Mapping American Social Attitudes

28 03 2012

I’ve found maps fascinating ever since I was a wee lad. I remember getting a globe for my birthday in 1986 and an atlas for Christmas in 1991, and getting new maps and globes over the years to watch the changes in national boundaries. I was shitty at math but adored maps. Maps say so much in pictures  about people, politics, migratory patterns, industry, the environment, natural resources, social attitudes, and loads of other hot, steamy, bloggable stuff. Looking at different maps of the United States, we can see a stark divide in political and social attitudes about race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Here I want you to take a look at some maps of the U.S. to see where different attitudes are concentrated. It’s amazing to see the clear patterning of regional differences, which in turn shows us where we have our work cut out for us in terms of achieving social equity.

We can start this work by looking at the political attitudes, which frequently overlap with social ones. Consider the following maps of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The first map shows states with red, Republican majorities, and those with blue, Democratic majorities; the second one shows this same information, but with a focus on population density.

As we can see, Republican voters were clustered in the south, the Great Plains, and the interior west, while Democratic voters were clustered in the northeast, Great Lakes, and west coast. As it so happens, the red areas also generally reflect sparsely populated areas, and the blue areas, more densely populated areas, revealing a correlation between cities and Democratic values.

But does the Republican-Democrat divide reflect something more than just urban versus rural? If we look at the following Gallup maps from 2011 and 2010, respectively, we get a better idea how conservatives and liberals are distributed across the country.

Not only are the northeast and northwest regions predominantly Democratic and urban, but they are also decidedly more liberal than the south and the midland. (The midland tends to be a grey area, as we shall see.) The ideological divide along geographical lines begins to deepen. Urbanity, Democratic politics, and liberalism begin to characterize the northeast and west coast while rurality, Republican politics, and conservatism begin to characterize the hinterland.

The regional difference comes into even sharper focus when we look at education and religiosity in America. Below is a 2009 Gallup map showing the most religious and most secular states in the country as well as a 2000 Census Bureau map showing educational attainment.

As the first map suggests, the south is much more religious than average, while Cascadia and New England are much more secular than average. The second map shows the inverse for education: the more secular areas tend to have better-educated people, and the more religious areas tend to have less-educated people, especially when we compare Washington state and Massachusetts with Mississippi. What this seems to show is that religiosity and lower educational attainment pattern together in the south, while secularism and higher educational attainment pattern together in New England and Cascadia (anchored by the cultural and educational centers of Boston and Seattle, respectively).

This ideological divide becomes particularly important when we look at the history of black civil rights in the United States. Consider these maps on slavery and anti-miscegenation laws:

It’s probably no surprise that the south consisted almost entirely of slave states, and the north and west almost entirely of free states and territories. Nor is it surprising that the map of anti-miscegenation laws so closely follows this pattern, with the south resisting the repeal of racist marriage laws until 1967, over one hundred years after slavery was abolished. The south wasn’t always overwhelmingly Republican, though: the region was full of “Dixiecrats” when the liberal Democrat and conservative Republican binary was not as stark as it is today.

But this general pattern of a blue, liberal region wrapping around a red, conservative hinterland doesn’t end with race; it also shows up in opinions about women, women’s rights, and sex differences, as illustrated in the following maps of women’s suffrage laws and attitudes about abortion.

In the suffrage laws map, the divide between a conservative south and a liberal north and west is slightly blurred. Large parts of the northeast joined with the south in resistance to suffrage, but vast parts of the west and northwest remained progressive on this issue, in stark contrast with the south. The north-south binary reappears, however, in the 2006 abortion map, which shows a northeast and west coast far friendlier toward reproductive rights than the south.

The south’s apparent concern for unborn babies seems incompatible with its poor record on child welfare. We see another stark regional difference looking at maps of state-by-state child poverty rates and overall child welfare across the United States.

On the 2008 child welfare map, children are better off in the lighter-shaded areas, which include Washington state, Utah, the Upper Midwest, and New England, but they are worse off in the south–the same part of the country where women’s rights, black civil rights, and post-secondary educational attainment tend to lag behind, and where religiosity tends to flourish. A very similar pattern holds for child poverty rates, with a dark band of impoverished children in the south and a lighter strip of well-off children in the west, north, and northeast.

