Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, August 09, 2013

A Horrific Article and Several Thoughts

I read a really horrific article yesterday, about a series of rapes in a colony of Mennonites in Boliva. I'm not going to quote from or summarize the article, but although it goes to a very dark place it caused a lot of thought and discussion for MrsDarwin and me last night. Read at your own risk.

Several main things struck me:


There's a very worrying definition of forgiveness at play in the community described. Victims are told that if they don't forgive the crimes against them, then God will not forgive them their own sins. There is a certain truth to that, but the definition of forgiveness this community has is deeply flawed. By forgiveness they seem to mean some combination of

- Acting like it didn't happen
- Not wanting anything further to happen to the perpetrators
- Welcoming the perpetrators back into the community

Forgiveness does not, however, mean acting as if something did not happen.

Nor does the fact that you forgive someone mean that you have to want their punishment ended or to welcome them back. The perpetrators (or at least, those who were caught) are now in a Bolivian jail, but several members of the community interviewed say that they would be welcomed back if they would only admit they were wrong and ask forgiveness.

If pressed to define forgiveness I would say that forgiveness means not hating the person (as in wishing them harm) for your own sake: leaving that person's earthly punishment up to the relevant earthly authorities, and his eternal punishment up to God.

The Dangers of a Reactionary Culture

One of the things that stuck out to me here is that this Mennonite community has put so much emphasis on being different from the world (dress, technology, schooling, language, etc.) that this has become their single most important thing. It's more important to them to keep together than it is to stop horrific crimes going on in their midst. But, of course, at that point, it becomes impossible to stay together anyway. You can't have a society which refuses to protect its members. Reaction itself (we are not like those people) or specific identifying traits (we speak this language, we wear these clothes) can be turned into an idol, and made more important than any other moral law.

I think this kind of excess in-group identification and self-protection is always a heightened danger for sub-groups that define themselves against a dominant culture.

Dealing with Trauma

One of the things that horrifies the author is that the victims have never had a chance to receive post-traumatic counseling. Doubtless, this would have helped, but it got me thinking a big because modern counseling is something that's only existed for about a hundred years. What filled this niche before? It may be that modern counseling is more effective than ways that past societies helped people deal with trauma, but it seems like there must have been some way that people dealt with trauma -- something that then seemed as obvious a solution as counseling does now.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

Many Christians seem to have a similarly deficient definition of forgiveness. That to forgive someone means welcoming them back into your life and allowing them to hurt you and others again. It's puzzling.

I had the same thought about how people dealt with trauma before modern psychotherapy.

bearing said...

"Many Christians seem to have a similarly deficient definition of forgiveness. That to forgive someone means welcoming them back into your life and allowing them to hurt you and others again. It's puzzling."

I don't think it's puzzling at all, because one of the ways that hurtful, toxic people exert control over others is by manipulating them into thinking that they "owe" the toxic person leeway that they don't. The Christian concept of forgiveness is very easily twisted.

Everybody has the right to set some boundaries.

entropy said...

What happened/is happening to these women is horrific. There should be consequences and I think they should definitely be trusted to speak for themselves, be able (and helped!) to remove themselves from abusers.

That said, playing Devil's Advocate a little here (and also because my understanding of what Christian forgiveness should be is a little muddled):

That to forgive someone means...allowing them to hurt you and others again.

Isn't that exactly what it means? Turn the other cheek and give them your shirt as well.

Isn't that what God does for us? Invites us in wholeheartedly and allows us to hurt Him again and again?

Kate said...

Actually, I was impressed because you cited someone saying that the perpetrators would be welcomed back "If they admitted they were wrong and asked forgiveness." There is some expectation and standard there...and true repentance should be followed by forgiveness. Christian mercy *should* be radical and be 'foolishness to this world'. Deep in its bones, this is a world that does not believe in repentance or redemption.

Kate said...

I think that the boundaries here need to be drawn around the question of WHO has the right to justice and thus the ability to grant mercy? No matter how deeply the 'community' may feel about this evil committed in their midst, ultimately no one can forgive the offenders on behalf of the victims.

I think perhaps we have two different shades or degrees of 'forgiveness', with the same word being applied to each in a confusing manner. Because I think that you can forgive someone who is unchanged and unrepentant, in the sense that you can cease to hold a desire for vengeance and cultivate a genuine desire for the offender's wellbeing. But I think the other kind of forgiveness...the fuller, more fruitful only possible in the context of real repentance. This is the forgiveness/mercy that is indistinguishable from justice because it restores what is injured in a way human justice cannot.

