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What’s to Blame for Josh Duggar? Institutionalism, not Christianity

What we know: Josh Duggar’s admission is great fodder against Duggar Family Values, which include anti-gay stances as well as assertions that “non-traditional” values endanger children.

What we don’t know: What created the awful urges in Josh to begin with. Those opposed to what this powerful family both believes and attempts to influence politically are triumphantly declaring things like home-schooling and hyper-religiosity to be petri dishes for the kind of sexual deviance Josh displayed as a teenager.

They’re probably wrong.

As deliciously tempting as it is for some on my side of the political spectrum to demonize the Duggars and their way of life as some sort of catalyst for awful behavior, there’s little psychological evidence to support that. In fact, Josh’s deviance was most likely not (in and of itself) the product of home schooling or any other religious dogma or tradition the Duggars took part in. Sexual deviance, as far we know at this point, does not generate that way. More likely, Josh was (or is) deviant for reasons we don’t understand, but that are probably innate (“nature”) and/or the product of his environment (“nurture”), but in a different way than we normally observe.

I am no soothsayer, but what I’ve come to understand after a career of dealing with this pathology is that it is simply everywhere. The conservative numbers (1 in 3 girls and about 1 in 6 boys) remain replicable, reliable and constant. Sexual abuse happens everywhere: Among the religious and non-religious. Among the rich, the poor, the city dweller, the farmer, etc., etc., etc. The sexual abuse of children, whether by teenagers like Josh Duggar or by more mature adults, happens continuously and universally.

Therefore, the question better asked is not “what made this happen?” but “what allowed it to flourish and continue in that particular situation?” In the case of the world of “19 and Counting,” we should look, as always, to an institution.

In Josh Duggar’s world, the institution of dogmatic, insular Christianity provided him two things: First, It made it easier for him not only to offend, but to get away with offending. Second, it did so in a manner that leaves him today free of legal consequences, still married, and still employable. Here’s how:

Whatever Josh was (or is), he grew up in a male-dominated world where “the father is the head of the family as Christ is the head of the Church.” Firstly, his was an environment that exalted a Christian-based order that, among other things, clamped down on any opposition or suggestion of “rebellion.” This very likely discouraged his victims from reporting his actions to other family members or anyone who might have made a difference. Rebellion, after all, can be perceived as anything that upsets the proverbial apple cart. This was a fact probably not lost on Josh himself as he chose his victims.

Secondly, this same Christian-based worldview necessitated, as it does with any religiously based orthodoxy, an “in-house” solution to conflict or deviant behavior within the environment. Why? Because it reinforces the idea that the religion itself has within it the answer to every problem- there is never a need to consult outside sources which are doubtlessly less pure and enlightened.

But even more dangerous is the insistence on handling matters of “conflict” within the religious environment so that the outside world will not perceive flaws or weaknesses within its structure. The Duggars likely perceive themselves, as many do in their circumstances, as holdouts against a world moving in a direction they neither trust nor respect. The last thing they want that outside world to perceive is a weakness within their structure.

It’s important to understand how these things explain (but do not excuse) the Duggar’s response to a heartbreaking and haunting problem, and why offenders like Josh Duggar can flourish in environments otherwise mortally opposed to behavior like his. But it’s equally important to understand what they don’t explain.

They don’t explain Josh’s deviance to begin with. That’s a question we dare not breezily discard with the easy answer of demonizing religion. Or culture. Or anything else. Because as far as we know, deviance poisons all of these equally.

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