This morning my Facebook newsfeed included an image of a bloody thorn-crowned Christ on the cross. I’ve never understood why death is enshrined in our culture, especially at a time we’re seeing the natural world revive from winter. This is spring. Why worship death?
In reality, spring equinox and the celebration of Easter are simply new names for one of the oldest observances of mankind—the renewal of life. For millennia, sex has animated the celebration. Without sex, life would stop in its tracks.
So why has our celebration of spring has been stripped of its sexual origins and reframed in death?
Judeo-Christian religion has led the war against sex, somehow missing the point that perfect life in the Garden of Eden must have included sex. If not, then if Eve hadn’t tasted the apple, we wouldn’t be here. So it hardly follows that humans weren’t intended to have sex. Otherwise, what was the point of God’s fabulous creation if Adam and Eve were going to be the whole enchilada?
So right off the bat we can see that Eve and sex got a bad rap. Here we’ve been led to believe that sex and those troubling genitalia are intricately linked with sin and that’s why women are less than men and why men need to rule women with an iron hand.
No one can argue that religious rules came before sex. Sex existed from Day One, before primates, before cities. Unless of course you believe that God created Man and then crafted Woman from Adam’s rib and then boom, you had people without sex. (This story gets complicated if you ask how these two people produced the rest of us without incest.)
In the days before Christianity, civilizations worshipped sex as the best possible ceremony for welcoming spring. Now, not so much.
Unless spring break counts.
In case you haven’t already figured this out, I’ll warn you in advance that modern ceremonies tied to the spring equinox have little to do with celebrating the magical renewal of life and everything to do about controlling sex. Here’s my take on how that happened.
Among hunter-gatherers, women found it useful for men to bring food, skins, firewood, or other ‘gifts’ to exchange for sexual favors, sewn leggings, and a slab of fry bread. Women, stuck with staying home with the children, tended the fire and performed other more sedentary tasks while men ranged far afield in search of mammoth. Slowly, they began to connect the amazing dots between sex and reproduction. It was women who performed the magic.
Sex magic became ritualized as fortified settlements developed in fertile lands and material wealth could be accumulated. Pesky traveling salesmen entered the community. With wealth inheritance, keeping track of paternity became an issue. Rules governing and restricting females and their sex were necessary. Who wants his hard-earned herd of goats going to a son who looks at lot like that visiting salt dealer?
As the need for powerful enforcer gods developed to control unruly masses in crowded cities, traditions celebrating the springtime renewal of life became more complicated. They still needed sex magic to ensure fertility in their herds and crops. So they came up with ritualized sex.
In Sumeria, one of the earliest known civilizations, sex was celebrated at the spring equinox as part of fertility rites. A young woman would sit on the grounds of the goddess Ishtar’s temple and wait for a man to couple with her, a requirement to be fulfilled before she could get married.
Similarly, ancient Egyptians enshrined the sacred sex ritual in their god stories. Osiris was murdered and dismembered by his jealous brother Set then revived by his beloved sister and wife Isis, who found all the discarded parts of him except his phallus. So she crafted one out of gold and mated with him, producing the god Horus. Osiris thus died and was reborn. For sex.
In ancient Greece, the god of the spring equinox was Dionysus. He was associated with flowering plants and fruitful vines and survived a painful winter to celebrate the revival of life. Not surprisingly, the spring festival of Dionysia involved obscene songs and erotic dances intended to stimulate plant growth. In a continuation of tradition from prehistoric Crete, peasants participated in sex orgies on freshly plowed fields.
Slowly, power shifted away from the female’s sex magic as men took over. The idea of a male hero’s death and rebirth gained traction. Temple prostitutes might perform spring rites with the king or priests, but let’s not have the wives and daughters randomly consorting with men in freshly plowed fields. Gradually priestesses originally reserved for sex rituals became virgins dedicated to the (male) gods.
Our old friend Dionysus ranks among the most famous stories of death and rebirth in ancient religions. His mother Semele, a mortal impregnated by none other than Zeus, became the target of jealousy from Zeus’ aging wife Hera who suggested that the Zeus Semele thought got her with child wasn’t really the god Zeus. Acting on the idea Hera planted, Semele demanded Zeus show proof that the father of her child was in fact the All-Powerful Zeus.
Though Zeus begged her not to ask this, she persisted and he agreed. Therefore, he came to her wreathed in bolts of lightning; mortals, however, could not look upon an undisguised god without dying, and she perished in the ensuing blaze. Zeus rescued the unborn Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh.
Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer reached the obvious conclusion that old religions were at heart fertility cults that revolved around the worship and periodic sacrifice of a sacred king. In his work The Golden Bough, he argued that the king was the incarnation of a dying and reviving god, a solar deity who underwent a mystic marriage to a goddess of the Earth. He died at the harvest and was reincarnated in the spring.
