When I was a child, I once asked my Religious and Moral Studies Teacher why we had to obey God. He replied that it was because God was the creator of the universe and Our Father. I pressed on, asking “How did we know that?” His answer was that it said so in the Bible. I asked why I was supposed to trust the Bible and he responded that I needed to have faith and believe in God. That line of questioning furthered my reputation as a problem child. I was often labeled as “too known” for having many questions, for doubting the answers that adults gave me, and for pushing to know more. I was also told by some adults that “some things are just the way they are.” Shaming curiosity and socializing people not to explore explanations for things we do not understand, creates a culture where critical thinking skills are stunted. I present the following case study as an example of the damage that failing to ask “why” can cause.
Failing To Ask “Why”
There are two problems.
First, is the victim blaming mentality. The disgust and outrage directed at the women was unfounded. It is a typical tactic of victim blaming, where we are taught to focus on victims of abuse and exploitation rather than on the perpetrators. Rather than focus on the manipulative actions of a pastor who deliberately chose to impregnate 1,2,3,4,5,10,20 women, the tweet sought to debase the women. Even if those women were stupid, it would still not be reason to attack and demean them. A person that takes advantage of stupid people is still a horrible person. There is nothing morally wrong with being weak, there is everything morally wrong with taking advantage of the weak.
Second, is the failure to explore how this could happen. Instead of inquiring about what circumstances that would cause such a result, the conclusion that these women were stupid, was presented as fact. Further explanation as to why this phenomenon would occur was immediately silenced.
Dismissal for any other explanations continued to occur.
Some even proposed that an analysis was unnecessary, it was clear to conclude that these women were stupid.
The failure to ask “why” perpetuates a lack of empathy. The capacity to understand why other humans act in ways we believe to be strange may not always be easy, but it is an important aspect of exploring the complexity and versatility of human behavior. Humanity’s vulnerability to manipulation and the role that religion plays is an intriguing occurrence. Rather than simply assuming that others who act in ways we don’t understand are “stupid”, we can ask questions that broaden our horizons.
A Pattern of Sexual Domination In Cults: A Few Answers
There are many reasons why people fall prey to abusive religious sects, also known as cults. Cults are often led by charismatic leaders that use a range of psychological manipulative tools to control and exploit followers. Cult leaders re-program, isolate, encourage dedication and dependency to brainwash and maintin control of cult members. As the Psychology Today article argues, similar to the military, cults often stifle critical thinking and individuality with a host of techniques. Techniques of indoctrination and mind-control that are so powerful that they transcend class, age, careers, literacy or illiteracy descriptors. Even outside of the context of cults, different psychological tools can coerce ordinary, traditionally intelligent people to do a host of things. Some of those things include signing false confessions to crimes they did not commit, or acting against one’s conscience to send mild electric shocks because an authoritative figure asked you to.
Sexual abuse by (male) religious leaders is a common occurrence in many cults. Cults ranging from FLDS to Children of God, had leaders who used sex as a tool for their own sick sexual satisfaction and the control of their members. Some cult leaders, in their arrogance, often believed that they had a right to reproduce with many members of their congregation. An example is a “Messiah” in Waco who had sex with about 400 virgin girls and women. While cults can and often abuse all members, women and children are particularly vulnerable to the sexual exploitation of cult leaders.
Basically, depending on what occurs in our lives, we could have been those 20 women.
Thus seeing a story about a leader in Nigeria impregnating 20 members with the Holy Spirit as justification should not cause us to have contempt for the women. Rather to inquire about what social conditions make the abuse of cult leaders possible and prevalent. We should always be curious about our fellow human beings, and the motivations of their actions. In my humble opinion, outside of experience, curiosity and exploration are good paths to developing empathy.