Thursday, September 16, 2010

Christine O'Donnell's Manichaeism

This profile concerning Republican candidate for the US Senate seat in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, and her awakening to chastity, contains a kind of standard script for the way some young people, besieged by guilt as they explore their sexuality, turn their lives around and embrace certain extremes of behavior. In the midst of the reflections, however, is an observation Ms. O'Donnell makes that is at once familiar and disturbing.
You're either very good or evil.

In the context of the whole unfolding of her conversion from typical college student with a free attitude toward her life to a strict moral code rooted in the peculiarities of American evangelical Christianity (and, I suppose I should add, Roman Catholicism, considering her upbringing and her current religious affiliation), this statement reveals the presence, sadly never rooted out, of moral dualism in American Christianity.

It is just not the case that there "is" only "very good" or "evil". Our best actions are always tainted by sin; our most vile moments are always done under the shadow of the wings of a gracious God. While I would never gainsay Ms. O'Donnell's decision to alter her life in the name of living a more holy life, neither would I say that such a decision is rooted in some basic moral structure in the Universe. There is much, in fact, to laud in turning from a life of emotionless sex to a far more disciplined sexual life (I would even include refraining from masturbation under that theme). On the other hand, taking such an approach to one's life and insisting that this particular set of ethical values is necessary for an individual's life precisely because "there is only very good and bad", rather than to proclaim the power of grace within the Body of Christ for helping one through times of trial and to discover the gracious benefits of a disciplined sexual life is repugnant to me.

Rooted in dualism, her view of life is antithetical to the Biblical witness, to any notion of God's grace, let alone to a broad-minded approach to sexual politics. While I recognize her position resonates with many Americans, and her views will certainly commend her to conservative voters in Delaware in two months, her position, rooted in an unreflective moral dichotomy, seems to me to offer very little guidance for a more thoughtful approach to sexual politics.

There is very little in Ms. O'Donnell's view of the world, her history of statements on everything from the Clinton-era fake scandals to creationism, and now her sexual politics, to commend her as a serious political figure. At least I can understand why Sarah Palin endorses her. . .

Virtual Tin Cup

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