Sunday, June 26, 2005

the meaning of "moral values" or, what would Freud say about Republicans?

I'm sure a lot of us have heard about the statistic that a large chunk of voters who voted for Bush last November voted because of "moral values." I also happen to have heard a number of people on the radical right (including a grad school classmate who shall remain nameless) talk about the need to connect morality to the common voter more extensively than is already being done. You hear it mostly from voices of the religious radical right. They say that we need to get back to moral values because the country is in a moral decline (blah blah blah). This is a very clever discursive trick (for which I'm sure Karl Rove is at least partly to blame) played on the American people. "Moral values" as defined by the radical right doesn't really mean adhering to an ethical standard in all one's actions (be they public or private). It is code for a narrowly defined ideology that divides the world into "us" and "them" for the purposes of passing a specific set of policies that increase governmental power over the individual.

For starters, when the radical right-wing in the United States refers to "morality" or "moral values," they are really only talking about one thing: sex. Think about it, what did Republicans spend most of their time demonizing in Clinton? Monica. Of course there were other things, but the main thing that Republicans spent their time on was Clinton's zipper problem. Almost all of what the radical right considers to be moral issues are merely variations on an attempt to control sexual activity, which is (to some extent) a private matter that should not be the business of the government. Obviously, there is some sexual activity that should be regulated (rape, sexual abuse against children, anything that isn't consentual), but consentual sexual activity between adults is no business of the government, despite the radical right's attempts. Let's go issue by issue. First, Republicans want to eradicate homosexuality from the face of the earth, starting with a Constitutional Amendment to prevent gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons from enterring into holy matrimony. It should be obvious that this is an attempt to regulate with whom one may have sex. The radical right ardently pushes "abstinence only" sex education in schools (despite studies that now show that they are counterproductive). They do this while demonizing condom use. This is an attempt to regulate where and when one may have sex. The radical right is dead set on cutting welfare and social programs for poor single mothers. This sounds like punishment for what they would consider promiscuous sexuality (because, as the logic goes, if they would only get a man and marry then they wouldn't be in such dire straits to begin with). Then, of course, there's the radical right's staunch opposition to abortion (despite its tension not only with their position on condoms but also their economic policies). This is an attempt to regulate the consequences of one's "deviant" sexual activity. Oh, and don't forget the right's feigned indignation over the brief exposure of Janet Jackson's breast at the Super Bowl in '04. It would appear that, to paraphrase my dad, "their Freudian slip is showing."

My problem with the radical right's characterization of "moral values" is not just that it betrays a very repressed sexuality that needs serious attention. My main objection is that they focus on sexuality as morality at the expense of other, more pressing moral issues. Many other aspects of our life deal with morality that the religious radical right will not touch. Here I am more than happy to give examples. Poverty is a moral issue (hunger also goes with this). In fact, in comparison to the few verses in the Bible that mention homosexuality (no more than 10 at the most), there are literally thousands of verses in the Bible that talk about the need to fight poverty, both individually and institutionally. Lying is a moral issue, so lying about why American troops need to go to Iraq and die is just as immoral as any of the sexual sins the radical right preaches about ad nauseum. Stealing from people is morally wrong, so CEOs from such companies as Enron and Tyco are wrong. There's even the famous story in the Bible of the tax collector Jesus meets, and that tax collector realizes that he was wrong for stealing from people and gives the money back. Such thievery should be a big deal in our society, but we just shrug and don't get outraged like we would if someone sees two men kissing. Health care is also a moral issue. Did you know that? Jesus says we must care for the "least of these." Not only is that part of the concern for poverty, but it is also for health care. I am convinced that it is of moral concern that we do not have universal health care coverage. I'm sure people can debate about specifics of this coverage until they're blue in the face, but the fact is that it is evidence of our moral failing that we are not concerned about someone else getting sick without the ability to go to a doctor. If we are truly to love one another, shouldn't we agree that we all deserve health care?

The radical right wants to use the power of the government to regulate behavior that is between the individual and God. It is not their place to judge. Jesus also had something to say about this. If we want to talk about morality on a political/social level, fine. It has to include, however, issues that are actually social in nature. How we treat each other is a moral issue. Issues like poverty, hunger, corporate thievery, health care, and others like it are issues of morality. The radical right dismisses these moral issues at their own peril. Many people seem to think that leftist beliefs are inherently in opposition to Christian teachings. Nothing could be further from the truth. I gain my leftist leanings directly from the teachings of Jesus Christ. It's not my fault that Jesus is a liberal.

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