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Raphael Vassallo

Country of lost children

What sort of a sick, sick culture willfully traumatises and abuses its own children?

Raphael Vassallo
11 June 2012, 12:00am
Six-years-old, and already living in fear of death and hellfire? That, to me, is shocking.
As a child I grew up morbidly obsessed with 'protecting' the palms of my own hands.

In fact I went through a good part of my childhood with firmly clenched fists ... opening them (very reluctantly) only when it was absolutely necessary to do so, and shutting them right up again at the earliest opportunity.

Elsewhere, such curious childhood behaviour might have elicited interest among pediatric psychiatrists. But in Malta, you don't to look very far for the cause.

Yes, that's right: it was the Crucifix wot did it. That ubiquitous, graphical representation of extreme torture, that back in the late 1970s - probably even more so today - was simply unavoidable everywhere you looked. To me it was an image of untold horror and violence: and for what felt like an eternity I was plagued by nightmares in which nails found all sorts of unlikely excuses to be driven through the palms of my hands.

You can call it a 'phobia' if you like, in the sense that the idea nauseated as much as it frightened me; but then again, fear such extreme mutilation cannot realistically be described as 'irrational'.

In any case, matters became infinitely worse when a religion teacher explained to a class of 10-year-olds that the nails in question were not actually driven through the palms of Jesus' hands... but rather, through his wrists. (Otherwise, our teacher helpfully added, his hands would have simply been torn apart by his own body weight.)

Naturally, this unexpected detail opened up a whole new chapter in my childhood book of horrors. Fists can always be clenched tight shut to produce a fleeting illusion of safety. But wrists? How on earth do you protect your wrists from imaginary nails... short of super-gluing your forearms together?

Today, more than three decades later, I can look back at that trauma and more or less laugh... though it didn't seem very amusing at the time. But I do sometimes wonder how many of today's children suffer from similar or identical traumas of their own. And above all whether the sort of catechism they receive today is still conducive to this sort of childhood horror.

From what I hear, it seems that my own experiences of 'duttrina', back in the early 1980s, are nothing compared to the ordeal children are reportedly put through in 2012. In my day we learnt about the Holy Trinity, the Sacraments, the life of Christ, and so on. And yes, we taught about Heaven and Hell, too... but the approach was surprisingly liberal for a country so traditionally stern on religious matters.

According to our catechism teacher, Hell was a 'place without God' - no physical torture involved at all. And I stress that this was all in preparation for Confirmation (which I went through at 14: considerably older than my equivalents today)... and NOT First Holy Communion, when children will still be only six years old.

Fast-forward 30 years, and there is now mounting evidence that six-year-old children are routinely exposed to the sort of trauma that makes my own fist-clenching experiences seem utterly laughable. If you don't believe me, ask Anton Grech, head of psychiatry at Mount Carmel Hospital, who finds his private practice regularly inundated with patients who are little more than toddlers.

In his own words: "at around this time of year, in the run-up to Holy Communion, I always get to see several six-year-olds who have irrational fears of hell or of dying."

Six-years-old, and already living in fear of death and hellfire? That, to me, is shocking.

It would be shocking even if the lessons taught in the process were based on anything resembling the truth. But seeing as the very idea of physical torture after death is so intrinsically absurd, I can only conclude that these children are the victims of a truly sickening and sinister strategy of control through fear. [Note: in case catechism teachers never noticed, the physical body remains here on Earth after death... and the 'soul' is supposed to be incorporeal. So what part of the deceased gets physically burnt in the eternal fires of Hell?]

I suspect also that the sad adults who ruin other people's childhoods in this way - by suppressing all the innocence, beauty and above all freedom that form a child's birthright - are subcosnciously 'punishing' their victims (with interest) for the equally unacceptable traumas they themselves would have had inflicted upon them in the past.

And this, I fear, is just the tip of an iceberg. Most of my contemporaries are now going through their 'productive' phase - you know, doing their little bit to avert the pensions crisis, and all that - and the resulting broods are duly sent off to a combination of MUSEUM and private catechism lessons ahead of the inevitable 'preċett'.

