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A religious response to Jerry Sandusky: Compassion, victims, and monsters

The Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, has been found guilty of 45 counts of child sexual molestation. I see a lot of celebrating on Facebook, and friends of mine report that in sports bars around the country spontaneous cheering broke out when the news of his conviction was released.   Many have been downright explicit in wishing the man who carried out rape and sexual assault on boys for decades the lowest bowels of hell.

As a father, I understand, and I can think of no crime more hideous than what he has done. As a parent, I understand and relate to the very primal urge to protect every last of our children from this monster.   Many people applauded the primal reaction of a father who found a man raping his daughter, and beat the rapist to death with his bare hands.   The common refrain was that they would have done exactly the same.  

And yet, and yet....I urge us to turn our attention away from the molesting monster, Jery Sandusky, and onto the many kids who have been hurt, scarred, and violated. That anger, while justified, ultimately proves poisonous to our own hearts. What this kind of violence needs, and can only be remedied by, is the outpouring of compassion towards those who are in need of healing.  Justice will come, Godwilling, in this world, and continuing on to the next.  But let mercy and compassion precede, and envelope everything else.

The monstrous and the divine mingle in each of us, as they mingle in our society.  May it be that the divine qualities come to the forefront.  May everything that is ugly and monstrous become illuminated inside our hearts, and in our communities.

There are some issues that those of us committed to religious traditions have to grapple with.    Upon posting some thoughts about the above on my FB page, some had objected to calling Sandusky a monster, stating that a humanist and spiritual orientation should prevent us from doing so.   I have reflected on the above for a while, and I beg to differ.  This is precisely what evil looks like.  We recognize the presence of goodness and beauty in this world, and there is also the absence of those same qualities.  Evil too is real, even if its reality is the mere absence of all that is light and love.      Monsters do not have horns and tails.   Monsters rape children who have been trusted onto them.  Monsters drop bombs on families, and deprive human beings from access to food, water, and medicine.   Calling him a monster does not de-humanize him, it rather serves to remind us that monsterly actions are also within the range of what it means to be human.

And I urge us to ponder one other fact:  this monstrous, decades-long abuse only happened because person after person turned their back on the abuse.  

People knew, and they refused to act.   Young people, old people shirked their responsibility.    Football players, footballer coaches, and the police failed.    
  It is true:  all that is required for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.   We did not rape those children, but far too many of us are morally complicit in enabling the circumstance that allowed these abuses to take place.   And for that, I hope that we take time to pause, reflect, and repent.

And in the meantime, continue to reach out in compassion to the victims of this crime, and to our own selves.   In the process of doing so, we may find the redemption that we all so desperately seek, as well as the meaning of being human in a world of saints and monsters.

Tags: child abuse, compassion, football, guilty, jerry sandusky, monster, penn state, rape, sexual abuse

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