It was a horrific tale of cruelty and abuse that ended in the death of a 7-year-old boy. His offense: not knowing all of 13 Bible verses!

National and international media groaned out the sordid details of how last year a Wisconsin couple, Timothy and Tina Hauschultz and another son, 15-year-old Damian, meted out the punishment which killed Ethan. The initial penalty had the 60-pound boy forced to carry around a 44-pound wooden stump. This was a routine penalty, often lasting for two hours a day, inflicted on Ethan and his three siblings, all of whom were in some sort of custody arrangement to the Hauschutzes. Then, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office, Damian hit the younger boy about 100 times, rolled the log over his chest, stood on him, and eventually buried him alive in packed snow. Not surprisingly, Ethan died.

Now, after months of investigation, the courts will have to decide who is to blame for this outrage. Is it the result of a shared psychosis; abuse run amok? Is it in some way related to toxic religiosity? Can it be negatively connected to the same Bible that records Jesus saying, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14, KJV)? The same Bible that records Jesus’ warning that “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, KJV)! But for some sick literalists, the stakes of belief might be so high as to lead them to substitute a log for a millstone and stone for sea in order to save themselves!

One could hope that a little justice may prevail and appropriate civil penalties follow this inhuman act toward a little child. It appears aberrant, but in some ways not much.

After all, it is not so unusual in such countries as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for parents to kill a child who departs from the Islamic faith, and shames them by this affront. It has even happened a few times in the United States.

And not so many years ago that the details are lost, the Catholic Christian Inquisitions regularly tortured and executed those it deemed a moral hazard to society. And to think this office functioned apart from a base of support in the community is to greatly misunderstand this moral blot on Western civilization. Moral outrage back then often demanded the auto-da-fé, or public execution, as an “act of faith.”

In his last State of the Union message the U.S. president stirred many listeners to moral outrage by alluding to “late-term abortion.” He may have made the practice sound more murderously barbaric than doctors will admit and even the recently passed law in New York will allow, but some level of public outrage is clearly warranted, even if for not quite the usual dynamic.

It is one of the oddest phenomena of our odd times that some Evangelical Protestants merged their passion for power with the parallel Catholic abhorrence to the practice of abortion. At root of the Catholic objection is a different view of the immortal soul and so-called original sin. That said, it is certain that the resulting Christian coalition is moved by a genuine compassion for the innocent lives treated as disposable objects.

What is missing is a larger moral outrage against the civilizational context of the abortion movement.

Where is the outrage against the growing assisted suicide movement? Where is the outrage against the growing plight of the underclass and the diminished public concern to ameliorate the situation? Where is the deep value for life that at best can ever be only an uneasy bedfellow with a growing militarism? Where is the outrage against truly evil things done in the name of religion—not least of which is terrorism? We need to see Islamic terrorism as directly deriving from religious pronouncements: just as it might not hurt to see much of White supremacy movements and militias as also dipped in a theology of sorts.

In the interregnum between the two world wars the entire western world had a love affair with eugenics—a “science” of human breeding and social improvement. In the United States it meant a hardening of the race divide, secret abortions performed on minority woman, sterilization of minorities and mental defects and educational policies that were anything but equitable. In Germany the philosophy culminated in the most structured genocide the world had ever seen. In the U.S. the sentiment went underground, popping up now and then— most famously in the move to abortion and euthanasia. It remains a subtext of inner city policing and the current debate on immigrants, at least the “criminal,” disease-ridden type (irony here). The disturbing recent images of illegal immigrant children kept in prison conditions apart from parents is bad but more symptom than anything else.

Back to Ethan for a moment. A poor little boy killed in the most brutal way on a religious pretext. We all know that it was an absurdity of religious application to punish him that way. We also know without telling that this casual bestiality is not so unusual. There is no shortage of documentation to support this; or, if you like your briefings as visuals, watch some live police show or two to get the point. Or dare to drive at night down the backstreets of most inner cities, trailer parks, or postindustrial neighborhoods.

In short, we are becoming a society removed from context and consequence. Yes, there is some logic to the claim put up by some that secularism behaves like a religion. That is, like religion behaving badly; flaunting its rights and biases. This makes modern secularism the same easy pickings that both National Socialism and Marxism found last century. Ergo the hate in much of our public dialog today.

Religion is nothing better than the proverbial opium of the people or handmaid of societal impulse if it does not work to lift and ennoble human endeavor.Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian (and others!) have greatly varying theologies and structures. And they can’t all be true in the most absolute way. But any faith with concern for other human beings has an obligation to be a force for good in the world. We should, as the poet said, “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”


Article Author: Lincoln E. Steed

Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."