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Thursday, May 11, 2006 10:53 pm

New class of mandarins

Religious ideologues set policy on reproduction

In August 2003 a shipment of the book Grand Canyon: A Different View was delivered to Grand Canyon bookstores and museums to be sold alongside other merchandise. The book, edited by Canyon Ministries founder Tom Vail, claims that the Grand Canyon was formed by the same deluge that launched Noah’s ark a few thousand years ago. Park superintendent Joe Alston tried to block sale of the book on the grounds that it is a creationist text incompatible with empirical evidence. Bush appointees at National Park Service headquarters overruled Alston, reasoning that the book had become “quite popular” and that park visitors should be exposed to the controversy. There is, of course, no controversy. The Grand Canyon is millions of years old, and even though the photography in the book is gorgeous, the book’s theory is the purest nonsense. In most Western societies the authors of this book would either be pitied or jeered, but today in America people from this milieu run the government. There are some interesting data about religiosity in the United States. A poll conducted by Newsweek in 2004 showed that 55 percent of all Americans and 83 percent of evangelicals believe that the Bible is literally true. Another Newsweek poll, from 1999, found that 45 percent of all Christians and 71 percent of evangelicals expect Armageddon to occur someday. We are apparently a nation of true believers. These numbers could cause one to question the extent to which our society is compatible with a democracy based on Enlightenment values. A 2005 ABC/Washington Post poll showed that 62 percent of Republicans believe that politicians should rely on religion when making political decisions. Our Republican, fundamentalist-dominated government now reflects these numbers. At home and abroad, the new face of American officialdom is that of the Bible-thumping evangelist and the humorless Opus Dei inquisitor. Sex is a central preoccupation of this new class of mandarins. A war is being waged against general sex education, condom use, and abortion, and a one-word answer is provided to questions pertaining to any sort of premarital or homosexual sex: abstinence. The problem with abstinence-only education is the result. In 1995, Bush’s home state of Texas mandated abstinence-only programs. By 2001, the number of teen pregnancies there was 1.5 times the national average, the number of STD infections was also above the national average, and Texas had the nation’s fourth-highest number of reported AIDS cases. A 2004 National Institutes of Health study of 12,000 teens conducted over six years also questions the value of abstinence-only education. Teens were interviewed at age 12 and again at 18. Eighty-eight percent of those who had pledged to remain virgins until marriage had broken the pledge, their rates of STDs were the same as those for teens who had not taken the pledge, and they were less likely to seek medical care if they contracted an STD. Although abstinence-only programs provide a sense of moral satisfaction to their proponents, they do not result in a healthier society. On his first day as president, Bush reinstated Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City Policy, often referred to as the “global gag rule.” This policy restricts family-planning organizations that receive American funding from providing, referring, or lobbying for safe and legal abortion, even if the funding for those particular programs comes from other agencies. This has had the effect of actually increasing the number of abortions in many parts of the world because the organizations whose budgets were cut are frequently the only providers of contraception or women’s health care. As a result, pregnant women in poor or war-torn countries are often forced to seek illegal and unsafe abortions. In 2002 Bush cut funding to the United Nations Population Fund (known as UNFPA) because of its supposed support of China’s one-child policy. The United Nations’ work in China had reduced the number of abortions because it provided contraception and general sex education. A delegation from the British government later investigated UNPFA and concluded that “UNFPA’s involvement appears to be encouraging reformers within China” and that it is      “vitally important that UNFPA remains actively involved.” Once again, the religious right’s biblical mandate was more important than helping real people in this world. This is known as “faith-based reasoning.”
George W. Bush and the people who surround him see themselves as God’s chosen people. As such, they feel they have an obligation to remake the world according to their biblical worldview. On several occasions Bush has made comments to the effect that he believes God speaks through him, and many Americans seem to share this delusion. If religion is the opiate of the masses, much of America is deeply under the influence. Historically this is not a phenomenon unique to the United States, but, because of our military and political status, we are uniquely in a position to hurt ourselves and others. One wonders what America will look like if these people remain permanently in power.
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