Last time we hung out, I touched briefly on why I don’t feel that accommodation is the way to go regarding Christian overreach into the public sphere. I want to expand on that some more. Right now America is going through a really tough time with the Republican Party falsely insisting that it wants to “compromise” when it really doesn’t even vaguely understand what that word means, and I see the roots of their attitude in my own past and in what I see going on around me in the religious world.
Accommodation is sometimes seen as non-Christians and Christians alike “working together” for the betterment of humankind. You’ll sometimes hear cries of “Why can’t we find common ground?” and “Why can’t we get along?” The implication is that there’s some compromise, some middle path, between “religion” and “secularism” that can be devised and pursued that will result in everybody being, if not totally enthused, at least equally displeased.
I don’t think there is a middle ground. Like the author of Reason-being, I think that the goals and methodology pursued by religious overreachers and secularists are totally different, and that there really isn’t a compromise that can be reached that will eliminate religious abuse of government and education.
Let’s look at this another way. When I was a Christian, I married a fellow fundamentalist–Biff. He wanted children. I did not. It was that simple.
Biff kept trying to find this magic compromise that’d work to allow him to have kids, but which would allow me to remain childfree. But this is one of those situations that makes compromise impossible. He offered to be a stay-at-home daddy and I would just have to bear the child, and not have to lift a finger at all in the raising of this prospective child, which horrified me on so many levels that’d be a post all of its own to detail them all. He was upset when I refused his “compromise.” Surely I wanted him to be happy? Surely this was a great middle ground?
No, it’s a lousy middle ground, I said. I was childfree. I did not want to bear children at all. I did not want to have children in my life. I did not want to share a home with children. I don’t even enjoy being around kids in large doses. I am not a maternal type of person at all by nature. And I certainly did not believe his claim that he’d do all the work and I’d just lounge around all evening eating bonbons after coming home from my big wonderful job supporting my loving family. I was 100% unhappy with the idea of children. Children were completely, utterly, totally incompatible with my happiness and dreams. There was absolutely no compromise I could make with him that would give me even a small measure of happiness (and let’s not even get into how cruel it’d be to a child to have a mother who didn’t really like having him/her around–I was unwilling to risk the chance of not “loving it once it gets here”).
Meanwhile, not having kids made Biff deeply unhappy. Nowadays, I think most couples are a little more wise about essential incompatibilities like that, but back then we weren’t quite as relationship-savvy, and it wasn’t common at all for a woman to declare she simply didn’t want children at all at any point in her life. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you just how far he went to try to change my mind. And lest you think I’m being unfair here, I told him well before we got married about how I felt, and he promised–he promised!–that he could “live without kids” and he wanted me more than he wanted children. This wasn’t some new thing I’d just sprung on him; he’d known for at least a couple of years by then that I didn’t want kids. What I did not know is that our pastor had put him up to saying that in response to my objections, because both he and Biff were convinced that all women want kids. I was young and headstrong, sure, but I’d calm down and change my mind soon. And my then-husband was happy to believe what the pastor seemed so certain about. To put it simply, not having kids was completely unacceptable to Biff. Having kids was completely unacceptable to me. The compromises he offered were what he considered genuinely gracious, but they were offered in very poor faith in my opinion because they totally ignored and disregarded the central thrust of where I wanted my life to be–as one spent not having kids around me.
You see that cartoon about the current Republican situation? The one that goes “Hey, let’s compromise about burning down your house.” “No! I don’t want my house burned down!” “What about just the upper floor? Can I set that on fire?” “NO! You can’t set any part of my house on fire!” “…Okay, so what about just the garage?” Well, that was what the whole discussion felt like to me.
That wasn’t the only place where Biff tried to offer a false compromise. Years later, when he realized I was serious about leaving Christianity, he tried to “compromise” by demanding I at least attend church with him, pray, and go to fake counseling with various utterly untrained Christian leaders he’d decided were qualified to “fix” me. Look, he even said once, with this profoundly hangdog expression as if making this huge and painful concession, I’ll go to bars with you and (shudder) drink beer, and you go to church with me. The problem with his “compromise” was that I didn’t care if he went out with me or drank beer. I didn’t want him to do things he fundamentally didn’t want to do. I was not–and still am not–okay with forcing someone to go somewhere or do things that are antithetical to that person’s worldview, orientation, or lifestyle. I didn’t want Biff to change or to “fix” him or deconvert him. I was totally fine with Biff going to church and being a Christian. I just didn’t want to do any of that stuff anymore myself. Any “compromise” that involved me doing those things again as if I still believed was not a compromise at all to me, but rather a demand that I pretend and keep up appearances so Biff could continue to needle at me about reconverting and feel more comfortable around his ministerial friends–and continue to advance as a minister himself, since having a rebellious wife was seriously hampering his vocational goals.
