Tag Archives: milgram

Can I get an Amen?

In 1973 whilst sitting on the hardwood floor in her parents living room on Oakleaf Street, my best friend Renee shook in terror at the creepy critters that attempted to lure Kim Darby down the stairs in the made for television movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. I balked at her fear, told her they were not real and she was being ridiculous for thinking they could appear in her small home.  Although not quite seven years old,  I was a bright enough child to realize those little guys were fictional, made for television. They did not frighten me.

The monsters I was more likely to be frightened of were demons and related evil spirits. As a Recovering Catholic I am fairly certain this fear was deeply implanted by Holy Name of Jesus Roman Catholic Church and the associated teachings doled out by its nuns every Sunday at catechism. My family believed in the devil and therefore movies like The Omen,Salem’s Lot, and Poltergeist made quite an impact. Creatures in costumes were not frightening but people, humans, they were terrifying beyond measure. Real evil lay in our fellow human beings. Evil was found in the pedophile next door and the wife beater down the street. Monsters like that frightened me regularly.

As a Catholic, I was taught to distinguish between physical evil and moral evil. Physical evil is simply a lack of perfection. Blindness could be considered a physical evil because it prevents sight and limits person’s physical abilities. This is not to suggest that the blind person is evil, rather, the blindness itself is evil due to what it does or limits in the person. Moral evil is the bigger challenge. Moral evil, or Sin, is the lack of perfection of the human will. It is considered evil because it is contrary to Gods will. Moral evil is voluntary. The greater the sin, the greater the evil it produces. In other words, the more the sin fails to correspond to the will of God, the more evil it is. It obviously follows that some evil acts are worse than others.

In my Catholic family, sex outside of marriage was a sin (read: moral evil).  I not only had sex outside of marriage but I conceived a child from that sexual act. Sex was for procreation not enjoyment. Having sex for purposes other than procreation (say, pleasure) outside of marriage was evil. Think the Bad Seed Times Two. Seventeen years of Sunday catechism coupled with my primary socialization at home, made it clear. I was evil. I had permitted the devil in my heart (and clearly, my vagina). I had become a monster to my family (and frankly, even to myself) and all who believed like them. The instant that sperm met with my egg I was transformed. The mask of pregnancy would take on a very different form for me.

Evil Begets Evil

I was deeply conflicted. I did not feel evil yet by all accounts I was. The few people who knew looked at me strangely, backed away, or asked rude hurtful questions. Even my boyfriend viewed my pregnancy as my fault, my problem, something bad I did. What I had created (or eventually would) was a situation that was profoundly immoral and malevolent. Classic case of moral evil, at least so the “good” people told me. What I personally felt was that I loved my boyfriend, he loved me and in doing so we produced a child, no doubt a child that would also be loving and wonderful. How could that be wrong? How was love wrong and evil? How could an unborn child be loathsome? What kind of God makes a being in his own image and has it born with original sin? How low is God’s self esteem for goodness sake?

I never asked those questions, voiced my objections, to those that judged me as my religious teaching ran deep. I was wrong. I needed to be punished and nothing good would come from my pregnancy.

Penance

The Catholic Church teaches that sacramental confession requires three acts on part of the penitent (person seeking forgiveness from God). These three acts are contrition (sorrow for the sin you committed, confession and satisfaction (or penance, doing something to make amends for your sins). In my early catholic days, my confession and penance were most often limited to entering a creepy closet sized room alone. I would wait for the priest to slide the screened window open and then I would I would ask him for forgiveness, tell him the date of my last confession and eventually what I have done wrong since I last confessed. Prior to my pregnancy my sins included things like “I slapped my sister”, “I stole a quarter from my mothers’ purse” and “I had mean thoughts about a bully at school”. Once I confessed my wrong doings to the priest, he would order me to kneel at the altar and say a certain number of prayers for a certain period of time. I usually went and sang songs to myself or made up stories rather than recited my assigned prayers.

