One of the fascinations of parenthood is learning to see things through the eyes of a young person again. When my daughter was fascinated with dinosaurs, I found myself learning such tongue-twisters as micropachycephalosaurus (I spelled that without looking it up just now) and struthiomimus just to remain conversant with her. (That, and I never really grew up.) When she took a childhood interest in insects, I found myself picking up bugs that would have sent me running just a few short years before, in my bare hands, to take them home to show her. All of this is by way of introducing my current continuing interest in witch trials. My wife (and consequently our daughter) is a direct descendent of the Towne family that included three innocent women accused as witches in the 1690s—Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easty, and Sarah Cloyce. When my daughter found out, the next long weekend from school we drove to Salem. I’ve been reading about witches ever since. I recently finished Brian A. Pavlac’s excellent Witch Hunts in the Western World. Well, as excellent as any book about such a gruesome topic can be. In the course of reading it, an unexpected connection dawned on me.

Many of those accused of witchcraft in the early modern period in Europe were accused of killing babies. The vast majority of them were women, often midwives. Those so accused had their bodies stripped and examined in public venues, generally only to have confessions tortured out of them later, under the eyes of male magistrates. The church had given credence to the superstition that witches actually existed and were in league with the Devil. Suddenly as I read, I heard the echo of a familiar refrain that comes from modern witch hunters. Those who, like the magistrates of old, are men; men telling women what they may or may not do with their bodies. Who draw their self-righteousness from their religion and who claim that birth control is of the Devil. Who accuse women of killing babies. Texas begins to sound like the rebirth of the Holy Roman Empire. In all of Europe that was where the most women were slaughtered, in thousands, by men who burned with the zealotry of a religion that had lost touch with reality.

Time spent on history is never wasted. At times we seem to have come so far, but then I look back over my shoulder and see the suchomimus of unbridled male fantasy closing fast. We have worked hard to bring equality to all people, but at the start of yet another millennium, we are still measuring the worth of humans by the gonads they carry. Based on outdated views from a book that was once meant to be inspirational. Sadly, the legacy often left by religion is only a residue of superstition. The reasoning behind the witch hunts of yesteryear and those of today is the same—the desire to control the behavior of others. It is the cocktail of religion and politics that inebriates those who crave power. What was true then remains true today. In the words of Pavlac, “A history of the Middle Ages shows the intensifying entanglement of magical thinking with political power, which produced the European witch hunts.” Substitute “Modern Day” for “Middle Ages” and “Planned Parenthood” for “European” and see if you can’t find a pattern.

A Long Way to Go

“One of the greatest injustices we do to young people is ask them to be conservative.” The words are those of Francis Schaeffer. The Francis Schaeffer. Among evangelical circuits, Schaeffer has a status right up there with James Dobson, Ronald Reagan, and Saint Paul. At Grove City College he was viewed with such veneration that hagiography would be an understatement. Few realize that Schaeffer was a mover and shaker in the hippie movement until Roe v. Wade caused what might have been akin to a breakdown. Schaeffer transformed into what he once despised, the ultra-conservative trying to protect the unborn. While Catholic groups had been unsuccessful at capturing Jerry Falwell’s sympathy for fetuses, Schaeffer would win. His book, A Christian Manifesto, published the year I started college, was required reading for religion majors. Abortion had now been taken on as an “evangelical” issue.

Fast forward a few decades. Karen Handel, erstwhile Georgia gubernatorial hopeful, becomes senior vice-president for Susan G. Komen’s The Cure. Handel ran for governor on a pro-life platform. The Cure (temporarily) withdraws funding from Planned Parenthood—the idea that every child should be loved and esteemed is less important than every child should be born. With those little tiny feet. And as it turns out, hopefully with little tiny penises as well. Divide and conquer. Women against women. The Margaret Thatcher syndrome. Call it what you will, but abortion as a religio-political issue revolves around women’s rights. Anti-female legislation has had a long and sordid affair with Christian theology, reaching back to medieval witch-hunts and Catholic sacerdotal declarations. What is sometimes excused as ignorance in less developed societies where women are routinely brutalized is given a Gospel air brush job and called “anti-abortion” in the United States. The real issue, the literal elephant in the room, is women’s rights.

The evidence on this is incontrovertible for anyone who is willing to open their eyes. In order for our culture—men hurling themselves at each other during the Superbowl while women are preparing food in the kitchen—to survive, outmoded gender expectations must be kept firmly in place. Even if you want to cure breast cancer—largely a plague against females—you do it so they can live to produce more males. Being raised with an absentee father, I learned very early that women had every right to equal treatment with men, but I also learned that it did not happen. The trick has been to get women on board to vote against their own best interests. Raise them up to think their religion, their God, demands them to be subservient. And if a man wants sex, it is a woman’s duty to comply. And abortion undoes all a man’s hard work in the bedroom, or backseat, or dark alleyway. Yes, these issues are complex and myriad aspects play into them. I say we call a quorum on the debate until one-half of the human race is truly given a chance to find its voice.

What does he have that half the human race doesn't?

Cookie Time

All right, who wants to be the big meanie now? The fact that politics manage to besmirch just about any human enterprise, no matter how noble, is a lesson many of us learn on our slow trek to adulthood. I sadly came to realize that the church is incredibly political, and that universities could rival congress for the backstabbing and posturing that goes on. In the midst of all this politicking, one of the truly good NGOs left in the world is Girl Scouts. Sure, there will always be some councils with personality issues, and some troops will have a difficult scout or parent with which to cope, but the organization is based on the principle of giving girls the confidence and assurance they need to be successful in life. What could be wrong with that?

My wife pointed out a story on that reveals some anti-abortion groups are now claiming that Girl Scouts supports Planned Parenthood. This is patently not true. Even if it was, it would hardly be a crime to teach girls reproductive options (after all, when is the last time a Pope or President carried a pregnancy to term?), but since people don’t think with precision, it seems best to keep girls in the dark. Some right-wing groups are boycotting Girl Scout cookies as if the devil himself were the baker. Not to be outdone in perceived self-righteousness, some Catholic Churches are kicking out Girl Scout troops for supporting abortion! All of this based on a lie. The road to the unconscionable position of the Catholic Church toward reproduction has been long and mentally torturous. Anyone who has taken the trouble to trace the church’s strange love affair with the fetus may be surprised to learn how recent the concern became an issue and how very androcentric it is. The church’s claims here rely on nothing more than good old testosterone-generating glands and the love thereof. To punish the Girl Scouts for a fictitious association with an unapproved organization shows just how mature the largest church in the world truly is.

The male bias in the majority of the world’s societies is bad enough. The United States likes to hold itself up as an icon of fairness and equality. It is the spirit upon which this nation was founded. Except when it comes to females. We don’t want our girls to have reproductive autonomy because that might make men look somehow less masculine. As for those wimpy guys who like to read, the Bible backs them up completely on this issue. God is a guy, and made guys to be in charge. No matter how much education you offer, you won’t be able to change that one-book-fits-all outlook. What will we have lost if we seriously and honestly treat both genders equally (and even those intersexed individuals)? Only the apparently fragile male sense of superiority. I say, in the spirit of America vote for equality! Buy Girl Scout cookies!

Deliver us from evil.