Throughout the last several years, it has been a goal of mine to expose abuses hidden under the guise of “religion.” Countless millions of people have no idea religious abuse is real, that it exists, or what it involves. For those who have experienced such abuse, it is personal . . . very personal. The trauma inflicted not only encompasses physical and sexual abuses, but it encompasses spiritual, psychological and emotional abuse as well. What many do not realize is that religious abuse, terrorism, and “hate crimes” are all related. Really take some time to think on this. Religious abuse is linked to domestic abuse, child abuse, inequality of the sexes, prostitution and sex trafficking, etc. The list can go on and on. Once you understand what religious abuse is, then you will understand why I say this. This understanding is paramount in recognizing the abuses for what they are – abuse – and, helping to stop them. When we can stop religious abuse, hate crimes, domestic abuse and other associated crimes will also dwindle down.
Before we get started, however, on defining this term in depth let me say that religious abuse is a direct result of religious indoctrination. Indoctrination affects thoughts, beliefs and behaviors toward others for either good or bad. Keep this in mind as you read further.
RELIGIOUS ABUSE – What Exactly Is It?
So what is religious abuse? In case there is some uncertainty as to what this means, let me be very specific in this matter and define it for readers, as follows:
RELIGIOUS ABUSE: The instilling of religious precepts, doctrines, rules, and dogmas into the mind of an individual or group in order to bring about a change in thought processes and behavior for control, manipulation, and personal gain. As a result of this indoctrination and control, it can lead an individual or group to slander, attack, assault or kill under the pretense that they are doing God a favor. In the name of God, they inflict harm or violence toward an adult or child that results in physical, emotional, psychological or sexual trauma. It may even lead to the death of the victim.
Religious abuse is a by-product of an authoritarian or rule-based religious system. Usually these types of religious systems give men unquestionable authority over women and children. The women and children, however, have no authority or input at all. The many rules and dogmas are set “against” women and children so that men can have freedom and control.
Some may refer to this type of system as “legalistic.” It doesn’t matter what term is used to define it. What is important is that the abusive system is identified and those abused in it are rescued and given the justice they deserve. Those who perpetrate religious abuse demand silence from those abused. To speak out will cause the religious abuser to further attack a victim.
Who are religious abusers? There are two categories of religious abusers:
1) They are those who use their authority and/or position in conjunction with religious text to persuade the abused they were responsible for the abuses done to them; thus, silencing them through shame while protecting the perpetrator of the abuse. This category of abusers will usually hurl one or all of the following abusive phrases at a victim:
- “It’s your fault. What were you wearing?”
- “God commands us to forgive.” Therefore you need to forgive your abuser. Don’t go to the police. Let us handle this issue internally. After all, we don’t want you to cause “damage to the cause of Christ.”
- “You’re just angry and bitter!”
2) They employ unethical and/or injurious tactics to silence a victim of religious abuse such as stalking, cyber-stalking, cyber bullying, harassment, causing one to lose their job, etc.
As a result, religious abuse continues to thrive and religious abusers continue to silence truth and allow criminals a hiding place under the mantle of righteousness their religious sect wears.
There are many facets to religious abuse. They are as follows:
FACET #1 – EMOTIONAL ABUSE
Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse leaves no physical marks. And because it can be difficult to detect, it is very difficult to stop. In this type of abuse, it is all about CONTROL. The one being abused by it is the one the abuser wishes to control and manipulate. It can be inflicted in many different forms as follows:
- Verbal Abuse – using words to inflict harm, modify behavior, or instill fear of someone or something.
It can be as subtle as damaging words between a parent and child, pastor and congregant, or between two congregants. It can be as subtle as a message preached with an “underlying message” aimed at modifying behavior and thought processes. It can be as overt as a message preached with the express intent of attacking a congregant or child’s behavior and publicly humiliating them. Or, it can be as overt as yelling and screaming with threats of physical violence. The atmosphere becomes one of fear, anger, anxiety or hostility.
- Isolation – isolating the victim from other family members, close friends, others in the church, and authorities.
This is usually done intentionally and is used to either hurt a victim emotionally or, isolate them for better control and manipulation. It is employed by religious leaders and lay people to bring about conformity to the rules and dogmas of the religious sect they are a part of. It is used to control others for personal satisfaction and gain. It is also used to prevent its victims from escaping the abuse and going to authorities for help. Isolation ensures no one escapes from the sect, its leaders, and those who are members of it.
