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Bachmann’s Monstrosity

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Alleged sensibly moderate Republican Michael Gerson displays some actual sensible moderation:

Try to imagine a parent-daughter conversation about sexual restraint and maturity that includes the words: “Honey, I’m going to deny you a vaccine that prevents a horrible, bleeding cancer, just as a little reminder of the religious values I’ve been trying to teach you.” This would be morally monstrous. Such ethical electroshock therapy has nothing to do with cultivation of character in children. It certainly has nothing to do with Christianity, which teaches that moral rules are created for the benefit of the individual, not to punish them with preventable death.

This approach to moral education may appeal to a certain kind of conservative politician. How could it possibly appeal to a parent, conservative or otherwise?

Alas, I don’t think this argument is going to go anywhere among other Republicans. I fully expect Rick Perry to pledge to make Jenny McCarthy his Surgeon General to repent for his heresy of accidentally advancing a good policy.

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  • Sly

    This approach to moral education may appeal to a certain kind of conservative politician. How could it possibly appeal to a parent, conservative or otherwise?

    Via Michelle Goldberg’s excellent book, Kingdom Coming, “abstinence educator” Pamela Stenzel, who was a consultant for the Bush Administration, provides an answer to that very question:

    At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate, a question she regarded as risible.

    “What he’s asking,” she said, “is ‘does it work?’ You know what? Doesn’t matter. ‘Cause guess what? My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public school’s job should not be to keep teens from having sex.”

    Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!” And I should say that up ’til then, I agreed with her. But here’s what she means by the truth:

    “People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you to commit yourself to truth? Not what works, to truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day, I’m not answering to you. I’m answering to God.

    “Let me tell you something, People of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy! I will not teach my child that they can sin safely!”

    Better to save souls than to save lives, because souls last forever and the pain you endure while alive is transitory in the grand scheme of things. It has a syllogistic stupidity to it that only makes sense once you run healthy moral decision-making through a fundamentalist decoder ring.

    • c u n d gulag

      Kind of makes you wonder what epitaph they’d put on their child’s tombstone?

      “The Slut Deserved It!”

      Or, maybe –
      “Just How Hot Is It Down There, Slut?”

      The rightious among them are some seriously sick people.

      • Sly

        Kind of makes you wonder what epitaph they’d put on their child’s tombstone?

        Something along the lines of, “I hope, in your final moments, you turned to God.”

        The fundamental basis for parental decision-making, passed down to us through millions of years of evolution, is the “safety” of offspring. From an evolutionary standpoint, the safety of offspring is necessary for the future propagation of inheritable traits, one of which is the safety imperative itself. The more inclined a parent is toward offspring safety, the better chance their offspring will grow up and reproduce and pass along that trait, ad infinitum.

        But this imperative manifests itself in all sorts of kooky ways depending on what the word “safety” actually means, because the definition will change as it gets filtered through various emotional and cultural systems.

        There’s a basic moral calculus that takes on all sorts of different dimensions with each variable you add to it. The concept of an immortal “soul”, an afterlife in which that “soul” is the recipient of rewards/punishments, sets of rules that privilege those rewards/punishments over the consequences encountered during life, etc. Each of these variables, and the emphasis the individual psyche places on them, will distort the moral calculus to some degree.

        In the extreme form, where “safety” is extended along an infinite time scale upon which there is a point where physical safety no longer matters, you get the extremism of Stenzel. Or, perhaps, the official position of the Catholic Church, which is that AIDS is bad but condoms are worse. And its crucial to remember that, as monstrous as these beliefs appear, the underlying calculus hasn’t disappeared. She still cares for the safety of her daughter. It’s just that her fanaticism has turned the imperative on its head.

        • c u n d gulag

          I don’t know that I agree with all of that. Parts of it, certainly.

          Where do we put Alan Keyes and people of his ilk who disown their children for the “sin” of being homosexual?

          I’m sorry, but I consider a lot of these rightious people to be amoral, sociopathic monsters.
          It’s THEIR will be done, not the Lords!

          It’s as if not one of these Christians has ever cracked the New Testament and read about the person who supposedly is their Saviour and his message of forgiveness, but prefer instead the Old Testaments vengeful God.

