A few months ago I read a story on Friendly Atheist that made me hate religion. Hate. Loathe. Want to destroy. What could cause such strong negative emotion in a woman who has spent 37 years of her life devoted to faith and working to “build the kingdom of God”?
How about an article that estimates as many as 50% or more of Hasidic Jewish boys have been raped by their elders? The article shares a story that creates a visual image for me I almost cannot bear. It’s the story of a whistleblower witnessing the rape of a terrified seven-year-old boy in a Jewish sacred ritual bath. Read the link. See if you’re not sick to your stomach, if you don’t want to weep big, angry tears as I did.
I have a seven-year-old boy. A beautiful, green-eyed, puffy-lipped boy who loves to snuggle up to me on the couch in the evenings. He’s full of energy, adores his beautiful first-grade teacher, and likes building with Legos. I can count on him climbing into bed with my husband and me every single night and wedging himself right up against my back. If I move away from him, he follows in his sleep. He craves affection and gives the juiciest kisses in the entire world. It makes my heart ache to think that any man could do to him what the man in the mikvah did to the boy just like him. What is being done to many boys just like him in insular Hasidic communities.
That incident filled me with horror. Here’s what filled me with rage. The whistleblower, the man who has spoken out against this disgusting problem and sought to help and support victims like that seven year old boy, has been ostracized from his community. He had bleach thrown in his face, scarring him and temporarily blinding him. The community doesn’t want to protect their children, they want to protect their religion.
That’s not just a problem for Hasidic Jews. It’s a problem in other religions as well. The religion comes before the people. Any organization that places itself before the well-being of its people, especially its youngest and most vulnerable, is criminally dangerous.
The LDS church has made progress in its attempts to protect its children from sexual predation. Its classrooms either have windows in the doors or are to remain open during lessons when a male (or female if the students are males) is teaching. The Handbook of Instructions tells bishops to report abuse to the proper legal authorities and to hold a disciplinary court for someone accused of such foul acts. But the solutions fall far short of the systemic problem.
And the problem is that LDS culture is to blame.
Every year children in the LDS church are interviewed by their bishops and asked about their sexuality. Some bishops stick strictly to the questions as outlined in the handbook and ask only if the child is keeping the law of chastity. However, many bishops see it as their duty to ensure the child understands exactly what that means and to ask them more specific questions to determine if they are answering honestly.
“Do you keep the law of chastity?”
“Do you know what chastity means?”
“Do you masturbate?”
“Do you know what masturbation is?”
“Have you ever touched the sacred parts of another person?”
“Have you ever allowed someone else to touch your sacred body parts?”
The situation itself can be seen as a type of grooming for sexual abuse, a forced intimacy between adult and child, wherein the adult asks the child progressively more invasive questions about their sexuality. The bishop is alone in the room with the child, door closed and no window. Anything could happen in there, and as it turns out, anything sometimes does. Even if nothing untoward occurs, the child has learned that sometimes adults other than parents isolate themselves in a room with children to discuss sex.
Sure. Nothing problematic there.
The Mormon church is ripe with situations in which children are made vulnerable to potentially predatory individuals. The culture establishes unquestioned authority of male leadership and forces falsely intimate relationships in the form of home teachers, bishoprics, and Young Women and Young Men’s leadership. Children are placed in small classrooms with adults they barely know and are left to discuss topics that sometimes include sexual purity. Should a sexual predator be in the midst the field is ripe, all ready to harvest.
I suppose it should be no surprise that such a violating culture exists. After all, the founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith Jr., coerced numerous teenage girls into marrying him under warnings that if they did not he would be put to death by an angel with a flaming sword and the girls’ families’ eternal salvation would be forfeited. Joseph Smith was the original Mormon sexual predator.
Along with an original legacy of sexual predation, males in the Mormon church believe they have the holy priesthood of God, which gives them authority and justifies them. This same mindset may be to blame among the Hasidic Jewish population. Whom God chooses, God justifies.
The LDS world is an insular one, with an us versus them mentality that permeates every aspect of worship. The church’s members are fighting a war against Satan and anyone who seeks to undermine the church or its reputation is on Satan’s side of the battlefield. In spite of the higher leadership’s directive to report child sexual abuse this spiritual battlefield mentality causes many lay leaders to value the reputation of the organization more than they value the safety of a child. Any accusations that might leak out to the general membership or the public at large would undermine the church and therefore is perceived as a potential tool of Satan in the war between good and evil. Abuse is swept under the rug. Abusers are counseled by bishops and allowed to engage in the repentance process, at which point they are forgiven and all continues as normal. Never mind that the sexual abuse of children is a pathological behavior that cannot simply be corrected by relying on the forgiveness of a mythical god. Never mind that the victims are left to deal with the problem in isolation, not receiving the counseling and support they need to overcome the emotional ramifications of abuse.
In some cases the abused are even made to repent of their sins, since they have been involved in sexual contact with another person. The fact that the contact was not sought by them and was forced upon them by an individual in a position of power over them is not considered. Once sacred special parts have been touched sin has occurred.
Religious institutions are a haven for sexual predators. Churches are full of people who want to see the good in others, who believe in forgiveness for past wrongs, and who believe (what should be disinterested adults) when they say that they love your child, because we’re all supposed to love others as God loves us, right? Sexual predators take advantage of this trust and availability and exploit it. And once a child has been violated, their innocence stolen, their trust destroyed, the authorities in religious institutions are often too afraid of public slander to defend the abused. So instead of reporting the heinous crimes, they sweep them under the rug, reassign the offender, and hope the abused will keep quiet.
This is where a belief in hell would be healing for me, because if a hell were to exist, I would hope that every abuser, and every person who enables or ignores abuse (hereby all three will be referred to as piece of shit, or POS for short), would spend an eternity in hell. In that hell, the POS would be welcomed by an experienced outcast, a mentor, who would befriend them, teach them the ropes and make them feel comfortable. Then once they feel safe and comfortable, that mentor, who is incidentally three times the size of the POS, would anally rape the POS for the rest of eternity. All the while the POS would be silently praying for help but unable to open their mouths to ask for help from anyone nearby for fear of what additional heinous things their mentor might do to them.
If God exists he’s a sonofabitch to allow the violation of his weakest and most vulnerable children by men who claim to be acting in His name. Sure, he can call forth a hurricane to punish the entire city of New Orleans for the crimes of homosexuality, abortion and general promiscuity, but can he orchestrate one lightning bolt to eliminate a child abuser? A small-scale twister? A single vehicle car accident? A heart attack? Sure, God wants people to choose for themselves and if he were to intercede in every evil act it would take away that free choice. But once that choice has been made can God not step in and put a stop to it? Why is he unwilling to stop a young child from being repeatedly raped but is always so available to help me find my car keys?
Perhaps that’s why I take as much comfort in the thought of a cold, stainless steel fridge as I do in the idea of an omnipotent God. A god who allows such crimes to persist in his supposed congregations is as cold and unfeeling as the rectangle that keeps my Diet Coke chilled.