Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fundamental Madness

Still Life with Fruit and Shellfish (and insects), 1653
Jan van Kessel

In my hut this summer,
there is nothing---
there is everything!


Know that joy is rarer, more difficult and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.

---Andre Gide

Don't play what's there, play what's not there.

---Miles Davis

My mother was a country girl, born and raised on a working farm in the dairy country around Frewsburg, New York. That is, she was until her father died suddenly just as she entered her teenage years. Then her mother had to sell the place and move her and her 2 sisters into a house in town. It was a difficult time, but through it all that family and the relatives were strengthened and maintained by a religion of strict fundamentalism. No dancing, no music that wasn't church, no theater, no card games (except one called rook, for some reason), lots of Bible and hours and hours at services. These were the United Brethren, a sect related to Amish and Mennonite, which communities also flourished in that part of New York. They still do, although I understand the United Brethren have disbanded. The radio humorist and writer Garrison Keillor was raised United Brethren and he talks about it sometimes---but not often.

My mother became a registered nurse and met my father at a hospital in the nearby city, where he was working as an orderly. He was not a churchgoer particularly, and some family history showed unrepented troubles. The more successful of the Carlsons were politicians and lawyers. His uncle Samuel was mayor of the town, eventually earning the honor of Mayor Emeritus of Jamestown, New York. All of this did not impress my mother's family one bit. The Johnsons opposed the relationship in spades---er, rooks. Dad had great interest and experience in drama, eventually getting a job with the fledgling radio station there. He also took leading parts in plays at the active community theater. When they married, the Johnsons saw it as my mom's seduction into sin by my father. Mom no longer went to church. When I was born a few years later I suppose I was viewed as some kind of bastard at best.

It was very strange growing up and being viewed by my mother's side this way. We didn't see much of them, but of course some family events were unavoidable. My father was well known in the area and he did his best to be cheerful and at least entertaining, but mostly it all was extremely uncomfortable. I had a cousin on that side who was a boy and about my age. We got along pretty well, but playing together was a bit strange since there was so much he couldn't do---and I had been coached not to mention those kinds of things. By the time he was a teenager he was one of the wildest boys in town, with fast cars and fast girls. His family moved quickly to repair that situation by sending him to a rigid bible college. He came back into the fold and remains there still. His 2 brothers-in-law are fundamentalist ministers.

It's really hard to measure and comprehend the effects on one's life of exclusion like this. I don't recall, except once maybe, anybody from the Johnson side trying to convert me or get me to acknowledge my sins. I think I would have been tolerated if I had approached them as a sinner in need of their salvation, but mostly I just felt rejected and alien all my life. I used to see those people once in a while but now that fundamentalists are claiming rule of the United States and the Middle East too, we don't anymore.

I'm very sensitive to fundamentalist presence around me, and that's particularly true in the schools where I work. When my son went through middle school, he received education in sexual matters including birth control. A few years later my daughter took the same courses and heard only about abstinence. Currently Federal funding prohibits teaching other birth control techniques and devices in this country. I saw a documentary on television recently about a girl in Texas who worked for 4 years to get sex education (other than abstinence) into her high school...and failed. A member of a fundamentalist church there herself, she had been confronted by her pastor with a remark that was quick shocking to me. He said many people think Christians are supposed to be tolerant, but actually "Christianity is a very intolerant religion."

A couple weeks ago Bryan Zepp wrote an essay about things fundamentalists won't tolerate. Apparently somewhere in the Bible it says shellfish really are insects and therefore not to be eaten. He presents a waitress confronting a restaurant owner that it's against her religion to serve lobster to a patron...from there to the sacredness of sperm and stem cells, and on to even a glimpse of the End Times. The essay, written I think the day before Bush vetoed stem cell legislation, has stayed with me and I'd like to share it. I'll warn you it's strongly worded.


Kosher Medicine
Keeping the jeezus wheezers out of your groin area
© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

Imagine that you are running a restaurant. It’s a fairly classy joint, nothing snobby, but you can go in and get a nice steak and the edges of your customers’ credit cards won’t be smoking when they leave.

Business is good, but a number of customers have asked about a “surf and turf” plate. You look into it, decide the menu can take a small expansion, and you add a steak and lobster plate.

It’s a hit, and you’re making a decent margin on it. But then one evening, one of your customers comes to you, irate, and tells you that one waitress has told him that she won’t serve the steak and lobster plate for religious reasons.

