Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A prayer for Bobby. And the rest of us, too.

Apropos of several recent comments on religion, plus the Lifetime movie that's been getting a lot of buzz, Prayers for Bobbywhich I saw the other nightI've been thinking about the Afterlife, whether or not true believers are supposed to interpret the Bible* and its promises literally, etc.

Those who take a more secular view of religion and its purposeas well as those with agendas that don't fit neatly under a strict-constructionist interpretation of the Bibleare wont to argue that the Good Book is meant to be read more as allegory, or even an epic poem, whose bottom-line instruction for mankind reduces to the following:
Just be nice. 'K?
They'll tell you that Jesus and religion are really about the Golden Rule, and sell a vision of the Afterlife that's all about rejoicing and reward. In this schema, there is no penance or punishment, let alone eternal damnation.

That is not, of course, what you get if you interpret the Bible literally. Indeed, according to a key exchange that takes place in the film between the boy's mother (Sigourney Weaver, who delivers a powerful performance when she keeps her legs closed) and a priest who runs a church for gays and their loved ones,** the standard Catholic Bible, taken at its Word, isn't just tough on gays (i.e. the infamous abomination passage); you'll find sections, variously, where all of the following categories of people are subject to being stoned to death: adulterers, disobedient children, wives who weren't virgins when they married. (We'd have to tap the output of several large quarries just to work our way through one typical college campus.) There are a host of other thou-shalt-nots as well.

And we won't even get into the Qu'ran.

Sure, the more dogmatic views of biblical scholarship seem terribly quaint and irrelevant today. But then, what's the point of having a religion that has no rules and no penalties? Seriously. If the fundamental liturgical precept of your religion is, basically, "it's all good, folks!", then what is its point and purpose? How's that a religion at all?

Let's face it: Here in the U.S. especially, we have made "faith" into a big garden party where—much as with the self-esteem movement—there are no losers. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is allowed his own reality and his own way of life. That mindset is even visible in formal initiatives designed to make religion "more relevant" (of which the so-called felt needs movement is one major wing), in Joel Osteen and his "Church of Ralph Lauren," and so forth.

I have to think that all of this must cause some cognitive dissonance among some of us (particularly those who regard themselves as socially enlightened and want to "be nice to all," yet grew up with the Bible and its more pedantic teachings). It must, for example, be very strange to be pro-gay rights and yet also wonder: How does God really feel about gay sex? Divorce? Abortion? Will I end up
going to Hell for promoting this? In a wider sense: Are we all going to Hellas Americansif the real God turns out to be Allah? (Or even if he just turns out to be plain old God. Some would argue that there isn't much separating Santa Monica Boulevard from Soddom.)

We can have opinions about this and debate it left and right, but the fact remains that if there is a God
, and if He or She has standards (and what God wouldn't?), they are going to be God's standards, not subject to rationalization, not appealable to a higher authority, not get-off-the-hook-able via ruses like "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit." We're going to have to deal with having perverted those standards to our own aims and having breached them. We can nod smugly at someone like O.J. Simpson and muse about how "there's one judge he won't be able to escape," as Oprah famously put it...but that same judge may have a word or two for us, while He's at it. (Lest we forget, gluttony is a sin, too.)

==========================

Not unrelated: In my paper this morning is an account of the plight of 36-year-0ld Christopher Jester, pedophile and registered sex offender, who was rearrested the other day for having child porn around the house and on his computer. Though I shouldn't have to repeat this by now, I'm going to offer my usual disclaimer: I'm not saying what follows just to be difficult or outrageous. I'm honestly asking. So here goes: What is our friend Mr. Jester, who apparently gets off only on kids, supposed to do with the rest of his statistical 40 years on earth? Why can't the guy look at kiddie porn if he wants to? (There's enough of it already out there that no new kids need to be recruited into "that life.") After all, the major thrust (NPI) of the argument for gay acceptance was that "they can't help what they are; they're born gay." I don't know if pedophiles are necessarily "born that way," or if maybe something traumatic happens to them en route, but it seems clear that their sexual interest in children is deeply ingrained by adulthood, and that they can't help but be that way. In our society, who do you think would be that way if he could help it?

