Religion Has Been Harming Children for Centuries

Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. Proverbs 23:13

As an elementary principal of a rural school in Maine, I witnessed a lot of family dysfunction. I often marveled that so many children could manage their little worlds in spite of their parents. Family turmoil was pretty much the norm, but sometimes abuse entered the picture as well and that's when things got trickier. That's when I was required by law to involve the Department of Human Services. For the department to step in, however, the abuse had to be proven. To do so can be tricky when you live in a culture that defends the beating of children as a parent's God-given duty. So the agencies were always grappling with whether or not a parent had crossed the line. When was hitting too much hitting? How hard was too hard? What implements were appropriate to use? When was a child too young or too old to hit? Which parts of the body were acceptable for hitting? What kinds of misdemeanors merited smacking, hitting, spanking or whipping? Obviously there was no easy answers, especially when a good number of people held the long cherished belief that by not beating your kid, you run the risk of losing the child to the devil which would naturally up the chances of eternal damnation.

It's not very difficult to recognize that the more dogmatic the religion often the more literal the interpretations of the scriptures become.

Thus, Evangelical Christians have higher incidents of hitting their kids than more liberal Christians or non believers. Don't get me wrong, the cultural norm of hitting our kids is so deeply engrained in most Americans that many will fight for the right to do so, Christian or not. I have had numerous angry online discussions with those who tout the non-progressive idea of beating their kids. Although there are also more and more parents who have chosen not to do so and like all social progress that's encouraging.

Most people I talk to have no idea that there are 52 countries in the world that have banned the spanking of children in school or the home or both.

The US isn't on either list. Socially progressive countries like Sweden led the way by acknowledging the rights of children as early as 1979. This past year, France joined the list. In the US, we have finally reached collective consensus that you can't hit your spouse or your dog, but our children are still fair game. And while I contend that religion isn't the only reason for this socially acceptable means of corporeal punishment, it plays a big part and does nothing to protect children from an archaic practice of discipline. No matter where a child is born in the world, the cultural norms of their birth country will become their world view when grown. Cultural expectations are far more successful at controlling human behavior than laws will ever be. People usually don't even know that they have a choice. So, if you grew up in a church that instructed parents to beat the devil out of their kids, the chances are high that you're going to attempt to beat the devil out of your own kids some day.

The scores of studies conducted in the field of psychology in regards to the ill effects of hitting our kids have little merit with people who are convinced that the Bible holds the key to absolute morality.

After all, God's law is above the laws of man, even above the laws of science. God knows best not a neurologist or a psychologist and especially not an elementary principal who has seen the large scale suffering of American children at the hands of their own parents. Many Americans insist that we simply cannot raise well behaved children unless we hit them. My parents hit me, they say, and I turned out just fine. Furthermore, the 52 countries that have banned such measures are considered by many to be godless secular societies. What on earth would they know about morality?

When Richard Dawkins was asked how an atheist operated without a moral compass since religion defined absolute morality, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in protest.

I grew up in one of the more oppressive religions in the US, my father's own cult. He believed that he'd been handpicked by God to serve as the last prophet of the last days. From the day of his conversion to the day of his death many years later, he was convinced that true Christianity had been lost from the face of the earth and only he stood between the masses of hypocrites and God himself. Yet, according to my own personal standards of empathy and compassion, my father was a cruel man. I realized this as early as twelve years old and began questioning what kind of a God would set such low standards for human behavior.

Needless to say, Richard Dawkins answered the question posed to him easily and with conviction. He made it quite clear that if absolute morality meant stoning a woman for adultery, he wanted nothing to do with it. He went on to say that in recent times through reason and rational thought as well as secular attempts to improve justice and equality many things have improved for societies, women's rights and making slavery illegal were offered as examples. This change came about in spite of religion not because of religion, almost as though there was some kind of INTELLIGENT design. That last remark produced a chuckle from the audience. After all, humans have been known to use their intelligence quite often to solve problems and improve life on this planet.

Richard Dawkins hit the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned. The more collective knowledge we gain the less relevant the Bible becomes to modern society. Once we introduced the idea of women's rights, made slavery illegal or began to see the inhumane treatment of animals as deplorable, the Bible appeared embarrassingly behind the times.

Unfortunately, many parts of the world continue to exclude children from the most basic level of human rights granted to adults. The US remains committed to the corporeal punishment of children.

It's imperative that secular society continues to push for change, but those efforts will be met by many irate Christians whose sense of absolute morality will see this move to protect children as embracing Satan and his tireless work to drag our souls to hell. Therefore, resistance from the devout should be expected. If secular society doesn't have the will to stay the course, children will most likely continue to suffer. Not that liberal Christians don't take a stand for social progress, but in order to do that even they must deny the bad bits of the Bible first or at the very least ignore them. Even they must find the will to stand up to the fanatics that resist the very idea of moving a society forward. Even they must push through centuries of cultural norms based upon old religious writings and outdated philosophies. They will be forced to confront old ideas that may have never worked in the first place but are most certainly outdated by our current wealth of accumulated knowledge which should have made many practices obsolete by now.

In this day and age, it's painfully obvious that there is so little wisdom to be found in the Bible as to make the book irrelevant.

It always was a collection of myths, but in the past, our lack of knowledge made it much more likely that people would depend upon myths to explain the purpose of life, to impart wisdom and to serve as a road map though a harsh and confusing existence. Once we started to gain more knowledge, however, it became easier to see the stories as nothing more than that — stories. We were also able to recognize that the biblical lessons in morality were deeply lacking. In fact, they were in direct opposition to our more advanced ethical practices. Thus the longstanding oppression of women was questioned and the ownership of other humans outlawed. Mental illness was no longer considered demon possession and we began looking for ways to treat it instead. Institutions like the Humane Society were started for the protection of animals. Eventually, the very idea of beating an animal in order to train it was considered cruel. Now, such a harsh form of discipline can create waves of outrage throughout society. That's a perfect example of how a new cultural expectation becomes normalized. The standards change. The bar of morality and ethical behavior is raised, culminating with one more step forward in the evolution of societies.

Yet, our children are still waiting to be included.

Every day, across our country, children from infancy to high school are hit, smacked, whipped and beaten. Every day, a vast array of implements are used to administer punishment. Hair brushes, belts, extension cords, paddles, tree branches, the palms of hands and closed fists are being used to train up a child in the way they should go. Americans may be appalled by the hitting of spouses or dogs, but a two year old without a fully developed brain is considered the perfect candidate for corporeal punishment in our slowly evolving society. Most parents simply can't imagine any other way to raise a child. And, although there are plenty of studies that dispel the myth that beating our kids provides long-lasting results, the old fashioned, Bible supported method of discipline continues in our schools and homes. Regardless of the fact that studies by psychologists and neurologists have produced fifty years of consistent and clear evidence that hitting kids actually harms their underdeveloped brains, Americans cling to advice offered centuries ago instead.

It turns out that religion isn't a harmless pastime after all but has always been a very real impediment to social progress. Most importantly, it harms our children. That fact alone makes this old, retired elementary principal as mad as hell.

Teresa Roberts is a myth buster by trade. At eighteen she escaped the religious cult of her childhood, but soon learned that society at large also expected her to conform. She has spent her life debunking the myths, fairy tales and cultural expectations that limit the creative process. Turns out almost everything they told us was a lie. Her recent published book - Have We Been Screwed? Trading Freedom for Fairy Tales- can be purchased on Amazon.