The title of this article, domestic violence, religion and civilisation, may seem a bit strange. Why put domestic violence, religion and civilisation in the same sentence? Religion is supposed to educate people in how to behave ethically. It should therefore be the opposite of domestic violence. Domestic violence occurs when one member of a couple, usually the man, terrorises and manipulates their partner and victim. In addition, domestic violence seems even less connected to the concept of civilisation. To quote Wikipedia, civilisation is:
“…any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification, a form of government and symbolic systems of communication such as writing. Civilizations are intimately associated with and often further defined by other socio-politico-economic characteristics, including centralization, the domestication of both humans and other organisms, specialization of labour, culturally ingrained ideologies of progress and supremacism, monumental architecture, taxation, societal dependence upon farming and expansionism.”
But there are connections between those three topics. To explain, I’ll start with the first one; domestic violence.
See what you made me do
The Guardian article, ‘It’s like you go to abuse school’: how domestic violence always follows the same script is a good start to understanding domestic violence. It is drawn from the book See what you made me do, by Jess Hill. The article describes a man, Rob, who is being abusive and controlling. Rob doesn’t realise that he is being abusive, as he isn’t being physically violent with his wife. Instead, he is trying to control her through abusive psychological tactics. To quote from the article:
Rob wasn’t physically violent, but he behaved like a typical perpetrator: he constantly criticised and bullied his wife, tried to stop her from working, made it hard for her to see family and friends, and kept total control over their bank accounts. The bullying and criticism wasn’t always overt; sometimes Rob would use humour to demean Deb. But it was always sending the same message: he was more important than her, and she was there to serve him. The only thing that wasn’t typical about Rob was that he had sought counselling without being forced.
Anyone suffering psychological abuse is likely to experience a standard set of tactics. These tactics are almost universal, following a similar approach. As the Guardian article explains, this approach has been used for a very long time. The article gives the example of US prisoners in the Korean War experiencing those same tactics, to the point where they willingly became communists. When they were freed, they immediately defected to communist China. Albert Biderman, a social scientist with the US Air Force, investigated these defectors and discovered that they had not been brainwashed. Instead, their captors had inflicted a well-coordinated but seemingly simple programme of abuse. To quote from the article:
These methods were based “primarily on simple, easily understandable ideas of how an individual’s physical and moral strength can be undermined”. There was nothing new about them, but nobody had ever seen them used in war before. That’s why the American soldiers were so unprepared to resist. Biderman established that three primary elements were at the heart of coercive control: dependency, debility and dread. To achieve this effect, the captors used eight techniques: isolation, monopolisation of perception, induced debility or exhaustion, cultivation of anxiety and despair, alternation of punishment and reward, demonstrations of omnipotence, degradation, and the enforcement of trivial demands. Biderman’s “Chart of Coercion” showed that acts of cruelty that appeared at first to be isolated were actually intricately connected. It was only when these acts were seen together that the full picture of coercive control became clear.
Biderman’s Chart of Coercion has become a standard reference point when studying patterns of abuse and psychological control. Here is my summation of that chart, and how it is used by the abuser, in ten points:
- Unworthy: The victim is told that they are fundamentally flawed, ugly and worthless. The abuser explains that he is showing his character and love for them by being with his victim, when anyone else would have abandoned that person. The victim should be forever grateful that the abuser is willing to stay with them.
- Reward for Loyalty: If the victim does the right things, which the abuser will explain to them, then they will be worthy, of value, and be rewarded.
- Dire punishment for leaving: The victim can’t leave. Not only would their escape hurt the abuser, the victim would suffer much more. Also, nobody else would want the victim. The victim would be abandoning everything and humiliating the abuser.
- Right of judgement and punishment: The abuser doesn’t want to punish the victim but if the victim fails to do the right thing, the abuser has no choice but to punish them. The abuser loves his victim and he hates having to be violent, but it’s his job. The rules are clear and should be respected.
- Arbitrary punishment: Sometimes, the victim must be punished. The abuser doesn’t have to explain why; the victim simply must trust that the abuser is doing the right thing.
- Enforcement of trivial, meaningless rules: The victim must follow the rules, all the rules. Some of the rules might seem trivial but they must be obeyed. Any deviation is an insult to the abuser.
- Deprivation: The victim has worse food than the abuser, and works long hours, but that’s only natural, due to their inferiority.
- Repeated confessions: The victim must reveal everything they do and think. It is for the best. If they hide anything, it hurts the abuser, who will discover it anyway and would then have to punish them.
