ordinary monsters

[content note for child sexual abuse and rape]

If you are anything like me, you were probably sick of hearing about John Grisham’s comments the first second you heard about them. Another celebrity said something beyond uninformed and ridiculous about abuse and rape? I’m shocked.

If you haven’t heard what he said about child pornography (a crime that I believe should be referred to as “paying to watch other people sexually abuse and rape children”), here’s the salient bit:

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child, but they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn …

I have no sympathy for real paedophiles. God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting.”

Turns out he was talking about a friend, Michael Holleman, who served 18 months in prison, and who also disagrees with John and says that “‘I did something wrong and I don’t have a bit of resentment about the way I was treated.” John has since apologized for his comments:

Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography—online or otherwise—should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable.

I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all.

Ok, now that we’ve gotten all the background stuff out of the way, I want to talk about this. When I saw this start popping up in my news feeds, some of the comments accompanying these articles were things like “someone should get a warrant and search his computer,” implying that John must have also watched recorded-for-profit child rape– but I disagree with that, and to a certain extent I get this.

What he said was inexcusable and completely unjustifiable, but he said nothing more than what a huge section of our culture actually thinks about abusers and rapists, and that’s what I’d like to focus on.

John Grisham had a friend who– drunk or not, accidentally or not– spent at the very least five minutes (according to Michael’s own words) watching someone else sexually abuse and rape a child. I don’t think John really wants to admit that his friend was capable of doing something truly heinous and something worthy of going to prison for, so, like many of us, he took advantage of the lie we all tend to believe: his friend is not a real pedophile. He’d never really hurt someone. Therefore, the fact that his friend started watching the rape of a child and didn’t immediately click away in horror isn’t a real problem. Plus, he was watching someone rape 16-year-old girls who “appeared older than their chronological age,” so it’s not really a terrible thing.

That falls right into place with the common understanding of rape. My friend isn’t a horrible, terrible, gross, disgusting monster.  My friend is a decent fellow. I like him. He couldn’t possibly rape someone, so if someone says he did, she must be a lying bitch. Because, after all, rape is horrible, so only truly repulsive people are capable of doing it, and I would never be friends with them because I’m a good person.

And, to a certain extent, they’re not totally wrong. The vast majority of the population– male, female, and otherwise– are not rapists and will never rape someone. Most of us recoil in horror at the very thought. But that doesn’t mean that the people who are capable of sexual assault and rape aren’t our friends, the people around us that we like. These people seem normal, ordinary, likable. In fact, for most of their lives, they could be fairly decent people who seem to have a pretty reliable moral compass. These people do not spend all of their time hiding in alleys. In fact, 70% of the time, women are raped by people they know, not strangers. The person that they trust to walk them home from the bar when they know they’ve had too much to drink. Their boyfriend. Their husband.

Ordinary monsters.

In fact, this came up in a recent episode of The Mindy Project. I only have a passing familiarity with the show, but they recently tried to cover “consent” as an episode topic … except it went off the rails and featured Mindy’s boyfriend anally raping her. And Mindy spent the rest of the episode wondering if she was good enough for her boyfriend, instead of calling him out on the fact that he’d put his penis inside of her anus without her consent.

As the viewer, we’re supposed to like Danny. In fact, the few times I’ve caught the show, it seems like Danny is supposed to be a sort of grounding character for Mindy, and also perhaps more moral? That’s speculation, I’m not familiar enough with the show to say, but that was the impression I got.

Except Danny raped his girlfriend.

My own rapist? For the longest time one of the things that held me back from understanding that he’d raped me was the same lie that John Grisham believe(s/d). My rapist wasn’t a monster. I was in love with him. He did all of these wonderfully sweet, romantic things. He surprised me. He loved his parents. He wanted to serve God as a missionary. Everyone on campus adored him. He couldn’t possibly have done that. Except he did. I told him no, and he did it anyway.

This is one of the biggest lies our culture needs to stop believing, because as long as we believe that only hideous monsters who are clearly visible to everyone can do these horrible things, rapists and abusers will continue getting away with it.