Now, we certainly don't want pedophiles hurting our kids and grandkids (of which I have four, officially)—but why can't we be a bit more understanding of their predicament? If you or I, as "sexually normal" people, had to go through the rest of life unable to indulge any of our natural appetites, even via private fantasy in the comfort of our living rooms, how would we feel? Just wondering.

* Of course, to say "the Bible," as if it represents a single, universally understood thing, oversimplifies and misstates the case. There are any number of Bibles, even in the Catholic church, and the various versions translate key passages differently. Which I suppose is part of the problem.
** I haven't looked this up, but I have no reason to think they would've made this up for the purposes of the film. Maybe some religious scholar can enlighten us?

32 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

"... the fact remains that if there is a God, and if He or She has standards (and what God wouldn't?), they are going to be God's standards..."

Which I believe would probably be devoid of the ego-centric "rules" implemented by every religion, primarily to enforce the supremacy of the religion, rather than attempting to achieve a closer relationship with the Divine.

As parents, we are prone to cutting our kids slack when they do something immature or foolish, yet many religions assume that God is less patient and tolerant than are human parents. Perhaps rather than attempt to define a creator on our own limited and agenda-driven terms, we might consider what "terms" a God would actually set.

We consider a controlling person to be emotionally flawed, yet insist that an omnipotent and omniscient creator demands absolute acquiescence of its creations/progeny. We allow our children to make some mistakes without fear of an angry parental reprisal, yet warn each other that if we do something that;s on the Holy List of No-Nos, we're likely to suffer celestial wrath.

Bottom line for me is the belief that if an all-powerful God who isn't inherently nicer than I am is at the cosmic helm, humanity would have been discarded as a failed experiment long ago.

Steve Salerno said...

Nicely said, Ron. I still think it evinces some of the self-serving perspective that we humans are wont to embrace when we're justifying our own personal outlook on right and wrong. (You don't often see people advance systems of religion or ethics that run counter to the way they live their own lives.) But that said, it's a powerful argument. And believe me, I can only hope that God--if he exists--is as you portray Him.

Anonymous said...

Why can't a pedophile look at kiddie porn if he wants to?

Gee - Steve - maybe that's because unlike adult porn, there is no way the child or children in kiddie porn could have possibly consented to being in the pictures. (Since they are not adults, they can't give legal consent.)

Pedophiles have a problem because the images they see do cause them to act out - they don't control their thoughts, they act out on them. And the children the victimize are often damaged forever.

I'm all for the execution of serial pedophiles. And that includes producers of child porn.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: If that's true--about the need to act out--it's a valid counter-argument. But I go back to what I've said before: We should focus our energies around punishing behavior, not mere thought. Let the guy look at existing kid-porn, if he wants, and do what he's going to do in the privacy of his own home. If he goes out and hurts people, that's another matter. (What are the realities here, btw? Does it help or hurt for pedophiles to have that "outlet"?)

And as for your final remark, I'm sure we could all come up with whole categories of people we'd like to execute. Some would nominate doctors who perform abortions. Some would say politicians/judges who abuse the public trust. Many years ago when I was interviewing people for one of my first articles on crime, a D.A. proposed to me that--if he had his way--any psychiatrist who offered testimony that caused a dangerous person to be released from prison, or even acquitted of a crime, would have his fate forever linked to that individual; so, if the criminal later killed again and was sentenced to death, the shrink too would be sentenced to death. (Yes, he was serious. And I bet there are those among our readership who'd second the motion.)

Anonymous said...

Steve:

You have more compassion for pedophiles than for women...

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I think that the mere existence of kiddie porn holds the potential for great harm. Imagine, if you will, that you were the "model" for such images when you were a child. Even if you had overcome the confusion and trauma of the experience, just knowing that there might be such images of you floating around could add yet another layer to your grief.

Furthermore, you know good and well that there's no such thing as "enough" of whatever is the central focus of our obsessions. The pedophile would always want fresh material to look at, and any kind of moratorium on "new" images would have no effect, save to create a new black market within a market that is plenty black enough already.

If somebody wants to sit in the dark and fantasize about having sex with little kids, there's nothing anyone can or should do about it. However, when the pedophile acts on those fantasies in a manner that involves actual children *in any way,* I think it's time for some aggressive intervention by law enforcement. So long as the pedophile is involving children's participation in his or her impulses, harm is being done, IMO.

