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IRREGULAR TIMESWhat the Bible Says About Corporal Punishment

For thousands of years, people have justified the practice of purposefully inflicting pain on children by saying that the Bible teaches that corporal punishment is a holy duty. People quote the Bible as saying "spare the rod and spoil the child."

Actually, the verse in the Bible actually reads, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." Of course, readers need to keep in mind that this version is just an Old English translation of an ancient language which has lost much of its cultural meaning with the passage of time. Many scholars argue that the "rod" is symbolic of authority in general and does not suggest physical violence in particular.

It gives one pause that so many religious people automatically equate the word "rod" with a holy command to strike children. After all, rods can be used for plenty more than causing pain to children. Rods can be used for fishing, tending cattle, holding up grape vines, and hanging curtains among many other things. There's a great deal to be said for the idea that the automatic association between the reference to a "rod" in one verse in the Bible and the need to beat children says more about the fantasies of certain sorts of religious believers than it shows the existence of a cosmic law handed down from the very creator of the universe.

The fact is that the Bible doesn't teach anything about corporal punishment. Neither does God. If God wants to teach something about corporal punishment, then he can strike me down with lightning and take over this web site right now.

God? I'm waiting! No lightning? Well, there you are, folks: God has nothing to teach you about corporal punishment.

The bare and obvious fact is that people, not God and not the Bible, teach each other religious ideas about the wisdom of using physical violence to control children. Books don't teach any more than they drink coffee or dance jigs. Books just sit there on the shelf, collecting dust until someone picks them up to be read. Books don't care about religion and they don't care about people. Books don't care about anything.

Folks, let's face it: the Bible is a book, and nothing more. That's what the word "Bible" means: book.

Books don't have feelings, but children do. So, to all the parents and teachers out there who believe that they have no choice but to cause the children under their care to feel pain through deliberate acts of physical assault, all because a single line in an old book seems to say that such an assault is a good idea, I ask the following question: what matters to you more, your holy book or your children?

Perhaps another question is in order: Who matters more to you: the people who teach you that you have to do everything that the Bible says, or your own children? Let's remember that the Bible also says not to work on the Sabbath, not to eat certain kinds of meat, that divorce is wrong and divorced women are adulterers, that genocide is acceptable in certain circumstances, that praying in public is wrong, that adulterers and blasphemers should be stoned to death, and that it is a sin to charge interest on loans.

If the literal meaning of the Bible is so important to you that you're willing to cause your children pain because of a short passage that the book contains, why don't you follow all of the other little picky rules that are also to be found in the Bible? What is there in particular about hitting children that is so especially attractive to you?

It's time that we use some common sense when we hear the teachings of people who preach the gospel of hitting children in the name of God. As parents, teachers and members of the community at large, adults are given responsibility over children. This responsibility is given to us because we're supposed to be intellectually mature enough to distinguish between what's safe and what's unsafe, what's cruel and what's compassionate, what's wise and what's unwise without being told what to think by someone else.

If the leaders of your religion teach you that hitting children or otherwise causing them physical pain and injury is a good idea, it may well be time for you to leave that religion behind.

When I read parenting books that give me advice that doesn't work, I return those books to the store and don't follow their advice. The plain fact is that there is no evidence that hitting children does them any good. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that violence in the name of discipline does children a great deal of harm. Why would any thinking parent or teacher hit a child, knowing this?

It's time that our society gets serious about raising children and figure out what its real priorities are. As for myself, I know what I'll say to any religious teacher who tries to tell me that I need to inflict pain upon my son in order to achieve personal spritual salvation for myself. Prophets of righteousness that demand we inflict violence upon the small and weak are sadists, not saints. They may sell their snake oil of salvation through slapping and spanking at some doors, but they won't make a sucker out of me.

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