Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jesus Land and Beyond

This post, in slightly different form, was originally written as a comment on Julia Scheeres' blog site in response to her post titled "Ghosts of My Brother." Ms. Scheeres is the author of Jesus Land, the story of the life and death of her adoptive brother and, at least in part the disastrous effect a "tough love" religious camp had on him. Jesus Land was listed on the NYT bestseller list for some time.

I haven't read Jesus Land as yet. I have been aware of it owing to its success, but just haven't gotten around to it. As some of you may know I have read Sam Harris' and Richard Dawkin's recent books, among others. I am also in hopes of viewing the Jesus Camp film which has made some news of late.

While Ms. Scheeres now resides in San Francisco, she originally hails from in or around Lafayette, Indiana. Her blog profile states that she "outgrew" Indiana. I can relate to that, but I guess I never did - outgrow it, that is. I still live in the Hoosier State. Ah, but that's another story.

Several years back there was a christian based group in Indy that was housing a number of mainly Russian orphans (and children effectively orphaned by the incarceration, and/or addictions of their parents) at a former Stouffers Inn Hotel on north Meridian St. and the former Julietta Home on the far eastern edge of Marion County.

Via a roundabout means we were contacted by the group at Julietta to inquire if their kids could come to our home to pick apples. At the time we had seven apple trees and no means to utilize the overwhelming crop they produced. So, one sunny September afternoon we hosted a group of around twenty to twenty five kids ranging in age from six or seven to around seventeen to pick our apples. It is interesting to note that these kids were not eligible for adoption. They were all conscripted to return to Russia at age eighteen to serve in the military.

They wound up hauling out perhaps fifty or more bushels of apples, and we also allowed them to pick the grapes from our small arbor. Few of the kids spoke any appreciable English, and ostensibly for that reason, we were requested to refrain from making any attempt to communicate directly with them. At the time we thought that a bit strange. But overall, it seemed to be a happy experience for all. Perhaps it was just the effect of being outside on a lovely late summer day.

However, a few weeks later news hit the airwaves regarding this group and its heavy handed tactics at disciplining their charges. The name of the group escapes me at this writing. Some of the kids were reported to have been isolated in lightless rooms, trussed up in blankets, sometimes for days. The kids were often harrangued for their transgressions - whatever they may have been - in interrogation sessions rather ironically reminiscent of Stalinist era KGB or East German Stasi tactics. A number of other accusations were leveled at the group. I don't recall if there was any other alleged physical abuse, nor do I remember there being any accusations of sexual mis-conduct on the part of the overseers.

The end result, though was that the Russian government quickly pulled the plug on the group and whisked all of the kids back to the motherland. This revelation put a damper on our enthusiasm. What had seemed so blissful on "apple day," turned to a sense that we had abetted forced child labor.

The puritan ethic which still holds fast in this country often leaves one dumbfounded. The misery that is brought to bear against people of all ages, but most painfully, against children in the name of religion is despicable. The supposedly protective umbrella of religion often provides, rather a font of guilt, self-loathing and hate that gives license to all manner of abuse and, as we are now witnessing, mass murder.


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