Photo by Ville Koivisto
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  • Crystal

    Agreed entirely. I have heard of many of a case – there was one VERY shocking one – where there was a teacher in his 70s teaching elementary school. He looked at child porn for many years AND he is being convicted of the physical outworkings of his lust – but STILL he teaches SCHOOL!!!! I have more thoughts, more stories, and more book titles in my mind regarding rape that I want to share with everyone if that’s all right. You are the one who has REALLY opened my eyes to this and how bad rape apologism is. Now I know what to believe and say to someone who tries to talk the talk on it.

    Also, I have been told that – and I NEVER believed this – that a person can be “spiritually open” to rape. Just fancy! I was told that you could simply talk to your potential attacker about Jesus and he would shrink away at the power of the name, that God would protect you, that you don’t need self-defence, just say the name of Jesus, etc. And if you don’t – if you try to plead, etc., (actually, if you get attacked or raped) you were spiritually open to it (or your clothing provoked it and it doesn’t matter your intentions for what you wore) and Satan attacked you through it. This is meant to be in most cases by the way – not all. It wasn’t a child’s fault so much but a girl’s (far more than a guy’s as we’re supposed to feel pity for our manly men) – tough luck. You were too open with men. Tell me what do you think of THAT?

    I have more thoughts but have to go. Thank you for the article.

    By the way, could you please fill me in on the Gremlin picture (link etc.)? I’m not familiar with him in the least.

    • Abby Normal

      “Spiritually open”????

      WTF gross-how would anyone in their right mind say such a thing?

      Oh, and the Gremlin is from an 80’s movie of the same name. His name is Gizmo and if you feed him after midnight he turns into a slimey murderous beast. I had puffy stickers of him!

      • Crystal

        Well, my dear friend, I think – I have to check this out – but I think what the people who have advocated this idea believe is that as a Christian, you are protected by God (there is a spiritual covering of the blood of Christ over you), and if you are not right with God, or not a Christian, God won’t protect you the same. Therefore, you have a spiritual vacuum left right open for people to attack you because God isn’t in your life. It’s to do with that WoF/NAR stuff that I think is so very damaging to the church. There are so many demons floating around – a spirit of lust can rule a family you know (Joyce Meyer’s helpful input right there). So to protect yourself, you preach Christ and Christ crucified to your potential rapist or harasser. Since they will hate the name of Jesus so much – and sin CAN’T STAND the name of Jesus, they will flee from you. Do you see?

        This is for the West, BTW. If you’re in a persecuted country for your Christian faith, it isn’t your fault. Well, I remember one very wise person saying “No woman ever deserves to be raped.” I agree, regardless of if you are being persecuted for your Christian faith in a non-Western country or not.

        Again. I have more questions, book titles, etc to offer if that is all right. I gotta jet and go to work. Time marches on.

    • Believe it or not, also a cultural problem. Our culture does not treat rape the same way they would treat any other violent crime. I don’t imagine that these same people would say that victims of brutal murders were spiritually open to being murdered.

      Rape is the only crime where people assume that the victim somehow wanted it as well. Nobody thinks that victims of identity theft secretly want to have their identity stolen. There is no question about whether someone might have actually been hoping that someone would break into their house and steal their valuable possessions.

      Unfortunately this is the type of thinking is what keeps rapists on the street, raping more people.

      • Crystal

        Yeah, and it’s also sexual as well, you know. The only time in this theory that a girl will not get attacked is if she is a prayerful, Bible-reading, closeted straight, pure, feminine, sexually naive and uninterested, prudish, submissive, virginal bread-and-butter miss who wants to get married and never put a foot out of line sexually at all. Such a girl doesn’t exist. In other words, if you have a high sexuality (or are sexual at all), or you like to hug boys, or you like to be touched (sexually or otherwise it doesn’t matter) you are spiritually open to Satan and therefore more spiritually open to his wiles and attacks through rape; therefore, you need to be controlled so that men will not be tempted by you. Men can smell you are sexual – figuratively – sense you are open (whether through a hug [sexual or otherwise] or any trusting gesture you have to offer – and you could get hurt if you hugged men too much – it’s an “invitation” I suppose to hug men as a young woman – most improper) and attack you. And spiritually, it would all be your damn fault for not being the right kind of girl.

        The whole thing stinks. The world is so full of injustice.