RevRon's Rants said...

"You don't often see people advance systems of religion or ethics that run counter to the way they live their own lives."

I disagree. My actions are frequently at variance with my beliefs. I don't attempt to justify those actions as being consistent with what I believe to be "right," but I do attempt to modify my behavior and focus my thoughts accordingly.

As long as we're in a physical life, we're going to screw up. And at some level, I think most people are pretty aware of their screw-ups. I also think that most people (Hustledorks probably excluded) make at least some attempt to avoid those screw-ups, rather than just paying lip service to justify their own faltering.

And to anon 1:54 - I think Steve shows women - and snarky anonymi - a lot more compassion than he shows pedophiles. But I'm not here just to take pot-shots, so what do I know?

Renee said...

In response to what Steve said here: "We should focus our energies around punishing behavior, not mere thought. Let the guy look at existing kid-porn, if he wants, and do what he's going to do in the privacy of his own home. If he goes out and hurts people, that's another matter. (What are the realities here, btw? Does it help or hurt for pedophiles to have that "outlet"?)"

I would like to say that this is one of those times (no disrespect intended, just an observation) when you don't know what you're talking about. Since you're asking the question sincerely, I think, not just to be provocative, I can tell you that sex offender research, treatment, etc. has identified a consistent, predictable pattern of how pedophiles act out, a "cycle" if you will, and the viewing of child porn is a critical piece of the continuation of that cycle. Rather than being a harmless outlet, it increases the level and intensity of fantasizing, which then leads to the next steps in the cycle (looking for a victim, planning), and then eventually to the act of victimization itself. Putting restrictions on pedophiles when it comes to viewership of child porn isn't just some kind of schoolmarm control issue. It's an important part of keeping the sex offender from committing another offense.

Dimension Skipper said...

I'll stay away from the pedophilia land mines, thank you very much, but I just wanted to say on the topic of religion...

I'm somewhat fascinated by the fact that there are two books out there (and my browsing leads me to believe that there are other media concerns and related causes branching outward) on Heaven and Hell, specifically:

• Don Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven (©2004)
• Bill Wiese's 23 Minutes in Hell (©2006)

Both have done a subsequent book.

(I'm not doing links as anyone can easily Google'em if so desired and more stuff comes up than just the books. I guess if you're gonna spend time in either place, it's better to spend more time in Heaven than in Hell. And I can't help but wonder if there are any corresponding books concerning other religions afterlife scenarios.)

Both men, to my recollection from browsing them in the book store a a few months back, claim that they were actually transported (in some way) to their respective subject realms and returned.

I believe Wiese claims his 23 minutes were a vision-type thing (in that he didn't actually die), but also that he was actually there. Piper, on the other hand, says he was declared dead at the scene of an accident and then 90 minutes later "came back" when a minister felt compelled to pray over his body.

Again, if I remember correctly, both books seemed to describe their Heaven/Hell recollections in a chapter or two (or three) and then move on. In Wiese's case, I think he went on to try to explain his experience with Biblical references and research. Piper, on the other hand spends the bulk of his book talking about his physical recovery from his accident while relating his Heavenly experience to his real-life ordeal in some way(s).

I think Piper is a Baptist minister or some such, but I'm not sure and I'm also not sure if he was a minister at the time of his accident or if his accident experience transformed his life in that specific way.

I have no specific comment on either man or their books, but I find the concept fascinating on some level. Though I remain very, very skeptical about both accounts, I must admit there's a part of me somewhere inside which whispers, "But what if it's true?" Of course, that's the same inner voice that wonders about non-Christian religions and such issues as whether any one religion is "correct" or if somehow they all are.

Obviously (to me, anyway) there's the possibility that they're all complete bunk too. But if that's the case, then all related questions are irrelevant anyway. Only if one or more religious views is correct do the issues take on any real eventual significance.

The problem, of course, is that I can't seem to just know for myself. I don't like to assume that I was so miraculously lucky as to have been born in a country and in a family which just happened to put me in a position of having the right religion thrust upon me from the start.
_______________

Unrelated to religion, but definitely relevant to SHAMblog...

The comic strip "Betty" from yesterday and today deals with self-help book humor.

Steve Salerno said...

