Sunday, March 7, 2010

Can the church hold a belief for a long time and rightly be challenged to change?

I hope so.

For a long time the church has held the belief that physical discipline of children is right, proper, and supported by Scripture ('spare the rod and spoil the child'). Fearful beatings have been handed out by parents to their children through the centuries. Of course a lot of this would have been 'cultural' in the sense that every parent did this, irrespective of religious commitment or understanding of the text of Scripture. A general hesitancy to use physical discipline today, or to at least use it sparingly, or to use it lightly (just a smack, no birching or caning) is also 'cultural' in a number of ways: social attitudes, if not laws of the land inhibit, if not prohibit physical discipline of children. But it also represents among Christians a shift in thinking: the key verse with regard to discipline is no longer 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. We have sidelined it, even though nearly two thousand years of 'the church's understanding' lies against this sidelining.

Except some Christians have not sidelined it. This verse lies at the heart of a vicious, even murderous system of child rearing in the name of God. Read here and follow the links, or go directly to here for a chilling, mind numbing account of the danger of reading the Bible without regard for factors such as reasonableness of human behaviour.

My point here with respect to the general line of this blog on human dignity is that appeals to 'the church's longheld understanding' have value in hermeneutical arguments, but limited value. Of itself the tradition of the church does not trump Scripture or reason. Each traditional understanding of the church needs careful weighing as to its merits.


  1. Come now, Peter, do you not think it possible for mature Christian parents to still hold to "spare the rod, spoil the child" and yet be able to exact that discipline without pursuing a "vicious, even murderous system of child rearing"?

    If so then what exactly is you point? That people misread and misapply the Scriptures in every generation? Hardly a shattering thought.

  2. Hi David

    It is indeed possible for mature Christian parents to be able to exact discipline, even light physical discipline without pursuing a vicious system like The Pearl.

    My point is that for centuries the church has seen little or nothing wrong with beating children with sticks or straps. But claiming support from this longheld belief does not by itself dismiss arguments that it might be time to change.

  3. Physical discipline is directly related to the level of education and wealth in a society. It works in a crude way among poorer people of little education. That is why it is more prevalent among larger parts of Africa and Asia.
    Societies develop their sense of rights (and wrongs) the wealthier they get. You won't find many educational psychologists in rural Africa.