We’ve been talking lately about how abusers operate within a broken system and how that system protects them at the expense of their victims. Today we’ll talk about one example of a broken system that is finally coming apart at the seams, and what is said about that system when its leaders resist calls for justice and work overtime to trick others into thinking their system is more effective than it is.
First, though, let’s meet Cardinal George Pell of the Catholic Church.
Come Home, Cardinal Pell.
Tim Minchin has just written a new song called “Come Home, Cardinal Pell,” about a cardinal named George Pell who is strangely dragging his feet about returning to Australia to give testimony regarding various sex-abuse offenses that occurred in various Catholic churches there under his watch. The cardinal is in Rome right now, that happy land of safety and comfort for centuries for funny-hat-wearing jackanapes in robes. There he is highly unlikely to face any repercussions whatsoever for his actions or inactions. While insisting that why yes, of course he’d simply love to give his testimony, he maintains that he’s simply too sick to fly all the way back to Australia.
I suppose he thinks we’re idiots, as so many of his religious peers do.
When one is a songsmith and one is outraged by wrongdoing, one writes a song to express that outrage. The song itself is quite catchy and well-written; here’s a good analysis of exactly why it works so well on so many technical levels, for the musically-inclined among us. It makes its point and it does so brilliantly. If you have some money, all proceeds from the song are going to a fundraising campaign to try to find justice for those abuse survivors whom George Pell has allegedly failed to protect.
To my knowledge, George Pell is not, himself, accused of abusing anybody. He is however accused of trying to bribe a sex abuse victim to keep quiet, of silencing and ignoring other allegations of sex abuse that were reported directly to him by victims, and of moving a sex abuser from parish to parish to hide his crimes. There’s probably more even than that; it seems like every time a Catholic leader bobs up from the dark ocean of their church’s pedophilia scandal, there’s a lot more to see under the water’s surface than above it.
Even by the remarkably nasty and surreal standards of Catholic leaders, meetings that abuse survivors have had with George Pell have never gone very well. Now that he’s in Rome and very unlikely to move from there while he’s in the hot seat, nobody thinks much is going to change if his testimony is given in Rome amid all the protections that the Catholic Church has historically given to men of his rank.
And yes, Australians sound quite pissed off about his reluctance to return home to testify about exactly what he knew and when he knew it, all in a venue where he is not in control of what happens or of who speaks and how. I can’t blame them at all for being angry that he is unlikely to ever face any kind of justice or ever give an honest answer regarding his behavior.
George Pell is one of many signs of his religion’s brokenness.
The Catholic Church has been broken for a very long time, and people around the world are finally coming face-to-face with that fact.
So, uh, why is this organization not letting up one second on its efforts to control the rest of the world and dictate people’s most intimate decisions?
The Happy Christian Society Illusion.
Any time an organization presents itself as a moral powerhouse and a source of ultimate truth, the presence of wrongdoing and predation interferes with its members’ claims of superiority. The Catholic Church has, for many centuries, presented itself in this manner, just as fundagelical Christians have been presenting themselves that way for the last few decades.
When I was one of them, I thought of Christianity as the light of the world, there to shine a beacon of hope and love upon those who needed it. That metaphor has only become more dear to Christians, with the idea of being “light and salt” gaining prominence of late in fundagelical circles.
Because Christians think of themselves as the world’s Designated Adults, they imagine themselves to be far more qualified to run other people’s lives for them than those actual other people are. Indeed, when I was Christian I saw nothing wrong with pushing for laws criminalizing various kinds of behavior I viewed as immoral. If making drug abuse illegal was okay, then my peers and I reasoned that it ought to be okay to make unapproved sex illegal as well–as recently happened in Michigan. As one reads the news about this new law, one can almost see the Christian busybodies in the “Ignorant Tight-Ass Club” who were without doubt the people driving this law’s proposal and passage, all nodding grimly to themselves and repeating over and over again, “the common good.”
Back in my days as a Christian, we thought much the same way. We were convinced that even if the overgrown toddlers in “the world” didn’t thank us in this lifetime for saving them from themselves, they’d certainly thank us in the next after their compliance earned them Heaven. Except one can’t earn one’s way into Heaven or ever be “good enough” to get in without faith. It’s all very complicated. Even if they didn’t feel inspired to join our religion, though, their compliance would make America safer for all the rest of us.
