A Sequel to The Forgiveness Fallacy
It felt like they were raping me all over again, but this time they were calling it healing and reconciliation.
– Sylvester G., aboriginal torture victim, after attending Canada’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” hearing in Vancouver, 2011
Torture is the perfect crime … in the vast majority of cases, only the victim pays.
- Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People by John Conroy
I have worked for many years with torture victims who are never called that, but rather are known and labeled as “survivors of abuse”. So why is this misnomer so commonly used?
Torture is a criminal act under the law; abuse is not. And so while it may profit the torturers known as church and state to moderate and minimize their crime with doublespeak, it is, contrarily, a matter of life and death for the tortured to know their condition for what it is, and to call it so. But for them to do so is a direct challenge to not only the torturers but to we not so innocent bystanders.
In The Forgiveness Fallacy, I asked why it is that our culture tolerates the rape, torture and even murder of children by so easily forgiving those responsible – especially when they occupy positions of “authority”. The answer: we are conditioned from childhood to remain battered victims by enabling our torturers at every step. Forgiveness, I concluded, is a tool fashioned from the perspective of the torturer, since absolution is expected to flow essentially in one direction: from the violated to the violator.
The devastating consequence of doing so, and of respecting those who harm us when none of their behavior has changed, was demonstrated in the closing paragraphs of my Forgiveness piece, where I described a recent, grotesque incident at the government’s stage-managed “Truth and Reconciliation” (TRC) hearings in Victoria, B.C.
The ones who raped and killed brown skinned children, or who protected those who did, received front row seats at this supposed “healing event”, and all the time they needed to publicly exculpate themselves. They were white men adorned with crosses who elbowed out the ones whom they had crucified. Those who somehow survived church torture got to sit behind the church leaders, and were limited to ten minutes to “share” their agony in the presence of those responsible for it.
Some of the victims took offense, to their credit. They called the church men liars, to their face – until, at least, they were silenced by “one of their own”: a trained seal named Murray Sinclair, who as top ab-original TRC Commissioner told the residential school survivors to shut up and “show respect” to the criminals.
After his command, one old native woman broke down and sobbed openly, “like she had just seen someone die”, to quote an onlooker. But the other victims kept their tears to themselves, crushed inside, their wounds open and flowing, like the silent accomplices they were taught and are expected to be.
One should recall that this debacle is occurring in a country where it is more of a crime under the law to possess six or more marijuana plants than it is to rape a child. The law, and Murray Sinclair, are speaking the same message: children are expendable.
And thus, the spectacle of a supposed “inquiry” into crimes against children needs to be understood for what it really is in a nation like Canada : not a process that has anything to do with actual truth or recovery, but in reality, deliberate psychological torture aimed at those who know the truth and may speak it, in order to disable them. This method is well known in counter-insurgency manuals issued during warfare.
Every aspect of the “truth and reconciliation commission hearings” seems designed to psychologically disable and re-traumatize survivors of church torture, by denigrating them, restricting and censoring their statements, and brazenly reasserting the authority of their torturers right in their face. The harsh effectiveness of this assault is evident in the continual tendency for the suicide rate among aboriginal families to climb whenever the TRC events come to their community.
In Canada, and wherever eyewitnesses to church and state pose a threat to the evasion of justice by the powerful, this kind of re-traumatizing is a sure-fire method deployed against those who are veterans of the oldest war in human history: that staged by Christendom – the corporation of the roman catholic church – against its perceived enemies.
The Vatican officially sanctioned the use of physical torture against non-catholics in the year 1252, to “destroy the body that the soul may live”, to quote one of the three “philosophical fathers” of Catholicism, Thomas Aquinas. The practice has never stopped, and not just against “heretics”.
Why the church so deliberately rapes and tortures children seems at first glance as morally perplexing as why it is allowed to do so by governments and courts. But in truth, such violence flows naturally from Christendom’s core “Original Sin” belief in the corrupt and debased nature of every newborn child, indeed of Creation itself: a belief upon which our society arose.
To suggest that our very innocence is in fact the source of all evil in us and the world creates an irresolvable psychosis within every believing Christian that breeds the kind of self-hatred that transfers itself onto anything innocent, beginning with our own childhood and capacity to practice empathy.
Is it small wonder, then, that the culture of Christendom has bred such violence, rape, and wars of extermination for centuries? Or that children have been seen in the European world as a permanent and unmanageable threat to society, by the simple fact they refute the very tenets of Christendom by being so innocent and untainted?
It is natural, then, that such little “heretics” can be assaulted and killed with impunity and clear conscience, since they are in the same category of the damned as any real or potential “enemies of the faith”.
As unacceptable a notion as this may be to some, the raw statistics of the continual enormity of child rape and torture bears it out.