Renee et al: A quick scan of relevant materials online did not produce any material that I deem conclusive in demonstrating that child pornography causes pedophiles to offend. I found any number of studies that showed a clear link between pedophilia and the use of pornography...but that is hardly the same thing as showing a causal relationship either way (and it certainly doesn't tell us that pedophiles would stop offending if porn didn't exist). And the studies I found that appear to show the strongest correlations (i.e. the Meese Commission) seem highly politicized (like, say, those studies that purport to show that pot is a "gateway drug" to heroin and such).

I am highly open to persuasion here; as most of you know by now, many times I'm just "floating ideas." Let's just avoid the trap of repeating urban legend or offhand impressions. If we're going to try to make a case, let's make a case.

And by the way, I have plenty of compassion for women, and I've demonstrated it often on this blog. (This goes back to what I said some time back: You can't write anything critical of women these days without being accused of misogyny.) But do women really need my compassion as much as do pedophiles, whom we all basically abhor?

Renee said...

I'm sorry if you were expecting citations. I wasn't thinking of particular studies. At the same time, my comment was not based on urban legends or offhand impressions. It was based on several years of working with sex offenders, and the training I received and work I did with psychiatrists who specialize in sex offender treatment. I wouldn't be surprised to find that there are studies which do not support what I was taught (there are opposing opinions and stats on nearly everything, it seems). However, I didn't find discrepancies between what I was taught and the behavior of my clients.

Jen said...

That's a good point you just made about who needs compassion, Steve. Do the worst offenders necessarily have the greatest need for it? (Rhetorical question there.)

Going back to the time when I was reading SHAM (I finished it, then found this blog), I was seriously wondering about your personal beliefs, your life, ... you know, "what's this guy's story, anyway." You should also know that as I was reading, I kept up an imaginary and somewhat combative running dialogue with you. :)

Ever curious, I keep coming back to see what else you have to say. I am coming to wonder whether the difference between you and the self-help gurus might not just be a matter of economics. They charge $$$ and you do it for free! ;)

Anyway, here is what I came here to talk about. In your blog entry, you wrote:

If you or I, as "sexually normal" people, had to go through the rest of life unable to indulge any of our natural appetites, even via private fantasy in the comfort of our living rooms, how would we feel?

From my perspective, this is our reality. I don't think I'm sexually abnormal and yet I actually am unable to indulge my "natural" appetite for sexual variety. Now, one might argue, "Oh, come on. You could very easily go out and find a willing sexual partner." And this might be true. Yet I don't and I won't because I truly feel (there is a key word, I think) unable to do it. The consequences would be devastating, including the loss of respect of those nearest and dearest to me. I could not, would not take this risk. And it is this unwillingness on my part that makes me unable to indulge sexual fantasies that really do seem to be a natural part of my psyche. So, yes. I could almost put myself into this category you mention.

Edited, I could say I am a member of this group: sexually normal people who go through life unable to indulge any of our socially* unacceptable natural appetites.

I am guessing I am in good company here, too.

*When I say "socially" I mostly mean within the social structure of my family.

Rational Thinking said...

Steve, I don't know if you've read this article from Slate - from 2004 - but here's a link for those interested:

http://www.slate.com/id/2093582/

The articles discusses whether pedophilia is a disease - makes for interesting reading.

Chad Hogg said...

Ah, so much good stuff here. It is a mistake to make religion out to be a set of rules, regulations, and penalties. They often come along with religion, but religion is a set of beliefs about the supernatural -- in the case of the major monotheistic religions about a single supernatural being that created everything we can perceive.

With that said, I do experience the cognitive dissonance that you mention. As a Christian, I think there is wide latitude on the understanding of Scripture, that reasonable people can come to starkly different conclusions, and that the overarching message of the Christian Bible is that God loves people and that, if they are willing to accept His love and try to live their lives but what they believe His standards to be, they will be in His good graces. That does not mean, however, that we can mix and match religious beliefs and practices for no purpose other than to suit our agenda and lifestyle. With a good argument you may be able to convince me that your interpretation is correct, but there needs to be an argument.

A part of the Bible lays out the divinely-inspired laws of the nation of Israel, and they are strict in ways that seem laughable or inhumane to modern Westerners. There are some people who believe that these rules and punishments apply to modern Christians, but the orthodox understanding is that this is not the case.

