September 19, 2010

She Turned Me Into A Newt

So newly-nominated U.S. Senate candidate apparently once "dabbled into witchcraft" back in her early twenties. That sounds like a gigantic yawner of a non-story to me.  There being no religious test for the holding of Federal office and all forms of religion being equally invalid nonsense to me, I fail to see why I should care that someone experimented with a religion not of her upbringing while she was a young adult.

Except it isn't a yawner of a non-story to a lot of people. This seems to have a reasonably large number of people upset.

I mean, come on, it's not like she experimented with Islam or anything like that.  Far, far better that she actually worshiped a divine personification of evil (one prominent conservative blogger calls this "excusable") than it would have been had she learned about a religion with over a billion adherents worldwide. And she's certainly come back to the cult of zombie-worship in a big way since then.

It's not at all clear to me that she actually did literally worship Satan anyway. From the small excerpts of the statements she made on Politically Incorrect that I can identify using the (admittedly minimal) effort I've put in to investigate story, it looks like she engaged in a single act of some kind of non-Christian worship while on a date with a man identified as a "witch." That means that, while in her early twenties, she dated a guy who was a Wiccan.

There are appreciable numbers of Wiccans out there and here's a news flash: they don't worship Satan. They worship -- well, there's no formal structure for Wicca so I don't think anyone can make a broad, categorical statement about who or what Wiccans worship as a group. Some Wiccans worship an entity they call "The Goddess" and others worship an amorphously-defined pantheon of spirits of nature, aiming at ultimately worshiping nature itself. In practice, Wicca involves honoring where your food comes from and the spirit of an animal that you consume, treating others the way you would want to be treated, and seeking an inner peace and harmony with the world around you. There are a lot of complex reasons, some rooted in over a thousand years' worth of history, why Wicca is called "witchcraft" and "Satan-worship," but taking its teachings at face value,* it is no more morally objectionable than pretty much any other religion you could care to name.

Wicca does not come with any of the hangups about sex associated with more traditional religions and for at least people, engaging in a Wiccan ritual is a countercultural and somewhat rebellious act. Some varieties of it use "ritualized" sex as part of an act of worship, so it could be that O'Donnell's date was actually simply trying to seduce her (and who knows, maybe he succeeded or didn't really have to try all that hard, that's between him and her and none of our business, although if so that would make the prudish O'Donnell something of a hypocrite) and all the Wiccan worship stuff was so much window dressing for this otherwise rather ordinary sort of human activity -- people in the twenties go out on dates and sometimes the dates go well and they have sex. It's, um, a lot of fun. O'Donnell was as entitled to have that sort of fun as anyone else.

Now, there's all sorts of reasons to be skeptical about Christine O'Donnell as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. She seems to take a rather casual view towards campaign finance laws and has allegedly used campaign donations to pay personal expenses like her rent. She has publicly voiced a deep identification with the women of the Lord of the Rings fantasy trilogy and the Chronicles of Narnia series (again with the magic and witchcraft!) which is fine as a light-hearted matter but she seems to take the analogy rather more seriously than that.  Her early career involved advocating such an uptight vision of human sexuality that she has had to deny rumors that if elected, she would attempt to criminalize masturbation (I would foresee practical enforcement problems).†

Is the nomination of such a whack-job (no masturbation pun intended) a sign of deep insanity within the Tea Party movement?  I don't really think so.  There is certainly a legitimate debate to be had about whether the Tea Party is now or is inevitably going to be a movement embracing social causes.

I've had the impression from the start that the motive force behind it is a simple fear of government in the hands of Barack Obama, but over time I've been forced to admit that there's more depth to it than dislike of Obama and from the beginning some criticism (although not a whole lot of venom) has been directed at former President Bush for his free-spending ways, too. There seems to be a desire for fiscal responsibility but at the same time a desire for lower taxes (the legend is that the "tea" in "tea party" stands for "Taxed Enough Already"), and those are probably incompatible goals for the foreseeable future.

though, and I wonder if what's really going on is that individual local areas of "tea party" activism are allowing the social and religious issues to creep in while others, like the one characterized by the woman interviewed on NPR who said that as far as she was concerned, the tea party movement was about "Constitutionally Limited Government, Fiscal Responsibility and Free Markets." If I were convinced that was the extent of what was going on with the tea party movement, I could more or less get behind it.

But when we find out that a Tea Party-approved insurgent candidate once, as a very young woman, experimented with a non-Christian religion, and all the energy and air goes out of her campaign with a gigantic WHOOSH!, yeah, that makes me think that religion is one of the motive forces powering the phenomenon. Then I see things like this article, and while I don't pretend that it (or almost anything else I can find) is unbiased, it makes me think that even though on its face this is a movement with objectives I can endorse, people like Christine O'Donnell are not people like me and I've little reason to believe that, were she somehow elected to the Senate despite having had a racy date with a Wiccan nearly twenty years ago, I would be pleased with the way she helped govern our country.

As a final observation, I'll note that the Tea Party's big primary successes this cycle all seem to have come in relatively small states, or in states whose nomination processes have rules that lend themselves well to "inside baseball." The most-touted Tea Party successes in Federal elections have come in Delaware, Nevada, Alaska, and Utah. O'Donnell won her nomination by about 3,500 votes out of under 60,000 cast. She won, and that's significant, but it seems that in larger jurisdictions, the "establishment" Republicans have large enough numbers and enough pull that candidates of all sorts are forced to steer towards the mainstream and abandon their personal ideals for the sake of becoming electable at all.‡

So while I don't think the reports of Christine O'Donnell's flirtation with Wicca in her twenties is particularly revelatory or damning about her, it does reveal something about the state of the Republican party and its relationship with the Tea Party movement. It suggests to me that the party as a whole is probably still unmoved by the Tea Party but in smaller groups, and smaller states, a group of people who haven't really thought things through and have difficulty separating libertarian from socially conservative ideals are calling the shots. In other words, there is little to no adult supervision.


* To demonstrate how ridiculous a religion is, you rarely need to go deeper than face value.
† But seriously, Christine. Diddle the bean already. Do us all a favor.
‡ I'm looking at you, Rand Paul.

1 comment:

K_Yew said...

You say, "There seems to be a desire for fiscal responsibility but at the same time a desire for lower taxes (the legend is that the "tea" in "tea party" stands for "Taxed Enough Already"), and those are probably incompatible goals for the foreseeable future."

What about cutting spending? Or at least making more tax revenue available to programs that require corporations to hire a large number of number of people?

When Obama gives corporations like Solyndra tax breaks, it's "stimulus." But when Republicans do it, it's called "tax breaks for the rich." From what I hear, Texas has been able to attract a lot of business doing the same thing Obama is doing, but on the state level.