Are we entering a time of converging faiths, offering hope to some, or only another giant step in the widespread agnosticism that seems at times a sure forerunner of despair?
The enormous number or priests who betrayed their vows and their congregations by abusing boys has never been adequately addressed, either inside the churches or outside, and even the imprisonment of these malefactors and substantial sums paid to their victims do not solve, or explain, their crimes. Other churches than the Roman Catholic deal with the same issues, although Protestant ministers tend to abuse money rather than little boys.
We are aware of the terrible price our society pays for the crimes of the faith called fundamentalism, addressed in a current play, Demons of the Mind, in which the playwright Talia Pura asks her audience to consider a crime from many angles: the case of Andrea Yates, who in Texas in 2001 drowned her five children in the bathtub. Her brand of faith had taught her that, since her children would grow up in a secular society and probably commit various sins, it was both kind and virtuous to murder them beforehand so they would go straight to God and not to the devil.
But the question of faith remains unanswered. Since all human beings are subject to failures of judgment—”sins” in the eyes of many religions—revealing and punishing these perpetrators doesn’t seem likely to end the crime. Is it possible that an ordinary man—assuming most religious leaders are ordinary—can with his vows lay off all possibility of weakness, self-indulgence, and an appetite for power over the powerless, perhaps a more potent motivation in the abuse of boys than sexual appetite?
“There but for the grace of God, go I,” an old axiom states. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that converging faiths, bringing in the beliefs of indigenous people and others—women especially—traditionally excluded from church hierarchies, will allow us to cling to the remnants of belief in what is sometimes known as a Higher Power rather than lapsing into too-easy cynicism, and its attendant despair.