How to Make Abusing Others Easier to Do

"I deal with being the most hated person in school daily because my glass eye is a 'slap in the face to God'." -- Emily Moore.
Emily Moore is a 17 year-old high school student in Florida who, because of childhood retinal cancer, lost an eye.  The other day, she posted a photo of herself on Tumblr with a brief account of her story:

"This is my all-time favorite picture. I’m so proud of myself. I have no depth perception and I’ve taught myself to play volleyball. I take so much pride in my team and all the hard work I put into it. No one truly understands how cancer [works] unless you yourself [have] it. You can’t imagine how I feel on a daily basis. Vomiting, weak, tired, groggy, grumpy, hormonal…every fucking day. 6 days out of 7, I’m sick. I push through though because I can’t let my team down. I still go to school and manage to maintain a 4.6 GPA. I still work to contribute to paying for my radiation. I volunteer at the shelter to make my life mean something if/when I go. I deal with being the most hated person in school daily because my glass eye is a 'slap in the face to God'."

"I don’t care what anyone says. I’m proud of myself."
Christina Stephens, a blogger, read Emily's Tumblr story and then contacted her, asking her to elaborate.  According to Emily (via Stephens), most of the people in her school are supportive of her, but a group of about two dozen students have, over the past two years, physically and verbally abused her.

"They said god wanted me dead and that’s why I’ve gotten cancer (now) three times.", Emily reported.  At one point, she was also pushed down a stairs and fractured her heel.  And, according to her, "the school isn't helping."

As you might imagine, Emily's story is generating much controversy at sites like The Friendly Atheist and other blogs.  Many of the comments seem focused on the notion that god cannot be too great if he's tried to kill Emily three times and has failed all three times.  But, beyond that, there have been some predictable comments about the cruelty, hypocrisy, etc., of the two dozen or so Christian Students, whose religion seems to many people so at odds with the student's treatment of Emily.

Now, I suppose volumes could be written about the psychology of the two dozen or so Christian students -- volumes that might reach beyond the students themselves to shed light on all of us, on human nature itself.  I will, however, spare my beloved readers the agony of listening to me lamely attempt a comprehensive review of all that might be said here.

Instead, I wish to focus on just one aspect of this: How we humans seem able to use any ideology -- regardless of whether it is a religious ideology like Christianity, a political ideology like Marxism, or any other kind of ideology -- to encourage, justify, and facilitate our many sickening abuses of each other.

Among other things, the story of Emily put me in mind of an anecdote that Jiddu Krishnamurti somewhere relates.  As a young man, Krishnamurti left his native India to study in England.  While in England, he tasted beef.  His father somehow heard of it, and -- when Krishnamurti returned to India after several years abroad -- his father refused all physical contact with Krishnamurti.  He would not even hug him at the airport on his return home.  The reason: According to his father's religious beliefs, the meat had made Krishnamurti impure. 

I think the reason Emily's and Krishnamurti's stories should be important to us is because they reveal how we humans use ideologies to justify our abuses of each other -- in small, day-to-day ways.  We are all familiar with the use of ideologies to justify abuse in monstrous ways.  The genocides of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and others were all crucially inflamed by ideological justifications.  Without those justifications, it might have been impossible to mobilize so many people to kill so many other people. 

But perhaps we really don't understand just how easy it is to fall into abusing someone because of an ideology if we do not see that process playing out on a small scale, as well as a grand, for there is something weird about the psychology of ideological thinking.  People would doubtless abuse others even without ideological justifications for doing so, but ideological justifications can all too often be like dumping gasoline on a fire.  They can accelerate and enlarge the abuse.

The twenty-four or so students who torment Emily might torment her even without their apparent conviction that god is with them and against her.  But their belief that god is on their side surely facilitates their abuse of her.  It would seem only commonsense to suppose it makes any doubts they hold that they might not be doing the right thing -- makes those doubts much easier to dismiss.  And it would seem only commonsense to also suppose that their beliefs can encourage them to go further than they might otherwise go.

