Why Are Americans So Obsessed with Pedophilia?
It is well that war is so terrible. We would grow too fond of it. – Robert E. Lee
You can’t stop me. I spend 30,000 men a month. – Napoleon
I would rather have a dead son than a disobedient one. – Martin Luther
Anybody who tells you that he has some way of leading you to spiritual enlightenment is like somebody who picks your pocket and sells you your own watch. – Alan Watts
We need to address this question from four perspectives:
1 – Psychology
It is certainly possible that some NACs who may be high on empathy and low on boundaries, especially women, are abuse survivors themselves, and that the highly publicized pedophilia within the Catholic Church has triggered old memories of trauma for thousands of people. However, outside the safe, ritual container of therapy, the urge to reveal the truth may be overcome by denial and projection. Psychologist David Bakan writes, “Some things are simply too terrible to think about if one believes them. Thus one does not believe them in order to make it possible to think about them.”
These ego defenses also make it possible to ignore their loyal support of Trumpus, a man who brags about abusing women. Another ego defense – idealization – is the way we keep the secret that our entire culture is built upon the symbolic sacrifice of our children, a theme I’ll return to below.
2 – History and sociology
Conspiracies centering on the vulnerability of children are neither new nor distinctly American. Wild claims of Jews killing Christian children and using their blood in rituals – the “blood libel” – date back to at least the 12th century, and long before that the Roman authorities accused Christians themselves of performing similar rites. So we certainly ought to ask why child-abuse paranoia explodes into public consciousness at certain moments?
In the 1980s the McMartin preschool accusations, with their similarities to last year’s “Pizzagate” narrative, provoked a national spectacle during which scores of people were accused – wrongly, it turned out – of sex crimes against children. The continuities between these two cases suggest a broader explanation for pedophile conspiracies: they’re an outgrowth of reactionary politics.
Richard Beck locates the roots of the McMartin conspiracy theory in the social progress of the previous decade, particularly – and ironically – in the gains won by women. Ali Breland writes that the idea of day care has always held a prominent place in right-wing demonology, that it was a communist plot to destroy the traditional family:
In 1971, President Richard Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, which would’ve established a national day-care system…By the time Judy Johnson came forward in 1983 with allegations that a teacher at the McMartin preschool had molested her child, the country had been primed to assume the worst by more than a decade of child-care fearmongering.
It wasn’t just the movement of women into the workplace that created the conditions for a reactionary panic. There were other cultural forces at work. The anti-rape campaign of the 1970s, historian Philip Jenkins writes in Moral Panic, had “formulated the concepts and vocabulary that would become integral to child-protection ideology,” in particular a “refusal to disbelieve” victims. The repressed-memory movement of that era had created a therapeutic consensus surrounding kids’ claims of molestation: “Be willing to believe the unbelievable,” as the self-help book The Courage to Heal put it…And the anti-cult movement of the late 1970s had raised the specter of satanic cabals engaging in human sacrifice and other sinister behavior…
If women’s entry into the workplace in the latter half of the 20th century triggered deep anxieties about the decay of traditional gender roles and the family unit, in the 21st century it was same-sex marriage, growing acceptance of transgender rights, and the seeming cultural hegemony of a social justice agenda.
The new accusations have shifted from individual, male preschool teachers to an entire class of liberals and globalists, many of whom (Epstein, Soros, Dershowitz, Weinstein) are Jews. Chip Berlet writes: “In all Western culture, you can argue that all conspiracy theories, no matter how diverse, come from the idea of the Jews abducting children.”
But QAnon has added a new and more secular factor, as Amanda Marcotte writes:
Evangelical Christianity played the same role for conservatives in the pre-Trump years, letting them feel holy and moral despite openly backing politicians who promoted immoral policies. But it came with a bunch of downsides, like being made to feel guilty for premarital sex, divorce or even (as Falwell Jr. found out) drinking and partying. With QAnon, you get to sleep in on Sunday and have all the sex you like, without giving up that pious assertion of moral superiority or the presumption of secret knowledge.
