Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Christian Right and Ostriches

Today, I read an op-ed piece claiming that abstinence programs have been ineffective. Duh! It takes a special kind of stupidity to believe that programs that teach abstinence will lead children to want to preserve their virginity until after marriage. Even more stupid is the belief that teaching abstinence instead of the use of birth control devices to help girls avoid becoming pregnant and the use of condoms in particular to thwart the transmission of STDs such as chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, hepatitis A, B, and C, syphilis, aids, and crabs, etc.

The specific kind of stupidity I am referring to is that which assumes that if you legislate against something, that something will not happen. When I was of college age, I got into an argument with an older guy I was working with at a summer job who was advocating that the alcohol prohibition laws in Oklahoma be kept. I asked him why and he replied that this was the only way to keep people from drinking alcohol. I told him I would bet him such-and-such amount of money that I could get a bootlegger to bring a fifth of bourbon to where we were were within a half hour. This was a bit of a bluff on my part since I had never used a bootlegger but I knew a guy who had and who I knew had his telephone number. I also reminded him that the Constitutional Amendment outlawing alcohol was a total failure.

A doctor and mother of a girl I was dating at the time told me that the police blamed prohibition laws in Oklahoma for the high incidence of public drunkenness. She said they believed that people in possession of a bottle of booze would drink the whole bottle so as not to risk being caught with a bottle with just enough alcohol left in it to support an arrest. When I was in Scotland in the summer of 1970, the laws governing the hours during which pubs could sell alcohol to two different periods, one being something like 11:00 a. m. to 2:00 p. m. and the other being something like 5:30 or 6:00 p. m. to 9:00 p. m. Bartenders would announce "last call" early enough that those who wanted to buy 2 or 3 pints at once could do so for the law governed not when pubs had to close, as in the USA, but when the sale of alcohol had to stop. So, many people, after several hours of drinking (often shots of hard alcohol combined with pints of beer) would then engage in a mini-binge before leaving for home. Alcoholism was a major problem in Scotland at the time, the principle being the same as in Oklahoma -- prohibition laws can lead some to greater, not less drunkenness.

Facts have never been much of a problem for the Christian Right for "the Bible told me so" used as a supporting argument always trumps real world facts in their minds. When I was in high school and my mind turned to girls, I had two great fears concerning engaging in sex. One was the fear that I would knock up some girl I had no desire to marry. The other was that I was afraid of getting syphilis, gonorrhea, and crabs. I didn't know about the other STDs. My fears concerning knocking up some "easy" girl who was not someone one would want to marry were based on the illegality of abortion, the social pressures on males to "do the right thing," and my embarrassment at buying condoms in a public place. Like any young man raised to be a Christian, I was, of course, taught that I should "save myself" for my wife, who would, of course, be "saving herself" for me. This teaching of abstinence was, of course, irrelevant to my concerns.

The landscape has changed. We have safe abortions now in most places so one does not have to marry someone just because they got knocked up. On the other hand, there are many more STDs than before. It seems to me that the most effective way to control unwanted pregnancies is to teach birth control and the most effective way to prevent transmission of STDs is to teach kids to use condoms, as well as sufficient information about STDs and the failure rate of condoms to scare the bejesus out of kids. Fear, as long as it is not over-done, is a great motivator.

As I mentioned, we have abortions that are safe if they are done early enough and by someone trained to do them (who will not use a coat hanger). But the Christian Right, engaging in still another instance of this special kind of stupidity -- belief that making something illegal that people want to have (booze, sex, and abortions being the main things) will prevent it. I don't know whether ostriches really hide their heads in the sand as a tactic for deterring predators but their "reasoning," if you will, is pretty much the same as that of the Christian Right in these three cases.

At the Republican convention in 2008, I suggest that they vote to replace the elephant with the ostrich as the symbol of the party for ostriches, better than elephants, symbolize their manner of thinking.

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Blogger Le vent fripon said...

To me it seems that fear really is over-done in high school, or at least it was when i was there. Many people my age (late twenties) seem to see sex primarily as a pathway of disease (or among the religious, a way of being immoral). But the failure rates of condoms, for example, are not all that high if users have enough brains to use them correctly.

Or, how about the statistics on AIDS: http://www.avert.org/usastatc.htm.