- Isolation: The victim should not interact with any person or groups forbidden by the abuser. The abuser knows best. The abuser only enforces such an order because he cares about the victim and doesn’t want the victim, who is weak, from being controlled, abused or made to believe something false.
- Abuser-as-victim: The abuser makes it clear that he is suffering the most, even though the victim is the one being punished. The abuser is suffering the most because he has chosen to be with the victim and has to deal with the victim’s repeated mistakes.
The Guardian article, ‘It’s like you go to abuse school’: how domestic violence always follows the same script, mentions that such a programme of abusive control, following the rules mentioned, occurs in many situations. One example is cult leaders. What the article doesn’t mention is that there are larger organisations that can tick all those boxes. This is where things will get tricky for many readers, because we are moving beyond the safe areas of modern, mainstream discourse, into more sensitive regions, so to speak.
I’ll be blunt, the Roman Catholic religion contains elements that match every entry in the above ‘rules of abusive control’ list. It’s true that more extreme religious elements within Catholicism show these elements more clearly, a matter touched upon in the Guardian article, Revealed: ex-members of Amy Coney Barrett faith group tell of trauma and sexual abuse, but the basic elements occur in the religion’s fundamental dogma. To show this, I’m going to make a new version of the list described earlier, only this one is translated into Catholic religious dogma:
- Unworthy: All people possess Original Sin, due to the behaviour of the first humans, Adam and Eve. Eve was especially sinful, as she tempted Adam. To quote from Wikipedia, Original Sin is “something ranging from a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.” Everyone is fundamentally bad, flawed and deserving of punishment.
- Reward for loyalty: All good church members will go to Heaven if they stay in the Church and follow its teachings.
- Dire punishment for leaving: If any person abandons the church, rejects the teaching and refuses to submit to God, they will go to Hell when they die.
- Right of judgement and punishment: God has the right to judge and punish sinners. He still loves his followers but he must maintain the law. Justice must be served.
- Arbitrary punishment: God is omnipotent. Sometimes, he punishes people, often through natural disasters. These acts might not make sense to ordinary people, but God knows what is best, due to his omniscience.
- Enforcement of trivial, meaningless rules: Some of the religion’s rules may no longer make any sense, such as banned foodstuffs, ritual acts, rules that contradict each other, but this should not be questioned; followers must follow these rules regardless, as they are still the Law.
- Deprivation: The priests of the religion may seem to have all the comforts, and wealth, while doing very little. In comparison, many of the congregation may be poor, overworked and malnourished but this is the natural order. The priests are in their better position because they are blessed, due to their superior character and closeness to God.
- Repeated confessions: All the followers must confess their failings, mistakes and misdemeanours to the priests, regularly. They must then accept their punishment. Any avoidance of this duty, or attempts to keep their sins secret, will only produce much greater punishment later on, in the Afterlife.
- Isolation: Followers are warned against fraternising with anyone from other religions. Anyone outside their religion is damned, morally-bereft and may tempt the follower down a sinful path. Such people should be kept at a distance. Any unavoidable interaction with them should be brief, formal and be completed as quickly as possible.
- Abuser-as-victim: According to Christian church dogma, Christ was wonderful and he made the choice to die to cleanse the sins of everyone. Everyone’s sins caused his terrible death. If the congregation try very hard, and follow all the rules, they might be able to redeem themselves of their fundamental sinfulness and gnawing, deep-seated guilt.
As the list shows, these religious rules follow exactly the same playbook as a domestic abuser. In the Guardian article, mentioned earlier, many domestic-violence victims were shocked to discover, when they compared stories, that their abusers followed such similar patterns, without ever meeting each other. In truth, many of those men would not have needed to learn such tactics from each other, or even make such methods up themselves. They could have simply drawn them from their religious upbringing.
Some readers might be unhappy that I have used the Roman Catholic faith to populate the above list. I am using it because I have experience of both the Catholic and Evangelical faiths, and so I can talk about them with familiarity and knowledge. I think it’s worth noting, at this point, that I am a strong believer in Christ’s teachings; I’ve simply separated what Christ wanted us to do from what the Roman-created Church wants us to do. The two sets of instructions are very different. It’s worth remembering that the Catholic Faith was created by the Roman leaders as a way to regain control of their empire in its latter centuries. The Roman leaders were notoriously cunning, manipulative, duplicitous and ruthless and therefore it’s no surprise that they would have added their own methods of abusive control to their new religion.