My teenage pregnancy sin was not a venial sin. Rather, it was mortal (in more ways than one). This means it was committed with full knowledge, was a grave matter and was committed with deliberate and complete consent. While I had not committed murder, did not steal, defraud or bear false witness, I had surely dishonored my mother and father and I had sex outside of marriage. This was considered a grave matter as specified by the Ten Commandments. A few prayers at the overly ornate oak altar of Holy Name of Jesus were not going to be sufficient penance.

I never confessed. I was too fearful of doing so not to mention I was not entirely convinced I had to. The cracks in my Catholic outer shell had started way before this time yet the confusion I felt over my pregnancy was staggering. I was not evil. My child was not evil. The act that created her was not evil…even if all around me and several years of religious teachings told me so. Without sorrow (contrition) there can be no forgiveness. I was not sorrowful. I was terrified.

My evil plan was to take my evil self and the bad seed growing inside me away from those that believed otherwise.

My plan failed.

Deliver Me Lord from Evil

When my plan to run away from home and care for my child alone failed, adoption entered the picture and was presented as my only option, or in religious terms, my redemption.

Catholics consider redemption to be the restoration of man from the bondage of sin. The primitive catholic girl inside of me, the one fighting her burgeoning atheist Gemini twin, believed in redemption. I wanted redemption. I wanted it for me and most importantly, for my child. I desperately wanted to save her from me, from poverty, from all the bad things I, the evil sinner whore, would bring into her life. Under this agency, I gave in to the idea of adoption even when every cell of my body resisted it. I truly believed that adoption would save my child from becoming an evil monster – like her mother before her.

Years later I would learn that the Latin Vulgate for redemption is redemptio. In this Old Testament this means a “ransom price”.

Ransom indeed.

Amen

The word amen, in the New Testament, is considered a declaration of affirmation, a concluding word for prayers and hymns. I had hoped that my reunion would grant me my amen. By that I mean affirmation and conclusion and maybe even some validation.

 I wanted to know my child. I wanted her to know she was wanted then and now. I wanted to give her everything she asked and deserved. I want to right a wrong, to heal wounds, to introduce brothers to sisters. I wanted to hear her voice, touch her hair, and hear the unique tone of her laugh. I wanted to know that my child is not evil.

Yes, evil. Adoption promised me that it would save her from evil. Did it work? Was she a kind person? Or had I let a monster loose in the world? Had she been cured of the evil in her genes?

Laugh if you must but know that it is true. I had an overwhelming, often obsessive need, to know that my child was not a demon. To this day, I don’t know that she is or isn’t but I have recently found comfort in the words of physicist and Nobel Laureate, Steven Wienberg. Steven says “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

As I have let go of my familial religion, I believe it time I let go of the teachings that remain. I got the girl out of the church but can I truly get the church out of the girl? As I continue to try, I am going to assume my daughter is a good person. Since I don’t know her, I don’t know this for certain, but I am going to try to believe it. For not doing so, is to fall prey, once again, to the religious and adoption lies.  I am not going to question if adoption “worked” or cured her for the very suggestion, at least now, is preposterous to me.   If, when, I meet her, I will know.

Amen.

Milgram and Mothers Who Surrender to Adoption

Have you heard of Stanley Milgram?  I find his studies interesting when viewed from the lens of a mother who surrendered to authority (parents, church, agency, society at large) when my internal instincts were screaming something totally against that surrender.

The Psychologist has dedicated their entire August (open access) issue to Milgram and his experiments, his life, etc. A highlight of the topic below.

…in the popular imagination, Obedience and the ‘obedience to authority’ trials have become conflated and are now one and the same, despite the fact that the film only provides substantial documentation of one condition out of more than 20 that were investigated. Milgram’s documentaries and thoughtful writings on film, television and photography point to the value of narrative and audio-visual methods of research. The Obedience footage, however, does not support his claim that people ‘mindlessly follow authority’. On the contrary, it provides detailed audio-visual evidence that people experience considerable strain and anguish in following orders that conflict with their own consciences.”

More on Milgram at The Psychologist page.

P.S. If you like this kind of stuff, you might also want to check out Dr. Phil Zimbardo (another favorite of  mine) and his Stanford Prison Experiment. Also interesting to ponder when bumped up against expectant mothers, maternity homes and adoption surrender.