        Again – don’t you think it’s MORE ladylike to defend yourself and to learn self-defense than to allow yourself to be raped through your ignorance??!! This roles stuff – it ain’t helping in the LEAST. Also, 16 is the age of consent in New Zealand, so someone in my culture wouldn’t be a pedophile for being attracted to a sixteen-year-old girl.

        • Tim

          Learning self-defense is a good thing and may lower your chances of being raped but can’t eliminate it entirely. That teaching about how if you’re prayerful, straight, pure, feminine, sexually naive, etc., you’re guaranteed not to be attacked is both damaging and entirely untrue. But it gets propagated because of fear. People are afraid of being attacked and afraid of their kids being attacked, and they want to feel like that’s something within their control. Sadly, it’s just not.

  • Sarah

    I was also bothered with the way the Mindy Project dealt with that issue. The scene is a little different than you describe, they are awake and actively participating in consensual sex when he “tries something” and she says no and they stop. At first Mindy is a bit horrified and says he is gross, but quickly feels she’s not experienced enough for Danny and tried to go through with anal sex by taking a drug. At which point Danny (who is quite confused by her) takes her to the hospital. All of that was ok I guess (my barometer is sometimes off though) but their conversation at the end is basically Danny saying he went for it and mindy telling him to ask first next time. He agrees, but then asks if she’s ever “done it” in a hospital bed. They then agree that asking first ruins the mood which was where it was clearly disappointing for me. If you have any interest in watching and further analyzing the episode I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m often a bit lost when consuming media. I tend to dismiss and miss a lot of stuff I shouldn’t and am working at being more aware. Thanks for this and all your posts!

    • Ok. I hadn’t seen that particular episode, so I’ll amend what I said.

      Still, any sex act that you’ve not given consent to is rape.

      • Sarah


      • Tim

        I agree with you, any act you’ve not given consent to is rape (technical legal definitions for specific different sexual acts aside.) I haven’t seen the episode in question, but it sounds like over-the-top humor to have Danny “try” that particular thing without mentioning it first. In real life, a guy with a clue, who cares about his partner, is going to ask whether she’s open to it outside the bedroom (some have never tried it and are skeptical but willing – some have tried it and concluded that they do not care to try it again), and then give her a heads-up before attempting penetration, and then check progress. The potential for discomfort is fairly high for most people, even if it doesn’t appear to be that way in a porno.

        But, from the description above, it sounds like Danny stopped as soon as Mindy objects. If so, that’s the precise particular attitude that a rapist lacks. During sex it’s normal to be doing things, maybe new things, and watching and listening to your partner to see whether it’s working for them or not, and consensual partners who are familiar with each other are likely stop anything that’s not working for the other person even before there’s a verbal no. A rapist, on the other hand, sees their partner as an object during sex and ignores the no. It’s like the no never happened, whether it’s hard, soft or non-verbal. A rapist wants what they want, and the wishes of the other person don’t figure into it. Danny doesn’t seem to be written as a rapist. He seems written as clueless in this instance (maybe just clueless boyfriend comedy trope) but not a rapist.

        But discussion about fictional Danny aside, I think the larger point you’re making in this post is really insightful and important. People (the majority, thankfully, in our culture) who aren’t rapists can’t really imagine their friends, people they know and like, as capable of sociopathic behavior. Sociopathy exists out there, somewhere, but not within this person that I know, who basically seems like a decent guy. So when it becomes obvious that this nice guy has done something truly sociopathic, the mind begins to search for another explanation. We don’t want to believe that they really get pleasure out of abusing other people without a shred of empathy. Surely there was just a misunderstanding of some sort. And most sociopaths are well aware that non-sociopaths are looking for that alternative explanation and often become skillful liars.

        Comments like Michael Holleman’s give me hope for the efficacy of the judicial process for at least some people some of the time. It seems like when Mr. Holleman was stopped and confronted with the reality of what he was doing and consequences were imposed, it was able to bring about some change in him.

        • Tim, I can relate very well to your point about people not wanting to imagine their friend could be a rapist so they look for another explanation. In my former Christian community, I belonged to a very tight-knit group of parents with kids who were all around the same age. We met every single week, and often more than once a week, to allow the kids and moms to have time together. We also went to church together. The families celebrated holidays, vacationed together, and the kids and moms were all each other’s BFF’s. The families raised their kids together many times from birth to high school graduation!