The fact that church-sanctioned torture of children is so rationalized and legitimated by every level of our culture, and that “child abuse” is a non-issue in practice for most people and health professionals, is even more proof of the unconscious hatred that western culture holds for childhood. It is why, in fact, the sacrifice of children is unrelenting.
Very soon in my work as a therapist with victims of childhood torture, I realized that the whole notion of “survivors of abuse” was inaccurate and did not reflect what people endured. I began to refer to the “survivors” as veterans of warfare, and significantly, when I did so in healing circles, people began to sit up, gain confidence and speak more clearly about what they had suffered.
I can only conclude that something in my designation of them as veterans rather than survivors or victims touched honestly on how they felt about themselves, and what they had gone through. And the fact that they had all indeed been through a hellish battle and bore all the same psychological traits as combat veterans allowed many of them to begin naming their torturers and what they represented rather than dwelling on their own personal agony.
If it is true that “For any veteran, the war never ends”, it is equally the case that the knowledge of why one has fought and suffered equips veterans with a moral fortitude and psychic strength to endure their own suffering, even in the face of massive Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For instance, those survivors of Indian boarding school tortures who have read the laws and church edicts allowing them to be incarcerated at a tender age are far more capable of discussing their torture than those who act from a victimized, uninformed belief that their suffering was somehow their own fault or the result of bad circumstances. As one veteran put it to me,
“I always blamed my parents for being locked up in that hellhole, until I read in your book that it was a federal law to do that to every Indian kid. Then I didn’t have to hate my folks anymore. I could put the blame where it belonged.”
It is therefore hardly surprising that the government and church funded system of “therapy” for these same survivors discourages such knowledge of the historical reasons and the systemic context of their suffering, and prescribes an individualistic, a-historical counseling model that places sole responsibility for recovery on the victim. As one survivor describes it, “It’s like we’re told we suffered a crime, but we’re not allowed to name the criminal, and if we do, we’re victimized all over again.”
This system, I would argue, is part of a wider process of social and collective denial of responsibility for the torture itself on the part of the guilty mainstream society.
In his book Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, John Conroy describes nine characteristic reactions to torture by those responsible for it. These nine features could be an exact description of the attitude and responses of mainstream Canada – or any culture that wiped out another – to the reality of their own home-grown genocide.
1. First and foremost, the torture is denied: “It never happened – those are just wild conspiracy stories”.
2. Next, when the fact of torture can no longer be refuted, the extent of the torture is minimized: “It’s not as bad as they’re making out. Only a few people were harmed.”
3. As part of this trivialization of the crime, the victims themselves are disparaged and dehumanized: “They were criminals or unruly elements who needed to be treated that way.”
4. The torture, which is never called that, is portrayed as being a necessary act of defense that was some kind of prior societal norm: “We had no other way of dealing with those people; and besides, everybody was abusing children back then”
5. When the fate of the tortured is exposed in all its ugliness, those who take up the cause of the victims are attacked as “aiding the enemies of society” and causing needless social disruption that is “impeding healing”.
6. Another defense is that the torture is over and done with, and whoever raises it is “needlessly raking up the past and causing pain”.
7. A commonly employed “Bad Apples Defense” claims that only individuals acting alone, without authority, caused the torture; and that no higher authority or institution can be blamed or held accountable today.
8. A final justification of the torture is that far worse things happen in other places, and that relatively speaking, the victims are not so badly off and are not really suffering.
9. The final defense is that the victims themselves will “heal” and recover from the “abuse”, provided the torture is forgotten and the guilty are unconditionally “forgiven”.
And a final rationale, not mentioned by Conroy, is that the tortures inflicted on people were legal acts and orders which had to be obeyed because they were “the law”. I like to call that one the “Nazis’ Nuremburg Defense”.
In such a mainstream climate of systemic denial, where the guilty institutions effectively justify their crimes and absolve themselves from all wrongdoing – as is occurring in Canada – the torture victims have no means to actually recover from their trauma, since every level of society is telling them that their ordeal was not actual torture but simply “abuse”, and may even have been necessary at the time.
In other words, from the victims’ experience and in truth the torturer is still unrepentant and in charge, and can therefore safely strike at them again at any moment. Indeed, a dominant culture’s denial of its own deeds seems designed to maintain the torture survivor in a prolonged state of fear and dysfunction, precisely as if the torture is continuing – which in a basic sense, it is.
Must Torture Continue? Giving up Child Sacrifice and Repression
Wherever I look, I see signs of the commandment to honor one’s parents, and nowhere of a commandment that calls for honoring of the child.
– Alice Miller
Years ago, I spoke at a gathering of clergymen and women who seemed passionately concerned about “helping” aboriginal people recover from the devastation we have inflicted on them, even though these clergy were members of the very church that caused the crime. Eventually, I suggested to the Christians in the room that it would be far more productive for them to hold therapy circles for themselves and their fellow church members, starting with the church officials, since it was all of them who were responsible for the wrong.
