Friday, 1 March 2019

Christian Abuse News - How Piety Provides Excuses

Matthew Lane Durham
Christian missionary, paedophile and multiple rapist
Oklahoma Missionary Sentenced to 40 Years for Raping Nairobi Children, Underscoring the Harm Done by Some Foreigners in Africa

The account of how Matthew Lane Durham, then 19, from Oklahoma, raped four African children in an orphanage in Kenya whilst working as a Christian missionary, is an illustration of how piety can be used as a cover for socially unacceptable activity, just as we see it used by Catholic priests and priests and pastors of other denominations.

According to this report from CNN, Matthew Lane Durham, 21, was sentenced to four decades in prison by Judge David L. Russell on four counts of "engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places". According to court documents, in the course of just 33 days, Durham "raped three girls -- ages 5, 9 and 15 -- at least eight times. During that same time period, he sexually molested a 12-year-old boy twice." Durham had volunteered for the Oklahoma-based charity which runs the Upendo Children's Home in Nairobi. The charity recruits volunteers from the Oklahoma Christian community.

This abuse of trust is just another example of the similar abuses now being revealed in one Catholic diocese after another across the United States. In India, Africa, South America, Australia, Europe, the Philippines, indeed anywhere where where priests are regarded as trustworthy men of god, there are regular reports of abuse of people in their care or over whom they wield power.

And nor, as this Oklahoma case shows, it this confined to Catholic priest (and nuns). According to this report on the Houston Chronicle, there are hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist ministers going back decades. The abuses are both homosexual and heterosexual, of children and adults. The only commonality is the the abuser holds some sort of power over the abusee.

The beleaguered Pope's only explanation of what's going on - it's Satan's fault for encouraging people to report it - of course misses the point entirely. Even if it were true, it does nothing to explain the abuses in the first place nor the institutional culture that saw the problem not in terms of what abuse does to the victim but in terms of what public knowledge of it does to the reputation (and income) of the church. The solution to the problem then was to keep it out of public view, not to address the root cause of the abuse itself. The problem was deemed solved if the cover-up was successful, even if the abuser continued to abuse.

The second attempt at an explanation is to blame others - in this case, those high in the religious fundamentalist demonology - homosexuals. The abuses of children are conflated with homosexuality, and the 'liberal gay agendas' is the cause for 'making homosexuality acceptable'. The fallacy of this reactionary excuse can been seen from two facts:

  • Many of the abused were girls and adult women.
  • The history of abuses now being uncovered goes back several decades, way before the decriminalisation of homosexuality and legalisation of same-sex marriages. The Pennsylvania abuses go back 70 years, for example. It's hard to identify a 'liberal gay agenda' in any study of the history of the history of 1949 America or Ireland. Even the 'permissive' 1960s were hardly noted for their Gay Pride parades. And yet the abuse of children and vulnerable adults was as prevalent then as now.

I'm becoming more and more convinced that there are two things going on here. The first and most obvious one is that abusive individuals go into the priesthood or seek out positions of power within religious groups such as the charity running the Kenyan children's home, specifically to gain trusted access to vulnerable people.

The second is rather more subtle and depends on the psychological process of moral licensing. Moral licensing explain why in so many contexts, religious people seem to behave in ways diametrically opposed to the stereotypical 'upright' Christian. Briefly, it's as though the overtly pious believe they have earned license to relax the rules for themselves. They believe their piety has put credit in the bank that they can draw on and still be in credit with God.

For example, creationist loons infesting the social media will lie, use tactics over substance, abuse, judge, threaten and condescend, display their intellectual dishonesty and show no sign of personal integrity, all without the slightest shame or embarrassment. The prohibition on bearing false witness; the instruction to love their enemies; the ban on judging others, are all put aside and discounted. The entire purpose of their conspicuous piety and supposed devotion to Jesus or Allah, seems to be to excuse their posture of the moral superiority over others and their pretense of scientific expertise.

Millionaire televangelists with private mansions and jets, who cheat people out of money and have extra-marital relationships in complete contrast to their moralising from the pulpit; homophobic religious bigots who privately bugger anything they can lay their hands on, believe they have earned the right to a little recreational relaxation of their proclaimed moral standards through their righteousness, like a short holiday from work where you can slouch about and drink all day without worrying about what the boss will say.

And recently, we have had the grotesque spectacle of pious fundamentalist 'Christian' preachers urging their 'flocks' to vote for the adulterous, racist, crook who boasts about sexually assaulting women, for President of the United States, and proclaiming him a gift from God.

There is no reason to think that priests and nuns would be exempt from this psychological process of moral licensing. In fact the opposite might well be true; they go into the religious life for the excuses it provides in term of what it can licence them to do.

More and more I'm becoming convinced that the primary purpose of religion is to provide excuses for people who need excuses.

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