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.