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July 28, 2016

Can we talk about Donald Trump’s acceptance speech last week? I’ve been ruminating and ruminating on it and it’s not getting any better. Trump focused on increases in crime and the violent threat posed by illegal immigration. Except that none of that is real. Violent crime has been declining for decades, police are killed on the beat far less frequently than they used to be, and undocumented immigrants are actually less likely to commit crime than American citizens. Trump’s acceptance speech was all smoke and mirrors.

To put it simply Donald Trump lying through his teeth in an attempt to scare the American people into believing that they live in dangerous times when they don’t. Why would he do this? To get votes. Trump made no secret that he riffed off Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential nomination acceptance speech, down to his adoption of Nixon’s appeal to “law and order.” Nixon won—twice. Trump is clearly hoping to replicate this success. But you can’t just rip a campaign approach out of another era and assume conditions are the same just because you feel like it must be true. (This is without even getting into the racist context of Nixon’s campaign and slogan.)

Let’s start with the homicide rate, shall we?

 

In each of these cities, the murder rate peaked in the early 1990s and has been falling since. But wait—the last of these graphs stops in 2015, and note that each line ticks up slightly. It turns out that the murder rate in major U.S. cities was indeed up in 2015. Some analysts have dubbed this the “Ferguson effect.” The claim is that police are going easy for fear of being accused of police brutality, and that as a result, criminals are running rampant. These claims do not appear to be borne out in the evidence (as we’ll see in a moment), but it is true that the overall homicide rate was up in 2015, at least in major cities (national data has yet to be released).

Here is an excerpt from Trump’s speech:

Homicides last year increased by 17% in America’s fifty largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60% in nearby Baltimore.

In the President’s hometown of Chicago, more than 2,000 have been the victims of shootings this year alone. And more than 3,600 have been killed in the Chicago area since he took office.

First, let’s talk about Baltimore. For the five years from 2010 through 2014, Baltimore averaged 216 homicides per year. In 2015, there were 344 homicides, which was indeed an increase of nearly 60%. This year there have been 169 homicides so far. Last year at this time, there had been 183 homicides. In other words, the homicide rate is currently down 8% compared to 2015—but don’t expect Trump to mention that! Don’t get me wrong, the rate is still way too high and is on track to top 300 again. It’s worth remembering, though, that the homicide rate in 2006 and 2007, before Obama took office, were 276 and 282. The homicide numbers from 2010 to 2014 represented a historic low. What I hope is clear by now, though, is that you can’t tell a complicated story like Baltimore with a single statistic.

What about Washington, D.C.? Our nation’s capitol saw 105 homicides in 2014 and 162 homicides in 2015, a 54% increase. In 2016, the city has seen 70 homicides thus far, compared to 81 at this time last year. This is a 14% decrease. If this rate holds, D.C. can be expected to have a total homicide count of 139 by the end of the year. While still substantially higher than the 2014 total, this number is nonetheless lower than the 2015 total. In other words, D.C. is on track to have a lower homicide rate in 2016 than in 2015, something Trump definitely left out of his speech. Further, even D.C.’s 162 total homicide number for 2015 is far lower than the homicide numbers from 2008 and before, prior to Obama’s election, when annual totals tended to hover around 180 homicides per year.

Next let’s talk about Chicago. The 2015 murder rate there was up in 2015 compared to 2013 and 2014, but was actually lower than it was in 2012. In 2016, though, the murder rate in Chicago has increased more markedly. The number of homicides in Chicago so far this year already stands at over 370 in a city that typically doesn’t top 500 homicides in a year. Last year at this time the number of homicides stood at around 270, which means that to date there has been a roughly 37% increase in the city’s homicide rate. If this rate keeps up, we may be looking at a total of as many as 670 homicides by the end of the year, a number not seen in that city since the late 1990s. There are reasons to think that what is going on in Chicago may be unique to Chicago, though, and we’ll come back to the city in just a minute.

Let’s pause for a moment to talk about other cities. New York City, for instance:

New York City saw a significant drop in major crimes in the first quarter of 2016 with the fewest murders and shootings in its recorded history, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced during a Monday press conference.

. . .

In the first three months of the year, New York City saw a 21 percent drop in murders compared with the same period last year, a statistic de Blasio called “extraordinary.” The city also saw a 14 percent decrease in shootings compared with those months in 2015.

By now you may see what I’ve been trying to get at in throwing all these details and all this context out there. Trump is correct that the homicide rate in the nation’s 50 largest cities rose by 17% between 2014 and 2015. He does not, however, mention that numerous cities are reporting lower murder rates in 2016 than in 2015—in some cases historically low. When a writer for Time magazine notes that “nearly half of the cities surveyed showed increases in homicides in the first quarter of this year compared with 2015,” the natural conclusion is that over half have reported decreases. Trump also does not mention that the 2014 U.S. homicide rate was a historic all-time low not seen since—well, I’m not actually sure when, because the stats I’m looking at only go back to 1960.

Let’s offer some context here. The murder rate in the United States hit 10.2 in 1980. The murder rate was 4.5 in 2014. The FBI has yet to release its crime statistics for 2015 (these are typically released in September), but even if the 17% increase in homicides applies across the board and not only to major cities (which is absolutely not a given), we would be looking at a murder rate of 5.3 for 2015. You want some context on that? The murder rate was 5.4% in 2008, the year Obama ran for president, and at the time, that was the lowest the murder rate had been for over four decades. We have enjoyed historically unprecedented low homicide rates since Obama took office—literally. The homicide rate for 2015 is only high when compared to Obama’s first term and a half, and is actually in line with the statistics of the Bush era. At this point, there is absolutely no reason to assume that the homicide rate in 2016 will be any higher than the 2015 rate.

Am I happy about our current homicide rates? No. Many other developed countries have far lower homicide rates. Are we in the midst of a cataclysmic crime wave? No, we are not. Officials have warned against calling the overall uptick in urban murders last year a trend, given that cities appear to be split, some showing increases and others decreases. A trend, some experts have pointed out, would be more across the board. Further, late last year researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law looked through statistics spanning from January 1st to October first of that year, and found that while murder rates in the nation’s 30 largest city were up by 11% compared to the previous year, overall crime rates (which combine murder with assault, burglary, etc.) were actually down slightly in those same cities. Researchers also found that while murder rates were up in 14 cities, they were down in another 11 other cities (which, again, does not speak to a trend). According to an article about the findings:

“Averaged across the cities, we find that while Americans in urban areas have experienced more murders this year than last year, they are safer than they were five years ago and much safer than they were 25 years ago,” the authors said.

