At a time when millions of families know that they will be losing their homes to foreclosure, and when hundreds of thousands of people who would like to work to support their families, but can’t find even poverty-level, minimum wage jobs, it might be useful to spend a few paragraphs considering “Family Values.” It seems that everyone supports Family Values, but few folks spend time to define what Family Values are.
At the Democratic Convention, Barack Obama stated his desire that social policy create an environment in which his daughters can be adult women free from glass ceilings. Similarly, John McCain wants the best future for his children. In his case he means a future where his alcohol industry lobbyist son can decrease regulation and increase beer sales to high school and junior high children.
Our vice presidential candidates also embrace values that affect every family. Joe Biden values the right of every teen girl to grow up in an emotionally and hormonally complex world with educational tools that help her understand her choices and their long term consequences. Sarah Palin values the right of teens to experiment with sex and husband hunting, free of complicated and potentially embarrassing sex education classes.
How Values Change
Different people have different values. And people’s values can and do change over time and as circumstances evolve. A recent example of this is the evolution in how Fundamentalists and Evangelicals view teen, unmarried sex and pregnancy. Until August 29, 2008, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals believed, uniformly, that unmarried sex was a bad thing, and that teen pregnancy was at least a tragedy and often a sin. Their websites, sermons, funding solicitations and speeches all condemned teen sexuality and teen pregnancy. Parents who “allowed” such things to happen were reviled as callous, uncaring, too devoted to matters of the world to provide their children with proper education and instruction on “values”.
But August 29, 2008, saw a miracle of evolution for Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. On that date, they received the revelation of a woman who stands forthrightly for teaching values in the home, and who had taught her own 17-year-old daughter that sex, without protection and without considering any consequences, was just a natural part of life. A rite of passage for every teenage girl and a good way to capture a husband.
With the speed of a beneficial gene mutation, this revelation spread from television speech to televangelist performance to congregation and down to individual parishioners. In far less than seven days, the new Alaskan goddess created an entirely new world of possibilities built on rejection of old, staid, out-of-date, and merely biblical values.
We really should celebrate this evolution in Fundamentalist and Evangelical thinking. Palinism is a new theology of tolerance for views different from those that Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have held before. It is a new open mindedness, which we should encourage fully.
New Palinist Theology
By encouraging her daughter to use sex to catch a husband, Palin breaks through the old-fashioned idea that sex belongs only within marriage, and accepts a more utilitarian, pleasure-based role for sex in society. The necessary corollary is that, under this new Palinist theology, marriage is no longer just the legal structure for making sex permissible.
Under Palinism, sex is for pleasure and for personal benefit. If sex can be used to get a hockey player, why not to get a new car or a better job? By separating sex and marriage, Palinism frees both sex and marriage. Now, while sex can be exploited to get what you want, marriage can be freed up to serve as an institution through which people express their love, devotion, commitment and interdependence. Nothing in such a definition includes any gender requirements in marriage. Sarah Palin has obliterated the foundation of the opposition to gay marriage.
But let’s get real – neither Sarah Palin, nor those who deify her while pretending to believe in Christianity, accept the necessary logical implications of Palinism. And they don’t even stand by what they say about teen pregnancy. Anyone familiar with commercial churches knows that a couple of months after the election, no matter who wins, the televangelists and mega-church preachers are going to revert to slamming the morals of teen girls who get pregnant and condemning parents who ‘let’ it happen. Hypocrisy is also a Family Value.
And we know that next spring and summer there will be a bloom of new copycat Palin Babies. In a society that encourages its teens to mimic the sexuality of celebrity figures like Miley Cyrus and Brittany and Lynn Spears we would normally expect a bounce in teen pregnancies after learning that a vice-presidential candidate’s teen daughter was pregnant.
But we have gone further. Both Palin and the entire galaxy of televangelists and mega-church preachers have said that Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy is part of normal life. They have given the “green light” to girls everywhere to mimic this ‘adventure’. And we will now see a spike in teen pregnancies and the social issues such pregnancies raise.
There will be bunches of girls thrown into the street by angry fathers “shamed” by their daughter’s indecency. Girls will drop out of school to become mothers, and will add to our social services rolls. There will be the normal statistical distribution of medical complications, which will reveal another Fundamentalist and Evangelical Family Value – opposition to medical care and education.
What Protecting Life Really Means
That’s right, another Family Value shared by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals is the “pro-life” value of “protecting the sanctity” of unborn life. But like the other Family Values mentioned earlier, most Fundamentalists and Evangelicals don’t like to define what they mean by “protecting” life. But their actions tell us what they mean.
There is no mainstream, pro-life Fundamentalist or Evangelical televangelist who supports medical care, drug treatment or adequate nutrition programs for unborn children. The Family Value here is personal freedom. Freedom from nutrition, from medical care, from clean air or safe drinking water. “Protecting” unborn life means protecting it from its mother, but not from disease, malnutrition or environmental pollution.
Thousands of these Palin Babies have already been conceived, and thousands more will be conceived this fall as the adulation and mimicry of the goddess continues. Televangelists will revert to reviling children who conceive children, and they will condemn the children’s parents for providing inadequate homes and guidance – never questioning the guidance that Sarah Palin provided by being several months pregnant with her first child when she married Todd.
But weren’t these same televangelists right when they excused Palin by saying that teens have always experimented with sex and that they always will – that it’s a natural part of life? And if they were right about that, aren’t they also right that it’s a Family Value for parents to provide the best guidance possible for their children, knowing that those children will experiment and make mistakes?
Just as Palinism rips the foundation from the argument against gay marriage, doesn’t it also state the firmest logic for providing children with sex education, health care and proper nutrition? If children will naturally experiment and make mistakes, isn’t it a Family Value to provide them with every bit of information that might help avoid, or reduce the impact of, the mistakes? Isn’t it a Family Value to provide every fetus conceived in a mistake with health care, proper nutrition and a good environment to develop healthily?
The McCain campaign says health care, nutrition and education should be only for those who can afford them. But is that really a Family Value? Jesus said, “whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” [Matt. 25:40] For those who truly believe Jesus’ message, aren’t programs for health care, pre-natal and post-natal nutrition, and a clean environment the real Biblical Family Values?
Tom Hall is a family law attorney. He is originally from Boston, where he grew up in the Cambridge Friends Meeting (Quakers), thinking that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people to participate in highly disciplined nonviolent demonstrations (real disciplined nonviolence is just plain maddening to police forces who count on demonstrators giving them reason to get ‘messy’ during public demonstrations). After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make himself a comfortable life. The Bush administration has shocked him back into social concerns. Tom can be reached at ProgBlog@aol.com
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