So how did we get to a spring equinox religious ritual called Easter that includes not even a hint of sex? I mean, what is less erotic than the crucifixion? Last time I checked, Christ never enjoyed marriage, mystic or otherwise.
By now, everyone knows that Christianity superimposed itself onto old pagan traditions and holy days. So it’s no surprise that the Germanic custom to celebrate the lunar goddess Ostara on the first full moon after the spring equinox has become the Catholic Church’s method to set the date for Easter. And—you might have guessed—there’s also a direct connection between Ostara and Easter. The Germanic Saxon word for Ostara was Eostre: Easter.
Circa the time of Christ, folks needed to spruce up those old spring revival traditions from our pastoral past. What could be more logical than to replace the fecund female with the dying hero? The symbolism says the same thing—important stuff dies and then comes back to life. Only now, renewal of abundant crops gives way to life in an immortal hereafter gifted to humanity by a male Trinity bereft of any female sex.
You see how this works. Discredited by her pas de deux with a snake, Eve is the cause of God’s displeasure. She’s got no traction. It’s now up to the guys to keep the gods happy.
Meanwhile, with fairly little recognition for what lies beneath our modern customs and under the benign tolerance of the Church, we continue with a few of the old pagan accouterments of the Easter season—bunnies (an ancient symbol of fertility and new life) and eggs.
“The egg as a symbol of fertility and of renewed life goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians, who had also the custom of coloring and eating eggs during their spring festival.”
Robbed of her sexuality by divine insemination, the most revered female of the modern Christian church—Mary—becomes little more than a uterus by which the Divine Male is born to become the savior of humanity.
There’s something wrong with this picture.
A local (Northwest Arkansas) event celebrates women and the rites of spring through March 27. To learn more, visit The Goddess Festival.
Initiated in early spring, a study of Arkansas’ Department of Human Services (DHS) is Governor Asa Hutchinson’s first step in addressing systemic problems within the agency. The driving force behind this initiative was the ‘rehoming’ and subsequent rape of a six-year-old girl originally adopted by Rep. Justin Harris and his wife Marsha of West Fork, owner and operator of a pre-school, Growing God’s Kingdom.
Harris’ excuse for their ‘rehoming’ of two already traumatized little girls was that he had asked DHS for help and they had refused. He stated that the girls had been “damaged by previous abuse and he couldn’t manage them,” according to Friday’s coverage by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (July 17, 2015).
Unfortunately, the governor failed to require this study to investigate whether Harris abused the power of his legislative position to coerce DHS approval of the adoption in the first place.
The couple fostering the two girls prior to the Harris adoption have voiced their belief that Harris had done exactly that. More than one observer cited local caseworkers’ opposition to the adoption. Harris was warned that the girls would not be suitable for his household. He pushed the adoption through anyway and immediately included the girls in a photograph used in his reelection campaign.
Less than a year later, when he and his wife decided the girls were too much to handle, Harris ‘rehomed’ them to a Benton County couple, Eric Francis and his wife.
Harris may have believed that the Francis household would serve as a suitable home. He cited the couple’s adoption of other children as evidence of their suitability. In hindsight, an observer might suspect that the couple’s eagerness to adopt had to do with the husband’s predilection for molesting children rather than any altruistic urge.
Prior to a stiff “I’m sorry for what happened to the girls” statement in June, Harris has admitted no wrongdoing. Now that the governor’s study is complete, it seems no blame will be assigned. We can take small comfort that Harris won’t run for another term.
State police investigating the extent of Francis’ abuse forced Harris to acknowledge to parents of his preschool students that a former employee had been convicted of sexually molesting children. Investigators found no specific evidence that Francis abused any children at the preschool, but several parents removed their children from the program anyway.
A year passed.
Without a reporter digging into the matter, the link between the conviction of Eric Francis and the role of Justin and Marsha Harris would never have been made public. Harris had reasons not to want any of this known. Not only was he holding elected office and operating a religious pre-school, he served as the co-chair of the House committee with control over the Department of Human Services. The whole debacle reflected poorly on his judgement.
Apparently none of this lit up on Gov. Hutchinson’s radar when he commissioned the study of DHS even though the trigger for the study was Harris’ accusation that he had to rehome the girls because DHS wouldn’t help. There has been nothing from the governor or in the report to criticize Harris for ignoring DHS advice and pressing for the adoption. There’s been no known follow-up on whether Harris held up the DHS budget request as part of his coercion as alleged by some observers. There’s been no statement by any of Harris’ Republican colleagues in the state legislature as to his ethics–or lack thereof.
