Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Evangelicalism and legitimate rape

I've only begun the brain-based aggregation process I sometimes do on "news of the day" with this Rep. Akin statement on "legitimate rape" and how women's magical vaginas cause rape-induced pregnancies to be "rare," but I wanted to share this article, specifically to point out two of the most mind-blowingly accurate sentences on evangelicalism and its relationship to women and to society at large and to ME, ever written.

 Soraya Chemaly writes "These people aren't pro-life. They're pro-pain. Pain central to redemption."

 Pro-PAIN. Because pain is central to redemption.

Yes. YES, THAT'S TRUE. 

And that's why, even though I consider myself against abortion, and even though as far as I can tell (having never been raped, and being a relatively well-off white American woman currently enjoying a stable relationship), I wouldn't have an abortion myself, I find almost 100% of the rhetoric of anti-abortion activists (and armchair activists, people who "just have an opinion, and it shouldn't bother anyone" because of free speech, etc. etc.) alarming, intensely irritating, and potentially extremely dangerous.

I'd thought it was because so much of it just refuses to trust women.

Refuses, that is, to let women say how they're feeling, and to know and say what would be best for them, for their embodied selves. Refuses to even give women the space to SAY "I'd rather not be having this baby," and refuses to trust that they might then think, and then say, "but I will, anyway" -- and when they don't, DEFINITELY refuses to allow them to say "I can't do it."

"You'll do it," the rhetoric retorts, "AND YOU'LL LIKE IT."

Just like a rapist might say, actually. That's the trouble. Rhetorically, you're kind of in a bind when it comes to rape if you've already overridden a woman's right to self-determination and dominion over her body in other areas, areas where you feel you definitely "know better" than she does.

But that's all obvious, and it's a perspective available to any Women's Studies 101 student.

What blew my mind was the depth of understanding, the revelation, of Chemaly's statement on religious suffering.

I'm still parsing it out in my exploded mind, but the need for suffering before redemption is obvious in evangelical theology -- so obvious that part of my reaction to the statement was shock and chagrin that I'd never thought about it in exactly that way before. It was like being told that I've been surrounded by air this whole time. And it made me realize a few additional things about myself.

1. I've always been obsessed with suffering. Most of my childhood experiences become "real" through a recollection of the pain associated with them. And the fact that so many of them were painful probably helped drive me toward that obsession.

2. This explains why, in my current life, which includes far less other-induced suffering (I still castigate myself occasionally, and carry a lot of needless suffering in my muscles), I'm much less obsessed with redemption than I used to be.

3. It also explains why I've felt certain for years that if I encountered true suffering again in my life, particularly bodily suffering -- though emotional suffering always brings the body along with it; so much emotional pain becomes or feels like physical sickness -- I'd likely go back to the church. It explains why I feel the main way to prevent this backsliding from backsliding is to build up new mental processes that help me cope with suffering and use perspectives on life that don't involve evangelical magical thinking.

4. It explains why I feel "magical thinking" is a useful concept, and essentially accurate, when I think or speak or write about evangelicalism.

5. It also explains so much about political realities in America right now.

Evangelicalism itself has ceased to make sense to me as a religious identity in conjunction with what has obviously also been and become a political identity. In my current life, I've come to think of evangelicalism as a political identity, almost exclusively.

But it also doesn't make SENSE as a political identity alone. WHY do all these people need to control, to squash, to assert opinions? It doesn't make any sense. It makes even less sense if they're referring to themselves as "libertarians" at the same time.

Add in this one idea -- that suffering builds character, that it's necessary for redemption, that the whole world must be redeemed, THEREFORE THE WHOLE WORLD MUST SUFFER -- and the underground, unconscious logic of it all slips easily into place.

It's scary. It's far scarier than a completely incoherent political identity. And Chemaly is right: it IS a war on critical thinking and democracy as well as a war, incidentally, on women.

If I'm going to pray about this, I think it will be one of the first times I've actually actively prayed against evangelicals. I hope a non-magical, non-women-hating, critical thinking God is up there listening somewhere.

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