          So imagine the horror when we found out that one of the dads of the group RAPED one of the girls! Not his own daughter, a girl from one of the other families. That he had groomed her from a very early age and began sexually molesting her for 2 years before he actually raped her…and videotaped it!!

          It divided the group right down the middle! The perpetrator and the people who wanted to believe that they could not have been married to, be the child of, or been BFFs with, or worshiping with and vacationing with a rapist for all of these years so decided that the girl was an insane liar who needed to be disciplined, shunned, and committed to a mental hospital. After all, how could a 16 yo boy believe that his dad was a rapist??

          Unfortunately, the other side was the victim and the people who knew she was telling the truth!

          Abusers DO NOT appear to be abusers, otherwise they would have no access to their victims! Everyone knows to watch out for the creepy guy lurking in the shadows. Abusers know how to be charming, inviting, and AVERAGE!! They know how to blend in, how to put people off their guard, how to get other people on their side.

          And another thing… abusers CHOOSE their victims!! The ordinary monster in our midst did not abuse and rape every girl in our group…he chose one (and there probably have been others, we don’t know). Please understand, I am NOT IN ANY WAY claiming that the girl did anything wrong or anything to deserve being molested and raped. I’m saying that there was some aspect of her personality he knew how to control enough and she trusted him enough that he was able to manipulate and groom and finally act on his evil desires.

          • Crystal

            How utterly shocking. Is the girl okay now?

          • Tim

            I’m so sorry to hear this story. I hope, at the very least, that the girl’s own parents believed and supported her. Wouldn’t the video tape at least be convincing to the people who wanted to deny this guy was a rapist?

            I hope the guy was prosecuted. Sometimes that can turn someone around and prevent future victims from being hurt. Statistics in the US are that one of our four girls and one of six boys experience child-hood sexual abuse. In my experience in the group of people I know intimately enough to discuss these kinds of experiences, it seems like the number is higher. It’s truly an epidemic. But in most cases the perpetrator was an older teenage “babysitter” or “friend of the family” or older relative, rather than a married man, not related, who groomed the child of a friend within his social circle.

            With the most recent incident that happened with the people I’m closest to, everyone was shocked to hear about the behavior of the perpetrator (now doing four years in prison), but everyone rallied around the victim immediately. No one doubted her story, the authorities were involved immediately. He plead, instead of contesting it in court. I think that helps.

        • I’ve been thinking about what you said here, and I disagree about one thing in particular:

          Danny’s actions are the actions of a rapist because he believed he was entitled to having anal sex. That is demonstrated by the fact that he put his penis inside of Mindy’s anus without asking and I don’t believe that is anywhere close to normal. I’ve known a lot of people talk about kinkier sex and starting to explore things, and in every single healthy relationship whoever wants to do something a little out of the missionary box like anal sex, they ask.

          Someone who doesn’t ask has one of the following things going on inside of their brain:

          a) if I ask, they might say no. I’m just going to not bother, then.
          b) I don’t need to ask for this. I deserve this.
          c) consent to one sex act means that they consenting to anything I want to do.
          d) etc

          None of those things are ok, and all of them are the rationalizations of a rapist. Saying that “oh, he stopped when she reacted” is saying that someone isn’t a rapist just because they don’t want to get called on the carpet for it. The absence of a no is not yes.

          • Tim

            I think I get what you’re saying.

            I think I agree with you that, in real life, in a healthy relationship, someone is definitely going to ask before sticking anything in anyone’s anus. If they don’t ask first, in real life, they either have a rapist (per your a through c rationales) mindset … or they’re just sort of unbelievably (possibly in someone’s mind comedically) inexperienced and lacking in imagination. I would be hard-pressed to believe someone of average intelligence and social acumen really just wouldn’t know any better in real life.

            On the other hand, quite apart from anal sex, I’ve had the experience where a partner did something “new” and it turned out to be uncomfortable for me, and my reaction wasn’t, “Oh, they feel entitled! They’re not respecting my consent!” Rather my reaction was, maybe a previous boyfriend liked that, maybe that sounded like more fun in the magazine article than it turned out to be, maybe they wanted to surprise me. If they had kept doing it after it was obvious that it was not working for me, I would have seen it as annoying behavior, but I wouldn’t immediately conclude that she had a rapist mind-set.

