Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is this debate about religious freedom or sex?

Probably the most cynical political comment ever made was in response to the execution by the justice system of one of the Bourbons by Napoleon. The remark was, "It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder." Nobody knows for sure who said it. But the cynicism is very deep, the point of the remark being that the really awful thing about it isn't the murder of a human being and making a travesty of the justice system but making a political blunder.

Something similar applies in the case of Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke "a slut". No one is particularly worked up by the remark itself, it's the political blunder that has everyone excited. I won't repeat the already made point that lots of other journalists and entertainers have said far worse things about other people and suffered no consequences. Rather, I'd point out to you that thousands of women marched the streets just last year in "Slutwalks" where they shouted they were proud to be sluts. The word simply does not have the power it used to have.

No, the problem is that Rush Limbaugh blundered. He gave away the game that many conservatives are more concerned about the sexual behaviour of others than they are about the issue of whether birth control should be covered by a government-sponsored health plan or whether religious employers should be forced to provide such plans against their conscience.

And he probably lost the debate for his side by letting this slip.

But he did let it slip, meaning that he didn't create this sentiment. Don't believe me? Well, let us go back to February 13 and read George Weigel writing in a piece called "The Libertine Police State".
For that was precisely what was at issue 18 years ago, and it is precisely what is at issue today: Will the sexual revolution, which reduced sex to a recreational activity of no moral consequence, be protected, advanced, and indeed mandated by the coercive powers of the modern state?
That sounds like a man who is very concerned about regulating other people's attitudes about sex.

It also sounds a bit delusional.  Let me state for the record that I think the notion that everyone should be eligible to have their birth control paid for as part of health care is insane. Even here in Canada with our one-payer system, we don't cover that. And anyone who thinks that making birth control more widely available is going to curb unwanted pregnancy is blind to the facts: it never has and it never will.

But the sexual revolution is being "protected, advanced and mandated" by the state? Enabled? Yes, it has been enabled by the state and the legal system but you can't enable something that doesn't want to happen anyway.

And if that isn't crazy enough for you, how about the sexual revolution is being "enforced" by the state? Well, he says that too:
It’s all about Leviathan as enforcer of the sexual revolution.
Again, this is way back on February 13. So, yes, for a lot of Catholic leaders and intellectuals, this debate was always about social norms regarding sex.

And that is a huge problem with the Catholic and socially conservative Protestant's argument about this issue. Catholics insist that there is something unnatural about sex as a purely purely recreational activity and I, and a long line of thinkers going back to Plato, agree with them. In fact, the vast majority of people largely agree with them. (Ask a man or woman who has just discovered that their partner is having sex with someone else if sex is a purely recreational activity of nor moral consequence.)What they don't see is that the new sexual freedoms aren't about that sort of libertinism. Most people accept that mistakes are made but think that individuals are capable of learning from their mistakes if they want to.

Catholics and socially conservative Protestants don't seem to want that. They seem to prefer a situation where the consequences of sexual license are harsh enough to discourage people from taking chances. They seem to believe that the attraction of sex are so powerful that no one can be trusted to learn from their mistakes.

Is it fair to characterize their views that way? I don't know. Some individuals definitely argue that way but others insist on their good faith otherwise and do their best to live up to it. When Rush Limbaugh said what he did, he destroyed their credibility.

This was an insane fight to pick for the Catholic church and other social conservatives and, if you'll pardon a vulgar expression here, you're about to get your ass handed to you on a plate.

1 comment:

  1. You're absolutely right. They don't want the government to impose what they perceive is its agenda on everyone, yet they have no qualms about imposing their agenda on everyone. Insanity! Limbaugh handed the liberals a gift on a silver platter, he destroyed the credibility of the social conservatives, and high time. I think this fight was an overzealous outgrowth of the misguided Manhattan Declaration, but they should have picked a battle they had a better change of winning.
    The only point I would take issue with is your characterization of recreational sex. For those of us who are not partnered--and there are more and more of us these days--purely recreational sex makes perfect sense. No harm no foul.