Monday, May 23, 2011

The Similarities between Religion and Domestic Violence

Last week on Morning Joe, I heard Joe Namath confess that the tornadoes that visited death and devastation on Alabama made him question his faith momentarily. Fortunately for Namath he was able to regroup and hang on to his belief in God's innate goodness.  He didn't explain what he based his conclusion on but when I hear statements like this, I can never help wondering.

Christians remind me of victims of domestic violence. They have the same ability to overlook the negative and emphasize the positive in their beloved. They make excuses for the cruelty and give credit for the kindness. They blame themselves. If only they'd tried harder to please him....they must have failed him in some way to force him to act as he did.

I have often worked with battered wives. I took them to shelter as an advocate for Women's Outreach. I typed transcripts of their interviews with officers at the Sheriff's Dept. I read their statements as a legal assistant for the Prosecutor's office.

Later, even before I had time to call the safe house to check on their status, they'd returned to their abuser. Before I even had their interviews transcribed, they were in the lobby of the jail putting money in his commissary account. Before he even went to his initial hearing, they were begging the Prosecutor to drop the charges against him. Just like Broadway Joe and God.

Despite broken bones and betrayal, the faith of these victims was unshaken. He had his reasons. His boss treated him like a dog at work and he took his frustration out on her. He was drunk and didn't know what he was doing. She nagged him. I heard from a victim once whose husband had blacked her eye because she put too many cherries in the cherry pie! If there truly is the kind of God Christians believe in, a personal god who marks when each sparrow falls, he often seems to have reasons every bit as irrational as putting too many cherries in the pie for some of his actions.

No matter what the provocation, battered women are all about denial. The pain she suffered when he dislocated her shoulder was nothing compared to the joy she received from the apologetic roses he sent her afterwards - her forgiveness proved she loved him and the flowers proved he loved her too.

Same with Christians. No misfortune is so catastrophic that they aren't prepared to overlook it. Child diagnosed with leukemia? House swept away in a flood? Job loss leads to poverty? None of it is God's fault. Like the abused wife, they focus on the good things. If, after bouts of painful treatment, the baby's cancer goes into remission, then that rebounds to God. God is good! If your house is blown away by a tornado, all least everyone lived through it....except the ones who didn't.

It seems to me that you can't have it both ways. If God is all-powerful as Christians (and I'm not picking on Christians, I feel the same about all religions) claim he is, then he's responsible for the baby's leukemia as well as the remission (if, in fact, there is a remission). But why? An innocent child couldn't have sinned in a way to deserve such a fate. And if it was the parents who transgressed, would a loving God punish them by putting a toddler through agony?

It seems to me, there are only a few possibilities. One is that there is no god or if there ever was, he lost interest in us long ago so it's all random and arbitrary. We're on our own, muddling through this life as best we can, driven by an innate drive to procreate and maintain our species. Even that conclusion, though, implies that a Superior Intelligence is at the root of our existence.

The second is that there is an All-knowing Being who views us in the same impersonal non-interfering way a scientist studies amoebas under a microscope, out of a simple desire to learn how we react to various stimuli.

The third is a God with a split personality. He may give us a miracle one day and visit tragedy upon us the next, depending on his variable mood swings. That's the harsh Old Testament God we used to believe in although most Christians think he mellowed with fatherhood, (not that he was all that kind to His Son).

And, last, of course, is that there is a God with a rational plan which is simply too vast for us to comprehend, as staring at a one square of an intricate quilt does not offer the scope to see the entire pattern. This, I suppose, is the God in which most Christians choose to believe. This world is simply too frightening without faith that a caring, parental being is watching out for us, just as battered wives find the world more terrifying without their man than with him, despite his occasional bouts of violence. They need to believe he loves them.

I don't personally know which of these answers is right. Perhaps none of them are.