No discussion of American social attitudes would be complete without mention of gay rights, which seems to be the social justice zeitgeist of our time. It’s everywhere in the news, at least in the United States, where everything is controversial. Once again, the general pattern we have been seeing holds true when we look at the maps below showing the advance of gay rights in the United States.

The first map shows the northeast, Midwest, and west coast taking the lead in knocking down old laws banning sodomy between consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. Most of the south (as well as Mormon country) had to be forced by a 2003 Supreme Court ruling to catch up with the rest of the country. And, in typical fashion, the northeast, Midwest (Iowa), and northwest (Washington state) shine bright blue as the beacons in the gay marriage movement, while the south and Great Plains are steeped in a mostly dark blood red. We must take care not to lump the entire south into the category of “retrogressive”, however: one former slave state–Maryland–is now a gay marriage state. Now, that’s a remarkable transformation. How many states can say that they used to have slaves, but they will soon have legally married gay couples if all goes according to plan?

Certainly, looking at a few maps gives only a rough depiction of social attitudes in America, and much more investigation is required to yield a truly refined and nuanced portrait of the issue, but we can still get a general idea where American attitudes lie with respect to the rights of women, minorities, children, poor people, etc., by looking at maps. Cascadia and New England generally represent more liberal, educated, healthy people while the south generally represents the opposite. We can use this kind of knowledge to focus our efforts on helping those who have been targeted for oppression. It isn’t about judging ignorant rubes–it’s about demonstrating compassion for the underprivileged. With further research, and with the facts in mind, we can reach out to disenfranchised minorities, abused children, poor people who don’t have money for rent, young pregnant women with no access to reproductive health-care, bullied gay youth with nowhere to go, and the lonely, ostracised atheist or Muslim, with the goal of creating equity for all. This is the purpose of looking at social attitudes in America.

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Hillary Clinton, Gay Rights, and Cultural Relativism

12 12 2011

I’m not a cultural relativist. Sometimes customs are culturally relative, and sometimes, quite frankly, they are not. I don’t believe that sexism, racism, child abuse, animal abuse, rape, torture, murder, or homophobia are excusable depending on cultural context, because in each context these atrocities share the traits of hatred, violence, and exploitation committed against a sentient being. Let me get this caveat out of the way first: on some issues we are in no place to judge the practises of other cultures, and on other issues we most certainly are. In return, these other cultures are allowed to judge us on our faults. With that out of the way, LGBT rights are not an imperialist vision; they are a humanist one.

Given my wariness of cultural relativism, I was elated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s amazing speech at the United Nations in Geneva. In her speech, Clinton declares that the Obama administration will defend LGBT rights as a part of its human rights and foreign policy, and that the President will command all government agencies operating overseas to defend LGBT rights through various diplomatic strategies. She makes several points about how and why the world community should end persecution of LGBT people: first, LGBT rights are human rights; second, homosexuality exists in all cultures; third, religious and cultural beliefs do not justify persecution of LGBT people; fourth, the world must confront persecution of LGBT people, not dismiss it; and fifth, we must employ practical means to obtain equality for LGBT people. All of these points are interesting and relevant, but the most provocative to me are the second and third points, which challenge the cultural relativism cited to defend persecution of LGBT people.

In her second point, Clinton challenges the assumption that homosexuality and LGBT rights are purely Western, imperialist conceptions being foisted on non-Western cultures. This is simply not true, Clinton shows, because homosexuality exists in every culture, and homophobia is a problem in every culture. It is, in other words, a human condition, and creating artificial cultural barriers to LGBT liberation would do a disservice to LGBT people:

Some seem to believe [homosexuality] is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbours.

And just in case anybody insists there are no examples of efforts to advance LGBT rights in non-Western cultures, Clinton deftly turns the tables:

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton has obviously done her fact-checking (which is to be granted, given that she is America’s chief diplomat): heteronormative sexualities, if not exactly ubiquitous, are well-distributed among the world’s cultures, hence LGBT rights are a relevant concern to all of the world’s cultures. It is now common knowledge among well-informed people that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality are not the product of a particular culture; they are a product of living organisms in general, from shellfish to human beings. It seems absurd, then, to say that these sexualities are the luxurious fad of one particular society (the West) of one particular species of animal (homo sapiens), hence it seems absurd to suggest that LGBT rights are relevant only to that society or species.