Nobody ever brings up the actual chances of ending up in bed with someone with AIDS. Looking at such numbers, I suspect that if I had slept with my high school sweetheart I would still be alive today. Good thing I had the bad skin and bad social skills to prevent it.

Of course, we would all like to see those numbers even lower. But why not teach that sex is a normal part of a happy life? And does it really make sense to set an arbitrary age at which it suddenly becomes OK or safe?

4:02 PM

Blogger Bilbo said...

I'm voting for you! This is one of the best send-ups of Christian Right lunacy I've read in a while...the Ostrich is an inspired choice to replace the Elephant. Nice work.

7:45 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Thank you bilbo, but I'm not running. Too many skeletons.

le vent fripon, in general the odds are against virtually every bad thing happening to oneself with a few exceptions. Women put themselves in harm's way any time they meet a new man because the odds of getting harmed in some way are pretty high if you take all manner of assaults together. The problem is that men of ever race, ethnicity, and social class assault women though perhaps to different degrees.

4:03 PM

Blogger Le vent fripon said...

i wonder if your views on the male sex have something to do with your having a daughter :)

heterosexual relationships are, i agree, riskier for women than men. but what kinds of assault do you mean? i don't know how many men beat or rape women, but most men I know seem rather to break their backs trying to please women...at least until the two have been a couple for awhile. then indifference sometimes sets in, but not violence in general. of course, lots of men leave women, but leaving someone is hardly assault.

on the other hand, we might teach in school what is already taught to some extent in society: it's ok for young men to have sex but not for young women. this would unfortunately be sexist...

4:32 PM

Blogger Rita said...

Our house was a big hang-out for the local teenagers when my son was in High school. I used to keep a basket full of condoms in his room(I got them free from my friend who works at the County health Dept.) I knew all the kids were taking them because I'd have to fill the basket up. Even though i believed I was doing the right thing, I always felt guilty about it. One of my son's friends was frequently showing up at the house at lunchtime telling me that he'd left something in my sons room. I mentioned this odd behavior to my son who informed me his friend was coming over at lunchtime to get condoms, because he had a steady girlfriend & they were having sex. I quit feeling guilty about supplying all these kids with condoms because I could see the reality was they were most prob.going to have sex if they got the chance & without protection the odds would prob. catch up with them sooner or later.
I think it is grossly unfair, stupid, & yes, ostrich-like to expect normal teenagers that live in a society that glorifies sex not to engage in it.
Instead of seeing themselves as natural human beings these ostrich people would rather blame everything on some sort of evil nature that they could resist if they could somehow distance themselves from it.
But, thank goodness, one thing this present religious insanity is showing us...The fallacy of their thinking.

9:12 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Thanks for your post, handmaiden. You sound like a latter day hippie but you are right that they would be likely to have sex whatever you did. The part of Christian Right reasoning is that if you make it difficult for people to do X, they are less likely to do it. That part is correct. But the abstinence education does not put barriers in their way the way prohibition did or anti-marijuana laws do today.

7:59 AM

Blogger Rita said...

The specific kind of stupidity I am referring to is that which assumes that if you legislate against something, that something will not happen. Abstinence education does seem to make a lot of assumptions. One of the assumptions is that we are a Christian nation & an appeal to Christian guilt will still stop certain basic human urges. Any judicial system can only reinforce the existing human ideas of values & ethics. So there you have it. We are only as far as we are. I like the idea that has been suggested that we are entering a new axial period in human history, a transitional stage in our continuing quest for meaning, hence the lack of cohesion & the confusion about values & ethics in modernity. This is where higher education with it's deeper concepts of critical thinking & logic has to step in & steer the course to keep us progressing along the right track & this is where the Republican party with it's kowtowing to the primitive thinking of the Christian right is lacking.

1:37 PM

Blogger Rita said...

I need to add this to my comment: Law is the expression of the present state of the American search for perfection. "in order to create a more perfect union..." etc...There seems to be a conflict between religion & law. American Law has by natural progression become more secular (if that is the right word) & religion (at least the Christian one we are familiar with) by its own nature digs in it's heels.

6:26 PM

Blogger Bilbo said...

Too many skeletons, eh? Well, I guess we won't be facing each other in any races, then.

9:38 PM


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