            I think the point of view you’re bringing to this is valuable – media can be dangerous if it normalizes, even if unintentionally, rapist ways of thinking, particularly because of the prevalence of those ideas in our culture in general.

          • I know this may be slightly off topic but I’m very curious what you think about it. I have had problems in the past (of which I guarantee are a result of the culture I was raised in i.e. patriarchy, purity, etc.) where I engaged in sexual activity when I didn’t want to. I am completely in agreement that the absence of a no is not a yes. But in these instances I didn’t say yes but I also didn’t say no and I allowed it to happen even though I didn’t want to. I don’t think I consider these people as having a rapists mindset but more that I was not standing up for myself and respecting my body. What do you think? I’ve struggled with this A LOT!

          • I didn’t start reading your blog until 2014. I never went back and read that post but thank you for it. I just had a shocking realization as to why for the first time in my life I am actually so happy and completely comfortable with the guy I am dating. He is the first and only guy I’ve met and been involved with that has not ever pressured or coerced or manipulated in any way. And it feels fantastic. I didn’t even realize how vastly different he is from all the other guys I was previously involved with. My one and only committed relationship was with a man who I now recognize as extremely emotionally manipulative and sexually coercive. In fact when I first met him I told him up front that I was waiting for marriage to have sex. And he said Oh that’s fine. But although there was no intercourse for a whole year the sexual coercion started almost immediately after I told him that. And would touch me and do things and after a few months he started getting all moody and whining saying it wasn’t fair that he was giving me pleasure but that I wasn’t doing the same for him.

  • Just for the record, both of my abusers were sober when they assaulted/molested me. And child porn consumers are just confused, drunk guys? Please.

  • I actually agree with what you said-to a certain extent, I think he had a point. That is such a common judgement these days about child pornography and producers going out and staging videos to represent that for those individuals is just encouraging it. I don’t agree that they shouldn’t be punished. Maybe if someone had of done something about my father watching it, I wouldn’t have been the one to suffer.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by “that is such a common judgment these days about child pornography”?

      • That they’re misjudged for having viewed it and shouldn’t be punished as harshly as they are or at all.

        • I’m sorry– but I’m not misjudging anyone who’s willing to look at children who have been sexually abused or raped, or are willing to watch someone rape a child. They should be punished– and 18 months in prison hardly seems like enough.

          • Crystal


          • Tim

            I think french vanilla was saying that she’s been exposed to this idea that consumers of child porn shouldn’t receive harsh sentences, but she vigorously disagrees with that idea. In her experience, her father acted out after viewing child porn, and if he had been prosecuted and incarcerated it might have kept him from acting out.

          • Melody

            That’s how I understood it as well.

          • That’s not what I was talking about. I agree. I was talking about how society-people who have not committed such a crime-are saying that they shouldn’t be, which is something you addressed in your blog if I remember correctly due to John Grisham’s press release. That is what I was referring to. I was not saying you personally. Nor did I disagree they should be any less harshly punished by the law. I’m sorry you misunderstood my comment.

  • Alyson

    I haven’t watched much of The Mindy Project, but I remember bloggers talking about it a while back because a sober female character took advantage of a male character who was (in his own words) blackout-drunk.

  • A.nonny.mouse

    I have a former play partner who comes across as a very thoughtful, reasonable experienced Dom who has his partners’ best interests in mind. He’s great- except that he raped two of my friends. The first was before we were together; the second was while we were. (Poly/open relationships all round.) I’m a bit sickened that I ever slept with him, but…as soon as everything came out, we had no further sexual contact and very little other contact. (I did convince him to see a therapist, but he never saw what he did as rape. Ew.) He’s since had charges filed against him, by both my friends and anther woman I don’t know who filed separately.
    He was my friend. I had a bad crush on him. And he was an ordinary monster.

    • Tim

      I think the typical reaction to a story like yours is, didn’t you notice any warning signs about this guy? But sometimes there really just aren’t any (or if there are, they’re the kinds of things that are true for so many non-rapists that they’re either sort of useless or else lead to an unreasonable paranoia). Maybe having charges filed against him will cause him to re-evaluate and lead to some change. At least that legal history will serve as a warning sign in the future.

