The story is the archetype of the human obsession with violence against bodies. Is obsession too strong a word? Check out the daily news. Observe the violence in TV shows, movies, and video games. Violence against bodies is at the heart of much religious ritual and writing—Passover and Eucharist are at the heart of Judaism and Christianity; the Hindu Bhagavad Gita is a narrative set in war.
From a Christian perspective, the most hopeful theologies either re-read the violence against the body of Jesus as the end of violence (René Girard, for instance), or else as God suffering with all those who are victims of violence (Jürgan Moltmann, for instance). The former leads toward nonviolentism and seeking to reduce violence in the world; the latter brings comfort to those who are victims of violence, because God is the "suffering God"—God suffers in your suffering.
The worst theology—and this will be repeated many times this Easter—is that because Jesus suffered, suffering is made beautiful, hence suffering is good for you. Its perversion is that if I cause you to suffer—if I use violence against your body—then I am performing a necessary good for you. Violence cleanses. Violence makes you holy. Violence is for your own good.
This week Jane and I watched two movies connected in theme—The Magdalene Sisters (2004, Director Peter Mullan), and Spotlight (2015, Director Tom McCarthy). The Magdalene Sisters tells the story of four young women who were forced to work in virtual slavery in a Magdalene Sisters Asylum. These institutions (the last one closed in1996) were for "fallen women," women who were sexually promiscuous. Often their promiscuity was nothing more than flirtation, but included being raped, or having a baby outside marriage. In patriarchal, misogynistic cultures violence against women's bodies is de rigueur. The irony is that women who were victims of male violence were further victimized in institutions where bodies were brutally treated to atone for their sins.
Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe team that uncovered the child sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston in 2000-2001. The public exposure resulted in the Diocese of Boston settling a case of $85 million for 552 victims. The Boston story is the tip of an iceberg with similar instances of systemic sexual violence against children reported in numerous countries.
The Roman Catholic Church, in its own reports, suggests that four percent of priests (4,392) had sexually abused children (John Jay Report, 2004). The Church in its defense said that four percent is roughly the same percentage of adults who sexually abuse children in the general population.
These two movies are not entertainment. Both are informative. Both give you pause for thought long after watching. Both movies deal with the systemic sexual violence against women and children.
Spotlight hints that such sexual violence and body hatred by religious figures is a diagnosable mental illness. I am not a psychologist and leave that to others to comment on.
My thoughts have been about why a religion that is so moralistic about sexuality, the human body, and women's bodies especially, falls so far short of its own—for me, deeply problematic—ideals.
I don't know for sure, but I have found a hint in the Daodejing. In chapter 19, the sage says:
Throw away holiness and wisdom,Might is be that the emphasis on the badness of bodies and sexuality, and the resultant repression of normal sexuality, naturally leads to unhealthy expressions of sexuality, and hence violence against bodies?
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
(Stephen Mitchell version)
I have much to think about this Holy Week.