Wednesday, January 12, 2011
PROTECTING LIFE AFTER BIRTH
PROTECTING LIFE AFTER BIRTH
DESPITE THE MANY GLIMMERS OF TRUTH THAT 1989 brought to us, the same year was seen out in Germany with an unexpected, and unsettling, event. In numerous Catholic churches, the bells were rung for fifteen minutes to proclaim to the faithful that abortion was a sin. In the midst of the euphoria at the tearing down of the Berlin wall and the growing consciousness among young people, we were thrown back into the Middle Ages--an era in which much of what we know today was as yet undiscovered, and which, anyway, had little interest in enlightenment.
Church bells have never been rung to proclaim the mistreatment of children sinful. They weren’t rung as Hitler organized the mass deportation of Jews throughout Europe, or as Stalin presided over the extermination of millions. And they didn’t ring as Ceausescu terrorized his nation, using its children as apprentice “Securitate” men, who would later open fire on real children. But now they did ring, for a full fifteen minutes, so that even more unwanted and later tortured children could be born into the world!
In disbelief, one asks oneself: Is it possible that the people behind such actions really are so clueless? Do they not know that no less than one hundred percent of all seriously abused children are unwanted? Do they not know what that can lead to? Do they not know that mistreatment is a parent’s way of taking revenge on the children they never wanted? Shouldn’t the authorities do everything in their power, in the light of this information, to see to it that the only children who are born are wanted, planned for, and loved? If they did, then we could put an end to the creation and continuation of evil in our world. To force the role of a mother on a woman who does not wish to be mother is an offense not just against her, but against the whole human community, because the child she brings into the world is likely to take criminal revenge for its birth, as do the many (mis)leaders threatening our lives. All wars we ever had were the deeds of once unwanted, heinously mistreated children. It is the right to lived life that we must protect wherever and whenever it is threatened. And it should never be sacrificed to an abstract idea.
Not everyone is capable of thinking in real, concrete terms. Many seek refuge in religious beliefs. In their weakness, they place their trust in “relics,” awaiting salvation at the hands of one stronger than themselves. Anyone who claims to be a strong and knowledgeable authority for such people, and to be acting on their behalf, has the duty to be conscious of the appropriate facts. If they aren’t, if they ignore or neglect that duty, claiming instead that their palpable lack of information and their abstract conceptions of “life” are sanctioned by God and practiced in the name of humanity, they are acting against life, by misusing the weakness and trust of the faithful and dangerously confusing them. The injunction against abortion goes even further: Consciously or unconsciously, it represents support for cruelty against children and active complicity in the creation of unwanted existences, existences that can easily become a liability for the community at large.
When I see the passion with which Catholic priests - men childless by choice - fight against abortion, I can’t help asking what it is that motivates them. Is it a desire to prove that unlived life, as perhaps their own destinies suggest, is more important and more valuable than lived life? Was that, perhaps, how the parents of those passionately committed to stopping abortion thought, though they expressed it in different ways? Or is it a case of seeing to it that others share the same fate as oneself? Both are possible. Both are dangerous, when people are driven to blind and destructive actions by the dead hand of their own repression.
It is, in fact, not surprising to find that those who are both victims and apologist for the use of violence and severity against children are often those who most passionately proclaim their love of the unborn child, i.e., the kernel of life. Abortion can, indeed, be seen as the most powerful symbol of the psychic annihilation and mutilation practiced since time immemorial on children. But to combat this evil merely at the symbolic level deflects us from the reality we should not evade for a moment longer: the reality of the abused and humiliated child, which, as a result of its disavowed and unresolved injuries, will insidiously become, either openly or aided by hypocrisy, a danger to society.
It is above all the children already born that have a right to life - a right to coexistence with adults in a world in which, with or without the help of the church, violence against children has been unequivocally outlawed. Until such legislation exists, talk of “the right to life” remains not only a mockery of humanity but a contribution to its destruction.
Few countries in Europe have, in fact, made parental violence against children a criminal act. Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and recently, Austria have done so. The largest European countries, however - France, Great Britain, and Germany - still refuse to enact such legislation. Their argument against it employs the familiar language of pedagogy. It is, they say, “in the interest of the child” not to have such laws. It is even claimed that the mistreatment of children would increase if parents were to be threatened with prosecution. In my book Banished Knowledge, I analyzed in detail the motives and reasons behind such arguments in connection with the writing of a number of “professional helpers,” so I will not go into it again here. Suffice it to say ten years’ experience in Sweden has proved precisely the opposite. The law against corporal punishment, introduced ten years ago in Sweden, has set in motion an irreversible process that sets that country apart from its European neighbors. Thanks to that legislation, the fact that the physical maltreatment of children is a manifestly criminal act has now become anchored in the consciousness of the Swedish people. Which is not to say criminality has been abolished overnight as a result of such legislation. It does mean, however, that only a small minority of the population, through their ignorance, furthers the cause of criminality. There is, for instance, a religious sect in Sweden that counsels the use of physical force against children with recourse to biblical precedent. But in the society at large such views win few friends. In the eyes of the aware majority, such a sect is merely a destructive fringe element.
