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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 25-Jul-08


Friday 25-July-08

Religions and abuse

There is a simple pattern that recurs across many religions, minor and major, where a faith that preaches care and compassion leads directly to the abuse of innocent and vulnerable people. As I write this, for example, the Pope is in Australia, apologising for priestly lapses.

The religions or groups typically preach love and happiness. This is particularly attractive to young people cast out in a scary world, for whom a caring community is a welcome haven and seems an ideal family substitute. The groups also preach absolute truths and often expect unquestioning obedience. Followers accept this as it provides certainty and stability in an otherwise uncertain world.

No harm so far, but what happens too often is that this combination often attracts vulnerable and impressionable young people, which then, as surely as the spider follows the fly. attracts those who would take advantage of these innocents. These predators cloak themselves well, often getting to more senior positions before they begin their more insidious work. In a position of authority and 'wisdom' they can then get close to their victims and make their requests seem natural and necessary.

I have seen this happen twice with my daughter. She joined a Buddhist group as it aligned with her philosophies. The senior people in the group were pleased at such an enthusiastic acolyte, and one older guy (of about my age) showed particular interest, but then started calling rather too frequently. She's read up on cults and recognised the signs, but despite avoiding him he still persisted. She also found he'd taken an amorous interest in other young women. Not to be messed with, my daughter went to the police, who were very helpful. Unfortunately others affected were too timid to speak up. The guy got a warning from the police and eventually backed off but it could have got more serious.

The other incident was with a younger guy in the group who she went out with for a while. After splitting up, she noticed how he was using his position and charisma to get what he wanted. Not as serious as the older guy but still a questionable use of power in a context where there are many vulnerable and impressionable young people.

This affects other religions too -- just look at the sexual scandals in churches, where the power of a trusted position is subverted to selfish hedonistic pleasure. The patterns are sadly human and too common, as power corrupts and the vulnerable suffer. The sadder fact is that religions and cults, where idealism is sought, can be magnets for both the innocents and abusers. Even sadder is where the group covers up and downplays such incidents, particularly after the offenders express 'remorse' (so they may be forgiven). The two guys who affected my daughter are still there, and may well prey on others into the future. I was tempted to take direct action, but she handled the situation well and gained much more than if I had waded in.

The Pope's apology is important. The people at the top must recognise and address the seriousness of this terrible breach of trust. It helped my daughter that the police took a keen interest and their action was powerfully preventive.

The sad lesson for those who might be victims is one of caution and constraint in trust, which must always be earned and never given blindly.

Your comments

In my younger days, I too had my share of over zealous religious 'evangelist'. Yet, I ponder if its a thin line between passion and conviction versus trust and respect. In this age of much complexity, extrinsically-motivated lifestyle where people fall into a state of apathy, I wonder then if people are hiding behind a curtain of denial to search for what may fill our inner thirst. In full agreement with what you have written, I am reminded that Man, regardless of whatever religion, is still fallible. I recently witness a fight during a gay parade of two parties wondering essentially are we talking about religion, man's needs or what?

-- John Y

I have two observations on this item, if only to broaden the perspective.

The first is the concept of cults and cult tactics. One common tactic is to isolate the member from friends and family. Loners make easy prey. Perhaps, by coincidence or design the age difference in one the pending relationships mentioned (genuine or otherwise) often isolates both parties from all but the most understanding of friends.

However this also points out how larger groups also display these isolation tactics. In the "old" days prominent people seeking divorce amounted to social suicide for their families.

The second note is that apparent age of either party may mean little with romantic friends. Many young (mostly) men or boys while apparently youthful will display traits learned from much older friends or relatives when dating. So tragic when often a teenager is as cold, harsh or even as abusive with his girlfriend as a frustrated older man would be.


Dave replies:
Indeed, isolation is often the first tactic. We take a lot of cues from people around us and if you remove 'sensible' cues then we'll just go along with whatever game is in town. I guess it's a continuing pattern too. Families can behave 'strangely' when strange is the norm. My own family is slightly eccentric and happy to be so (being a bit weird frees you from some of the stricter social norms :).

 I agree with John Y.
If ever I feel uncomfortable in any given situation I leave; possibly making it known for my suspicions. The whole world is about blaming, while those perv's are still lurking every where and any where like vultures searching a weak link to any thing available. There is such a thing as education in the home, with me it's called"GUT FEELING's" Because the world is moving so fast every one needs a crutch, weather it be booze, drugs, cigs. sex, church etc. we need that extra boast to stay sane in an insane world so to speak...


-- Jane J


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