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The Eleventh Commandment


“Perhaps Moses did some editing as he descended from Mount Sinai.”

A friend commented recently that she has been amazed at how prolific I am with this blog. Actually, I have more ideas than I have time to handle. Since I have committed to do this, the stimuli are everywhere, something along the lines of “Build the field and the players will come.” This morning a prompt appeared in The New York Times.

In commentary titled “A Troubled Silence,” psychologist and psychoanalyst Richard B. Gartner addressed the reluctance of male victims of sexual abuse to come forward. He points out that “boyhood abuse was not part of the public conversation  until recently.”

At some level, everyone knows that it has existed throughout time, but the scandals within the Catholic Church have given it unprecedented exposure. There may be a collective relief afoot, particularly among women who are very aware of the violations girl children have suffered. Our silent response goes like this: “Good. Now maybe something will happen to end this.”

Gartner explains that males have been reluctant to speak of their abuse until now for a variety of reasons: They have feared that (1) the abuse will turn them gay or happened because they could be gay, (2) they will turn into abusers themselves, (3) their experience will be judged as repulsive and aberrant, and (4) enduring the memory in silence is the way to be a real man.

Women talk, which is why I know personally of so many cases of sexual abuse. The fact that men are beginning to talk is a real breakthrough that could bring about many good things.

That word “good” is so simple and yet so powerful. I mentioned in my previous post on Odysseus (dated about 800 B.C.) how struck I was by the absence of any moral values in the classic. As you read it, you realize what a profound leap in human consciousness the teachings of the Bible represented. In the context of modern times, however, it seems that we have unfinished business with guidelines. It has struck me as odd that there is nothing in the Ten Commandments about the protection of children.

Knowing how things work, I am a little suspicious. Perhaps Moses did some editing as he descended from Mount Sinai. What if women had been commanded to protect children from untimely sexual advances? Just think how that would have changed the world. With God at her back, woman could stand down any form of aggression.

But it was not to be yet. Early in the history of civilization, survival in a world run by men depended on the numbers for labor in the fields, to construct defenses, and to win wars. There was little concern about the individual. Women did not form such strong emotional bonds because so many children died so young, including in childbirth. Childhood had not been identified as a special time in life.  In early Christian art, Jesus often looked like an alert little gentleman in Mary’s arms. It wasn’t until about the 17th century that children ceased to resemble mature midgets in adult costume.

By the 19th century in the West, society had begun to see children differently, and their images in art had become endearing. New forms of specialized punishment were also designed to address misbehavior. Whereas children had been disfigured, beaten, branded, hanged, and sent off to penal colonies for theft, punishments more appropriate to the crime were devised. Special facilities for juvenile offenders were developed.

Obviously, civilization is continuing to awaken to the need to punish those who neglect or injure children. In this regard, the issue of sexual abuse is unusual, because there is often no evidence on the surface of things that it has actually occurred. However, through the unprecedented confessions of men, we are all getting in touch with the horrific damage it does to the psyche.

Such damage suggests that some form of moral wisdom, some innate knowledge of right and wrong exists within the young mind even before it can be instructed in such. If we will mobilize to ensure the protection of that higher self, it may help stimulate yet another great leap in human evolution.

Painting of Madonna and Child by Lorenzo Monaco, ca 1420

Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life After Boyhood Sexual Abuse by Richard B. Gartner





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