- Limited Social Contact – severely limiting or eliminating social contact with others, especially those that can think independently or, believe differently or, live different lifestyles. Isolation from the rest of secular society keeps those who are indoctrinated from being influenced by outside sources and/or truths.
This is a deliberate attempt to control the circle of influence of the victim in order to ensure that the modifying and programming of their behavior is successful. Any contact with those that think for themselves and/or believe differently, can prevent successful indoctrination toward the sect’s rules and dogmas. This is a control tactic used by church leaders and congregants especially where children are concerned. This prevents autonomy and develops “clones” of the system. This also leads to severe bouts of loneliness and depression since this is also a form of isolation.
- Neglect – the failure to give proper and adequate attention to the individual’s need, problems, questions, and concerns.
Especially where women and children are concerned, this is a very big problem within religion. Many emotional needs are not met in a religiously abusive environment. Many will adopt the attitudes and behaviors of the sects they serve and often become unemotional, uncompromising, abrasive, lacking in compassion and, violent toward those who question authority, practice, rules or leadership or, disobey any of these. Because abusive religions degrade and suppress women and children, they are treated as having no value. As a result, their desires, wants, and needs are overlooked or ignored and only the desires, wants and needs of the men and the church leaders are deemed important. This is not only neglect, it is abuse.
- Threats – of physical harm, shunning, public humiliation, death.
All of these are used consistently to coerce adults and children into obeying “without question.” Those who do not obey without question, will find themselves on the receiving end of public humiliation, gossip, slander, beatings, torture, starvation, loss of comforts, and other inhumane treatment. Some may even be killed. These “threats” are no different than hate crimes. In my opinion, any abuse meted out in order to force conformity or, because one does not conform, can be categorized not only as religious abuse but also as a hate crime.
- Belittling the person – attacking a person’s character because their actions do not line up with the sects rules and ideals.
Belittling is used to force conformity and to deter associations with outside influences. Belittling can be used against a victim’s family members if they do not believe and live the same way the sect members do. This is done in order to deter the person from having social contact with those specific family members who believe differently and might question the religious rules, dogmas, and beliefs of the sect. This limits the sphere of people available to the victim who have the potential to rescue them from the abusive sect. This tactic is used on adults and children to cause them to obey leadership without questioning anything they may say or do. It is also used to humiliate a victim in order to modify behavior. While this tactic works well, it also can lead to anger, resentment, and a desire to flee the abuse at the earliest possible chance.
- Psychological Abuse – This is also known as emotional abuse or mental abuse and is characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Physical abuse, molestation, and sexual assault cause psychological trauma and abuse. Certain religious teachings can also cause this same trauma. For instance, the concept of hell is a huge trigger for psychological abuse; especially in small children. In the sect I came out of, there were videos that were viewed by the adults and children that showed human torture in hell. Some of the messages preached were also graphic in nature regarding this human torture. These were used to instill fear. This fear was then manipulated by clergy. Children can suffer nightmares from these things and live in fear of dying. It also causes them a fear of “breaking the religious rules” for fear of going to hell. The emotional trauma is compounded by the child’s inability to keep all the rules and their anxiety builds up to a level where depression can occur as well as other mental illnesses as their mind tries to find a coping mechanism. Those who cannot cope may attempt suicide to escape the mental anguish they are living under.
Emotional abuse has the same effects in every instance: it beats people down, destroys their self-image, stifles growth and maturity, destroys autonomy, self-respect and, leaves victims defenseless. Emotional abuse is specifically designed to kill the spirit within an individual and replace it with the institution’s ideals, precepts and dogmas. It is, in effect, “soul murder.” .
Emotional abuse also instills fear, coupled with an imposed shame and guilt from the perpetrator of the abuse. This fear then becomes an impenetrable wall that grows so strong it can take decades of therapy to remove. Emotional abuse is a direct result of a power imbalance and inequality. The number one weapon used to inflict this abuse is Scripture. Not only is it used as a baseball bat to beat people into conformity through fear, it is used to incite people to violence (hate crimes and terrorism) against those who disagree or question religious leaders, their religious rules, dogmas, church policy, or the abuses witnessed. Emotional Abuse also leads to the inability to cope with the problems and challenges that may occur throughout the life of the victim. Those who endure this type of abuse live their lives in fear of God, government, the church, church leaders, their abusers, the unsaved and, those still entrenched within the abusive sect they extract themselves from. Victims of emotional abuse may suffer from mental illnesses, depression, and addictions with alcohol and drugs. They may have eating disorders and suffer physical maladies as a result of the emotional trauma inflicted.