Yes, DHS has problems and the report confirms just how bad they are. None of that excuses what Harris did.
Gov. Hutchinson brought in Paul Vincent to conduct the study, an experienced career man who formerly headed Alabama’s social services department. Vincent has conducted similar studies in numerous states. His analysis reveals a state agency in deep distress, understaffed and suffering long-term problems, all of which fell under Harris’ purview as Vice Chair of the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth and as a member of the Joint Budget, a powerful committee which approves all appropriations for state agencies.
The study found that caseworkers in Arkansas are expected to handle twice as many cases as the national average (29 versus 15). The state has only two foster homes for every three children who need them which results in one of every five children in need being placed in a non-family living situation. Some caseworkers are forced to hold the child overnight at the office or at their own home.
The problem gets worse by the day. The number of children in foster care increased in just the last two months from 3,875 to 4,323. Fifty-five percent of fostered children are placed outside their home county because adequate arrangements aren’t available locally. With this kind of pressure within the system, the default option for caseworkers is to ignore cases where abuse is not clear cut.
The outcome is horrific. In 2011, 23 children died in families where social services had been in contact but had not taken the child out of the home. By 2014, the number jumped to 40. Most recently, a six year old boy died of intestinal rupture after being raped by his father. Social services had previously visited the home twice and found nothing to justify removing the child from the home.
The six-year-old raped after being rehomed by Justin and Marsha Harris came from an extremely troubled home situation. According to reports, this middle child of three daughters had already been through hell.
The girls had been taken into DHS custody in early 2011 after suffering through a staggering sequence of chaos and abuse. First, [the mother Sarah] Young discovered her husband sexually assaulting Jeannette, the oldest of the three girls, and turned him in; he is now in prison. (Other sources claim Young waited for days to turn the husband over to the police.) Young then became involved with a man who cooked and sold methamphetamine; a fire started by his meth lab provoked a police investigation that sent that man, too, to prison. The child abuse hotline soon thereafter received a call from an individual concerned for the girls’ safety, and investigators found the children in the care of a woman in a house with multiple adults who tested positive for meth; one man at the home had been sexually abusing both Jeannette and Mary, and he is now serving a 120-year sentence. When DHS collected the children, the eldest was 5, the middle girl was 3 and the youngest was under a year old. (More here)
Vincent pointed out the frustration experienced by caseworkers who want to help children and yet are left without sufficient resources and methods by which to do so. In response to the report, Gov. Hutchinson estimates it will mean hiring an additional 200 caseworkers at a cost of at least $8 million. No one knows where that money will come from.
Price tags remain unknown for the report’s recommendation for better and more accessible mental health care for foster children and others in the state’s care. For years, law enforcement and prison administrators have called for better mental health interventions for troubled offenders who end up incarcerated. The death toll among mentally ill prisoners continues to climb along with deaths of abused children while to date the state legislature has made no real strides in addressing this need.
Meanwhile, in their 2015 sessions Harris and fellow legislators spent countless hours fomenting unconstitutional laws to restrict abortion rights and to allow a Ten Commandments monument to be erected on state capitol grounds. And they’ve given themselves a pay increase from $15,869 to $39,400 per year.
If the Justin Harris case hadn’t been brought before the public by a reporter at the Arkansas Times, it’s questionable whether this study would have occurred. Because that’s how things are done in Arkansas. We don’t want to go looking for trouble.
We know trouble is out there. We know we are among the poorest states but other than appropriating scarce tax dollars to bribe companies to locate here, we can’t figure out how to do better.
Nearly 17% of Arkansans never graduate high school and less than 14% obtain a college degree. We have the next to lowest per capita income in the nation. Our crime rate is significantly higher than the national average and our prison population is growing accordingly. We also rank high in poor health, obesity, and use of tobacco and other dangerous drugs.
Despite the continuing lousy achievement levels in Arkansas, we seem incapable of trying to change anything. The conservative voters of this state loathe national standards in education; they want local control and tax dollars for programs such the Harris preschool where children are taught that their misbehavior is the result of demon possession.
Conservatives are outraged by the Affordable Care Act and legislators promise to end the state’s participation despite its progressive reforms including increased coverage for mental health care.
The governor says he will take the DHS problems to the faith-based community to increase foster care resources and improve care. Because religion helped Justin and Marsha Harris make good choices? Because religion guided Eric Francis? Because religion saved those little girls?
Based on recent news emerging from Arkansas, a casual observer might assume that a child molester lurks around every corner right along with married cousins and toothless hillbillies. I’m sorry that my beloved native state suffers such disrepute, but the fact is, there’s truth in it. In March, a story came to light about Arkansas State Representative Justin Harris and his wife and how they had ‘rehomed’ two little girls they had adopted, one of whom was raped by the new ‘father.’ Most recently, last week a Duggar family skeleton involving incest and pedophilia emerged from the closet, resulting in the prompt suspension of their popular television show “19 Kids and Counting” which aired for years on TLC network.