You confront the waitress, who explains that the bible says that lobsters are an insect, and are an abomination to eat (the bible actually does say that of all shellfish) and that she thus cannot serve it to others because it is wrong. She points out that when she entered your employ, the restaurant did not serve lobster.

You could mention the shrimp salad, but that’s only served on Fridays, and she had requested Friday from an hour before sundown until Saturday an hour after sundown off, and so you just simply never scheduled her for those two days.

So what do you do? The restaurant has the right to serve lobster. You try to respect the religious needs of your employees, scheduling those off who are observant of their sabbaths and allowing the Moslems to take their breaks to coincide with call to prayer. You can’t exactly set up different sections in your restaurant: “No lobster”; “No meat”; “Lactose-intolerant” and “No peanuts”. You already have warnings about milk and peanuts on your menu. You would go broke if you Balkanized the place like that.

Most of the restaurant owners would make a simple choice: tell the waitress to either serve anything available that is on the menu, or seek employment elsewhere.

Keep in mind that the bible strictures about eating lobster are very straightforward. God hates it. You will fry in hell for eating lobster.

Oddly enough, the bible doesn’t say anything about abortion or birth control. This, despite the fact that there were plenty of midwives around in biblical times who had elixirs and potions to induce abortions and decrease the possibility of pregnancy. Indeed, the only thing the bible says about ending or preventing a pregnancy is that if two men are fighting, and hit a woman, causing her to miscarry, they can be subject to a fine. (In America, those two could expect a fine and jail time).

So naturally, we have fundamentalist Christians who are cheerfully serving lobster on Friday nights across the country, while fundamentalists medical providers of all sorts take it upon themselves to deny patients treatment, care, or services that relate in any way to birth control or abortion.

So: abortion. No big deal. If you do it without the woman’s permission, you can get fined. Eating shellfish, very big deal. Fry in hell forever. Hiss, crackle, crackle. Bad juju. So the fundies go after abortion and birth control.

Now, I don’t have any desire to try and explain this thinking. I regard fundamentalism as a mental disorder, one that if allowed to take over a society can be extraordinarily destructive to life and liberty. Kept out of power, it’s a foible, one that can be tolerated. In power, it is madness incarnate.

America spends much of its time teetering on the verge of being taken over by one form of fundamentalism or another. If it isn’t the religious variety, it’s the free marketeers who believe against all logic that an empowered aristocracy will safeguard the rights and safety of working people.

At this time especially, it’s terrifying to realize that there are people in government, including possibly the president himself, who believe that the rapture can be brought about if America sides with Israel in a general regional war in the middle east. More rubbish based on the stoned writings of Saint John of Patmos.

Eventually someone in Israel will read Revelations and figure out that the storyline calls for Israel to get seriously fucked by the True Believers, and they’ll put the brakes on Armageddon. Hopefully. Israel is afflicted with their own brand of idiot fundies.

In the meantime, we have fundies here who are slobbering that God has placed them in positions where they can interfere with patients’ rights to legal and safe treatment because that’s what God wants, even though he’s sorta forgotten to mention it until the past century or so.

Now, if it was just a few fundies employed by stores and hospitals doing this, the stores and hospitals could tell them to seek employment in fields that didn’t conflict with their religious beliefs. I understand Dr. Dino is hiring. But unfortunately, organized religion has decided to get their way over the American people by simply buying out as many hospitals, clinics and pharmacies as possible. The Catholic Church alone controls a majority of the hospitals in America now, and they forbid abortions and contraception, even emergency post rape treatment to prevent pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the law (and the constitution) make it pretty much impossible to tell a business owner that he MUST violate his religious beliefs. You can’t force a fundamentalist restaurant owner to sell lobster, and you can’t tell the Catholic church that it must make abortions available.

Which means that the only real solution is socialized medicine. Allow the churches to own hospitals and pharmacies and the like, but if the American people want to retain their rights to all medical treatment, and not just that which doesn’t violate some fundie’s squeamishness, then they are going to have to act through their agent, the government, to make sure that they have access to medical treatment that doesn’t require permission from the Pope.

Of course, getting the government to go along isn’t easy, since the fundies have been trying to take that over, too. The Senate is expected to vote on stem-cell research tomorrow, allowing use of stem cells that derive from fertility treatments, but Putsch is expected to veto it. It’s part of that idiotic “every sperm is sacred” nonsense the fundies believe. Undifferentiated cells differ from fully developed human beings only in that fundies are willing to save the life of the cell.

You want to keep your freedoms? Then start thinking about giving the fundies a sharp rap on the snout and putting them in their place. That place is not on the back of your neck!

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