This brings us to another point—Trump is speaking to predominantly white crowds, but it is African Americans who suffer disproportionately from murder and gun violence. Take a look at this:

From 2005 to 2015, the city went from 17.3 homicides per 100,000 residents to a rate of about 18.8, according to a report from the Injury Prevention and Research Center at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

But the report held particularly troubling news for African-Americans. The rate for blacks in Chicago jumped from 36.1 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2005 to 46.5 a decade later.

. . .

The study found that homicide rates for white people have decreased in the past decade, from 4.4 homicides per 100,000 in 2005 to 2.7 in 2015.

In other words, if you are white and you live in Chicago, you were far safer even in 2015 with its elevated murder rate than you were in 2005. African Americans, though? Not so much. The violence in Chicago is mostly limited to specific neighborhoods on the south and west sides of the city, which are predominantly African American in population, and officials there believe that the increased murder rate is related to a recent splintering of established gangs, leaving smaller groups fighting over turf. Trump’s speeches, though, are not aimed at African Americans. They’re aimed at his predominantly white base—the very people who are most insulated from the threat posed by an increased murder rate.

But let’s not just talk about homicides. Let’s talk about all crime.

The above image is important, I think, because it suggests that American perceptions of crime rates are seriously out of step with our actual crime rates, and have been for some time. But that graph stops at 2013. What happened in 2014? The violent victimization rate fell from 23.2 per 1,000 to 20.1 per 1,000, close to the 2010 low of 19.3 per 1,000. What about 2015? Did crime (violent or otherwise) increase in 2015? We won’t have official 2015 data until this fall, so it’s hard to say. However, remember that researchers looking at crime data from the 30 largest U.S. cities spanning the months January through September of 2015 found that overall crime rates were actually slightly down, even as the murder rate was up by 11% compared to the same period the previous year, and that the homicide data we have is only from major cities, and not nationwide.

The nationwide decrease in violent crime over the past two+ decades is striking.

By halfway through the Obama administration, crime had fallen to levels so low that some commenters have declared it “a new golden age.” Criminologists have been left scratching their heads and searching for explanations. Some point to the increase in the number of people we lock up in our prisons, others to the increased accessibility of abortion, and still others to the elimination of lead paint. Whatever the cause, experts agree—something significant has happened here, leaving the U.S. the safest it has been in many decades. This isn’t to say that there isn’t still work to be done—there is—but it is to say that anyone who is running on claims that a crime wave is sweeping this nation, leaving us vulnerable and in imminent danger, is running on bullshit.

I was going to also address murders of police officers and crime rates for illegal immigrants, but this post has gotten too long already. I will hopefully be able to get to those topics in future posts. The bottom line, though, is that Trump is trying to scare people into believing that we live in a time of lawlessness and crime when in fact we live in the safest era this country has seen in many, many decades. This can perhaps be seen as a symptom of Trump’s iffy relationship with the truth. Unfortunately, though, as revealed in one of the graphs above, many American’s perception of crime does not line up with the actual incidence of crime, which may leave them open to Trump’s fallacious narrative. That does not, however, mean we can’t push back. We can and we must.

July 21, 2016

A lot has been said about the Republican Party’s 2016 platform. It is, for example, the most anti-LGBT rights platform in the history of the Republican Party. There’s one thing I’ve seen less attention drawn to, though, and that is the platform’s wishful thinking when it comes to the family—or to be specific, the platform’s fairy tale contention that marriage magically fixes everything it touches. The Republican Party platform’s section on marriage and the family rests on some really bad science—or rather, on a fundamental misunderstanding of how science works. It’s as though no one ever taught the platform’s authors the difference between correlation and causation. It’s an elementary mistake. It’s data science 101.

I grew up in the Republican Party. Even as I eventually entered the Democratic Party, I assumed that both parties agreed on the most basic facts and had experts who, while they might disagree with each other, at least knew what they were doing. When I read things like this platform section, though, it doesn’t look like that at all. It looks, instead, like one party has experts who have at least some grasp on the problem and the issues involved while the other party has loads and loads of wishful thinking and magical assumptions. Do you want to know why that’s a problem? That’s a problem because having at least two, healthy political parties (with some grasp on basic facts and science) is important for a functional democracy.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

Foremost among those institutions is the American family. It is the foundation of civil society, and the cornerstone of the family is natural marriage, the union of one man and one woman.

Holdup. Why is the cornerstone of the family “natural marriage”? Historically, the family has looked very different from culture to culture and time to time, and even today people disagree on how to define the term “family.” It simply can’t be taken for granted or asserted as though t’s self-evident that “natural marriage” is “the cornerstone of the family.” Check out this bit from an old article about the 1980 White House Conference on the Family, which conservatives made great efforts to fill with their supporters:

Besides polarity on issues, there is a big difference even in the groups’ definitions of the family.

The pro-family groups want government approval for their definition of a family as persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption. The more moderate groups recognize a broader definition of families as anybody in a loving and caring relationship, sometimes including unmarried and homosexual couples.

It’s odd, isn’t it, that those who focus on blood are described as “pro-family” while those who focus on love are not? I see this framing a lot, and the Republican Party platform is rife with it. Well you know what? I’m a progressive and I’m pro-family. That I disagree very strongly with conservatives on how family is defined does not mean I don’t support or believe in families (in their many forms). I do.

Now back to the platform’s discussion of the family:

Its daily lessons — cooperation, patience, mutual respect, responsibility, self-reliance — are fundamental to the order and progress of our Republic. Strong families, depending upon God and one another, advance the cause of liberty by lessening the need for government in their daily lives. Conversely, as we have learned over the last five decades, the loss of faith and family life leads to greater dependence upon government. That is why Republicans formulate public policy, from taxation to education, from healthcare to welfare, with attention to the needs and strengths of the family.

I’m honestly not sure why faith is relevant here—I thought we were talking about the family—but I would point out that African Americans, who have by far the highest number of out of wedlock births as a percentage, are also significantly more religious than other groups. But again, I really thought this section was about the family, and bringing faith into it adds a variable.

The platform claims that “strong families . . . advance the cause of liberty by lessening the need for government in their daily lives.” So let me give you a scenario. A man loses his factory job and struggles to find work; he has a high school diploma and no skills or work experience beyond those gained during his time at the factory. The woman he is married to dropped out of high school when she got pregnant with their first child, and has stayed home with their children ever since; her employment prospects are limited. The family struggles, going on unemployment and then food stamps. Their extended family lives nearby and their family bonds are strong, but everyone is struggling and no one has much to spare. Hmm. It looks like “strong families” do not de facto lessen “the need for government” aid. Or perhaps the platform writers are defining “strong families” as those with financial means?

That’s actually a really important question—what does the platform intend to convey when speaking of “strong families”? Conservatives often seem to equate “family” with “marriage,” but extended African Americans families often have strong bonds irrespective of such a contract. What is a “strong family”? But wait—I think we’re about to get closer to a definition.

