― Mother Teresa
Just a few months into my college career, I first heard of Elizabeth Smart, who had been abducted from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah at the age of 14 just 9 months earlier. Utah stood in shock as the events unfolded on March 12, 2003 as Smart's captors were finally arrested and she was returned to her home. The subsequent reports of her kidnapping, marriage and sexual abuse were beyond horrific. Yet, people still had the audacity to say it was a trial from god; that she would be better for having gone through it; that she will be rewarded with greater blessings in heaven. Let's pause for a moment and examine this kind of thinking.
The sentiment that more difficult trials and tribulations result in greater rewards in the afterlife has been a staple argument against natural occurrences like homosexuality as well as victims of other's actions. Mormons have told me--in person--that god makes people gay so they can have a trial like unto Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac. If they remain celibate, as god intended, they will be rewarded in heaven. What they are trying to say is that those who go through the worst experiences on earth will be vindicated and rewarded in the afterlife to make up for any "inconvenience."
Now tell me, at what point does one choose to go through such an experience? If it is not a choice then it is merely an orchestrated event spurred on by god, perhaps even indirectly, as in the case of Job. But god knew these things would happen, and allowed for such victims of fate to go through these experiences for their own good. God could have stopped it. He could have chosen to save Elizabeth Smart in the same way he can have homosexuals be born straight. It is up to his divine plan and will, so they say. Where is the justice in this? People advocating this reasoning are the same people who think god helps them pass an exam, make it to work on time, prepare a sunday school lesson, win a soccer game or find a soul mate. If this is the case, god has strange and immoral priorities. How does saving a victim of kidnapping and rape step on the free agency of the abusers, but helping you find your car keys does not?
Not only are these victims unwilling participants in a sick game, but they are supposedly rewarded more for a choice which was made for them? What if they had killed themselves instead of enduring? Well, then people would say they were tormented and justified in their suicide--who can blame them? Surely, god will take that into consideration when rewarding them in heaven anyways. This is like a parent who beats their children, arbitrarily chooses one child to beat harder than the others, and then, as if to prove their love, gives that child more cake than the others when the abuse is over. Is this love? Does this prove the child's devotion to the parent? If this makes for better people, why do all such kidnapping victims go through years of therapy to process their experience and try to have normalcy again? If this makes for better people, wouldn't we praise their kidnappers and all seek to be such lucky victims in order to attain greater blessings? Shouldn't you pray to become gay, so you can prove yourself through celibacy? Shouldn't you present yourself as an easy target for robbery or assault? Shouldn't you go the long way home, down the dark and damp alley behind the bar, instead of the well-lit sidewalk?
In the middle ages, such attitudes were common among devout Catholic monks and nuns. Suffering is a gift from god to show you the pain and suffering of Jesus, thus bringing you closer to him. There are countless stories of devout followers subjecting themselves to all manner of torture and exposure to the elements for this very reason. One monk, who's name escapes me, is reported to have built a platform on top of a pillar in the middle of a town and lived on that platform for years, braving nature and fasting and praying regularly. Most believers would see this as crazy nowadays, but it follows the same reasoning as the common religious sentiment that "god will not give you more than you can handle."
As terrible and unpleasant as Miss Smart's plight has been, there are more harrowing accounts which are supposedly for the good of the victim. In Austria, Elizabeth Fritzl was locked behind 8 doors in a dungeon for 24 years by her own father, Josef Fritzl. She was raped over 3000 times by Josef and carried 7 children, 3 of whom lived in the dungeon with Elisabeth. The only reason we even know of this occurrence is because the eldest of Elisabeth's children, Kerstin, fell extremely ill due to vitamin D deficiencies (caused by lack of sunlight and malnutrition) which caused her kidneys to fail. In an attempt to save the life of Kerstin, Josef finally succumbed to the incessant pleas of Elisabeth and took the teenage daughter to the hospital. This lead to questioning as this girl who had never been outside before had no public records, and the grandfather (also, father) gave the doctors a suspicious note from Elisabeth, who, according to Josef, had joined a cult 24 years earlier, and had occasionally dropped off children on his doorstep for him to look after. After a few days of public service announcements over the television, which Elisabeth watched from the dungeon, Josef eventually allowed her to go to the hospital in order to admit to being in a cult and to provide medical information about Kerstin. Only after securing assurance that she would never have to see Josef again, Elisabeth unveiled the most unbelievably disturbing kidnapping story I have ever heard, which you can read here.
How can a moral person say this was for Elisabeth Fritzl's good? What mansions in heaven can justify such treachery? What loving god would allow for this to go on for 24 YEARS?!? Wouldn't 24 days have been long enough to secure Josef's eternal damnation? How would an intervention have impeded on Josef Fritzl's agency or free will? What about Elisabeth's free will? This is not just god letting bad things happen to good people. No, this goes well beyond that cliche. This is the worst humanity has to offer, and god stood back with folded arms.
I wonder how many victims have never been found.
I wonder how many people are victims right now.
Here is Christopher Hitchens weighing in on Elizabeth Fritzl (Fraulein Friesel):
Here is a documentary on Elisabeth Fritzl (part 1)