Josh Duggar and fundamentalism’s spectacular failure in conflating sexuality and sin

Sin Concept Wooden Letterpress Type

The Duggars are hypocrites.

I’m referring of course the extraordinarily fecund fundamentalist family who starred in the TLC reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting, and leveraged their fame to conduct an ongoing political hate campaign against those whose sexuality differs from theirs.

This is hardly a new development. I’ve always enjoyed the irony of a family that claimed to follow the prophet whose message was “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone” figuratively stoning just about everyone in sight.

The revelation that as a teenager their eldest son Josh Duggar sexually molested young girls including his sisters shines a harsh light on that hypocrisy. We have learned that a family of “faith” chose to protect one of their own children from punishment for a crime, repeatedly exposed their other children to the criminal, and violated the law. I have a certain amount of sympathy for them; it must be agonizing to learn that one of your children is molesting another and they would hardly be the first family who struggled to do the right thing or even figure out what is the right thing to do.

It seems to me, though, that the lesson here is not the trivial lesson that the most righteous are often hypocrites, or even the lesson that Duggar partisans prefer, that everyone is a sinner. The lesson here is one that has profound implications for American society: religious fundamentalism’s campaign to conflate sexuality and sinfulness is not merely a spectacular failure in its execution, but it is profoundly morally and ethically wrong.

The Duggars restrictive lifestyle, as well as their political efforts, are based on two assumptions that have been smashed. Their first assumption is that there is a “correct” sexuality and that those who have a different sexuality are sinners. The second assumption is that sexual sinners were led to their sin by a permissive culture; hence the cult like effort to isolate their children from the wider world and condemn them (particularly the girls and women) to a repressive, regressive and profoundly sexist existence.

But the truth, which the Duggars will probably never acknowledge, is that sexuality is an innate human need like hunger, the need for sleep or the need to eliminate waste. Human beings can no more control their sexual orientation or identity than they control their hunger in the absence of food. It has absolutely, positively nothing to do with culture. Culture doesn’t cause it and culture can’t prevent it. Society should not be involved in or concerned with the expression of a person’s sexual identity or urges UNLESS, and ONLY UNLESS other people are hurt by the expression of those urges.

Gay marriage and transgender individuals harm no one. Sexual molestation, in contrast, has real victims who are profoundly harmed. That’s why society has a legitimate interest in preventing and treating molesters, but it has no legitimate interest in preventing gay marriage or “treating” homosexuality.

It’s difficult to imagine that any family could have outdone the Duggars in creating a repressive regime, conflating sexuality with sinfulness, with the express purpose of isolating their children from modern culture. Despite that, their eldest son didn’t merely develop aberrant urges, but he actually acted upon them. That’s because contrary to the beliefs of religious fundamentalists, culture doesn’t cause sexual deviation, and isolation from the larger culture doesn’t do anything to prevent it.

Sexual identity, orientation and urges are purely personal, the result of genetics and personal experience. All are innate to that individual. Gay people are not gay because they are sinners; they are gay because they are born that way, and there’s nothing sinful about it.

If God doesn’t create junk, then gay people are not junk. They are no more able to change their identity and orientation than they are able to change their foot size. Laws that criminalize gay sex or gay marriage are as senseless and cruel as laws that would criminalize large feet. So why do fundamentalists persist in ascribing sexuality to sin in the larger culture? Because it satisfies another human need, the need to hate those who are different.

Religion is first and foremost about social cohesion and there’s nothing that is more likely to generate social cohesion within a group than hatred of others that is both shared and sanctified by the group. Religious fundamentalists love to hate those whose sexuality is different than theirs, and to justify that hate they insist that sexual orientation is controllable, and inherently sinful if it is different than the norm.

Apparently, the Duggars chose to approach Josh’s sexual molestation of others by viewing him as afflicted with sin in the same way that he might be afflicted with pneumonia. They chose to “treat” it with prayer and hard work, just as they might choose to treat pneumonia with antibiotics. They wouldn’t, indeed they couldn’t see that the real problem was that he expressed his sexuality in ways that hurt others, that his sexual urges might reflect the fact that he had been molested or had other psychological problems, and that both he and the girls he molested needed psychological therapy as well as access to the criminal justice system.

To acknowledge that would have meant to acknowledge that sexuality has nothing to do with inherent sinfulness or modern culture.

But then whom would they hate?