It is reasonable to imagine that our interpretations are likely incorrect in some regard, and that the standards of a God are inviolable and inscrutable. However, it is impossible to not apply some interpretation, and thus every believer is left with simply a faith that the God they worship is forgiving.

Regarding your other point, it would be helpful to use consistent terminology. Pedophilia is not an action; it is a propensity to be sexually attracted to children. The action is child abuse or molestation or whatever. Thus, to talk about a causal link between pedophilia and viewing child pornography is silly. What I believe you intended was to question whether there is a causal link between viewing child pornography and committing child sexual abuse. I am not ready to accept pedophilia as just another sexual orientation that should be respected, but our current hysteria about the issue certainly needs to stop. There is a reasonable line somewhere between opening up our children to any predator that might want them and policing thoughtcrime. We are currently far to the latter side of that line, in my opinion.

Anon and Renee: I don't know what I'm talking about, and I would guess that Steve does not either. However, it seems that the same would apply to you. If "research has identified a consistent, particular pattern of how pedophiles act out" and you are familiar enough with this research to summarize it, then you should surely be able to cite several research papers in respectable journals that do indeed come to this conclusion. Until you do, you have not shown yourself to be any more qualified to write about the issue than Steve.

I wrote a few days ago about another news story related to child pornography. Read about it at http://sigaserver.dyndns.org:8765/~chad/wordpress/?p=218.

Steve Salerno said...

An adjunct to this discussion:

Is virtual sex with a virtual child a real crime?

http://tiny.cc/Dx5Hz

Elizabeth said...

That's a good point you just made about who needs compassion, Steve. Do the worst offenders necessarily have the greatest need for it?

Jen, you beat me to it.

Indeed, several questions arise from reading your statement, Steve.

First of all, what exactly is the "need" for compassion, as you understand it? Do you know any pedophiles personally and are able to see their "need" as it may be, or are you just theorizing here?

Second, by your reasoning, pedophiles, whom everyone (or almost everyone, to be precise) abhors "need" compassion more than their victims (who are not abhorred by everyone), right? Genocide perpetrators "need" your compassion more than their victims, etc. Is that what you're saying?

Anonymous said...

'Of course, that's the same inner voice that wonders about non-Christian religions and such issues as whether any one religion is "correct" or if somehow they all are.'

Very interesting questions, we are all interested in what happens to us after death-if anything. I think all religious thought evolved to answer those questions in some way. Most of us have a need to believe in some 'higher power'

For myself, I have no religious beliefs but I agree that all religions are 'correct' for those who hold sincere beliefs in them.

Belief itself is a very interesting notion to explore, we all hold onto an awful lot of unexamined, unquestioned beliefs.

'True Believer' by Eric Hoffer is a classic on this.

Anonymous said...

You know what really scares me? How so many vendors/designers pimp out kids. Why does this guy need kiddie porn? All he needs to do is look at some of these parent magazines. I have three children under four and a subscription to Cookie magazine. There was one little girl about six or seven modeling new outfits and she was all done up. It gave me an icky feeling just looking at it. She was not the only one I have seen like this. Remember JonBenet Ramsey's beauty pageants? Those pictures disturbed me too.

Steve Salerno said...

What I'm saying is that if one operates on the theory that human behavior is driven by irresistible forces (we'll leave the D word out of it here)--and I think that's surely the case with pedophiles--then it behooves us to show a modicum of compassion to people who, through no fault of their own, fell out on society's dark side.*

A tiger is a terrible, dangerous animal, especially (I'm told) in captivity...but my heart sinks when I see him pacing in his cage.

* Let me anticipate you: "Oh yeah? Well you wouldn't feel that way if someone molested your granddaughter!" Precisely, because human nature is flawed, and my own behavior in such circumstances would be driven by my own (deep, dark) lust for vengeance. Which, by the way, is why victims of crimes should have nothing to do with shaping legislation. In my view.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 6:21: One of the studies I was perusing online earlier said that a fair number of pedophiles never need to turn to "formal" porn; they get all the titillation they need from catalogs, other clothing ads, and related matter, including some of the fare given to us by our friends in Hollywood. And I should add that it isn't just textbook pedophiles who do this; I used to work with a guy (he had a very good, responsible job) who'd tape the Olympics gymnastics competition then go back later and freeze-frame "the good parts." This man was a father and grandfather and, to my knowledge, never had any scrapes with the law.

