Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years Later...

For the past week, I have been debating with myself whether I should write about 9/11 here. Even though it has been ten years, my emotions about the terrible events that day are still very raw. Any time I see photos or videos from that day, I feel both devastated and extremely angry, and I didn't even lose any loved ones that day. I cannot imagine the pain of those who did.

Unfortunately, 9/11 was not my first experience with terrorism. When I was five, Timothy McVeigh parked a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. At 9:02 am, it exploded with such force that my house, 12 miles away, shook. At first, my mother thought it was an earthquake or a natural gas explosion. She turned on the TV and the first thing we saw was a building with one side totally blown off. 168 people were killed that day, including 19 children. I have several friends who lost family members that day.

The morning of September 11th, 2001, I was in my first class of the day (Life Sciences) at my Jr. High School. I was 12 years old and in 7th grade, right about the age where I started to pay attention to what's happening in the world. My teacher had handed out something for us to do silently. I don't remember exactly what it was. He then went over to his desk and started working on his computer. After a couple of minutes, he got up quite suddenly and walked out of the classroom without saying anything.

Several minutes later, he walked back into his room. He looked terrified. He told us that planes had flown into the towers of the World Trade Center and that a car bomb had gone off at the Pentagon (I didn't find out until later that it was another plane, not a car bomb, that hit the Pentagon). He then said he was going to hook up the class TV so we could watch the news. Just before he turned it on, our principal walked in, whispered in his ear, and then quickly left. He looked terrified as well.

Seeing the adults so scared was scaring me and my classmates. While I cannot say for sure, I believe the principal told my teacher not to let us watch the news because it was showing people jumping out of the windows of the World Trade Center Towers. Instead, my teacher started reading us news articles from his computer. At one point he said "Oh God" and ran out of the room. It was because the first tower had collapsed.

The rest of the school day passed in much the same way. When my sister and I got home from school, we immediately turned on the news. My mother joined us when she got home from work. We watched for hours. I didn't fully understand what was going on, but I knew it was bad. We live near an Air Force base, and military jets flew over every few minutes. This scared my sister. I was trying to be calm for her sake, but I was scared too.

So much about our lives was changed by 9/11. I remember asking myself a few months after the attacks "When will everything go back to the way it used to be?". It never did.

9/11 is one of the defining moments of my life. What was let of my childhood innocence disappeared that day. For the first time, I saw true evil. But, at the same time, I also saw true good in how Americans came together on that terrible day, despite our many differences. I was, and still am, proud of the fact that 9/11 did not tear us apart, but brought us closer together.

A few weeks after I started school in New York City, I visited Ground Zero. While the debris was long gone, it was still just a big hole in the ground. It was a depressing sight. However, I visited again two and a half years later. By then, construction had begun on the 9/11 memorial and several new World Trade Center buildings. It's hard to describe how happy the construction progress has made me. After ten years, it is a reminder that, no matter how much damage terrorists do to us, we will always recover and rebuild.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ungodly Discipline

This past weekend, I watched a special on CNN called Ungodly Discipline. It spoke about two topics:

First, how a 7 year old girl from Northern California was spanked/beaten to death by her foster parents in early 2010. The foster parents were followers of Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of the book To Train Up A Child, who believe the Bible commands parents to discipline their child with"spiritual spanking" and the need to break a child's will.

Second, allegations of physical, mental, and sexual abuse at group homes (usually for adolescent girls) run by Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. Specifically, the Hephzibah House in Winona Lake, Indiana.

Needless to say, I found those videos extremely difficult to watch. Children being abused in the name of God has popped up in the news multiple times in the past couple of years. In the United States, it is almost always affiliated with fundamentalist Christianity. In my opinion, this is probably one of the worst practices of fundamentalist Christianity. It's absolutely disgusting.

Over the past few decades, there has been a fierce debate in the United States over the legality of corporal punishment. Many parents still spank their children for misbehavior. However, while I disagree with any use of corporal punishment against a child, there is a difference between spanking and beating. The "spanking" seen in fundamentalist Christian group homes and advocated by the Pearl's in their book and implemented by thousands of fundamentalist Christian families is nothing but child abuse. Implements such as paddles, rods, and canes are used to hit children so hard that they leave welts and bruises. Often, children are hit on their legs, arms, back, and buttocks for hours at a time. The goal of these beatings is to break the child's will, so that they will be entirely submissive and subservient to their parents.

The worst part (which is not in either of the videos) was when a father describe beating his son with a rod because the boy had hit him. They father said, completely seriously, that "spanking" the boy would teach him it was wrong to hit other people. The sheer hypocrisy was astounding. I assure you that boy did not walk away from his punishment believing it was wrong to hit people. Quite the opposite. He walked away believing that hitting people smaller than you is completely acceptable, as long is it is done in the name of God.

It infuriates me that, in the United States, the only people we can legally hit are children. If you beat an adult in a similar fashion, you would be arrested and charged with assault. More than likely, you would spend time in jail.

The video was also upsetting for personal reasons. While my parents were Southern Baptist, not Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, they still believed the Bible command them to spank their children in the name of God. Their "discipline" could be quite harsh. My step-dad would hit me on the back and legs with a belt or a flyswatter, leaving stripes of marks and, sometimes, bruises. Afterwards, it would be painful to sit for days at a time. I have permanent scars from those years. I got quite good at keeping any marks and scars hidden though, for fear that a friend or teacher might notice them. My of my friends in high school would tease me about how modestly I dressed. I would only wear long-sleeved shirts or t-shirts whose sleeves went down to my elbow, never tank tops or anything strapless. Still do, actually. This was in order to hide the scars on my shoulders and upper back from having a glass lamp thrown at me.

Because of my personal experiences, I know the damage that physical and metal abuse can cause when couple with fundamentalist religion. Kids grow up thinking that they are evil sinners, repulsive to and loathed by God, who wants nothing more than to torture them eternally from hell. The fear it induces, both for the present and the future, makes it extraordinarily difficult to question your beliefs. Accordingly, many of these abused kids grow up and end up doing the same to their children.

For me personally, the worst result of growing up in such a home was the twisted view of God it created, one I've talked about on this blog before. Believing that God hates you and is going to abandon you to hell forever creates a hell here on Earth, one that I wouldn't wish on my greatest enemies. While time and a new perception of God has healed some scars, some blemishes will never fully disappear.

What happens to us in childhood stays with us throughout our lives. While I am committed to the idea of freedom of (or from) religion, I am also committed to protecting our children. Group homes like the one from the video should have more government oversight, so that abusers can be caught quickly and the children or teenagers affected can get help. I also believe that corporal punishment of any kind should be illegal. If hitting an adult is unacceptable, than hitting a child should be doubly so.