Even the more religious among my friends occasionally express shock at the sort of questions their children come back from those lessons asking: things like, if nannu and nanna are no longer living together as man and wife, does this mean they will go to hell and be tortured forever? Or, at the height of the divorce campaign: daddy, why did you 'break your promise to Jesus' by leaving mummy?

Naturally it remains up to parents to decide whether to inflict this sort of awful fear-mongering and indirect emotional blackmail on their own children. I do however wonder whether it would be even possible to 'opt out', given the possibility of repercussions on the child for being 'different'. Would children be bullied by schoolmates, or discriminated against by teachers, if brought up safely sheltered from the horrors of the institutionalized, biweekly trauma sessions called 'catechism'? I don't know, but clearly this is an unwholesome, unhealthy situation... and as such it compounds an impression I have long had about Malta and its attitudes towards childhood in general.

I can't help but notice, for instance, that a great many people out there don't seem to know what 'childhood' even is. They use the word 'children' indiscriminately to refer to 'embryos' and 'foetuses' - which are not 'children' at all, any more than a nut is a sapling, or a tadpole a frog - and then spectacularly omit any reference to real children from any part of public discourse.

And when the same people loudly claim they want to 'protect' embryos and foetuses from a host of non-existent dangers, what they are really doing is subliminally compensating for their own shocking tendency to neglect children in the real world: where the dangers are tangible, and protection cannot be taken for granted.

Ultimately, though, the question this country needs to urgently ask itself is another: what sort of a sick, sick culture willfully traumatises and abuses its own children in this way? Fills their tiny minds with wild terror of death and eternal hellfire? Forces them all to live in fear, so that they can one day be as blinkered, unimaginative and generally unhappy as their own sad generation of parents?

Not a culture any sane person would want to call home....

