Ross Olson's Web Site


June 23, 1984
Dear Colleagues,
At the Symposium, "Social Issues and Medicine in the 1980's" held at the St. Paul Penthouse on Saturday, June 9, I had wanted to make some lengthy comments, but time was short. It certainly does not seem too late to rethink the ideas presented, because many of them are impossible to forget.

What is the solution to the problem of sexual abuse of children?

Nearly everyone in our society is appalled by the sexual abuse of children. Even strong proponents of sexual freedom tend to agree that children must be protected. Even strong opponents of censorship tend to agree that some way must be found to eliminate child pornography. I strongly agree that sexual exploitation of children is a destructive evil. I submit, however, that it is only a small part of an all-pervasive evil that affects our society and our lives. When the fruiting body of a fungus protrudes from a tree trunk, any fool can tell that something is wrong. Yet it is a fool indeed who thinks he can solve the problem by simply breaking off the visable portion. The problem is much deeper and any solution must be much more radical.

There is great resistance to rethinking basic assumptions. It is easier to make cosmetic adjustments. Unrealistic hopes are all too common. Dr. Spock sincerely believed that children allowed to follow their inclinations would turn out fine, but a generation later apologized, essentially admitting that there is not a natural tendency towards goodness. The proponents of the sexual revolution believed that complete freedom would eliminate most sexual problems. Yet now, talk is returning to "fidelity" and "commitment" to combat the resulting sense of incompleteness as well as the epidemic of venereal disease which has outdistanced medical technology.

It is very easy to draw lines arbitrarily excluding other people's behavior; it is also standard to rationalize ones own. Sexual exloitation of children can be supported intellectually using the very same arguments as those for any other sexual practice. In fact, it is being done. To a person who has the inclination, the limitation of"consenting adults" will seem very artificial. Also, what is "consent"? What is "adult"? All the common arguments justifying homosexual practice can be transfered directly to an attempted justification of pedophilia, namely that each person is entitled to sexual expression, that inhibition is unhealthy and change of orientation nearly impossible. If so, what other choice is there? Why should the pedophile be singled out as a minority to be persecuted and deprived? Also, one could continue to argue that abused children growing up to adult abusers would not necessarily be considered bad if one defined sexual relations between adults and children as normal. It could be maintained, as it is regarding homosexuality, that the adverse emotional effects are all due to lack of acceptance by society.

Most people feel it is for the sake of common sense and the good of society that sexual exploitation of children must be considered wrong. Yet a society that does not recognize absolute right and wrong has real difficulty saying why. Does a public opinion poll define right and wrong? Is it the job of the enlightened experts? Who selects the experts and who questions the public?

Beyond the problem of defining evil is the problem of what to do about it. Certainly the education of children and parents as to the nature and scope of the problem is helpful. If children recognize their right to say "no" to "bad touch", to run away or tell someone, there is hope of avoiding or uncovering some of the situations. And counselling of victims seems helpful in preventing some of the secondary psychological problems. Counselling may also alter the behavior of some offenders, yet other problems remain stubbornly insoluable with serious repercussions from any course of action. Rehabilitation may fail. Court appearances may be traumatic. Incarceration of family members may result in great economic and pschological hardship for the innocent. And a great deal. of abuse will probably always remain undetected.

If people have no hope in the midst of a desperate situation, the usual result is emotional, if not physical, suicide. One may either manufacture a hope and cling to it, however unrealistically, or avoid thinking at all. Some people hope that since childhood sexual abuse is linked to all sorts of other social problems, its elimination will set society straight. This leads to an inflexibly ideological search and destroy approach. that ignores the disruption to everything else. It is this approach that casts suspicion on all persons who enjoy being with children and frightens even some parents from the "good touch" that is essential to a child's mental and physical health. If utopia could be assured, maybe the cost could be considered. But I submit that like the utopian schemes of Karl Marx and Pol Pot it would fail miserably, that even if sexual. abuse of children could be 100% eliminated for 2 or 3 generations, the existence of evil would persist and permutate, showing that this was only one manifestation of a deeper evil.

Is it my purpose to make sure everyone becomes and remains depressed over this issue? No, it is rather to discourage false hopes which would prevent consideration of the real solution. The present difficulties should throw us back to reconsider the validity of our society's basic assumptions. Combined with the essentially insoluable nature of war, poverty and the environment, we
ought to begin wondering if there are any human solutions.