I am reminded of something I once heard from a male comedian: "If you women knew what we were really thinking, you'd never stop slapping us."

Elizabeth said...

it behooves us to show a modicum of compassion to people who, through no fault of their own, fell out on society's dark side.

I agree with that.

However, in your initial statement, But do women really need my compassion as much as do pedophiles, whom we all basically abhor? you implied that those who are universally abhorred, first, "need" compassion (you do not mention "a modicum"), and, second, "need" it more than those who are not so abhorred, say, their victims (whose behaviors too are driven by the same predetermined forces, if you want to -- so this is not a factor that sets them apart).

Is that your thinking on the issue, or was this just a quick turn of a phrase, so to speak?

P.S. I don't know whom you anticipated at the end there, but it was not me. :)

P.S. 2. This man was a father and grandfather and, to my knowledge, never had any scrapes with the law.

"To your knowledge" is the key phrase here, Steve, or should be at least. There are more pedophiles who never have scrapes with the law than those who do.

Steve Salerno said...

Once again I think I give up. I've said what I meant, and meant what I said.

A suggestion: I mentioned comedian Jim Norton in passing on a prior thread, but he's also highly relevant here. Anyone who hasn't actually seen him ought to consider it.

Elizabeth said...

If you women knew what we were really thinking, you'd never stop slapping us.

Ha ha ha!

Well... I'm not quite sure this is true. Again, this comes from this (strange and deeply flawed, IMO) assumption that women are not thinking that. (But, hey, what do I know, I'm just a woman... ;))

BTW, if you have not read the link I gave somewhere at the end of "infidelity" comments -- What Do Women Want? -- you have to now. You'll have no excuses next time to quote this comedian. :)

Elizabeth said...

Once again I think I give up. I've said what I meant, and meant what I said.

Steve, why so touchy? (Ron, my friend, still have some of those muffins left?;)

No need to get offended / exasperated -- unless you really have to, well then, by all means, go ahead. :).

That's just it, I'm not quite sure what you said there. The sheer idea of the greater "need"(?) for compassion in offenders than their victims is new and alien to me -- and I don't know if this is what you are indeed saying or what I'm (mis)reading in your words. Is all.

But alright, go ahead, give up, what do I care... (weeping silently)

roger o'keefe said...

I'm going to shock you, Steve. When I first started reading this, especially the latter half of the post I thought, "Here we go again". But the more I think about it and I see the ebb and flow of comments, I have to admit you make a strange kind of sense. I'm not saying I agree with you about feeling empathy for pervs. I'm just saying I can follow the logic, and though it's uncomfortable I can see your point. I guess that's why I and maybe a lot of us keep coming back, despite some of your bizarre perspectives on life. If nothing else it's food for thought.

sassy sasha said...

i don't always agree with you steve but i like the risks you take! in fact for once i find myself agreeing with roger, imagine that! LOL

verif word: monestat
excuse me!!

RevRon's Rants said...

What Sasha said... on *both* counts!

Anonymous said...

"This man was a father and grandfather and, to my knowledge, never had any scrapes with the law."

I've worked with victims of abuse and I can tell you that these "loving" grandfathers are often the worst offenders and are rarely brought to justice or even confronted by their victims. They seldom think they are doing anything wrong either, some of them convinced that they are doing "it" for the children, introducing them to "pleasure" or other such.

There are also signs suggesting to the unsuspecting public that someone respectable and seemingly innocent may be a pedophile. The guy you describe frame-freezing the young gymnasts' best parts falls in the category. May not be guilty, but I would not be surprised if he were. Another common sign is a man's frequently professed love of the children and a tendency to seek one-one-one "play" time with them (I'm talking pedophiles within family, those loving grandfathers and uncles). It's sad, but true. These men are usually, but not always, defending other pedophiles in public, or bemoan the overly strict standards of sexual conduct and such. They don't get that what they do is sick and wrong and usually feel unjustly persecuted by the unfeeling and harsh society. I would suggest that if you have someone like that in your family, start paying attention and monitor their interactions with children.

