I’ve written recently about conservative arguments that having abortions causes post traumatic stress disorder and ruins women’s lives, and that being gay means leading a destructive “lifestyle” that elevates your risk of suicide and depression. In each case I’ve pointed to self-fulfilling prophesies – if you can convince women having abortions that they are murdering babies, then of course they’ll have problems afterwards, and if you continually tell gay young people that homosexuality is an abomination and a depraved “lifestyle,” then of course those gay teens will be at a higher risk for depression and suicide. But there’s another point to be made here as well.
At the core, evangelicals and fundamentalists, along with their conservative Catholic and Mormon kin, believe abortion and homosexuality are wrong because the Bible says they’re wrong. Have you ever seen those bumper stickers, “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It”? Well, that’s what’s really going on here. This other stuff about abortion and homosexuality leading to depression and worse? It’s all just extras, but extras that serve a very important purpose.
If you could prove that abortion did no damage at all to women (wait – that’s what studies already say) or that being gay does not in and of itself make someone predisposed to suicide or depression (ditto), do you really think evangelicals and fundamentalists would change their minds? NO. Because that’s not actually why they’re against abortion or gay rights. They’re actually against abortion and gay rights because they believe the Bible condemns both.
Why aren’t evangelicals and fundamentalists honest about this? Well, quite simply, they know that condemning abortion because “the Bible says it’s wrong” or damning homosexuality because “the Bible calls it an abomination” isn’t going to get them very far with today’s public. They know that if they want to succeed, they have to appear to be against abortion and gay rights out of love and compassion, not out of the dictates of their Holy Book. They know that winning the rhetoric war will take more than Bible thinking.
Think I’m stretching here? Let me offer some more examples.
Answers in Genesis is quick to tell anyone willing to listen that the theory of evolution has led to racism, genocide, and despair. There’s a whole section of the Creation Museum depicting the results of the theory of evolution, complete with rebellious teens, promiscuity, homosexuality, and suicide. Evolution, they argue, tells people that their lives have no purpose, that they are no different from animals, that they are nothing but an accident, and that there are no moral standards. They even link Hitler and Stalin to Darwin, striving to show the harm caused by his theory. But the leaders of Answers in Genesis don’t actually reject evolution and embrace creationism because of any of this. Rather, they reject evolution and embrace creationism because of what they believe the Bible says. God said it, they believe it, that settles it. In fact, even if you could somehow argue that the theory of evolution did the opposite of all that, that it saved lives and improved morality, Answers in Genesis would still be against it.
Have you noticed that abstinence only sex education programs generally focus not on remaining abstinent because God commands it but rather on remaining abstinent because the alternative is dangerous to your health and emotional well being? For instance, one exercise involves giving each child two tin foil hearts and telling them to crumple them together and then find a way to untangle them without ripping one. Another involves taping two kids’ arms together, and then ripping off the tape and having one of the kids switch for another and doing it again, etc. The point is that every time you have sex with someone it creates a bond, and the more times you create that bond and then end it the weaker your next bond becomes. Yes, these exercises take place in public schools. Teens are told that having sex increases their likelihood of dropping out of school, dying of sexual diseases, or becoming unwed mothers. They’re told that casual sex leads to higher risks of depression. Advocates of abstinence only education, though, don’t actually believe sex before marriage is wrong for any of these reasons. They actually believe that sex before marriage is wrong because God said so. If there were no such thing as STDs and it were proven that having premarital sex didn’t cause any harm at all, heck, even if it were proven that premarital sex made people healthier and happier, these evangelicals and conservatives who champion these abstinence only education programs would still be against premarital sex.
In addition to offering a new strategy for gaining a sympathetic public ear, these sorts of extras also offer evangelicals and fundamentalists a further assurance that they are right, that the Bible is true. No matter how many studies show that there is no real link between having an abortion and suffering subsequent depression, evangelicals and fundamentalists will continue to believe and argue that there is. And the same for the other issues. The reason is that believing in these extras allows them to buttress their belief in the Bible’s dictates and to see God as truly kind and wise. After all, if God said homosexuality was destructive and sinful but gay people’s lived experiences showed that it wasn’t, that would make God look like a bit of a dick. But if God called homosexuality an abomination and, low and behold, gay people have higher suicide, depression, and disease rates, well, God’s just that smart and compassionate. Believing in the negative consequences of things like abortion and evolutionary theory backs up evangelicals and fundamentalists’ belief in the Bible and paints God as a knowing father rather than a dictatorial power-grabber.
Growing up, I was told that scientific knowledge has shown that pig meat was especially prone to be disease ridden during the time of Ancient Israel, and that this explains God’s prohibition of pork. In other words, God commanded the Israelites not to eat pork because it would keep them from sickness and poisoning. I have not looked into this issue since, so I have no idea whether ancient pork was more dangerous than ancient beef, but I do know that this was used as an example of God’s wisdom, and as a reason why we should trust God even if we don’t understand his prohibitions at the time. Further, this understanding of God’s prohibition of pork backed up our belief in the amazing truth of the Bible.
This leads to another point as well, though. My parents taught me that the Israelites at the time did not know why God prohibited pork. Rather, they simply had to trust and obey. Even if evangelicals and fundamentalists could be made to believe, say, that being gay is not destructive or depression-inducing, the words of the Bible would still be there. Believing that homosexuality is destructive may buttress one’s belief in the Biblical prohibitions, but it is not the core. At it’s core is “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” At it’s core is trusting God, having faith, and obeying the Word.