By Dorothy Dimitre
San Mateo Daily Journal
September 12, 2018
“All power is a trust and we are accountable for its exercise.” — Disraeli.
It’s the patriarch thing — still predominant in many institutions of our society. From many families, to the church, to government, men obsessed with authority and power mostly run things, people often revere them, and no matter how corrupt the patriarchs, there are enough people that cling to the father figure tenaciously and further their cause.
In spite of the advances of the women’s movement, in many areas patriarchy has managed to remain alive and kicking — and its destructive ramifications are often evident in the news. This is not only about the priest child-molesters, but the church hierarchy’s cavalier cover-up — patriarchal authoritarian mindset turned catastrophic. Add those who allow them all that power.
Many questions come to mind. Why were so many of the children who were sexually abused by the priests unable to talk about what happened? Why were the few parents who were told about it in such denial that they couldn’t comprehend? What kind of arrogance imbued the hierarchy who went to such great lengths to cover it up? Why was it more important for those in charge to protect the perpetrator than to protect innocent children? Do these priests and the hierarchy feel at all sinful because they betrayed people who trusted them as examples of morality, integrity and compassion? How desperate are they to protect their position of unquestioned authority? A clue: The Dean of the College of Cardinals dismissed the accusations as “petty gossip.”
How can so many people who live in a free society go along with any religion that is its antithesis? Doesn’t everyone know that giving a closed system that much authority and power is never a good idea — even when cloaked in the mantle of religion? Is believing that those aligned with religion and the church have godlike qualities and that they are beyond reproach comforting to those who can’t stand uncertainty in their lives? Why have we been so protective of the church that we have avoided the truth for so long? Haven’t we known all along that some of those who answer a religious “calling” do it for reasons other than we might expect — such as guilt, arrogance or to escape freedom and reality.
Erich Fromm in “Escape from Freedom” wrote about authoritarians of all kinds. “In a psychological sense, the lust for power is not rooted in strength, but in weakness. It is the expression of the inability of the individual to stand alone and live. It is the desperate attempt to gain secondary strength where genuine strength is lacking.”
So what results from this “secondary strength?” Brainwashing a child into unquestioning obedience to any authority may stoke the ego of the authoritarian and satisfy his abundant need for power, but the child loses his autonomy in the process — often the authoritarian’s goal. Many such children come to believe that they are not capable of independent thought and, in the case of the church, that those who are in charge are omnipotent. In this way, followers, including the children’s parents, aided and abetted the pedophile priests by going along with the patriarchal mindset of a church that should have moved out of the dark ages long ago.
Is there any better reason for children to be brought up to be psychologically strong, self-confident, able to think critically, aware that they are worthy individuals who don’t have to be glued to some deity, dogma or a charismatic person to compensate for the emptiness in their lives? Especially in today’s world, learning to be skeptical and being able to say no when appropriate is more important than ever. Learning to recognize and become wary of anyone who would exploit them (whether someone on the internet, a lecherous relative, corporate interests, a charismatic politician or the religious zealot) is essential to a child’s well-being as well as an adult’s.
It is helpful to remember what Alon Gratch, Ph.D. wrote in “If Men Could Talk” regarding patriarchy and its related conformity. “Clearly orthodoxy, be it religious, intellectual or political, has a vested interest in keeping its followers childlike. As long as they’re emotionally and intellectually dependent on the rigid truths espoused by a higher authority, followers are less likely to question the legitimacy of the entire system.”