Jen said...

Elizabeth wrote: "BTW, if you have not read the link I gave somewhere at the end of "infidelity" comments -- What Do Women Want? -- you have to now."

That is a fascinating article! Thank you for posting it. I just now mentioned it (and you, and Steve) in a new blog post. :)

Elizabeth said...

Hey, you're welcome, Jen. Yeah, isn't it surprising -- the "narcissism" of female sexuality... LOL. The more we know...

Stever Robbins said...

Beware generalizing from your personal experience!

Anon 2:16 and Renee, I can't speak to your personal experience, but do note that you both have incredible selection bias: by definition, you work with people who have been identified as sex offenders by themselves or others (and presumably acted on those impulses). So your experience of their motives, recidivism rates, etc. all come from that population.

You do NOT work with people who have those thoughts but never act on them or tell people about them. So we can't generalize from your population to the population of all people who have those tendencies.

For example, imagine being an auto mechanic. Every car someone brings you is broken, gosh darn it. You might easily conclude that cars generally don't work. But you would be missing the four hundred million cars that are working just fine at the moment...

(Extra credit for statistics nerds: how might Bayesian statistics and underlying base rates be relevant here in contrasting the molestation rates of identified offenders with one-time acts by otherwise "normal" people?)

Note: I have absolutely no experience with pedophiles, either behaviorally or in reading research about them. I'm just commenting on the rigors of the logic being used in this discussion.

Victim or perpetrator?

And by the way, should we have more compassion for the victim or the perpetrator? That's a really interesting question. I wonder what the experience is of someone who spends their entire life having "forbidden attractions"? I'm not prepared to say that's an easier life than someone traumatized by a one-time or few-times event.

Anon and Renee: can you give us some insight here? At least for the ones who make it to your office (and there's still a selection bias here), do you get any idea what their internal life is like?

Elizabeth said...

Stever says,
I wonder what the experience is of someone who spends their entire life having "forbidden attractions"? I'm not prepared to say that's an easier life than someone traumatized by a one-time or few-times event.

I agree with Jen's comment earlier in the thread that struggling with forbidden attractions does not differentiate pedophiles from the rest of the human race.

We all struggle with forbidden attractions and each of us has to decide whether we want to act on those urges or not. Most of us possess enough fear, empathy and other inhibiting factors not to engage in actions that may satisfy our impulses but damage other people.

Would you have the same doubts and reservations if at question here was a serial sadist who loved to burn and mutilate his victims? IOW, would you be prepared to say that his victim(s) just one encounter (or "few-times event") with him, which resulted in a permanent disfiguration and damage, was less worthy of your compassion than the sadist life-long (hypothetical) struggle with his forbidden impulses to burn and mutilate?

To drive the point across (the point on the effects of one-time or few-times events of abuse and trauma): you may get into an accident that will permanently damage your brain only once, but that is enough to traumatize you for the rest of your life. Such are the effects of childhood sexual abuse in most, if not all, cases. The wounds and scars are often, if not usually, permanent, though not necessarily visible.

Trauma and abuse change a child's brain chemistry in permanent ways. The one-time event is enough for most to screw up their lives for a really long time, if not forever. You can read more about it here and here to begin, but there is obviously much more in terms of relevant literature, including both clinical and research aspects of the issue.

For more, see APA On-line and Adult Manifestations of Childhood Sexual Abuse.

You also ask,

should we have more compassion for the victim or the perpetrator? That's a really interesting question.

Only for armchair ethicists / philosophers, I'd say. For victims of abuse and their families, or for anyone with a functioning conscience, for that matter, this is a moot question. I can understand the armchair philosophizing here, but I think we need to get our priorities straight.

Your first impulse of compassion, if you will, should (yes, should, as disqualified as the word is in the morally relativist society) be directed toward the victim -- of any crime. Then, and only then -- after you acknowledge the victim's pain and damage -- you can focus on compassion toward the perpetrator.

The idea that perpetrators deserve (need?) more compassion than their victims is morally wrong (and abhorrent, IMO) from the human and humane perspective. By all means, be compassionate toward the evil-doers if you have it in your heart -- they may "need" it, after all; but not before or at the expense of the victims. It's a rather clear matter of moral judgment and priorities.