How much have things changed in terms of cultural _values_ in rural Alabama since the ’60s, particularly among undereducated Evangelical Christians? No matter how much has changed in _fact_, identity is not constructed merely of facts; it is constructed of feelings, ideas, traditions, and beliefs. Belief writes over fact as a simple matter of confirmation bias that is not only personal but also cultural.
There is such a thing too as cultural confirmation bias, which means that when a group or tribe feels threatened, confronted, challenged, they will as a group act much the way they do as individuals similarly faced with belief versus evidence. They will double down every time their beliefs are disproved or their culture is “threatened.” What white Evangelical Alabamans have seen is their dominance and way of life overwritten by values, ideas, and facts that threaten their choices— nearly all such criticism being from “outside.” Do not underestimate the role of insularity and familiarity to justify any belief or action and never, ever underestimate the disdain, fear, and obloquy that must be attached to others from the outside.
So it’s the ’60s/’70s (does it even really matter that it’s not today?), and very, very few young women go to college. Likely far fewer than today. (Alas some change, some marginal improvement?) Education is closely connected to culture, religion, and change, and now think about Christian bible culture in the American South. Recently, Alabama’s percentage of college graduates relative to the population is lower than California’s but ten times fewer in numbers. Very few are exposed to much of anything but the local culture, church, family, and, in truth, there are few opportunities to learn the skills of critical thinking that would cause one to question or change. It is a world of belief and custom that views everything that is not itself as “others” who _must not_ be trusted or believed. This is at the heart of how cultural confirmation bias functions. (A few numbers: in 2010 in Alabama, 31.5% graduated college, some 189,000; Califorma the percentage was 37.6% with 1.993 million graduates, and now think of relative populations. Put more glibly, Alabama is no Massacheusetts, Senator.)
This is “Christian bible” culture: when girls “leave” the sanctity and safety of their parents home— they are still “at home” during college, if they are permitted to go— it is to marry and to marry as “virgins.”
Of course, more women in the workplace, more social liberality in every realm, continued economic failure and hardship brought about by the very culture that insists on these changeless roles and now add the function of these coercions and compulsions coupled to religion and its insidious cultural authority. Moore is the sort of predator that is likely not the least bit unusual. This is because his predation is, at least in part, sanctioned by the culture itself.
One can imagine it common that older men go “courting” younger women and that might not seem all that unseemly—especially if that man has power, position, and respect in the community, he would receive all sorts of license. The rank abuse that is likely pervasive cannot be underestimated. Sexism and patriarchy’s power is a cultural fact that is being defended here by Moore’s supporters, not questioned. WE might say, how can the parent of a teenager think about allowing a thirty-something man date his daughter, and the answer _culturally_ is not necessarily the same in Alabama as it is where you live. And again, remind yourself of this: how much about Evangelical _belief_ or values have really changed even as culture, politics, and economics change?
They have refused change as far as possible, that being the very definition of their conservatism. They mean _not_ to change and to assert their prerogatives _over_ any culture _but their own_. This is a crucial point: they are aggrieved, fearful, and angry about how their culture is viewed by others. Now just how innocent, unknowing, and captive are young women with few choices and an upbringing based on obedience, deference to religion, and patriarchy? We can think of them as backward and deeply oppressed, lacking in virtually every skill required for a modern world, but that is part of their resentment too.
This is an historical and cultural situation that both conceals and encourages abuse, and what “the Judge,” then “Roy Moore, D.A.” did was stake his claims from within this form of Southern “Christian” culture. The whole Moore act is about that portrayal and the outsiders here are to blame. It’s pretty gross, but it’s easy to understand why criticism of him is taken to be criticism of the whole lot of them, especially his Evangelical supporters —which is the majority culture of white Alabama.
Moore’s supporters, who I would claim are still by far the majority of white Evangelicals (and that the vast majority of voters), take these accusations made on him as an affront to their culture, their religion, and themselves. They aren’t going to flee him because some liberal Yankees find their behaviors reprehensible. They aren’t going to give in one bit, no matter their doubts because cultural confirmation bias will invite them to double down. We can only watch, aghast that such toxic ignorance runs peoples’ lives, just as they would expect us to feel about their cause.
The women in this story are victims we must deeply respect for the true courage it has taken to speak. How they will live the rest of their lives in these communities will require even more courage. But the culture that condones and encourages this confirmation bias syndrome is nearly as old as America itself. Expect Moore not to quit, even if Trump equivocates over his fitness for office.