You know, every so often right when I think that toxic Christians are starting to catch on to how obvious it is to outsiders that they want to control all the rest of us, they top themselves with a new entry in that “I cannot believe they said that” contest they’ve been running for the last 20 years or so.
I was going to make this a fairly short blog post but a bunch of stuff just happened at once that I think ties in together very neatly with what I’ve been saying lately about how toxic Christians are trying even harder to control how Christianity rolls than they are about controlling how outsiders roll. And it’s not even restricted to Christians–seems like we’re seeing this out of other religions too, lately. You know how you have a garden and in just like a week you’re knee-deep in zucchini and now have to make sense out of it all? That’s how I’ve felt lately.
Today’s first entry in the contest comes from Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who is retiring. He huffed with regard to marriage’s “breakdown,” “I think we’re losing the plot actually. I think we haven’t really noticed what’s happened in Britain. . . If people work for the maximum possible benefit for themselves then we will not have trust in industry, in economics, in financial institutions, we will not see marriages last.”
I admit, this absolutely blew my mind that he’d say something so completely ridiculous. I am well aware that Lord Sacks is Jewish and not Christian, but this is exactly the kind of thing that Christian leaders are also saying about marriage over here and teaching about it. Lord Sacks just made the mistake of saying something that gave away his agenda in his out-loud voice, that’s all. He managed to crystallize a lot of what I’ve been thinking lately about how religion’s trying to control society, so this particular dumb statement is what I’m writing this entry about. We’ll talk about Christian-specific abuses next time, I promise. Okay?
Let’s take it from the top.
First, the idea that there’s a “plot” at all. I’ll skip mentioning beyond a brief hiccup here that nobody has proven the existence of a “plot,” much less demonstrated that they know how that plot goes better than anybody else. This guy is implying that there’s some script we are all supposed to follow. He’s upset that we’re not following it. Is he seriously implying that he is upset that he can’t dictate people’s lives for them? Is he seriously saying that he knows exactly how society’s supposed to work and how people are supposed to live–and that he knows these things better than they do themselves? Yes, yes of course he is.
Though I note he has been careful to dance around the gay rights issue, it seems very clear that when he complains about marriage’s breakdown, he’s cutting right into the subject in a very roundabout way–and slamming women’s rights while he’s at it, since no-fault divorce is a big part of what religious leaders think is so harmful and threatening to marriage nowadays. And he’s even dabbling in single parenthood and couples who are having kids but not getting married. Families just don’t look like they did in his youth, and to him, that’s a very bad thing and clearly the root of all the problems he perceives in society.
But it gets better.
In his world, married couples take one for the team by not working for their own “maximum benefit,” and the team is apparently “industry, economics, and financial institutions.” When married couples refuse to make those sacrifices, in his little world, they lose trust in those things. I’d argue it works exactly the opposite: when someone has no trust in those things, then there’s very little motivation to work for their benefit. Why do these groups even require everyday people to put aside their own needs and happiness for these things’ benefit? Why is it bad if people would prefer to work for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of others who don’t give a rat’s rear end about them?
We’re ignoring that people generally do want to cooperate. Attempts to write Ayn Rand-style “screw all y’all, I’ma get mine” philosophy into business practice have been tried even in super-big, can’t-fail corporations–resulting in failure on such a scale we might go so far as to call it “epic.” Or “hilarious.” Take your pick. People aren’t quite as selfish as people like Lord Sacks seem to think they are. Cooperation is actually pretty common in humanity as well as in the animal world. Though some of us can be very selfish in terms of pushing our own good above that of other people or even of society itself, may I gently suggest that if society really needs people to take such a financial hit for its behalf that refusing to do so constitutes a lack of “trust,” that maybe society itself kind of sucks and needs fixing? He’s swiped at materially helping families that fit his favored mold in a half-hearted sort of way, but I’d be so bold as to say that what marriage looks like today is a direct result of how society treats people–and it does no good whatsoever whining and hand-wringing over marriage while those issues exist. It’s putting the cart before the horse, much like how conservatives treat abortion, which is another symptom of dysfunction and not a cause of it.
But oh no. If gay people are allowed to marry and women are allowed to divorce, then obviously nobody will care about poor widdle old financial institutions, industry, and economics. Sniffle sniffle. Sneef. If we let people do as they think best for their own lives, then what’s to stop everybody from behaving so selfishly that those things wither and die for lack of support, I can just about hear him moaning.
I noticed that he specifically mentions that he holds this bigoted and misogynistic position for the sake of “the children.” Ah, the children. If we object to his grasp for power, then we obviously hate children. And we don’t hate children… do we? To him, children need to be brought up with their birth parents. That sounds to me awfully like a big slam against adoptive parents, stepparents, and gay parents.
