Rod Dreher, in commenting on (and of course trashing) Mark Driscoll brings up this article on church scandals. William Lobdell, an LA Times reporter, relates how he lost faith after covering many instances of molestation. What really hurt him was that not only the priests, but the parishioners at Catholic churches where priests even admitted to sexual assault sided with the offender.
We hear about the priests and bishops all the time, but in decades of reading about this stuff I had never heard about so much support from the rank and file, or naming a parish hall for a known child molester. I think both Dreher and Lobdell have stumbled on to the same thing Fred Phelps did (here and here)- that the sexual abuse of children is widespread and frequently deliberately overlooked, even or especially by the “good people”. A child molester is a dead man, or worse, in prison but can pretty easily be a respectable citizen in polite society.
An aside on why this is possible- of course the pervert always goes to great lengths to portray himself as an upstanding citizen, so adults in power are inclined to be friendly, even if they are found out. And the victim always gets something- this is what is called “grooming”- partly as enticement to spend time with the offender, but also so that they appear to have voluntarily entered the relationship and voluntarily participated in the abuse.
Lobdell parted ways with Christianity. Dreher parted ways with the Catholic Church, and became Orthodox. Evil, and especially evil in the church, seems like a good argument for atheism. I will submit that it is not, if only for the purposes of not going insane.
If Lobdell is right, then we live in a world where evil pretty much does what it wants, and even uses respected institutions for its own purposes, and that’s it. Progressives have spent a few hundred years trying to create heaven on earth, and have failed. Evil and human failure are not to me reasons to doubt God but to refer to him even more.
Christianity has a simple hierarchy- God, who is good; Jesus, who is also God and we also regard as good, even though he said he wasn’t; and everybody else. No one else is good, or can claim to be good.
The church unfortunately is a giant security hole. What better place to find people to use and abuse than a church, where people are looking for authority figures to trust? And so Jesus and the apostles repeatedly warned against wolves in sheep’s clothing and false teachers. The church is an institution that must be aggressively policed. Qualifications for pastors and elders are set out. (The people who so despised Mark Driscoll and mocked his church discipline and qualifications for pastors and elders now find the same Bible passages most fitting to “clobber” him with.)
I don’t mean any of this in the sense of “nobody’s perfect” or “you should forgive people”, far from it. Even Lobdell says at first he thought the victims needed to get over it. People typically have very limited resources of empathy. I mean this in the sense that God will punish these people in the harshest way possible.
People have limited abilities to deal with evil. They just can’t process more than a certain amount, and so actually doing something really evil can be easier than doing something only a little evil. I’m sure the good Catholics of Rancho Santa Margarita would be outraged if they saw somebody without a placard park in a handicapped spot, but a priest raping a boy goes right over their heads.
Being nice people, Dreher and Lobdell can’t really let themselves see the total depravity of human beings. But as Philip K. Dick said, “Reality is that which, if you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”