The dangers of ignoring the dark fantasies of the Christian right
I read Jesse’s post about a forced birther who faked a troubled pregnancy right after I read Joan Walsh’s story of trying to go on O’Reilly, only to be confronted with a bunch of screaming and bullshit that made any sort of discourse impossible. Together, they give one a small glimpse into something sane people try to ignore most of the time, but stop ignoring in the wake of something like a political assassination of an abortion provider—the Christian right are not people of “values”, they are batshit motherfucking nuts. In the process of trying to hammer at Walsh, O’Reilly let fly with one of the fantasies (like the fake pregnancy Jesse described) that become justification for the fetus worshippers, and it’s a doozy.
He brought out uncorroborated stories he claimed he’d never shown before: a 13-year-old girl (I couldn’t see her or verify her story) who claimed Tiller killed her baby and had her deliver it in a toilet.
I know, I know—it’s important to believe that people are arguing in good faith, etc., but the anti-choice movement has made it abundantly clear that reality will not get in their way. So I feel quite assured in believing this story is 110%, thorough bullshit that Christianists who spread it know is bullshit on a certain level. After a certain point, it’s not even lying exactly. The Christian right is shot through with self-justifying fantasies that the rest of us politely ignore, in no small part because we’re honestly afraid if we pay too much attention to what they believe, we’ll start to get sucked into the narrative, and we will also lose our minds. So we look away, and in doing so, we give them cover so they can participate in the mainstream of America, grab the reins of power, and never have TV anchors ask, “So can you tell me exactly what happens when you cast demons out of someone?”
I suppose we also don’t want to expose how nuts they are, because it also feels like picking on someone for being pitiable. But no matter how pitiful the sad sacks who wave fetus pictures at women are, no matter how obvious it is that they’re motivated by resentment of the exciting world out there where people have real lives instead of their miserable ones, we can’t let them just take it out on women to make up for it. We can’t let their lurid fantasies rule over us.
We also have to accept that no matter how pitiful they are, they spread these crazy stories for fundamentally mean, hateful reasons. Fred at Slacktivist wrote what I think is the best post ever on the tendency of Christianists to get involved in lurid fantasies that they know on some level are bullshit, and why they do it.
But in truth they were neither innocent nor dupes. The category of innocent dupe does not apply here. No one could be honestly misled by such a story. The only way to have been misled by it is dishonestly — which is to say deliberately, willingly and willfully. They are claiming to believe a foolish thing, but they are not guilty of foolishness. They are guilty of malice.
They are just plain guilty.
Which brings us to the interesting and complicated question: Why? Why would anyone choose to pretend to believe such preposterous and malicious falsehoods? What’s in it for them?
As we say in the biz, read the whole thing. Fred’s talking about the Proctor & Gamble fantasy-hoax that was spread by Christianists—I’m sure you’ve heard it, and politely turned your head and hoped it didn’t infect you. In a sense, most of our reactions to obvious superstition and fantasy is to superstitiously fear it. But these fantasies spread by the Christian right are only going to be purged by some sunlight, so let’s put aside our worries that it’s catching and start talking about the problem. It’s not new, the pandering to these lurid fantasies by refusing to acknowledge them when politically important believers go on TV, or giving a fantasist like Ross Douthat (who has the sense to know which ones sound really awful, so he cleans them up for his column) a space in the NY Times. Tipper Gore played the same “look away politely” maneuver in the 80s when she paired up with the religious right to censor the music industry. Gore may have been upset about hearing the word “masturbation” in a Prince song, but the people she partnered with? Believed that rock music had secret Satanic messages on it that were being embedded in kids’ minds subliminally.
Satanism was a big thing in the 80s, if you’ll recall, no doubt with that prickle of fear that you’re losing your mind as you feel the tug of their crazy fantasies on the part of your brain that engages stories. For years, people honestly believed that day cares housed Satanic cults, that Satanists were holding secret seances in their towns, and that Freddie Mercury of Queen was trying to turn your kids to Satan. (I remember seeing him singled out in a documentary about Satanic rock music that used to play on access channels here, one that I was perversely fascinated by.) This belief retreated from the mainstream, but lives on in the religious right in the widespread belief that sin is the result of demons infecting you, demons that need to be exorcised. (Something presidential Bobby Jindal is on record for having done.)
