It occurred to me after my post yesterday that there are a number of different stages of abuse beyond emotional manipulation which are common in situations of religious authority exerting power over others. While they all follow the same pattern of trying to inflict being-for-others, I would like to go ahead and identify them outright. Part of the scheme of abuse is to make you question whether it is truly abuse and not a moral failure on your part for which you are now being punished. Have you ever heard, “This terrible situation is a result of your sin!”? This kind of language largely characterizes — but does not entail — religious abuse.
There are times at which it is necessary to intervene in someone else’s life, especially if there is abuse involved (hence why I created this blog against the many abusive religious figures of our time!). But before intervening, ask yourself, “Is the action I would take the only action which would cause anyone any harm at all in regard to this situation?” Take, for example, two people living together, unmarried. Is this ideal? Maybe not, and there are a lot of ways in which it could go wrong, but there is no need to compound their problems — if there are any in the first place — by inflicting your opinion of their situation and trying to force them to acquiesce. Maybe a few words of caution would be good, but leave them to make their own decisions and to disagree with your advice.
I’m looking at all of the controlling mothers, fathers, pastors, etc. out there that speak such horrible lies as what I remember a pastor once saying: “If you’re sleeping with a guy you’re not married to, and he says he loves you, he is lying!” Oh, is he? I can think of numerous counterexamples. It’s not even generally true. People who live together often do so because (*gasp*) they love each other. People who hook up on a Friday night do so because they’re horny and want to get laid, which is a very different and highly destructive behavior.
The many issues which my generation has with commitment notwithstanding, I do believe that a large portion of the reason that unmarried couples living together fail is because their families and communities do not support them or even abuse them as a result of their decisions.
Yet this direct sort of abuse crops up in more places than opinions of relationships; it may arise from any imaginable difference of belief, especially when that belief has a moral conviction behind it, real or imagined.
In this second stage of abuse, someone will have a belief which carries unjustifiable moral conviction. It attempts to hide its unjustifiable nature by appealing to a bastardized version of faith — “you just have to believe!” By not sharing their so-called “faith,” you have failed morally, and you deserve their judgment in the form of direct but often subtle attacks on your character, your choices, and even sometimes your livelihood. The fact is that this “faith” is not faith. It is a cop out to justify not having to question that which someone handed down.
They will make excuse after excuse for why they shouldn’t think about what they believe or even entertain alternatives in the slightest; their minds are set, and to think about an alternative is to flirt with sin, or so they say. Really, they say this. I’ve seen it, personally.
So if you find yourself coming up against this sort of opposition, this is abuse, and you should recognize it as such. Don’t fool yourself: their attempts to coerce you into a viewpoint are abusive. Open discussion can be a great thing, but when your relationship with other people hinges on your assent to their views, then this has changed from discussion to coercion and an attempt at inflicted being-for-others. Say it out loud; you might find it empowering. “I am going through abuse.”
Be very careful not to misapply this. If you overeat and start having health problems, those consequences are yours and yours alone; don’t blame them on others. If you have promiscuous sex and end up with a baby that you don’t know how to handle, that is yours, and you should own your mistakes. But if those around you abuse you because you had promiscuous sex or because you are overweight, this is not right. Abuse is still abuse even if the reason for the abuse is sin.
The primary two commandments are to love God and then to love others. If people fail at the latter of these, then they have also failed at the former. I believe very strongly that many abusive religious people — those who inflict themselves and their views onto everyone around them — will find themselves on the wrong side of eternity. I don’t care whether they assent to all the right beliefs; if their hearts are impure, God will judge them for who they are, not who they say they are.
So between parts 1 and 2 of this “Listening for Abuse” series, I have outlined a variety of ways in which religious abuse may take place in systematic (pt. 1: the use of abusive rhetoric) and targeted (pt. 2: self-righteous attacks) fashions. In all cases, the abuser attempts to rob the victim of his or her identify as an individual. We may be individuals living in a community with one another, but the individual must retain identity; we do not dissolve into the whole. All attempts to steal this away, to inflict being-for-others, are abuse. We should treat these as such and stop letting people get away with horrendous behavior just because they do it in the name of God.
Learn to listen for abuse, and encourage others to do the same. If we all learn to recognize these patterns, we will find ourselves in a more free, more loving world.