Is there any connection between these horrific incidents? I think there is.
The Harrises and the Duggars are evangelical Christians. They have, each in their own way, placed themselves in the public eye to advocate on behalf of their faith. There’s risk in holding up oneself as an example, as they are finding out.
Justin Harris is serving his third term in the Arkansas Legislature where he has introduced conservative measures ranging from abortion restriction to denying funding to the state’s department of human services under the campaign promise to reduce government spending. He and his wife own and operate a preschool in his legislative district town of West Fork, a largely rural constituency with a high percentage of fundamentalist church followers. Alongside the alphabet and fingerpainting, Mr. Harris’ school teaches religion.
In 2012, Harris found himself on the hot seat after a formal complaint was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Seems Mr. No Government Funding had his hand in the public till by obtaining grant funding for his preschool. Over a million dollars had flowed into his coffers, courtesy of a state agency charged with providing tax monies in support of preschools that addressed the needs of ‘underserved’ youth. Originating through the Arkansas Department of Education, federal and state taxes are channeled to the Department of Human Services (DHS) and its ABC program (Arkansas Better Chance), which awards grants based on a lengthy list of criteria including family income.
Mr. Harris mounted a vigorous and outraged defense of his right to all that money. He brought in a team of attorneys from Arizona who specialized in defending schools who want to teach Jesus on the public dime. Subsequently, the ABC program promulgated a set of rules specifically addressing the issue of religious instruction. It is unknown whether the ‘solution’ was put forth by the Arizona attorneys, modeled on rules operating in other states, or sprang from a singular Arkansas process, but the novel approach defines an ‘ABC day’ as a set number of hours of purely secular instruction. Whether religious instruction occurs before the ABC day commences or after it ends would not be the state’s concern.
Since then, Mr. Harris has expanded his operation and state funding approaches a million dollars annually. His students arrive as early as 7:30 a.m. and leave as late as 6 p.m. The ABC day begins at 9 and lasts until 3. Before and after, it’s all about Jesus.
Soon after the flap over school funding, the Harrises—who already had three sons—decided to adopt little three girls whose dysfunctional family had lost custody. The girls were fairly well adjusted in a foster home, but the natural mother allegedly made a personal plea to Justin Harris. This arguably admirable effort left many to question Harris’ quick use of the girls in a family portrait promoting his re-election campaign (a violation of adoption policy), the nearly $30,000 tax break that came with the adoption, and the monthly stipend allotted to Harris in the form of state support. Clearly, the adoption wasn’t all about benevolence.
Firmly fixated on the adoption idea, the Harrises refused to listen to DHS field agents who reported that the girls would not be suitable in the Harris household. With all the arrogance befitting a person who believed God directed his acts, Harris apparently used his elected office to pressure DHS to approve the adoption. Local caseworkers opposed to the adoption mysteriously changed their recommendation after their boss advocated on the Harris’ behalf. That Justin Harris held a powerful position in the legislative committee which controlled DHS funding seems never to have been examined as a possible contributor to this department head’s advocacy, which resulted in a local juvenile court judge granting the adoption. Unfortunately, because the case involves adoption, DHS has not released any information.
Within a year, the Harrises decided to ‘rehome’ the girls to another family. By early 2014, one of the girls had been raped by her new ‘father,’ Eric Cameron Francis. Later that year, Francis would be convicted of multiple counts of child abuse and is currently serving time. As it turns out, Francis had been an employee at the Harris preschool and his wife was good friends with Mrs. Harris. Not surprisingly, Harris chose to stay quiet about his role in placing the victim in the Francis home until a reporter from the Arkansas Times connected the dots. The story went public in March 2015.
When the adoption/rehoming scandal broke, Harris held a press conference as reported by the Arkansas Times. He presented himself and his family as the damaged party.
“The older girl, who would have been about 6 years old at the time she entered the Harris household, presented an imminent danger to his older three sons, Harris said. DHS ultimately placed the child into a hospital after just a few months of living with the family, and the Harrises did not proceed with the planned adoption [of that child]. He also said the younger sisters, ages 4 and 2 when they entered the Harris home, were violent. He said one of the girls — the implication was the middle sister — had to be medicated to stop hurting her sister, and that he was advised by therapists to treat her RAD [Reactive Attachment Disorder] by removing toys and other belongings from her room.
