Friday, December 11, 2009

In Which the Manhattan Declaration Signees Tell Us "Truths" About Issues Uniquely Affecting Women and Gay People

(Hello readers, I am excited to announce that I will also be contributing to the group blog A World of Progress from time to time. A slightly shortened version of this blog post is my first contribution over there.)

A group of mostly male heterosexual, conservative Christians have recently created and signed on to their Manhattan Declaration in which they have informed us about certain "non-negotiable truths." These "truths," interestingly, pertain to issues that uniquely affect women and LGBT people and only tangentially affect the rights of heterosexual males. For, within the document the signees declare their strong opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage; audaciously, they declare this opposition to constitute Ultimate Truth.

(And also, they maybe mentioned a few times how awesome and courageous they are for taking a stand against "fashionable ideologies." Hint: I think "fashionable" is code for something.)

Today, I'm going to mostly restrict my comments to the Declaration's stance on marriage equality, although the document also makes its opposition to abortion quite clear. In fact, the authors conclude that global social ills like genocide, ethnic cleansing, racial discrimination, and sex trafficking result "from the same loss of dignity" that drives the abortion movement. The authors of the document do not, of course, provide arguments that support such a conclusion. And so, if sound-bitey "answers" to complex social issues passes for ultimate truth nowadays, my comments with respect to these dudes' stance on abortion will be similarly simple:

No uterus? Abortion isn't your call to make. No matter how hard certain religious men have tried to co-opt the female birthing experience and build their man-made religions around it, mandating a woman's pregnancy against her will is outside of their jurisdiction. Period.

Moving on then.

With respect to the marriage issue, not surprisingly, the document couches its "truth" about marriage in the language of gender complementarity. Leading with one of their Bible quotes that claims it was women who came from a man's body, rather than what we know to be the biological truth and, of course, gendering God/Jesus as male throughout, the men who wrote this document suddenly remembered that ladies exist too, when it comes to marriage anyway:

"[Those who advocate same-sex marriage] fail to understand, however, that marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and that the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit."

What do you know, despite being inherently submissive to men and created in man's image, women can still serve a purpose. In fact, because of the magical complementarity that exists between "man and woman," the authors go on to make the bizarre argument that marriage exists in nature as some sort of God-created "objective reality." Perhaps like a tree, or a beetle. Or something. Whatever it is, marriage is definitely not something that "man" invented. It was created by God the Fatherly Father DudeMan:

"Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual— on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh....Marriage is an objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife."

Aside from giving us a bit too much coital visualization, all this circular paragraph tells us, of course, is that two people of the same sex cannot get married because marriage can only exist between one man and one woman. Conveniently, knowing the One Real Truth about things has a way of preventing debate on an issue.

See, by insisting that marriage exists as some sort of "objective reality," this document has preemptively changed the debate from is same-sex marriage a good or bad idea for society to the truth is, marriage is only between a man and a lady, end of story. (As an aside, do these learned Christian men not know that Biblical marriage was far from some one-man, one-woman objective, universal truth?)

After shutting down the debate on abortion and same-sex marriage, the authors end with a lecture on religious freedom. It is as though these Christian men do not realize that they live in a nation where they just freely wrote a religious manifesto in a country that is 76% Christian, published it, spread it via social networking sites, and gotten thousands of people to sign on to it. Comparing themselves to the persecuted Martin Luther King, Jr writing from the Birmingham Jail, they further vow to "not comply" with any law "that purports to compel them to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act" or that forces them to "bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family."

The whole thing is a bit of an overkill, really, if not entirely ridiculous considering that Christianity is the dominant religion in American society and same-sex marriage has lost virtually every legal battle in every state in the US because of Christian opposition to it. Unlike Dr. King, these "men at the center of political, cultural, academic and ecclesiastical privilege" are "overlords posing as undergods." They're minority wannabes, grossly misinterpreting which party is on the end of oppression and which party is perpetuating it.

Substantively, the Manhattan Declaration is extremely sub-par from an argumentation standpoint. The authors keep stating over and over again, in various over-the-top ways, how they know the One Real Truth about things and how it's a good thing their own brave, awesome selves are here to inform us as to what that is.

Their parting, stubborn, histrionic threat:

"We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s."

[Lights Fade, Curtain]

It's a fitting quote, really, as one gets the impression from the document that we are supposed to adhere to these One Real Truths, not so much because of their inherent truthiness or goodness, but because God Our Fatherly Father will be upset with us if we don't. God, we are to understand, is a dictator. And, a dictator who is God is good, because he's God. Especially when he has jurisdiction over certain issues that, conveniently, uniquely affect the rights of women and gay people.

I am reminded of a quote about religious fundamentalism:

"It is not God that is worshipped but the group or authority that claims to speak in His name. Sin becomes disobedience to authority not violation of integrity."

The Manhattan Declaration tries to pass itself off as a statement about universal truth, but in reality it is mere solipsism. In it, these privileged men who wouldn't recognize oppression if it crawled under their lady robes and tied their balls in a knot, attempt to convince everyone else that the biases of their own error-prone human minds are "God's" law. Signed as it is by Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christian leaders, it is a statement by some of the most literally patriarchal Christian sects that exist in the world. By gendering God/Jesus as male and restricting clergy and church leadership roles to males, many of these sects perpetuate incredible gender hierarchy in the world. Rather than trying to eradicate this hierarchy, they ignore it, pointing their fingers at how Others are misbehaving and accusing Others, always Others, of being hell-bent on destroying society.

But lest we forget, when society restricts female access to abortion and prohibits same-sex marriage it is heterosexual males, as a class, who benefit.

When you think about that, don't you start to wonder who the Manhattan Declaration signees are really asking us to worship?

Related Links:

1. Christian dudes comparing themselves to Declaration of Independence signees and debating whether or not to sign onto this "noble and godly" cause. That's right, it's a given that restricting abortion rights and same-sex marriage is "noble and godly"; apparently, the real debate is whether real Christians should unite with other, less authentic types of Christians on such an endeavor.

2. The Manhattan Declaration "strongly implies that those who disagree with their declaration sanction infanticide, euthanasia and Nazi death camps.... Those with consciences formed differently than those of the signers may well perceive that the purported call of conscience issued by the Manhattan Declaration is but another echo from the ever so gradually emptying chambers of the radical Christian right."

3. From the Box Turtle Bulletin- "This is not a war over civil marriage definition – nor, indeed, has that ever been the real motivation behind anti-gay marriage drives. Rather, this is a war over religious domination, a fight over who is 'really a Christian' and an effort on the part of a long-suffering religious subset to spite those who have long had what they coveted."

4. Hugo Schwyzer: "Here’s the thing: fighting against abortion and gay rights is, in the end, cheap. It requires no particular personal sacrifice or reflection on the part of those who claim these are the top issues. Men who will never get pregnant; heterosexuals who have the privilege to marry those whom they love — they surrender nothing precious to them by fighting tooth and nail against reproductive and glbtq rights."

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