I just finished reading the Book of Job. One thing that struck me was howJob’s “friends” insisted that he must have done something terrible to justify his suffering. Thousands of years later, their rationale for the presence of suffering is still alive and well. The Book of Job might be one of the first recorded episodes of blaming the victim, and we certainly haven’t seen the last.
Although the word “victim” is problematic, for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use it to refer to one who has been wronged or hurt by circumstances outside or much greater than his or her control. I don’t like blaming the victim, but I understand it. We’re all afraid that something terrible will happen to us, and we all want to believe that as long as we behave a certain way, we’ll avoid misfortune or pain. As a child, I had first-hand experience of how victim-blaming deepens an existing wound when the principal of my school blamed me for the bullying I endured for a year. As an adult, I’ve finally forgiven him because I now understand how much easier it is to blame one child than to take on an entire oppressive system.
Those of us who attempt to take on the oppressive facets of Catholicism have probably all encountered a variation of the following beliefs:
- You just want the rules to change so you can feel OK about your sins / nonconformity.
- You don’t really understand Catholicism.
- You aren’t really Catholic.
- You’ve been tainted by the “ways of the world.”
- You have an inability to see “the truth.”
In other words, you hurt within the Church because you’re doing or thinking something wrong. Change the way you think, and you’ll stop hurting. Stop calling oppression by its name, and it will stop happening to you.
But history has shown us that the opposite is true. When we remain silent, oppression both continues and grows. And when someone else suffers from spiritual or physical violence, rather than exacting judgment, we must devote ourselves to healing the hurt. We must devote ourselves to love of one another and of God. And sometimes, love means challenging something much bigger than us.