“After one of the two younger girls crushed a family pet to death, Harris said, he and his wife were advised by “a therapist, a psychiatrist and a pediatrician” to remove the children from the Harris home. He said he sought DHS assistance at that time but was given none. He said he thought he’d found the “perfect solution” in handing the girls over to Stacey Francis, a longtime friend of his wife’s, and her husband, Eric Cameron Francis. Eric Francis is serving 40 years in prison on charges of raping the child.”
[Francis had also been a children’s church group leader in Northwest Arkansas and abused other children besides the Harris adoptee.]
The foster family who had custody of the girls prior to the Harris involvement repudiated Harris’ allegations about the girls. They said the girls had been kind and loving, happy to be in a solid home situation and eager for affection. Other witnesses came forth to give similar statements. Unfortunately, no one other than the Arkansas Times has investigated the facts of this case, and since the Arkansas Legislature is the only agency with authority to remove Harris, he remains in public office despite a petition demanding his resignation signed by over 5000 people.
Within a month of the revelation that Arkansas DHS had no rule or restriction on the rehoming of adopted children, the state legislature passed a law making rehoming a felony. Harris voted for the bill, in essence making himself a retroactive felon. He resigned from the chairmanship of the public health committee, but failed to yield his legislative seat. He has also refused to accept any responsibility for the little girl’s sexual abuse. At the peak of this fiasco, his school billboard proclaimed that “God Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”
Throughout the intense scrutiny on Harris and his failure as an adoptive parent, a considerable body of information has come to light about ongoing religious activities at his preschool. Although random spot inspections by the state theoretically rule out the chance of illegal religious activity during the ‘ABC day,’ reports from former teachers and others allege that children who misbehave are routinely taken to the office where they are prayed over to ‘cast out demons.’ Harris has made efforts to gain official approval for singing religious songs during the lunch hour, since this was not an education period. It’s unclear at present exactly what level of religious activity occurs during the tax-funded ‘ABC day.’ Apparently the state isn’t all that eager to find out.
With the name of “Growing God’s Kingdom,” the school certainly should have received intense scrutiny from agencies charged with the responsibility of appropriately dispensing tax dollars. Instead, as previously stated, the state had blissfully doled out funds not only to the Harris school but also to several other religion-teaching preschools across the state, some of which were owned and operated by others elected to public office. And they continue to do so.
Currently, the new Republican governor Asa Hutchinson and the first-time-since-Reconstruction majority Republican legislature have passed a special dispensation to allow one of those religious pre-school owners/elected officials, Johnny Key, to serve as head of the state education department. The governor, himself a conservative religionist, formerly served as a member of Congress during which time he led the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton for his indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. At the same time, Asa’s brother Tim Hutchinson held elected office as a U.S. Senator. It came to light after the impeachment that Christian family man Tim had been carrying on an affair with his legislative director, Randi Fredholm, whom he married as soon as he divorced his wife. Lucky for him, no one initiated impeachment proceedings.
After the Harris rehoming debacle erupted, a bevy of complaints about DHS surfaced, especially about adoption practices. Governor Hutchinson appointed a special investigator to examine the department’s policies and procedures. While it is too early to say as the investigation results are due any day now, a cynical bystander might assume that the governor’s investigation will not examine whether Harris abused his office to obtain the adoption.
Also unclear is the legality of Arkansas preschool operations which comingle the Bible and education. Queries to the compliance office at DHS receive less than informative replies. For example, a recent question asked whether there is a viability test (for preschools which include religious instruction) to determine whether religious instruction could exist without tax funding of the ‘ABC day.’ Local contributions, the only funding that can be legally used for religious teaching, comprise only ten percent of the school’s funding. Would that ten percent be enough to provide the facilities and support needed to provide religious education?
No one knows. DHS confirmed that there is no viability test.
Like Justin Harris, the Duggar father Jim Bob served a stint in the state legislature, elected from a conservative district near Springdale. (The geographical distance between West Fork and Springdale is about twenty miles.) Duggar gained media recognition after his wife Michelle produced their twelfth child (or at some count along in there). Their home-schooled family has promoted themselves as the model for clean Christian living as Michelle continued to squeeze out another Duggar clone every other year. While Duggar originally supported his tribe through used car sales, the income from their television appearances superseded used cars sometime around 2010. It helped the bottom line that the family became a hot ticket item for talk shows and other celebrity circuit events.
Well, probably not so much since last week, when it became known that the Duggar’s oldest son Josh had been sexually molesting his younger sisters and other young females unfortunate enough to spend the night at the Duggar family home. The story first came to the parents’ attention in March 2002 when one of Josh’s victims came crying to her parents about his nighttime visits to her bedroom. He admitted his bad behavior and was disciplined. Four months later, he admitted to more of the same. More discipline.