I sometimes wish the human brain came with an owner's manual.  At birth, we should be handed a rather extensive book on how to deal with all the myriad ways our brains can mess us up.  And a prominent chapter in that manual should deal with how ideological thinking can so easily cross over into abusing each other in ways both great and small.

That's my two cents on Emily's story.  But what do you yourself make of her story?


  1. Emily's story is mind boggling. I wasn't aware "Christian" children ideologies in high school in the U.S. were that cruel. Ideologies do reek havoc on the world. I was recently sent a piece written by an Egyptian woman about radical Islam that showed a picture of over 400 Muslim men marrying over 400 little girls dressed in white ages 7 to 10 with their ideology permitting horrific abuse of the little girls. You are correct Paul... our brains need to come with an owner's manual forbidding ideological thinking to cross over into abusing each other in ways both great and small. I am still convinced the three Abrahamic religions are the curse of the earth.

    1. The story of the 400 little girls is quite saddening. I don't know whether people would do that -- marry such young girls -- without religion, but I imagine that a religion that condones doing that helps many people overcome whatever sensible reservations they have about the practice.

  2. Nice to have you back, Paul. Missed you! Garnet, your token Christian here. Re: Emily, there is no denying that Christians lever ideology to rationalize monstrous things, large and small. The children who torment Emily and the adults in the school who allow it are monsters. Any Christian who believes that God is ‘trying to kill’ Emily, and that Emily deserves to be tormented and abused is an unspeakably sick and twisted Christian, in my humble opinion.

    Regarding the “small, day-to-day ways” - though I am certain that there are Christians who torment each other and non-believers in such ways, it must be said that there are those of us (many more, I like to believe) that strive in small day to day ways to bring comfort, hope, and love to those around us. For instance- in the state of New Hampshire where I live, and where the state govt is too cheap to pay for needed social services, it is New Hampshire Catholic Charities that has set up and administrates the New Hampshire Food Bank, immigration and refugee services, a network of seven rehabilitation and nursing centers, counseling services, and much more to empower the poor and vulnerable, regardless of faith. There are MANY Christian organizations nationwide and worldwide which do likewise. They just don’t go viral on the internet, ‘cause the ways in which they do it are small, and day to day.

    1. People who want to help spend their energy helping. People who want to harm, spend their energy manipulating others to harm. After all, if others are doing it, it cannot be wrong! So, NH Catholic Charities will not make much noise-- they're too busy administering the food banks. A Catholic or other religious organization that wants to persecute gay people, on the other hand, will be constitutionally incapable of shutting up about it.

    2. Hi Garnet! It's great to see you again! I've missed you too!

      I'll concede you've made a good point -- ideologies can facilitate and encourage people to do good, just as they can facilitate and encourage people to do evil. My peeve with ideologies is that they label themselves as "all good", so to speak. Yet, so far as I know, there are no historical instances in which an ideology hasn't been used for both good and evil.

  3. In one of my lives, I practice law. Most of my clients are public school students with disabilities and their parents. Many come to me because they are not receiving legally adequate educational services. Others become my clients because of bullying. Not only do many schools not protect these students from being victimized, but they often punish the victim -- and only the victim! -- if he or she reacts to the victimization by fighting back. Even when the student does not act out physically, schools sometimes do this. I once defended a 12 year old in juvenile court on charges of making terroristic threats after he reacted to a bully by shouting, "I want to kill you!" (He then got himself under control, turned his back on the bully and kicked a wall. Very threatening.)

    Emily's parents need a lawyer. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act both protect students against discrimination on the basis of a disability. This includes bullying at school. Parents can ask the Office of Civil Rights of the US Department of Justice to do an investigation. They may also bring a civil suit for monetary damages.

    Emily and her parents have enough on their plate without having to deal with bullies or with making legal complaints. I hope that the publicity around Emily's situation will embarrass her school district into acting to protect her, whether by disciplining the bullies or by providing her with a security person on school premises. It is simply unacceptable for a seriously ill student to be at risk of assaults serious enough to fracture her bones.

    For more information on the civil rights of school students with disabilities, see

    1. Thank you so much for bringing up that aspect of all this, SW! I doubt Emily or her parents see your post, but you never know who might be helped by it. Thanks again!


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