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(Content notice: pedophilia, religious abuse.)

By now you’ve likely heard about the scandal rocking the right-wing conservative Christ-o-sphere: Josh Duggar, one of the older sons of the fundagelical reality-TV Duggar family, has confessed publicly to being a child molester. Worst of all, it seems clear that at least some of his victims were his own young sisters. The story gets more and more shocking with every single new detail that emerges about it. Just when I think it’s gotten as bad as it can get, I see something else. So tonight we’re going to talk about it.

A courtroom in Sarasota, Florida. (Credit: Clyde Robinson, CC license.)
A courtroom in Sarasota, Florida. (Credit: Clyde Robinson, CC license.)


The evangelical spin-doctoring PR machine is out in force about the confession, as you can probably guess. My peers here at Patheos have ably broken this news (the piece Dan Arel wrote was the top hit I got when I searched for information about the confession) and I’ll talk about other aspects of the scandal later on, but just for now, I wanted to look solely at how Josh Duggar’s various not-pologies reflect his religion’s complete lack of connection to morality.

Well, gee, Beav, what’s a not-pology?

A “not-pology” is a term describing an apology that isn’t really an apology. It’s a way for a wrongdoer to seem like (and sometimes even feel like) he or she has taken responsibility for some wrongdoing and apologized for it, when nothing of the sort’s really happened.

Christianity’s really good at not-pologies, and Josh Duggar has used a variety of them in his responses to the scandal. He certainly has learned well at his papa’s knee. One wonders what else he might have learned besides how to appear contrite without actually being contrite.

Who uses not-pologies?

Most often you’ll hear not-pologies from people who don’t recognize that what they did was wrong or harmful in and of itself. When your immediate reaction to an apology is “that person’s just sorry about getting caught,” or the person making the admission was forced to do it, you probably just heard a not-pology.

When the act being questioned is deeply painful or humiliating, or reflects really badly on the person’s identity as a group member, then the not-pologies come out in force. In Josh Duggar’s case, he was part of a family known for its religiosity and then a paid staffer for a fairly powerful, sanctimonious Christian hate lobbying group for a branch of Christianity that portrays itself as having a stranglehold on morality and goodness, so he made his living denying rights and dignity to Americans his group saw as immoral. And yet he molested a bunch of underaged girls. The dissonance of being a child rapist in super-moral, hyper-sanctimonious environments like those had to be very painful for him. I’ve got no doubt that he doesn’t really want to engage with what he did.

People who use not-pologies don’t want to take responsibility for whatever they did wrong. Look for distancing language in the not-pology like vague, subjectless statements and passive verbs, as in the perennial favorite, “mistakes were made.” The wordplay involved in confessing-yet-not-confessing can get really intricate!

When the not-pology isn’t accepted, then the person issuing it often affects faux outrage and indignation that their contrition was questioned and rejected.

The Anatomy of a Not-Pology

1. It was issued only when Josh Duggar’s hand was forced.

We know that Josh Duggar’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, admitted to investigating authorities in 2006 that they knew in 2002 that their son was a child molester who had repeatedly preyed upon girls including his own sisters. Obviously, none of this news got covered by their reality show, which is a very whitewashed version of life in a super-religious Quiverfull-type household buying into some flavor of ultra-conservative Christian Patriarchy.

Josh Duggar only made his apology after a serendipitous series of events brought his old crimes to light: another family friend who knew what was happening wrote everything down in a confessional letter and put the letter in a book–like as a bookmark. Years later, the book was loaned to another person, who found the letter in the book. At some point, when the Duggars were set to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show, someone (who might or might not have been the person who was loaned the book) emailed Oprah’s people to warn them about the molestation charges. Her people immediately sent the tip on to the authorities, who opened a formal investigation in 2006.

Far from being a good, moral Christian patriarch, Jim Bob’s reaction to this investigation, incidentally, was to hire a lawyer and refuse to bring his son (who, let us remember, was an adult by then; these sorts of families tend to infantilize their adult children) to the police for questioning. He was all about protecting his son, who again, had been accused of molesting children who included Jim Bob’s own daughters. (So much for that “overprotective redneck Daddy” trope we see in those skin-crawlingly creepy purity ball photos.)

