I made the point last month (yikes – I have had a LOT on recently) that we are integrated beings and so inevitably, it is not always possible to draw clear distinctions between physical, sexual and psychological abuses of power. They are on a sliding scale.
But what if one then adds the spiritual realm into the mix? This now gets VERY messy. And nightmarish. Because not only does one have to contend with a transgressor’s power, but there is the god (who is emphatically not god with a capital G there) whose authority the transgressor invokes or, even, claims to channel. The abused is thus even more hemmed in, cowering beneath the judgments of heaven. This may not involve any physical offences of any sort. It doesn’t need to. The transgressor has the victim precisely where he wants them.
So in my stab at a graphic now looks like this. The spiritual dimension encompasses it all. Now, of course, there are many in these secular days who dismiss the notion of the spiritual altogether. In fact, the more shrill horsemen of the new atheism tend to lump all forms of spiritual engagement (especially of those under 18) as abusive per se. I’m not going to argue that issue here, but that seems palpably absurd to me; as crude a generalisation as suggesting that every calming hand on another’s shoulder is intrinsically and necessarily invasive.
Thankfully, this seems a minority view of spiritual things. But what does not get sufficient attention – especially in the circles of religious professionals that I move in – is the very real potential for spiritual abuse. The failure to face up to the problem, and particularly to identify its characteristics, only serves to make its likelihood greater.
It was deeply depressing to read this in the press a few weeks ago about a disciplinary ruling that was the first of its kind.
I don’t know the ins and outs of the story – so I have no right to comment with either insight or authority. We can only go on what has been reported and trust that the tribunal was doing its job fairly and properly. All I can say is that I am very glad for the existence of a tribunal that is willing to adjudicate in this way.
For spiritual abuse is a genuine and real problem. In the last 7 years or so, because of things I have said at conferences or in print, people seem to search me out desperately seeking help after experiencing such abuse. In fact, just in the last couple of days, there’s been another one. I get this at least once a month now. I dare say it will only escalate.
Much more needs to be said…