Originally printed in the Spring 2010 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Smoley, Richard. "From the Editor's Desk - Spring 2010." Quest 98. 2(Spring 2010): 42.
One of the best-known horror movies of recent decades is the 1976 film Carrie, based on Stephen King's tale of a lonely and misunderstood pubescent girl. While the movie pioneered in offering buckets of blood for the audience's delectation (thus creating a highly durable cliche for the genre), in many ways the most terrifying part of the film involves Carrie's relationship with her religion-obsessed mother, who at one point locks her into a closet with a sinister crucifix.
While the portrait painted in Carrie is a lurid and sensational one, the film became a classic in its genre partly because it hit a nerve in the collective psyche. Carrie is the one of the mass media's first portrayals of religious abuse, a problem that has inflicted huge damage on our society.
The form of religious abuse to gain most attention of late is sexual molestation by Roman Catholic priests. According to a 2002 report by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, nearly 4400 priests—4 percent of all those who had served in the previous fifty years—faced some kind of sexual abuse allegation.
But religious abuse is not limited to Catholicism or to Christianity. Over the past generation we have seen it any number of times in Hindu, Buddhist, and New Age contexts. It can also take many forms. Sometimes it involves the misuse of spiritual authority to humiliate and manipulate people, or to extract money or sexual favors from them (adults are susceptible to this as well as children).
All these forms of abuse are, sadly, both familiar and obvious. Today we may need to ask if religious wounding extends still further. Is it abusive to expose children to lurid images of hell and the devil, to tell them that they risk eternal damnation for the smallest of sins, to force them to live in terror of a vindictive and sadistic God? I believe it is. It is one thing to teach children that their actions have moral consequences and quite another to instill a profound, nameless, and unquenchable sense of guilt in them. Many women feel that religion has inculcated a sense of inferiority and even sinfulness in them simply because of their gender. Still others have been ostracized because of their sexual orientation.
To these cases we can add religious wounding in a milder form—when it is not a matter of victimization but of loss of faith, of disillusionment with spirituality as a whole. If all human beings have a spiritual aspect to their natures, this disillusionment amounts to an alienation from a profound and essential part of the self. Whether or not they recognize it, these individuals too have suffered religious wounds.
No matter what background we may come from, it is time for us to begin recovering from this damage. With this idea in mind, the Theosophical Society has organized a conference entitled "Healing Our Religious Wounds," to be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Glen Ellyn, Illinois (about a ten-minute drive from our national center at Olcott), on April 23-25, 2010. The keynote speaker will be John Shelby Spong, who served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey for twenty-four years until his retirement in 2001. Dr. Spong's best-selling books include Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, A New Christianity for a New World, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Here I Stand. His most recent book is Eternal Life: A New Vision. He will speak on the topics "Religious Wounds: The Power of Guilt" and "Religious Healing: The Power of Wholeness."
Another powerful presenter at the conference will be spiritual counselor Maurice Proulx, a former Catholic priest who himself suffered sexual abuse by a priest when he was a child. Mr. Proulx will address the topic "Journeying beyond Childhood Sexual Abuse."
Christopher Bamford, senior editor of Parabola and author of The Voice of the Eagle, will also speak. Those of you who came to our October 2008 conference on esoteric Christianity will remember his inspiring presentation "Before Abraham Was, I Am." For this conference, his topic will be "Reclaiming Revelation: A Necessity for Our Time." TS president Betty Bland, TS vice-president Tim Boyd, and Olcott staffer John Cianciosi, a former Buddhist monk and author of The Meditative Path, will lead meditations. Ben Furman, another Olcott staffer, who has many years experience teaching chi gong, and John Guarrine of the Chicago area organization Play for Peace will begin morning sessions with gentle movement practices to help participants to ground and balance themselves.
Just as importantly, the conference will include one-on-one and small-group discussions in which participants will be able to share and discuss their own experiences and to move toward healing.
"Healing Our Religious Wounds" is intended neither to restore religious faith nor to destroy it. It is intended to heal some of the psychological damage, whether mild or severe, that may have come from our religious backgrounds and to help us move toward greater wholeness and integration. For those who do not feel that they have been damaged by religion, it will offer ways of avoiding spiritual pitfalls and deepening their understanding of the truths that underlie all faiths.
I look forward to seeing you at the conference here in April.