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Mental Floss Op-Ed: In Uganda, It's All in 'The Family'

Religious fundamentalists control more of the world's sexuality than you can possibly imagine


JESUSLAND—If your main source of information about what's happening, news-wise, around the world is Fox News, or even the major broadcast news programs, you might easily have missed the fact that the central African nation of Uganda is considering a bill which would make "aggravated homosexuality" a crime punishable by death.

This new inquisition is part of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, whose purposes are to "protect the traditional family," to "strengthen[] the nation's capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family," to "protect the cherished culture of the people of Uganda against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Uganda," and of course "to protect the children and youths of Uganda who are made vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural changes, uncensored information technologies ... and increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children in homosexual relationships."

Under the law, a person commits the offense of "aggravated homosexuality" if he (or she) is a) HIV-positive; b) in a position of authority over the "victim," either as a parent or guardian, or as an employer; c) the "victim" is under 18; or d) the "offender" uses "any drug, matter or thing with intent to stupefy or overpower" the victim. The penalty: Death. Even an attempt to commit the crime is good for life in prison, while merely committing a homosexual act (or "aiding or abetting" one, or "conspiring" to commit one) will net you seven years in the slammer—and Ugandan prisons don't quite have the same amenities (like regular meals, fresh water, light bulbs and toilets) as American prisons do, plus they're a bit overcrowded, with roughly twice as many inmates as beds.

Marrying a same-sex partner will make you a lifer, while running a gay bordello is cause for a seven-year stretch ... as is producing or publishing—or providing internet access to—gay materials. And failing to report knowledge of gay acts to authorities within 24 hours is punishable by a three-year stretch ... and a fine of 5 million Ugandan shillings ($2,590).

Incidentally, if you're a Ugandan citizen, it doesn't matter where in the world you commit your homosex-crime; Uganda can extradite you back "home" to serve your sentence.

If all that sounds a little harsh, it's only in keeping with biblical dictates: "If a man also lieth with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." (Leviticus 20:13)

And in case you were wondering how the leaders of a central African country decided to enact into law such whacked-out ideas about homosexuality, then I've got a book for you: The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet.

See, both the bill's author, Parliament member David Bahati, and the country's president, Yoweri Museveni, are members of the inner circle of this Washington, D.C.-based fundamentalist conspiracy—an inner circle that includes anti-choice, anti-environmentalist Sens. Tom Coburn and James Inhofe; anti-porn activists Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Joe Pitts, anti-choice Rep. Bart Stupak, adulterers Sen. John Ensign and Gov. Mark Sanford, Watergate conspirator and Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, and healthcare reform opponents Sen. Jim DeMint, Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley and John Thune—in other words, pretty much a Who's Who of fundamentalist/conservative Washington.

The secretive society is headed by Doug Coe, a student of Abraham "Abram" Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant who settled in Seattle in the 1920s and, according to Sharlet's book, prayed constantly for direct revelation from God—and in 1935, he got it: "To the big man went strength; to the little man went need," God allegedly told Vereide. "Only the big man was capable of mending the world."

Further divine insights revealed that "the big man" meant the American industrialist—and soon, some conservative politicians—and Vereide began touring the country, converting as many captains of capitalism as he could to his simple philosophy, "Jesus plus nothing." What that meant was that once a person had "given himself over to Jesus," his ego was forever subordinate to Jesus' will—and therefore, every thought and desire the person felt, he felt because Jesus willed it so—and oddly enough, Jesus wanted his "flock" to make as much money as they could and accumulate as much power as they could because, to paraphrase General Motors president Charles Wilson, "What's good for business is good for Jesus, and what's good for Jesus is good for the country."

Of course, inherent in the notion that your every want and desire are Jesus' also is the concept that there couldn't possibly be anything immoral or wrong with those desires—even if they are later proved to be so. One of the more recent examples has been the fuss the fundamentalist/fascist groups like Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and American Family Association have made over the "amazing recovery" of Rom Houben. He's the 46-year-old Belgian who's been in a persistent vegetative state for the last 23 years, who now "miraculously" has "woken up" and though still unable to speak, has begun typing out his thoughts on a computer through the use of "facilitated communication": A speech therapist "helps" him move his hand over the keyboard to type the letter he wants. Surprisingly, however, though he's being asked questions by doctors and reporters in English, all of his replies have been in Flemish!

