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Issue #1563      5 September 2012

Culture & Life

The religious – and nutty – Right

The attitude of the religious Right towards women is much in the news as I write this. In the USA, Mitt Romney’s campaign for pre-selection as the Republican candidate against Obama for US President had to go into urgent damage control after one of his highly placed supporters expounded the pseudo-scientific notion of “legitimate rape”.

Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

Todd Akin, Republican candidate in Missouri for the Senate, asserted that a woman who became pregnant after being raped could not have really been raped because “raped women don’t get pregnant”. Commenting on this astonishing piece of biological news, US radio commentator Jim Hightower noted that the reason Akin gave is “because – according to his grasp of reproductive science – the female body has ways ‘to shut that whole thing down’.”

Romney and the rest of the Republican hierarchy rushed to distance themselves from Akin. But as Hightower points out, “Guess who’s presently cosponsoring legislation with Akin to impose this theological witchcraft on America’s women? Why it’s Romney’s choice to hold the second-highest office in our nation, Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Like his buddy Todd, Ryan has sponsored many bills to deny abortion to victims of rape.

“Now, guess which party has just fully embraced Akin’s nuttiness by including his absolutist ‘no-abortion-even-in-the-case-of-rape’ provision in its national platform? Yes, the Romney-Ryan Republicans.”

Meanwhile, back home in Oz, the Sydney diocese of the Anglican Church has flagged that in October it will change its marriage service so that in future brides will vow to “love and submit” to their husbands.

Speaking in defence of this retrograde terminology, ordained Anglican minister Caroline Spencer said “while male headship might not be extended into the corporate workplace, it should be respected. Male headship is part of God’s good ordering of all society – not just His church.”

Ms Spencer recently presented a paper on this topic at the Anglican Church’s Sydney think-tank Moore Theological College. As Herald journalist and former member of the Sydney Anglican Synod, Julia Baird commented, “this paper is hugely significant because it reveals what is being taught at Australia’s most powerful Anglican theological college: that male dominance should define relations between all women and all men. In other words, women must respect the headship of men everywhere. This is the first time I am aware of that this has been stated so baldly and so publicly.”

Fortunately, if the letters columns of the Sydney Morning Herald and the chatter on the city’s talk-back radio are any guide, the mass of Anglicans in Sydney do not agree with the sexism of the Diocesan decision. Anglican women in particular are understandably dismayed and outraged.

Of course, no one should be dismayed, let alone surprised, when the Religious Right comes up with concepts either dotty or dangerous, or both. Nor does it matter where that Right is, be it in the USA, Australia, Israel or almost anywhere. Nutters are drawn to those who espouse fundamentalist views like moths to a flame. But there is no denying that they seem to positively swarm in the USA.

In Texas, for example, you will find Ted Cruz, presently running as Republican candidate for the US Senate. Ted is deeply concerned that the United Nations is plotting to take over America’s golf courses. (Most of the members of the militia movement that thrives in rural sectors of the US believe that the UN is up to all manner of evil doings across the USA, from kidnapping people in black helicopters to beaming mind-control rays at them from space. And what else should you expect: when a government sets out to make its populace paranoid, they are liable to become paranoid.)

Another Texas official, County Judge Tom Head, has unearthed a conspiracy involving the religious Right’s favourite bête noire President Obama and the dreaded UN (again). For most of these American nut jobs, Obama is a triple threat: a Black, a Red, and a Muslim. They don’t even believe he’s an American. He was born in Hawaii, but they like to assert that he’s actually from Kenya (as though that is a bad thing, in a country with a huge minority descended from African slaves!).

Jim Hightower quotes Judge Head as follows: “In this political climate, what is the worst thing that could happen? Obama gets back in the White House,” he [Head] answered to his own question. “No. God forbid,” he added. Why? Plunging deeper into paranoid darkness, Head announced that a re-elected Obama is “going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the UN.” And that, warned Head, will lead to the worst: “Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war, maybe. We’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy. Now what’s going to happen if we do that?” asked Head as he built to his logical conclusion: “[Obama’s] going to send in UN troops.”

Did I mention the prevalence of paranoia in the US? And of course, this sort of fantasy raises delightful paradoxes, such as whether NATO would provide the UN troops to occupy the USA?

The answer of course is that it’s nonsense, the ravings of a nut-job with no idea how the world works. The problem confronting the rest of us, however, is that the people in the US with the power seem to be flawed politicians like Obama, über rich patricians like Mitt Romney, loons like Todd Akin who think they are actually scientific, and militarists of every stripe. The not so numerous people of reason like Jim Hightower are too often voices crying in the wilderness.

Hightower describes himself thus: Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.  

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