  • Reading this post made me want to wash my hands with Clorox. Lady Macbeth syndrome big time.

  • mike

    “This is one of the biggest lies our culture needs to stop believing, because as long as we believe that ONLY hideous monsters(emphasis mine) who are clearly visible to everyone can do these horrible things, rapists and abusers will continue getting away with it.”

    We are ALL capable of such evil, along with all the other resident evils that hide within the heart of mankind. This acknowledgement is a prerequisite to spiritual Awakening.

    • I disagree.

      I do not believe in original or inherited sin, either.

      • Indeed. “We are all capable of rape and abuse” is just as horrifically wrongheaded as “since he doesn’t have glowing red eyes or leave a trail like a slug, he’s clearly not capable of rape or abuse”!

      • >I do not believe in original or inherited sin, either.

        That’s a strange thing to say, since original “sin” is the about only doctrine in Christianity that can be (sort of) proven. People are evolved creatures and we have built in selfishness because our emotions are selected for with individual survival, not common good.

        • Even if that were proven true–and, to be clear, it’s not (something EvaM went into more detail about)–it still wouldn’t be the same as “original or inherited sin,” which claims that people are born with something to feel guilty about already and (as just demonstrated) leads to declarations that we’re all as bad as rapists.

          I am better than Ms. Field’s ex-fiance. Better than the person A.nonny.mouse just spoke about. I think most people here are. It is unfortunate that mike’s religious beliefs tell him that we are not, and confuse moral nihilism with “spiritual Awakening.”

          • > Even if that were proven true–and, to be clear, it’s not (something EvaM went into more detail about)–it still wouldn’t be the same as “original or inherited sin,” which claims that people are born with something to feel guilty about already and (as just demonstrated) leads to declarations that we’re all as bad as rapists.

            I agree that concepts are not the same. Nevertheless it is obvious that people are inherently screwed up to some extent. Not saying people should necessarily feel bad about being inherently screwed up (I am not a Christian), just that they are.

            > I am better than Ms. Field’s ex-fiance. Better than the person A.nonny.mouse just spoke about. I think most people here are.


            >It is unfortunate that mike’s religious beliefs tell him that we are not, and confuse moral nihilism with “spiritual Awakening.”

            Agree again.

      • mike

        …That’s OK…. if you live long enough,,,you will 🙂

        • That is really patronizing.

          • Tim

            I don’t always agree with you, but it’s obvious that you spend time thinking deeply about issues that concern you, and I value the way you share your thought processes and conclusions in an organized and transparant way. There are four thoughts that I have concerning the notion of “no inherited or original sin,” that I would be curious to hear your perspective on.

            The first has to do with the concept of “sin” which means different things to different people. I’m more or less comfortable with sin as: “We’ve failed to perfectly love God and our neighbor as ourselves. We’ve done things we shouldn’t, and we’ve failed to do things we should.” This concept of sin involves empathy as a guiding principle. It identifies rape, assault, theft and discrimination as sin, but would also include less grossly harmful selfish acts that benefit us at someone else’s expense. Importantly (wrt discussion of original sin) it identifies sin with the present, focusing on what I personally have done or failed to do in the now, rather than focusing on what my ancestors did. What do you think about this definition? If sin is primarily defined in this way, it seems to me that it poses some strong logical challenges to the notion of inherited sin.

            However, I would guess that you consider some of the things you did when you were younger to be sins: for example, lack of appropriate empathy in saying hurtful things to other kids who you were sure were just wrong about particular theological issues. But would you have said those hurtful things if you had not grown up in a sub-culture that modeled that kind of behavior? And is not a culture something we inherit? I think that may be where the idea of inherited sin comes in. To take an extreme example, if I’m born in Sudan where slavery is prevalent, and my father owns slaves, I’m sort of born into the sin of slave-ownership. Isn’t it true that people find themselves born into discrimination and bigotry and greed? What do you think?

            Thirdly, what Christian denominations are you aware of that entirely dispense with the idea of inherited sin? If you really see any sermon that endorses the concept of inherited sin as being in serious theological error, it will narrow your choice of churches quite a bit, won’t it? Or am I wrong about that?