Is this guy from the 1950s or something? I mean, I realize it’s kind of a given, like a “people have to breathe air to survive” kind of given, to religious people to just assume that humanity is evil and selfish and meaniepie deluxe squared, and I realize that they think it’s equally a given that allowing gay marriage and divorce rights means we’re all going to magically change for the worse, but exactly what will two gay people given the right to marry do to impact child poverty that straight people are not already doing to impact it? Will married gay people magically make straight people get divorces or not earn enough money to feed their kids? And, too, how can forcing a person to stay married to someone s/he hates be so much more to “the children’s” benefit than divorcing as amiably as possible and ensuring the fallout is as fair as we can manage? What is the mechanism by which society will be harmed? Why does he believe that a secular society is so terrifying, given that secular societies already exist and don’t actually have a big problem with divorce, crime, violence, teen pregnancy, or any other of the other markers of dysfunction that mark religious countries?
Honestly. It’s hard to escape the idea that Lord Sacks is scared that once we all go secular, maybe we’ll discover secular ain’t so bad and maybe we should have done this years ago–sort of like how the Republicans over here are so scared of universal healthcare and are trying their hardest to destroy it before another election rolls around.
I ask all these questions because straight spouses and married couples in general have never in history ever, ever worked for the maximum possible benefit for themselves over and above anybody else. Right? Obviously. This is another place where I’m baffled. Is Lord Sacks upset that married gay people maybe won’t have as many children as they would if they were forced to be single or
butt-buddies in civil partnerships? How is he going to stop people from divorcing or encourage them to marry, given that people don’t normally marry in his country for reasons besides love? (I qualify that “in his country” because I know a number of couples who have married in the US for healthcare benefits.) Or is he worried that married people often don’t have kids at all? I just don’t follow his logic or what tangible reason people would have for following his plot over their own.
If any of that’s the case, then he isn’t exactly making himself look like less of a jerkwad. That children are such a huge imposition financially for families is one of the big reasons why couples are having fewer of them. Like that unendurable misogynist Ross Douthat, Lord Sacks is implying that women should get married so they can have approved sex, then spread their legs and get to work making babies for the benefit of “society”–but if he is going there, then like Douthat, what this amounts to is that he’s got a sad that we selfish women have a problem with wrecking our entire financial futures and destroying our lives just so industry will feel good that we trust in it–and also coincidentally get cheap labor and see more of our money.
Oh, but it gets worse. As the article I linked to at the start pointed out, Lord Sacks has definitely linked the “breakdown of marriage” to child poverty and a host of other social ills, all without specifically saying (to my knowledge anyway) just how this would become worse if another group of consenting adults were granted the right to marry. I’ve got to wonder if he’s aware that he’s using the same arguments that opponents of mixed-race marriages were using 50 years ago–and here we are, mixed-race marriages and all (and thank goodness for his own religion, huh? Considering how many Jewish people are marrying non-Jewish spouses) and somehow we’ve avoided destroying civilized society.
By the way, can I just say this? It’s really hard for me, as a woman, to hear a well-off white dude tut-tut about the “breakdown of marriage” and not wonder if what’s really being criticized is us mean ol’ sluts for our selfish habit of dumping bad husbands and refusing to have kids when these well-off white dudes think we should just stay married and pop babies out. It’s just so shockingly privileged and sexist-sounding to me. Like what has his panties in a bind isn’t so much instability of marriage but that the right people aren’t doing it and that those who are, aren’t doing it the way he wants them to do it.
The thing is, couples who actually plan for children and want to have them (and do have them) aren’t doing it so society will be improved or industry will be happy or even because they trust society or want to improve child poverty somehow. They’re doing it because they want to do it. Nobody ever goes “We always said we wouldn’t have kids. But then wow, I just looked around and realized that in 17 years there won’t be enough fast-food workers, so I said ‘Honey, let’s have a baby! Our people need us!’” No, of course you don’t hear that. That’s because parents don’t plan to have kids because it would make industry, economics, and financial institutions happy but because it’s what would make them happy. Crazy, I know, but if he thinks that parents aren’t just as selfish as non-parents, he’s out of his mind. They’re just selfish in ways he approves, that’s all.
And it’s okay to be selfish. What are industry, economics, and financial institutions doing, exactly, to make a huge personal investment and financial wreaking-of-havoc worthwhile? What exactly are they giving people besides criminally low wages, horrifically inadequate benefits, and predations the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Upton Sinclair? Why exactly should I put my personal happiness behind these mammoth and inhuman organizations’ interests, when they have demonstrated time and again that they certainly do not have their own workers’ and consumers’ interests at heart? When a family actually does have a baby they can’t afford or support, are these organizations going to graciously step in to help out with the burden they’re so happy and grateful these folks assumed for their benefit?
Yeah, I thought not.
So why in the world should I or anybody else do anything to go out of our way to make their existence easier? Why should I work for their benefit instead of my own?
