Monday, October 13, 2008

More agreeing to disagree -- on the wedgiest of all wedge issues

But before we reach the political portion of our post, here is a little something for those readers not so interested in my political views. Books, books, and more books! The Cybils nominations have run wild, and now I and my fellow nominating panel members have our work cut out for us. This wee stack is just a first bite out of a list of over 130 eligible titles in the Fantasy & Science Fiction category, so far (nominations open until the 15th). Eek! You know what would be great? A cabiny getaway somewhere either snowy or beachy, for the sole purpose of reading through this list. Yum.

Okay, now to the agreeing to disagree topic. Thanks for all the supportive comments. And thanks too to the Republicans who voiced their opinions. I know it's not an easy thing to do in a forum where you feel like you're in the minority. However, I'm turning off comments to this post, and here's why: if I don't, I'll be checking for comments all day, wondering what people will say. I posted this briefly last night, then after about an hour decided to take it down until I had reread and considered it some more. This morning I wasn't sure if I would post it. But here's why I am: because in that hour or so that it was up, a blogger read it and emailed me this morning, and I didn't even read her email yet, because seeing it filled me with dread. Not because it will be uncivil; it won't. She and I maintain a civil discourse across a great divide, and I respect her for that. But I got that feeling of dread (really, I felt it physically, in my stomach) because I was afraid of finding the judgemental religious attitude that I, as a non-religious person, see as un-Christian. The inhumanity, the "let-them-eat-cake" attitude toward the poor. And, I'm guessing, the punitive attitude toward women and girls who find themselves pregnant.

When I was a teenager, I had very little empathy. I had been lucky my whole life -- not wealthy but comfortable. No one in my family had been sick or injured. We had enough to eat, new clothes when we needed them. I had two loving parents, my own bedroom, and we even got to travel. I read Ayn Rand in high school and thought, "Yeah, some people are just worth more than other people." I, of course, was one of the "some." And in that time, I thought women should be responsible for the choice they make to be sexually active and have to live with the consequences. And because I have grown, I can now look back and admit that I thought it with an air of moral superiority. It was never a religious matter for me. I just wanted everyone to be strong and responsible. I still think that would be nice. But what if being strong and responsible was, for me, a matter of luck, of being born into a loving, supportive family, and having access to education? Having been lucky, I can only take partial credit for who I am as a person. Someone who is unlucky and rises above circumstances, they can take full credit for themselves. I have a more nuanced world view now than the Ayn Rand-influenced elitism of my youth, and I can see that there are people who are neither lucky nor strong enough to rise above overwhelming circumstances. And there are people who are strong and responsible who still make mistakes, or don't make any mistake and yet find themselves in a tough situation. Can we strive to see the complexity of the human experience and try to help people rather than punish them?

So I write about this topic from the place of someone who has been in those judgmental shoes and know how it feels to stand there. And I know that it is possible for people to grow empathy, because I did. My world view now is not at all what it was when I was 18. And I want to post this because it's about a mind being changed where one wouldn't expect it: out of the evangelical church. I think it's important. It pains me a little to turn off comments, because like all bloggers, I crave me some comments, but I just think it's best for today if I'm going to get any work done. And, selfishly, I don't want to feel any more of that dread I felt when seeing I'd gotten an email response to the topic.

This, I concede, is a true "agree to disagree" issue, the wedgiest of all wedge issues: choice. Though I support choice, I would never try to convince someone who is anti-choice to change their mind. I honestly see where they are coming from, believing in protecting the sanctity of life as they see it. I get it. I don't disagree that abortion is ugly and that we should be working as a society to make it as rare as possible. Where pro-choice people disagree with the anti-choice movement is that we want to work toward making abortion rare by providing education, birth control, and reproductive rights and services to all men and women. We want to clear the miasma of shame away from sex, and allow girls and women to make sexual choices (for and against) from a position of power, self-respect, and information. And when mistakes are made and accidents and crimes occur, we want girls and women to be able to choose how to deal with those mistakes and accidents and crimes in the way that they deem best for themselves. We think people should have sovereignty over their own bodies, not be held hostage to another person's ideology.

Okay. Here are some things I've long thought, but never expected to find expressed articulately by a former high-profile evangelical Christian:

"And I’d say something else about the choice issue. I am pro-life. I haven’t changed in that regard. If people read my book, Crazy for God, they’ll see that I’ve gone left, if you want to put it that way, in many, many areas, but not that one. But I actually believe that if your interest is not ideology and ideological purity, but rather abortion itself, i.e. you want more or less abortions, that the medical and social programs that Barack Obama is talking about for our country, in terms of care of women and children and families, improvement in education and possibilities for all Americans, actually will result in less abortions. So my interest in the abortion issue is that I think abortion is a tragedy. My interest is not the politics of it, as in always appearing to vote for the person who has the correct ideology.

And so, I think there’s a choice for Americans interested in this issue who are like me, pro-life, and that is, do you want to choose ideological purity attached to a party that will so destroy our economy and all the social programs that there will be more abortions, i.e. as there have been through the Republican-controlled years, when they’ve been talking about this issue for thirty years and done nothing about it for actually helping women and children, or would you rather have a president like Barack Obama, who you disagree with on this one ideological point, in terms of what you might call the theology of the issue, but whose program would practically result in a more conducive environment for families to prosper, for people to have children, for kids to go to school, for women to be taken care of? And I would rather vote for a person who’s going to do the job rather than just have the correct ideology."