            Lastly, if you see responsibility for all sin as borne exclusively by the individual sinner, how does that affect your view of forgiveness and grace? How do you view the rapist? Is he most likely going to hell? (to punishment and annihilation) Is redemption for him or her possible? If God forgives the rapist, is God just being ridiculous?

          • My working definition of “sin” for the moment is “actions or inaction that hurts people.” I’m still working on this question, but I think we’re working with basically the same mindset.

            However, that’s not the definition I’m working with when I say that I reject the ideas of Original and Inherited Sin– when I say I don’t believe in those, what I’m saying is that I don’t think that these ideas, as articulated by people such as Augustine and Calvin, are biblical or moral. I do not believe in the traditional expressions and traditional way of teaching the doctrines of Original Sin or Inherited Sin, and I’m not changing the traditional definition of sin as “transgression of the law of God,” or “disobeying God.”

            I reject Original and Inherited Sin because those doctrines exist, in conservative contexts, for no other reason than to condemn people to eternal conscious torment. “We all deserve eternal conscious torment” is a concept that can only exist if you believe that we are all born guilty of Adam’s sin, and I think that position is completely immoral and indefensible.

            I don’t think it is possible to try to re-define Original and Inherited Sin, as those are specific names for a specific theological concept.

          • Tim

            I was paraphrasing the common book of prayer with my definition of sin. Your definition: “action or inaction that hurts people” reminds me of the language in Romans 13: “Love does no harm to a neighbor,” as well as perhaps the hurt through inaction which is condemend in the picture of the Final Judgement in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you gave me no food …” So I definitely think there’s a connection between our definitions. I think there’s a connection between either of those and the traditional “disobeying God,” as well, but the different words imply a difference in perspective, even if the specific actions that one should or shouldn’t do are the same.

            I have a passing acquaintance with Calvin and Augustine (and Pellagius and Arminius) and the theological controvery surrounding some of their ideas, but I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the way each of them would have spoken of Original and Inherited Sin. I think I get your argument: 1) In conservative circles people say everyone is born guilty of Adam’s sin and therefore deserving eternal conscious torment. 2) The idea of eternal conscious torment for anyone seems morally and bibilcally indefensible. 3) Therefore 1) must be rejected. That makes sense to me.

            But what if there is some biblical basis for the idea of some kind of inherited sin quite apart from any traditional Augustinian or Calvinistic doctrines that have anything to do with any ideas about hell? There’s probably no utility in an amateur internet nobody theological like myself trying to redefine a term that’s been in use for 1500 years. But I think there may be something really Christian or biblical that lies underneath the term.

            Beroli above said, “I am better than Ms Fields’ ex-Fiance”. No doubt Beroli never raped anyone. Also, never owned slaves. Does that automatically confer a measure of moral superiority over the young man born into a slave-owning family in Sudan who has to learn somehow that slavery is wrong and then choose to reject all the benefits of slavery that give ease to his life in order to leave that sin?

            I agree with the Pelagian concept of “Liberty” or “free will”: we all bear moral responsibilty for all our choices. But unless we’re born of morally perfect parents in a morally perfect culture under the rules of a morally perfect government and other institutions, isn’t there the likelihood that we’ll make morally poor choices some of the time just because that’s the way we’ve been guided? I think that may be where the need for grace comes in. Just musing.

          • Crystal

            Samantha, please don’t feel bad about Mike. He means well, but he is one of these fools who thinks we’re ALL as bad as Hitler (Mike if I am patronising you by that remark I apologise but I still think Hitler was uncommonly evil and worse than most without apology). Just fancy that! I can’t imagine being as bad as that!

            Sure, we all do naughty things though, but all as bad as Hitler? Just wait. Didn’t the guy that said that just minimise the suffering of victims?

            I do have a point if you’ll hang on with me.