It is also why everyone should be concerned about the state of the American family today, not because of ideology or doctrine, but because of the overwhelming evidence of experience, social science, and common sense.

Note the appeal to social science, and the claim that this isn’t about ideology.

All of which give us these truths about traditional marriage: Children raised in a two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime or become pregnant outside of marriage.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, hang on there!

We oppose policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation. Moreover, marriage remains the greatest antidote to child poverty.

Whaaaaaat.

The 40 percent of children who now are born outside of marriage are five times more likely to live in poverty than youngsters born and raised by a mother and father in the home. Nearly three-quarters of the $450 billion government annually spends on welfare goes to single-parent households. This is what it takes for a governmental village to raise a child, and the village is doing a tragically poor job of it.

This is not how it works.

So first of all, I was right—this is about marriage. It’s not about strong family bonds at all. It’s about marriage. It’s not about fostering loving, caring relationships. Nope. It’s about getting people to sign a piece of paper. This should be obvious, but a piece of paper isn’t going to make kids any better off. And that’s the claim, isn’t it? If only kids’ parents all got married, child poverty would end! No wait. It wouldn’t. It turns out that the marriage rate and the child poverty rate don’t correlate—at all.

Anyone who has studied history at all knows that child poverty was significantly higher in the past, when marriage rates were far higher, than it is today. Do you know what tends to guard against poverty? Education and access to resources. Marriage doesn’t make poor people suddenly financially sound. Now yes, marriage in some cases means combining two incomes (though conservatives tend to be in favor of stay-at-home mothers, which eliminates an income). But so does cohabitation, which this platform specifically inveighs against. In other words, this isn’t about the combination of two incomes into one household.

Remember, though, that the claim isn’t just about child poverty. The claim is that children growing up in two-parent families are “physically and emotionally healthier, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime or become pregnant outside of marriage.” Well you know what? Married couples on average have higher incomes and more higher education unmarried couples, and having a higher income and more higher education correlates with all of those things! Why do married couples have higher incomes? Because individuals with higher incomes and greater educational attainment are more likely to marry than those with lower incomes and lower levels of educational attainment—and more likely to stay married!

Take a look at this data, for instance:

This data would suggest that one way to promote healthy, long-lasting marriages is to encourage women to attend college. Of course, there’s the causation v. correlation issue here, too—what is it about having a bachelor’s degree that makes a woman’s marriage likely to last longer? Perhaps it has to do with income—i.e., perhaps couples with higher incomes are more likely to stay married. In other words, it appears to go the other way around—higher incomes lead to longer-lasting marriages, rather than vice versa (i.e. the Republicans’ claim that marriage results in higher income and greater economic stability).

There’s another issue too, though. Children benefit from growing up in a loving and stable family environment, but marriage does not automatically or always create this. This is why you can’t compare the outcomes of children with divorced parents to the outcomes of children with married never-divorced parents—couples who get divorces almost by definition did not provide a loving and stable family environment before the divorce, or else they wouldn’t have gotten a divorce. Just as forcing couples to marry would not magically create money that does not already exist, even so forcing couples to marry would not magically create loving and stable family environments where they do not already exist.

But there’s still a bit more in the platform.

The data and the facts lead to an inescapable conclusion: Every child deserves a married mom and dad.

Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait. The data and facts prove that? Really? That will be news to social science, because the data and facts actually suggest that children with same-sex parents do just as well as other children!

Also? I’ve spoken with plenty of adults who grew up in divorced households who said they were glad their parents got a divorce, because it was better than what came before, and with plenty of adults who grew up in homes without divorce who wish their parents had gotten a divorce, because that would have been better than what they had. Oh, and I also know young adults whose parents got married because of them—because they got pregnant—who grew up feeling like they were the reason their obviously incompatible parents ended up stuck together, living miserable lives. So no. I’m going with no.

Do you know what every child deserves? Parents and caregivers who love them and care for them, while also meeting their own needs. You know why? Because children do better when their parents and caregivers are happy and fulfilled (i.e. not in a marriage that is making them miserable). Do you know what else every child deserves? A stable food source, adequate clothing, basic healthcare, and a roof over their head. Do you know what doesn’t magically provide these things? Marriage. Do you know what does provide these things? Affordable college and vocational training for their parents. Access to food stamps, Medicaid, and other government programs in case of need.

But we’re still not done.

The reality remains that millions of American families do not have the advantages that come with that structure. We honor the courageous efforts of those who bear the burdens of parenting alone and embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with dignity and respect. But respect is not enough. Our laws and our government’s regulations should recognize marriage as the union of one man and one woman and actively promote married family life as the basis of a stable and prosperous society. For that reason, as explained elsewhere in this platform, we do not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage and we urge its reversal, whether through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment returning control over marriage to the states.

What the hell does “respect is not enough” mean? I’m honestly curious. Because it looks like the platform is saying that gay people should be treated with respect, but that “respect is not enough,” so gay people need to be actively discriminated against in our country’s marriage law, and frankly, that logic flow makes absolutely no sense.

Also? You can either “recognize marriage as the union of one man and one woman” or “actively promote married family life” but you cannot do both, as the first rather gets in the way of the second. Namely, confining marriage to one man and one woman actively prevents a segment of the population from marrying at all which by definition gets in the way of efforts to “actively promote married family life.” Unless, of course, we remember that to those who wrote this platform, “family” means man + woman + children, and absolutely nothing else. Which of course it does.

Let me take you back to the main point I want to make here, though, because I know the anti-LGBT rights aspects of this platform have already been covered in depth. Namely, note once again the assumption that inducing people to get married will automatically create stability and prosperity. It does not work that way. When relationships show promise of being stable and prosperous, couples tend to marry. Those who don’t marry generally do so for reasons—reasons that won’t just go away if some external force convinces them to marry anyway.

If you want to know more about the problems with conservatives’ belief that marriage is the solution to every social and economic ill, start reading sociologist Philip Cohen’s blog, Family Inequality. Check out this post, for instance.

Yes, the children of single parents face steeper odds of success than their fellow citizens whose parents are happily married. Many single parents – the vast majority of whom are women – experience chronic shortages of money, time and social support. Their children are less likely to be closely supervised, to be well prepared for kindergarten, to graduate high school, and to make it through young adulthood free from entanglements with the criminal justice system. The intuitive case for more marriage is easy to see.

[But] single parenthood doesn’t just cause these social ailments, it also reflects them. Some of these problems are merely the consequence of whatever caused their parents to be single in the first place: poverty, illness, incarceration, weak relationship skills, and so on. In other words, successful people are more likely to raise successful children and to have successful marriages. Research on marriage among poor Americans clearly shows that the majority want to be married, but they aren’t for a variety of reasons related to their poverty.