While all that is relevant, what’s particularly interesting to me is that the fantasies that are the bread and butter of the anti-choice movement are so politely and pointedly ignored that they rarely even merit a little mainstream attention. We’re incorrectly led to believe that these people are basically like normal people, except that they really hate abortion. Anti-choicers do get some minor attention for the fantasies they’ve cleverly rewritten to seem like they’re scientific claims, such as claiming that the pill kills fertilized eggs (no evidence for this, which should be the end of this discussion, but people are stupid about science) or that there’s a link between abortion and breast cancer of that there’s something called “post-abortive syndrome”, which there is not. When something’s wrapped in the rhetoric of science, it’s a little less scary to look at it, because you feel that your grasp on reality will be unaffected, because all you need to do is point to the real evidence. But these fake scientific claims swirl around in an anti-choice world steeped in incredible fantasies, and we can’t understand their mentality unless we look at these.
The operating myth of the anti-choice movement is that abortion providers a) only do that and b) because they love killing babies. Women who get abortions are mindless, of course, because women are, and are victims of the female inability to actually make good decisions, and it’s assumed they’ll wake up one day and realize what they did. From this stems some really crazy fantasies. Jill Stanek, for one, has spread stories about doctors who eat the fetuses after they abort the pregnancies, for instance. There’s also a bunch of women who run around claiming they “survived” abortion. The way they play this off is they claim that it was a saline abortion, a convenient excuse because such a thing would leave no evidence trail, but it also makes no sense since abortions are mostly performed through vacuum aspiration or D&C, and this is true even when they were illegal. Who knows where these fantasies come from? But not only are they dangerous on a large scale political level if we ignore them, they’re a minor example of the internal weirdness and cruelty that the Christianists perform on each other.
I have no doubt that there is a 13-year-old out there making this claim about the abortion and the toilet. All the worse for her if she actually believes it, which would also not surprise me. Now, young people are particularly prone to confusing reality and fantasy, which is why the ghost stories that so entranced and scared you in junior high school lose their power in adulthood, when you’re mentally more formed. Let’s just hope that all that’s being exploited is this, and she will grow up and stop half-believing that this happened to her, just as you stopped half-believing that weird, empty house that all the older kids visited for smoking pot was haunted by the family that was murdered there (an event that all kids in the community but no adults seem to know about). But in the event that the young woman in question, if she exists, actually is suffering from mental health issues that are causing her to be unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy, then she’s in real trouble. No one’s going to get her the help that she needs, because her delusion is too politically valuable.
This is not a small issue with the anti-choice community. Once they concocted the idea of “post-abortive syndrome”, they had a real need to collect a lot of women who’ve had abortions and have serious mental health issues as poster children, so they can claim the issues are the result of the abortion. But let’s think about what this means, beyond the political cynicism of it. Women who are convinced by their fellow church member that their mental health issues stem back to abortion are told that they can heal themselves through anti-choice activism and prayer. I don’t imagine there’s a lot of assistance in getting them the real help they need. On the contrary, if someone goes to a real psychologist who knows what they’re doing, they’re not going to get a “post-abortive” diagnosis, since there is no such thing. And if they deal with their real problems instead of blaming abortion, they’ll drift away from their spot in the anti-choice movement, where they get pampered and praised for being such useful political footballs.
This incredibly cynical use of vulnerable women, many who admittedly and obviously have serious mental health issues, really points up to how little the anti-choice movement really does think of women. These women have sought refuge and help in these communities, and instead of getting help, they’re encouraged to spin off into darker and weirder places mentally, because the more weird and feeble they are, the better they work as political pawns. I have seen that there’s some men who claim to be “post-abortive”, but that’s less troubling, because their stories tend to be focused on how they couldn’t make someone have a baby, and so the relationship ended and they’re sad about that. But I’ve not seen any men who claim to have “survived” abortion, and of course, it’s not men spinning these weird fantasies of their own abortions.