Stockholm syndrome?


I’ve previously posted about mental health issues, but there is one that I think I recovered from without ever knowing I had it.

Stockholm syndrome. Let me tell you about the situation I was in:

I was convinced that I had no chance of escape. I was told that if I didn’t do exactly what my captor required of me, I would be punished without possibility of appeal, but that if I followed all instructions and helped my captor, I would be spared punishment, and even rewarded.

Sometimes the things that my captor asked of me would make things worse for other captives. If I didn’t go along, I would be punished in smaller ways than the way I feared, so that fear never diminished but grew as I imagined it. The captor never intended to let me go, and when I escaped, other captives tried to capture me again, since they too had Stockholm syndrome.

That captor was religion.

Now before I go on, I should point out that Stockholm Syndrome isn’t like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or depression. Stockholm Syndrome, rather than being a disorder, is a survival response to being a hostage or prisoner, or to abusive or controlling relationships.

This comparison occurred to me today while reading statistics about belief. Quick- who in America has suffered the most from religion in the United States?

If you said black people and women- on the one hand because of biblically sanctioned slavery and on the other because of biblically sanctioned male dominance- you’d have also pegged the most religious groups in the United States. Unfortunately the Pew Forum didn’t seem to have a similar break down regarding the beliefs of people by sexuality, or we could pursue that with the same questions.

Just as a caution: the questions differ between graphs, and the statistics are presented differently. The one about gender shows the difference between the views of women and men. The one about race shows the difference between the views of black people and the U.S. population as a whole- which means that the racial chart shows a comparison between the complete group and a subset of that group. With that in mind:

58% of women compared to 45% of men “have absolutely certain belief in a personal God.” When the question is broadened to whether a person has “absolutely certain belief in God or a universal spirit” the numbers are 86% of women and 79% of men.

Let’s think about this: The religions that have the greatest effect on American society have historically placed women in subservient roles. Those who were willing to reinforce the status quo by keeping other women in line either directly or by example got limited power over house and instruction of children and as much respect as women got in such a society. Those who opposed the status quo were branded as ungodly and unfeminine or dismissed as sexually deviant, promiscuous or as bitter old maids. Even though more women have achieved greater autonomy- through much struggle- these trends continue even today.

Could it be that between fighting people trying to fit government into women’s collective uteri and trying to avoid both sides of societal double binds placed on women (Such as avoiding being seen as either ice queen or whore) they -on average- simply don’t have as much energy to spare to resist religion as -on average- men do? Umm… YES. Yes it could.

And, on the question of race, almost 90% of black Americans said they “have absolutely certain belief in God” compared to just over 70% for Americans as a whole.

This one is even easier to analyze. In the early days of this country, Abrahamic religion was used to condone, support and encourage black slavery. The plantation owners were white, as generally were their lead overseers, but the overseers managed to maintain order not just through direct brutality but also through a system where those willing to help keep order were rewarded with more food or better bedding.

They were also given bible lessons, with emphasis placed on verses such as Ephesians 6:5-9 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. ” There was literal textbook Stockholm Syndrome going on there.

Even though slavery is gone, there is still a great deal of prejudice towards black Americans.  They are seen as an angry group- much like feminists and atheists, what a surprise- as well as seen as uneducated, often by the very people who don’t want to spend money on education to level the playing field.

The double bind I will mention here is that of either “being whitewashed or acting black.” My stepmom was talking with one of her relatives from Illinois and was told she was acting white because of how she talks. Now, we lived in California and my stepmom was to my ear just talking like a Californian. But there was almost an accusation of betrayal under the joking. The idea being that if you talk too proper you are betraying blackness. But let’s look at the other side of that- there are grammatical structures that aren’t common between Illinois and California, there are words that have completely different meaning, and differences of pronunciation that would lower your chances of being hired in California if you talk in a way that would be perceived as “acting black” by her family in Illinois. Another aspect of “acting black” in America is being christian. Despite the fact that christianity was inflicted on African-Americans (term used to denote Americans born in Africa, ‘black Americans’ is the term I use when talking about black people born in America) against their will when they were hauled across the sea into slavery, since it was almost universally adopted thereafter it is a point of cultural unity, and is very hard to break free of as a result.

Could it be that this history causes more black Americans to be trapped in christianity than would otherwise be the case? Hell yes.


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