This Was Always a Holy War
The overturning of Roe v Wade is just the beginning of a nascent theocracy
Edited by David Swanson
If not on the actual floor of the Supreme Court or the House or Senate or the rather sticky room where a school board meeting is taking place, then on Twitter, or on the campaign trail, or a podcast, or even in front of a megachurch audience of thousands who are ready to wield God’s sword, or at least whack as many people as they can with the flat end. Even when God isn’t directly invoked, He—it’s a He, inevitably, a specific He to boot, usually the Jesus with diamantine-blue eyes and the soft, curling shoulder-length hair of an ancient-times shampoo model—hovers above the proceedings, and the subtext in the room is the kind that comes in chapter and verse, from Acts, or Proverbs, or Philippians or some other sacred plural noun.
The bad laws, too, have a curious duality: in addition to their Godly origin, they usually claim to be rooted in biology, or irrefutable natural law, or simply common-sense ideas about what natural law should be. These ideas, in minds so naturally receptive to rigid belief, become fact without needing anything so crass and slow-moving as the cautious inferences or mewling objections of actual scientists. So, for example, laws that ban abortion after six weeks are called “heartbeat bills,” although at this supremely early point in pregnancy the embryo (the future fetus is called an embryo until eight weeks by gynecological convention) has neither a developed heart nor any audible heartbeat—just a faint electrical impulse in the general future cardiac area that is minutely detectable on sophisticated ultrasound equipment. They claim that women aren’t fit to work but cis women can actually lift quite heavy weights and much twenty-first-century American work doesn’t require the shifting of heavy burdens anyway, except the mental burden of alienated labor and similar. Or they say a perfectly viable course of hormones and a serviceable phalloplasty cannot make a “woman” a “man,” even if said man has muscles you can crack rocks on and an undeniable penis and, incidentally, an entire male life. And a trans woman on hormone replacement therapy, far from being phallic nightmare of so many dark insinuations, actually loses the ability to maintain erections to the point of penetration as her penis becomes increasingly vestigial. None of these awkward factoids issued by nerds who do things like “research” get in the way of the suspiciously convenient “Incontrovertible Facts of Nature” that buttress the bad laws.
Thus, not only does Biology (or such facts of biology that are shaved down enough to fit into the narrow tunnel of the bad lawmakers’ vision) support the bad laws, they are also stamped with divine approbation. Anyone who opposes the bad laws opposes both Nature and God, who created Nature according to His Will, and anyone willing to subvert all of that is by definition unnatural, like a carrot preaching a sermon from the vegetable drawer or a dog with thumbs, and also suspect; anyone engaged in such willful perversion of the Natural and Divine Order of Things is probably a kiddy diddler or worse. The Old Testament—while conveniently discarded when it comes to things like eating shrimp, or prohibitions against making graven images of God, or the wearing of mixed fabrics—becomes both inerrant and a handy mold for retrofitted scientific truth when it comes to other things, such as gay sex being punishable by death, the subhuman status of adulteresses, and woman being the inferior and companionate spawn of men’s ribs.
The Sword and the Sandwich is a newsletter about serious extremism and equally serious sandwiches. Please consider supporting this work with a paid subscription:
The makers and supporters of the bad laws have a general notion that society has gone astray, lost its way, is wandering in the wilderness, and other metaphors for getting really lost and potentially vulnerable to hungry wolves and similar. It started with feminism, which led to communism, rampant gay sex, transgenderism, witchcraft, and abortions available on demand and possibly in drive-thru fashion (baby parts sold separately). Since the purported triumph of women’s equality everything else has gone to hell and has to be clawed back from the maw of the abyss. (You may think I’m exaggerating—and I am about the drive-thrus—but as cited in Kathryn Joyce’s wonderful book about the Christian patriarchy movement, Quiverfull, influential Christian author Mary Pride really did “see feminism as combining a range of ills from communism to self-worship to witchcraft” as early as 1985).
These sinister influences have combined to turn American culture into a bubbling witchy cauldron of irredeemable sin. Like a dam through the heart of a mighty river, the interlinked movements generally grouped under “social progress”—antiracism, feminism, LGBT rights—have combined to stop the natural and crystal-pure flow of God’s Natural Will, and it is to be hoped that with sufficient seething, frothing, and boiling-over, the warriors of God will burst the dam and sweep away the rubble once and for all. That’s how they see themselves, as natural as water and as necessary, cleansing a society crawling about in its own filth. The stakes are high, the conflict Manichaean; the righteous brides and grooms of Christ must contend with the dissipated coven of their enemies, who are summoning Beelzebub each hour they go around with pink hair and uncovered knees and anarchic gender-bending. “Male and female he created them,” says Genesis; “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do the Lord,” says Ephesians; that’s where things ought to have stopped. And they will be stopped. By fire, by sword, by law.
This is why, already, a Supreme Court decision has leaked that will overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in their entirety, obliterating the right to abortion, led by a rabidly Christian conservative majority. It’s why, as the Washington Post wrote on Monday, holy warriors are pursuing multiple legislative paths to a total national ban on abortion. It’s why the existence of trans kids has been de facto outlawed in an increasing number of states, and why bans on trans care may soon extend to adults. It’s why there are increasing rumbles about dismantling gay rights in every possible fashion. It’s why providers of birth control anticipate a campaign to eliminate the public availability of contraception, and why the Trump administration rolled back access to birth control. To extrapolate a little, it’s worth considering what a movement motivated by antifeminism and obsessed with wifely submission will do to the past few decades’ progress on women’s rights: nothing good, hold on to your credit card while you have it.
You see, they’re coming for all of it: everything outside of the framework of a submissive wife and a patriarchal husband and enough children to make up a Monty Python sketch about Roman Catholic fertility. And like the family structure blessed by the Almighty, headship of this society is male and Christian and white. This Procrustean bed of a theocratic society is the goal, and it’s not one they bother overmuch to conceal; as the stakes are mortal souls and eternal torments, and moreover a very large amount of worldly power in the bargain, it is not a fight they are prepared to lose. There is a well-financed armature behind the bad laws—that’s how they crop up in different states like poisoned mushrooms with near-identical language—and a boundless zeal and a passionate intensity. They have a holistic vision—a kingdom to win—and they are pursuing it, and they are winning.
It’s well and good to look piecemeal at each element of the destruction and what is being built in its place. It is also necessary to look at the whole of the thing and to recognize that what is being waged is a holy war, a war that will lead to deaths (of pregnant people and trans people and gay kids turfed out and anyone else who doesn’t or won’t fit into the Kingdom of Christ on Earth), even if it’s currently being waged in the vaunted halls of power, and its shabbier but no less significant local ancillaries. The stakes are the soul and the body and what is to be done with them.
The post-Roe world will be different than the pre-Roe world; there is a whole lot more surveillance now, more mechanisms of control, an ever-expanding standing army of law enforcement, and what little politesse there ever was in American politics has long given way to something far more wild-eyed. It’s too late to expect anything from the Democratic Party, which has never really seen itself as an opposition party—nor a party in favor of much at all, except means-testing and unbearable waffling and empty gestures. But it’s still worth knowing that we are, like it or not, in the paths of the Crusaders as they go forth, swords drawn and baying for blood and for God. There’s still a little time to forge a few pikes, hide in the tall grass, slice at their bellies, draw blood, fight back. Listen: the beast of tyranny is champing at the bit, slouching towards Washington.