and support as there is the elderly. Personally I would go for universal healthcare (even socialist health care). But we’ll never win them over on that cause.

The point here is if women live in a society where they can’t afford a child, then create a society where all women can afford one. Conservative Christians can continue their ministry services for pregnant women as they always have, but their goal should be to reach those women who would never walk into a Crisis Pregnancy Center. In other towards, forget the humiliating ultrasounds, denying access to Planned Parenthood clinics, and the “slut shaming’ they love to engage in. Accept that women will make sexual choices they disagree with in the same way they accept that women will make religious choices. (Despite what it may seem, most Christians- even fundamentalists -care more about the culture wars than they do evangelizing.)

I don’t pretend that all of this jibes with scripture or addresses every issue related to abortion. I realize that most of my solutions address teen pregnancy, but for now that’s where most of my ideas are. But if the goal is to lower the number of abortions as much as possible, then conservative Christians have to give up on a large cross-section of the culture wars.