The family had adopted ‘basic life principle’ instruction from Bill Gothard’s “Advanced Training Institute for Homeschooling.” As advised by Gothard, persons involved in a sexual abuse situation shouldn’t ask why God let it happen but instead consider what the abused person did wrong, such as dress immodestly, indecently expose the body, or hang out with evil friends. Further, “if the abused is not at fault,’ he/she should welcome the gift of gaining spiritual strength from the experience.
[Mr. Gothard resigned in March 2014 after female employees alleged over thirty incidents of sexual abuse. Evidently, they didn’t find their ‘gift’ of spiritual strength sufficiently rewarding to offset the experience of Mr. Gothard’s harassment.]
In March 2003 the now fifteen-year-old Josh Duggar was again outed by his siblings that he was still slipping into his sisters’ bedrooms at night to fondle their breasts and genitals. His touching also occurred on the living room couch, in the laundry room, and on at least one occasion, outside the home. At this point, the father arranged for Josh to spend three months with a family friend in Little Rock who put Josh to work helping remodel a house.
Upon his return home, his father took him to speak with an officer of the Arkansas State Police. It seems Corporal Hutchens was selected for good reasons. He did not file an official report despite a mandatory reporting requirement for law enforcement officers in such cases. Rather, the young man was subjected to a “very stern talk.”
[Subsequently, unrelated to his dereliction of duty in the Duggar case, the now 69-year-old Hutchins is serving a 56-year sentence for repeated child pornography.]
No doubt everyone prayed over everyone’s demons.
The cover-up of Josh Duggar’s pedophilia continued over the years until the statute of limitations had run for any sexual abuse charge. Then, triggered by a note that came to light in 2006 describing these activities, the local police department interviewed all family members and established a record. That too would remain a secret during the coming years including during a 2014 campaign funded and led by the Duggars in an effort to overturn a city ordinance passed in the neighboring city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, which established anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender people seeking housing, employment, etc. Michelle Duggar personally narrated a robo-call that urged the ordinance’s overthrow because under the law, she alleged, a transgender male could get into the women’s bathroom and sexually molest little girls.
Oh, the irony.
Die-hard supporters of Justin Harris and Josh Duggar lament that everyone is casting aspersions on them when they’ve asked Jesus for forgiveness and promised never to rehome or molest again. Duggar fans vow to boycott TLC programs until the “19 Kids and Counting” show returns to the air. They’ll probably be waiting a long time. Reportedly General Mills, one of the show’s top sponsors, made it abundantly clear to TLC that they would not be in that parade. Pundits remark that the Duggar explosion “taints the whole brand.”
One can only hope. Never mind that for years the Duggars have made a sickening spectacle of indiscriminate and unconscionable reproductive excess. Never mind that a more caring and responsible approach to a large family, assuming one absolutely must have a house full of children, would be to produce one or two of your own gene pool and then, for God’s sake, adopt some of the many children languishing in adoption facilities and foster homes here and around the world.
Above all else, the hypocrisy involved in the Harris and Duggar stories staggers the imagination. While firmly denying funding to DHS based on his campaign promise to reduce government spending, Mr. Harris fought for government handouts to fund his religious school in spite of the fact that he knew he was breaking the law by teaching religion in a tax-supported program. As an elected person who held himself up as an example of Christian righteousness, he should have been the first person to recognize he was crossing the line between church and state as delineated in the U. S. Constitution. Instead, assuming he understood the thrust of the Founding Fathers’ intent, he no doubt privately justified his behavior with his belief that God willed it.
We’re left to wonder if rehoming was God’s will. Or if God wanted that already traumatized six-year-old little girl to suffer rape at the hands Eric Francis.
Similarly, the Duggars must have decided that hiding Josh’s sexual perversion was God’s wish. After all, they undoubtedly prayed on it and God didn’t say to tell. The family had a mission to spread the Good Word to the world via their television show. Even a moron could figure out that TLC probably wouldn’t like to hear about Josh’s nighttime recreation. The Duggars called in favors from local friends and church members to sidestep the law. They failed to put Josh in the hands of a professional therapist who might have helped the young man overcome his predilection for sexually assaulting young children.
As it is, Josh now has a captive audience within his own family and only God knows whether he manages to resist the temptation to fondle them. We can only guess whether his sisters and other victims of his teenage abuse have received any professional help. Chances are, they prayed on it.
Underlying this sickening avalanche of news about Harris and the Duggars is a growing national problem. The evangelical right believes in demons, and they believe that praying can send the demons packing. The implicit teaching from infancy onward is that we as individuals are not responsible for our acts, but rather it’s those damn demons who creep in when we’re not looking. If we can just send those demons away, we’ll be smiled upon by Jesus and everything will be fine.