Marriage does not make poor couples middle class. Marriage does not impart education on people ill-prepared for today’s job market. Marriage does not create stable, loving relationships where they do not already exist. And if conservatives are so damn worried about marriage, they should be asking why people aren’t getting married. Because—frankly—that’s what social scientists actually do. Republicans, though? Republicans engage in magical wishful thinking. Apparently. And you know what? Magical wishful thinking is a terrible thing to base policy on.

June 21, 2016

Within twenty-four hours of last week’s Orlando attack, I saw an evangelical Facebook friends post that this is the difference between Christians and Muslims on LGBT issues—that Christians love gay people while Muslims try to kill them. In a sick, twisted way, last week’s brutal attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando is a boon to evangelicals. Now every time someone calls them out for their opposition to gay rights or their homophobia, evangelicals can now point to Orlando and say “no no, that is what hating gays looks like, we don’t hate gays” or “we’re not the ones who are killing you, go deal with Muslims, we’re not like them, we love gay people.”

People often try to get a pass for something sketchy they’re doing by pointing to someone who has done something worse and and insisting that they’re not like them. The Orlando shooter has given evangelicals that in spades. Amethyst Marie made this same point in 2014 when she wrote a post about Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, of the infamous anti-gay funeral protests and “God Hates Fags” signs. Here is how Amethyst put it in her post, which she titled “You Are Better Than Fred Phelps (and that’s why he was so dangerous)”:

I’ve heard people say that we can’t grant homosexuals the right to marriage and families because we have to protect the institutions of marriage and family. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people say that, while they believe in reaching out to unsaved homosexuals, they couldn’t continue to fellowship with unrepentant homosexual Christians as believers. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I’ve heard people go out of their way to find something, anything, in someone’s past to which they can attribute the “brokenness” of same-sex attraction, to explain away as dysfunction something they’d see as beautiful and healthy if it were between two people of the opposite sex. But they would never say “God hates fags.”

I could go on for a hundred pages. If you think I’m saying that all these people are really no better than Fred Phelps, you’ve completely missed the point. These people are better than Fred Phelps. These are nice people. These are people who don’t want to hurt anyone. These are people who sincerely want the best for their neighbors, for their nation, for the poor broken homosexuals. These people feel sincerely torn over how to discriminate in the kindest way possible. They might be you. They have been me. You, most likely, are better than Fred Phelps. I was and continue to be better than Fred Phelps. And that’s his true danger. Fred Phelps and others like him let us believe that being better than them is good enough.

I recently attended my parents’ solidly anti-gay evangelical megachurch for a service. Oh, I’m sure both my parents and the church leadership would say the church isn’t “anti-gay.” That sounds so mean, after all, and they love gay people! They’d probably say the church is “pro-marriage” or “pro-family,” but by that of course they mean pro-heterosexual marriage, and pro-heterosexual family. Actually, there’s a way to check this—hang on—oh hey, the church’s online “what we believe” section condemns both homosexuality and transgender identities, both in the context of their section on creation and marriage. Classy.

Anyway, halfway through the worship period, loaded down with praise choruses with highly repetitive phrases like “He loves me” and “I love Him,” I stopped to wonder what it would be like to attend this church as a gay person. I was immediately struck by the insistence—both in the music and in the announcements—that we are loved by God. I remember hearing this refrain over and over as a child—God loves us, God loves us, God loves us—and I remember finding it comforting, this feeling that I was loved by an all-powerful supernatural entity, that this entity actually cared about me and my wellbeing. But then, I’m not gay.

What would it be like, I wondered as I stood there, to be gay in an evangelical church? What would it be like to be gay and to grow up being told that God loves you, but also that God hates sin, and that homosexuality is sin? What would it be like to grow up believing that your love, your romantic and sexual attractions, were disordered, condemned, and forbidden, but that somehow, despite that, God loves you? What would it be like to grow up to realize that you could never have what everyone else has—romantic love, companionship, and a family—but that God loves you? What does love even mean, in that context?

As I wondered all this, I became angry. I became angry because I am completely certain that some of those sitting in that worship center with me are gay. I became angry because evangelicals preach that gay people must live celibate lives, or else they are engaging in sin and separated from God forever, and then claim that they love gay people, and that God loves gay people. I recently watched an evangelical woman explain on Facebook that she loves her lesbian neighbors and their young children, but that she hates their homosexuality and sin. She loves them—she just doesn’t believe they should be a family. She loves them—but she believes their love is wrong. The cognitive dissonance is overwhelming.

What does this have to do with the Orlando shooting, or with Fred Phelps? Namely, evangelicals have increasingly sought to find a path across a culture war fast turning against them by claiming that they love gay people, and having individuals actively claiming to hate gay people (i.e. Fred Phelps) or engaging in acts of terror against gay people (i.e. the Orlando shooter) allows them to point to and differentiate themselves from those who hate gay people. But what does that love look like, exactly? And are evangelicals aware that hate doesn’t always come at the point of a gun?

I’ve written before about evangelical opposition to marriage equality. Evangelicals have also opposed gay adoption and the very existence of gay-straight alliance clubs in public schools, despite the importance these clubs have in safeguarding LGBT teens against suicide. In some cases, prominent evangelicals have openly called for bringing the “yuck factor” back into discussions of homosexuality. It’s no wonder a former coworker of mine attempted to commit suicide as an evangelical teen. How many other evangelical teens have toyed with the idea that that might be their best option, all things considered? Is this what love looks like, really?

In a recent post, blogger Samantha Field took on evangelicals’ contention that they hate the sin, but love the sinner. As usual, Samantha is deeply insightful.

Not only have they twisted the definition of hatred into something so deformed it’s beyond recognition, they’ve done the same thing to love. Here’s the thing, though: when Jesus said they shall know you by your love, it comes with the pretty basic assumption that your “love” should be recognizable to people who don’t share all your pet theories. If people who don’t share your interpretation or your faith look at your actions and say “that looks an awful lot like hate to me,” your response shouldn’t be “oh, it only looks that way to you because you’re not a conservative evangelical like me!” It doesn’t make any sense.

Seriously, read her whole post.

As for me, the next time an evangelical tells me that homosexuality is sin but that they love gay people, that they don’t hate gays like those other people, I’m going to remember that moment, sitting in my parents’ anti-gay evangelical megachurch, listening to the congregation sing songs about how much God loves us, and considering what all this would do to the psyche of an evangelical gay teen sitting in those very seats. Evangelicals may not have shot anyone in Orlando, but they’ve mangled countless young people in their own pews.

April 25, 2016

There’s something we need to talk about. Opposition to trans bathroom access is perhaps most pronounced among evangelical Christians, a group whose inability to deal with sexual abuse in their own communities rivals that of the Catholic church. Evangelicals claim they oppose trans bathroom access because of the threat this access poses to women and children. Why, then, are they so quick to turn a blind eye to the abuse of women and children in their own communities?

