A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a fight.
— Robert Frost.
Sen. Dave Schultheis, of Colorado Springs, on Wednesday opposed a bill requiring pregnant women to be tested for HIV so that if they are infected their babies can be treated to prevent the virus’s transfer.
“This stems from sexual promiscuity for the most part, and I just can’t go there,” he said.
“We do things continually to remove the consequences of poor behavior, unacceptable behavior, quite frankly. I’m not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions.”
This is the kind of cruelty and meanness that we have come to expect from the Christians claiming the high moral ground in today’s political debates. It obviously makes no sense whatsoever: the bill isn’t about “protecting individuals from the negative consequences of their actions” at all; it’s about protecting children from the consequences of their mother’s actions (which are assumed to have been sinful, on the ignorant assumption that only bad people get AIDS.)
Schultheis went on:
“What I’m hoping is that yes, that person may have AIDS, have it seriously as a baby and when they grow up, but the mother will begin to feel guilt as a result of that. The family will see the negative consequences of that promiscuity and it may make a number of people over the coming years … begin to realize that there are negative consequences and maybe they should adjust their behavior. We can’t keep people from being raped. We can’t keep people from shooting each other. We can’t keep people from jumping off bridges. People drink and drive, and they crash and kill people. Poor behavior has its consequences.”
According to his site, Schultheis is member of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America. He has merged vengeful Christianity with social Darwinism to produce a weird and toxic stew of punitive meanness. When he wished AIDS on an unborn child, that was just more evidence (as if we needed it) that Right-to-Lifers don’t care about “saving preborn children”, but only want to punish lewd women.
The liberal argument against Schultheis normally deadends at this point in singularly unconvincing assertions that religion has no place in politics and that moral judgments are purely personal and should never be imposed on others.
But why? Why not just say that Schultheis is not good at all, but instead evil, and that his gross errors of logic are not innocent, but are motivated by self-serving meanness, and that he is using his supposed religious beliefs to defend his selfishness and to justify his vicious cruelty? Why should we not just say that Schultheis is a moral leper and that no decent person should associate him ever again?
Schultheis has his scripture:
The LORD is long-suffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
but I have mine:
In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.
But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.
In the days of the patriarchs the Hebrews were a tribal people and believed that collective guilt was passed from father to son and from mother to daughter — a belief that still motivates honor killings and blood feuds in the more backward areas of the Middle East. The first Bible reading above expresses the archaic and horrible view that Schultheis still holds, but (as seen in the second reading), this belief was rejected by the prophets already in Old Testament times. Schultheis’s viciousness does not come from religion at all: he uses the Bible as a shield to protect his own meanness.
As far as I know no Christian denomination explicitly holds that an evildoer can escape punishment for his evil deeds by professing Christianity. However, Christian evildoers inevitably hope for that, and not all churches are scrupulous about telling their parishioners that belief is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. In fact, many sin-and-repent churches actively recruit evildoers to mobilize them against unbelievers and “lax” Christians — not merely forgiving the Christian evildoers their past sins, but also egging them on to further cruelty in the name of the Lord.
Schultheis is only one such person, a thug of God and bullyboy of holiness. Men of God are reluctant to admit that virtuous unbelievers are more blessed than evil Christians, and too many men of the cloth turn a blind eye to the evils and cruelties for which their brutish Christian soldiers are responsible.
But American liberals have committed themselves so completely to technical solutions, value-neutrality, relativism, laxness, personal liberation, and non-judgmentality that they are unable to call evil Christians evil. Only a few politically-committed Christian groups are willing to do so, and the secular world, which believes that only right-wing Christians are real Christians, will not listen to them.
Many secular liberals, God bless their hearts, think that all Christians are (not evil, obviously, but…) wrong and harmful. The problem with this view is that it’s only convincing to other secular liberals, and besides that, doesn’t pick out the evil Christians from the others. Other secular liberals try to argue against evil Christians from a practical, prudential, consequentialist point of view, as though they were dealing with a rational disagreement about policy, but this isn’t really strong enough when you’re talking about someone like Schultheis — it’s like someone telling Hitler about the economic costs of genocide. (And then, some secular liberals and secular moderates are squishy, and think that we should try to understand evil Christians, and try to dialogue with them….)
If you talk about Schuldheit from within a moral framework, rather than talking about church and state, or about “What works?”, or about tolerance and open-mindedness, you’ll be talking about the main thing wrong with what Schuldheit said, and you might also be able to convince people that Schuldheit is not just mistaken, but unforgivably vicious, and you will be able to do this without having to convert them entirely to the secular liberal point of view.
But in order to do this, you’d need to be willing to speak judgmentally about cruelty and evil.
Update (edited comment response)
What I’m trying to do is to deny evil Christians the moral high ground, rather than treating this as a secular-religious dispute, or as a dispute between moralism and tolerance.
It’s not true that non-evil Christians do not speak up against these things; it’s just that the media doesn’t find a story there, so no one hears about it.
Treating this as a secular-religious dispute or as a dispute between moralism and tolerance leaves the battle lines right where they’ve been for decades, whereas I’m proposing that we attack evil Christians at their supposed strong point — their morality.
Historically, almost everyone during almost all of history have been religious to some degree, so the assertion that almost all evil has been done by believers is probably mostly true. But an investigation of the irreligious exceptions does not fail to find irreligious monsters.
If you want to attack evil Christians as such, you have to grant the validity of moralizing, but because of their commitments to freedom, personal liberation, or objective science, many liberals and radicals deny its validity.
[The earlier defective and unfinished ending of this piece has been revised and expanded .]
“One who calls himself a liberal is nowadays diversely called by others a traitor, coward, parlor-pink, eclectic, jelly-fish, a selfish or muddy thinker who wants both to have his cake and eat it, rationalist, skeptic, conservative, radical…. But there is unanimity of opinion on one thing, namely, that liberalism is essentially negative, paralytic, and disintegrative. It’s boasted open-mindedness is nothing more than axiological anemia.”
— Leslie Page, “Liberalism, Dogmatism and Negativism”, Journal of Social Philosophy, 5 (1940), p. 346. (Cited in John Gunnell, The Descent of Political Theory, Chicago, 1993, p. 136.)