The Roman’s first step in the development of their version of Christianity was to filter out material in Christ’s life and teachings that didn’t fit their plan. To do this, the early Roman bishops, particularly Iraneus, destroyed most of the gospels of Christ and ordered that only four be kept, which they themselves edited. The remaining gospels were banned and burnt whenever they were found. Early Christian groups that attempted to keep these writings, or promote a different form of worship, were violently suppressed. The Roman bishops then added their own material. Much of the material they added bears an uncanny similarity to the contents of another religion, present in the Roman Empire at that time; the Egyptian cult of Osiris or Serapis. We can tell this because much of the supernatural elements of Christ’s life, described in the gospels, are uncannily similar to this Ancient Egyptian faith. For more on that matter, please read my article Christ minus Osiris.
I think it is tragic that this happened to Christ’s teachings, as they were meant to help, support and eventually transform humanity for the better. Personally, my version of Christianity is as follows:
God is neither female or male. God is not a person but a limitless presence of love and support. No one goes to Hell. No one is judged. People can judge themselves if they so wish; it is entirely their choice. People should mix with as many different groups and societies as possible, to broaden their understanding of the world. No one has any justification to be violent to anyone else. All violence is wrong and needs to be avoided completely. Death is not to be feared. Souls are immortal. Everyone is equal. Men and women are equal. No priests are needed because everyone has a direct connection to God, through their own heart and mind. People can express their love for each other any way they wish, as long as they are old enough to understand what they are doing. There is no need to build churches, as God is everywhere. If people wish to perform ceremonies of togetherness and love, they can perform them in someone’s home, or in a place of natural beauty. No money is needed to maintain the faith. Violence is met with compassion. Hate is met with compassion. We are all one.
The above description isn’t original. Many of its ideas have become part of religious groups through the millennia, including Christian groups. For example, the Cathars, the Gnostics and the Quakers are all good examples of Christian movements that sought to become more equal, compassionate and true to Christ’s teachings. Sadly, all three groups were persecuted by the dominant Christian groups in their countries. The Cathars were massacred, in their tens of thousands, by an army, organised by the Vatican. That campaign became known as the Albigensian Crusade, illustrated in the accompanying painting. The Gnostics, one of the earliest groups to follow the teachings of Christ, were persecuted and killed by the early Roman Christians, many of them thrown from cliff-tops or publicly executed. More recently in history, the Quakers, with their belief in non-violence, were banned from holding any legal or political position in Britain.
History therefore tells us that the uncannily similarity between the playbook of abuse and the dogma of at least one major religion is probably not a coincidence. There are moments in history when even the senior Catholics admitted that the Roman version of Christ may have been a construction designed for their own, less-than-spiritual purposes. For example, Pope Leo X (born Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, 1475 – 1521) said:
“All ages can testify enough how profitable that fable of Christ hath been to us and our company.”
Pope Leo X was hardly the most highly-regarded of Popes, but it was nevertheless a revealing comment. After he made it, his bishops scrambled to change what he said in the records, and condemn his statement, but the cat was out of the bag.
You belong to me
In any story of romantic love, there is always the possibility of a dark side creeping in. For example, the hauntingly beautiful song You belong to me, by Red Stewart, Chilton Price and Pee Wee King, seems entirely positive and yet its title is a statement of possession. The Police song Every breath you take is also clearly a romantic song and yet it is practically a stalker’s anthem, with lines such as ‘every move you make, I’ll be watching you’. Every breath you take also contains the line ‘oh can’t you see, you belong to me’, repeating the idea of possession and love. The Catholic religion is no different. Its statement ‘the Lord is our Shepherd’ is viewed as loving and caring but it also has a dark side. Firstly, God is referred to as the Lord, a rank of power and ownership. Secondly, we are referred to as sheep, in other words as limited, primitive, herd-animals. We are so low down the order of animals that even goats are superior to us. Goats are herd animals, like sheep but they are renowned for their wilfulness, intelligence and ability to escape any pen, hence the phrase ‘wise old goat’. Sheep, by comparison, are notorious for being fearful, timid and easily contained.
If we look at the origins of religious belief, we can see that the idea of God being our owner, and the idea of us being a penned-in, lower-order creature, goes back to the earliest records of history. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. This might sound idyllic but according to the Mesopotamian stories, on which much of Genesis is based, the Garden of Eden was a walled enclosure. Adam and Eve were not meant to leave Eden. They were told that everything outside was foreign and dangerous. They were meant to stay and worship the Lord. It’s worth noting here that the root of the word ‘worship’ is the same as the word ‘work’, as in ‘workmanship’. Worshipping the Lord originally meant working for him, all the time, for no pay, until you died. In other words, worship was slavery. When Eve helps Adam eat from the Tree of Knowledge, thus expanding both their understanding, this enraged the Lord. Instead of encouraging his humans to develop and expand their understanding, he cursed them and threw them out. His reaction is typical of a controlling abuser who enforces ignorance and isolation on his victims.
