Who are the true defenders of family values? Too often in the past few years, we've seen politicians and preachers portray themselves as defenders of the family (that means being anti-gay marriage), but show little aptitude for family life themselves. From Ted Haggard to Mark Sanford, Jimmy Swaggart to Newt Gingrich, partisans on the right have shown themselves less than consistent. Of course, they all come with excuses, Newt having one of the best -- he loved his country so much he did bad things. Of course, he repented, God forgave, and well the cycle starts again. In today's edition of Sightings, Martin Marty points us to a critique of Gingrich by a representative of the atheist/humanist community. PZ Myers has asked why he's anti-family despite being married to the same person for 31 years without ever straying, while Newt's pro-family and has been married three times, divorcing two wives after having affairs with the next wife. It's a good question to raise, and hopefully will elicit some good conversation. I would suggest checking out Myers's full article in The Humanist.
Humanism, Newt Gingrich and Sightings
-- Martin E. Marty
Sightings just entered its thirteenth year of keeping an eye on public representations of religion. Let’s see, that’s 13 times almost 52 weeks (my half of this bi-weekly publication.) By now, faithful readers can have drawn some conclusions about our conventional choices of topics. For instance, we do not “do” U. S. Presidents in office, for a variety of bipartisan reasons. Sightings also doesn’t write often about sex, though one could find myriad topics on the religion-and-sex news scene weekly. Some might say that we also under-do “humanisms,” though whether we do or do not depends in part upon definitions of terms. We certainly do on occasion treat capital-H Humanisms, which often assume the shapes of religion when attacking religion. Lower-case humanism is a natural and less newsworthy subject.
As for the issue of nonpartisanship or bipartisanship, that is also a safe restraint, since “they” and “we” both have unpleasant stories. (The picture of the late “Pogo” and an epigrammatic caption in my study is a reminder: “We have faults which we have hardly used yet.” All of that dance-and-song is a lead-in to an apparent column-length violation of the lines of our self-restraint. It will mention would-be president Newt Gingrich, now credibly, because he is not going to be president. Second, if one mentions Gingrich, it is inevitable that the topic of sex comes up. Thirdly, this week we can include Humanism, via an article in, yes, The Humanist. The luxury of using this story, is that little narrative detailing is necessary here. Like all stories of this sort the Gingrich tale is engrossing to twenty-first century communicators and their audience and readerships.
To the current point, the headline of the Humanist article summarizes the plot: “Why I Am an Amoral, Family-Hating Monster. . . and Newt Gingrich Isn’t.” Author PZ Myers begins with reference to his 31 years of marriage “without ever straying,” while still being seen as a monster for his humanist commitments. Newt Gingrich, Myers notes, has been married three times, divorced one wife while she was recovering from surgery, and had extramarital affairs. He asks who is considered the defender of traditional sexual morality even as he represents a “political party with more ex-wives than candidates and defends a disturbingly amoral network of fundamentalist operators” while remaining regarded as the protector of the sanctity of the family.”
This candidate got by because he is needed by certain political factions and because he often says he confesses and repents and asks us to move on with him. Since his confessions are public, we can picture the evangelical pastors of his past and his Catholic priests in the present gulping as he goes his way attracting (by now, too few) patient supporters. (For those who want parity, we bring up former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, whom we shall now also drop as a topic).
What matters here is that on the marital- and sexual-morality front, while humanists like Myers—and there are plenty of them—don’t get an even break, they can still fulfill a useful function for the rest of us. They want the newsworthy “traditional” moralists called to account. If Christian moralists don’t do the accounting, humanists most credibly will. They often point out that they have trouble making their identity and culture and mission clear on the present scene. Here’s a break for them.
PZ Myers, “Why I Am an Amoral, Family-Hating Monster… and Newt Gingrich Isn’t,” The Humanist, May-June 2011.
Martin E. Marty's biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
Can American Muslims be both loyal to their tradition and full participants in American civil society? In this month’s Religion & Culture Web Forum, Vincent J. Cornell argues that an embrace of the tenets of Shari‘a fundamentalism has led even would-be moderate Muslim leaders to reject the principles of American constitutional democracy. Consequently, they advocate (often unintentionally) a retreat from full participation in American civil society into sectarianism and “millet multiculturalism.” Against this tend, says Cornell, it is necessary for Muslim thinkers to find an “overlapping consensus” between Shari‘a and constitutionalism—one that gives warrant for the exercise of “unsupervised reason.”
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.