A fundamentalist Christian couple are accused of murdering their adopted daughter and severely injuring another through a Fundamentalist Christian “parenting method” in California:
OROVILLE — A fundamentalist religious philosophy that espouses corporal punishment to “train” children to be more obedient to their parents and God is now being investigated in connection with the death of a young Paradise girl and serious injuries to her sister.
Ramsey said he is also exploring a possible connection to a Web site that endorses “biblical discipline” using the same rubber or plastic tube alleged to have been used to whip the two young ridge girls by their adoptive parents.
In court Thursday, a judge granted a two-week postponement before the children’s parents, Kevin Schatz, 46, and Elizabeth Schatz, 42, enter a plea to murder and torture charges that could carry two life terms in prison.
Oy. Here’s the thing. If we were like the anti-gay public mouthpieces we deal with on a daily basis, we would immediately use this as an example of how the Fundamentalist Christian Agenda is dangerous for children. But we are not they. Should we be?
Prosecutors allege the two victims were subjected to “hours” of corporal punishment by their parents on successive days last Thursday and Friday with a quarter-inch-wide length of rubber or plastic tubing, which police reportedly recovered from the parents’ bedroom.
Police allege that the younger girl was being disciplined for mis-pronouncing a word during a home-school reading lesson the day before she died.
Wow. But no, we won’t take the dishonest angle Fundamentalist Christian mouthpieces use to smear gay parents, because we are better than they are. And of course, if we did, we’d be missing a larger discussion.
In my experience with Fundamentalists (and I have quite a lot), I find that most of them actually mean well. They may be highly misled as to the facts, on many issues, but most of them feel that they are acting out of love. But this, to me, is an example of how extremist rhetoric, and an extremist worldview, can permeate and percolate throughout a religious community, to the point that certain people take it to an entirely new, entirely violent level. Because though these parents may claim that they were merely adhering to their deeply held religious beliefs, they are sadists. Only sadists would “discipline” their children this way.
The article points out that there is disagreement over corporal punishment in the Fundamentalist Christian world, and I’ll grant that. I don’t personally believe in spanking, but at the same time, I don’t believe that all parents who spank their kids are necessarily scarring them for life either. Normal, well-meaning people of all stripes can have honest disagreements about this sort of thing. But here’s where it gets sketchy: You take two parents who believe in spanking, and then you combine that with an authoritarian worldview where “Father Knows Best” (whether the human father, the version of God the father that the religion sells, etc.) and children are meant to be obedient soldiers to their parents’ orders, and in some cases, you’ll have a recipe for a situation like this one. Among your garden variety Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, the ones who truly are well-meaning, the most extremist elements of the religion won’t manifest. (Yes, they can still hurt people, as the LGBT community well knows, but I’m getting to that.) But there will be certain mentally unstable people, sick people, who take the dogma in its most literal form and run with it.
Think of the difference between conservative Muslims and those who actually strap on bombs and blow themselves up; think of the difference between regular “pro-lifers” and those who pick up a gun and murder abortion providers. And, of course, think of the difference between regular old “pro-family” people who simply want to “protect marriage,” and the disturbed people who end up beating/maiming/killing LGBT people. Do you see what I’m getting at? The common thread is that these are ideologies which lend themselves to this kind of violence, for certain people.
In the aftermath of Prop 8, the Religious Right has been bitching and moaning about supposed “violence” that’s been done to them by the big bad gay community, but the worst thing they’ve come up with is an old lady who got knocked over in a mob of people. Oh, and there was that one time a lady who ran a restaurant lost some customers because they learned that she voted yes. (Boo…hoo?) But there’s a reason that most of their tales of woe and lamentation are sort of boring — because we all know that it’s highly unlikely that the LGBT community is going to start beating or killing Fundamentalists. It’s just not gonna happen!
And why? It’s quite simple. The entire point of coming out is living with integrity; the entire point of fighting for our equality is bringing us up to the same level as everyone else! We’re not seeking to take anything away from anyone. Our motivation isn’t a distaste for anyone else, but rather a love for ourselves and a belief in our inherent dignity. The endgame of the LGBT civil rights movement is displayed proudly on our sleeves, for god’s sake. We simply want to live our lives with the same rights, responsibilities and freedoms as everyone else.
But this is not so in the Fundamentalist world. They want to take away women’s rights to make their own reproductive decisions. They want to take away children’s rights to be educated in actual science, in order to prop up their creation myth. They want to keep LGBT people in the closet (or worse), in order to not disrupt the tenuous grasp the patriarchy still holds in Western society, where the man of the house is elevated above all others. Children free to learn and grow as individuals, women with minds of their own, and all consenting adults living freely and passionately with those that they love? That’s just a bridge too far for them.
I’ve said it a million times, but the elevated place in society held by Fundamentalist Christians is not merited. They have done nothing to earn it. They are not paragons of moral virtue. In fact, they’re no better than the rest of the population. They’re not producing our great thinkers, our great artists, our great writers, or anything else “great.” And they know it. They know the jig is up. They’re watching their young adult children leave their shackles in droves, and they’re looking everywhere but inward for someone to blame. As their influence wanes (slowly — they’re so politically entrenched that it will be a long time before their political influence matches their dwindling numbers), they’re going to turn up the volume on their rhetoric and on their actions.
We’re already seeing this in the LGBT community, as certain Religious Right figures don’t seem all that bothered by the anti-gay legislation in Uganda, while others, like Bryan Fischer and Peter Sprigg of AFA and PFOX are openly calling for the criminalization of homosexuality. We’re seeing this in the aftermath of George Tiller’s assassination, as Randall Terry of Operation Rescue is loath to actually denounce Scott Roeder’s actions, and in fact, lends them rhetorical support every time he opens his mouth in public. We’re seeing this in Texas, as a band of Fundamentalists seek to destroy children’s educational opportunities by intentionally altering their textbooks to reflect a worldview that reflects a fantasy world of their own creation.
And as the rhetoric grows, there will, unfortunately, be more and more people who are pushed to the breaking point of insanity, and they’ll do more and more to hold on to the thread that is their completely debunked worldview. The tough thing is that it’s hard to tell who’s going to snap. It’s hard to tell which Fundamentalist parents will become so overwhelmed by fear and dogma that they literally control their children to death. It’s hard to tell which rejected men will translate their rage against women into a pulled trigger and the death of another abortion provider. It’s hard to tell which frightened, closeted person will try to kill off that which they hate in themselves by killing a gay person. It’s just hard to tell.
But it does represent a teachable moment, because again, I may take some flak for this (and you might be surprised to hear it from me, the resident atheist), but I do believe that the majority of Fundamentalists are well meaning people. And really? The ball’s in their court. They’re not going to listen to us anyway. But to any who might be reading this from that side of the fence, I say only this: You need to weed your backyard. You need to fumigate your rhetoric. And you need to control your own. Because again, over on this side of the fence, we don’t pose any threat to you. Oh, occasionally, little radicals pop up here and there, but the difference between this side and that side is that we marginalize the hell out of our extremists. (Bash Back, I’m looking at you.) But it seems that these days, Fundamentalists marginalize their freaks less and less. And that’s scary, not just for the LGBT community, but for civil society. Religiously-motivated murderers, abusers, rapists, etc. — they don’t exist in a vacuum. They have to be propped up by someone, whether it’s whatever crazy Fundamentalist website that motivated the couple in California, or MassResistance or the American Family Association or Liberty University or whoever. Someone motivates the people who commit these acts of religious violence.
Are you one of those someones?