          • Sly

            Where do we put Alan Keyes and people of his ilk who disown their children for the “sin” of being homosexual?

            Sometimes its selfishness. There are brands of fundamentalists who believe that if they show any tolerance or forgiveness towards the sins of others at all, they too will face the wrath of the Almighty. Remember, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for going so far as to look back at the city of Sodom as she and her family was running from the blaze.

            It’s certainly sociopathic. But its probably dangerous to assume that all of them are sociopaths.

            • c u n d gulag

              You’re right, but I’m not saying all of them are sociopaths.

              I’m talking about the holier-than-thou, rightious, sanctimonious ones.

              Pat Robertson’s an example. He’s a minister/preacher.
              But there are countless others out there who are not at the head of a church, unless that church is ‘The Church of I’m Right and Rightious, and You’re Evil and Will Burn in Hell Because You Don’t Agree With Me.”

              They confuse God with themselves, and God’s word with what they say.

        • Actually, the Catholic Church has revised its position on condoms– they are acceptable for the prevention of disease (within marriage) but condemned when used for contraception. As an atheist and a former Catholic I enjoy keeping track of these sort of angels on the head of a pin distinctions.

    • DrDick

      once you run healthy moral decision-making through a fundamentalist decoder ring shredder.

      FTFY

    • mark f

      “Let me tell you something, People of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy! I will not teach my child that they can sin safely!”

      Jesus Fucking Christ, no pun intended.

      I think it takes about replacement level imagination to conjure a scenario in which a sinless person suffers from Stenzel’s “consequences” of “sin.” A perfectly pious and faithful woman could get AIDS from her cheating husband, for example. And indeed, many millions of people commit sins of sexual and other natures without suffering any consequences in life.

      My background is Catholic, so maybe my training isn’t Christian enough to understand “the truth,” but I seem to remember from CCD several ways the Bible reconciles notions of one’s responsibility to God with the arbitrary, morally aloof nature of life on Earth.

      Why does it seem that the most insistently faithful people are the least willing to leave the moral reckoning in God’s hands?

      • Sly

        I think it takes about replacement level imagination to conjure a scenario in which a sinless person suffers from Stenzel’s “consequences” of “sin.” A perfectly pious and faithful woman could get AIDS from her cheating husband, for example. And indeed, many millions of people commit sins of sexual and other natures without suffering any consequences in life.

        And Stenzel would say: “If a perfectly pious woman gets AIDS from her cheating husband, it won’t matter. She’s going to have an eternity of bliss, seated at the right hand of the Lord. And if her cheating husband mends his ways and turns to Christ, he’ll experience the same eternal joy. I could even help him make that turn. If he won’t… well… his blood isn’t on my hands.”

        In other words, it’s not that these people can’t see the full scope of what they believe, or even that their basic ability to make moral decisions is fundamentally flawed in some way. If you look at the process they use, its fairly logical. The problem is that their incorporating into that process a whole set of data for which empirical evidence is severely lacking. And they can’t doubt the assumptions offered to them by religious dogma because doing so would endanger their own safety.

        This is why fundamentalism is poison. Your more “insistent” brand of atheist, like Sam Harris, will say that this is the reason why religion in general is poison. In a theoretical sense, he may be right. But in a practical sense, the vast majority of people who hold religious beliefs don’t think like Stenzel. It’s not just what a person believes, but how hard they believe it.

        • mark f

          Let me first note that while my background is Catholic and I have theocurious tendencies, I consider myself an atheist. Below I’m trying to speak in the language and logic of a believer.

          But according to every strain of Christianity I am aware of, every single born person is a sinner. Many of us, even some who have committed the most serious sins, will live into old age and die without suffering any direct earthly consequences; others who are only sinners in the most passive sense will die horrible deaths, like the babies in Somalia’s famine. Our places at God’s side or in Hell are contingent upon our faith and how it guides our behavior, not on what tribulations befall us in life. What Stenzel is saying, especially in the case of HPV vaccines, where she’s withholding medical treatment from a minor, is that she has a right to an active role in delivering God’s wrath. This seems to me to be a profound corruption of the whole idea of God and morality in general.

          • Davis X. Machina

            What Stenzel is saying… is that.. she has a right to an active role in delivering God’s wrath.

