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.