Of course, it gets even better. As that link says, he also thinks that religious affiliation and belief are what really hold society together. So obviously countries that are secular are having huge problems keeping their society together. I’d link, but since I couldn’t figure out what he thinks “keeping society together” looks like–crime rates? Violence? But non-religious countries tend to have lower crime rates and violence. It’s downright baffling to guess what he means. I run into that a lot with religious people. As I said, they take it as read that society is going to hell in a handbasket, but about all they point to as signs of this are things I consider quite progressive–easier access to abortion, expanded women’s rights, gay people’s rights granted, more secular government, better education, etc. Religious leaders have been fighting those things for some decades now, so naturally they’re not going to be happy. But they can’t show how those things demonstrate a society heading for disaster.
So I guess he means that without religion, a society can’t flourish. And as we know, gay people are never religious. And religious folks never divorce. So obviously we can’t let gay people get married, because that will make everybody flee churches and synagogues worse than they already are. Except that 91% of non-Christians and 80% of Christians say that their religion is anti-gay and Judaism itself has some massively bigoted factions, so it’s not hard to imagine the Judeo-Christian religions’ typically anti-gay attitude being a factor in why young people are abandoning them as increasingly irrelevant to modern life and cruel to those who don’t fit the mold. But weirdly, nobody’s made a lot of headway in just demanding that divorce laws get revoked or repealed anywhere to make their Magic Friend happier that I know of. Preachers may rail against divorce here and there, but I reckon it’s a lot easier to go after gay people than divorcees.
Sacks doesn’t say exactly how gay people being married or people having or not having children in situations he approves will destroy marriage any more than straight people have already destroyed it before gay rights was a thing (if y’all don’t mind a little preaching to the choir here). Giving someone a right they deserve will not take anything away from someone who already has that right or change someone else in any fundamental way. If marriage is special, then it won’t be less special if someone else gets the right to have it. If society is breaking down as a result of marriage changing, then surely letting gay people–who desperately want marriage, who are fighting tooth and nail to get that right to commit for a lifetime to one person and possibly raise a family together–would only strengthen the institution.
Maybe what’s worrying Lord Sacks isn’t so much society breaking down.
Maybe he’s worried that as society proceeds further and further away from his religion, he sees his dominance becoming weaker and weaker.
Maybe he’s worried that we’re following a plot, all right–just not the one he wanted for us, just not the one he imagined for us, just not the one he thinks is the best one. He’s seeing us go about our lives, doing what we think is best for ourselves, weighing the options about who we will love, for how long, why, when, and where, about what kind of families we’ll have and how we’ll go about getting those families, and you know, I’ve just got to think that he has got to realize that we increasingly don’t regard him or his religion or those of his religious buddies as relevant anymore. He is the figurehead of a movement that is telling us that we “should” do things the way he thinks we should do them. He is clutching his pearls and stapling the back of his hand to his forehead and declaring doom and gloom, and all we’re doing is ignoring at his finger-wagging–when we’re not laughing at the display.
It’s sad to see a religious leader who is so caught up in dictating other people’s lives that he’s forgotten to examine just why it is that we’re moving so far away from his influence. The organizations he thinks we should put ahead of our own happiness long ago became so predatory that only a fool would do something like that. Instead of tackling the nearly-overwhelming social problems in his country in a meaningful way, though, he’s latched onto a panacea he is positive will fix everything: pushing his idea of marriage onto people who fundamentally don’t care about his ideas. If only he can just dictate those things, everything will be fine. After all, in all this time that only straight people could marry and divorce was hard to get, everything was totally peachy. Nothing at all was wrong till gay people began getting rights and divorce got easier to get. And now look–everything’s falling apart! Why can’t we just go back to the Good Old Days when only straight people existed and gay people were vilified and had to accept their inferior status (oh the irony, this coming from a Jewish man)? How dare we ignore him when he’s yelling at us to get off his lawn!
How dare we.
How dare we choose personal happiness and advancement over the machine of society, a machine that would certainly not value our sacrifice or help us help them in any way at all.
How dare we refuse to follow the dance steps laid out for us by religious organizations like the one so recently headed by Lord Sacks.
How dare we refuse to allow him to tell us how we should live.
How dare we not care what he thinks of how we ought to get through our days.
Really, I hope the next person in his role is less of a laughingstock and a bigot. But really, we’ve got a win/win here: either the next person will be less bigoted and start repairing the damage Lord Sacks seems to have wrought, in which case humanity benefits, or else that next person (oh who are we kidding, the next man) in the role will be just as bad or worse of a bigot out of touch with reality, in which case the religion will become irrelevant more quickly… in which case humanity still benefits. I’m cool with it either way.
Next up, we’re going to talk about the three greatest and most dire threats to humanity, according to right-wing Christians at a recent meeting of their Ignorant Tight-*** Club: Communism, Islam, and…. liberal Christianity. I know, right? I know! Be here. I’ve got a lot more to say on this topic.