            The hell she does. It’s presumption of the worst order, and blasphemous on its face.

            It’s not just that we’re enabled to figure out we don’t get to judge for prudential reasons –for the benefit of the slow learners among us, we’re told we don’t get to judge. Repeatedly. Over and over again.

          • Sly

            What Stenzel is saying, especially in the case of HPV vaccines, where she’s withholding medical treatment from a minor, is that she has a right to an active role in delivering God’s wrath.

            I don’t think that’s her argument. Her argument is that, as a parent, she has a right to an active role in shielding her child from God’s wrath. More to the point, she insists that she refuses to take an active role in undermining her child’s “true” safety. She is positioning “HPV and a hysterectomy at 20” as a worse outcome than “an eternity separated from God,” to such an extent that the physical consequence is of infinitesimally minor importance compared to the mystical one.

            The logic is there (though I will readily concede that you have to look for it in order to find it), but the fanatical devotion to specious claims about how the the world functions perverts it. My point with bringing up Harris was that people can adhere to specious claims in a limited sense and not manifest the kind of maladaptive approach to making moral decisions that Stenzel clearly does.

            • mark f

              But God’s rewards are always attainable, or re-attainable, so there’s no logical reason Stenzel couldn’t deliver her daughter from both physical and mystical consequences. Unless she’s either short on faith in herself, her daughter and God, or if she thinks HPV and other maladies are just deserts.

              • mpowell

                Yeah, I have to agree with this. I understand the argument Stenzel is making regarding her daughter’s immortal soul, but her conclusion is still wrong for a number of different reasons. It is one thing to teach your daughter what you believe to be true, that you should not sin or you will you spend an eternity in hell but it is quite another to try and prevent a secular state from taking actions to protect the physical safety of its minors. Asking the state to provide abstinence education (for religious reasons) along side safe sex education would be a reasonable conclusion (though it wouldn’t be permitted under the principle of separation of church and state).

                The only justification here is that by keeping the physical risk present, she will help her daughter avoid sin. But biblically, this is not a sound principle (sin in the mind is just as good as in the flesh).

                So ultimately, I cannot agree that Stenzel’s position results from a logical processing of deeply held prior beliefs regarding our immortal souls. What actually happens is that being seeped in a particular form of religious culture has corrupted and perverted her moral reasoning to the point that she reaches conclusions based on her internal biases as much as reason. The thing to remember is that religious people are not typically great examples of pristine reasoning machines. They are typically at least as predisposed to sloppy and prejudicial reasoning as the average adult and it would be quite astonishing if they were frequently capable of entirely separating their particularly strong prejudices from their reasoning process.

                • Sly

                  I doubt that Stenzel sees usefulness in keeping the medical risks of sex unmitigated. Some conservative evangelicals do, certainly, but its not a universal view. Stenzel simply doesn’t care about those risks. Her moral decision making has reduced their importance to such an extent that they no longer matter at all. What matters is whether her daughter believes she can “sin without consequence.” The consequence Stenzel is talking about isn’t physical (i.e. getting pregnant or becoming a cervical cancer victim), but spiritual. I doubt if she or most conservative evangelicals would care if HPV or HIV were wiped off the face of the Earth tomorrow.

                  The Catholic Church certainly doesn’t want to see an untold number of impoverished Africans die each year due to complications from AIDS. IF they did, they wouldn’t even bother sending missionaries to Africa in the first place. But knowing that an untold number of Africans will be going to Hell because the Church gave them tacit permission to sin by distributing condoms… that’s actually worse. It’s not simply worse as a matter of moral sympathizing, but it puts the sanctity of the Church itself in jeopardy.

                  And that is generally the kind of language you hear from the sexual obsessives. “Permissiveness.” On the one hand, they have a duty to spread the Gospel first and foremost. Above addressing any other material need, and anything that undermines that mission has to go. On the other hand, they risk their own salvation through the very act of tolerating anything that might have a secularizing effect. If they do, God will be mad at them.

                  This is generally not something you find in most Christian catechisms. At least not this century, anyway. But the American Evangelican right has kept it alive primarily through disproportionate levels of political power.