And I knew exactly what would happen if I went to this fake counseling he wanted for us; he didn’t want to learn to get along or work to recapture whatever goodwill and cooperation we’d had once, but rather just wanted an authority figure to have on his side while he tried to re-convert me. So many ex-Christians have reported this same thing happening to them that we’re just about all very leery of so-called “Christian counseling” at this point. At the time, I didn’t realize how often it happens that a Christian spouse will, flailing for some way to regain equilibrium, demand a newly-deconverted spouse go to this fake counseling; I just knew that if we were going to counseling, it’d be real counseling with a real counselor. Tellingly, Biff didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to learn how to deal with the “new normal” of our lives, but to make me Christian again so he could turn back the clock’s hands.
So, in this manner, every single “compromise” he offered regarding our major differences and conflicts involved me doing things that were repelling and horrifying to me. That’s not a compromise. That’s a once-dominant person seeking to regain a bit of dominance again, to try to get his foot in the door so he can maybe wiggle a bit more through the door when his victim’s gotten tired of constantly bracing the door shut.
In the same way, those who seek a “middle ground” between religious overreach and secularism imply that there’s some aspect to religious overreach which is compatible with a secular society. That is simply untrue. The goals of those who wish to inject their religion into everybody else’s lives are incompatible, utterly, with the central thrust of what it means to have a secular society and legal system. There simply is no aspect to religious overreach which is acceptable. There is no “middle ground” between denial of science and acceptance of science; I’m not content with just a little sorcery taught to children in lieu of real science. In the same way, there is no “middle ground” between the positions of those who seek to criminalize abortion and those who want it to be easily, legally available to women; I’m not content with just a little slavery pushed onto women against their consent, nor “just a few” vestiges of sexism allowed to fester unchecked at the expense of women’s equal rights. There is no “middle ground” between full rights for gay people and systematic and systemic oppression of gay people either; I’m not content with “just a little” bigotry enshrined in law. Nor is there some “middle ground” between religious demands in government and those who want our government to work like our Founding Fathers wanted, without religious demands; I’m not content with just a few religious tests, or just a little bit of forced prayer, or just a wee bit of favoritism shown to one religion.
Those who want “just a little” sorcery, slavery, and religious overreach want something that, at its core, is totally and completely unacceptable. There isn’t a way to do “just a little” of this stuff and be morally in the clear in a modern society any more than there’s some way to burn down “just a little” of someone’s house against its owner’s will and be morally in the clear.
(Do some religious groups want the same things secular societies want and want to cooperate to get to those goals using tested methods that we know work, like religious groups that want equal rights for gay people who actually campaign to pass laws giving gay people equal rights? Of course, but in those cases we’re not talking about a compromise between religious overreach and secularism. I’m talking here specifically about groups that want to inject religion into government, who want to teach schoolkids magic instead of science, who want to deprive women and gay people of their human and civil rights, etc., and think there’s some “compromise” they can offer that makes doing “just a little” of that okay.)
A couple of years ago, a Christian wrote a feel-good piece about how he wished Christians could have more of a dialogue with non-believers so everybody could live in peace and harmony. I wish I could find it now, but trust me, I remember seeing it and just laughing. No, I do not need to have a dialogue with Christians. I already hear plenty out of Christians. And it’s not like non-believers aren’t talking; the dominant Christians in our culture just aren’t, on the balance, listening to us. What I need is for them to keep their religion in their own pants and stop trying to slap me in the face with it (yes, that visual was intentional). But apparently that option is off the table.
The people who say that secularists (or Democrats, or pro-choicers, or science-accepters, or whatever) aren’t “compromising” on these cases of overreach are missing the entire point; when oppressors say they want to “compromise,” what they’re really doing is trying to keep a bit of their old unwarranted privilege. It’s a last-ditch negotiation tactic meant to keep the door open to continued oppression later. They know perfectly well that what they want is not acceptable, but they can’t really lose, can they? If they get their way and keep that bit of privilege, well, then they won a little. If they lose, well, they get to say that the rest of us refused to “compromise” and can come out of it looking like the good guys when really their entire request was not reasonable.
On the plus side, all this whining these once-dominant groups are doing about how the rest of us refuse to “compromise” means that they have hit the negotiation phase of mourning. “Just let us keep this little bit of our old dominance” means that their dominance has distinctly faded. At this point they’re asking permission of those who they once would simply have ignored or trampled. There was a time when these various oppressors would never have dreamed of having to beg to keep any part of their dominance. It must just destroy their livers to realize how far things have gotten out of hand for them.
When you encounter someone wanting to “compromise” about something, don’t feel you must cooperate with the charade if the compromise is about just what part of your house the other person wants to burn down. What is being proposed is not a real compromise. It’s important that we hold accountable the people offering these false compromises and refuse to even play that kind of game when freedom, liberty, and the security of our bodies, our families, and–yes–even our nation is at stake.