Bewilderment is sometimes religious: the horrors of child abuse

28-year old Melissa Huckaby kidnapped 8-year old Sandra Cantu, raped her with a foreign object, and murdered her. Sandra’s body was found stuffed in a suitcase, in an irrigation pond. When all the amazement over a woman (and a mother) being a rapist and a murderer was done, we are left with the tragedy, the terror and the brutalization that Sandra underwent.

Every day, all over the world, children are raped. Children are brutalized and beaten. Children are exploited for sex. Children are used for labor. Children are forced to beg – many of those are maimed so that they may bring in greater earnings. Children are sold into slavery and prostitution. And while we may prefer to treat this as a problem of poor brown folks, the problem is here too.   Children are starved to death, powerless, with food just feet away from them. Children are deprived of normalcy, innocence, happiness.

As a parent, as a religious person, as a human being, in witnessing such crimes against innocence, I cannot escape that horror that shakes me to the core. Having been raised in the “developing world” – as it is optimistically described, despite the tentacles that continue to probe its insides, I know how much worse the fate is that awaits victims of brutalization.

It is difficult, often, in the face of such agony, to face the world that contains such horrors. It is difficult to make sense of anything at all.

Many times a day, when I look upon my 4-year old daughter playing with bubbles in the bathtub, the intense and horrific images of Shaniya Davis’s fate pass before my eyes.  As I hold her to comfort her grief over a lost stuffed toy, I see the bizarre image of pimps kidnapping children, orphaned in the Pakistani earthquake. I cannot stop thinking about parents selling their daughter Sumayya (7) so they could build a new house.

I do not understand. I cannot bear to have my daughter shiver in the snow. Her fear of a “How to Train Your Dragon” battle scene cuts me to the quick. But there are mothers who force their daughters into beauty pageants. There are mothers who abuse, neglect, beat, starve and sell their children. But most mothers would lay down their lives for their children. A mother’s heart breaking for her child’s pain, fear, suffering, hunger, cannot understand – a mother’s heart breaking for any child because all children must must must have innocence, peace, happiness, play, food, sunshine, and free air. And too, too many children do not. I do not understand a world where children suffer, are brutalized, are beaten, are raped, and die terrible deaths.

As a religious person, this I find to be a mystery I cannot fathom.

Suffering can cultivate strength in some people. In the Surah of the Cave, we read of how Khidr teaches Moses lessons about the ultimate wisdom of Fate, teaches him how suffering and death may serve a higher purpose and may bring about ease in the future.

Rape and abuse, as far as we know, do not have salutary effects upon a child’s future.

With the scale and degree of suffering, misery, victimization that we see today among children, this is a hidden blessing in no shape or form. This is a grotesque, satanic, evil inversion of the very nature of humanity.

The revulsion that you and I feel when we hear of Shaniya Davis’s rape, or the little orphan Aisha being sold into prostitution is, I think, entirely religious. The horror at sharing species with a being who would use physical power over a child to force her into sex is not a “secular” or anti-religious impulse. It is an instinct that attacks, from the very gut, behavior that is unnatural, behavior that is the total inversion of what it should be – protective of childhood innocence. The philosophical incomprehension is spiritual, at some level. There are other ways of religiously processing such horrors and surviving their impact, but this is one.

But it is hard to not understand. The intense physicality of child abuse is of a nature that does not allow us to retreat from it. It’s not like famine due to natural causes, or like the destruction wrought by a tsunami. It is ugly. If we do not understand its occurrence in the same world that we occupy, how can we accept the world in which we live? How can we accept or trust or face fellow members of the human race, who would use small children in kiddy porn to make dollars? How can we understand?

As a mother, I have gradually come to the conclusion that it is not for us to understand.

It is not decent for us to indulge, to luxuriate in the ultimately patrician pastime of making sense of these horrors. A God’s eye view is not for us. The only option that remains for us is to fight these crimes, comprehending or not. Whether we can sociologically process root causes, whether success ensues or not, whether we can prevent one Huckaby from victimizing one more Sandra Cantu, we should not waste time pondering the damned shame of such lives and such deaths. Reflecting upon such things overlong, and comforting ourselves with explanations or fine chocolates, this is effort that should be spent upon fighting abuse, kiddy porn, war, poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, lawlessness, any of the potential factors involved in human misery.

This, I think, is the only truly religious response to such things.

2 thoughts on “Bewilderment is sometimes religious: the horrors of child abuse”

  1. This is all so disturbing.

    I’m starting a group blog soon, where people can join and write about causes that they care about. It will be a pleasure having you there. Please let me know if you’re interested.

    Take care.

  2. Koonj – commenting here after God knows how long? The topic of child abuse is something that drives me into severe depression. When I hear about children like Shaniya or Sandra, sometimes I feel that maybe death was a better option for them than what they’d have endured had they lived and had the abuse continued over many years.

    The horrific nature of child abuse is exactly what keeps me in my current agnostic state. I cannot square these acts with the existence of a fair and just God. And if free will is to be blamed for these acts, then maybe we need a more discerning God. Would any of us give a loaded pistol to our children?

    Anyhoo… not to derail your discussion. I’ve been reading Francis Collins’ The Language of God recently, and thinking along these lines. This post helped me articulate my thoughts.

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