Piccinino Galea
Vassallo: X'jedd ghandu id-dipartiment tal-Edukazzjoni fuq ic-centri tad-duttrina? Xejn. tal-anqas il-kurja ghandha jedd u ghandha dritt tiehu l-passi mehtiega. It-tieni din mhix kwistjoni ta' kwalifiki. Ghidli int u jien nahdem fl-edukazzjoni biex tkun taf liema ghalliem ikun sorveljat f'dak li jghid fil-klassi jekk hlief l-istudenti ma jkunx hemm? Ktibt qabel diga li bhala ma huma membri tal-museum KULJUM jaghamlu siegha formazzjoni u kif jghallmu igifieri veru li ma ghandhomx kwalifiki x'juru izda niggarantilek jien aggornati aktar minn ghalliema fl-edukazzjoni.
daniel li
When I was a little boy the street lights were very few and in some places non existent.After attending a doctrine class at the museum going home in winter around 8 pm was dark, cold and often raining, arriving home which was about 2 miles away i was soaking wet but worse then that i was petrified and on the verge of braking down crying, the reason was that the doctrine teacher use to tell us that if any of us sinned the devil will appear from a hole in the street and strangle us.
Raphael Vassallo
Piccinino: jiddispjacini ha nirrepeti ruhi imma le - ghandek zbal fuq zewg livelli. 1, mhux ghand il-kurja ghandhom jigu rappurtati, izda ghand id-departiment tal-edukazzjoni. Inkella nigu f'sitwazzjoni fejn il-kurja ma tkunx marbuta mal-ligijiet tal-istat. 2. Is-sistema - u mhux l-individwi involuti - hija minnha hazina. Ghalliema fil-kindergartens (kif ukoll tal-primary, secondary, etc) ghandhom bzonn KWALIFIKI biex jghallmu. Anke child carers, facilitators u kull ikategorija ta' nies ohra li jahdmu mat-tfal. Imma ghalliema tad-duttrina? Le, dawk spacjali. Minghajr ebda kwalifika jistghu jghallmu tfal kemm iridu - minghajr ebda sorvelljanza, minghajr ma' jkunu 'answerable' lil hadd. Din hija s-sistema primitiva li qed tipprova tiggustifika inti.
Raphael Vassallo
Piccinino: jiddispjacini ha nirrepeti ruhi imma le - ghandek zbal fuq zewg livelli. 1, mhux ghand il-kurja ghandhom jigu rappurtati, izda ghand id-departiment tal-edukazzjoni. Inkella nigu f'sitwazzjoni fejn il-kurja ma tkunx marbuta mal-ligijiet tal-istat. 2. Is-sistema - u mhux l-individwi involuti - hija minnha hazina. Ghalliema fil-kindergartens (kif ukoll tal-primary, secondary, etc) ghandhom bzonn KWALIFIKI biex jghallmu. Anke child carers, facilitators u kull ikategorija ta' nies ohra li jahdmu mat-tfal. Imma ghalliema tad-duttrina? Le, dawk spacjali. Minghajr ebda kwalifika jistghu jghallmu tfal kemm iridu - minghajr ebda sorvelljanza, minghajr ma' jkunu 'answerable' lil hadd. Din hija s-sistema primitiva li qed tipprova tiggustifika inti.
Piccinino Galea
ghalhekk ktibt hekk. mhux sew il-htija tintefa fuq kulhadd ghax il-problema hija 'individwi'. Dawn ghandhom jigu rrapurtati lil kurja u mhux tehel is-sistema kollha.
Gakki
I am a primary school teacher and once a parent had to pull her child out of catechism classes precisely because the child became obsessed with the devil. This year the 7/8 year olds I teach told me that Goths are devil worshipers. No prizes if you guess who told them that. Piccinino said that it is the fault of those who teach catechism without having the knowledge of how to go about it. However the responsibility falls on those who ask these people to teach without ensuring that they have the necessary credentials and pedagogy to teach such vulnerable minds.
Raphael Vassallo
mikegold117 - jiena ktibt fuq il-cartoons ukoll: http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/Blame-it-on-Spongebob Allura xix, ifisser li ghandi agenda kontra spongebob ukoll?? Jew li inti ghandek par ghajnejn biss fejn tidhol il-knisja?
Raphael Vassallo
mikegold117 - jiena ktibt fuq il-cartoons ukoll: http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/Blame-it-on-Spongebob Allura xix, ifisser li ghandi agenda kontra spongebob ukoll?? Jew li inti ghandek par ghajnejn biss fejn tidhol il-knisja?
Raphael Vassallo
mikegold117 - jiena ktibt fuq il-cartoons ukoll: http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/Blame-it-on-Spongebob Allura xix, ifisser li ghandi agenda kontra spongebob ukoll?? Jew li inti ghandek par ghajnejn biss fejn tidhol il-knisja?
Raphael Vassallo
mikegold117 - jiena ktibt fuq il-cartoons ukoll: http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/Blame-it-on-Spongebob Allura xix, ifisser li ghandi agenda kontra spongebob ukoll?? Jew li inti ghandek par ghajnejn biss fejn tidhol il-knisja?
Raphael Vassallo
mikegold117 - jiena ktibt fuq il-cartoons ukoll: http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/Blame-it-on-Spongebob Allura xix, ifisser li ghandi agenda kontra spongebob ukoll?? Jew li inti ghandek par ghajnejn biss fejn tidhol il-knisja?
Piccinino Galea