FACET #2 – PHYSICAL ABUSE
This could include sexual mutilation, beatings, starvation, burning, cutting and torture. In some instances, physical abuse can lead to death. Those most vulnerable to this type of abuse are women and children. It is used to instill fear to further the control over an individual.
In religion, physical abuse is used to control behavior. Every time the proper response is not correctly exhibited, the victim may be the recipient of public humiliation, physical spankings and/or beatings, starvation and loss of comforts. This is especially true with children. Not only is physical abuse done in the home, it is also administered by other kids within a religiously controlled environment. Examples would be a church run home for wayward teens, camp settings, religiously run boarding schools, church activities.
FACET #3 – SEXUAL ABUSE AND RAPE
This is the number one problem throughout the world. There are several forms of sexual abuse:
- Child Sexual Abuse – This involves sexual abuse, sexual mutilation, incest and/or molestation, and sex trafficking. Forms include asking a child or coercing a child into engaging in sexual activities, indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipples, etc.) with the intent to gratify one’s own sexual desires, or to intimidate or groom the child, physical sexual contact with a child, or using a child to produce child pornography. Effects of child sexual abuse can include depression, mental illnesses, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, anxiety, and lead to further victimization in adulthood as well as physical injury. This type of abuse is usually coupled with psychological trauma and includes the effects of this trauma as well.
- Sexual Mutilation – It is also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The age of the girls varies from weeks after birth to puberty; in half the countries for which figures were available in 2013, most girls were cut before the age of five. This practice is an ethnic marker, rooted in gender inequality, ideas about purity, modesty and aesthetics, and attempts to control women’s sexuality. It is supported by both women and men in countries that practice it. It can lead to recurrent infections, chronic pain, infertility, epidermoid cysts, complication during childbirth, and fatal bleeding. It also brings emotional trauma to the child.
Some countries also sexually mutilate the breasts of young girls by ironing them flat with a hot iron. The trauma and scars inflicted by this form of mutilation goes beyond moral comprehension and, defies conscience.
- Rape – this occurs with women as well as young girls and boys. Rape is a sexual assault against a women or young child against his or her will. Usually, you will find rape coupled with physical violence and/or death. This type of abuse is well hidden within most religious sects. It can result in pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, psychological trauma, suicide, secondary victimization, and victim blaming.
Rape and other forms of sexual assault on a child can result in both short-term and long-term harm, including psychopathology in later life. Psychological, emotional, physical, and social effects include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, poor self-esteem, dissociative and anxiety disorders; general psychological distress and disorders such as somatization, neurosis, chronic pain, sexualized behavior, school/learning problems; and behavior problems including substance abuse, destructive behavior, criminality in adulthood and suicide [Wikipedia].
The risk of lasting psychological harm is greater if the perpetrator of the sexual assault on the child is a relative (i.e., incest), or if threats or force are used. Incestual rape has been shown to be one of the most extreme forms of childhood trauma, a trauma that often does serious and long-term psychological damage, especially in the case of parental incest. Many incest victims suffer from mental illnesses as a result.
FACET #4 – SPIRITUAL ABUSE
This type of abuse, like emotional abuse, leaves no physical marks. However, its trauma is profound in the life of the one being victimized by it. In this type of abuse, God’s Name and/or religious text is used to JUSTIFY all abuse inflicted. Scripture is also used as a tool to force victims into submission to the dogmas, beliefs and rules of the religious sect. God’s name and scripture are the two main “weapons of choice” employed by abusive leaders to extract money, prestige, power, personal gain, and, to sexually exploit women and children within their congregations; thus gaining control in all aspects of their followers lives. All messages taught and preached have one agenda in mind – to control each individual within the congregation. Using deceptively packaged sermons laced with “underlying meanings,” religious leaders attempt to stifle creative thought, independent thinking and, instill new thought patterns and behaviors into their flock (Thought Reform and Behavior Modification). These new thought patterns and attitudes become the norm by which everyone is judged. Those who adopt the same thought patterns and beliefs as the leadership are “right with God.” Those who do not, “are not right with God” and are in jeopardy of being attacked, shunned and/or character assassinated.
