A journal of political, social, and other important, possibly even somewhat related affairs, including but not limited to: Central European Society, The European Union, HC Kometa Brno, American Politics, Film, and Beer.

31 May 2007


People in Europe are very, very, silent about their religious beliefs. It is a "personal" decision, which has little bearing on their "public" life. They are not quite sure how to deal with Muslim immigrants, who have the audacity to believe in something and are actually willing to discuss it in public. (To be fair, they say the same thing about American Mormon missionary kids, but they know that most of them will probably go home soon, and about Scientologists, but, well, so do Americans.) It is possible that one of the reasons that Muslims in America are dealing surprisingly well with the War on Terror, not burning cars or attacking synagogues, is that Americans are a religiously tolerant people, but a religious people nonetheless. It may be that the European nations with the most trouble assimilating Muslims also have the most trouble "assimilating" Christians.

Sex, on the other hand, is shockingly public. "Everybody does it!" they say, "we might as well talk about it." I don't have much research on it right now, but I'd be willing to bet that this little public/private switch happened about the same time as so many other peculiar things did in the late 1960s. While religion has always been necessarily had a public component, sex, for the most part, was truly private. This managed to change somehow. The "personal is political" was a famous quote of feminist theory; at the same time, people were told that things that had traditionally had a public aspect, such as religion, were to be forced into back alleys and treated with stigma.

It may be helpful to notice that the oddity of this taboo lies not with the USA, but with Europe. Religion is a common topic in political discussions throughout the world; one's attitude to sex is considerably less so. Frequently people say that the Western World, ie. Europe and the USA, should be more understanding of the Third World. In the Third World, religion plays a huge role; personal sex lives play a role only insofar as they are subordinate aspects of a religious-political debate. Many of the same right-thinking people also say that the best thing for the former Yugoslavia is to break it into pieces that happen to break down along sectarian lines. Interestingly, no one argues that borders should be drawn along those who believe that the age of consent should be 17 and those who believe it should be 18. They seem to concede that religion is important to the savage peoples (such as Croatia, a nation with more than twice the per capita GDP of new EU member state Bulgaria, and a fantastic vacation destination), but cannot imagine it in their better new world.

To say that religion is not and should not be an important aspect of politics, or rather of politicians, is wishful thinking at best, and dangerous at worst. The translation of beliefs, no matter how private, into public action is the hallmark of public service. It used to be that people's opinions on sex were derived from their opinions of faith. It will stay that way, and hopefully Europe will recognize that.


Blogger zesty said...

Fascinating observation! I caught myself contemplating the practices and differences between the two acts: worshiping and fornicating. In reflecting on how one is done weekly in public whereas the other is done in the privacy of my home, I realized that not everyone visits the corner brothel weekly like I do. (Get it?? See, you thought I meant worshiping was done in public. But I turned it around, didn't I?? HYSTERICAL!! Ah, what do you know about funny?)



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