I thought of that while reading Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment by Janet Heimlick (yes, daughter of the inventor of the famous maneuver), published by Prometheus Press in 2011. This is simply the best book on religious abuse and the total fundamentalist mindset since Father Leo Booth’s When God Becomes A Drug and Alan Peshkin’s God’s Choice: the total world of a fundamentalist Christian school.
Heimlich wisely breaks down her book according to abuses not denominations. Consequently, when you read some of the horrific accounts, you realize the sad but rarely disclosed truth that nearly every religious group has had an encounter with child abuse and its step cousin, collusion.
We first acknowledge the reality that Americans have a blind spot when it comes to religion.
The book explores the ‘rod of correction’ as used by proponents like Michael Pearl; the inbreeding of the Amish which has brought back diseases not seen since the 19th Century; ritual abuse which, on the surface, might seem misleading since most people associate ritual abuse with suburban satanists.
We’re talking exorcisms! The casting out of alleged demons. Malnourishment. Beating the devil out of them since corporal punishment will drive away evil spirits!
Sexual abuse and cover ups in the IFB (Tina Anderson) are dealt with, as well as scandals in the Jewish Orthodox, Presbyterian (USA), Catholics, Islam, and other faiths. Things certainly appear much worse in Middle Eastern countries where even the suggestion of abuse will result in an honor killing of the accuser.
The chapter on circumcision was an eye opener. Female circumcision, as practiced in the United States and Europe, was actually a result of Christians in the Victorian era. The goal being to remove sexual desire from women so they would not stray from their husbands. One of the most disturbing parts of the book is a woman’s testimony about how she has never felt sexual desire. She had been strapped to a hospital bed, hands bound, in order to prevent her from masturbating. You call this Purity?
Medical neglect on the part of JWs, Seventh Day Adventists, and the Amish are covered. We learn of women whose babies died in childbirth yet are trapped in the womb for days because no one has taken them to the hospital. It turns out the right to refuse medical treatment for your child actually began, not with a grass roots movement, but with heavy lobbying by the Christian Scientists.
One of the common maladies children of Christian Science suffer in Breaking Their Will are tumors forming from their eye pockets that grow so big somebody has to balance their head. Medical treatment is still turned down in favor of prayer.
Breaking Their Will demonstrates the creative lengths law enforcement currently attempts in order to protect children from abuse and maltreatment. I found it quite interesting how a Utah sheriff went into a polygamous community and put them at ease. The law enforcer said he not going to arrest them for polygamy but wanted to dialogue with them about abuse. Once the community became aware the only concern was for child brides and abuse, they agreed to take the necessary steps to set boundaries and age limits that would not affect their culture.
And at the center of it all, lies the abuse embedded in religious belief. Noah molesting his son. Lot having sex with his daughters. Both these characters, to this day, enjoy the reputation of being ‘just’ and ‘good’ men. This holy book has provided the blueprint for the ‘blame the victim’ mindset propagated by many religions. Even God the Father’s sacrifice of his Son leads to a familiar quote used by abusers, “God sacrificed his son for us, who are we to balk if he asks to sacrifice ours?”
Heimlich goes to great lengths to say that not all religion is abusive. She even states that exorcism, in some cases, might be therapeutic. In my experience, Catholic rituals minus the belief system is BDSM. Yes, that can be therapeutic, but let’s not throw abusive religionists a bone.
The most popular churches are not liberal churches. They are megachurches! Most popular worship centers hold fast to literal biblical interpretations. If the majority of Americans hold these beliefs, then many of these places are powder kegs of abuse waiting to explode.
Churches that do not abuse, most likely, do not take the bible literally like those in Breaking Their Will. Their version of Jesus is most likely as a good teacher who was killed for healing and what he taught. The resurrection is considered symbolic of his message living forever.
If our view of Jesus is as the son of an angry God who becomes a sacrificial lamb to save us from his father’s wrath, there will always be valid arguments for abusive ministers to keep their flock fearful, silent and enslaved.
Janet Heimlich heads a non profit organization called Child Friendly Faith devoted to making the public aware of abuse within religious circles.