Tarico: Some people would say that religion prevents child abuse – that a supportive spiritual community or a personal relationship with a higher power, or a strong moral core is the antidote to maltreatment.
Heimlich: As I state in the book, families generally benefit from participating in religious activities. Still, we are only beginning to understand how children are harmed in certain religious communities. In my research, I found that, in these problematic cultures, the good of the faith community as a whole takes priority over members’ individual needs, and this is particularly true with how those communities view children.
Tarico: Are some kinds of religious communities more prone to maltreatment than others? What are the patterns?
Heimlich: In writing Breaking Their Will, I felt it was imperative not to simply expose problems but answer the question: What makes religious experiences healthy and unhealthy for children? I came to the conclusion that children are more vulnerable to abuse and neglect if they live in religious authoritarian cultures. There are three perfect-storm factors that identify a religious culture or community as authoritarian: one, the culture has a strict, social hierarchy. Two, the culture is fearful. And three, the culture is separatist. The more intense these three factors are—the more authoritarian the culture is—the more likely children will be harmed. It’s important to note that it doesn’t matter whether the community is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim; whether people worship a deity called “God,” “Allah,” or “Jehovah”; or whether they read from the Bible, the Qur’an, or the Book of Mormon. Any religious culture has the potential to subscribe, and be subjected, to authoritarian “rule.”
A very important point. We’ve been learning about how it plays out lately from Vyckie Garrison and others at No Longer Quivering and Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism and the people at Broken Daughters.
I met Tarico and Heimlich, and a lot of other great people, last night. Not an authoritarian in the bunch.