Usually, Biblical Christianity is pictured as an escape from reality and Christians as intellectually lazy, dangerously repressed and anxious to impose their irrational but firmly held morality on society as a whole. First, of course, it should be clear that somebody's morality does get imposed on society, for we do not allow freedom of choice regarding murder, theft or even taxes. The question is, where does Judeo-Christian morality come from and what is there to recommend it? Even if it were only an ancient tradition, refined and preserved since the dawn of civilization, that alone would be a powerful argument for its application. Despite our own society's preoccupation with change and our tendency to equate "new" with "improved", the real novelties almost always bring unforeseen complications. Even in the area of technology,. where progress can be clearly shown to have improved the human condition, it has also brought with it improved methods of deliberate destruction, as well as the real possibility that we may even inadvertently make our planet uninhabitable. How much more in the areas of social structure and ethics has change failed to produce improvements. After less than the span of one generation, the "new morality" has produced enough bitter fruit to cast aspersions on its usefulness to society. There is something definitely to be said for the tried and true.

The Biblical morality, however, claims to be more than just the work of astute ancient philosophers, but rather to be the virtual "operating manual" for human society straight from "the manufacturer". To accept that concept is indeed a step of faith, but it is intellectually much more defensable than, for instance, the acceptance, by faith, that there is no God.

A critical look at the material universe should easily convince an open minded person of evidence for design and intelligent organization that cannot be accounted for by chance, not to mention that the universe we can test is running downhill not up. Indeed, enough is known about the structure of living things to show mathematically that evolution is impossible. Of course, there are many intelligent people who disagree. Some of them, however, refuse to even examine any evidence contrary to their convictions. Others only answer those powerful arguments with the hope that undiscovered evidence or unknown physical laws will vindicate them. Some simply define reality to exclude any possibility of the supernatural (something that could only be done by someone who is omniscient), saying things like, "life is here, therefore it must have evolved".

Belief in the existence of a supernatural, superintelligent external source for the universe does not require such mental gymnastics. Intellectually, it only requires honest consideration of the evidence that the universe could not organize itself. Yet emotionally, there must also be openness to the possibility that we may indeed be responsible to a creator.

Likewise, belief that the Bible actually conveys the thoughts of the Creator is not just an irrational leap of faith. The Bible is first of all an historical document whose many human authors filled it with details that can be historically and archeologically. confirmed. Also, supernatural credentials, namely miracles in the day of the writers and prophecies fulfilled later ought to alert people to the distinct possibility that those writers had connections with someone unhindered by natural laws. For instance, the detailed prophecies of over 2000 years ago that the nation of Israel would be reestablished by the gathering of its scattered but recognizable people, to become strong against incredible odds and in the face of numerically superior enemies, ought to give one pause to consider the other content of those writers, who seemed to have knowledge qualitatively different from normal human guesswork. The things they say about spiritual realities that cannot be independently confirmed can be believed on the basis of their credibility in those matters that can.

Just examining the Bible, even apart from all this, one will find a logical framework that describes and explains the human condition as well as its solution. This is the Biblical perspective that, I am convinced, our society ought to be ready to consider. it is the perspective that shoule be embraced, not just because it will "help" solve our problems, but because it is true.
The Biblical perspective includes the following points:

1) We are created beings with great potential. Each individual is therefore intrinsically valuable, to himself or herself, to others and to God.
2) We have real choices with real consequences— we are not robots or puppets.
3) There are objective standards of right and wrong, not because God is a Cosmic Killjoy but because every good thing can be misused.
4) We are responsible for our actions to God, who cannot be deceived and is impicitly fair -- the only really righteous judge.
5) The world is out of kilter due to accumulated wrong choices of people, so that violence, tragedy and evil affect even those who have done nothing directly to deserve it.
6) God loves us all and in the midst of this apparent chaos has a plan for each person who will make the conscious choice to follow His way, made possible by what Jesus Christ did on the cross, an event beyond our complete understanding.
7) There is supernatural power available to those who thus are born into God's family, to help live according to God's standards and plan.

What then the Christian believer who does unquestioned wrong and offends net only his own code but that of society? Does he not discredit all that has been said? Of course he makes it harder for many to look past those actions, but does not change any piece of evidence. Every person continues to be a free moral agent and has the ability to refuse God's power and choose to do wrong even if he knows of the power and knows of the wrong.

What of the person. who through no fault of his own finds that he has a sexual orientation which is forbidden? Must he be deprived of what others take for granted? This is indeed an apparently senseless evil and source of lifetime anguish for some. Yet there are worse things than deprivation of total sexual expression. Sometimes the closing of one potential outlet will encourage the development of another. But even if it does not, this, like so many disabilities and handicaps, can become a steppingstone to great insight and accomplishment. In fact, there are some who voluntarily give up what they could rightfully have in order to accomplish some higher good. But our society has even forgotten its own concept of "sublimation".

The problems seen, in our society are not superficial but deep and resistant to any human solution. This recognition should lead each individual not to embrace philosophical quackery but to consider genuine spiritual realities and those solutions that come from God.

Ross S. Olson MD FAAP

Send comments to me at ross{at}

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