When 15-year-old Tina Anderson was raped by a church elder and became pregnant, the church leadership believed her rapist’s claim that the interaction was consensual and punished Tina by making her confess to sexual immorality in front of the congregation, sending her away for the duration of her pregnancy, and forcing her to give her baby up for adoption. Meanwhile, her rapist was allowed to retain his position in the church’s children’s ministry.

For decades, Christian homeschool families overlooked warning signs and allowed Bill Gothard to maintain his leadership position in IBLP and his contact with and control over the teenage girls he hired as his personal secretaries. The IBLP Board of Directors was aware that Gothard had crossed lines and done things that were inappropriate and yet they took no action. Meanwhile, the many dozens of girls who suffered harassment and sexual molestation at Gothard’s hands suffered in silence, knowing that they would not be believed if they told someone what was happening.

There was a time I thought such abuses were rare, perhaps confined to more fundamentalist groups and certainly not characteristic of evangelicals as a whole. I’m no longer so sure of this.

Boz Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham and a professor at Liberty University, has made a name for himself as an evangelical anti-abuse advocate through his organization Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE). In 2013, he argued that evangelicals are “worse” than Catholics in their response to abuse. Over the past several years I’ve watched his ministry and I’ve watched as some evangelicals have made steps in the right direction while others push back. I’ve watched as evangelicals have complained that child abuse prevention gets in the way of loving children as Jesus loves them.

And it’s not just evangelicals. It’s conservative politicians more generally. You want an example? I can give you a very current one:

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, several other former congressmen and a onetime CIA chief were among 41 people who wrote letters asking for leniency for Dennis Hastert as the former U.S. House speakerheads to sentencing next week in his hush-money case.

What did Hastert do, exactly?

Prosecutors say the core of the misconduct is sexual abuse by Hastert when he coached wrestling and taught at Yorkville High outside Chicago from 1965 until 1981.

Oh. That. And look at this:

The letters are part of a defense bid to get probation for a man who was once second in line of succession to the U.S. presidency and who now faces up to five years in prison. Most were written in late February and early March, before prosecutors had fully detailed the sexual abuse allegations leveled at Hastert decades ago.

Why would you write letters in defense of someone without knowing what the full allegations are? That’s like the worst idea ever—and an abuser’s dream. Abusers are good at looking like upstanding citizens. They know how to manipulate their image and discredit their victims. It turns out that Republican politicians are good at defending sex offenders. And also being sex offenders.

You would think that people who care so much about preventing the abuse of women and children that they’re willing to bar a particularly vulnerable group of people—trans individuals—from safely using the bathroom themselves would, you know, care about actually learning the dynamics of abuse. But no. They’re not interested.

This issue has become increasingly personal to me.

Over the past few years, the evangelical community in which I grew up has been rocked by several child sex abuse scandals itself, and it has not handled them well. I’ve watched in growing horror as child sex abuse victims have been called “incorrigible liars” and compared to the wayward woman of Proverbs. It’s hard to explain the level of abject horror I have felt as I have watched friends and family members fail to show a shred of compassion for sexually abused children in their communities while showing scads of compassion for the perpetrators. The community in which I grew up is not a safe place for children.

A particularly problematic set of beliefs contributes to evangelicals’ frequent inability to properly address sexual abuse. Evangelical teachings about forgiveness and redemption make it incredibly easy for child predators to convince those around them that they have changed, and that they should be allowed to resume their ministry positions and their access to children. Evangelical modesty teachings also make it far too easy to blame women and children for their own assaults. And then there is the book of Proverbs.

When my mother read the book of Proverbs to me and my siblings when I was a child, she would look pointedly at my brothers when reading about the wayward woman, who lured men to her bed with perfumes and then led them to their destruction. “Beware the wayward woman,” she would tell them. I didn’t realize how insidious this teaching was until I heard it applied to a young female sexual abuse victim in my own community. Months of grooming, the process by which a predator conditions their victim to accept their abuse, were ignored because—and I’m not making this up—no one in the community knew what grooming was.

For too many evangelicals, it is women—teenage girls in particular—who are seen as the natural sexual predators, and not the predatory men who take advantage of them. The temptress/wayward woman image can easily overwhelm attempts to talk about grooming or the dynamics of sexual abuse. Perhaps you are an evangelical reader certain that this could never happen in your community. Good for you. So was I. And then it happened—and more than once—as I watched in horror.

Evangelicals in particular and conservative politicians more generally have a sexual abuse problem in their own backyard. But you know what? It’s a sight lot easier for them to ignore that and point to “the other” as the real threat to women and children. These groups cultivate unsafe atmospheres in their own communities but can simultaneously portray themselves as the true protectors of women and children by pretending that the true threat is outside of their communities. It’s not.

I’m not worried about my first grade daughter using the bathroom at the same time as a trans woman. I’m worried about my teenage sisters living in an evangelical community with a demonstrated willingness to turn on victims and make excuses for predators.

March 17, 2016

My first grade daughter, Sally, recently asked me to explain the difference between Democrats and Republicans. One of the things I told her was that Republicans want to use public policy to encourage (or coerce) (heterosexual) marriage and believe that everyone would be better off in (first time) married (heterosexual) two-parent families while Democrats tend to embrace a greater variety in family form. I thought of this when I came upon a recent New York Times article, The Ambivalent Marriage Takes a Toll on Health.

Conservatives frequently play fast and loose with causation and correlation when talking up the benefits of marriage, to the extent that some have promoted marriage as a measure for decreasing poverty, failing to understand that married people are on average wealthier than those who have not married because those with more money are more likely to marry, not because marriage makes people wealthy or generates wealth on its own.

There are other areas where this is true as well, such as conservatives touting studies showing that women who have abortions are more likely to die in the next decade than women who give birth as proof that abortion is dangerous when in fact all it shows is that women who are at greater risk of death due to various circumstances or lifestyle choices are more likely to have abortions than those who aren’t, and not that abortion is a causal factor.

Anyway, a recent study took a look at the purported health benefits of marriage, discussed in the New York Times as follows:

Every marriage has highs and lows from time to time, but some relationships are both good and bad on a regular basis. Call it the ambivalent marriage — not always terrible, but not always great, either.

While many couples can no doubt relate to this not bad, but not good, state of affairs, new research shows that ambivalence in a relationship — the feeling that a partner may be unpredictable with his or her support or negativity — can take a quiet toll on the health of an individual.

The findings, published this month by researchers at Brigham Young University, are part of a growing body of research that attempts to parse the so-called marriage benefit, the well-established notion that married people are, over all, far healthier and live longer than the unmarried. But increasingly, researchers are trying to understand the more nuanced effects of marriage on health. To reap the health benefits of marriage, is it enough to just be married? Or how much does the quality of the marriage, such as the level of support, warmth, negativity or controlling behavior, affect the health of seemingly stable couples?

