Last night’s Primetime ran a segment called “The Outsiders” that focused on what most Americans consider to be religious groups with “outsider” status: the Amish, fundamentalist Mormons, and the Children of God.
Three stories were documented by ABC: (1) Mary Byler, an Amish woman who defied Amish law by calling police to arrest her brothers, who’d raped her repeatedly; (2) Warren Jeffs, the recently arrested fundamentalist Mormon leader who advocated underage polygamist marriage; and (3) Ricky Rodriguez, a defector from the Children of God whose sexual abuse drove him to kill one of his former predators, and eventually himself.
Even though I’ve never read “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton, the coming-of-age themes of heartache, violence (including sexual), loss of innocence, tragedy, and conflicts with authority were prevalent in the featured profiles. What’s fascinating is how most mainstream Americans already see these and many other sects as fringe societies who live in bubbles that espouse “strange” religious ideals. I myself have been guilty of traveling to Pennsylvania to gawk at the Amish, in their long, old-world garments and somber horse-drawn buggies. Even while the Mormon majority have disavowed polygamy, it’s still a matter of widespread curiosity; see HBO’s “Big Love.” Plus, while most people probably haven’t heard of the Children of God, the founding philosophy of free love is rooted in the hippie past of the 1960s.
By being part of “outsider” groups, Mary, Warren, and Ricky are once-removed from mainstream society, but by defying basic tenets of their own faiths and wandering outside of their own faith communities, they are twice-removed from even that outsider status; they are outsiders in their own outsider cultures. Yet, strangely enough, despite being outsiders, the crimes and passions that drove them into being outsiders are the very same crimes and passions prevalent in most mainstream religious groups and secular societies today.