Nelson Mandela said,

 There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.

I couldn’t agree more. Creating safe space for the next generation to find their way is the most fundamental responsibility for each generation. This is true for all of us, parent and non parent alike. This is the second part in a series on protecting children. Part 3 looks at how to teach kids about healthy boundaries.

Science fiction writer, Ursula LeGuin wrote about this in The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. In it she described a blissful city where everything is perfect and beautiful, except for one catch. In order to continue to enjoy the bliss and beauty of Omelas, one child must be kept in suffering and misery. When they come of age, each citizen of Omelas is shown the child and then they have to make a choice. Accept the price for their perfection or walk away from paradise into uncertainty, also known as reality.

We all have to make this choice. Are you prepared to let people suffer in order to protect institutions or will you break ranks to protect the most vulnerable? The way people protect institutions is by putting its leaders on a pedestal of infallibility, and excusing poor behavior at all costs. Whole worldviews depend on it. It’s a worldview built on a false sense of comfort. Life feels uncertain, so people become attached to certainty around colleges, religions and sports teams and their heroes. Worldviews that need life to be perfect are weak. Institutions that need to be protected are hiding something.

I’ve seen this in the church, and it’s not just the Catholic Church. Comedian Jon Stewart drew a brilliant connected between Penn State (after their scandals of recent years) and the church.

I get that it’s probably hard to believe that this guy you think is infallible and this program you think is sacred could hide such heinous activities, but there is some precedent for that — and just like with the Catholic Church, no one’s trying to take away your religion, in this case football, they’re just trying to bring some accountability to a pope and some of his cardinals who (messed) up. So don’t worry, on Saturday you’ll still get to go to services against Nebraska; no one’s gonna take that away. ‘Cause obviously you’re young and that would be a traumatic experience — and we wouldn’t want that memory to scar you for life.

Institutions have a way of closing ranks and protecting their own. I experienced it in the Anglican (Episcopal) church where known pedophiles were moved from parish to parish, and even country to country, to avoid dealing with the issue. As a local pastor, I met with individuals who were trying to heal their lives. I met with Bishops and advocated on their behalf, and most likely tainted my institutional reputation. But the healing of people abused by power is so much more important than reputation or institutional protection.

This is one of the reasons why I prefer to be outside of mainstream religion. Religion does many good things for people and society. The majority of religious leaders, and college football coaches, are people of integrity. But for me, to stay in the institution is to perpetuate a system where it is too easy for children to be abused and too common for people to be brainwashed by the few who need power to feed their egos.

This statement from the musician Sting sums it up for me-

I don’t have a problem with God. I have a problem with religion. I’ve chosen to live my life without the certainties of religious faith. I think they’re dangerous. Music is something that gives my life value and spiritual solace.

Music, children, nature, integrity, personal responsibility, intuition- these are some of the priorities in my life that are better served outside of mainstream religion. Others can try to reform the institution from inside. I choose to walk away from Omelas, where I live face to face with the sometimes stark reality of life. Away from Omelas, I take responsibility for my actions and the more self aware I become, the more attuned I feel to the suffering of those who are still learning who they are and finding their way in the world. Children deserve the right to do so in safety and free from the perversions of power hungry adults. This is an issue of the utmost seriousness. The soul of society is at stake.

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  1. [...] put boundaries on their trust? How do those who have been abused, heal and move on? How do we rid institutions like the church and college football cultures of this disgusting abuse of power? How do we learn to [...]

  2. Pensacola Helene says:

    I can see your perspective on organized religion, but its not the religion per se, its the people. Unless you internalize your faith, such as the Christian faith, which I am a part of) it might as well be no religion at all. The love of God must become a lifestyle, not a cloak to hide misappropriate behavior. It’s the people, who use the religion, that gives it a bad rap. Some of the principles of different religious organizations do not condone this kind of behavior at all. It’s too bad that many people feel the way you do, because of this kind of behavior, but truly I can understand it. However, there are some people, who believe in living out the faith they profess.

  3. ian says:

    thanks for your comment. I agree with you that its people who act badly, but some institutions make it more likely that this will happen, or else protect those who act badly.
    Like you say, there are lots of people who act with integrity and lots of institutions that are honorable. We should be careful about generalizations. Thanks for your perspective

  4. Sandra says:

    Once you have a leadership position within the church you see the warts and all.  The questions raised are can you live with the warts and can you get rid of the warts?  They are personal questions of integrity.
    Unfortunately organisations can become the object of preservation rather than the reason for the forming of that organisations.  When this happens the preservation of the organisation can possibly come before people, even children.  In the church the belief in the goodness of the foundation can create  blinkers on personal and institutional corruption.
    This goes back to the above questions.  It also begs the question that people, when they gather, whether on-line or physically, create an organisation – it’s a no win situation – we can only turn to God.

  5. Watershedd says:

    You have it there in a nutshell. Good morals and ethical behaviour can and do exist beyond religion. When dogma prevents freedom of thought and stifles the actions of those who would break from the tradition of taboo, virtue is nothing but a concept relegated to history. Your commented above, Sandra, is quite right. We can only turn to God.

  6. missrc1 says:

    religion is simply a belief system that is practiced devotedly – it has come to be a label for those whose object of their belief is God or supreme creator – all belief’s systems have a central object – for example brushing your teeth is something we all do devotedly because we believe it prevents cavities and freshens our breathe – Oxford’s dictionary uses football as an example of religion [believe it or not] http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/religion

    it is just as much a religious belief to label those of a denominational religion “religious” as it is for non-denominational, atheists, and agnostics  – which makes us all hypocrites when we label any one belief system “religious” because we all have opinions and those are what we believe – its all based on relative/subjective truth – which isn’t “the truth” or that would render the meaning of truth meaningless – something is either believed to be true – which is knowledge gained from experience – or something is true-in-itself – axiomatic – belief systems ARE NOT axiomatic but the object becomes as an axiom for the one who has made this object the central part of his belief system – and the system is developed though logical deductions that justify their central object as a truth but is merely giving thr false appearance of truth through validity – in so far as an any object is asserted it can be validated by its results [deductions] because they are causally related – but that in no way proves the assertion is true, which is the object and premise of everyone’s belief system.

    A belief system is one’s “Tower of Babel” as they builds around a central object as they must believe that in some way that object will supply a need - why else would one believe in it and why else would one justify it by using as good reason to do what one does [practice devotedly]? This is the perfect exmample of the blind guide leading the blind – for all who follow another’s belief system because they can argue a good syllogism have been duped by the false appearances gained through logic and its ability to manipulate impressive sounding words – that the uneducated seem to mistake for wisdom.

  7. [...] This is part 3 in a series on protecting kids. Part 1 looked at developing wise trust in kids.  Part 2 looked at the need to protect children more than [...]

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  9. Ian, thank you for your perspective. I love your analogy between religion and institutions, like Penn State. People are so willing to give their power away, which ultimately leads to the suffering of children. Thank you for being a strong voice for the powerless. I’m fighting the institution of public education in America–different institution but the same result–our children are suffering. People who say they want what’s best for children are really just looking for more money and more power. I feel like I’m fighting Goliath, but like David, I hope to sling the stone that brings him to his knees. I write my thoughts about education at this blog: http://educationreformation32in32.wordpress.com/ if you’re interested.