The rise of corporeal punishment theory is a troubling cultural phenomenon which really takes us back to the dark ages of unquestioned rule by authority. The link between spanking and conservative Christianity is insulting to the vast majority of believers who do not condone religiously inspired child abuse. It also creates a strange affinity between Catholicism—where child sex abuse has run rampant for years—and evangelicalism—where beating children has seemingly become the God-given norm; the Catholics get the sex and the Evangelicals get the hide. Where can a godly child find religion without loosing their heart and soul?
This is not to say that only Catholics and only Evangelicals have institutionalized child abuse. Anywhere children gather, pedophiles and child molesters are sure to roam. This should come as no secret to anyone. It is the indoctrination of these beliefs, however, which is most disturbing.
Last year, the Pope stated in his Christmas address to cardinals that “in the 1970s pedophilia was theorized [by the church] as something fully in conformity with man and even with children.”
At first I considered this an unbelievable and outrageous statement so far beyond the norm and offered as an absurd justification for child sex abuse. Now Im not so sure.
On Sunday, the New York Times ran a story entitled Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate. The piece reviews the teachings of Michael Pearl, an evangelical Christian minister whose fast selling publications advocate systematic use of “the rod” to teach toddlers to submit to authority. The methods, seen as common sense by some grateful parents and as horrific by others, are modeled, Mr. Pearl is fond of saying, on “the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules.”
According to the New York Times:
Debate over the Pearls’ teachings, first seen on Christian Web sites, gained new intensity after the death of a third child, all allegedly at the hands of parents who kept the Pearls’ book, “To Train Up a Child,” in their homes. On Sept. 29, the parents were charged with homicide by abuse.
More than 670,000 copies of the Pearls’ self-published book are in circulation, and it is especially popular among Christian home-schoolers, who praise it in their magazines and on their Web sites. The Pearls provide instructions on using a switch from as early as six months to discourage misbehavior and describe how to make use of implements for hitting on the arms, legs or back, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line that, Mr. Pearl notes, “can be rolled up and carried in your pocket.”
The furor in part reflects societal disagreements over corporal punishment, which conservative Christians say is called for in the Bible and which many Americans consider reasonable up to a point, even as many parents and pediatricians reject it. The issue flared recently when a video was posted online of a Texas judge whipping his daughter.
Sadly, adopted children are frequently fatal victims of the Pearls teachings. The New York Times highlights three such cases. There are undoubtedly many more.
Which brings me back to the Pope. If taken at face value and believed as absolute truth, misguided ill-intentioned “theories” (especially those theories which are backed by G-d) can have devastating consequences for children. Add to the mix internationally adopted children and pathological parents, and the result is often abuse, exploitation and death.
The belief, so frankly expressed by the Pope, that abuse is somehow “natural” or that “its good for them,” is a classic method of normalizing and rationalizing physical and sexual abuse. This is exactly how pedophiles and child molesters groom their victims. These dogmatic beliefs—whether Catholic, Evangelical or pedophilogical—are one in the same; justification and rationalization of systematic child abuse and exploitation.
Just ask Rita Swan, whose pioneering work to eliminate religion-based medical neglect (which often leads to death), has brought her into conflict with the powerful but marginal Christian Science religion. Rita, a former Christian Science adherent, founded CHILD after she lost her own only child to a routine illness which Christian Science prayers failed to cure.
Why is it acceptable to be easily outraged by a Pedophiles Guide to Love and Pleasure while To Train Up a Child engenders thoughtful analysis and scholarly debate (even legal justification like this "academic" article in the Akron Law Review). After all, both were for sale on Amazon along with the sexually graphic book by Peter Sotos celebrating Masha Allens abuse and exploitation as the worlds first child porn star.
There are dozens of Facebook groups for parents who "spank," along with pictures and techniques. There are many more sites, both overt and covert, offering how-tos on child sex abuse and child pornography.
In todays op-ed entitled The Molester Next Door, columnist Frank Bruni writes:
The longest, most exhaustively researched article I ever wrote for a newspaper or magazine was about a child molester who had sexually abused a little boy living down the street. The abuse went on for more than two years, beginning when the boy was 10.
This molester had a job. A house. A wife. Two kids of his own. And he gained access to his victim not through brute force but through patience, play and gifts: help with his homework, computer games, a new bike. To neighborhood observers, including the victim’s parents, the molester’s attentiveness passed for kindness, at least for a while. A molester’s behavior very often does.
This is something that has come up repeatedly over decades—I wrote that article back in 1991, for The Detroit Free Press—but that remains tough to accept: the predator to watch out for is less likely to don a trench coat and lurk behind a bush than to wear a clerical collar and stand near the altar or to hold a stopwatch and walk the sidelines. And he (or, for that matter, she) works with children as a function of being drawn to them for reasons beyond their welfare.
Amen Frank Bruni. Of course we know this troubling fact (at least if youve been reading this blog for any period of time), but over and over again we choose to ignore it. It is the same thinking that allows us to accept what the Pope revealed or what the Pearls espouse. Write it down and it has power. Explain it away and people accept it. Enshrine it in a belief system and its unstoppable.
Without lawyers they can count on (at least in Colorado), peers they can turn to (at least in school), and fair and timely redress in the criminal court system (restitution denied), all children—and especially child victims—face an uncertain fate and treacherous future. Maybe the little girl with the knife has the right idea after all. Now all she needs is someone like the NRA to come to her rescue!