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Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment Paperback – June 21, 2011
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"Breaking Their Will is a powerful and deeply disturbing book, wide ranging in its exploration of religiously based physical and mental abuse of children past and present, and richly informed by both personal and scholarly reflections and insights. This book will have a profound impact upon the consciences and actions of readers from a wide range of religious perspectives who surely will be convinced, after finishing this book, that children deserve to be free from all forms of physical violence in the guise of discipline and the other forms of physical and mental abuse explored in Heimlich's book." --Philip Greven, author of Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse
"Insightful, provocative, exposing, and well written, Janet Heimlich casts a bright light on the presence of child abuse in institutional religion, forcing it out of the dark corners of denial and into the arena of honesty and reality. I hope it is widely read." --Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
"Child mistreatment, backed by religious tenets, is one of the most disturbing realities, especially when religions also have a unique capacity to cherish and protect children. With courage, compassion, and adept use of interviews and research on a wide range of violations, Janet Heimlich grapples with causes and constructive solutions. This is a book that all of us, but especially religious believers among us, should read as a first step to providing children the love and security they deserve. In my own teaching and research, I've looked for a book that focuses explicitly on how religion becomes entangled in harming children and am glad to have a book to recommend." --Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, author of Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective
"Breaking Their Will is both heartbreaking and motivating. After rightly noting that religion is most often not harmful to children, Janet Heimlich details the unique ability of religion in its worst manifestations to inflict lasting pain, humiliation, and terror on the most vulnerable members of our society. Perhaps the crowning achievement of the book is its call to action—a chapter devoted to specific ways in which officials, lawmakers, parents, and even faith communities can root out religious child abuse and remove its claims of immunity from challenge." --Dale McGowan, author/editor, Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers
About the Author
Janet Heimlich, formerly a freelance reporter for National Public Radio and other national radio networks for ten years, is now an independent journalist. In addition to her radio work, she has published investigative journalistic articles, human-interest stories, and book reviews in the Austin American-Statesman, Texas Monthly, the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Observer, and other publications.
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For far too long, religion has been something beyond approach. We hear of a parent beating a child to death, and we demand justice. We hear that that parent was following god's will, and then we step away because this is a religious matter.
Janet is not asking for a world free of religion. Janet is suggestion that religious leaders and law enforcement work together to create a safer world for children. Those on the outside of religion don't understand the resolve and passion of those inside religions. They don't understand that arguing with religious extremist does not help. If you don't believe me, go and read the comments on the book "To Train A Child" by Michael Pearl. Arguing in that context doesn't make the world safer for children. Instead, Janet is appealing to all who will listen that we need to work together.
My hope is that pastors, priests, and other religious leaders work with our justice system to better understand each other. That reporting abuse to the authorities does not diminish someone's faith or spiritual beliefs. Having a societal conversation about corporal punishment is not equal to whether or not there's a god. Take the taboo out of religion.
I know all to well how dangerous religion can be. I've paid a dear price for the religious devotion of my parents and church. Please give Janet a chance to open a powerful conversation. Please find the courage to speak up and be heard in that conversation. Put your fear and hatred aside and listen. Our children deserve a safe place to grow up. And, it is our responsibility to make this happen.
Whether it is parents letting their children die of simple bowel obstructions because their faith required the rejection of modern medicine or the molestation of children committed by Catholic priests, Heimlich takes the reader on an unflinching investigation into it all. Her book is well-written, well-researched, fascinating, and eye-opening. It is also an absolute must-read! Anyone who cares about the welfare of children has to read this incredible book. Thank you to Janet Heimlich for this brave piece of journalism.
1. Patriarchy, where men hold considerably more power than women, and mothers aren't able to protect their children, because they are to be silent & submit to men.
2. Authoritarianism: where the power is held at the top, and parents are more "middle managers" rearing children the way religious authorities deem "proper" without being able to explore their instincts.
3. Original Sin Doctrine: which presents children as inherently sinful and in need of a "firm hand" in order to be "brought up right."
4. Obsession with child obedience & physical punishment for lack of immediate obedience, regardless of a child's development.
5. Breaking Wills: the idea that the will of a child must be broken, or they will never learn to submit to god.
Ms. Heimlich discusses the story of Abraham and Isaac, and asks us to consider what Isaac's POV might have been, when his father takes him to the top of a hill to sacrifice him to an unseen, metaphysical being, and how there is very little in the Bible itself concerning the place of children. Children are commanded to respect & honour their parents, even if their parents are wrong (something that actually has been used to sanction and permit sexual abuse) without any reciprocity. Children are required to obey & honour w/o question, but adults have no responsibility to honour & respect children's autonomy or rights.
Which is ultimately what she calls all of us to do in the final chapters. How can we create positive, child-friendly faith environments where the developmental needs of our children are being honoured within a positive faith environment? Recognising children's rights and parenting children with compassion, according to their developmental needs, and accepting that certain doctrine is harmful, are good ways to raise children with healthy faith.
Breaking Their Will is heartbreaking, as she tells the stories of victims who have suffered at the hands of the pious. The chapter on male & female circumcision is especially heartbreaking, as Jan reveals the ugly Christian history of cutting girls because of attitudes about sexual purity. Even as recently as the 1970's.
Overall, this book has been cathartic for me, and allowed me the comfort of knowing that what I experienced as a child wasn't ok, even if was sanctioned by the pious and the Bible. I felt as though I could've been reading my own story in so many of the stories in the physical and emotional abuse chapters. I imagine there are thousands of children and adults who have and are currently suffering, whom can find healing and solidarity, as well as a plan for raising the next generation without religious maltreatment.