In her third point, Clinton criticises the notion that cultural or religious beliefs somehow justify persecution of LGBT people, and roundly dashes it to pieces. (I exaggerate, but still, she could have, and she probably would have if representatives of countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan weren’t present.) She does this by comparing LGBT rights to the rights of other persecuted peoples. Specifically, she draws an analogy between crimes against LGBT people and crimes against women, both of which derive from patriarchal hegemony:

[The justification for persecuting LGBT people] is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

Cutting off a woman’s clitoris is universally wrong because it causes unspeakable pain, stress, and health problems for the victim, whether she is from Sweden, Somalia, or Seattle. This is because every person of every culture possesses a common human physiology; the nervous systems of all human beings are basically the same. I suspect every woman feels immense pain when she is mutilated, burnt to death, or stoned to death, despite the cultural situation. And when proponents of cultural relativism cite reasons for their stance, those reasons fall nothing short of pathetic: women shouldn’t be allowed to have sex with men other than their husbands, women shouldn’t be allowed to experience sexual pleasure, or women shouldn’t be allowed to live if their husbands die. Forgive me if I find these justifications more solipsistic than utilitarian, and hence hardly socially beneficial. They’re just the laws of self-serving tyrants who view women as mere incubators. Similarly, every gay person experiences unconscionable pain and horror at being hanged or crushed to death for being gay. Opinions, insecurities, and concerns specific to a culture do not justify violence against women or gay people, because we all share the same basic human physiology despite cultural context. I think this is what Clinton was pointing at.

I won’t mince words. Hillary Clinton is right, and the cultural relativists are wrong. Heteronormative sexuality is found everywhere in the world, and LGBT rights are no more culturally relative than women’s or racial minorities’ rights, because all are products of a common human mental and physical experience. For some reason, though, this is a sensitive topic for many anti-imperialists, who often happen to be from the West. It seems to me that a lot of this cultural relativist dogma stems from white, middle-class people who feel guilty about their colonial heritage, and they spout this disingenuous nonsense about relativism to soothe their own conscience. But think about it. Arguing that women’s or LGBT rights are culturally relative is basically discriminating against women and LGBT people who live in countries, like Iran, which don’t recognise their status, and that isn’t very feminist or pro-gay, is it? It isn’t even very pro-human, as Clinton showed, and I can’t help but respect her for sending such a bold, unapologetic message to countries which still use cultural relativism as a loophole to commit human atrocities. It was truly a satisfying vindication of LGBT rights.





8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense

26 08 2011

I’m usually pretty hard on gay men, because I think they tend to be a little bit vain and self-conceited. It’s one of those cases where minority members exploit their position by bemoaning their fate and eliciting pity through loud, obnoxious mirror-gazing antics. I even get a wee bit Ann Coulter-ish towards the gays sometimes, and that’s very hard for me to do. So you like dick? So what? The world doesn’t revolve around you and your crying penis. For these gays (for certainly not all gays are like this), everything is reducible to their own problems, which they constantly brood over in a desperate attempt at self-validation.

That said, gay people are still discriminated against in the United States and are bumping up against a particularly scary group of right-wing Christian dominionists campaigning for the presidency. Even though some gays act like whiney little bitches, none of them deserves to be denied their deceased partner’s Social Security benefits, equal treatment under the IRS tax code, or equal spousal immigration rights, among the many other federal protections they do not receive because they are attracted to members of the same sex.

For this reason, I would like to provide a comprehensive refutation of eight common arguments launched against homosexuality. These arguments, which I shall attempt to destroy one-by-one, can be summarized as follows: homosexual marriage goes against tradition; homosexuality is a choice; homosexuality is condemned in the Bible; homosexuality is unnatural; homosexuals cannot procreate; all men can marry women, and all women can marry men; if gays can marry, what’s next?; and what shall I tell my children?

1) “Marriage should be between a man and a woman, because it has always been this way.”