In the dumbfounded silence that followed my words, I added,
“After all, what does it say about us as a people that we can cause the death and torture of so many children in the name of God, and never be held responsible for it? And that we never hold ourselves responsible? Shouldn’t that be treated as indicating a profound moral, spiritual and mental illness?”
None of them responded, and the topic was quickly changed. I was never asked back.
Aristotle said that to know any phenomenon, we must first understand its nature: its behavior is then predictable. When we finally recognize that the nature of Judeao-Christian culture is to dominate and subjugate innocence, and specifically childhood, the epidemic of unrelenting child abuse and torture in our midst will be seen as something much more than episodic and abnormal. On the contrary, child sacrifice has remained a template of western civilization, emblazoned in the archetypal image of the slow torture to death on a cross of God’s only child, Jesus.
Must it remain so? This is the heart of the matter, an insight and a problem with no easy answer, and perhaps no answer at all.
I say no answer because of the observed reality that no active empathy exists for torture victims on the part of those who would normally care. The victims becomes nullified and reduced to people without rights or even humanity, functionally dead in the eyes of the world: ones to be avoided at all costs.
Any rape survivor, political prisoner or whistleblower who has been demonized by official society understands exactly what I’m referring to.
The Romans can share some of the blame for this, for they invented the “win-lose” concept of end game: there can be only one victor, who is deified, and one loser, who is condemned for all eternity. This worldview was encompassed in a saying – “Woe to the Vanquished” – which has molded all western thought and practice for millennia.
Under Roman, and then church, law and custom, whoever was conquered, either in war or peace, lost all legal status and was declared “res nullius” – literally, reduced to a state of non-existence, or ex-communicato … one made mute. And thus from birth each one of us has been conditioned to avert our eyes and our hearts from, and to help silence, those who are targeted for destruction, or who have survived brutalization. Such people, who are the casualties of the powerful, have not simply been defiled, but been made invisible and of no account.
Since neither women nor children had any status in the Graeco-Roman tradition, childhood in the western world, like slavery, has always amounted to being in a state of nullification comparable to the condition of a victim of war, or of any conquest.
Indeed, the subjugation of each person’s innocence at a tender age is a precondition for their admission into society as a functional slave; and that subjugation is always forcible and destructive. The fact that most people psychologically adapt themselves to their forced subordination and nullification does not for an instant make the violence and torture any less real.
The key, then, to genuine recovery from such a regime of institutionalized repression is to foster an active in-subordination in the very place where each of us has been subordinated: in our very self-conception.
We have noted how people who struggle in daily, unalleviated conditions of systemic violence and unrelenting trauma rapidly become psychologically and functionally dissociated because of society’s requirement that they repress their own pain and experience to protect the guilty. That is, the battered ones come to reflect the operational insanity of the culture and persons who destroyed them. Learning to function as a sort of dead soul in this toxic wasteland of enshrined injustice is what “helping professionals” like to call “healing and closure”.
Naturally, any focus on the need to undo such subordination by refusing to adapt to this torture of innocence is a direct threat to not only such pseudo-therapy but those responsible for the torture, and the crime. And yet it is precisely such a challenge that the tortured themselves need to mount, simply by never surrendering their own voice, and truth: a fact that makes their pain and condition inherently political, and perhaps even revolutionary.
Within the aboriginal and sexual violence healing circles I have served for many years, when the veterans of torture reach such a point of discovery in their own recovery, many of them shrink from the next obvious step of seeing their trauma as a political and a social reality that must be dealt with collectively. The limits of “personal therapy” are reached, and a deeper and riskier response is required by everyone.
This next step could be called a form of group or transpersonal recovery that seeks to name and uncover the social roots of repression and suffering, and actually end the institutional practices that cause child torture.
How we go about such a monumental, generations-long undertaking is the subject for another article. But one taste of the nature of this type of collective recovery is found in proposals put forward by residential school veterans themselves, when they are asked “What would real healing be for you?” Their answer in many cases is the same: “Shutting down the church that hurt me and killed my friends”, “Putting the Pope and the Queen on trial” or “Getting back the land they stole from us”.
These goals, while hardly acceptable or achievable to mainstream Canada and its psychologists, are precisely what is needed in a genuine transpersonal or collective recovery program for victims of genocide.
By definition, such a radical program is an obvious political challenge to the status quo. If it is to be viable, such collective therapy must be linked to a broader movement to dis-establish a society that spawns and rests upon child torture and genocide, and create one where freedom and joy are the norm. How else, indeed, can we not simply mitigate the effects of our war against children and childhood, but abolish it altogether?