This kind of simplistic medieval thinking lies behind the ability of political handlers to capture votes from the evangelical demographic. The compelling argument is that demons rule the ‘other’ party, that gay marriage, abortion, and other private activities are the proper province of political action, and only by voting for Mr. Righteous can we satisfy the will of God. So far self-sustaining through multiple election cycles, this obsessed minority turn out to vote in numbers unlike other less fanatical segments of the population. In the most recent Arkansas election, the prevailing vote represented about 30% of the eligible voter base.
By voting sympathetic legislators into office, adherents are able to skirt the intent of the law that requires no tax dollars be spent in promoting religion and to place compatriots in positions of authority such as, in Arkansas, to head the state’s entire educational system. Johnny Key does not hold the master’s degree or ten years experience as a teacher which, until the 2015 actions of the Arkansas governor and legislature, would have barred him from serving the state’s top education post. Now, as long as the number two man meets those requirements, the state can put a favored religious legislator in the top slot.
Further, evangelical right wingers are able to spawn a network of pseudo-professional responses to serious matters of sexual abuse and direct the blame for such abuse toward the abused.
Fundamentally, the movement toward dozens of children, homeschooling, and the non-response to incestuous sexual molestation has to do with—at least in part—the liberation of women from their long history as male property. I’ve recently learned that my own great-grandfather molested one of my aunts, and probably many more, but none of this was discussed openly, nor was any action taken. It was his ‘right’ as the patriarch to thump his Bible and fiddle one of his pretty little ‘properties’ on the side. The aunt herself did not speak of it until old age, at which time she shared it with her sisters. Some of those sisters chose not to believe it really happened and continue to attend fundamentalist churches where women are not allowed to speak.
There are many features of modern life that scare the hell out of those who simply cannot understand science or other changes increasingly widespread in the world. Our technology and culture have evolved faster than our mental or physical state. Everything is too fast and too complicated. It’s only been a hundred years since picking peas and saddling a horse served as the requisite skill set to get through life.
Obviously not all evangelical Christians sexually abuse children or try to use tax dollars in support of religious education. However, a study examining the correlation between fundamentalism and such abuses would be interesting. A January 2014 article in Psychology Today summarized several studies which found positive correlation between low I.Q. and religious belief. One result of the studies was the conclusion “that conservative and fundamentalist religious beliefs can discourage learning.”
From ignorance comes fear, and for many fundamentalists, fear rules the day. Fomenting that fear serves a calculated political purpose that ultimately assures that power rests in the hands of the super-rich. The success of their calculation is demonstrated in increasingly skewed wealth distribution and an exponential increase in fear mongering.
For many, especially in southern states where low income and poor education help spawn the idea that cultivated ignorance is a form of virtue, the solution is to crawl back into the Middle Ages and believe that the problem is abortion, minorities, immigration, or homosexuality. We’re in real danger of allowing this misbegotten movement to gain power over our schools, political structures, and way of life. As long as the system loops back on itself with brainwashing in the early years and rejection of any understanding beyond their closed belief system, the Taliban is looking more and more like a local organization.
We shouldn’t hold our breath. Phil Robertson and the Church of Christ aren’t going to change. They pride themselves in rigidity, which they see as their unwavering discipline in the Word of God. Descended to American backwoods and byways from the Puritans and Presbyterian Scots tradition of strict religious practice, the practitioners of this fundamentalist sect forbid women to speak in church, refuse instrumental music, and do not offer Sunday school. Worship is intellectual rather than emotional, an embrace of rules and edicts interpreted from the King James version of the Bible.
I was raised in this church. There were preachers in the family, and church formed the social and political center of our lives. We went every time the door was open—literally. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, plus special nightly meetings with a traveling preacher or “singing” services where the church elders would take turns leading songs…a cappella, of course—all were mandatory to the true Christian.
None of this was fun. It wasn’t supposed to be fun. Oh, there were the sometimes pleasurable associations with others of our own kind. This was our world. There was the benefit of being relieved, temporarily, of our duty to work without ceasing. But whatever enjoyment might be gained in the gathering had to be tempered by the greater framework of our purpose in obedience to the Almighty Father’s plan. Outright laughter in the House of the Lord would have been unseemly.
The teachings were that humans were born with sin, and that we were here to suffer for it. Without a life of suffering, we couldn’t get to heaven. Sensory gratification formed the greatest temptation to sin, especially delight in The Flesh. It all served as major stumbling blocks on the road to salvation. Our embodiment in corporeal form was punishment, no ecstasy allowed. Joy came after life—if we toed the line. Otherwise we would burn in eternal hellfire. Church services dragged on with a few songs to break up sermons where a certain cadence of voice marked the rising passion of the message until the thundering conclusion arrived meant to stir every heart to confess the inevitable sin we all carried.