This fallacy is called an argumentum ad antiquitatem, or an appeal to tradition. It states that a thing is good because it is traditional, and bad because it is novel. But a thing is not necessarily good because it is traditional; it is good because it makes sense. At one time black people couldn’t marry white people in the United States, but this wasn’t right just because it was traditional. The law didn’t make sense, so we changed it to allow interracial couples (such as the current U.S. president’s parents) to marry and be happy together. Similarly, homosexuals cannot marry each other in most places, but this isn’t right just because it is traditional. The law does not work for homosexuals, so we should change it to allow same-sex couples to marry and be happy together. So, no, just because marriage has traditionally been a union of one man and one woman does not mean that it should be.

2) “Homosexuality is a choice.”

Usually you’ll argue, “The gay rights activists say that there’s a gay gene”. This is a big, fat straw man argument. Nobody with the faintest understanding of biology is arguing that there is a gay gene. What they are arguing is that there is no single gene for any sexual orientation. Rather, all sexual orientations are determined by a complex interaction of polygenic traits, with no single gene acting as the “signal” for whether you like fannies, pee-pees, or both. At the same time, I will concede that sexual orientation might have some environmental cause, because I am not a biological determinist, but, then, this would apply to heterosexuality too, right? So, no, you can’t say that homosexuality is a choice any more than you can say that heterosexuality is a choice.

3) “Homosexuality is condemned in the Bible.”

So what? The Bible is full of horribly offensive things. The Bible says you can sell your daughter into slavery to pay off a debt (Exodus 21:7). It also says you can execute people who cheat on their partners (Leviticus 20:10). But you wouldn’t do these things, would you? No, you wouldn’t, because these things are barbaric, tyrannical, and entirely incommensurate with the “crime” committed. Why, then, should you believe that homosexuals should be executed (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13)? “That was the old covenant”, you will say, but the new covenant required a human sacrifice in the form of Jesus Christ the avatar, so some form of blood-sacrifice and recompense is required to propitiate God. That’s just ruthless and bloodthirsty. And, besides, it still implies that dues need to be paid for the sin of homosexuality. And in the meantime, two adult women or men could be having the most loving, fulfilling consensual sex imaginable. Why, then, should we abide by such sanguinary, blood-soaked scriptures?

4) “Homosexuality is unnatural.”

This fallacy is an appeal to nature. It states that a thing is right just because it is natural, and a thing is wrong just because it is unnatural. But a thing is not right just because it is natural, and a thing is not wrong just because it is unnatural. Clearly, rape and murder are a part of human nature, but we don’t say that these things are right, because they harm people; similarly, aeroplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around protesting against aeroplanes, because they are helpful to us. Besides, a great deal of evidence suggests that, in large part, homosexuality is natural. We see it everywhere in nature. Penguins do it in the zoo, lions do it on the savanna, and Ellen Degeneres does it with Portia de Rossi in the bedroom of their Beverly Hills flat while their dogs and cats watch. Oh, and bonobos practice lesbianism as a way to cement social bonds. Human beings have practised homosexuality all throughout history, all around the world, in almost every culture. On top of that, do you know how many species of animals are hermaphroditic or transsexual? The permutations are mindboggling. Just watch one of Isabella Rossellini’s strangely droll and artistic Green Porno or Seduce Me short documentaries about mating habits in nature. How can it all be heterosexual?

5) “Homosexuals  do not procreate.”

True. Homosexuals do not procreate. Neither do sterile couples. Or post-menopausal women. Or hysterectomised women. Or couples who simply choose not to have children. Seriously? You don’t think that any of these people should have sex just because they don’t make babies? That’s just ridiculous. You may as well pass a law which states that couples must procreate within a certain number of years following their marriage or else their marriage will be annulled—and they will be banned from having any kind of sex afterward. Sounds fascist to me. Obviously people don’t just have sex to make babies; they also have sex for pleasure. Having sex for pleasure can help forge vital social bonds and nurture social stability. It also creates personal happiness, which has a positive trickle-down effect on the larger community. In a world verging on 7 billion in population, homosexuals have sex for love and pleasure, not to make more people, thus they play a vital role in creating social and demographic stability. So, no, homosexuality is not wrong just because it does not result in babies.

6) “All men can marry women, and all women can marry men. Therefore there is no inequality.”

