Music of the Week — February 18, 2007
Life Lessons from Kenya

Sunday Night Journal — March 04, 2007

A Glimpse of Moral Common Sense

This will be brief, as we’ve been busy visiting family this weekend.

I may have mentioned before that I’m fascinated by the American southwest. Not surprisingly, I’m a big fan of Tony Hillerman’s mysteries, which are set in the Navajo and Hopi country of New Mexico and Arizona and feature two Navajo tribal policeman as the principal detectives. The long drive this weekend provided a nice opportunity to listen to another of them, Skeleton Man.

I know absolutely nothing about Tony Hillerman beyond what’s revealed in his books and in the few sentences of biography on their dust jackets. I know nothing of his religious views beyond the obvious fact that he has a very deep respect for Navajo religion. And I know nothing of his political views unless something can be inferred from the fact that his characters sometimes complain about federal authorities and distant Washington officials. But of course that kind of griping is normal in detective fiction: when the detective is a private eye, the cops are likely to be portrayed as bumbling and/or corrupt, vice-versa if the detective is a cop. And there’s a similar tendency with local police vs. the FBI, etc.

In short, I have no reason at all to think that Hillerman has any particular sympathy for or association with the religious right, which conventional wisdom holds responsible for most of the opposition to abortion and premarital sex. So I was struck by a couple of in-passing notes in this book which portrayed both those practices negatively—the first as very bad, and the second as unwise.

The abortion reference was particularly striking: a woman is explaining to her adult daughter that her father was a wealthy young man by whom she, the mother, had been pregnant when he died in a plane crash, and that his family’s lawyers had pressured her and offered her money to have an abortion because the unborn child would have been the young man’s heir. The mother says something like “They wanted to pay me to kill you.”

The premarital sex reference is in the context of the engagement of two of the characters. They are both Navajo, and the bride-to-be’s mother counsels her to “keep some sand between” her and her fiancé—that is, not to sleep with him—because it tends to cause problems in the marriage. (It isn’t clear whether this is meant as practical wisdom or as a cause-and-effect consequence of the violation of a religious principle.)

What struck me was the naturalness, the un-forced-ness, of these references, not as propaganda points but as simple moral common sense. Sometimes I allow myself to hope that this common sense will eventually win out over the ideology of sexual liberation. It might help if everybody would stop screaming for a while.



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