Sin and Conservatism

By Michael P. Riccards

We all know the vocalizations about the “culture wars,”a phrase that goes back to Bismarck in Germany and more recently to conservative pundit Patrick Buchanan. The implications today are that there are two blocks of people with very different views of the importance of the so called American social issues. There are the coastal liberals who support gays, abortion, feminism, pornography, and loose living. Posed against them are the heartland and southern conservatives who prize Christian fundamentalism, family values, and restricted government welfare.

The recent revelations in the family lives of so many conservative clergymen and conservative, usually Republican, politicians has added to the complexity of belief. This situation underscores the overall power of hypocrisy, especially when sexual behavior is involved. The usual answer is to deplore the pleasures of the flesh, and note the ever hovering presence of sin and the Great Deceiver.

But Benjamin Edelman of Harvard Business School and New York Times’ Charles M. Blow have given us a very different view of the culture battle field. Most recent studies show that divorce rates are highest in states that John McCain carried: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Idaho, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Only Nevada which went for Obama makes the top group. Liberal New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts are actually at the bottom of the list. So those who so vigorously support family values have real problems with long lasting monogamous relationships.

The federal government has been committed to the advocacy of chastity among teenagers, rather than sex education or the easy availability of condoms to the young. If only we would discourage premarital sex, then the strong urges of the young could be tamed, especially with the right curriculum. People committed to chastity and abstaining are showing their adherence to family values once again. The problem is that those urges and the lack of preventive measures mean very high teenage birthrates especially in conservative Republican states:

Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia and Louisiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina. Only New Mexico and Nevada which were carried by Obama are in the high teenage pregnancy list. Liberal New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are among the lowest rates.

The Edelman study also explores which states have the highest subscriptions to on line pornographic sites. Once again the conservative, Republican states come out far ahead: Utah, Alaska, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota, Louisiana, West Virginal, Maine.  The states of Hawaii and Florida, both Obama territories, are also in that list. Once again liberal New Jersey is in the bottom group of users.

So it appears that there is a very different America behind closed doors. Our preachers preach about fire and brimstone, but we are rather permissive in our personal habits. We want the other person to be moral, straight laced, contained in their behavior. But we do not adhere to those restrictions in our personal lives. We cheer at the conservative meetings and political conventions and the supporters of family values, but neither they nor their adherents really exhibit such fidelity. It is not that those values are not to be respected; it is just that there probably should be more of an honest understanding of that area between what we do and what we truly believe. Sometimes, it appears that we are saying with St. Augustine—Lord, make me pure….but not right now.

It also should be clear that conservative clergymen and conservative politicians now use the morality card the same way that they used to play the anti-Communist card in the 1950s. It is simply a cynical ploy to win elections and garner votes, not a real commitment to the values of middle class America. Or maybe the values of middle class America have changed, and the states, once held in happy repression, are breaking out with a vengeance.

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