Scripture is the number one weapon of choice for religious leaders in modifying behavior. People naturally believe religious leaders are speaking on God’s behalf. This belief motivates followers to follow all the rules and believe all the rhetoric preached and taught. What they do not realize is that many religious leaders do not speak for God. They speak for themselves. Scripture is also an excellent tool used to instill a fear of further punishment from God if a victim tells anyone about the abuse they have endured or witnessed. Again, as with emotional abuse, the same phrases will be employed. “Hurting the cause of Christ” by telling the truth is heavily discouraged. To speak out is akin to gossiping and many victims will be told this repeatedly and reminded how God hates gossip.
Spiritual Abuse can be inflicted without the knowledge of the victim. When it does occur, it leaves its victims in shock, hurting, confused and, yes, traumatized. They know they have been hurt, but justify the abuse because they don’t know it IS abuse. They think within themselves that the “preacher” is really trying to look out for their best interests and accept the abuse as “God sent” in order to bring them back to the right path. They may not even realize it is, in fact, abuse. For example: The sect I came out of used the pulpit as a whipping post to attack congregants publicly who did not conform to the rules and standards of the church and its leaders (public humiliation). They used the pulpit to attack publicly, those who questioned the pastor’s authority, disagreed with the pastor, or exposed abuses in the church. They forced children, teenagers and adults to stand before the entire congregation to “confess” sins – a form of punishment that leaves lasting psychological scars and trauma. Usually, these “sins” were nothing more than a breaking of one of the sect’s many rules. To do so, to the sect members, is sin. They used God and scripture to support inflicting this emotional attack. Therefore the trauma is two-fold – emotional and spiritual. The twisting of scripture to suit leadership’s agendas and long-term goals is professionally done in order to control congregants and reap personal gain. Those that do not question what is being taught, follow blindly whatever leadership wants done, even if it means inflicting more emotional trauma to the same victim (secondary abuse).
Sadly, spiritual abuse is designed to prevent independent and rational thought processes. It is the most destructive of all abuses because those subjected to it are left seeing God as an abusive entity that lacks love, compassion and acceptance. He is ever ready at any moment to hurt and destroy anyone who does not conform to the religious dogmas and standards of the religious system they are a part of. He is seen as someone who is angry all the time and ready to destroy at the slightest infraction. Because of this, many followers will adopt that very attitude in dealing with those who fall short of perfection in keeping all the religious rules and precepts. Some will adopt this very attitude with their children, leading to the emotional and physical abuse of a child. As a result of spiritual abuse, many victims fear speaking out because they have been taught that GOD will punish them further, or their children, or their families, if they dare to speak out against “God’s Man.” It can take many years of therapy for a victim of this kind of abuse to overcome their fears and speak out!
Spiritual abuse is also the number one reason multitudes of people are turning their backs on God, the religious texts, the Church and religion. Religion and religious texts become toxic to the spiritually abused. For many, it creates anxiety, panic attacks, fears, mental illnesses, and physical illnesses in those subjected to it. Just as the other abuses traumatize and have ill affects long term, so does this type of abuse. Those still entrenched in the abusive religion cannot understand why a victim would turn from God and religion. As a result, they “label” the individual and shun them, not realizing that they are inflicting secondary trauma by doing so. The victim being labeled and shunned develops a poorer self-image and self-esteem as a result. This may cause severe depression and can lead to suicide for many of those affected by this tactic.
Recognizing spiritual abuse is key in stopping it and extracting oneself and others from it. The lives of those suffering this type of abuse are devoid of joy. Many of them suffer depression. They isolate themselves from others out of fear and, once again, employ aids to help them cope – food, alcohol, and drugs.
Religious abuse is very real. It is very destructive. It has many facets. It leads to domestic violence, hate crimes, terrorism, physical abuse, child abuse, and on and on. How is it possible all of this could be taking place underneath an entity millions have come to trust as the safest place for themselves and their families? The answer: They are taught to adopt the mindsets and beliefs of the systems they serve. In doing so, it leads to blindness. Those indoctrinated cannot ‘see’ reality. They only see what they are taught or told to see by leadership within the system they serve. The abuses have always been taking place and are well hidden because of ‘blindness’ instilled through indoctrination and fear tactics.
It’s time for people to realize religious abuse is real and be able to recognize it for what it is. Everyone needs to be educated on every aspect of this type of abuse in order to protect themselves and their families from it.