                • Asking the state to provide abstinence education (for religious reasons) along side safe sex education would be a reasonable conclusion (though it wouldn’t be permitted under the principle of separation of church and state).

                  I’m not so sure abstinence education wouldn’t be permitted alongside safer sex eduction. There are plenty of reasons, aside from religious ones, to promote abstinence: it is safer, after all.

          • Mystiquelady

            Actually, there is a tradition within the Christian community that does NOT prescribe the idea that all of us are sinners. We are theReligious Society of Friends, aka Quakers. We also have recognized the rights of homosexuals to be married with all the rights of a heterosexual couple since the 70’s. Note that not Quaker meetings are totally alike, and not all Quakers, individually, hold to the same philosophies. And, no, we are not to be confused with Mennonites or the Amish.

            • We sorta figured all that when you didn’t excommunicate Nixon.

  • Holden Pattern

    For what shall it profit a young girl, if she shall gain immunity to a life-threatening disease, and maybe somehow have slightly less disincentive to lose her own soul?

    I am fascinated that amoral punitive monsters like Bachmann can say with a straight face that religion (religion like theirs!) is necessary for morality.

  • DrDick

    Can we please dispense with the pretense that the Teabagger/Talibangelical wings of the Republican Party are, for the most part, anything other than moral monsters? That has been abundantly clear from the outset.

  • efgoldman

    Semi-OT, but I don’t have anywhere else to link it:

    The GOBP plays “The Constitution Means What We Say it Means” Game.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/congress-finds-and-lists-meaning-in-constitution/2011/09/14/gIQA1VQzXK_story.html

  • PhoenixRising

    I missed Charli ever so much after Monday’s debate.

    My actual 11.9 year old girl’s comments on Bachmann were as follows:

    “That lady is using her daughter as an example, if she even has a daughter. Why doesn’t she want her daughter to get a shot?”

    [She thinks that her daughter will have sex with a boy if she gets this particular shot.]

    “What!!?!?!? They give you a SHOT for that?”

    [No, that’s not how it works at all, it’s just what she thinks.]

    “Okay, well, I am not old enough to know anything about that, but she doesn’t have to make such a big deal about getting a shot. It only hurts for a minute.”

    …long pause…

    “Did [friend’s mom who died 6 weeks ago from cervical cancer]’s parents think that too?”

    [No, honey, this shot was just invented and that’s why politicians are talking about it.]

    “…Oh. Good. Because if [friend] found out about that, she would probably be really mad at them.”

  • UberMitch

    I fully expect Rick Perry to pledge to make Jenny McCarthy his Surgeon General to repent for his heresy of accidentally advancing a good policy to do a solid for his buddies at Merck.

    FIFY

  • Rob

    This is all based on the fact that HPV is the right wing’s ultimate STD. “It can’t be prevented by condom use and it can lead to death! We can honestly say that having sex even with a condom can kill you! Isn’t that great? It will make great bullet points for our abstinence only sex ed materials!

    And then those stupid scientists with their science and their belief in evolution come up with a vaccine! HPV will disappear in time! We’ll lose our awesome bullet point! We must stop this vaccine so HPV can keep going so we can keep our bullet point about how sex can kill you even if you use a condom!”

    • I thought it COULD, hence discussion of requiring the vaccine for boys.

      However, your comment does make me wonder what they’ll do if someone comes up with a vaccine/cure for HIV.

  • KC45s

    My personal vision of Christianity is that God would look at Stenzel’s sinning children and say, “No biggie, you had really fucked-up parents.” I guess this is why I’m not pope.

  • Suecris

    I’ve been afraid to get my daughters this vaccine because of the reactions we have seen to it – dizziness, fainting, etc. I decided I didn’t want my kids to be the beta test rats.

    I’m going to have to knuckle down and git er done – they need these shots.

    • Adara

      I wouldn’t worry too much about it. My sister and I both got them a couple years ago and the side effects we had were just a little bit of fever and sleepiness…I remember we went home and took unintentionally epically-long naps.
      I’m curious where you’ve “seen” these reactions–has there been some recent literature that mentions a high occurrence of more severe side effects?

  • When I saw the headline, I thought the post would be about this.

