Friday, January 23, 2015

"he's just not capable"

It's a lie.

One of the lies I learned, as a kid growing up in the church, is that the people we know, the good people, are just that: simply good. And good people do good things. Good people don't do bad things. They certainly don't do horrible things. They're not capable of such.

Except that it's a lie.

We who are raised on the narrative of Adam and Eve, who walked and talked with the Lord in the cool of evening within the sanctuary of the Garden, doing the very first archetypal horrible thing--how is it that we miss that our faith itself belies this comfortable falsehood?

Perhaps it is simply that it is too brutal a truth to face down every day and still get out of bed and enter the world bravely. Perhaps it is simply that we need this lie in order to function. Perhaps it is simply our habit of dividing the world and the people in it, over and over again, along whatever lines are relevant, into the simple categories of good and bad.

We ought to know better. Over and over again, we hear the stories of the terrible things done by good people in the scriptures. David and Uriah, anyone? The man after God's own heart who committed murder by delegation in order to justify the rape of the murdered man's wife? Who was nonetheless so committed to notions of justice and righteousness that he could get worked up over Nathan the Prophet's made-up story of a stolen pet lamb? And who was really, really sorry after? Yeah, David was a good guy.

And yet he was capable: of lies, of rape, of murder. He was absolutely capable.

What we have got to be able to wrap our minds around is that "he's a great guy" can be absolutely true, and at the same time "he's just not capable" is a lie. Yes, he is. We all are. Because that is being human.

It's the only way to make sense of the fact that there is far less "stranger danger" than risk that your kids will suffer sexual abuse from a family friend or family member. People that you know, and trust, and love, and respect. And the brutal, terrifying truth is that you love and trust and respect those people not because you're an idiot or a neglectful parent, but because you know them and you have solid, actual reasons to love and trust and respect them! They're good people. You know this, because you know them. And you have to trust your personal knowledge of people, because this is simply the basic way we negotiate life--there's no way around it.

And yes, this is terrifying. But we have got to acknowledge the complicated, uncomfortable truth that abusers are simply human beings. They are not monsters. They aren't even bad guys. They're good guys. Good guys that we go to church with, are related to, have known all our lives, are married to--good guys who, like David, are absolutely capable.

And just because "he's not capable" doesn't apply (to anyone!) doesn't negate that yeah, he's a great guy.

I get that it's natural--in fact, necessary!--to rely on your own personal knowledge of others in making judgments. I get that it's difficult to move beyond "he's not capable" when what you're really saying is, "I can't imagine my friend/boyfriend/brother/cousin/uncle/husband doing such a horrible thing." There are reasons why people tend to believe abusers rather than victims, and this is one of them.

The only way to intervene in this is to remind ourselves--not that we can be mistaken--but the harder truth to swallow, which is that we aren't mistaken in our experience of an abuser as a good guy...and that this doesn't mean he isn't an abuser. And that we simply cannot dismiss another person's experience of that good guy with the words, "he's just not capable."

No comments: