Guest post: Sexual Shame in our Politics

The following is a guest post by Dr. Darrel Ray, founder of Recovering From Religion, The Secular Therapist Project, and author of The God Virus and Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality.

Sexual Shame in our Politics

Many people think politicians like Newt Gingrich and David Vitter, should be ashamed of themselves, but that is not what I mean by sexual shame in our politics. In my recent talks at the TX Freethought Con and  the KC Con. I discussed how politicians are using and promoting sexual shame to control our votes. Here is how it works; Sexual shame messages are rampant in almost all churches, even more so in recent decades; Shame messages around homosexuality, divorce, sex outside of marriage, masturbation and more.

Those shame messages are now supported with your tax dollars by teaching teenagers shame about sex in abstinence only courses. The effect has been to create rapid-fire, fear programs in those infected with these sex negative messages. Logic is not involved. Once a Baptist has been infected with the idea that sex before marriage is sinful, they will react to that shame trigger without thinking. Once a Catholic has been infected with the notion that abortion is equal to killing a human, then they have a shame response, unencumbered by logic. More importantly, huge numbers of religious people have actually done these “shameful” behaviors. Many Catholics have had abortions, most Baptists masturbate, many Mormons have had premarrital sex. The impact creates shame and self hate. However, they cannot admit they had an abortion or premarrital sex, or masturbate, so their shame leads them to lash out at those who are NOT ashamed.

The real crime, according to religionists, is not being ashamed of being homosexual, having an abortion, masturbating, practicing safe sex or premarital sex. These are a direct affront to those who believe these behaviors are shameful. Thus the religious rage against unashamed sexuality. The proof is in how Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Sen. David Vitter, Newt Gingrich, (and I predict, Dinesh S’Souza) have all come back. Once they show proper shame, they are allowed back into religious leadership roles. That is why liberals cannot be forgiven for just sexting (think Anthony Weiner), while a conservative religionist can engage in all kinds of sins, and still get forgiven by the community.

Over the last three decades, the Religious Right has been promoting politicians that take these shame messages into the political sphere. Whether Michelle Bachman or Todd Aiken, Rich Santorum, Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney, these politicians are masters at evoking the shame triggers people learned in church. It is a brilliant strategy that successfully ties religion into the political arena and circumvents actual examination of policies and issues. The key to winning is to evoke the shame/fear response, and people pull the lever for the religious candidate. That is why overt religiosity has become so important in many parts of the country.

This is exactly the approach I examined in The God Virus and predicted that it would get worse in Sex and God. Just this week, we have seen the ultimate expression of the shame approach – after 50 years, Billy Graham has now taken Mormonism off his list of cults! Absolutely unbelievable, except in the light of the role of shame in political messaging. Shame is the glue of almost all religions. Billy Graham knows this, intuitively. If the culture successfully deshames sex and sexuality, Billy’s religion along with Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and most others will decline. In my opinion, this is the key to understanding the religious dynamics of the last four election cycles, and probably many more.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Dustin

    Dr. Ray, I love your work. I try to explain this exact thing to people all the time. Thanks for writing!

  • smrnda

    “However, they cannot admit they had an abortion or premarrital sex, or masturbate, so their shame leads them to lash out at those who are NOT ashamed.”

    I think this is the big key message of this whole post. It kind of underlies the whole ‘abstinence based sex education is best, even if it gets no results’ attitude you get from many Christians. To them, they can’t deny the stats that abstinence based sex education results in more teen pregnancies than a comprehensive sex education program. But at the same time, to them, teen pregnancies are a lesser tragedy than allowing someone to think of premarital sex as not shameful. To them, a single sexual act outside of marriage would lead to a lifetime of guilt and shame. I think some religious people are genuinely miserable, and just can’t stand the idea that other people might get through life and actually not feel all the guilt and shame.

    Now, to me, they should understand that it isn’t fair, but they should instead just ditch the teachings that have made them miserable and accept human sexuality for what it is, but I’m guessing the conditioning has gone too deep to be easily dismissed.

    • http://yahoo Pmkpeme

      If one cannot control his sexual urge then he can always not control his behavior in other areas of life. Infact he will always fall into temptation and sell his birth right like the biblical Esau in Genesis 25:31-34. Gullible leaders are dangerous. They can always sell their people to Satan.

      • Laura D

        @Pmkpeme: What? We are talking about sexual shame now. Not birth rights (Is that still a thing in 2012?), leaders, or selling people to Satan. Seriously though, how do you sell a person to Satan? What kind of price per head does he pay? Because I know some people that I cannot stand and I would love to make some money off of them.

  • baal

    Thanks for the post and JT for putting it up (and to anyone else involved too). Anti-fear and anti-shame messages are sorely missing from public discourse.