But if the busybodies in question belong to a group that isn’t actually morally superior to the unwashed heathens they’re lording it over, then they have way less justification for controlling others. The people they’re trying to control will consider these Designated Adults to be totally unqualified to order anyone around. Maybe one of those potential targets of control will mention that maybe these Designated Adults need to deal with their own faults before trying to fix anybody else’s. Maybe they will even laugh at the idea that a god gave any of these hypocrites the authority or right to control anybody else, being that they are so singularly incapable of living by the rules they want to impose on others.
Maybe everyone else will even stop caring what Christians like, dislike, want, don’t want, approve, disapprove, or think about other people’s life decisions!
GASP! Someone get the smelling salts!
Of course, even if they did have moral superiority over non-Christians, that wouldn’t give them the right to control anybody else. But they think that’s how they derive this imagined entitlement they have. That was something that pastors and preachers said over and over again around me years ago: that we had the obligation to “help” our country and world to live a better, more responsible, more mature, more acceptable life than they ever could without us, because if Christians weren’t around to tell people how to live, why, our world would be plunged into sheer chaos, with rioting, arson, plundering, murdering, rape, pillage, you name it, everywhere, all the time.
If you’ve ever seen one of those awful Rapture movies Christians keep making, like Left Behind, then you know exactly what their fans think people would do without Christian Designated Adults around to control them and force them to behave. This dystopian vision of the future can be contrasted with how these same Christians think the world would run if their tribe were fully in control of it. They genuinely believe that a culture and government in thrall to their particular brand of religion would be orderly, compassionate, just, merciful, harmonious, and above all, safe.
As Rick Perry has said in the past when making exactly this point, laws based upon “Christian values” are exactly what he and his tribe believe are necessary to reverse the trends of lawlessness, criminality, disrespect, and chaos that they perceive. These values are regarded as so incredibly useful and productive that his tribe will step up to the plate and accept the heavy burden of forcing their will upon all those Americans who do not share that opinions.
But if their rules do not, in fact, produce a lawful and just society, if their own people can’t even live by those rules in a consistent way and if abusers abound in their ranks, if scandals erupt constantly out of their communities and churches, if predators can teach Sunday School by day and murder people by night and pedophiles infest even the highest ranks of their religious groups, then how are Christians to rationalize even to themselves this desire of theirs to control others?
How can they force rules upon others that don’t work even among their own tribe, among people who at least pretend to genuinely believe that those rules are essential and necessary to the proper running of people’s lives?
When the Goal is Control, That’s What Christians Will Play To Win.
People like Cardinal Pell and the rest of his pals in the Catholic Church, people like the sickening litany of abusers on that Stop Baptist Predators site, people in charge of all those Christian colleges (like Pensacola Christian College and numerous others) who are expelling rape victims for “impurity” and “fornication,” and all those lovely Christians exporting abuse and victimization along with Jesus in the mission fields of the world, they may seem different and in many respects are.
But they are all similar in at least one way: they’re portraying their rules as being vastly more effective and successful than they really are.
By making their domination look like a total win-win situation with no downsides, they try to make resistance to their control look like the petulant foot-stomping of a small child who doesn’t recognize that it’s self-destructive to eat candy for dinner, as Ray Comfort views dissenters. I mean, really! Who wouldn’t see that eating a proper dinner is much healthier than eating candy? What sensible adult would ever deny that simple truth? What kind of sillybilly would ever want to do anything so immature and unhealthy as eat candy for dinner? Wouldn’t everybody be much happier if they ate healthy food for dinner? So shut up and hold out your plate!
If that characterization of the wondrous effectiveness of Christian domination is totally wrong, though, then the whole metaphor falls apart.
People outside the Christian bubble can plainly see that something is horribly wrong in Christians’ exalted and gracious fiefdom. Christians can’t seem to stop this abuse from occurring, or to reliably and consistently protect those who need protection in their groups. Jesus sure as hell ain’t doing anything to help anybody, and all those threats of Hell don’t appear to be helping much either.