This argument is a sophistry—it deliberately misses the point by setting up a straw man. The point is not whether all people are allowed to marry members of the opposite sex; the point is whether all people are allowed to marry members of the sex that they are attracted to. The injustice is in the fact that women cannot marry other women and men cannot marry other men, while women can marry men, and men can marry women. This means that gay people cannot marry the people they are attracted to, but straight people can marry the people they are attracted to. Thus, all people cannot marry the person they are attracted to. That is where the inequality lies. Obviously, the whole point of marriage equality is the right to marry a member of the sex you are attracted to, not a member of the sex you are not attracted to. So, no, it isn’t clever or valid to say that all men can marry women, and all women can marry men.

7) “If we legalise gay marriage, what’s next?”

This is the classic slippery slope argument. It makes me want to ask, well, if we legalise miscegenation, what’s next? Mulatto offspring? Sex with donkeys? Barack Obama? They were singing the same tune, I’m sure, in the United States back in 1967 with the ruling Loving v. Virginia, which legalised interracial marriage. Back then, too, I could have asked, what’s next? child molestation? Seriously, if you think that letting gays marry will lead to people having sex with children and donkeys, you haven’t heard of a little thing called adult consent. And if you compare sex between consenting adults with sexual abuse, there is seriously something broken inside your head. The requirement for morally sound sex is adult human consent. Period. Therefore gay sex between consenting adults is morally sound, while sex with children and donkeys is not. (Animals can’t really consent, can they?)  So, no, none of that nasty, scary donkey sex stuff will happen, dears, because it isn’t between consenting human adults. So just relax.

8 ) “What will I tell my children?”

Tell your children that Pam and Sally, the two ladies who have lived in the mysterious house across the street since before your own family existed, live together because they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together, in peace and happiness. That is what they want. And that is what you should tell your children. I know—isn’t it so simple?

And those are the eight reasons why homophobia doesn’t make any sense, and why the U.S. federal ban on gay marriage should be repealed. I hope I expressed my points in the most trenchant prose possible. The federal ban on gay marriage destabilises loving unions, families, and children. If one truly cared about marriage and family, one would want to maximise the potential for lovingly committed adults to raise children in healthy, loving environments which nurture dignity, cooperation, and social cohesion. The current U.S. federal law falls short of this goal, but for some reason I have an inkling that this will change very soon, and when it does, it will be as a much-welcome torrent bursting forth over a dam on to a long-parched field, tended naively by the very people who built the dam in the first place.





The Great Seattle Prayer War: Part One – The Summoning

10 08 2011

In a recent blog entry I discussed another, professional, blog entry in which I described how Texas governor Rick Perry is collaborating with radical Christian youth minister Lou Engles to organize a prayer rally in Houston. Lou Engles participated in a music album with the youth ministry Elijah Revolution which inspired another radical minister, Cindy Jacobs, to issue a prayer alert for Seattle and Washington state through her own network of prayer groups called Root 52. I mentioned that I would re-write that professional blog entry to convey the evil thoughts that dwell within my dark, unsaved mind. You will find these unruly, uncouth fancies distilled in the blog entry below. So unpeel your innocent eyelids and read on, warrior!

A hot, dry, satanic dust-storm swept over the lair of Mike and Cindy Jacobs in Weatherford, Texas, a righteous and sacred exurban Christian outpost of the depraved Dallas metroplex. It was no longer safe in Texas’s large cities, despite the fact that they all look like Tehran compared with San Francisco (except for Austin). No, even the Metroplex was succumbing to the sins of religious and sexual “tolerance”. It was increasingly necessary to move out of cosmopolitan city centres, where ideas were being exchanged and intellectuals bred thoughts like spores on the wind, and move to a more secluded, holy place—with plenty of free parking and only the barest modicum of blacks—a place pure with the blood of the lamb, where God’s moral code, as outlined in the Bible, could be enshrined and protected from the ravages of reason.

“By God’s holy grace”, cried Cindy to her husband, “we can’t hold up in here much longer. If this sandstorm is the Lord’s message that He is coming—and the Bible says it is so—we must by his grace save the heathens of the northern and coastal regions.”

