Op-Ed

Ky. Voices: Akin's rape comment reflects GOP's political fundamentalism

Steven Mangine is a clinical psychologist practicing in Lexington.
Steven Mangine is a clinical psychologist practicing in Lexington.

"Woman is a misbegotten man, and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. ... What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, one must be on one's guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and a horned devil. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good." — St. Albertus Magnus, German philosopher and Roman Catholic saint

Last month, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, a Republican candidate for the Senate, commented that in cases of "legitimate rape," the female body has ways to prevent pregnancy. Women took little comfort from Akin's data-free affirmation of their intuitive powers to outwit biology. His comments sent the Republican leadership scrambling to yank him off the political stage before he emptied the theater of all female voters.

But some faithful followers have not fled the scene of what Mike Huckabee called Akin's "crucifixion." On a single day last week, he raised $150,000 from fellow social and religious conservatives.

To the degree that conservatism is quantifiable, Akin's is perfect. He recently won the American Conservative Union's Defender of Liberty Award, signifying a 100 percent rating for his support of conservative causes. But his zeal transcends quantification. "The heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God," he once declared, again sending Republican colleagues scrambling for cover.

But if conservatism means maximizing human freedom by minimizing government's ham-handed intrusions into the lives of its citizens, then Akin and his fellows score less than 100 percent. Forcing a rape victim to carry her child to term strips away a woman's liberty in a second act of coercion.

Akin, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and their party's platform all embrace such legislation. Yet regulating the huge financial institutions responsible for global financial meltdown or mandating health care coverage (a plan created by the conservative Heritage Foundation in 1989 to promote individual responsibility) raise cries of tyranny from the same legislators.

How to make sense of this?

These days, much of the Republican Party espouses not conservatism but political fundamentalism, a close cousin of its religious counterpart. Armed with federal power and turned loose on the nuanced world of individual human values, at best it creates a moribund government locked in a standoff with political moderates. At worst, it flirts with tyranny.

As philosopher Tamas Pataki points out, religious fundamentalism — whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Hindu — sees life as an unremitting struggle between truth and error, darkness and light. The single correct, Scripture-sanctioned way to believe and act leaves no room for pluralism.

Either you are with us — manning the barricades against the encroaching forces of decadent modern culture — or with them. Xenophobia, the political fundamentalist's reflexive fear of the outsider, drives the vitriol and terror that President Barack Obama evokes from the far right.

In most fundamentalist thought, women's sexuality looms as a central threat.

Men — bearers of the masculine reason that checks chaotic and dangerous feminine emotion — appoint themselves as gatekeepers of women's dress, social behavior, sexual relationships and reproduction. Fundamentalist thinking often attributes to women Eve's dark power to corrupt godly men: seductive feminine wiles so powerful that they could incite male emotion to dethrone his reason, breaching the last dam against social chaos.

Akin's stumble was actually fluent political fundamentalism. By "legitimate rape," he means a sexual encounter where the woman did not use her feminine wiles to seduce the man, then pin the blame on him. Perhaps he could more accurately determine the legitimacy of the rape if he knew what the victim had been wearing.

Akin and like-minded religious and secular leaders build rigid, male-dominated social structures, enforced by mechanisms to punish transgressors in order to neutralize and control women's sexuality. These leaders' basic mind-set mirrors that of religious extremists from Kansas to Kandahar, from the Middle Ages to the Internet era.

Women continue to be collateral damage as such patriarchs wage total war against their own private terrors.

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