Again, we can’t help but notice the unmistakable smell of money – and the con man, as Eddie Kim writes:
…“Save Our Children Initiative” is fighting to “end sex trafficking” by…asking for sponsorships and selling a $35 T-shirt…revenue from the shirts will go to an unspecified “charitable organization” that is “supporting funding towards increasing the survivors [sic].”…the founders don’t appear to have any experience in child advocacy work; one is a Trump-supporting fitness and lifestyle influencer, while the other runs a custom apparel-printing shop…
My essay “The Con Man” traces the intersections of religion, capitalism, consumerism and the unique confluence of optimism and naivete in the American psyche: “No con man can succeed without a ‘mark,’ however, and this is where American myth re-enters the conversation.” The source of any con man’s power to trick us comes from our own willingness to be tricked. /
3 – Politics and Morality
Many of the Q supporters obsessed with pedophilia have undoubtedly emerged from the same evangelical ranks that have crusaded for decades against abortion rights while simultaneously voting against programs intended to care for poor children (who, in public perception, are often perceived as brown or black). This privileged, even willful ignorance allows them to resolve the cognitive dissonance that arises from the conflict between the legitimate desire to lessen suffering on the one hand, and outright racism on the other.
Beyond their own dissonance, their concerns about child abuse and trafficking are a deep insult to Black people, whose ancestors really were raped and trafficked in the hundreds of thousands; to Native Americans, whose ancestors were stolen in the thousands as children and confined to prisons, otherwise known as “boarding schools;” to contemporary Native American women (at least 5,600 of whom the FBI listed as “disappeared” last year); to Japanese Americans, whose ancestors were sent as children to concentration camps, otherwise known as “relocation camps;” and to the thousands of Latinx children currently held in cages by ICE and the Border Patrol because their parents illegally entered the U.S. looking for work or legally applying for asylum.
Ironically, the Q-inspired paranoia has motivated so many good-hearted people to become active that they actually get in the way of activists who fight the real problem by clogging up phone lines, confusing their fundraising efforts, and interfering with social media campaigns.
4 – Mythology
History reflects mythology. The misplaced concern about pedophilia rests upon and has re-energized an immensely old story in which boys are groomed by their elders to offer up their bodies in the great ritual sacrifice of war. Here are two essays of mine that refer to it: Redeeming the World and The Hero Must Die.
The myth of the killing of the children is our culture’s most fundamental mythic narrative, as I describe in Chapter Six. We idealize the family as the ultimate “safe container.” Yet we experience the breakdown of myth and the loss of initiation rituals most directly in the crimes and betrayals that adults inflict upon children. Myth suggests that it has always been this way – or at least since the triumph of patriarchy.
Child sacrifice is a common Old Testament theme. Jehovah accused the Israelites: “… you slaughtered my children and presented them as offerings!” Like the pagans, they “shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the altars of Canaan…”
Most significantly, Abraham – father of Judeo-Christian-Moslem monotheism – prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his loyalty to God. Bruce Chilton writes, “Different versions of Genesis 22 circulated in an immensely varied tradition called the Aqedah or ‘Binding’ of Isaac in Rabbinic sources and – with key changes – in both Christian and Islamic texts.”
From our point of view, it doesn’t matter that Jehovah stopped the sacrifice, only that Abraham was willing. Indeed, in some later versions of the myth, Isaac was indeed killed, and he came to embody the only sacrifice acceptable to God. Generally, however, the patriarchs couldn’t openly admit that they were capable of such barbarism, so they projected child sacrifice onto the gods – such as Moloch – of other people.
In the Christian version, this same God confirmed the centrality of this most fundamental theme of Western culture when he abandoned his only son. When the crucified Jesus asked, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” he was quoting the ancient Psalm 22, which acknowledged centuries of abuse, betrayal and the profound depression – or unquenchable desire for vengeance – that results. Whether Hebrew or Greek, patriarchs feared rivals among their subjects or children, pursued the most terrible of initiations and slaughtered the innocent, while the survivors became killers themselves.
These stories are absolutely central to Western consciousness. They describe basic father-son relationships and indicate how long it has been since initiation rituals broke down. Once, the fathers used to kill the sons symbolically so that they might grow into authentic men. For at least three millennia, however, the patriarchs have conducted pseudo-initiations, feeding their sons into the infinite maw of literalized violence. Indeed, it was their great genius – and primordial crime – to extend child- sacrifice from the family to the state. Boys eventually were forced to participate in the sacrifice. No longer surrendering to symbolic death, they learned to, in a sense, overcome death by inflicting it on others.
