Monday, September 14, 2009

Rated X

Among the most important people in my life are my nephews--my sister's children. Over the past couple of years I've become some sort of a de facto tutor to her 5- and 4-year old sons. I'm a handyman and so I bring my toolbox(es) almost every time I visit my sis--not least because there's always something she needs fixed. Soon after I arrive the kids would come flocking to the toolbox and start the mayhem--littering the floor with pliers, screwdrivers, electrical tape, ... and trying to snatch my digital multimeter. Of course I have to be there to supervise and keep in check their insatiable curiosity lest they hurt themselves. I know I'm asking for disaster and their mother frowns upon the activity. Though real tools are not at all kid-friendly I'm happy to say that they've learned the names of all the basic tools and can even manage to fasten and unfasten real screws (on second thought that may not be all a good idea--I shudder at the thought of one of them grabbing a screwdriver behind their parents' back and jabbing themselves accidentally while taking their toys apart). But what I'm most proud of is the fact that I've been one of their English teachers so to speak, correcting their mistakes, expanding their vocabulary, reading them stories. We live in a trilingual community and I've set it as my goal to make English their first language. An uphill battle most certainly, but I wouldn't let anyone else have this dirty job.

Well, having said how much I am part of these children's lives and how I find it so fulfilling, my almost irrational reaction to what just happened last night to the eldest will be in context. I found out from my sister this morning that her husband was watching a TV program last night. Apparently, John was watching too. At one point he turned to his mom and asked why the man was bleeding. His mom replied that the blood isn't real and the man was just a statue--although a life-sized one. A couple of seconds later John burst into tears. His mom rushed over and hugged him, trying to console the frightened child. She told him not to be afraid, that it wasn't really blood, just red paint and that it's dripping because the artist hadn't finished his work yet. The scene so traumatized John that an hour after he was still in a state of unease, still asking about the blood. In fact it was so bad that even after bedtime he kept waking up. He was able to sleep soundly only past midnight.

So what exactly did my nephew see that rattled him the whole night? John saw a naked man impaled on a cross, complete with blood oozing out of his hands (and perhaps feet). The TV program was a mini documentary on the life and sainthood of that Catholic priest Padre Pio, a purported stigmatist.

We adults who've grown jaded and inured to seeing crosses can't imagine how frightening and nightmarish it must be for a young child to see it for the very first time particularly when they've already sustained previous injuries and understand pain. In John's case he's already experienced various cuts and even a fractured arm and knows blood and pain very very well.

So here's a human being, practically naked, hanging from pieces of timber--nailed! to it--and bleeding to death. How awfully disturbing that must be! I imagine in that child's mind, in some way, he was able to apprehend how he could or would share the same fate, that he would be subjected to the same pain and suffer the same tortuous death.

My sister knows very well that I'm an atheist. I told her that what happened to John has made me angrier than ever. Not at the parents of course. At religion. As others have already pointed out using other hypothetical examples, what if some religion had for its central symbol a depiction of how their holy teacher or god-man was racked, eviscerated and quartered, because that's how he gave his life to save humanity. How would Christians react to that? Would their pastors and priests see no psychological harm in exposing youngsters--particularly those whose parents belong to that disemboweled man's religion--to such pictures and "artistic" works? The cross with a lifelike depiction of a bloodied dying man is a gruesome image. To subject children to such violence is downright insane! It's so graphic that's it's porn. It should have an X rating. And yet weekly, we have children dragged to churches and treated to a giant cross behind the altar complete with naked, tortured Jesus on it. I think this qualifies as child abuse.

My sister now knows more than ever that she has to be careful what her kids watch on television. She's been pretty successful in keeping the tots from seeing violent programs (needless to say, toy guns and swords are absolutely banned in her home). I believe now she's also aware that she has to be on guard against religious insanities as well.

It's been half a day since the news but I'm still seething. My sister warned me not to ask John about the nightmarish scene he saw. He's suffered enough. We certainly don't want to resurrect the fearful feelings dread. I'm still so angry that John went through what he did.


Anonymous said...

Indeed, religious imagery can be quite disturbing. But that's what the artists are after, to shock and disturb.

I like your comparison of the drawn/quartered method of death.

And the tools, when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old my great grandfather taught me how to solder wires together. Been doing it ever since.

Edwardson said...

Soldering at 5?! And I thought I was being a baaad uncle :)