by Todd Essig
Both history and legend track a significant throng of eager spectators following the Union army from Washington DC towards Manassas in Prince William County, Virginia to watch the Battle of Bull Run. They fully expected July 21, 1861 would be a glorious adventure; they were going to witness the southern rebellion quickly end while picnicking on a hill. As we know, things did not turn out that way; the battle was lost and the tragic war did not end quickly. And, less obviously but more relevant for the current moment, history has also shown they were not really spectators at all but full participants in what would become an all encompassing nationwide war.
So too with the so called “culture wars” that 150 years later are now back in full swing with a couple of stories that hit the news this week. The counseling center Michele Bachmann co-owns with her husband was shown to practice discredited and potentially harmful therapies intended to use prayer, counseling, and coercion to convert same sex attractions to heterosexual attraction. Then Tim Pawlenty made demonstrably false claims about a “scientific dispute” that does not exist as to whether or not same sex attractions are a choice: they are not and there is no scientific dispute, there is a scientific consensus.
Now, if you are not a member of the LGBT community or a partisan on the religious right, you might think, like those who travelled to Bull Run, you are merely a spectator to a battle. You may have a favored side, like an entertaining reality show, but one that is actually reality. You may even be passionate about which side you want to win. But if you think you are simply watching something being fought by others, you would be wrong. You are a full participant, as are all Americans. What’s at stake is nothing less than how our country will think about and try to solve the problems we face. The culture wars we watch are really psychological wars in which we are fighting about how and with what we will think.
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