“Honey, I understand”, said Mike, “because, as your husband, I must love you, but as your husband, I cannot suffer you to usurp my authority with your unwarranted speech.” And with this, he gave his wife a brief lesson on 1 Timothy 2:12, followed by a lesson on Ephesians 5:22.

“Aye”, said the submissive wife diffidently, showing signs of disappointment, “so it is, for the Bible—the inerrant word of God—tells us so.” She clung to him, laying her head on his chest, and the little ones crowded round them to hear these sage words, for they were captivated by the sight of a woman leeching wisdom from a man, the source of all divine knowledge. A new breed of prayer warriors was born. Except for one little bastard named Susie. She flat-out refused.

“Why should wives submit to their husbands?” asked Susie inquisitively.

“Wives should submit to their husbands because the Lord in Heaven tells them so through His gospel”, spake the wise and humble father, bestowing his magnanimity like crumbs upon the females who clustered at his feet like starved hens clucking for more from the great cock.

“But the Bible also justifies the enslavement of daughters”, countered the precocious little Jezebel, quoting Exodus 21:7. “How, then, can you say that the Bible is the word of God without saying that God hates women and supports slavery?”

“That was the old covenant, Susie”, grunted the father impatiently. “Jesus gave us a new covenant.”

“Oh, so there was still a time when selling daughters into slavery was necessary, then”, she said. “If God hadn’t become Jesus and killed himself to pay for human imperfection, which he himself created, we would still have reason to slaughter goats, stone adulteresses to death, and execute gay people.”

“Susie”, said her father impatiently. Here he was at a momentary loss for words. His daughter took advantage of the pause.

“Well”, she continued, “thank God we’ve upgraded the sacrificial victim from a goat to a human. What an improvement. This time, instead of slaughtering goats to propitiate God, we get to nail a human being to a cross and let him take days to die. But he’ll magically rise from the dead—but, in the end, he’ll still have been tortured to death. And even more, Jesus is God, so that means God is killing himself for us to accept his suicide so that he can pay himself his own dues. That’s not schizophrenic at all.”

The father evaded these uncomfortable observations and stonewalled his daughter by re-asserting, “God wants men to protect women because women need the wisdom of men—”

“—Dad, you’re not acknowledging any of my points. I’ve just countered the one that you are re-stating. Don’t re-state. Refute.”

“Susie—”

“—Stop calling me Susie. My birthname is Mei Ping. Yeah. I dug into your and Mom’s files and found out I was picked up at a Shanghai adoption agency in 1999. So cut the crap.”

Shocked at her discovery and drawing on his last reserves of patience, the stonily patronizing father resumed. “Mei Ping, God wants men to protect women because women need the wisdom of men—”

“—but that’s paternalism”, interrupted Mei Ping.

“It’s what?”

“It’s paternalism. It’s saying that men know better than women. It is the manner of providing an individual protection while, at the same time, denying that individual her rights as an autonomous human being. It is protecting her while depriving her. This sort of domestic arrangement effectively constitutes totalitarianism within the household, and it is unreasonable and egotistical.”

“Susie!”

“I’m Mei Ping.”

“Susie!”

“Okay, fine, I’m Susie. But—”

“—Susie, go to the basement. I have no further need of your oratories.”

“But, Dad, you give plenty of them yourself. Why, then, shouldn’t I return the same trenchant lecturing? Oh, right. Because I have a vagina.”

“Susie! You never say that ugly word in this household. Do you hear me?! That language is vile! Now go to the basement!”

“Ugh, yes, Father.” And with that, 12 year-old Susie trod downstairs to her cabbage-patch-doll-studded dungeon beneath the windswept intellectual desert of Weatherford, Texas, with nothing to do but watch Christian puppet videos amid a menagerie of stuffed animals. There she mulled and languished, her indignation stewing under a single, pale lightbulb, a stuffed pink unicorn at her side.

“Honey”, said Cindy, “You handled that brilliantly! I remember when I was a petulant little girl with thoughts of my own and didn’t know when to submit to my elders. I had to be taught by example how misguided my thoughts were.”

“Thank you, wife. I will always honour and love you for the kind support you show me.”

“Now that that’s taken care of, husband, I’ve had this thought on my mind for a while now. I think it is time to attack Seattle.”

