I recently wrote an article about how the same-sex marriage debate arouses society’s schizoid moral responses. It got me to thinking about another piece I wrote in 2011 that illustrates the same moral schizophrenia. In this case, how child abuse and death can result from substituting knowledge of childhood development with religious beliefs. Here it is:
It is a fact that the U.S.’s Child Abuse is the worst in First World. From BBC News by Michael Petit, “More than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members in the last 10 years, nearly four times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. A BBC investigation finds that the United States has the worst child-abuse record of all the industrialized nations. Every week, 66 children under 15 die from physical abuse or neglect in the First World, 27 of them in the U.S. Experts say teen pregnancy, high-school dropout rates, violent crime, imprisonment, and poverty are generally much higher in the United States.”
It is also a fact that the U.S. is the most religious country in the First World. According to several surveys on religion, 83 percent of Americans claim to belong to a religious denomination. How can these two facts simultaneously exist in the same country?
Well here’s a clue: Using violence to raise a child has long-term consequences; a point made in this article “Spanking and the Making of a Violent Society” by Murray A. Straus in the Journal of Pediatrics, “The United States (US) is the most violent of the advanced industrial societies. The current US homicide rate of 8.5 per 100 000 is three times the Canadian rate of 2.3 per 100 000, and about eight times the rate of Western European countries.”
This excerpt on Alternet.org from an article titled “Beating Babies in the Name of Jesus,” illustrates my point. “There is a brutal movement in America that legitimizes child abuse in the name of God. Two stories recently converged to make us pay attention. Last week, a video went viral of a Texas judge brutally whipping his disabled daughter. And on Monday, the New York Times published a story about child deaths in homes that have embraced the teachings of To Train Up a Child, a book by Christian preacher Michael Pearl that advocates using a switch on children as young as six months old.”
As the Times illustrates — “Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate” — the books of Michael Pearl and his wife Debi have been found in the homes where several children were killed.” Mr. Pearl has no formal training in child psychology or any other formal discipline having to do with raising children, yet his book has sold millions.
The book’s title, “To Train Up a Child” is the first clue to this author’s ignorance. Children are not “trained up”. There are several stages of cognitive development that a child goes through naturally. Knowing about and providing an environment with the proper intellectual stimulation for each stage is the way to raise children into healthy productive adulthood.
There simply is no justification, religious or otherwise, for willingly inflicting pain on a six-month old infant. But it’s no secret that there are about as many interpretations of ancient religious texts as there are interpreters. It’s also a fact that in the hands of neurotic and psychotic people, ancient religious texts can be perverted to justify any kind of aberrant or irrational behavior.
He gives us a very important question to consider:”If the basic intention of human morality is human flourishing, (i.e., the well-being of humankind) can we not determine if a religious belief, does in fact, lead in that direction? More precisely, mustn’t we insist that this be the case? And if we do, don’t we now have the criteria to decide what is a valid or invalid belief system with or without a religious context? I think we do.”
That we are the most violent society in the First World is bad enough. And that we build it into our culture by spanking our children is even worse. But that some people justify it on religious grounds is simply incomprehensible.
Steven Weinberg an American physicist put a fine point on this issue when he said, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.” And in my mind there is nothing more evil than abusing children.