There's video available of all this taking place, and as biology professor P.Z. Myers commented after having seen it, "Look at the fellow, sitting there slack and grimacing and drooling, and the staffer deftly and quickly using his finger to peck out lucid and grammatical sentences. How does anyone fall for this?... There are videos of him tapping out answers with his eyes closed, guided by an assistant staring intently at the keyboard. Here's a simple test. He's being asked questions in English and answering in Flemish. Find a facilitated communicator who doesn't speak Flemish and have him or her do the same routine. I know what the result will be: Either Houben will suddenly start answering in English, or the font of words will dry up."

So why are the fundies having orgasms over Houben's supposed awakening? Obviously, it just shows that no matter how brain-dead anyone may be, God still has the power to restore their consciousness—just like It would have done with Terri Schiavo if only those damned liberals hadn't forced the hospice where she was staying to disconnect her feeding tube! "See? We were right all along!"

But despite the fact that an autopsy conducted after Schiavo's death revealed that much of her brain had liquified, and what was left weighed about half what a normal person's brain weighs, and despite the fact that Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin concluded that, "This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons," the fundamentalists continue to insist that with the proper therapy, she would have recovered.

Why? Because those who have (allegedly) subsumed their egos to Jesus are never wrong!

For a more recent example, consider the current summit on global climate change, which Inhofe, a long-time climate-change denier, described on Fox News Sunday this week as "cooked science."

He's hardly alone. In recent e-newsletters, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins claimed, "These days, people are more concerned about the green in their wallet than the green on the environmental agenda. With most countries in recession, the world has a lot more to worry about than its thermostat... Are you late for work? Did you forget someone's birthday? Blame global warming! Everyone else is... Severe acne, bad beer, crumbling gingerbread houses—you name it! Those are just three of the 100 things that scientists are pinning on global warming."

"Considering the U.S. emits 20% of all green house [sic] gases," wrote Rachel Alexander, editor of the e-zine Conservative Intellectual, "more than any other country except China, which will not agree to any severe cuts, the U.S. stands to lose the most from a Copenhagen treaty. Agreeing to drastically cut greenhouse emissions will effect profound changes to energy, transport, and manufacturing sectors. Energy costs will increase. It will cost money and jobs. The U.S. will become less competitive economically, since many countries will opt out of complying. More U.S. jobs will relocate overseas, especially to India and China."

Yeah; how can we even think about saving the planet when doing so might decrease corporate profits?

And then, of course, there's sex and porn.

Among the people Sharlet met during his stay with The Family was John Eldredge, author of a series of books, the title of each of which contains the phrase "Every Man's Battle." And what is that battle against? You guessed it!

"The Every Man premise is that men are sexual beasts, so sinful by nature that, without God in their lives, they don't stand a chance of resisting temptation," wrote Sharlet. "But the temptation they most fear is not the age-old seduction of the flesh but the image of the flesh... The books are anti-media manifestos, warning that we are prey to any media we look at; images, they preach, are forever." Shades of Judith Reisman!

"Men's sexuality, according to the [purity] movement, is on the one hand all-encompassing, capable of eroticizing nearly anything, and at the same time so simple and dumb that the best they can hope for is to adjust themselves to their wives' slow simmer," Sharlet later reports. "Women, meanwhile, are inherently purer than men and thus simpler, and yet their sexuality is complicated and subtle, a story in which husband and wife must play carefully scripted roles... What's strange about all this is that it works. Not in the sense of de-eroticizing the world but in the sense of reinvigorating American fundamentalism with a new generation of foot soldiers, men and women who respond to a hypersexual consumer culture by making sex, in its absence, a top priority of their religion."

At some point, I'll do a more in-depth review of The Family, but for the moment, just know that The Family's leaders have sent their adherents all over the world to establish "prayer breakfasts" in almost every country... including Uganda, led by Bahati, with Museveni's support. And of course, condemning homosexuality was a fundamentalist Christian "given," a concept pounded into the Ugandan leaders by visiting Family members like Coe, Pitts and Inhofe, who also steered millions of dollars into Museveni's coffers... and "chastity" into the requirements for how foreign aid funds are spent.

"Under their tutelage," Sharlet told Raw Story reporter Stephen Webster, "Museveni has slowly shifted away from any veneer of democracy: imprisoning journalists, tampering with elections [and] strongly supporting this Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009."

So if you're worried about an international conspiracy to take away your sexual rights, look no further than the Family's now legendary house on C Street in D.C.







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