We can quote again from the Guardian article, mentioned at the beginning of this essay, to show the similarities between abusive control and God in Genesis. Here’s a quote from the domestic abuse article:
Rob wasn’t physically violent, but he behaved like a typical perpetrator: he constantly criticised and bullied his wife, tried to stop her from working [for someone else], made it hard for her to see family and friends, and kept total control over their bank accounts. The bullying and criticism wasn’t always overt; sometimes Rob would use humour to demean Deb. But it was always sending the same message: he was more important than her, and she was there to serve him.
This mention of Genesis leads us into the third element of this article’s title; civilisation.
A big step down
The stories in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, originally come from Mesopotamia. The Hebrews of Jerusalem picked them when they were held in Babylon as slaves, after Jerusalem was sacked. When they were allowed to return to Jerusalem, the Mesopotamian stories entered their religious history. Genesis is therefore referring to events at the very beginning of civilisation.
According to the text books, the first civilisation on Earth was Sumer, in Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq and Iran. Sumer was the first place where many of the facets of civilisation were introduced; harvesting of grain, writing, specialised jobs, a full-time military, a priesthood, taxation, hierarchical power, a king, livestock husbandry and others. Civilisation is invariably viewed as a huge step forward for human-kind, taking us from barbarism and ignorance to education, security, prosperity and advancement. And yet recent scientific studies have shown that this was not necessarily the case. Here is a quote from the science article Dawn of agriculture took toll on health, published in the Science Daily magazine:
When populations around the globe started turning to agriculture around 10,000 years ago, regardless of their locations and type of crops, a similar trend occurred: The height and health of the people declined. “This broad and consistent pattern holds up when you look at standardized studies of whole skeletons in populations,” says Amanda Mummert, an Emory graduate student in anthropology. Mummert led the first comprehensive, global review of the literature regarding stature and health during the agriculture transition, to be published by the journal Economics and Human Biology. “Many people have this image of the rise of agriculture and the dawn of modern civilization, and they just assume that a more stable food source makes you healthier,” Mummert says. “But early agriculturalists experienced nutritional deficiencies and had a harder time adapting to stress, probably because they became dependent on particular food crops, rather than having a more significantly diverse diet.” She adds that growth in population density spurred by agriculture settlements led to an increase in infectious diseases, likely exacerbated by problems of sanitation and the proximity to domesticated animals and other novel disease vectors.
As the quote makes clear, the civilised diet of grains and meat from penned livestock was inferior to the diet of the hunter-gatherers. Also, the incidence of disease in civilisation, compared to hunter-gatherers, due to penned livestock, also increased. Sanitation was always an issue in civilisation. Grains were useful in that they could be stored but a grain diet is narrow and unhealthy. For example, Dr Perlmutter’s book Grain Brain, which I’ve reviewed, expertly explains the multiple problems of eating grain as a main food source, both on our bodies and our brains. There is another benefit of grain harvesting that civilisation has made use of; the production of alcohol. This activity seems to have emerged almost as soon as civilisation started. As many of us know, this hasn’t exactly helped human health either.
Another element of civilisation is writing. This is invariably viewed as a step forward in our knowledge and intelligence but not everyone believed that to be true. The druids, for example, believed that writing shrank our mental abilities. This was mentioned in explained in Julius Caesar’s journals. They believed that the memorisation of knowledge, often through Memory Palace techniques, combined with oral communication, was a far superior way to accumulate knowledge. Memorisation, they believed, improved our mental faculties. It also prevented information being destroyed, stolen or monopolised. In Chapter 14 of ‘De Bello Gallico’, Caesar writes:
‘The Druids are said there to learn by heart a great number of verses; accordingly some remain in the course of training twenty years. Nor do they regard it lawful to commit these to writing, though in almost all other matters, in their public and private transactions, they use Greek characters. That practice they seem to me to have adopted for two reasons; because they neither desire their doctrines to be divulged among the mass of the people, nor those who learn, to devote themselves the less to the efforts of memory, relying on writing; since it generally occurs to most men, that, in their dependence on writing, they relax their diligence in learning thoroughly.’
