Staring at the Rod in Wonder

I’ve been known to disagree with Giles Fraser (when he tries to tell us Christianity is naturally opposed to slavery, for instance), but he’s right this time.

“We are told that in England it is a crime to spank children,” writes Debbi Pearl from No Greater Joy Ministries, following a row that has erupted over the distribution of their literature in the UK. “Therefore Christians are not able to openly obey God in regard to biblical chastisement. They are in danger of having the state steal their children.”

See, that’s why people like me get so hostile to religion. One reason anyway – but probably the biggest one. Because it is (of its nature, and cannot help being) so useful to people who want to use it to justify and protect their desire to do nasty things. Because the central claim there is not corrigible or negotiable or subject to discussion or thought, so there is just no way to teach or persuade people who believe that claim that it is mistaken. With other kinds of claim it is possible, however difficult and challenging that may be. But with unarguable religious claims, it isn’t. So if people are convinced God wants them to hit their children with a stick, they are not going to listen to people who try to tell them they’re wrong. If people are convinced God wants them to write books defending the practice of hitting children with sticks, the same applies. If people are convinced God wants them to blow people up in wholesale lots, same applies. It’s no good.

Chastening begins early. “For the under-one-year-old, a little, 10- to 12-inch long, willowy branch (stripped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient,” writes Michael Pearl. With older children he advises: “After a short explanation about bad attitudes and the need to love, patiently and calmly apply the rod to his backside. Somehow, after eight or 10 licks, the poison is transformed into gushing love and contentment. The world becomes a beautiful place. A brand-new child emerges. It makes an adult stare at the rod in wonder, trying to see what magic is contained therein.”

Hmm. I might have to read this book.

For, as evangelicals, the Pearls believe that salvation only comes through punishment and pain. God punishes his Son with crucifixion so that humanity might not have to face the Father’s anger. This image of God the father, for whom violence is an expression of tough love, is lodged deep in the evangelical imagination. And it twists a religion of forgiveness and compassion into something dark and cruel.

Well – they could turn that back around on you, Vic. Frankly. Because Christianity is only partly a religion of forgiveness and compassion. This is that slavery thing again; you’re reading selectively. There is plenty of very cruel, cold, vindictive stuff in the New Testament, including in the Gospels, including in the speeches of Jesus.

But, needless to say, I agree with your basic point all the same. This is nightmare stuff.

According to Ted Tripp, in his monstrous bestseller Shepherding a Child’s Heart, even babies who struggle while having their nappy changed are deemed to be rebellious and need punishment. Last month Lynn Paddock of North Carolina was charged with the murder of her four-year-old son, Sean. She had apparently beaten him with a length of quarter-inch plumbing line – plastic tubing. Like many in her church, Paddock had turned to the Pearls’ resources on Biblical parenting. The Pearls say chastisement with plumbing line is “a real attention getter”. Sean Paddock’s autopsy describes layers of bruises stretching from his bottom to his shoulder.

Theocracy’s got to go.

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