Last week I was listening to an episode of This American Life about two women who were switched at birth, only to find out about it in their mid-40s—after they’d both grown up, gotten married and had families of their own. To summarize, there was a mix-up at the hospital in 1951, which one set of parents quickly deduced (from things as blatant as their baby weighed radically different from her birth weight). But, in typical 1950s manner, rather than bring up the error, the parents actually covered it up in order to not raise a fuss or, in the words of one father, embarrass their doctor. And so the other family went on for four decades thinking that they had the right baby when, in fact, they did not.
What a horrific situation, right?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the father in the story who didn’t want to return the baby is a pastor, and part of his reasoning about not correcting the mistake was that the whole situation was obviously the will of god for the girls and for the families. He psychologically bullied his emotionally vulnerable wife whose instinct was to return the girl to her rightful mother (as well as get her own daughter back) but like a meek, subservient and disenfranchised Christian housewife she went along with her husband’s wishes (Ephesians 5:22).
So one man made a decision for everyone, whether or not they even knew they were involved, based upon the inflated sense of self and moral prerogative bestowed upon him by his religion.
The agonized letter from this mother to her daughter closes: “I feel I must get this out in the open so you two know. How wonderful that you both are Christians and great workers in the church! Do let me hear from you. I love you both. Thanks, and Jesus lead you in this time.”
The father who coerced his wife into silence later contacted the other mother involved, to attempt to assuage his own guilt:
Jake Halpern: Kay McDonald began getting notes and phone calls from Reverend Miller. He told her that he thought it was God’s will this had happened. Even so, he asked her for forgiveness again and again. [To Kay McDonald:] He’s just outright saying, “Can you forgive me,” just like that on the telephone?
Kay McDonald: Yes, and quoting scriptures all the time for me to read to console me because I had said that I had shed a lot of tears. And I had probably all of the emotions that you have with death in a family. I think I went into a kind of a depression about similar to when my mother died. And so of course he was trying to get me to say that I had forgiven them.
This is so typical of religious types that I almost cringe or roll my eyes at how painfully stereotypical it is—the tendency for religious people to screw everything up because of the certainty that their religion gives them, and then after the fact beg for forgiveness for the harm done, all the while undoing the very apology by claiming that regardless of how badly they fucked up, god means it for good—if you’re willing to let him use it for your good. (My parents used that line on my sisters and me after they finally acknowledged the parenting mistakes they made when we were kids.)
So not only do they do irreparable damage, but then they further victimize by attempting to extort forgiveness from the very people they wronged by putting on a penitent face and claiming to have your best interests at heart when that’s the very last interest they have in mind. Which is not to say that they’re never sincere. No doubt the Reverend Miller is deeply sorry for the harm he caused, just as my parents wish they could go back and fix their mistakes.
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20, English Standard Version.
Compare that to what Doctor Pangloss says at the end of Voltaire’s Candide:
“All events are linked together in the best of possible worlds; for, after all, if you had not been driven from a fine castle by being kicked in the backside for love of Miss Cunégonde, if you hadn’t been sent before the Inquisition, if you hadn’t traveled across America on foot, if you hadn’t given a good sword thrust to the baron, if you hadn’t lost all your sheep from the good land of Eldorado, you wouldn’t be sitting here eating candied citron and pistachios.”
We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, King James Version), which illustrates how you can use the supposed omniscience of god to justify or get yourself off the hook for just about anything.
Going a step further, this gives the religious person the divine right to do just about anything if s/he believes that god is on his/her side. Inquisitions have been carried out, innumerable lives forever lost and ruined, and children tormented and killed in the name of god’s ultimate benevolence (among the many crimes of the Church). “We tortured your body in order to save your soul!” ecclesiasticals cry. “It was all for your good!”
That’s the rationale of Shift, the ape in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. In it, he makes a deal with the country of Calormen to sell the Talking Beasts into slavery:
“It’s all arranged. And all for your own good. We’ll be able, with the money you earn, to make Narnia a country worth living in. There’ll be oranges and bananas pouring in—and roads and big cities and schools and offices and whips and muzzles and saddles and cages and kennels and prisons—Oh, everything!”
Don’t worry. Sky Father god knows what’s best.