So Christians have two choices before them if they wish to reduce the prevalence of abuse in their ranks. They can actually end the predation by closing the pasture gate to wolves in sheep’s clothing, or….
They can try their best to make it look like no predation is occurring.
Guess Which Way Right-Wing Christians Went?
If Christian leaders wanted to actually end the predation occurring in their tribe, then they could–just like their “God,” in their mythology, could have told his people at any point that slavery was evil and immoral if he’d felt that way. But he didn’t, any more than the authors of that mythology did, and today’s Christians don’t really want to change anything much either. Effecting real change would involve all kinds of rewrites to fundamental ideas they hold about how relationships and societies should operate. Just the idea of inviolable personal bodily consent would wreck their entire conceptualization of marriage and childrearing! Now imagine the damage that other progressive values would do to fundagelical society!
So they can’t really make any wide-scale changes to how they operate. Instead, they’re going the other route by pretending that “Bad Christians” are so vanishingly rare that they don’t invalidate the tribe’s grabs for control over other people’s lives.
What they’re pushing is an illusion of utopia here, one that has never been true but which many right-wing Christians imagine used to be true before the mean ole atheists and feminists took all their toys away. I’ve called it “Mayberry Christianity” in the past, and I’ve heard some big-name evangelical Christians use the term as well.
They have a longing for this mythical time when their rules actually did work, and they think that all they have to do to get that time back again is to somehow get their rules back in place over everyone in their culture. They’re so eager to get that utopia back that they’re willing to ignore and overlook all manner of trouble caused because their rules don’t work. They want that illusion more than they want reality.
It’s been that way for a while now. The Happy Christian Illusion is something I saw in force even back when I was a Christian. In my marriage, I often acted like everything was totally great when it wasn’t. I felt queasy about that dishonesty, but the doctrine of “speaking truth to power” lulled me. If I acted like the promise was already fulfilled, then “God” would fulfill it more readily. Now I think that’s an awful way to go through life, and I refuse to fake it till I make it. But back then, that doctrine kept people who were otherwise very honest quiet about stuff that they should have been screaming their heads off about.
This illusion is what keeps churches shuffling predators from place to place, quieting abuse victims, quelling rumors, and staying silent when loudness is needed. If they don’t do all that, then the truth will come out that their system isn’t actually all that great, that very few of them actually believe a single word about their religion’s threats and claims, and that their leaders don’t deserve any power over anybody else.
They’d rather grab for control than live in a way that indicates they actually believe the nonsense they peddle to others.
They’d rather deny the evil deeds occurring in their groups or plaster over them with platitudes than address them with the full-scale attention and overhaul needed to fix the problems in their culture that led to such evil being possible.
The Least of These Cry Out For Justice.
When you see abusers and predators getting moved from place to place without coming to justice, when you see abuse victims silenced, you’re seeing a broken system–whether you’re looking at Christianity, American law enforcement groups, or any other group claiming a moral high ground over outsiders. Be very careful indeed about buying into anything that a broken system’s architects, adherents, and leaders say about their group.
And be aware that nothing stops anybody in the broken system from becoming a victim too. If the group fails to protect “the least of these,” then what makes us think they’ll manage to protect anybody else? I’ve talked to many Christians over the years who think that they’re immune to such wrongdoing and would never be victimized or hurt by their peers, and who are heartbroken to discover that they’re wrong. People in power are never happy with what they have; they always want more, and they’ll hurt even their loved ones to get more. No low is ever too low!
Let us not slap the faces, either, of those who are suffering at the hands of Christian predators by pretending that their suffering is the admission price that must be paid for “the good” to happen, that they must be sacrificed in order to get whatever nebulous good we imagine comes from the group’s culture and actions. There is no good that Christian groups do that makes these cover-ups acceptable.
If right-wing Christians think that a god inhabits them and informs their morality, then I’m fine with holding them to that claim even while denying them any rights over my life. Their claim to effectiveness is one of the many ideological claims that such Christians make, and it’s one of the claims we’ll be examining next time — see you SundaySundaySunday!