Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Abstinence and segregation: Gimme some o' that ol'-time morality!

Two fascinating stories -- each, in its own way, highly troubling -- via Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise, with a good deal of my own commentary:

1) See here (from the Post): "The Bush administration yesterday suspended a federal grant to the Silver Ring Thing abstinence program, saying it appears to use tax money for religious activities." Just what is the SRT program, you ask? Well, "[t]eenage graduates of the program sign a covenant 'before God Almighty' to remain virgins and earn a silver ring inscribed with a Bible passage reminding them to 'keep clear of sexual sin.' Many of its events are held at churches. In filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the organization describes its mission as 'evangelistic ministry' with an emphasis on 'evangelistic crusade planning.' You know, the words "evangelistic," "crusade," and "planning" are disturbing enough on their own. Put them together and you've got some serious trouble. (Sorry, I just don't think religion should be a crusade, let alone an evangelical one, let even further alone a planned evangelical one.) Especially when federal funds are involved to support it.

I'll leave alone the problematic issue of abstinence at the moment. But, in brief: There's nothing wrong with abstinence, I suppose, and in fact I have no problem with it being encouraged as an alternative to sexual activity among those who aren't ready for it. But the problem with abstinence teaching, especially from a religious perspective, is that it keeps those who are subjected to it in a state of abject ignorance when it comes to human sexuality. Self-control is important, I admit, but self-denial, the denial of the sexual component of human nature learned (or imposed) through moralistic education (if not brainwashing and fear-mongering) is, needless to say, a problem, not least because it stunts human growth and cuts off a person's appreciation of the richness and complexity of his or her own humanity -- and because it leads to both individual and collective suppression of the sexual, and thus, call me a Freudian here, to dysfunction on a massive scale.

I realize that I'm looking at abstinence purely as a secularist and that many religious believers would disagree with me. For me, abstinence makes sense because sexual activity can lead to such problems as teenage pregnancy, abortion, and the spread of STDs. For them, presumably, abstinence makes sense because religious belief -- or, rather, leading a religiously moral life -- requires the control of the natural for the sake of the divine -- or, rather, for the sake of the individual soul in the service of the divine. I say, Well, sexuality is natural, and it can feel really great, but be careful, you might get pregnant, or you might catch a disease, so why not hold off until you're a little older and better prepared to deal with things? They say, Thou shalt not fornicate! How do you argue with that? You don't. You just hope that young people are brought up properly and are taught to respect and appreciate their sexuality, the full spectrum of their sexuality, and learn the unabridged truth about human sexuality more generally. If not, they'll remain children, oppressed by a religious faith that keeps them chained in their own little caves, staring at the shadowy images of manipulated idols flickering on the walls in front of them, until nature ends up getting the better of them, dysfunction and all.

2) See here (from U.S. Newswire): "A lawsuit filed today alleges that Tyson Foods Inc. is responsible for maintaining a segregated bathroom and break room, reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, in its Ashland, Ala. chicken processing plant. Twelve African-American employees filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, alleging that a 'Whites Only' sign and a padlock denied them access to a bathroom in the Ashland plant. The complaint states that numerous white employees had keys to the bathroom that were not provided to African-American workers. The African-American employees' complaint also alleges that, after they complained about the segregated bathroom, the plant manager told them that the bathroom had been locked because they were 'dirty' and announced the closing of the break room."

What year is this again? 2005, you say? Well, not down in 'Bama, where, as we've seen before, castration is seen as a legitimate form of punishment and a state lawmaker has recently tabled stridently anti-gay legislation. Abstinence is one thing, but this? Out-and-out segregation at the facility of a fairly major corporation? I know there are I-told-you-so cynics out there who think that all this civil-rights-era liberalism is a something of a sham and that racism of this kind has never really gone away, just underground, but, honestly, I do think America's come a long, long way and has sincerely (if not completely) dealt with its noxious past. This case down in the heart of Dixie may not come as a complete surprise -- racism persists, obviously, on many fronts -- but at least we've reached a point where it can be responded to with indignation, and even with amazement, as it may be the exception rather than the rule.

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