At the conclusion of the sermon, a song invited sinners to come home. Those with guilty consciences were expected to walk down the aisle of the church toward the front, where—if previously baptized—he/she would kneel and confess before the congregation. If not baptized, this wayward soul would be scheduled for full-immersion baptism, usually on the heels of the regular church program. Everyone would cluster in excited hushed conversation while the sinner was taken to a private room, dressed in a white gown, led to a tank of water which in many cases had not been warmed, and lowered into the water while the preacher called on God to welcome His new servant.
Although as a thoughtful female child I had resisted much of what the preachers had to say, I still wanted to belong to this club. I wanted to be saved, to experience the blessings of God, and partake in the weekly communion of wafers and grape juice given as a symbolic sharing of the body of Christ. I wanted that magical sense of well-being in my otherwise fretful existence. So when I was fourteen I walked down the aisle. My parents wept at my salvation. The water in that small Oklahoma church was ice cold, and I gasped as it surrounded me. Water flooded into my nose and mouth and I strangled. The thin cotton gown hid nothing when I stood up coughing in the miserable icy water, newly formed as a child of God but shivering as the wet fabric clung to my naked pubescent form. The overriding sensation was not that I had been welcomed to the loving arms of Jesus but that I wanted to die of humiliation
I didn’t feel saved, relieved, or welcomed. I would never admit it, not in those early years, but I didn’t really believe in any of it. How could a loving God also be an angry and vengeful God? Why was God a man if we were made in his image? Where did God come from? I asked these questions but quickly learned that these were questions not to be asked. Certain things were to be taken on faith. Shut up and listen.
I wanted to feel ecstasy about God the way I felt when I looked at a stunning blue sky or the wings of a butterfly. Everywhere around me I saw beauty, yet I wasn’t supposed to embrace the pleasures of the earth. Slowly I came to understand that only a sadistic, evil God would create a sensational world and people who gained such joy in experiencing those sensations, and then threaten eternal damnation for enjoying it. Nothing sacred or holy existed in that God. I rejected all of it.
For those who accept this belief system, the official expression is dour. Like Phil Robertson’s stern face, outward demeanor is meant to convey the seriousness of God’s judgment and unceasing fear of His wrath. Everything is sin, but especially certain things that threaten the patriarchal foundations of the faith. Women are advised to be obedient and serve their husbands in the same way that men are to serve God. As the lesser sex, woman’s path to God is through her husband, as he was formed in God’s image and she was formed from man’s rib. Many a sermon centers on woman’s innately sinful nature and her duty to suffer for tempting Adam to eat that damn apple.
In spite of their Christian belief in the role of Jesus Christ and the New Testament as the foundation of their religion, fundamentalists love to dredge up Old Testament bits as a rich source of rules and exhortations, with quoted sections carefully chosen to serve the featured topic of the day. Other parts of these old conglomerated writings, not so useful bits about slaves (how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves) or war captives (Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children.) tend to be left out.
As I grew older and made a point to study the entire Bible’s text, these selective uses of Scripture caused a growing cognitive dissonance that affirmed my instinctive rejection of this narrow-minded view of the world and of God. Perhaps most alarming, those most faithful to the dogma seemed to lack any real belief in their own salvation. Satan lurked at every corner. Constant fear and anxiety haunted my parents and others in the congregation. And ironically, instead of benefitting from their religious practice, they suffered. There was no joy.
To me, the most unacceptable tenant of the Church of Christ was the belief that this faith is the only path to God. Followers of all other belief systems are going to hell. There is no wiggle room on this point of total arrogance and closed-mindedness. Any hint of updating to a more open-minded view of our fellow man is trumped by the feverish fear of offending God.
Mr. Robertson and his ilk risk hellfire and damnation if they don’t exhort against sin. They believe it’s their Christian duty. Perhaps he faintly recognizes that he’s already skirting condemnation because he has accumulated great wealth, and this drives him to an ever-more agitated thumping of his holy book. (“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”)
If A&E had persevered in its banishment of Phil, he might have secretly welcomed his exile as a suitable end to his dabbling in the perverse world of commercial entertainment and all the divorce, blended families, homosexuality, half-dressed bodies, independent women, and other defilements of God’s plan that are routinely displayed there. Secure in his manly beard and violent conquest of Nature as his God-given right, Phil will always sink to the level of his ultimate comfort, the ways and beliefs he has always known.
As it is, he and his Ducky family can continue to feel righteous as they judge the rest of us. Once again in the tradition of all fundamentalists, they’ve managed to skip over key parts of their own literature: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”