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The trickle down effects of malignant morality

Two posts at the NYTimes illustrate the effects of what I like to call Malignant Christianity on the Republican base.

First up, Pat Robertson of 700 Club fame, recently said it was Ok for a man to divorce his wife if she had Alzheimer’s disease in order to get with a different woman.

From the Times article:

The Rev. Pat Robertson’s suggestion that a man whose wife was far “gone” with Alzheimer’s should divorce her if he felt a need for new companionship has provoked a storm of condemnation from other Christian leaders but a more mixed or even understanding response from some doctors and patient advocates.

On his television show, “The 700 Club,” on Tuesday, Mr. Robertson, a prominent evangelical who once ran for president, took a call from a man who asking how he should advise a friend whose wife was deep intodementia and no longer recognized him.

“His wife as he knows her is gone,” the caller said, and the friend is “bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he’s started seeing another woman.”

“This is a terribly hard thing,” Mr. Robertson said, clearly struggling to think his way through a wrenching situation. “I hate Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most awful things, because here’s the loved one — this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone “

“I know it sounds cruel,” he continued, “but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care, somebody looking after her.”

When Mr. Robertson’s co-anchor on the show wondered if that was consistent with marriage vows, Mr. Robertson noted the pledge of “’til death do us part,” but added, “This is a kind of death.”

He said the question presented an ethical dilemma beyond his ability to answer. “I certainly wouldn’t put a guilt trip on you if you decided that you had to have companionship, you’re lonely, you have to have companionship,” Mr. Robertson said.

You have to have companionship.  Unless you’re gay.

So, here’s the reasoning behind this: Robertson style “christians” don’t believe in pre-marital sex.  Oh, they believe it exists but they don’t think you should do it under any circumstances. It’s a very Tess of the d’Urbervilles world for these christians.  So, in order to no commit the sin of FORNICATION, you should commit a bigger sin by abandoning your sick wife.  Hmmm, what was Pat Robertson’s position on Terry Schiavo’s husband?  I mean, he stuck with her to the bitter end and never divorced her.  I suspect that a good deal of the craziness directed at Michael Schiavo was due to existence of his second family.  How dare he get on with his life and FORNICATE while his wife is hooked to a feeding tube for 15 years.  And Terry Schiavo was a young 26 year old when she went into a permanent vegetative state.  But Pat Robertson and his minions would not grant Terry and Michael mercy.  Nope, their very private decisions were the subject of a national mob frenzy.  But I digress.

Maybe we should get Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion on this.  She left the Supreme Court, a permanent, important, powerful position, in order to take care of her ailing husband who had Alzheimer’s disease.  Now, THAT’s dedication and love for you.

I’m not judging the decisions of any particular case.  Alzheimer’s is very difficult on spouses.  But I do wonder if God wouldn’t cut you a break for the FORNICATION if you would just stay married to your spouse until the very end of a devastating disease.  What a terrible choice to foist upon the guy who asked for Robertson’s advice.

The other post is Paul Krugman’s Friday column,  Free to Die, where he writes with palpable disbelief of the cruelty and heartlessness of the new Republican right’s attitude towards taking care of their neighbors who have suffered misfortune or poverty.  In reference to the Wolf Blitzer-Ron Paul exchange at the last Republican presidential debate where Rep. Paul was pressed on healthcare for the uninsured emergency room patient, Krugman writes:

The incident highlighted something that I don’t think most political commentators have fully absorbed: at this point, American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions.


So the freedom to die extends, in practice, to children and the unlucky as well as the improvident. And the right’s embrace of that notion signals an important shift in the nature of American politics.

In the past, conservatives accepted the need for a government-provided safety net on humanitarian grounds. Don’t take it from me, take it from Friedrich Hayek, the conservative intellectual hero, who specifically declared in “The Road to Serfdom” his support for “a comprehensive system of social insurance” to protect citizens against “the common hazards of life,” and singled out health in particular.

Given the agreed-upon desirability of protecting citizens against the worst, the question then became one of costs and benefits — and health care was one of those areas where even conservatives used to be willing to accept government intervention in the name of compassion, given the clear evidence that covering the uninsured would not, in fact, cost very much money. As many observers have pointed out, the Obama health care plan was largely based on past Republican plans, and is virtually identical to Mitt Romney’s health reform in Massachusetts.

Now, however, compassion is out of fashion — indeed, lack of compassion has become a matter of principle, at least among the G.O.P.’s base.

And what this means is that modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

Are voters ready to embrace such a radical rejection of the kind of America we’ve all grown up in? I guess we’ll find out next year.

I’ve seen this new morality up close and personally.  My guess is that the change in attitude has been gradual but so relentless nonetheless that the practitioners of this new morality have no idea how far they have strayed from their former selves.  The right side of the country is getting crueler, there’s no doubt about it.  Well, if the poor and children of the poor had lead more moral lives, bad things wouldn’t have happened to them.  If you’re sitting pretty and have a nice life, it’s because you’ve been good and followed the rules.  Judgementalism has trumped compassion because it is powerful.  It makes the wielder feel important and relevant and part of a bigger team.  And that power can be dangerous when directed at your fellow citizens.  To have the power of life and death over some other creature can be intoxicating.  And unless we deny the religious right the reverence they crave and hold them accountable for the pain and cost they thrust on others, expect the collective morality of the nation to continue to decline.