That’s where the story ends; the whole case got buried under the statute of limitations. If not for a journalist recently filing a Freedom of Information Act request for details of the investigation, we’d never have found out about it.

One fact is abundantly clear to me: If Josh Duggar hadn’t been forced to confront the evidence of his crimes, he never would have. He’d still be out there as a trusted Christian man, allowed around who even knows how many children, pretending that he’s oh so moral and better than all those gay people he recently persecuted on a professional basis.

2. Inappropriately light, belated, and lax actions were taken as a result of the news of the crime committed.

Jim Bob and Michelle knew about all this in 2002. They waited almost a year to do anything about the news that Josh had molested a number of underaged girls–and when they did, it was talk to elders at their church. In fact, it’d be another three months past that before anyone who knew about these crimes actually contacted anybody official. They told the cops during the 2006 investigation that they’d “disciplined” him, which could mean anything really, and hemmed and hawed about sending him to therapy, which turned out to consist of sending him to a family friend’s house for a while to help the guy remodel. Also, the authority they contacted was a family friend who happened to be a state trooper who gave Josh Duggar “a very stern talk” but doesn’t appear to have filed a report about it at all (and one could understand why; this family friend is now serving a long prison sentence for child pornography, so clearly he wasn’t all that interested in making sure Josh Duggar’s victims got justice). Michelle Duggar lied to the cops about just what the “counseling” was that she and Jim Bob had arranged, but that’s a topic for another day.

Meanwhile, as for the people who knew Josh Duggar had done these crimes and wrote (and found) the letter in the book? Aside from tipping off Oprah’s people, they don’t appear to have done anything at all. Had they acted quickly, Josh Duggar would very likely have gone to trial rather than getting off scott-free thanks to the statute of limitations.

As for the victims of Josh’s predations, he says he apologized to them. I wonder if his apology to them was anywhere as meaningless as the apology he gave everybody else for being a raging Christian hypocrite.

And I’m sure all of that’s a huge comfort to the victims Josh Duggar preyed upon.

3. His tribe is making a weirdly otherworldly response to his crimes.

I’m floored that the woman he married not only knew before they were engaged that he’d molested a bunch of girls including his own sisters, but was okay with it because Jesus had made him all better.

But she’s only one of many, many voices raised in support of Josh Duggar. On Dan Arel’s post, Christians showed up to condemn Dan Arel for talking about this crime and to defend Josh Duggar against all those atheist meaniepies who couldn’t let bygones be bygones. I looked, but did not find, Christians condemning Josh Duggar for what he did. He has resigned from the hate group he worked for, the Family Research Council, but one wonders if he even had to do that. And they don’t seem all that upset with him either.

Christians’ reaction has been a solid “Aww, he’s so presh, and who hasn’t made mistakes?”, as if repeatedly molesting girls including one’s own sisters is just a mistake, like not carrying the “1” on the checkbook ledger, like it’s something anybody could do, like he just happened to fall down on the girls like in a bad anime episode and it was all just some silly phase he went through.

Not a single Christian response I could find actually came down on the side of his victims. Those reactions are happening, by the way, in comments on the secular news sites’ and bloggers’ coverage of the scandal. I could not find one single Christian news site covering it. Religion News has a piece about it, but they aren’t a specifically Christianity-focused site.

4. Serious distancing language used in his discussion of these crimes.

When you hear Josh Duggar talk about what he did, there’s a real sense that he’s talking about someone besides himself. He and his family both distance him from his actions by stressing how young he was when he committed those crimes (“twelve years ago, as a young teenager”), by talking about the crimes with passive verb constructions and obfuscating language (“there was another incident”), and never actually naming his crimes explicitly (referring to his molestation as “this,” and that’s not a typo, as well as saying things like “I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret”). Needless to say, while the lot of these sorry bastards will occasionally mention his victims in passing, always in conjunction with Josh Duggar himself, I could not find a single example of any of the Duggars explicitly saying that some of their daughters were among those Josh hurt.

Language like he and his parents are using is meant to minimize his crimes. That’s also why you won’t hear a lot about the victims of his crimes. They almost don’t exist here. The focus is solely on Josh Duggar himself. In the RNS piece, Josh says, “I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.” Wow, you think?

