Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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The spiritual revolution
Thursday July 09, 2009



DEAR MS. MILLER -- Thank you for your encouraging words and for your kind inquiry about my response to your letter of June 24. Your points about the emotional repressiveness of Buddhism (as classically practiced) and the current "New Age" mysticism masquerading as authentic spirituality are ones I heartily agree with. And when we look at Judaism (the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac) and Christianity (the sacrifice of the son Jesus by his Father) we see toxic attitudes toward children built into their world view. Not a very promising landscape to recruit support for a spiritual revolution based upon self-love, radical aliveness and healing the child abuse that perpetuates humanity's suffering! So I can well imagine why you question my optimism about gaining support for our spiritual revolution from such tainted waters.
Just to be clear, the revolution I envision will not need or depend upon gaining the support of the old religions. It's new way of being -- which is simply (!) reclaiming the joyful bodies and spirits we were born with -- will spread both from the excitement of coming alive and by awakening and harnessing our species' primal instinct to protect our children. As in all social and spiritual movements, structures will emerge that bring people together and nurture the movement's goals. In a future letter I will offer my thoughts about the kind of life-affirming institutions and rituals that could bring the awareness, aliveness and love of which we speak to the masses. And while I wish we could arrange for a critical mass of people (100 million? 500 million?) to do the kind of deep and searching psychospiritual therapy that would be most effective, nonetheless I believe that a positive social movement can be created and sustained that can gather momentum
through the generations and heal the plague of socially sanctioned child abuse forever.
While I am not emotionally or ideologically attached to the idea of enlisting the old religions in an effort to transform the way we see and treat our children, on a practical level accomplishing this would accelerate the change. This could prevent a great amount of suffering and with each successive generation the world would be a more sane and peaceful place. Billions of people identify with those faiths, and any success we have in awakening them to the plight of children will multiply our efforts. Since no one knows what the future will bring, we have more to gain than to lose by keeping our hearts and minds open to the possibility.
When considering the question of what role (if any) the old spiritual paths might play in eradicating child abuse, we need to remember that "religion" is not a fixed entity and that every Buddhist, Christian, Jew, New Ager etc. "holds" their religion differently. To some, their beliefs are a cult-like system which reinforces the bodily and attitudinal defenses against feeling and awareness. But the more typical situation is one where the repressive aspects of their church or tradition have only a moderate impact on the way they feel and act. Family experiences during childhood and adolescence are far more powerful. Also religion does not affect peoples' inner world to the degree it did in the Middle Ages or even the 19th and early 20th centuries. The waning influence of religion is acknowledged and decried by religious leaders around the world. Millions of Catholics have premarital sex and even abortions, both of
which are forbidden. Certain Christian denominations and Jewish congregations have come to support homosexual marriage -- a development that would have been unthinkable even 30 years ago and which directly contradicts scripture. Practitioners of Buddhism that I have treated in therapy here in New York City have willingly dropped their pursuit of deathlike inner stillness in order to release their pain and come to a truly alive inner peace.
All of this is to illustrate that the old religions do not present the obstacle they once did to a mass awakening about child abuse and its effects. The individual people who make up Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and the "New Age" are less hypnotized by their religions than ever before, and even large-scale institutions are rebelling against long-held beliefs. Conditions are improving. The question is: can we use this gradual weakening trend in religions to our advantage?
In envisioning what may be possible it is also important to look at history. What do we make of the fact that it was religious institutions which led both the revolt against slavery in the United States and the civil rights movement in the 1960's? When channeling the essential human instincts for justice and love, occasionally religious institutions can help a better world to be born.
I asked myself, "What caused the Christian church in America -- which once supported the institution of slavery -- to change so radically and lead the fight that ultimately abolished it?" The answer wasn't that the Church's doctrines -- or emotionally repressive function -- changed. Rather, society changed around it and certain eloquent individuals redefined slavery to their congregations as a moral evil. And so the people in those churches reinterpreted their religion to include a deeper and broader notion of brotherhood and love. Thus was a movement born.
Slavery was defeated not from the grace of religion, but from the unconquerable instinct for freedom and love which at a moment in time shone forth from the core and used religion to move the masses.
The permanent eradication of child abuse will require a greater opening of the human heart and mind than even the abolition of slavery. Indeed, our numbness in the face of slavery's destructiveness originated in the numbness about what was being done to children. Slavery's evil grip on human culture had existed for untold centuries, but in the end it fell. And the social and cultural institutions of child abuse will likewise fall, because the human heart will never rest until they do. BE











AM: Thank you so much for explaining me how you see the possible role of religions whose influence on the masses - you are right - -can't be ignored. As to your example concerning slavery we could indeed use the same argument maintaining that child abuse is a moral issue. The problem is that most (if not all) people don't consider themselves as abused but well (strictly) brought up. For that reason I rather speak about hitting children because these are FACTS that can't be denied. I am glad that people like you exist already, people who know how they suffered in childhood and so learn to love and respect themselves. I am also glad that you have the hope that we can pass on our knowledge to the masses. I had this hope 30 years ago, when I wrote the Drama. I thought that showing the truth can change so much. Meanwhile I became more sceptic or just more impatient after I discovered the fear of the beaten child in all of us that built up the omnipresent resistence against the truth. If you have time enough try to read my last book "Free From Lies", Norton NY, 3009.

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