Ruining Lives

I’ve been watching developments in the Duggar “19 kids and counting” scandal. There are reports (I don’t know if official documents have been found) saying that Josh Duggar sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services to prevent them from making a finding against him and possibly to keep them from monitoring the family for further abuse. Basically, the more we learn, the hinkier it gets.

Sarah Posner and others have observed that the family’s concern, and the concern of their apologists, all along has been entirely for Josh. The kid made a mistake. It shouldn’t ruin his life. They got counseling for him (although not for the victims that I heard, and apparently it wasn’t standard counseling).

After all, Mike Huckabee forgave him

“Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,'” Huckabee wrote in a Facebook post. “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

Except all reports indicate the family closed ranks and were not that honest with the authorities, and I’ve yet to see indication that the victims have been given any consideration whatsoever.

(We might notice a connection to rape accusations — conservatives often condemn rape in the abstract, but when there’s an actual (male) perpetrator and (female) victim, somehow they become very lenient. We don’t want to run anybody’s life by convicting him of anything.)

Sarah Posner writes,

This week, a recap of their television show on their blog discussed how Jim Bob and Michelle “encourage their kids to take a chaperone along on all their dates so they have someone to keep them accountable and ensure that they stick to their courtship standards.” In their family, they police sex outside of marriage. In politics they police sex between consenting adults, sex between people of the same sex; they are “pure” and “godly” because they police and condemn other people’s sexual lives. But now the public knows that this family which enforces “purity” has covered up the sexual predations—against children, even their own children— of their star son.

The Duggars haven’t shied away from “protecting” children in other contexts. As Right Wing Watch reports, last year Josh Duggar “led a successful campaign to defeat a LGBT nondiscrimination measure in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which he said jeopardized the safety of children,” and that his mother “also ran a robocall pushing for the repeal of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which she warned would empower ‘child predators’ to threaten ‘the safety and innocence of a child.’”

I’d be willing to bet that the Duggars don’t see their own hypocrisy. Of course they are more moral than other people, because they are Bible-believing Christians. They exist in a state of grace. If they transgress, it’s only a mistake and an opportunity to bask in God’s forgiveness. Anyone else doing the same thing is just depraved.

The “19 kids” program gives me the creeps — I confess I watched about ten minutes of it once. The lot of them, with their anodyne demeanors and determined avoidance of self-awareness are just depressing to me.

Anyway, this takes me to something I wrote in Rethinking Religion:

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that, as often as not, people who are moral absolutists about others’ behavior find ways to rationalize breaking the rules themselves. For example, the Pro-Choice Action Network hosts a web page of stories collected from abortion clinics about anti-abortion activists who seek abortions. A recurring theme of these stories is that the anti-choice woman has persuaded herself that her situation is unique and deserving of special consideration, unlike the other women in the waiting room, who are just sluts.

Of course, anecdotes may be manufactured. Yet there is solid data showing us that rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock pregnancy are higher in conservative “Bible Belt” U.S. states than in more liberal ones, and this pattern seems to replicate itself worldwide. For example, rates of abortion in overwhelmingly Catholic Latin America, where abortion is nearly everywhere illegal and harshly punished, are higher than in the United States and a lot higher than in mostly liberal and allegedly decadent western Europe. More conservative eastern Europe has abortion rates through the roof, however, which drives up the European average.

It appears that when absolutist morality is publicly enforced, actual human behavior — heterosexual behavior included — is driven into the closet, leaving actual humans with no practical guidance in their actual circumstances.

I say the absolutist approach to morality gets everything backward. It creates too wide a gap between public righteousness and what people are really doing in their private lives, so that the moral rules are not really guiding anyone. And when we cede the presumed moral high ground to the absolutists, too often we squelch open and honest public discussion of our real-world circumstances and moral decisions.

I honestly don’t want to know what goes on in the Duggar family when the cameras aren’t running. TLC would be doing them, and the world, a favor by cutting them loose from their contract, IMO. They could use a reality check, I suspect.

Update: Be sure to read I could’ve been a Duggar wife: I grew up in the same church, and the abuse scandal doesn’t shock me. It’s possible Josh’s little mistake is just the tip of an iceberg.

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