It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so — Mark Twain
Experience tells me that Twain’s words are wise. Heed his warning to reconsider and reevaluate your core assumptions and beliefs.
Most people in the United States were born into one of the monotheistic religions. The three most common are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I emphasize being born into a religion because our belief systems are planted into our core from birth — almost akin to a reptilian response.
Religion vs. Spirituality
Judaism, if boiled down, is about Righteousness; Christianity is about Salvation; and Islam is about Surrender. All three are core elements of western spirituality. Each share different “holy buildings”: Temples, Churches and Mosques. Each religion has a Holy Book or books interpreted with authority by Rabbis, Priests/Ministers and Mulah’s. They have different initiation rites, liturgies, languages and cemeteries. And each proposes to teach their youngest followers what to think and how to live a religious life.
But the spiritual life is very different. The spiritual life, in complete constrast from religion, demands that we question our basic beliefs, ditch the bad habits we have picked up over the years and consider that sometimes we have to go into exile in order to find our way home.
Questioning Core Beliefs
Remember Mark Twain’s words:
It is what you know for sure that just ain’t true that gets you in trouble.
Over the years I have discovered that most of the pictures of “God” or “the Divine” are what the Roman Catholic Church put in my head from the earliest moments of my childhood.
If you think about it, all the ideas and pictures of God we had as children were supplanted in our little heads by the Rabbis, Priests/Ministers and Mulahs.
Want to try an experiment? I suggest you talk to your kids, grand kids, nieces or nephews and ask them to draw some pictures for you. Ask them: What does God Look like? What if God was one of us? Where does God live? How does God speak to us? Draw Heaven and Hell. What Does a Religious Person or Non-religious person look like?
The pictures my kid drew made me stop in my tracks.
Ditch Our Bad Habits
Twain also wrote:
There are lies, damned lies and statistics.
One of the most common mistakes that survivors’ family members make is that they return to the same bad habits that resulted in the sexual abuse of the victim in the first place.
Often I hear the story of extreme disappointment from survivors’ family members that changing from one authoritarian religion to another produced no happiness, joy or personal growth. Because remember: If your primary religion told you what to believe and how to live your life, yet also allowed the sexual predator to access your minor child, then jumping to another authoritarian religion will likely produce a similar result.
The other common spiritual pitfall is going to a “trusted” priest because he is one of the “good” guys. If the priest or minister you are going to covered for perpetrators in the past, then you are moving backwards. The problem is that you can never know who the good guys are because thousands of good priests knew and remained silent. Plus, since most bishops still won’t disclose the names of many of the predator priests who worked for them, bishops have created a cloud of suspicion over every priest.
Look at the case of Father Tom Adamson in the Diocese of Winona. Only because Father Jim Fitzpatrick came forward do we now know the other priests who also knew that Tom Adamson was sexually abusing boys in the Diocese of Winona and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Bishop Fitzgerald, Bishop Watters, Archbishop Roach, Bishop Carlson, Father Schmitz and Father McDonough all knew about Adamson. I knew most of them personally as “good guys.” I was wrong.
Exile as the Path Home
What to do? My dad told me a story years ago that I now understand. Dad was one of the fortunate men to have survived the Pacific Theatre in World War II. Upon return home to his native southeastern Michigan, he completed college and started in the management training program at Ford Motor but he hated it. His passion he found was not on the ground, but flying.
Dad had to leave again and go to Texas for flight school. Upon return, he had to wait and when his “big break” break came, he had to leave again, this time for Minnesota. At the time, he said he felt that Okinawa, Texas and Minnesota were an exile. But in retrospect looking back fifty years he now knows that the exile was really the path home.
As survivors and families of survivors you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that what you thought was true, just wasn’t so. That big institutions and people loyal to the institution are sluggish (at best) to change. Finally, that sometimes we do have to go into Exile in order to find our way home.