The study compared individuals in “ambivalent” marriages with those in “supportive” marriages and found that those in the ambivalent group had higher blood pressure than their counterparts. The study didn’t look at individuals in bad marriages. While the study only examined married couples in a single city, 85% of whom had been married for a decade or less, the article noted that:

That said, the conclusion that the health benefits of marriage are dependent on the quality of the relationship has been borne out in other research. For instance, a University of Utah study found that a marital fight that lacked warmth or was controlling in tone could be just as predictive of poor heart health as whether the individual smoked or had high cholesterol. Ohio State University researchers found that wounds heal more slowly when couples have hostile arguments compared with couples who manage conflict without hostility. At the University of Virginia, studies showed that when happy couples held hands, the calming effect on the brain was similar to that caused by pain-relieving drugs. But unhappy couples did not show the same benefit.

In other words, simply getting married is not enough to reap you health benefits—and the same is presumedly true for other kinds of benefits. In order to reap the health benefits touted by conservatives and others, you have to be in a happy and supportive marriage.

You know what? I have plenty of friends who aren’t married because they haven’t found someone with whom they can have such a relationship. Pressuring them into marrying a boyfriend with whom things weren’t working out would have been a very bad idea and would have very likely left them worse off than they are now, but this is what conservatives are promoting when they act as though marriage is de facto better for people than being single.

Actually, I also know someone who just left her husband of ten years because the relationship had become toxic. She’s now divorced, and you know what? Her happiness, life satisfaction, and health shot up immediately after she left him. She’s had acquaintances who didn’t know about her divorce comment on her Facebook pictures asking what happened, because it’s transparently obvious that she’s in a very much better place than she was a year ago. She has begun eating more healthily, gotten fit, spruced up her resume, and put herself out there, and it has been beautiful to watch.

Marriage is not better for people than being single. What’s good for people is being surrounded by supportive friends who care about them and are there for them. When marriage means being in a healthy relationship with a supportive life partner, well, that is what the benefits come from, not a piece of paper or a legal status. But just as single people sometimes have a strong network of supportive friends and other times are lonely and feel unsupported by their friends, so too there is variation in marriage—it can mean going through life hand-in-hand with your best friends, and it can mean being stuck with someone who is constantly critical and erodes your self confidence and sense of worth.

From a policy perspective, we need to stop focusing on marriage or not marriage and instead start focusing on promoting healthy relationships with friends, relatives, and life partners and giving people the tools they need to form these relationships. How do we do that? One thing I told my daughter when discussing the difference between Democrats and Republicans was that the two parties differ on their definition of family. You could see this in battles between conservatives and progressives at the White House Conference on Families in 1980, as reported by the Christian Science Monitor:

Besides polarity on issues, there is a big difference even in the groups’ definitions of the family.

The pro-family groups want government approval for their definition of a family as persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption. The more moderate groups recognize a broader definition of families as anybody in a loving and caring relationship, sometimes including unmarried and homosexual couples.

We can promote the development (and importance) of healthy relationships of all stripes in schools and other forums, including community centers and workshops on effective communication. We live in a society where many people move frequently, and where we can sometimes struggle to find a sense of community; we need to look beyond the immediate biological or legal family and foster expanded avenues for support and camaraderie. Whatever we do, we need to stop promoting empty quick fixes that focus on external factors and not people’s internal needs and sense of self.

February 25, 2016

Hey guys! I’ve known Dan Fincke of Camels with Hammers almost since I first started blogging. In fact, way back when, he and I drafted a post comparing our experiences growing up in very different yet in some ways similar evangelical homes that I don’t think we ever ended up posting! Oops! Anyway, I wanted to take a moment to make sure my readers know about Dan’s online philosophy classes.

Dan was an adjunct college instructor for a number of years before deciding to go into business for himself teaching online philosophy classes. These classes involve a two-hour weekly interactive session with Dan and the other students in the class, held via google hangouts. The class sizes are small, and students pay $40 for each weekly session and are not billed for sessions they miss. Dan is extremely knowledgeable in his subject area and very passionate about teaching. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that I’ve heard a lot of really good things about his classes!

Anyway, Dan is starting two classes in March and has asked if I would share these classes with my readership. In fact, he tells me that he has met several of his students—and his fiancee—through my blog! Next month Dan is starting a revamped version of one of his classic classes, Philosophy for Atheists, and a new class, Virtue, Values, and Meaning of Life. Dan also starts new sections of his Philosophy of Love, Sex, and Gender class when students write to request it and is in the process of putting together a Philosophy of Religion designed to make religious students feel as comfortable as atheist students. Dan’s Virtue, Values, and Meaning of Life and Philosophy of Love, Sex, and Gender classes are both religiously neutral.

I’ll include Dan’s course summaries for these four classes below, and you can also learn more about his classes through his Philosophy Class Welcome Page. If you’re interested in taking a class with Dan, or even just want more information, you can contact him at camelswithhammers@gmail.com.

Make sure to take a look at the course descriptions!

Virtue, Values, and Meaning of Life

In this course we will deal with philosophers’ writings that rigorously and edifyingly deal with the perennial practical questions of how to live a good life, how to cope with adversity, how to live a meaningful life, and how to be a good person. We will engage with the wisdom of philosophers and philosophical writers from antiquity up through our own era. In addition to the inexhaustible and justly famous classics like the works of Plato, the Stoics, Nietzsche, and the Existentialists, there are a number of cutting edge contemporary philosophers who still engage vigorously with the classic philosophical questions of how to live and die well. The course will mostly be concerned with topics like love, friendship, pleasure, pain, purpose, priorities, self-understanding, self-fulfillment, self-overcoming, self-creation, altruism, emotions, adversity, meaning, purpose, value, charity, ethics, virtue, happiness, family, justice, death, suicide, spirituality, moral particularism, humanism, freedom, choice, moral psychology, the ethics of care, and fate. Sometimes we will analyze particular virtues and vices in depth. We will put special emphasis on exploring the vibrant subfield of ethics known as “virtue ethics” which has undergone a contemporary renaissance over the last 35 years in particular. But we will not limit ourselves to the insights of virtue ethicists as philosophers from other ethical schools of thought also have insights into these topics.

