Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and "Christianity."

GLAMOUR Magazine: The new lies about women's health :

"I no longer trust FDA decisions or materials generated [by the government]. Ten years ago, I would not have had to scrutinize government information. Now I don't feel comfortable giving it to my patients." - Ruth Shaber, M.D., OBGYN
That's because increasingly decisions are made and information is presented that has a social and religious agenda, and is often starkly false to fact.

[L]ast year, the office of Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) examined the most popular federally funded abstinence-only sex-education programs and found that nearly 70 percent of them include "serious medical or scientific errors." Among the wholly inaccurate claims: that up to 10 percent of women become sterile after an abortion and that "premature birth, a major cause of mental retardation, is increased following the abortion of a first pregnancy." Says Princeton's Trussell, "It's an outrage. This is clearly another ideological distortion of what the real evidence shows." Yet such erroneous facts continue to be taught in public school districts in Montana, California, Washington, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

As a result, many experts believe abstinence-only programs leave teens unprotected against pregnancy and STDs. "These young women and men who are taught that condoms have a high failure rate say, 'Well they do not work anyway, so why bother?'" observes Kellie Flood-Schaffer, M.D., an ob-gyn and associate professor at Texas Tech in Lubbock, where high-schoolers are taught a strict abstinence-only health curriculum. "I'm a Catholic. I believe in abstinence until marriage. But I'm also a realist. And condoms prevent a huge percentage of STDs and are 90 percent effective against pregnancy."

I've learned over my life that if someone feels a need to lie to me in order to influence me to do what they think I should do, it's either because what they think is probably wrong or at least very arguable. It often seems to bethe case that they are basing their view of right and wrong on values I may well not share, and they are not willing to subject their values to my examination because they have little faith in the outcome.

I do not respect such self-styled authorities - and it's not just oppositional reflex. An authority must be authoritative. If their Authority depends on the ignorance of others, it also means that their advice is quite possibly dangerous, being based on unspoken and unexamined assumptions that may be utterly false.

How did it happen? Many prominent figures in science and public health think they know the answer. "People believe that religiously based social conservatives have direct lines to the powers that be within the U.S. government, the administration, Congress, and are influencing public-health policy, practice and research in ways that are unprecedented and very dangerous," says Judith Auerbach, Ph.D., a former NIH official who is now a vice president at the nonprofit American Foundation for AIDS Research. In fact, Glamour, has found that on issues ranging from STDs to birth control, some radical conservative activists have used fudged and sometimes flatly false data to persuade the government to promote their agenda of abstinence until marriage. The fallout: Young women now read false data on government websites, learn bogus information in federally funded sex-education programs and struggle to get safe, legal contraceptives all of which, critics argue, may put them at greater risk for unplanned pregnancies and STDs.

"Abstinence is a laudable goal," says Deborah Arrindell, vice president of health policy for the nonpartisan American Social Health Association, an STD-awareness group. "But it is not how young women live their lives. The reality is that most women have premarital sex. Our government is focusing not on women's health but on a moral agenda." Consider this a wake-up call.

The religious right is far too influenced by the theology of Augustine, preferring his dour view of humanity even to the tolerant view of Jesus.

"Women," he said, "Are fit only to be wives and whores." Of course, wives need no protection against pregnancy and STD's, and whores deserve none. There's your foundation for "Abstinence Only" sex education - there is no room for those who wish to be neither nether wife nor whore, nor room for men who would prefer neither as well.

It's a very, very limiting world view - especially when you start thinking about your children in that way. Worse yet, if you depend on such “advice” as may be found on such “Christian” resources as the “Family Life Forum” you could easily end up driving your children away, or at least causing them to completely reject your spirituality, moral values and influence.

When the first resorts are censorship, restrictions and coercion – that shows to me a lack of faith in the value of one’s faith in teaching children how to proceed in life when you are not watching. Even if you do manage to cause them to avoid all occasions of sin for the same reason they reflexively avoid open flames and hot stoves, they will not have learned why – just that looking at naked people is something that makes “good” people freak out and beat you. There's one thread there somewhere relating to finding porn on a boy’s computer. Not one post referred to it as being a heaven-sent opportunity to teach important moral lessons, while answering some perfectly legitimate mechanical questions that deeply concern 14 year olds.