            My thought is (mixed with what I was taught as a child so far) is that God did create us with the knowledge of right and wrong. He wrote it on our hearts and (according to the original sin theory) when we go against that, we sin. Now – everyone does go against that. But most people have a conscience to remind them that they are sinning. It is those that sear their conscience with a hot iron that are genuinely in hot water if you’ll forgive my saying so. When a person turns themselves over to evil, they lose a little of their conscience (or as the Eastern Orthodox would say, a little of the image of God) to sin and eventually they have turned themselves over, but most people would never go that far because they also have a strong desire to be good – also built in by God. If people are so bad – and sin is what we are – how come we want to do good things too? This is where Mike is coming from – from saying that we’re all as an unclean thing, and our righteousness’s are as filthy rags in God’s sight. Please don’t worry about Mike, and please pity him as I’m sure he did come here to learn rather than argue. The idea that we’re all as bad as rapists has confused me too.

        • Bri

          Agreed with Samantha. Stop telling other people what they will or won’t eventually believe. Also, Mike, if YOU have lived long enough to find that you’re capable of rape or abuse, then I strongly suggest you take absolutely whatever measures are necessary to prevent yourself from it.

        • Also, I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life. I’ve been raped, assaulted, harassed, physically, verbally, emotionally, and spiritually abused in many different environments and contexts. I’ve survived being in a cult, going to a prison for a college, and endured a lot of things that most people never even contemplate having to go through.

          I’m not naive and innocent and unaware of the “way the world really is,” and saying that I’m somehow inexperienced in evil and that’s the only reason why I’d disagree with you about this is just beyond insulting. It’s erasing my entire life and the clusterfuck it’s been.

  • EvaM

    Actually if you look at our closest relatives, primates, they all have extremely prevalent group mentalities and complex social circles very similar to those seen in humans, just on a smaller scale. 
    As well as this, humans have evolved enough to develop the capacity for logic and reason as well as emotional responses which is why, I think, we came up with the idea of an all-powerful moral centre (God) so we could have a way to teach our morals to younger generations and also something to aspire to and to live for. After all, if we’re not just surviving for the purpose of surviving then what are we living for? 

    I find it’s people who have reverted to the more primal ‘out for myself’ way of thinking that are more at risk of becoming abusers and rapists. These people have next to no morals at best. They don’t care about anyone except themselves. And they KNOW they’re wrong. Society tells them they are. That’s why they make sure they can cover their tracks and that’s why they find loopholes (which in rape culture are so blindingly obvious) and they’re able to pretend they’re just like us. 

    Humans in general though, aren’t selfish creatures. I find that people who commit crimes and do horrible things to other people need to find a way to justify it to themselves. The only way to justify something like rape is to somehow dehumanise the victim to a point where their rights don’t matter anymore. 
    People who watch pornography are looking at images. Many of them don’t make the connection that they are real people. I think that may have been what Grisham was thinking when he made the comments.
    It’s been happening since humans have been humans. To the Romans, gladiators weren’t people they were a spectator sport. To the Brits who colonised America, native Americans weren’t people, they were an obstacle. To Hitler, the Jews were a point to be proven. To IS the people they have beheaded are just a means to an end. It takes a special kind of warped mentality to be able to dehumanise others but unfortunately this mentality has been not only present but indoctrinated over all of social history. It’s why have sexism, racism, ablism, sectarianism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc; because humans were taught that anyone outside the so-called ‘norms’ of the time were to be feared and hated. Now that humans are in a place where the survival of our species is not an issue, we’re fighting instead to make sure our ideas survive. That’s we have to get rid of rape culture and I think a good way to start would be to teach as many as we can that equality covers everyone. All people have the same fundamental rights and all people deserve their autonomy. Most people believe this already but they don’t teach it because it just seems like common sense.

  • Great thoughts Sam! You write: “This is one of the biggest lies our culture needs to stop believing, because as long as we believe that only hideous monsters who are clearly visible to everyone can do these horrible things, rapists and abusers will continue getting away with it.” Absolutely!!!
    I have written about recognizing predators through their words and actions instead of relying on mythical assumptions of what sex offenders should look like : “To think of …sex offenders as monsters is to minimize their responsibility for their actions. Monsters behave like monsters. It isn’t a choice they make. But offenders who behave monstrously are people, not monsters, people who have chosen to behave abusively and who need to be held responsible for their choices.” http://convergemagazine.com/sex-offenders-midst-13681/
    We need to learn to recognize sex offenders by educating ourselves about abuse and abuse dynamics otherwise we are vulnerable to their predatory tactics.