Philosophy of Love, Sex, and Gender

Philosophy of Love, Sex, and Gender: In this course we will look at historical and contemporary philosophers’ writings on love and friendship. We will look critically at historical philosophy’s treatment of women, read seminal and contemporary feminist philosophy, and explore the relevance of feminist ideas for areas of philosophy beyond just women’s equality. We will look more broadly at some of the philosophical schools that influenced the development of contemporary popular feminism and explore what resources still remain untapped. We will occasionally address issues in feminism as they are brought up by controversies erupting in the news and social media. We will also explore philosophical questions specifically relevant to gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, transexual, transgender, and genderqueer people. This will include questions related to the meaning of concepts like gender, sexuality, and identity, and practical questions about how social institutions might be evolved to better accommodate them. We will critically examine the most historically influential philosophical arguments against the moral legitimacy of LGBT sex, identities, and relationships and constructively develop the possibilities for holistic defenses of the moral value of LGBT sex, identifies, and relationships. We will discuss the nature, ethics, uses, aesthetics, and “spirituality” of sex from philosophical points of view, and spend time on ethical controversies related to pornography, sexual objectification, S&M, consent, sex among colleagues, college sex, sexual harassment, sex education, sexual representation in media, prostitution, rape definitions, statutory rape, invalid consent, date rape, rape and alcohol, sexual abuse of children, pedophilia, monogamy, promiscuity, marriage, sexually transmitted infections, purity culture, abstinence, celibacy, bestiality, necrophilia, dating, adultery, plural marriage, polyamory, abortion, surrogacy, adoption, sex and racism, sex and sexism,and immoral sexual fantasies.

Philosophy for Atheists

People leaving religion and coming to study philosophy with me often have a mixture of needs and interests. They both want to think through their positive post-religious philosophical answers to the Big Questions and to spend some time processing their new thoughts about religion now that they are on the other side of it. This is an extremely valuable and yet difficult process of “debriefing” their religious experience, “detoxing” from the negative aspects, and cohering their philosophical arguments against their former faith now that these are no longer their “doubts” but their positive positions that they find themselves having to explain to the religious people in their lives who want explanations of why they no longer believe. I specialize in helping people work through all these issues. Such students typically want to comb back over the philosophical arguments related to religious belief and to think about religion from historical, psychological, sociological, ethical, and epistemological viewpoints. If this description fits you, then my Philosophy for Atheists class to provide this for you.

Philosophy of Religion

My Philosophy of Religion class addresses the philosophical issues that religions raise. This course is designed to give both believers and non-believers a detailed and nuanced understanding of the best and most current arguments for and against the existence of God. This involves exploring a range of traditional and cutting edge cosmological, teleological, ontological, epistemological, and moral arguments for and against the existence of God. We also explicate and assess a wide range of competing conceptualizations of what God is or would be. We examine the relationship between faith and reason and the relative epistemic warrant of believing things by faith. We analyze various strategies for reconciling faith and science, and for modernizing religions generally. We investigate the ideal relationship between church and state. We apply philosophical tools to religious claims to see how they might be most coherently and plausibly conceived, and how they might be judged to be true or false. We weigh skeptical arguments from the Problem of Evil, look into what alternative approaches to metaphysics and ethics that non-theists give, and consider whether it is possible to have non-theistic religions.

February 25, 2016

Many conservatives have argued, and continue to argue, that same-sex parenting is a threat to parental rights. An article by conservative writer and professor Melissa Moschella, titled To Whom Do Children Belong?, is a case in point. Moschella argues that marriage equality will lead to state-owned children. Now first of all, that is one hell of a slippery slope. But secondly, for a variety of reasons, the arguments she makes fail badly. Let’s take a look, shall we?

A crucial aspect of liberty is respect for subsidiarity—in particular, recognition that the family, based on marriage, is a pre-political community with natural and original authority over its internal affairs, especially the education and upbringing of children. Redefining marriage in law to include same-sex couples undermines the principled basis for the primacy of parental childrearing authority by obliterating the link between marriage and procreation as well as the norm of conjoined biological parenthood that conjugal marriage laws help to foster. What was once almost unanimously understood to be a normative ideal—the intact biological family composed of married mother and father with their biological children—is now culturally (and to a large extent legally) demoted to being merely one among an increasingly wide variety of family forms.

Right off the bat we have a problem. What the family looks like has varied drastically over time and from society to society. Even several hundred years ago, blended families—those with step-parents and half-siblings, etc.—-were incredibly common due to high mortality. It was also common for unmarried adult children to live in the home, and for grandparents to remain in the home. In fact, the “intact biological family composed of married mother and father with their biological children” was a post-WWII invention, brought about by new housing patterns, new living arrangements, and changing birth and death rates. And that’s without getting into other societies and time periods where children have been raised by the community rather than their parents and family units looked completely different.

I am trying to wrap my brain around how ahistorical Moschella’s view of the family is, and it hurts. She is making what ought to be a rookie mistake. Even today, it’s clear that the dethroning of the “intact biological family” has very little to do with marriage equality—or rather, the cause and effect run opposite that posited by Moschella. You can’t blame the fact that four in ten children are born out of wedlock on marriage equality. In fact, the increase in alternative family forms over the past several decades—including blended families, single parents, and grandparents raising their grandchildren—has likely contributed to our increasing societal acceptance of same-sex relationships and families.

One more thing. Note that Moschella says the intact biological family has been “demoted” to just one among many family forms. This seems odd to me, because I don’t see a demotion of the intact biological family so much as increasing acceptance of other forms along side it. I am married and my husband and I have two biological children. My daughter has a friend whose mother got pregnant in high school and is raising him with the help of her parents, and another friend who has an older step-sister who lives with her mother. That these families are more accepted than they would have been in the past has not hurt me or my family in the least. What Moschella is upset about is not the demotion of the intact biological family but rather the increasing acceptance of other family forms alongside it.

I could draw the curtains on Moschella’s post here, but I’m going to soldier on.

The view of marriage as a mere creature of the state to be redefined at will goes hand in hand with the idea that children “belong” primarily to the state, which then delegates (limited) childrearing authority to whomever the state defines as the child’s parents.

We see this trend in Canada, where the 2005 bill redefining marriage to include same-sex partnerships replaced the term “natural parent” with “legal parent” throughout Canadian federal law.

Say what? Am I to understand that Moschella doesn’t believe in adoption? Because it ought to be transparently clear that switching the term from “natural parent” to “legal parent” is about accommodating for adopted children, not about asserting that children belong to the state. In fact, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—which Canada has signed—states that children have the right to be raised by their biological parents unless their biological parents have chosen to give them up. No one is talking about the state taking each child at birth and then assigning them out a la The Giver.

But let’s talk about that word “limited” for a moment there. When Moschella writes about the state grants “limited” childrearing authority to whoever they define as the child’s parents, what is she talking about specifically? Does she have a problem with the fact that parents are required to send their children to school (or otherwise educate them)? Does she have a problem with the fact that the state has banned child abuse and neglect?

My point is this: It makes sense to put some limits on parental authority. There was a time when fathers could legally kill their children, no harm no foul, because their children were their property. Does Moschella want to return to those days? I doubt it. How do we determine what limits should be put on parental authority? Through the democratic process. We as a society have decided that children have a right not to be beaten, and that children have a right to adequate food and clothing, and so forth. What, really, is the alternative? To allow parents unlimited childrearing authority is to legalize child abuse and neglect.