In the most powerful European countries, however, the situation is quite different. There, only a minority is committed to the abolition of child abuse. The majority, drawing on a long tradition, rest comfortably in the conviction that the use of force is the best way of rearing children. Peter Newell, founder of the organization EPPOCH, has reported in his book Children Are People, Too (London, 1989) that since legislation was introduced in Sweden only one case----involving a father, and punished with a small fine---has come before the courts. And though such information needs to be supplemented by other data, it nonetheless appears perfectly logical that a criminal act is committed less often when it is made illegal than when it is permitted. Why, then, do the powers-that-be go on ignoring this self-evident logic, two hundred years after the declaration of human rights? Why is it still not illegal to hit a defenseless child when it is an indictable offense to strike a grownup---someone who can, after all, defend him-or herself? How many arguments must still be mustered before this inhuman practice is finally, and unequivocally, outlawed?
Even if most civic authorities do not know---or do not wish to know---that their refusal to pass legislation only contributes to the growth of crime, terrorism, drug addiction, widespread psychic illness and the survival of ignorance, they surely have to recognize the indisputable fact that children are people and have the right not be beaten, as do we all. It is to be assumed, therefore, that Peter Newell’s initiative to change the laws governing the mistreatment of children in England will spread to France and Germany, thereby putting an end to ignorance of and complicity in this, the gravest of crimes against humanity.
I agree with Peter Newell’s view that such legislative reform would be of epochal significance. At last, victims of mistreatment would be freed from their acute, and paralyzing, guilt-fears---feelings that later prompt them to be in their turn the persecutors of others. By categorically condemning the criminal actions of the past generations, such laws would also enlighten the coming generation and help it to avoid the blind repetition of its forefathers’ guilt. It would also bring an immediate change to the way that parents behave.
Only then, when the law has unequivocally condemned the mistreatment of children as a criminal offense---making it punishable, say, with a fine---can a change in public awareness be expected. Criminality may not disappear in a trice, as a result. But such legislation will a least fill all those gaps in our consciousness that allow us to go on referring to such crimes as “socialization” or “upbringing.” It would set an important caesura, marking the beginning of a process leading to a real humanity, a humanity that would create the necessary conditions for fundamental change to our way of living.
The horror of Hitler and Stalin, and the way in which their deed and ideologies spread across the continent of Europe like a grotesque plague when I was young, taught me what price human being pay ---or make others pay---for their blindness. It also taught me that this blindness cannot be allowed to continue. Young people can today learn the same lessons from Ceausescu’s example and others---above all, that dictators, once they have established themselves, can, with the help of the technical means available to them today, hold in to power far longer than they could before and are more difficult to topple without the loss of many lives. Only under the favorable conditions created by Gorbachev’s courage to face the facts the Rumanian people manage to free themselves from the maniacal and destructive political machine one madman, attempting---and failing---to save himself from the fears rooted in his childhood, had created.
One of today’s tasks is to take preventive measures and thereby see to it that our children’s future is not left to chance. That can only happen if we attempt to understand and avoid the origins of the kind of situation that the Rumanian people were forced to endure for twenty years. And we must do everything we can to prevent similar situations from occurring. In the light of our knowledge today, they do not need to occur. Once the wall of silence surrounding childhood has been completely demolished, once people have access to the information they need---from the press, from books dealing with the subject, or in their own experiences in therapy---to explain how fantasies of revenge and the hunger for revenge arise, and once legislation outlawing the mistreatment of children has been passed, we will stop helping ignorance breed destructiveness and crime.
Then it will finally be visible to the great majority of people that a human being comes into the world as a highly sensitive creature, and that, from the first day of its life, it learns the nature of good and evil--learning faster, and more effectively, than it ever will again. Only then will we realize with horror, what these tiny, immensely sensitive creatures did learn, and learn indelibly, as they were treated like so much inert matter that their parents---our forefathers---sought to mold into malleable objects. Hammering at this creature as they would at a piece of metal, they finally got the obedient robot they wanted. In the process, they fashioned tyrants and criminals. The products of this process---those who managed to come through with a small part of their potential intact---spent the rest of their lives claiming that the mistreatment they were subjected to as children had not harmed them one bit. And how could it be otherwise, if they did not know how mutilated they had been? Many still don’t know, don’t know that they forfeited a wealth of possibilities as their souls---and that means also their capacity to perceive---were mutilated. Only their children’s children, who grew up with more freedom, will realize this in all its implications. Thanks to their consciousness and knowledge of such crimes in the past, they will be able to avoid them in the future. They will, I am sure, also do everything they can to counter blindness with enlightenment, knowing that it is just this blindness that enables ignorant and irresponsible people to climb to the pinnacles of power.
From the book: "Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: The Liberating Experience of Facing Painful Truth" By Alice Miller