Raphael Vassallo - Mur il-kurja itlob il-katekizmi/sillabu li jitghallmu t-tfal ta' sitt iflihom sew u ara jekk jisemmewx l-infern jew id-dnub! mhux imbilli qed tparla. Kun af l-affarijiet qabel titkelle. Nghidlek ghaliex it-tfal qed imorru ghand il-psikjatri? Ghaliex ommu tghidlu jekk ma toqoghdx kwiet tmur l-infern! jew gej il-babaw ghalik! jew ix-xitan jaharqek! ghalhekk it-tfal imorru ghand il-psikjatri.
mike farrugia
Raphael ghid il-verita li int ghandek agenda li hi kontra l-Knisja. Hawn profesjonisti ohra li ma jaqblux ma dak li qal Dr Grech. Illum it-tfal huma esposti anke ghal cartoons li fihom vjolenza iktar min dak li qed tghid int, imma l-aqwa li nwahhlu kollox fil-knisja.
Raphael Vassallo
Piccinino - jekk tifel ta' sitt snien huwa zghir wisq biex jifhem dawn il-kuncetti - tinsix li ta' sitt snien ikunu ghadom qed jitghallmu jaqraw - mela huwa HAZIN illi timlilhom rashom b'dak li ma jistghux jifhmu. Jistghu ikunu tajbin t-techers kemm jridu - avolja ghandi dubbji serji jekk humiex innocenti daqs kemm qed tpingihom inti - izda is-sistema xorta tibqa zbaljata. Tfal ta' dik l-eta mhux sew tghabbihom b'izjed milli jifilhu. Inkella kif tispjega l-fatt li tfal zghar diga qed jirikorru ghand il-psikjatri?
Piccinino Galea
Raphael Vassallo - jiddispjacini nghidlek li tidher li ma tantx inti familjari mas-sistema tad-djar tat-taghlim li ghandna f'Malta. Jekk tara l-kotba/katekizmi/sillabu li fuqhom isiru l-lezzjonijiet wahdek tinduna kemm verament dawn il-kotba jxandru l-imhabba t'Alla u mhux il-biza. Sfortunatament il-problema iktar gejja minn persuni li jmorru jedukaw lil dawn it-tfal jew b'mentalita antika ghax anzjani jew ghax ma jircevux taghlim kif ghandhom jghallmu. Il-Membri tal-museum (qed insemmihom ghax inti wkoll irreferejt ghalihom) jaghmlu siegha kuljum ta' taghlim fosthom kif ghandhom jghallmu.
Raphael Vassallo
Piccinino - You are wrong to create the impression that this is merely a case of a few rotten apples tarnishing a system which is otherwise 'good'. It is the system that is at fault here, not the individuals involved... and as a result children are being traumatised to such an extent that they are seeking psychiatric treatment fort rauma. If that's the sort of the thing you want to defend, go ahead. But if you ask me it merely illustrates the fact that some Maltese people put the interests of their religion ahead of the wellbeing of their children
Raphael Vassallo
Piccinino - You are wrong to create the impression that this is merely a case of a few rotten apples tarnishing a system which is otherwise 'good'. It is the system that is at fault here, not the individuals involved... and as a result children are being traumatised to such an extent that they are seeking psychiatric treatment fort rauma. If that's the sort of the thing you want to defend, go ahead. But if you ask me it merely illustrates the fact that some Maltese people put the interests of their religion ahead of the wellbeing of their children
Derek Swift
@ Lupu I like your comment, simple and straight to the point. Please allow me to try to match your suggestion, ignore religion.
Raphael Vassallo
Piccinino - You are wrong to create the impression that this is merely a case of a few rotten apples tarnishing a system which is otherwise 'good'. It is the system that is at fault here, not the individuals involved... and as a result children are being traumatised to such an extent that they are seeking psychiatric treatment fort rauma. If that's the sort of the thing you want to defend, go ahead. But if you ask me it merely illustrates the fact that some Maltese people put the interests of their religion ahead of the wellbeing of their children
Liana Vella-Zarb
I remember being told off by one of the nuns at school because I was talking during the Religion lesson. I couldn't have been older than 6 I guess, but apparently because of my actions I made "the devil laugh and Jesus was crying blood....."
Piccinino Galea
Artiklu li mhuwiex gust. Minkejja li jezistu sitwazzjonijiet ma jfissirx li dan isir f'kull centru tat-taghlim nisrani. mhuwiex gust li npingu lil kulhadd ikrah sempliciment ghax xi whud jaghmlu dan l-izball.
Nigel Lawrence
It's disgusting, that in this day and age, children's minds continue to be indoctrinated and polluted with the mythology of religion.
Manwel Sinagra
Religion can be so simple. Just practice kindness.
Ramon Casha
Something else I remember from my "duttrina" is that every time we sin we're adding another thorn into Jesus' crown of thorns. So, fear + guilt.
Jonathan Camilleri
Anton Grech, head of psychiatry at Mount Carmel Hospital, said that in his private practice he often encountered children with obsessive behaviour towards religion. “At around this time of year, in the run-up to Holy Communion, I always get to see several six-year-olds who have irrational fears of hell or of dying,” he said. Sourced from http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120610/local/Children-are-in-fear-of-hell.423508.