When a person, idea, or social change comes along and threatens those in power, a fissure is inevitable. Moral Combat is a brief history, barely scratching the surface of each of the topics it covers (each chapter could easily be several books in its own right), but it's an important look at the radical and ever growing political divide our country is facing. It is not an easy book to read; it covers some incredibly touchy subjects that one doesn't usually discuss because it tends to lead to angry arguments rather than productive discourse. Regardless, the history is fascinating (if infuriating) and a worthwhile read.
Disclaimer: this is not an non-partisan review. What follows is long, graphic, and probably a little derisive. But I've come to the conclusion that part of why liberals are losing so many of these progressive battles is because we are too willing to "play nice" and are not as aggressive as we need to be. As I'm writing this review Bermuda has just become the first country to repeal gay marriage. Conservatives would have you believe that there is a slippery slope where if you give someone X rights, then pretty soon everyone will be entering into plural marriage with houseplants and their Roomba. But the real problem is that we'll gain rights, become complacent, and our rights get rolled back in a vicious power grab we never saw coming.
Religion is power. It uses the idea of a loving god as a carrot and a vengeful god as a stick to keep the populace in line with its patriarchal and racist view points. Moralistic ideals are defined and enforced because that's what the scriptures say and that's what god wants (as interpreted by man...). It justifies slavery, lynching, and burning witches: the speech writer for Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, a Sunday school teacher at First Christian Church in Jackson, MS by the name of Archibald Stimson Coody IV, defended lynching black men in 1944 under the guise of the safety of white women. After going into great detail of four lynching (hangings and the burning of a live man chained up in a public square), Coody concluded, "Was it any worse than burning a witch" This reviewer would argue THAT BOTH ARE VERY FUCKING WRONG!!! Justifying the lynching of one group of marginalized people by comparing it to the burning of a different group of marginalized people is not a valid argument. Ever.
Sex is power. Women bear the brunt of the child bearing and rearing burdens, and men have used that to their advantage to keep them submissive, often with religious shaming, but also with economic manipulation and rape. Poor single mothers who have given birth out of wedlock are sinful, but equally sinful is the abortion that would keep them from being blamed and shamed into poverty in the first place - placing them in an unwinnable situation. This book talks a bit about the rape of black female slaves by white men (to produce even more slaves, as the children born of these rapes were deemed slaves), but it doesn't even touch spousal rape (marital rape exceptions still existed in some states in 1993(!) and even today some states treat rape within a marriage differently than rape between non-married individuals).
Hand in hand religion and sex walked; sex was for procreation within an a man-woman marriage, along color lines, with a wife obeying her husband, and the husband dominating the household. Abortion and birth control were **hand waving** available, but they weren't really discussed and white men were happy. Then along comes the "radical" notion that women should be able control what happens to their own bodies. And vote! And birth control and abortion should be readily available and maybe even to... gasp... unmarried ladies. And anti-miscegenation laws should be repealed. And same sex-marriages should be allowed.
Then... all hell broke loose. Demons took over the country! Literal lava flowed through the streets! Dogs started to speak Russian!
Oh wait. That last part didn't actually happen. There was however a bunch of hysterical religious rhetoric from people (primarily cis white men) who couldn't handle the thought of losing their power to women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. (Let's not let us white women off the hook either though; we've been complicit here too, because the same white patriarchy that tramples on the back of minorities bolsters us up as well, maybe not as high as that of the menfolk, but we're still benefiting.)
Ranting and tongue-in-cheek snark aside, along with the increasing divide between the right and left, this book highlighted some things that I didn't actually expect. I was under the incorrect impression that the fetal personhood movement was a relatively new phenomenon, but it actually started just 8 days after the passage of Roe v. Wade. I also never knew conservatives made regular claims that sexual freedom would lead to one becoming a communist. They really did use the Red Scare for everything back then, didn't they I did already know about the (self) censorship of movies, but a little bit of extra research beyond of the book led me to other groups (like the Comics Code Authority). Thinking outside of the box here, I have to wonder how much of this anti-sex censorship is why our entertainment today is so ridiculously violent, while simultaneously being still so incredibly prudish. Anyone else recall the flap over the movie Blue Valentine and the man-on-woman oral sex scene that gave it an initial NC-17 rating in 2010 Although, maybe this is a bad example, seeing has how it's a Weinstein production...
If you are a liberal, the look back at the manipulation of our politics and laws is certain to make you outraged. The sheer levels of hypocrisy and backhanded actions of the religious extremists on the right is appalling and disgusting. I say let this rage drive a newfound level of activism - take a page from the conservative playbook and keep fighting for progress, and vote. For the love of all that is important, VOTE!!! The only way to stop these abuses of power and to keep gaining rights for the marginalized is to keep the people who are abusing the power out of those powerful positions in the first place.
If you are a conservative, well, I'm not sure you'll understand why the liberals are so unwilling to continue to be subjected to your religious dogma. Maybe you'll read this book and have a light bulb moment when you realize that the rhetoric and scare tactics being used against transgendered persons today (they'll rape and kill little girls in the bathrooms) are the same as the ones that were used against black men during Jim Crow (they'll rape and kill little white women in the streets), and see just how preposterous it is. Or maybe you will still think those things are actually happening (they aren't) and the light bulb moment won't happen.
To conclude what is by far my longest review on Goodreads by far, I don't see us coming together any time soon. So for now, I suppose I keep fighting and encouraging others to do the same.
Side Note: This is not generally the type of book that would make my "Five Star Bar" because I found it a bit kludgy to read at times (this is due to all of the quotes and sources, it makes for a lot of mental task switching, at least for me), I'm not anxious to read it again, and because of its breadth over depth on the subject at hand. That said, given that I wrote a 1200 word treatise as my review, and when I'm done here I'm going to use the little recommend feature to pop this off to several people, it clearly evoked an emotional response and I feel like that I'm justified in bumping it from 4 to 5.