Recently the web has been buzzing with the news that the reality TV show “19 kids and counting” was canceled following a revelation that Josh Duggar was accused of molesting five underage girls. If you’re not familiar with the show, it is about a family who are members of the “Quiverfull” cult. Vyckie Garrison, who recently won the American Atheist award as atheist of the year, is a former member of this group, so your best bet for brushing up on their practices is to read her 2006 piece that was just republished in Raw Story.
In a nutshell, Quiverfull members don’t believe in birth control. They say that God will decide when you’ve had enough children. Wouldn’t you know it, it turns out that God’s schedule seems to be that women who are fertile and sexually active, and don’t use birth control, have a kid roughly every 18 months on average until menopause sets in. In other news, the Faithful have noticed that if you jump off a cliff, the Lord decides that 9.8 meters per second squared is the ideal rate of acceleration for you. If for some reason you stop accelerating and get injured as a result, you must not have prayed hard enough.
Anyway. Since this unfortunate incident occurred, lots of Duggar allies have rushed to remind people of what an important virtue it is for Christians to forgive and forget. For instance, Josh’s father in law Michael Seewald wrote:
The Seewald family stands with the Duggar family in solidarity. We stand with the unnamed victims of these incidents. Our thoughts and prayers are for you. I want to say to Josh, hang in there, the shame you feel is legitimate, yet Jesus took your shame as he was punished in your place.
Carrie Hurd, a pastor’s wife, scolded Vyckie Garrison on Facebook, saying:
When I was a kid, it was often called “playing doctor”, there were just as many girls initiating this kind of behavior as boys. Most of those never went on to perp horrible things. The Duggers, who I have never watched — am not a fan, did it properly and the 14 year old boy should probably be left alone to live a good life, just like girls who do the same thing. You troll the news for any little Christian misbehavior. Get a life! Go to Iraq and fight ISIS if you are seriously worried about women being treated well by men and society.
In summary, it seems like some people are paying mild lip service to the victims of the abuse, but mostly they are rushing to protect Josh Duggar from the bullies who are daring to publicly criticize him about it.
It’s kind of understandable because “forgiveness” is often portrayed as the central virtue of Christianity. How many times have you heard that “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”? It’s kind of the whole point of Ray Comfort’s entire “Are you a good person?” schtick. No you are not a good person, says the evangelist, and you deserve to go to hell. But don’t worry, just say some words about accepting Christ into your heart, and the problem is solved. You don’t even have to do anything. Jesus died on the cross, you are loved unconditionally, the end.
Maybe this is just me, but I’ve always found this attitude to be kind of unsavory. Generally, secular systems of ethics hold that an action is wrong based on how much it harms somebody else. Morality is all about the impact that sentient beings have on each other with their actions. If you kill somebody, the consequence is that somebody who was alive is now dead. That person can’t experience life anymore, and it also makes people who cared about them sad. If you steal something, you are harming the former owner of the property. And if you molest young girls, the young girls are the injured party. Here’s a point which I think is pretty important: Only the victims of the crime really have the ability to decide whether you should be forgiven or not.
Proxy forgiveness really makes no sense to me. If someone steals your stuff, and someone else offers themselves up to receive punishment, justice is not served; it’s subverted. The thief may feel better about being let off the hook, but you are not helped in any way by this other person getting punished. In fact, the thief may actually wind up feeling safe to commit the same crime again, because the message he’s received is that he will just get forgiven again, and his punishment meted out on somebody else.
And sure, Christian morality is all based around the notion of where your eternal soul will wind up, and your earthly life is considered to be just a transient phase that you need to push through and pass the test, so worldly suffering allegedly doesn’t matter. But when Christians ask that well known question, “If there’s no God, why would you be good?” the intent is definitely to scare you about the earthly consequences. Can we punish a Hitler? Can we keep out kids safe from predators? These arguments have no teeth if bad actors like Josh Duggar can count on being readily forgiven and welcomed back into the fold by representatives of the faith, just for being part of the tribe.
When Christians speak of “sin,” they are of course talking about an offense against God; although the nature of the offense tends to be nothing more than “Because He said so.” Atheists, not believing in God, generally recognize that a crime has to have a victim, and the suffering of the victim tends to get completely swept under the rug in the zealousness to protect the guilty from consequences.