Ultimately, sacrifice – dying for the cause – became as important as physical survival. Martyrdom became an ethical virtue that every believer must be prepared to emulate. Chilton writes:
Uniquely among the religions of the world, the three that center on Abraham have made the willingness to offer the lives of children – an action they all symbolize with versions of the Aqedah – a central virtue for the faithful as a whole.
When the state replaces the fathers, boys must become patriots (Latin: pater, father) to become men. Those who most excel in this madness become sociopathic killers and mentors to future generations. Such fathers feel pride, but they also fear the possibility of being overthrown. Thus their initiations always contain both a threat and a deal: You will sacrifice your emotions and relational capacity, submit to our authority in all matters and become our mirror image. In exchange you may physically and sexually dominate your women, your children — and the Earth — as we abuse you.
Yet don’t we idealize our children? Parents commonly deny their own needs so that the children might have a better future, and government demonizes and punishes those suspected of harming them. We go to war so the children may be free. The deeper truth is that we love children because the archetypal child symbolizes rebirth, transformation and innocence. Christ said that to enter the kingdom one must be as innocent as those whose minds and bodies are still undivided by civilization.
The image of the child personifies the lost unity all adults long for. However, to recover that unity requires long and painful work, as D. H. Lawrence knew:
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self,
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance.
So the image of the child evokes something else: the suffering to be endured on the road back to wholeness, and the grief over what we have lost. Consequently, many adults are compelled to destroy that image, to remove it from consciousness and replace it with idealization. Why else would we emphasize family values and threats to “the children” while destroying social programs that keep families together, or punish children simply because their parents are poor? This can only happen in a society that is deeply ambivalent about its own children.
Lloyd de Mause begins his survey of the vast literature on European child-raising: “The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awake.” Christians long believed that children were inherently perverse: “The new-born babe is full of the stains and pollution of sin, which it inherits from our first parents through our loins.” They required extreme discipline and early baptism, which used to include actual exorcism of the Devil. Initiation rites became literalized in child abuse, with customs ranging from tight swaddling and steel collars to foot binding, genital circumcision and rape.
There is considerable evidence of the literal killing of both illegitimate children (at least as late as the 19th century) and legitimate ones, especially girls, in Europe. As a result, there was a large imbalance of males over females well into the Middle Ages. By the sixteenth century, the new religious dogma of Calvinism flowed seamlessly into the older myth of the killing of the children. Now, the patriarchs had a perfect excuse for their culture-wide abuse of their children: children deserved it, because they were bad by nature.
Physical and sexual abuse was so common that most children born prior to the 18th century were what would today be termed “battered children.” However, the medical syndrome itself didn’t arise among doctors until 1962, when regular use of x-rays revealed widespread multiple fractures in the limbs of small children who were too young to complain verbally.
What kind of men do these patterns traditionally produce? De Mause argues that war and genocide do “…not occur in the absence of widespread early abuse and neglect,” that nations with abusive and punitive childrearing practices emphasize military solutions and state violence in resolving social conflicts. Or they produce other men who, in reaction to this legacy, live lives of quiet, unsatisfied desperation and conformism, disconnected from their natural gifts and callings.
What kind of women do these patterns traditionally produce until very recently? Lives lived in fear of their fathers, husbands and all adult men, repressed ambivalence toward their sons and grief for their daughters; lives of constrained possibilities and impossible dreams of sovereignty.
“Americans,” writes James Hillman, “love the idea of childhood no matter how brutal or vacuous their actual childhoods may have been.” Finally, we idealize childhood because our actual childhood did not serve its purpose, which was to provide a container of welcome into the world that would be the necessary precursor for initiation into mature adulthood. Without such preparation, we assume that alienation is the true nature of maturity.
And if humans have no true animating spark, neither does the natural world. So generation after generation of young men are socialized to project their own need for rebirth onto the world and set out to literally destroy it. This is how Patriarchy perpetuates itself. In each generation, millions of abused children identify with their adult oppressors and become violent perpetrators themselves. In a demythologized world, they have no choice but to act out the myths of the killing of the children on a massive scale, or to glorify those who do.
Can it be any wonder that we are periodically unable to keep ourselves from displacing our rage – and our complicity – of this ancient condition onto some convenient scapegoat, in hopes that he might take our sins way with him into the wilderness?