    LOS ANGELES – Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann on Friday decried the “Arab Spring” that has toppled three dictators and given rise to pro-democracy protests across the Middle East for promoting the “rise of radical elements” across the region.
    In a speech to about 400 Republicans gathered for the state party’s fall convention here, the three-term Minnesota congresswoman blamed President Obama for “the hostilities of the Arab spring” and expressed regret that “we saw (Egyptian) President (Hosni) Mubarak fall while President Obama sat on his hands.”

  • D. Sidhe

    Am I the only one wondering why they feel they need to tell their daughters why they’re getting this specific shot? I don’t recall anyone, doctors or parents, being more specific than, “It will keep you from getting a disease later.” I’m not a parent, so I apparently missed the part where the government forces you to explain to your adolescent daughter that this is the shot that means you can fuck all you want. I assume that was mandated at the same time as the one that makes you tell your kids this is the shot that means you can run through a pile of rusty nails.

    Do these people seriously say, Well, my kid has her measles shot, so she can go to the slumber party of the kid whose brother has measles with no problem?

    Vaccinations are a precaution, not a license to go do something you otherwise wouldn’t, and I honestly don’t know anyone who thinks that way.

    You don’t want to get into the morality of telling your kids about HPV vaccines? You are, as far as I can see, welcome to opt out of explaining it to them until they are older, or even waiting until they figure it out on their own. Is it any more like lying to your child than would be telling her that only sluts get HPV?

    • Good point.

      This observation makes it look an awful lot like it’s not the “message,” but the actual lack of disease, to which the opponents object.

    • Anonymous

      I wondered the exact same thing. It’s not like we go into detail about any other diseases we vaccinate kids against. Hell I’m an adult and I still wouldn’t know what rubella is or how it’s transmitted without looking it up. I just know it’s bad to get it so we all get vaccinated against it. This whole line of argument is so stupid.

  • Joseph Kirby

    From what I can see these people are just sick.
    On the one hand, they’re closed minded
    On the other hand, they’re stupid.
    LOL

    Why do they do it?
    And why can’t they listen to reason?
    Somebody must know.

    HPV is nothing to screw around with.
    Everyone ought to be able to figure that out.
    Right?
    Everyone.

  • Jonathan

    The only reason Bachman is still in this race is that the other front runners have reasonable policies under their belts. Romney gave healthcare to poor Mass. citizens. Perry sought to prevent deaths from an infectious disease. Ron Paul opposed military interventions abroad. The Republican based simply will not tolerate such well-reasoned policy decisions.

  • ti-gar

    Don’t give Gerson any credit. HPV immunization has been an issue for some time, and lots of Republicans have opposed it. Why is he only taking up the issue now?

    The fact that he is dumping on Bachmann is a sign that the word has gone out from message-discipline central: deep-six this candidate before she damages our reputation more than she already has. That he can also take this opportunity to pick up a few “sensible moderate” points is a bonus.

  • Kyle

    Gerson is shocked, SHOCKED that the Repuke party embraces policies that are punitive and destructively stupid.

  • I’m assuming Bachmann’s kids all had the full slate of injections as school policy dictates, like MMR and polio.

    Damned nanny state, always telling us our kids can’t be paralyzed…

    • Malaclypse

      I’m assuming Bachmann’s kids all had the full slate of injections as school policy dictates, like MMR and polio.

      Do home-schooled kids need vaccination records?

      • Indeed not, until they got to college.

        • Malaclypse

          Barnes, who is president of the Jackson chapter of the Mississippi Vaccination Information Center, says she wants Mississippi to change the law that allows no exemptions beyond medical necessity. She and her husband, Curtis, home-school their 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, and when the times comes, they will home-school their 3-year-old son.

          “When I came to Mississippi, I had no idea there would be a place in the 21st century that would have a mandated vaccination schedule,” she says. “I happen to believe that you shouldn’t inject things into your blood.”

          • Hogan

            So oral and nasal are OK?

            • Malaclypse

              I suspect the rule is “only vaccines Jesus got, plus meth.”

            • Well, you can’t get pregnant…

      • moribundtheburgermeister

        Depends on your state. In Texas, we do! BTW, the reason so many Texans were pissed is because it was a brand new vaccine that was made mandatory immediately via executive order (bypassing the state legislature)and his ties with Merck ($30,000 in donations).

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