“I accept your opinion, wife. That evil northwestern coastal city of Baal is full of faggots, feminists, fornicators, witches, mixed marriages, and single-parent households. More than anywhere, it needs to be bathed in the sweet blood of the lamb”.

“Amen”, said the wife, “the blood of our sacrificial victim, Lord Jesus Christ.”

“I accept your opinion”, said the husband humbly, “for the Lord said I should love you.”

“Then let us gather our forces and attack!”

“I concur.”

“Let’s use children from the exurbs!”

“Agreed ten thousand times over. In fact, I already thought of that. But don’t speak too much.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“First we must make our plan known to our covert operatives in the Root 52 network. We must publish a prayer alert for this Washington state and this city of Seattle!”

“Yaaaay!” screeched Cindy hysterically, clinging to the man’s thick arm as an ivy wraps round a giant oak.

With the plan in place, the Jacobses summoned their Root 52 prayer troops—mostly children they had culled from nearby church playgrounds, their own children in tow—and marched forth with their guns, American flags, and Christian country music albums toward the Great White North. Seattle! Somewhere up there. Canada or the Cascades or something. Canada-Seattle-Albertaville. It all gets confusing past Denver, and when you have to work with a map, and in two dimensions, it is especially gruelling.

Mike and Cindy stomped through friendly prayer-warrior territory at first—northern Texas, far northern Texas, and then far, far northern Texas, recruiting more young children from their apprehensive, stupidly confused families along the way—and then, after crossing a number of friendly super-malls dominated by parking lots, Wal-Marts, and Neiman Marcus outlets, they had to cross a state boundary. God bless us. Thank goodness it was the Oklahoma state boundary. Thank goodness they were still white, Christian, and American. Mostly. Who knew which states the Mexicans had stolen back from America since that time America stole them from Mexico?

Mike and Cindy soon met the lone prairie. A prairie they had never met before. Back home in Texas the prairie was covered in cows, daisies, and church spires—all the trappings of our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ—and it was the same when they were crossing the Oklahoma panhandle, but as they made their way across Kansas, and then Nebraska, gazing upon those long, lonely grasses, they realised they were in limbo. Evangelical Christian limbo. These souls needed to be saved! But not as badly as those up north and west. Or somewhere up theres-ville.

“Lord”, whimpered Cindy, staring zombie-like through the windscreen, her hands clenched together, “we are in a dark country now. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and we ask for your guidance.” Here she closed her eyes intently; her husband continued driving with one limp hand dangling over the steering wheel, a pair of eyes staring stonily at the road. “We cannot fight this battle alone. We need your power, your wisdom, your might—your fury—to guide us forth, vanquish our enemy, and take back America for you.” Her voice took on a strangely primal, quavering cadence. “Lord, we ask you to sweep your mighty hand across this once-great land and wash it clean with your blood. We ask you to take your mighty fingers, pick up the dust of the earth, and throw it in the face of your adversary, Satan. We ask you to take that same dust and mould it into a mighty host of beasts filled with the vicious wrath of your righteous goodness! We ask, God, that you plague the land with your fury and bring the people of America back to the ways of their Saviour and Creator. Satan, we rebuke you in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ!”

The wife said these words with such absolute intensity and conviction that neither she nor her husband heard the thudding noise until it began to rattle the windows and the console, causing the children in the back of the caravan to giggle with excitement. At that, they looked out their windows behind them and witnessed a vast storm pregnant with brown-grey clouds looming overhead. From these stretched downward a vast number of dust-devils; on the land below these were what looked like a giant herd of rabid, ferocious hyaena-like beasts with matted hair, watery red eyes, and bared sharp teeth covering the plain as far as the eye could see. Beast and dust-devil consumed the land and sky in a cloud of shifting shapes and forms, darting over rocks, streams, and escarpments, moving in the same direction as the caravan. One of the land-creatures latched a claw on to the right rearview mirror of the caravan, where Cindy sat. She screamed.

Keep reading to find out what happens to the Mike and Cindy Jacobs caravan as the swarm of beasts descends. You will discover many new characters, including the tree-people, the frost giants, Lilith, and Susie. But be forewarned: never misjudge a girlish laugh or a pretty-sounding name.