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I was struck on August 6 by one of those cultural epiphanies. Our brave little robot “Curiosity” – See? I can anthropomorphize, too. – had just safely landed on Mars, to the hooting and hollering of the landing team, and the near-tears of some of the rest of us, back here on Earth. Just days earlier, Chick-Fil-A had set a one-day sales record after numbers of churches and religious figures had urged their followers to show their support for the company’s president Dan Cathy by patronizing their local franchise on “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day”, August 1. Why this outpouring of affirmation and cash? Because on July 27 Cathy had made public his opposition to gay marriage, assertedly on religious grounds. So this was clearly not about homophobia, but about religious “freedom”.
I began wondering how many churches and religious figures on Sunday, August 5, had taken any steps to affirm or even acknowledg the impending Curiosity landing. I want to believe there must have been some. This majestic event, this projection of our puny, fragile selves out into the solar system to explore by proxy another world, surely some church somewhere must have seen fit to honor, even to pray for, this positive, human event. I hope so. I couldn’t find one.
So this few days in our history seemed to symbolize the more dangerous Great Divergence in our nation. Not the economic one that Timothy Noah describes and analyzes so clearly and eloquently in his 2012 book The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It, critically important though that is, but the one between fact-based and faith-based worldviews, between science and religion, between rationality and irrationality, between the primacy of thinking and the primacy of feeling, between Curiosity and incuriosity.
I have no evidence of the source of Mr. Cathy’s homophobia. I do not know if his statements are the all-too-typical American male hostility reaction to feelings or twinges of same-sex attraction in himself. In all likelihood he doesn’t know. (And I refuse to make some easy little joke about his surname.) The fact that he covers his feelings with a religious proscription only moves the question one layer back: Why did he gravitate to that sort of religion? There are now plenty of gay-friendly churches to choose from. No, the impetus for his antipathy to his queer employees and customers is, and will remain, private to Mr. Cathy. (Unless, of course, he gets caught in one of those embarrassing Pastor Ted moments with a rent boy.)
This brief magnification of our cultural divergence – already forgotten in the rush of events – is per se not of much importance. The damage done is pretty much limited to some extra saturated fat and salt in the diets of some church-goers. From the televised evidence, to be sure, this is a group that can ill-afford such nutritional excess, but the ensuing cardiovascular insults are relatively small and contained. This was a symbolic event with no wide societal damage.
The same cannot be said of the “legitimate rape” fantasies of Todd Akin, a six-term Republican congressman and current candidate to be one of Missouri’s two U.S. Senators. Or, as Piers Morgan called him when he bailed out of a scheduled interview on Morgan’s show, “a gutless little twerp”. As evidenced by his own statements, Akin appears to believe that women can’t be impregnated by an act of non-consensual genital sex; if the subject sex act was “legitimate rape” – his choice of that almost too-wrong adjective – the subject woman’s uterus will recognize that legal? emotional? situational? truth and decline the opportunity to pass along the woman’s genes into the next generation.
Yup. That’s right, ladies. Just as your heart makes judgments about religious matters, your uterus makes judgments about matters of human relations. When that guy ejaculates into your vagina, you may be in terror for your life or beaten into submission or constrained by financial or other practical issues or grieving or under feelings of obligation or ambivalent or temporarily or permanently emotionally or mentally incompetent or drunk or drugged out of your mind or comatose, but have no fear: if that sex act was not fully consensual, your uterus knows and will prevent a pregnancy.
Now, although our minds may boggle at this utter lack of any sense of how humans work, at the bone-deep ignorance of this apparent wise-uterus belief, it is of no especial interest that people like Akin are wandering about, licensed to drive motor vehicles and even allowed to vote. Many men are even more clueless about female sexual facts than they are about their own sexuality, for example, as Mr. Cathy may be. Such ignorance of human nature is lamentable but not, in itself, significant.
But this guy’s in the lead to be one of our 100 Senators, one of those few who make the laws that govern us humans! Well, blame yourselves, fast-food fans. When you sow the wind of my-strong-feelings-trump-your-indisputable-facts, this Akin is the whirlwind that you reap. When you de-legitimize the common ground of fact, Akin’s are the fantasies you end up with. When you live by the sword of uninformed opinion, you die by that sword. Akin is the Chickens-Fil-A coming home to roost.
ARC, 21 August 2012
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