Trivializing that which should never be trivialized is always a risky business. It would certainly be unwise to minimize something so ominous, so treacherous, as rape. In fact, to do so would be a kind of ‘crime’ in and of itself.
As writers we often use metaphors to help us tell our stories. A timely metaphor can transport a reader from a place he may not be familiar with to a place he instantly recognizes; or it can move one to imagine what he believes about one place and transpose those beliefs to another setting entirely. The possibilities with metaphor are endless.
Yet every now and again we come across a situation where our instinct to proceed is put in check, hindered by the very same sensibilities that urge us on. While it is only natural to have one’s creative impulses challenged from time to time, when these challenges take the form of suggestions that we censor ourselves, we are compelled to resist. Not because we are righteous, but because we respect what is good and virtuous about freedom and the creative process. The call to censor an idea simply to avoid offending a social or political constituency is not, as a rule, a good idea.
If I were to encounter criticism from feminists saying I could not know the pain of rape and that it would not be appropriate for me to compare childhood religious indoctrination with the crime of rape, my response would be (1) as a metaphor it is valid; (2) as a writer I must value the freedom to explore ideas above the feelings of those I might offend, as long as my disregard is measured and not wanton or reckless; and (3) as an ‘honorary’ male feminist myself, I would never betray the cause of feminism by committing the aforementioned crime of trivializing sexual assault.
The Rape of a Young Mind
My indoctrination into the world of religion was begun in earnest at the age of approximately 30 days with my baptism into the Catholic faith. As I was too young to speak for myself, I was unable to voice my opinion on the matter. From as early as I can remember, the concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful god-being lording over the universe was becoming the centerpiece of a well orchestrated assault on my intellect and my psyche. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, of course, but that was part of the nefarious allure of being captivated by these clever adult authority figures. As children, we relied on them for sustenance and approval, yet subtly—and disgustingly—their approval came at a price: conformity. These parents, guardians and administrators wielded so much power over their child minions, they could even engineer the conformity they demanded should they be met with a disagreeable or non-conforming expression.
Quite honestly, I sensed the inviolability of the intellect early on in life. There was something suspicious about having ideas beyond my ability to negotiate or comprehend ritualistically shoved down my throat. The reason for this ritual assault, no doubt, was to win my loyalty so I could serve my masters and propagate the planet with yet more inauthentic Christians. It reminds me of the “fruit from the poisonous tree” doctrine in legal circles. If one aspect of gathered evidence is deemed defective, hence inadmissible, then any evidence, or fruit, arising out of that tainted tree of evidence is also deemed inadmissible. Clearly, the entire enterprise of childhood religious indoctrination is morally corrupt. As such, these memberships in the Church are tainted as fruit from the poisonous process that made them so-called Christians in the first place. Many of these children are not freely and voluntarily who they say they are. They are automatons, bent on pleasing those who would dare to withhold their affections if their children did not abide by their dictates.
Several important things about this process give validity to the rape metaphor, and one in particular is especially instructive: the feeling of survival and recovery that time, distance and perspective gives to those of us who have managed to get past our cruel experiences. One continually recurring theme throughout my early years of counseling and therapy was the religious exploitation of my youth. The secular, human, and liberal values I later gravitated toward gave me a taste of the kind of intellectual freedom I instinctively knew had been missing; and because of this, I came to despise—for a very long time—those who conspired to deny me this freedom. Just as the body was meant to be free, so too were the mind and spirit meant to be free.
The first thing that happens before a person is raped is that his movements are restricted—arms and legs often restrained by being bound together. When a mind is about to be raped, access to rational, thought-provoking literature is restricted, intelligent books and periodicals bound together and thrown into the garbage as if they were evil influences. In a physical rape, the bodily orifices are violated by a sick and twisted human being who has lost his way. In the metaphorical mind fuck that is religious indoctrination of the very young, the orifice of the intellect is penetrated by the protruding ‘penis’ of a mindlessly imbecilic and fatuous dogma. In each assault the aggressor leaves his mark as a token of his narcissistic triumph, a sample with which to soil and taint his victim. After a real rape, it sometimes takes many years for victims to acknowledge their assault and get the help they need to work through all the painful emotions standing in the way of love, laughter and living well again. Amazingly, the virtual victim of the metaphorical religious rape has a similar journey to take. He must also come to terms with his transgressors, in order that he might find peace and live a full and rewarding life.
Ultimately, I am a writer—not a victim of rape. But when I told my therapist not long ago “it felt like my mind and my spirit were raped as a young child,” I was calling upon the powers of the imagination to conjure the vile essence of an actual rape, then—metaphorically—substituted mind for body. She understood completely and a door was opened. Along this path were many dark detours, but eventually they always led to wonderful places—places where understanding and forgiveness stood a much better chance of realizing their healing potential.
To rape victims everywhere: yours is a pain like no other, never to be trivialized. To the writers of the world: do justice to your metaphors, because every once in a while you may be asked to rationalize your use of one. ▪