So tricky to pin this stuff down...

Melanie Bettinelli said...

"Isn't that exactly what it means? Turn the other cheek and give them your shirt as well.

Isn't that what God does for us? Invites us in wholeheartedly and allows us to hurt Him again and again?"

No. Turning the other cheek doesn't mean allowing someone to continue to prey on the innocent, to keep hurting. The Church has never said a woman must continue to stay with an abusive husband and allow herself to continue to be abused. It doesn't mean we have no recourse to self defense or to justice.

For one thing how is it loving the abuser to allow him to keep abusing? Isn't true love preventing him from continuing down that path?

And no, we can't hurt God. Yes, he allowed himself to become the innocent victim and to be beaten and killed. Once. But our sins don't hurt him in the same way that a rapist hurts his victim because we don't have any power over God unless he chooses to let us have it. He chose to be a victim precisely so that we don't have to be victims.

Martyrdom is a specific call from God. Not everyone is called to submit to their persecutors. It is legitimate to fight back. And it is heinous to insinuate that someone who resists a rapist is somehow deficient in turning the other cheek as if being Christian demands that we all allow the strong to terrorize the weak.

There is no justice in allowing someone to continue to perpetrate horrors, in allowing evil to go unpunished, in covering up crime. Jesus doesn't tell us to abolish civil authority but to obey it.

Even God does not forgive our sins without requiring temporal punishment. This is why the sacrament of reconciliation requires that we do a penance. This is why there is Purgatory. Forgiveness doesn't mean there are no penalties for sin and it certainly doesn't mean there is no punishment for crime.

cminor said...

Some excellent points above.
I heard a priest explain that passage once; he observed that the actions advised would likely have the effect of shaming the aggressor rather than adding to the victim's humiliations. Giving your tunic to the guy who had won just your cloak from you was going beyond your legal requirement (not to mention making him look like a jerk); the "second mile" admonition referred to the Roman soldier's privilege of impressing a civilian to carry his gear for up to a mile. If you voluntarily went a second mile, you would soon have a very nervous soldier trying to be extremely nice to you lest word get to his superiors about the incident! I've unfortunately forgotten what else was said (it was a while ago) but while searching around I did notice that Provocative Christian Living, an Evangelical pastor's blog that I read occasionally, explained in this essay how the context indicated a backhanded slap, intended to insult and challenge an escalation, or shame the victim into retreat. He observes:
"To turn the other cheek is neither humiliating nor retaliation. It is rather a response of strength that says, 'I will not seek revenge because I am stronger than that'. It also says, I will not respond in shame because I have dignity in Christ. My dignity is not found in if I can hit you back and hurt you. My dignity is found in Christ and I will respond in just the way He would respond."
Turning the other cheek does not satisfy your attacker. You don't try to get back at him, but you also don't slink away. Turning the other cheek does not equal becoming some sociopath's doormat, whether because you're overly nice or because you feel you're sharing in Christ's suffering that way. Being a doormat harms you, but it also harms your attacker, morally. Remember, we were advised to be gentle as doves, but also wise as serpents. Knowing when to say "enough" is part of that wise as serpents bit.

Darwin, I came across this story the other day, and I agree that it was a pretty disturbing read. One of my take-aways from it (perhaps because I was alerted to it by a fellow who's extremely fond of drawing attention to anything suggesting that Christians are all just a bunch of hypocrites and so clicked the link with a pretty good idea of where it was going) was how much this community seemed to have wandered away from the God and the faith their ancestors put their lives on the line thinking to serve. With spiritual life an afterthought at best and scriptural literacy virtually nonexistent while the community pursues the idol of salvation through cultural isolation, it's small wonder that barbarism is rampant. (By the way, I grew up among quite a few Mennonites, though none of the Old Colony variety, and I am sure that this level of scriptural and moral ignorance is not the norm throughout that community.)

On a tangent, a propos of having raised a dyslexic kid I was introduced some years ago to the work of Dr. Abraham Schmidt, a Mennonite therapist (now deceased) who wrote very lucidly about living with that disability. He was raised in an Old Colony community back when they were still on the Canadian prairie and noted in his memoir that dyslexia was commonplace, particularly among the males. He suggested that the antipathy to literacy, education, and outside influence beyond a bare minimum might be as much related to that fact as to religious beliefs.