Reality in a Christian Nation.

Godless liberals (such as yours truly) often pride themselves on forming assessments and opinions about the world based on reality, at least as well as we can know it.  The best tool by far that humans have for knowing anything at all about reality is science.  We are all subject to the inherent biases and limitations of the human brain, and it is only science, via the careful generation and analysis of evidence over time, that can uncover the truth about the world.  If we stack up our cherished beliefs against well-established scientific evidence and they fall short, it would be irrational in the extreme to cling to those beliefs anyway.  This is true no matter how comforting our beliefs may be.  If one values the truth, it is the wrong beliefs that one has to change in the face of reality.

One of the greatest benefits of engaging with the world this way is that reality is astonishing and awe-inspiring, more so than any old book full of violent, misogynist myths could ever be, by orders of magnitude.  There are times when there seems to be a downside, though:  when reality turns out to be really ugly.  Which brings me to the recently released National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS)*.   The report came to my attention in the context of engaging in a somewhat heated exchange between myself and a commenter on my recent post, Coathanger lobby update: the Obama Administration.

The findings would be a buzzkill for even a person of extraordinarily delirious holiday good cheer (and believe me, that is most certainly not me).  The report paints a vivid picture of Hell on Earth, which brought to mind the typical fevered rantings of Christianists, who insist (without any compelling evidence, of course) that the United States is a Christian Nation™.  Because even if it were true, the NISVS report does not speak well of a country and a culture soaking in religion generally, and Christianity specifically.  Of course it is worth remembering that correlation does not equal causation:  Christianity may or may not cause or influence rates of rape and violence.  I don’t know — but I do know that the only hope of finding out is rigorous scientific investigation.  However, it is also worth remembering that correlation does indeed equal causation in the mind of the wingnut, whenever it suits their agenda or reinforces their reality-challenged worldview.  It may therefore be a useful tactic to have on hand some current, horrifying statistics on, say, child rape to rebut their silly argument:  even if it were true that the U.S. is a Christian Nation™, that certainly does not mean it is a good thing.  If you seriously want to lay claim to the entire country in the name of your religion, you need to own — and account for — all of it.

The rates of violence and sexual assault in the report are appalling.  Women are disproportionately affected.  But what hit me the hardest (no pun intended) were these particular factoids:

  • Most female victims of completed rape (79.6%) experienced their first rape before the age of 25; 42.2% experienced their first completed rape before the age of 18 years.**
  • More than one-quarter of male victims of completed rape (27.8%) experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger.

In truth, I cannot accurately characterize a reality-based worldview as having a downside simply because the world we live in has some really ugly aspects to it.  Because if there is to be any hope of effectively changing things for the better, it has to start with a clear-eyed view of reality.
*National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), CDC.  Executive Summary (pdf); Full report (pdf); Fact Sheet (pdf). (Nov. 2011)

**That bold part there that says “42.2% experienced their first completed rape before the age of 18 years”?  That is one more reason why the Palace stands fully behind its official statement on over-the-counter access to emergency contraception for young women and girls:


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