So shortly after the news of Josh Duggar’s child molesting past came to light, I posted this on Facebook:
“Think about this: to date, at least, no one from the Duggar family has publicly blamed the victims, the media, or confusion wrought by the Sexual Revolution. Right now, Duggar Family > the Roman Catholic Church.”
With a day to chew things over, though, there is more worthy of comparison than I originally thought. And thus begins my obligatory blog post on the Duggar family.
Without excusing Jim Bob Duggar’s actions regarding his son, I understand it, a bit like how we understand acts of murder—we know what it’s like to be angry, greedy, frustrated, despairing, so all you have to do is just project that a bit beyond your own personal breaking point. Many commenters have insisted that Jim Bob should have reported his son to the police personally when first he got a hint of his son’s doings, but how many fathers report their sons when they similarly find them drunk or high, for example? This isn’t to compare child molestation to underage drinking, but just to say that we, as a society, give parents the first crack at child discipline, at setting their kids right, and don’t necessarily expect them immediately to report illegal activities their children may have committed, so long as they are small-scale infractions of the law. You son gets arrested being drunk and underage, and chances are that you could admit to the judge knowledge of this problem so long as you had tried to get said son some help in some way. Parents occupy a privileged position vis-a-vis their offspring regarding our requirements for the reporting of criminal activities.
Of course, there is no hard-and-fast rule designating the sort of crimes that cross the line between “something to be handled in house” and “something that mandates reporting to the authorities”—in large part because that line is an unofficial construct in the first place. As ol’ Jim Bob learned of his son’s activities, he first ignored them, then brought before his church elders, then sought a bit of counseling for his son, and, yes, all of that is tainted by the fact that every action of his was underwritten by a religious worldview that labels such misdeeds as “sins” rather than “crimes, and that Josh was probably given no more instruction other than to pray away the child molesting part of him. But Daddy Duggar’s course of action is too perfectly human. He tried to get his son some kind of help, and in a way that wouldn’t permanently label his son a child molester for the rest of his life. We don’t know what sort of help he tried to get the daughters who were on the receiving end of Josh’s unwanted advances, and it’s certainly sick that he later foisted the family on national television and sold them to America as a perfect little gaggle of godliness, never once acknowledging the complications inherent to any kind of family life, and yes, it is perfectly hypocritical for the Duggars to scare up folks about the evil gays coming to molest your children, all the while knowing that they have a perfect little child molester in their own midst. But remove all the taint of the Duggar’s national reputation, remove their advocacy of mandatory breeding for all women of childbearing age, and just look at those initial acts, and you can find somewhere in there a father who is likely confused by his son’s misdeeds and trying to correct them in the only way he knows how. It’s not excusable, but it’s perfectly human.
(Of course, we don’t know where the mother was in all of this, because these are the Duggars, and women are meant to be mirrors that reflect back the godliness of their husbands—a perfect little patriarchy.)
Now, around the time that Daddy Duggar was trying to sort our his son’s proclivities for forcing himself upon kin, there had broken in the national media the modern child rape scandal relating to the Roman Catholic Church. I said previously that I understood the Duggar situation a bit like how I understand acts of murder, and so, if we follow this metaphor down the road a bit, Rome’s own actions resemble the equivalent of genocide: a systematic conspiracy that entails a list of victims difficult to enumerate, a centralized authority pulling the strings, a massive bureaucracy that recalls Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil,” and a media campaign that blames the victims for their own situation while holding up “our boys” as the epitome of virtue. We often speak of genocide as the “crime of crimes” or the crime that defies human understanding, but that’s an exaggerated sentiment. However, while we can find humanity in the father trying to deal with his son’s assaults upon siblings, it does prove harder to find the humanity in the clutch of pontifical authorities who receive from across the world these reports of child rape and engineer how best to cover it all up.
But that’s not to say that what we have here are to completely separate phenomena. Many scholars see murder and genocide as not disparate acts depending upon a quantification of victims but rather as lying on a spectrum. Christian Gerlach, for one, prefers to speak not of genocide, as that word has more than its share of political baggage and competing definitions, but rather of “extremely violent societies,” being societies whose culture and political systems encourage violence against select groups. In the United States, for example, acts of lynching and racial cleansing occurred without any dependence upon a defined leadership or a systematic blueprint for the destruction of minority groups—the culture of the dominant population was such that individual communities could almost be guaranteed to carry out such acts of violence when the right set of circumstances presented themselves. Authority for such deeds was distributed across the population, rather than centralized. Now, some extremely violent societies are highly centralized, but that need not be a prerequisite for campaigns of atrocity.
In this respect do Rome and the Duggars arise from—and, in turn, promote—a similar culture (or, rather, a cult) of moral authority and purity. When it comes to Rome, that authority is centered upon popes and priests, but for the Duggars, and other groups like them, moral authority resides within every male who belongs to the faith, for Christian men represent the kingship of God in this world. When it comes to Rome, you’ll get massive cover-ups of sexual scandals, but the Duggars, and other groups like them, are of such a small scale that these conspiracies are impossible. However, because they all share the same culture, you’ll get something that looks similar, as each little clique covers over its own criminal misdeeds.
If I can find the human in Daddy Duggar’s deeds, it’s probably because I don’t share an exalted view of humanity (and everybody should know that Hamlet was speaking sarcastically when he said, “Oh what a piece of work is man”). But understanding does not excuse, nor does it erase the fact that the Duggars and Rome lie upon the same spectrum. They both constitute extremely violent societies—the only difference is the scale.