That's Frank Schaeffer, lifelong Republican, son of the late evangelist Francis Schaeffer, and erstwhile McCain supporter -- I don't know enough about him to know what other issues I'd agree or disagree on, but the above is excerpted from an interview from Democracy Now! and I strongly recommend reading the whole thing. It's powerful stuff. But his argument about choice, well, it's completely what I think. You can be against abortion and still vote Democrat, unless your ideological identification is what's really important to you, and not the actual lives of people. If you actually want to see a decrease in unwanted pregnancy, you vote Democrat, because it's Democrats who want to educate and equip people to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Going hand-in-hand with that is -- bonus -- providing reproductive care for all women, including pre-natal care. And hey, while you're at it, health care for children!

From Schaeffer in another article:
I am an Obama supporter. I am also pro-life. In fact, without my family's involvement in the pro-life movement it would not exist as we know it. Evangelicals weren't politicized until after my late father and evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer, Dr. Koop (Reagan's soon-to-be Surgeon General) and I stirred them up over the issue of abortion in the mid-1970s. Our Whatever Happened to the Human Race? book, movie series and seminars brought the evangelicals into the pro-life movement.

Fast forward...

In 2000, we elected a president who claimed he believed God created the earth and who, as president, put car manufacturers and oil company's interests ahead of caring for that creation. We elected a pro-life Republican Congress that did nothing to actually care for pregnant women and babies. And they took their sincere evangelical followers for granted, and played them for suckers.

The so-called evangelical leadership -- Dobson, Robertson et al. also played the pro-life community for suckers. While thousands of men and women in the crisis pregnancy movement gave of themselves to help women and babies, their evangelical "leaders" did little more than cash in on fundraising opportunities and represent themselves as power-brokers to the craven politicians willing to kowtow to them.

Fast forward...

Today when I listen to Obama speak (and to his remarkable wife, Michelle) what I hear is a world view that actually nurtures life. Obama is trying to lead this country to a place where the intrinsic worth of each individual is celebrated. A leader who believes in hope, the future, trying to save our planet and providing a just and good life for everyone is someone who is actually pro-life.


At the root of this issue, we want the same thing: an end to unwanted pregnancy. (That is what we all want, right? I think that the Right gets so blinded by ideology on the issue that they maybe forget that that is the goal. They just want to stop the practice of abortion, and not address the real problems that lead to abortion.) Democrats are addressing the issue in a pragmatic way, working for real results, while Republicans are facing it in an ideological way -- choosing to judge and shame and punish women rather than actually address the reality of sex and pregnancy. They fight for abstinence-only education despite all evidence that it is ineffective; they even flaunt a poster-family for its ineffectiveness during this election. WE want real education and available birth control because these things DO work. Abortion is ugly. Nobody is on abortion's side. We're on the side of women. Helping them. Not punishing them, not shaming them. What's more important: feeling righteous, or working for positive change?

While phone-banking, I've had people tell me this is the only issue they vote on. I also had a long and thoughtful discussion last week with an anti-choice person who was at the point of seeing that there are so many issues in this election that will affect our nation is such massive ways, that to vote just on this one issue is. . . well, it's sort of anti-American. It's choosing your ideology over your country. It's choosing the warmonger over the war-ender, it's choosing God over America. And a lot of religious people make no bones about the fact that they choose God over America. If Barack Obama made that assertion (which he has not), wouldn't the Right be flinging that all over the place, foaming at the mouth? Hello, the whole Reverend Wright thing? But when Christian Fundamentalists choose God over country, it's okay? What gives? (In the first article linked above, Schaeffer says he believes the fundamentalists have effectively already seceded from the U.S., that they are working toward a different future -- Armageddon -- than those of us who want to build the best possible America; that fundamentalism is, at its core, anti-America. I'll go further to say it's anti-Earth.)

Another fascinating thing and link. This is from an article by Dr. Robert Burton, former chief of neurology at Mt. Zion-UCSF, and it's about "being certain." He actually wrote a book called On Being Certain which I have not read. What he points out here that I find so interesting is:

"Feelings of absolute certainty and utter conviction are not rational deliberate conclusions; they are involuntary mental sensations generated by the brain. Like other powerful mental states such as love, anger and fear, they are extraordinarily difficult to dislodge through rational arguments. Just as it’s nearly impossible to reason with someone who’s enraged and combative, refuting or diminishing one’s sense of certainty is extraordinarily difficult. Certainty is neither created by nor dispelled by reason."

Holy cow! He goes on to say how studies have shown that when people are questioned about their staunch political beliefs under MRI, it is not the prefrontal cortex of the brain (the reasoning faculty) that "lights up," but the limbic system -- the center for emotional processing! According to the study, "both Republicans and Democrats reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted.” Again I say: Holy cow! Beware of certainty, even in (especially in) yourself. Do you really believe what you think you believe? Or do you just assume you do? If you think deeply about it, does it hold up? People get very defensive when they find they can't explain or justify their beliefs, but I wish more people would ask themselves, in privacy, and be more rigorous with their thought. And hey, do research. Try to reach a reasoned conclusion. This is what's so cool about being human -- we can Google! (snort!)

Read the article if you have the time; he says a lot more about the dangers posed by extremely "certain" people. You know, the kind who "will not blink," who are "resolute" and are not moved to change their minds when presented with facts? Yoiks. Verrrrry interestingly, he discusses a study that concludes that "incompetent people tend to overestimate their own skill level; fail to recognize genuine skill in others; and fail to recognize the extremity of their own inadequacy." Sound like any president we know??

I [heart] smart people.