Tuesday, August 25, 2009
by Wayne Besen
In observing American fundamentalism for more than a decade there is one common thread that runs through the movement. It is the romanticized idea of purity
, particularly sexual and doctrinal. While the idea is ostensibly innocuous, in practice it can be insidious and always threatens to politically spin out of control.
The idea of applying purity to human beings -- who are impure by definition -- creates an impossible standard that can't be met. The result is that millions of people are haunted by perceived moral failure and tortured by unnecessary guilt. Instead of producing healthy spiritual lives, this concept can create neurotic people with various complexes, who view themselves as worthless sinners. Such a damaging belief system may have a corrosive affect on self-esteem and creates needless internal conflicts.
The pursuit of unattainable perfection has led to a cottage industry of so-called "experts" who allegedly can help one achieve the unachievable. The proliferation of products and websites profiting from "purity" is problematic. There is no shortage of charlatans to fight "The War on Pleasure" and strictly forbid any form of fun for a fee. In some cases, the rules are so stringent that masturbation is considered a menace.
"God designed sex to be profound, which masturbation is not; it is shallow," wrote Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg on the website Restoring Sexual Purity. "God made sex to be fruitful, but masturbation treats sex like a commodity rather than a capacity for producing life. God made sex to be selflessly God-centered, not self-centered and self-satisfying."
Ultimately, religions and cults that focus on purity have an ulterior motive, which is to maintain control over the lives of its followers. If pleasure is policed, then faith-based father figures can ration it. By squeezing out the "impure" competition, such groups create a monopoly over one's mind.
The idea of protecting the potential sinner from "falling" is as elusive a goal of purity itself. No matter how cloistered, people will seek to explore their humanity, which includes enjoyment and fulfillment. Some fundamentalists hate secular society because temptations -- epitomized by the concept of demons -- are often stronger than their faith.
Instead of learning the healthy practice of moderation, many of these individuals embark on the pathological path of prohibition. Indoctrinated with a "just say no" ethos, the repression builds up until the fantasies become overwhelming fetishes that spiral out of control.
Unable to extinguish the fire internally, some of these individuals work though external means -- namely politics -- to eliminate temptations. This is why they have feverishly fought to close down adult bookstores and nude beaches. Such nosy behavior mirrors that of the teetotalers who fought to enact the disaster known as prohibition. Those who cling to this philosophy subconsciously want to ban from society what they cannot banish in themselves.
The quest for "purity" takes its most perverse form in the hands of Christian Reconstructionists. They believe that in order for Christ to return, they have to purify the world by instituting theocracy. This vision often includes executing gay people and adulterers.
The equivalent of such repression is already carried out in many Islamic countries. In Malaysia, which is considered a relatively moderate nation, a Muslim woman was recently sentenced to be whipped for the "crime" of enjoying a beer. God forbid Allah Time had to compete with Miller Time for personal satisfaction.
Of course, the puritanical enforcement of behavior rarely extends to those on the top of the moral hierarchy. In his chilling book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power", Jeff Sharlet writes in alarming detail about members of Congress who believe they are above the law because they are ordained by God as leaders. This must-read book gets into the heads of the hypocrites and allows one to grasp how they justify their tawdry affairs, while passing laws to penalize the very behavior that they had embraced on the sly.
The quest for purity is a sign of sickness and insecurity. It comes from individuals with serious hang-ups who want other people to be as miserable as they are. In order to make the world antiseptic, these zealots often become virtually anti-everyone and everything. It is with great irony that the more a person or nation obsesses about moral cleanliness the filthier, more violent and corrupt they usually become.
In chasing a concept that is elusive, many fundamentalists have become more elitist and exclusive, while intellectually reclusive. This helps explains the perpetual anger, bitterness and frustration that defines populist and political social conservatism.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
by Wayne Besen
In the not too distant past, most Americans couldn't tell a Pashtun from a cartoon, a Sunni from a Moonie or a Kurd from bean curd. Then came 9-11 and we learned our very survival depended on securing freedom for people we barely knew existed. Exorcising the region's demons through democracy was so important, we were told, that America would pay for the effort in blood and bankruptcy.
Despite the bumbling and fumbling of the war effort, the bitter divisions in our country and the wheelbarrows of dough dumped in the desert, there was always the faint hope that a better Middle East might just emerge from the mess. And, whatever one thinks of the two wars, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were real villains who were vanquished.
The idea, of course, was that once these monsters were slain, they'd be replaced with the sane. But, the monsters have multiplied and Sasquatch has morphed into a bevy of Big Foots (or is it Big Feet?). It appears that for all of our sacrifice -- and that of the secular Iraqi and Afghanistani people -- the crazies are back in control. Or, at least fanatics have instilled enough fear that "mainstream" Iraqi and Afghanistani politicians are tripping over themselves to please and appease.
In Iraq, "extremism" is too mild a word to describe the acts of those who abuse gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The situation is so hideously haunting that Human Rights Watch released a new report this week titled, "'They Want Us Exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq."
According to the report, the post-Saddam sadists "practice grotesque tortures, including gluing men's anuses shut as punishment." Human Rights Watch spoke to doctors who said that hospitals and morgues have received dozens of mutilated bodies, living and dead.
"Murder and torture are no way to enforce morality," said Rasha Moumneh, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "These killings point to the continuing and lethal failure of Iraq's post-occupation authorities to establish the rule of law and protect their citizens."
The New York Times reports that in Afghanistan the law has been quietly revised to give Shiite men the legal right to starve their wives if their sexual demands are not met and that Shiite women must obtain permission from their husbands to even leave their houses, "except in extreme circumstances."