Given context, faith and understanding of the meaning of what is up there and given the opportunity to critically examine various moral beliefs and actual versus predicted outcomes – anyone can and should be able to wade through acres of porn without any concern other than boredom. (And possibly friction burns - another little life-lesson.)

The problem is, of course, that those critical thinking skills are so very handy, they tend to be applied to everything in life, especially including those sad collections of dogmas, prescriptions, taboos and false assumptions that most people confuse with the Christian faith.

Counter-example : Red Letter Christians.

In those red letters, He calls us away from the consumerist values that dominate contemporary American consciousness. He calls us to be merciful, which has strong implications for how we think about capital punishment. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he probably means we shouldn’t kill them. Most important, if we take Jesus seriously, we will realize that meeting the needs of the poor is a primary responsibility for His followers.

Figuring out just how to relate those radical red letters in the Bible to the complex issues in the modern world will be difficult, but that’s what we’ll try to do.

Gandhi once said that everybody in the world knows what Jesus was teaching in those verses--except Christians! We will try to prove him wrong.

The absolute worst position you can ever be in as a parent is the one that arises from cause your children to feel the need to evade your oversight and guidance. Save for one thing – and that is for them to hold you in contempt for being untrustworthy guides due to valuing superstitious fears over facts. Then, they will assume all your fears are without foundation, and treat even common-sense advice as being faith-based stupidity, instead of just preferring to maintain their own council because they wish to avoid seeing you lose your brains in public.

Trust me on that one. I’m guilty of having rejected the stupid advice of both parents – my mother being a religious addict who’s doctrine changed with the wind and my father – well my father was a racist, a bigot and a traveling salesman who’s only credo was “Never give a sucker an even break.”

I was ashamed of both of them, and not just in the usual teenage sense; they were both equally capable of assumptions about other people that led them to say the most appalling, offensive things. Both of them preferred their delusions and prejudices over any set of positive principles I could see.

Rejecting them both as examples was the only possible way to cope at the time – but that left me to figure out all of that stuff by myself. On the whole, while I’m proud that I was able to do so, I nonetheless had a right to better parenting and better advice and I’ve spent much of my life dealing with the human wreckage left in the wake of such blissful, willful delusions.

Had they actually lied to me about critical matters, and by that lie caused me to come to harm or harm another, as the lies above clearly could, it would be a positive ethical and moral choice to reject them and all they stood for on that basis alone. “Bearing False Witness” is never correct, never justifiable, no matter how you delude yourself that it’s for the best.

Now, I happen to strongly believe that my faith has in fact aided me in coping with a difficult life filled with many bad outcomes. My faith is at base Christian, but by no means circumscribed by any doctrine other than “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I can honestly say I am “born again;” to my great surprise at the age of 15, I took an altar call at a Billy Graham rally. It’s a decision I never regretted, but it never once occurred to me that it gave anyone else the right to judge the validity of my faith, or even be owed comment.

Indeed, in order to avoid such presumptions, I have been generally willing to allow people to assume that my values arise from pagan and eastern influences, when in fact those that I hold and quote are those that solidly confirm my core Gnosis. It’s always nice to have a variety of perspectives and to me, it tends show that many of the things Jesus said are not just true – but pretty obvious to anyone who stops to consider the matter.

So if I say, “an it harm none, do as ye will” it’s as a paraphrase of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a different view of the same principle, bringing new understanding of that principle. Because, well, there are some things I might want to do unto my neighbor that I might want, but would be harmful to them, or at least, counterproductive.

Setting boundaries, for example; imposing limits and restrictions upon others that I feel that I need and assume that others should welcome, based on my assumptions of their needs and motivations.

I’ve found that leads to very uncertain and dangerous ground, and I have concluded that I am simply not wise enough to intrude into the lives of others or impose upon them (albeit with the best of intentions) and expect any positive outcome.

Some folks who make a very great point of calling themselves "Christian" (and Islamic and Jewish and Scientologist) are widely known by everyone by themselves as "jerks."

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