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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.


14 Responses

  1. Perhaps they need to reread Matthew 25:40.

    • But not fornicators. Or men who lie with men. Or, you know the list.

      It’s the power thing. I think that’s why they also cheered for Perry’s executions record. And abortion. If they can cut down on your access to abortion, that’s pretty life changing, isn’t it? Or gay marriage. It doesn’t affect them one tiny bit but it’s their business anyway to make sure of what, exactly? People putting sexual organs various places? Didja ever notice they don’t get all bent out of shape when heterosexuals practice oral and anal sex.
      That’s one of the things I’d love to ask Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann: “When did you stop having oral sex with your spouse?” Betcha Wolf Blitzer will never ask that one.

  2. Robertson’s statement hit me in a very personal way. My father died of Alzheimer’s disease over a decade ago. It was a very slow slide into oblivion. My sister has been experiencing symptoms for the last 3 years. She’s now 59 and is finally seeking diagnostic verification. She held off for two reasons: basic fear and the high cost of the required cognitive/diagnostic tests with a neurologist.

    If the tests indicate that she does have the early stages of Alzheimer’s, I can’t think of anything to make her feel worse than reading Robertson’s so-called Christian thoughts on the matter: You’re already dead, Babe. And any partner in their right mind would be entitled to walk away.

    This is a perversion of the Christian message and should evoke nothing but shame, in the same way the recent debates and the outrageous comments of GOP contenders should mortify decent Republicans. Instead, what we’ve heard is cheering because the present political climate appeals to people’s worst instincts, not our better angels.

    A disgrace!

  3. We sometimes forget that the first social insurance program for elders was designed by Otto von Bismarck. So the Rs are to the right of Kaiser Wilhelm’s “Iron Chancellor.” Then again, so are the Ds.

  4. I first heard the words “freedom to starve” sitting in mandatory chapel at a Texas fundamentalist institution of “higher” education. That was a few days before some of the attendees cheered when the assassination of the President was announced. Krugman is right. It’s a different “moral” vision.

  5. When the spouse of an Alzheimer’s patient becomes involved with someone else, the question isn’t whether they remain legally married or divorce. The question is whether they continue to provide love and care. One does not have to divorce an Alzheimer’s patient to abandon him or her, and divorce doesn’t always mean abandonment. I visit a friend’s mother who lives in an Alzheimer’s unit in a nursing home, and her roommate’s husband has divorced her. But he and his new wife both participate in Mary’s care. She is unaware of who either of them are, but she enjoys their visits. It’s not unreasonable that her husband would need comfort and companionship. Mary has been this way a long time. And it’s not unreasonable for the woman who shares his home and his bed to want a legal commitment from him. Mary is not hurt in the least either financially or emotionally, I don’t know if her ex-husband is a Democrat or a Republican, but I don’t think this issue falls along party lines.

    • I would agree with you but this is Pat Robertson we’re talking about. There is an element of moral relativism in his advice that is pretty stunning in light of all his other beliefs.
      I’ll betcha he wouldn’t give the same advice to a woman in this situation.

    • Actually, RD, your suggestion about Sandra Day O’Connor is more apt than you might realize. Local DC media here often mentioned how much she and her husband enjoyed dancing together at parties, and I don’t think many were really surprised of her decision to leave the Court and her reasons for doing so. However, some time ago there was an article in the Post about how her husband, who I guess doesn’t really understand who she is anymore, had fallen in love with another patient at his care facility. She acknowledged the hurt and awkwardness of the situation, but emphasized that, since his health and happiness were paramount, she would be supportive and not interfere.

  6. OK, the obvious question arises: is this “freedom” the same for a woman whose husband has the same disease? I find it very interesting that the example was so clearly gender defined.

  7. Riverdaughter…You are really smart….

    I wanted to comment on a previous post, but you have closed the comments. So I thought I’d deliver the comment here. The point is just as valid,

    The teabaglican party should be renamed the O.J.Simpson party.
    The Demoratic party should be renamed the Nicole Simpson party.

    The Dems will only cease apologizing to the teabaglicans and begging to be smacked by them when the teabaglicans kill them!!…(and get away with it!!)

  8. I’ve been listening to this blowhard moron insult me by blaming 911 on the gays and calling me a pervert for years. Now I have a family member who was just diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s (in her fifties) last week. I wonder if she read or heard about this and how awful that would be for her. How many ways can this idiot be cruel and offensive?

  9. I’m a fundyphobe–whether they’re fundamentalist Xtians, Muslims, or Jews. Fundamentalist religions are the bane of civilization. Will the Enlightment ever spread or will there always be pockets where the Dark Ages survive, even in advanced societies?

    Interesting post since I’m watching The Tudors on Netflix at the moment and took a quick break–all those tortures and executions of heretics by both Catholics and Protestants. Well, I guess we’ve had some progress since then. People are no longer burned at the stake for being the wrong brand of Christian. (Although in some corners of the world people are still stoned to death for being gay or adulterous or even for being the victims of rape.)

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