Anyway, back to Moschella:

Similarly, in at least nineteen US states as well as the District of Columbia, same-sex partners can now both be listed as parents on a child’s birth certificate, substituting politically correct legal fiction for the implacable (hetero)sexism of biological reality.

I can see why this might sound shocking to conservatives, but Moschella is leaving out a very important point. Adopted children typically have an original birth certificate, and an amended birth certificate. The original birth certificate is sealed in the court adoption records, and the amended birth certificate shows the adoptive parents’ names. The states Moschella mentions merely allow same-sex parents to adopt a child just like opposite-sex parents. It is adoption that is “substituting politically correct legal fiction for . . . biological reality” not same-sex parenting.

According to one estimate, same-sex couples are currently raising 4% of the nation’s adopted children. If Moschella is so very concerned about making sure families are based on biology, and that birth certificates always and forever reflect biology, she would be better off combatting adoption laws than combatting marriage equality.

Anyway, back to Moschella:

We also see the state encroaching on parental authority in order to enforce the new orthodoxy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. “Equality” requires teaching that all family forms are equally good, and public schools do this by introducing “diversity-oriented” activities and readings – including books like Mommy, Momma and Me – across the curriculum.

I wonder, would Moschella be similarly concerned if white supremacist parents were protesting against schools reading books about Martin Luther King Jr. or books with African American child protagonists? Believe me, there are parents made very very unhappy by black history month. Just how far does Moschella take parental authority, exactly? Does the parent have the right to isolate a child from everyone and everything they disagree with?

California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have made it illegal to give counseling to minors who have sexual-identity issues that in any way discourages them from fostering those tendencies, regardless of whether or not the child would like to receive such counseling, and regardless of whether or not those issues seem to stem from earlier traumas such as sexual abuse. Similar bills are pending in fifteen other states.

There are obviously some fundamental disagreements going on here, but I do want to note that laws banning conversion therapy for minors are in a way similar to laws banning the use of faith healing on children. What does Moschella think of those laws, I wonder? Unlimited parental authority over children’s upbringing would suggest that parents have the right to deprive children of needed medical care in the same way that they would have the right to subject their children to harmful and dangerous gay conversion therapy. Is that really where Moschella wants to go?

From here Moschella talks about this awful worried Gay-Straight Alliances that recruit teens and subvert the values their parents are trying to teach them. I’m wondering if Moschella knows much about LGBT teen suicide rates, and the role of Gay-Straight Alliances can play in preventing such tragedies. Moschella is also very upset that some LGBT teens are removed from their homes by social services. Did Moschella blink an eye when Leelah Alcorn walked in front of a truck, I wonder? What does she think about the fact that nearly half of homeless youth are LGBT teens kicked of the home by their conservative parents? Is that a parent’s right, too?

Moschella returns to education, lamenting that some political theorists advocate making “diversity education” programs mandatory in all schools. I’m not going to get into everything she says in this area—it’s quite repetitive—except to note, again, that we already have diversity education in other areas like race and religion. We are a diverse society, and it’s important for children to learn to navigate that diversity. But the real problem with Moschella’s logic is that there would be a push for diversity education even without marriage equality. What she’s really upset about here isn’t marriage equality but rather the normalization of homosexuality. Now sure, the two are in some sense related, but the fact that diversity education includes transgender identities should make it obviously that marriage equality, which she has made the center of her article, is not the driving factor here.

And then there’s this:

The current German law against homeschooling originated during the Nazi era. Yet despite its questionable pedigree, this law continues to be unabashedly enforced in contemporary Germany. Even when challenged as a violation of parental rights, it was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in Konrad v. Germany (2006) on the grounds that the state’s interest in integrating children into the larger society trumps the rights of parents—grounds that echo the arguments of political theorists like Gutmann and Macedo. As a result, parents have no choice but to send their children to state-approved schools, even if they believe the environment or curriculum to be harmful.

Let me ask two questions. First, should parents be permitted to deny their children modern medicine if they believe it is harmful? In other words, our standard cannot be “whatever the parent says goes.” We can discuss exactly where we draw the line—how much leeway parents have before they hit limits—but having limits on parental authority shouldn’t be something we even need to discuss. Second, does society as a whole have a stake in ensuring that children are not locked in their rooms for years at a time, without human contact? If yes, then we can argue about whether the German courts went too far—after all, many would argue that homeschooled children can be integrated into larger society without a problem—but we can at least grant that society does have some interest in ensuring that children have interactions with individuals outside their families.

Of course, all of this is without even discussing the rights of the child. We can talk about “society’s interest” in ensuring that children are educated, or not abused, or prepared to integrate into a diverse world, but we need to also consider the rights of the child—something Moschella doesn’t do.

But let’s skip forward and wrap up this article, shall we?

If Gutmann, Macedo, Harris-Perry and others are correct, and children do belong to the larger community at least as much as they belong to their parents, then the state’s views about the best way to raise and educate children should trump the parents’ views, and there is no principled basis for opposing the sorts of intrusive state actions described above. By treating marriage and family as a mere construct of the state, and denying the normativity of the intact biological family, the majority in Obergefell have effectively enshrined this statist vision of childrearing in our law.

But if the intact biological family is a natural pre-political community – if parents, not the state, have primary and pre-political educational authority over their children – then the family is effectively a little sovereign community within the larger political community, and, like any sovereign community, it has the right to direct its own internal affairs free from coercive external interference (except in clear cases abuse, neglect, or serious threats to public order).

Oh okay, so Moschella is okay with the state interfering in “clear” cases of abuse or neglect. I wonder how she defines “clear” exactly. What Moschella is saying is not that the government shouldn’t put limits on parents’ rights but rather that the government should only put the limits on parents rights that she is okay with. How very convenient.

Let me ask you this. What does marriage and the family look like if the state gets out of the picture? Well, it looks like it does now, except perhaps even more so, as divorce would be as simple as moving out. What does parenting look like without the state’s involvement? Parents are free to give their children to a relative or other person if they don’t want to raise them, and without the state enforcing parental rights, we might see less of a focus on parents and more of a focus on extended families and wider communities.

Moschella doesn’t want the state defining marriage, parenting, or childrearing, but what she doesn’t realize is that her ideas of what is “natural” or “normative” for marriage, parenting, and childrearing don’t hold up without the state defining them into law. In other words, she’s upset not that the state is involved but that the state is changing the rules, but she nevertheless thinks she’s upset that the state is involved. There’s something very ironic about that.

After writing this article, Moschella wrote a second article in which she further addresses adoption and child abuse. I will be addressing that article in another post, probably early next week. 


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