Is Religious Child Abuse Getting Worse?

It seems that every day there is another case of child abuse exposed within religious organizations. Religious leaders try to capitalize on the cases, as evidence of evil in the world and pass off the blame on the Devil. They even point to increasing secularism in Western society as the reason for so many cases. And, they are right. It is because of secular laws that so many more child predators are brought to trial. But, it is not because the Devil has greater power in our society that we have so many more cases of child abuse than in our parents’ day. It is because the agents of Jesus can no longer get away with crimes against children as easily as they used to. It was only about 40 years ago that law enforcement in Western countries began taking child abuse seriously as a crime. It was only when secular morality superseded Christian morality that Westerners began protecting children’s human rights.

A great example for measuring the positive effect of secularism on children in Western culture is the absence of eunuchs in modern society. Most Europeans today have never seen a eunuch. But, just a little over 100 years ago, it was common to see eunuchs in Catholic churches throughout Western Europe.

The Catholic Church is an ancient institution and its moral code was first defined by people with the ethical standards of antiquity. The most shocking difference between ancient Roman morality and modern Western morality is found in attitudes towards children. In Roman culture, children were considered the property of their parents or the property of slave owners. And, many slaves were eunuchs. Turning boys into eunuchs for prostitution was a very old custom and a tradition in some West Asian cults. Christianity began as a West Asian cult and many of the first Christians were eunuchs. The new cult followed the tradition of devotees becoming the slaves of the deity. And, castration was one of the rituals performed in dedication to the gods. It is because of that tradition that Jesus endorsed castration:

For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. (Matthew 19:12)

The eunuch slaves of cults were subjected to the same tax as prostitutes because prostitution was one of the ways by which they made money. Eunuch prostitution became even more popular as Roman society became more homophobic. Eunuchs were considered sexually neutral, neither male nor female. Eunuchs also increased amongst the imperial slaves of Roman emperors. By the time of Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion of the empire, the emperor was completely surrounded by a staff of eunuch slaves. The public, particularly the Roman elite class, despised the emperor’s eunuch slaves because of their political power. The eunuchs who served in cults also gained a bad reputation as lascivious and dishonest. It was within this social context of the unpopularity of eunuchs, that Christians redefined Jesus’ endorsement of castration to mean celibacy. Priests and other Church officials were no longer supposed to become eunuchs. However, eunuch slavery continued within the Church.

The Church forbade the old pagan ritual of auto-castration amongst the clergy. However, it is clear that the involuntary castration of boys increased in popularity under Christian dominion, because Christian eunuchs were valued for their singing voices. Only boys castrated before puberty develop the unique castrati singing voice. By the 9th century CE, eunuch singers were well known in Christian churches. The popularity of eunuch singers within the Church reached a fevered pitch between the mid-seventeenth and mid-eighteenth century. But, many of the boys who were castrated were not good singers. They were distributed throughout the churches of Europe as servants, at the beck and call of the priesthood.

Attitudes about eunuchs began to change with during the Enlightenment. The French legal code was born out of the secular humanist movement in Europe and expressly forbade the castration of boys. After the unification of Italy in 1861, the new state adopted the French legal code. But, the Vatican did not follow suit until 1878, when the pope finally prohibited the addition of any new eunuchs to Church choirs.

For several thousand years, castration of boys was publicly accepted and performed for the benefit of religious institutions. Neither Jesus nor the Devil ever did anything to stop the horrible mutilation and sexual exploitation of boys. It was the triumph of secular morality over Christian morality the stopped the wicked practice. Every case of religious child abuse you see in the news is good news. It is evidence that the secular public no longer accepts religious child abuse.

Diana Agorio is the author of Sex Rites: the Origins of Christianity, available on Amazon.</span> <span>

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Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on September 5, 2010 at 11:09pm
Thank you for your insightful piece. I have not studied religious history in much detail. There is so much of history, it is virtually impossible to know it all.
Comment by Frankie Dapper on September 5, 2010 at 10:41pm
I propose an addition to public education. HISTORY OF RELIGION The religious apologists will cover hospitals, charity, comforting the distraught and the standard sanctimonious platitudes. The realists will cover religion's impact on women, children, mentally ill, gays, blacks, jews, warfare, torture, poverty, the downtrodden, zenophobia, science, progress, and third world countries.
I dont think children will fall asleep in class. Bill Maher will have something new to talk about. The truth will suggest a better path for civilization. I have a dream.
Comment by Diana Agorio on September 5, 2010 at 7:58pm
Thanks, Glen. I don't have much hope of discussing anything rationally with theists. However, even many atheists, agnostics, and non-affiliated "spiritual" people think that religion is based on some sort of good. Most of us grew up with a good Christian grandma and we think of the religion in terms of her goodness. But, our grandmas didn't invent Christianity. And, most people of all walks of life are very ignorant of religious history. If they knew the truth, they would be completely against religious organizations in charge of so many programs for children. It is really stunning that the Catholic Church in particular is given so much private and government money to care for orphans, etc. It is like putting the wolf in charge of the sheep and calling him “Lassie.”
Comment by Frankie Dapper on September 5, 2010 at 7:19pm
I think some atheists have taken the wrong approach in polemics and epistemology. It is virtually impossible to reason with a pea-brained theist. You just can not get through to them. They have an emotional force field that makes their god impervious to reason.
On the other hand most theists are utterly ignorant of church history. It is good to force feed them history.What does the institution in question do when it has the power. Make the theist realize that their equivalency of church and morality is obscene.
Good piece Diana.



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