One of the main arguments against atheism, by those in the pews is that without divine intervention people will not be able to figure out what is right and wrong. Since Yahweh was only talking to one small tribe in the desert for a couple of thousand years, I suppose the rest of the world was on one long drunken orgy until the Holy Roman Empire came along to turn out the party lights. We can have that historical debate some other time, because right in front of us, we have a prime example.
Is it moral to use corporal punishment on children?
An ABC News poll found that about two thirds of Americans (65%) say that it is OK to spank your kids. Having listened to a number of call in type shows on this issue over the years, I am going to say that some number of those people (perhaps a majority) will quote the bible on this one, well they think they are quoting scripture when they say, “spare the rod, spoil the child.” But in this case, the bible didn’t say half of what it said, to misquote Yogi Berra.
What it actually says is this:
Those who spare the rod hate their children,
but those who love them are diligent to discipline them. (Proverbs 13:24)
More than a few parents in our day and age think that “discipline” means “spank.” And while not unanimous not most religious leaders, including Pope Francis the other day, encourage this point of view. Admittedly, some much more than others. In a talk show today, it was said that there is no Catholic teaching on the morality of spanking a child. The church is officially silent on the issue. But again, it is not discouraged either.
So, if we can’t look to the church on this, who can we look to? Science and secular society.
What does science say?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents be encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior.
And before you say they are just a bunch of bleeding hearts, here is some of there reasoning (for those of you who don’t want to click over and read the full report):
The following consequences of spanking lessen its desirability as a strategy to eliminate undesired behavior.
Spanking children <18 months of age increases the chance of physical injury, and the child is unlikely to understand the connection between the behavior and the punishment.
Although spanking may result in a reaction of shock by the child and cessation of the undesired behavior, repeated spanking may cause agitated, aggressive behavior in the child that may lead to physical altercation between parent and child.
Spanking models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression in preschool and school children.17
Spanking and threats of spanking lead to altered parent–child relationships, making discipline substantially more difficult when physical punishment is no longer an option, such as with adolescents.
Spanking is no more effective as a long-term strategy than other approaches,18 and reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use.19 Time-out and positive reinforcement of other behaviors are more difficult to implement and take longer to become effective when spanking has previously been a primary method of discipline.
A pattern of spanking may be sustained or increased. Because spanking may provide the parent some relief from anger, the likelihood that the parent will spank the child in the future is increased.20
Parents who spank their children are more likely to use other unacceptable forms of corporal punishment.21 The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults.20 Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence22 when used with older children and adolescents.
Of course all those footnotey things lead to studies that have found those results. And there are plenty more studies they don’t cite that show that corporal punishment is at best not effective and at worst harmful. And before you start sending me articles that say otherwise, yes, I am sure they exist, but the preponderance of evidence at this time is against spanking.
And to be fair, secular society knows this, poll results notwithstanding. In the same poll I cited above, 72% of people oppose corporal punishment in schools. This, even though there are 19 states where such practices are legal. Nor surprisingly, most of those states are in the “bible belt.” But even of the 65% who “approve” of spanking, we have to ask how the question was actually phrased. If it was asked “Do you use spanking in disciplining your child” I would assume we would get a different affirmative rate than a question which asked, “Is it OK to use spanking as part of a child discipline program.” Either way, empirical evidence is pointing in a direction that is opposite that of most religions.
And if the empirical evidence is showing that not using corporal punishment is better for the child, the parent and society doesn’t that raise this to a moral imperative? You should not spank your child. Why? Science says so.
If you look at the Wikipiedia page on this, it seems as though all the efforts to abandon corporal punishment have come from secular sources, not religious ones. This is not to say that religious people have not been involved or that maybe they came to their conclusion from religious motives (applying the Golden Rule, for example.) Someday, when the Catholic Church™, Inc. gets around to banning corporal punishment among the faithful, probably after the last of the ruler wielding, knuckle rapping nuns goes to the great reward, they will no doubt say that the impetus came from the bible or their great respect for life, or whatever.
Actually it could come from the bible. After all a great bible word is “disciple,” which comes from the same root as “discipline” which does not mean “smacking around” or “tying up” but rather “teach.” The disciples were not looking for 50 Shades, they were looking for a teacher. Discipline means, “teach your children well” and hitting doesn’t have to be part of that process.
But the truth is the church will just be a Johnny come lately to something secular society has been working on for several centuries, first banning “cruel and unusual punishments” for adults and some day for all people.
And it wasn’t god who figured this out for us, we did it all by ourselves. Using our brains and empirical evidence.