This post is based on my opinions about a CNN AC360 program discussing a fundamentalist Christian view on discipline. I use the word “a” not “the” because I well know that this is not the normal view of decent people. The following 2 paragraphs are based on the CNN story. Everything after that is my personal commentary and should not be attributed to CNN.
Michael and Debbie Pearl have written a popular book called “To Train Up a Child”. It advocates what they call “biblical discipline” for children. The Pearl’s run an organization called “No Greater Joy” ministries and they get their biblical foundation from a number of sources. Specifically, in the King James Version of the bible, Proverbs 13:24 says: “He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him” and Proverbs 23:13 – 14 says: “Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.” Mr. Pearl interprets that to mean: “If you spare the rod, you hate your child… Spanking must cause pain”. Among their approved tools of discipline are Belts, switches, plumbing supply lines and spatulas. Since we have a “free exercise clause” in the constitution, the Pearls are free to preach whatever they want, irrespective of whether or not I find it appalling. But, there needs to be somewhere that a line is drawn and I propose that it has been found in the loving Christian fundamentalist couple Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz.
Start from the publication of the Pearl’s book and leap forward to Paradise, California in 2010. Our new protagonists are Mr. and Mrs. Schatz. Both are now in prison for beating 2 adopted daughters. Their “discipline” was so severe, causing injuries of such magnitude, that one of the two little girls died. The now deceased 7-year-old is named Lydia and she reportedly died of injuries so severe that Gary Tuchman of CNN said that they are “usually associated with earthquakes and bombings”. This poor little, beautiful, child was “disciplined” for “seven consecutive hours, interrupted by short prayer breaks”, on the day that she died. The DA in Paradise stated, on the CNN segment, that he believes Mr. and Mrs. Schatz had been strongly influenced by the Pearls’ book.
It will be interesting to see if the Pearl’s are blamed for this tragedy. In some way’s they should be. But, like I said, the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise clause in the US constitution permit them to hold whatever religious views they wish. To me, the more important questions are ones of personal responsibility and rational child rearing.
With regard to the first, I will give some credit to the Schatzes. After all, at least they plead guilty. But that is only a tiny part of the personal responsibility one must take as a parent. The greater responsibility comes, not in admitting guilt for doing something irrational, violent, and unequivocally stupid; but in taking the responsibility to consider your actions from a rational, intelligent, non-dogmatic perspective BEFORE doing harm to another human life. From THAT perspective, I cut the Schatzes no slack whatsoever. These people take, as their sole guidebook, an arcane English translation of an inaccurate Greek translation, of something that was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic using proto-Hebrew source material. Then they make a CONSCIOUS CHOICE to apply that reading verbatim to the rearing of a child in a 21st century society where educational strategy is grounded in Piaget and decades of subsequent neuroscience. In making that CHOICE, the responsibility they must take is not just for criminal guilt but, instead, for murder by irrational dogmatic idiocy.
With respect to my second point – the one about rational child rearing, I will say this: They could have chosen the love, benevolence, and compassion which most. modern psychologists and neuroscientists would advocate. Their child would be alive today. They did not. They chose, instead, to follow a dogmatic misreading of scripture and, in doing so, they murdered their own child. Rationality did not happen. What happened is that they allowed biblical interpretation to trump rationality and dogma to trump science. In my humble opinion, whenever you do that, you are forsaking the one thing that most distinguishes you from other animals – your capacity to reason. When you do that, you are no better that any other beast of the wild. Some people call that “faith”. But how you express your faith is a CHOICE. In CHOOSING to ignore all rational discourse on child development and to instead defer to their biblical interpretation, the responsibility they must take is, once again, not just admission of guilt but admission that dogmatic CHOICES have cause immoral behavior.
So, who knows what the future holds for the Pearls. But, as for the Schatzes, the future holds a long period of time to consider what it means to take responsibility for helping a life to flourish. I only hope that some day they understand that using their human trait of reason could have saved the most precious thing on Earth – the life of a child.