I have come to believe that the root of fundamentalism (which has spawned some of the most virulently anti-liberal and violent behavior in the world) is a dysfunctional view of sexuality. I know it seems extreme to boil one of the great geopolitical struggles down to this level, but I think the facts bear this out.
Let us begin at home. The most recent gay sex scandal involving the now-disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard has opened a window into a world that tens of millions of Americans belong to that most of us who live in cities, especially liberal ones, have no connection with. In this world, sexual purity, defined as no sexual experience outside of heterosexual marriage, is viewed as the ultimate virtuous behavior. Not only is homosexuality viewed as a temptation by the devil, but premarital sex and even masturbation are viewed as abhorrent in the eyes of God. Best-selling books by evangelical authors are dedicated to fighting the “evil urge” to masturbate and men with homosexual tendencies are “cured” through shock therapy. What is perhaps most sad and disturbing about this latest episode is that Mr. Haggard is so full of self-loathing for his homosexual behavior that he has committed himself to healing by none other than one of the most anti-gay bigots in the country, James Dobson of the Family Research Council (who recently said that he is too busy to counsel Ted). Mr. Haggard goes so far to deny that homosexuality even exists.
The obsession with sexuality has spilled over into the virulent anti-gay activity of many on the Christian Right and is also intimately linked with their campaigns against sex education. In addition, much of their case against abortion rests on the view that sex is strictly for procreation and nothing more. To an outsider like myself, the more I learn about the inner workings of the Christian Right, the more I realize what an unhealthy and combustible mix it is. It has established a movement with an almost singular focus on sexuality, while at the same time creating conditions in which sexual confusion and frustration thrive. By denying the genetic nature of homosexuality and associating virtually all sexual desire with shame, the Christian Right creates mandates that lead to profound cognitive dissonance. It then funnels the frustration people feel when they can’t live up to these impossible and unrealistic ideals against liberals, gays, lesbians, and Hollywood (recall, Jerry Falwell blamed the attacks of 9/11 on just these groups.)
At the other end of the spectrum, halfway across the world, we have the Muslim fundamentalists, who blow themselves up believing that they are going to be rewarded in paradise with 72 virgins. If there is anything more obviously driven by sexual dysfunction I don’t know what it is. Because of the disempowerment and distrust of women throughout much of the Arab and Muslim world, many Muslim men experience their first sexual relations with other men (and yet, in six Muslim countries homosexual acts are punishable by death). This too leads to extreme forms of shame and self-loathing. The belief that men are unable to control their wicked sexual impulses is so strong that a Muslim cleric in Australia just went on record saying that women who don’t cover themselves deserve to be raped because they have tempted men (and he is just one of many). The entire cultural phenomenon of covered women is little more than a means to control sexual impulses and achieve some unattainable and unhealthy version of sexual purity.
While I do not have statistics to back me up, I can say with some confidence that people who are comfortable with their sexuality are some of the most contented people in the world, while those who are sexually conflicted and frustrated are among the least contented. I believe this level of contentment is inversely correlated with many antisocial behaviors, including violent aggression, the need to scapegoat vulnerable groups, and the need to force others to conform to one’s own view of reality.
Where this all leads I am not sure. I do not want to downplay the problems that some people encounter when they engage in sex with numerous partners, including sexually-transmitted diseases. Nor do I want to discount the needs of children, who require loving and committed parents.
How to strike a balance between sexual freedom and acceptance of non-traditional views of sexuality with a commitment to strong relationships and family is difficult. But there is no doubt in my mind that fundamentalism at its core is driven by sexual dysfunction and that until this issue is approached head-on we can look forward to more gay-bashing, violence against women, and suicide bombers. If there really is a clash of civilizations it is between the fundamentalists and liberal society, and the most potent issue that separates these two groups is their views towards sex.
P.S. Someone read my piece and forwarded me a link to one of Bill Maher's rants that's too good to pass up. Check it out- it's hilarious and on the money!