In every single way, Josh Duggar is trying to disconnect himself from what he did. And if it weren’t for the secular folks who actually do care about morality and doing what’s right by his victims, he totally would have gotten away with it.

5. There are no indications whatsoever that he’s actually changed.

Despite his wife’s desperate and wild hope to the contrary, Jesus doesn’t change anybody. Her husband is a child molester. Child molesters don’t normally just stop having those urges. His parents’ reaction to learning of what he did was to send their newly-adult son off to go help a friend remodel his house. Remodeling can be tough on a young person’s body, but I don’t think it was exactly the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance solution that was called for by news that one’s son is a criminal pervert. Further, remember that their own daughters were among his victims–why are they privileging him over their safety?

Josh Duggar (and his wife, and his family) is still a strong member of a flavor of Christianity that doesn’t understand consent even a tiny bit, a flavor that fetishizes women’s innocence and youth, and that robs women and children alike of their voices and power. There is not one single indication that Josh Duggar even understands why he took advantage of these girls, much less that he’s gotten what he really needs to change. Nobody’s removed his access to children as of this posting, either which in saner denominations of Christianity would be the first goddamned thing that’d have happened.

Instead, Josh Duggar is still lying about what happened after his parents found out about his crimes, saying that his parents had gotten him and his victims counseling. Really? Did they make the victims go remodel someone else’s house? This clever bit of prevarication is meant to deflect further criticism. Y’all, he said he was sorry and got counseling! GYAHHH! Plus Jesus healed him!

What should we do about hypocritical Christians’ not-pologies?

We should call them out when we see them. We should ask the questions needed to clarify exactly what’s being apologized for, and who the apology is being addressed to. And then we should refuse to accept them.

We should refuse to bow to Christian zealots’ demands and shut up about huge, glaring hypocrisies like this one. Of course they’re not going to like it when we talk about Christians behaving badly. That’s why we have to do it. They’re sure not doing it. Child molestation, in particular, is a criminal act that preys upon the voiceless–like young women in seriously overzealous households and cultures–and depends on everyone’s silence to perpetuate its evil. If we refuse to be silent, then it’s a lot harder for a rape-minded predator like Josh Duggar to do his evil.

We should keep the focus on the victims of these Christian hypocrites’ acts. In Josh Duggar’s case, are the victims getting the therapy they need? Did his criminal acts get the prosecution they merited, giving the victims justice? Did Josh Duggar get the therapy he needed and is he being kept well away from any situation where he might commit his vile crimes again? For all his posturing, Josh Duggar doesn’t seem all that concerned about his victims; he and his parents barely even mention them. And in case you’re wondering, the answers to those questions appear to be: no, no, and no.

We should keep the heat on those who support the family that produced this disgusting monster, like the TV network that keeps their pack-of-lies TV show on the air, the advertisers that support this family by buying airtime on their show, and the Republican politicians who try to curry favor with fundagelical viewers by cozying up to this family.

We should give voices to those who are most affected by Christian patriarchy. This movement is one that constantly victimizes people–and those victims often are so isolated from society that they have nowhere to go.

We should refuse to let Josh Duggar anywhere near children. And we should look very askance at the family system and religion that produced a person like him and then let him get off completely scott-free from justice.

The more we talk, the louder we are, the less we let Christians ignore and minimize their crimes, the more people will realize that the louder a religious zealot is about his morality, the less likely that zealot is to be actually more moral than anybody else.

Josh Duggar’s crime was child molestation, and his religion gave him the permission, opportunity, cover, and freedom he needed to practice it. Had he not been forced to admit he’d done it, he never would have. And there’s no reason to think he’s sad about anything but getting caught.

By the way, Oprah, if your people are seeing this, thanks for acting swiftly on the tip you got. You’re the only folks coming out clean in this whole mess besides the poor girls Josh Duggar preyed upon. I hope that the coverage this scandal gets will induce others who know about similar exploitation and abuse of children to speak up before the statute of limitations lets these predators off the hook.


PS: If you’re wondering why I kept using Josh Duggar’s entire name, it was because I damned well want this guy’s full name associated as closely with child molestation as the name “Santorum” is now associated with bodily fluids.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...