President Hamid Karzai -- our pro-Western buddy -- signed the law and sold out the country's women. He did so to gain the support of Sheik Muhammad Asif Mohseni in this week's presidential election. This is the same pedophile-promoting sheik the Times reports is angry that Parliament had introduced a provision that banned men from marrying girls under the age of 16.
Frankly, I don't give a damn whether Karzai gets reelected. But, I do care about the rights of women. It is incomprehensible to waste American lives fighting the Taliban to protect a regime that looks an awful lot like the Taliban. If women are not equal partners, let's pack up and leave.
As far as national security, we could use the money saved by our swift exit to buy a new fleet of missile-equipped drones, which will keep Al Qaeda from operating terrorist camps in the open. The rest of the funds could be used at home to support healthcare, pay down the national debt or provide a one-time tax rebate to cash-strapped Americans. Sorry, but if Karzai can only offer Taliban-lite, I rather disengage and keep the pocket change.
The Obama administration needs to straighten out this fiasco or risk an erosion of public opinion. The American people will simply not support an Afghanistani government that treats women like stray dogs in Michael Vick's dog pound.
Of course, the current situation traces back to President George W. Bush. The president's zealotry made it difficult for the U.S. to identify spoiled spirituality as the root of our problem. Consumed by his own theological excesses, he was the wrong messenger to articulate that America was fighting for open, secular societies that allowed personal and religious freedom.
A battle still rages against fanatics who share a twisted view of faith. Yet, we continue to bury our heads in the sand and imbibe on the collective delusion that women's rights and gay rights are peripheral issues that can be bargained away for the "greater good."
Lands that won't respect the rights of minorities, in the name of religion, will continue to be God-awful places that land the United States in tumult and turmoil. I pray we have a grander strategy than merry-go-mullah, which swaps dictatorial despots for deranged demagogues. If Iraq and Afghanistan won't embrace modernity and freedom for all of its citizens, let's get out now and let Allah untangle the ugliness.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
by Wayne Besen
here is "no evidence that sexual orientation change efforts work." This was the American Psychological Association's verdict
on "ex-gay" therapy after an appointed task force of experts studied the issue for two years.This conclusion
did not surprise those of us who work with people who have been harmed by such programs. For example, I just interviewed Patrick McAlvey, who entered therapy to change his sexual orientation at the age of 19. His counselor, Mike Jones, is the director of Corduroy Stone
, an affiliate of Exodus International
McAlvey says that his sessions included prolonged hugs, the suggestion that he use handyman tools to increase his masculinity and questions about the size of his genitalia. There was also an episode of "holding therapy" where he reclined into the lap of his supposedly "ex-gay" counselor for an hour. The goal, according to McAlvey, was to get comfortable with his own manliness by "feeling the strength" and "smelling the smell" of another man.
What Jones and other ex-gay counselors routinely call "therapy" can seem a great deal like foreplay to the rest of us.
"I think it does a lot of damage to peoples' mental health," said McAlvey. "If I had had a fair representation (of gay life) I could have avoided a lot of suffering."
Of course, such therapy and ministry programs can only exist by grossly distorting the lives of gay people. For example, in a recent radio interview, ex-gay activist Charlene Cothran claimed that gay people do not want legal equality and are really only interested in the "freedom to be a homosexual in a park with no clothes on."
The APA deserves credit for taking ex-gay therapists to task for twisting the truth and holding them accountable for their scare tactics, such as claiming that there are no happy gay people.
"The limited published literature on these programs suggests that many do not present accurate scientific information regarding same-sex sexual orientations to youth and families, are excessively fear-based and have the potential to increase sexual stigma," said the APA report, "Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation."
It was encouraging to see the APA question the ex-gay tactic of teaching vulnerable clients to live in a fantasy world. Groups like Exodus and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), regularly encourage clients to say they have converted, even though they are still gay. The idea is that by proclaiming a false heterosexual identity in advance of any legitimate change, the desired transformation will eventually come.
This idea is equivalent to me wanting to play professional basketball, so I begin to identify as a member of the New York Knicks. Never mind that I am too short, too old and not good enough to make the roster. If I embrace this surreal existence long enough, I will one-day be dunking the ball under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
It is imperative that clients are honest about who they are and not prodded to make claims that are not true. Such a gap between fantasy and reality, according to the APA report, can create "cognitive dissonance" and does not resolve "identity conflicts."
Most important, the APA report smacks down the absurd notion, pushed by charlatans, that allowing such quackery increases the "self determination" of clients. Contrary to their lofty claims, ex-gay counselors are actually providing the opposite of what effective therapy should offer, which is a nonjudgmental atmosphere where clients can embark on a journey of authentic self-discovery.
Instead of a neutral facilitator, these unethical practitioners set themselves up as surrogate father (or mother) figures. Appropriate client-centered therapeutic models are displaced by therapist-centric sessions, where the main goal is not letting down "Daddy" or "Mommy", and his or her often religious-based expectations. In such situations, it is the ideological needs of the therapist that are paramount, not the mental health of clients.
The APA's report also pointed out the difference between sexual orientation and sexual behavior, saying that, "At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions."
Reinforcing this point is Exodus International's President Alan Chambers, who said in an interview last week that he lives in "self denial" and that "ex-gays" are successful by "denying what might come naturally to us." While extraordinary mental gymnastics may allegedly work for Chambers, most people would find that such repression is destructive to self-worth and psychological well-being.
To counter the APA's rigorous effort, NARTH produced a shoddy report
that cherry picked outdated research, including dated shock and aversion therapy experiments
to "cure" homosexuals. It is telling that NARTH included examples of torture to support its tortured attempts to make ex-gay therapy appear ethical and effective.
The APA pulled few punches and couched its top-notch report in direct terms. Hopefully, this effort will limit the number of psychological casualties produced on the couches of ex-gay therapists.