Civilisation is therefore not as beneficial as most of us are told. In many ways, it wasn’t a clear step forward. Instead, civilisation was a process of putting human beings being inside walls, giving them inferior food, forcing them to live close to disease-carrying livestock, making them work every hour for their Lords, and giving them alcohol when they weren’t working, which drugged and impaired them, both mentally and physically. Described in this manner, civilisation switches from being an enlightened step forward to something with the title, ‘rural farmer kidnaps, drugs and enslaves backpackers.’ If we add in the psychological methods of abusive control, we create a picture of human beings in a compound who are dirty, unhealthy, undernourished, fed on monotonous food, drugged, intimidated, made to feel unworthy, dependent and fearful of the outside and their judgemental, capricious leaders. It’s a dark scenario.
You’re safe with me
Civilisation, in its early years, does seem to have been a dark change in human history, even though we, as a species, gained some benefits. What about our current situation? Is modern civilisation better for us? Is our modern existence better than the lives of those ancient hunter-gatherers? Scientific research has shown that the general health of civilised people has improved over the last century, albeit from a woefully low level. In the last two-hundred years, we have gained democracy, human-rights, modern healthcare and advanced technology. Unfortunately, the patterns of abusive behaviour by a power-elite against the general population, so clear in ancient times, have not gone away. We are still be abusively manipulated. I’ve described some of those elements in my article keep them ill, keep them scared. Our modern, Western media is filled with images designed to make us afraid. Alcohol is still massively encouraged, along with gambling and unhealthy food, even though our scientists have shown their negative effects. Our power-elite still portray themselves as wonderful people, dedicated to our welfare, while at the same time, their actions show the opposite. The wealthy inequality in the developed world is increasing at a dizzying rate. The stated reasons for this wealth inequality are themselves forms of abusive control. We are made to feel that we are losers if we’re not rich, when it’s clear, according to multiple studies, that wealth is almost entirely kept within a small, elite group.
The rise in inequality and abusive control may be down to technology. It’s worth noting that the march of technology and communication has enabled leaders around the world to communicate continually with each other. This has made a global government, or collaborative world-ruling-elite, possible. To what degree this is true is very hard to say. We may be able to assess this level of control through future actions. For example, abusers generally increase their control of their victims by warning of outside threats. In our modern world of super-communications, this is getting harder to maintain. Logically, if the power-elite are working together, globally, then the next constructed threat will come from outside Earth. We will all be told that we must give up our freedoms and live as slaves in order to stop an alien invasion. This sounds ludicrous, more like a mediocre sci-fi plot. It will be interesting to see if it comes about.
I am not a victim
Perhaps the best way to end this article is for us to ask the question; ‘what can I do to make sure that I’m not a victim?’ We are often educated in how to get help from an individual abuser but no one mentions that we may be the victims of institutionalised abuse. For that second problem, I think the best we can do is to avoid anything that drugs us, makes us unhealthy, makes us fearful, makes us feel unworthy, feel like a loser, feel guilty; anything that reduced our knowledge, our clarity of mind and our self-confidence. The source of such abuse is varied. The irrational and abusive tactic of collective guilt, nowadays for example, isn’t confined to Catholicism, or to single, abusive perpetrators. There are more subtle forms. For example, Caucasians, nowadays, are often made to feel collective guilt for eighteenth century slavery. This makes no sense for multiple reasons. Firstly, the slavery was carried out by people two-hundred years ago. Secondly, slavery in Africa was never a Caucasian-only activity. It was endemic in Africa before Europeans arrived and was still present, a century after the transatlantic slave trade ended. The only genuine source of collective guilt that I know of is climate-change. It does make sense for all adults, or at least 99.9% of us, to feel collective guilt at what we’ve done to the planet, because we have all contributed. The only people that can be exempt from this are those living in the woods, eating wild game, so Miriam and Peter Lancewood are off the hook.
If we return to the problem of abusive systems, if this article’s evidence is correct, they are institutionalised. If that’s the case, how do we escape them? It is a difficult challenge, especially since civilisation itself seems to be a form of abusive control. Fortunately, we can lessen this systematic, abusive influence. For example, we can avoid all religions that don’t require non-violence. We can avoid alcohol, the mainstream television news, all commercial newspapers, as many pharmaceutical drugs as possible, grains and fast-food, as all of those perpetrate the fear-drugged-abuse-control system. A life without such things might sound dull, weird and anti-social but freedom isn’t easy. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote:
“Those who would give up freedom to purchase safety deserves neither and will lose both.”