The Range of Permissible Acts — Part 1

permissibleSay you’ve picked out a private kindergarten for your little girl, and you’ve gone down to take a look at the place to check on a last few details.

During the hourlong tour and consultation, you ask “What are the classroom rules here at Bronfield Academy? What will be expected of my daughter while she’s actually in class?”

“Ah,” says the director. “Glad you asked, because we’ve got a list of the rules we send home for each new student before the term begins. Let me get you a copy of that. Yes, here we are.”

You read it, and it’s a lot of stuff you’d expect. Things you approve of.

• Students must be under adult supervision at all times. Students outside the classroom must be accompanied by a teacher, adult aide, or parent.
• A student must say ‘please’ when asking for additional art materials such as paper or crayons.
• Students must say ‘thank you’ when teachers hand out snacks at snack time.
• Students must act fairly with each other, so that each gets a turn on playground equipment.
• Students may not bring sharp objects such as metal scissors, knives, etc., onto the school grounds.
• Outside toys brought for playtime must be approved in advance by the teacher.

All good stuff, you think. But on page two, far down the list, you see this:

• The strongest boy in each classroom may be allowed to assist the teacher by spanking misbehaving girl students.

You look up in astonishment. “Wait, what? What’s this?”

“Oh, that’s something left over from the early days. The school was founded in the mid-1800s as you know, and it was a rule back then, just something the teacher could allow if they chose.”

“But why is it still on the list of rules? There’s no way that can even be legal, can it? And I certainly don’t want a boy student SPANKING my daughter.”

“No-no, we don’t use it anymore. I mean, technically, it’s part of the Bronfield tradition, you know, but it’s extremely unlikely any teacher would think of using it these days.”

Whoa. Would you send your daughter to that school? However much you liked the rest of the place? Holy crap, no!

Or how about this: You pick up your computer from the repair guy and he says “Okay, I upgraded your RAM like you asked, and dropped in a new full-terabyte hard drive. The graphics card was old, so I got you a new one of those too. Oh, by the way, I hope you don’t mind, I used your bank account to transfer some funds around to keep the IRS off my back. I had to hack your passwords, but it’s no big deal, everything’s back to normal now.”

Will you ever go back to that guy? In flashing neon letters six feet high, the answer is NO.

Assuming that both of these services – the school and the computer geek – are otherwise reputable and efficient, why really would you not deal with them?

Because even if everything else is fine, there’s a sharp limit to how much stuff you can allow to go on in the “not fine” domain.

Doesn’t matter how great a fellow your Cousin Steve is – he might be a pillar of the community, a self-made millionaire who gives to charity, organizes food drives for the poor, volunteers at his church, leads a Boy Scout troop, and tutors under-privileged youth in his spare time – if you know he fools around with underaged girls, you’re not going to leave him alone with your 12-year-old daughter. Not for 10 seconds. Not ever.

The Why of all of this is something I call “the range of permissible acts.”

Even if you openly admitted their good traits …

“Everybody down at the office sends their kids there, and their graduates have higher grades in every subject.” “He’s the only computer repair guy I ever met who really knows what he’s doing.” “Cousin Steve is the most energetic and generous community activist I know — he does more charity work than any three people put together.”

… you’d still shy away from using them.

Each of these people might be ninety-nine and ninety-nine-one-hundredths percent reputable. But that tiny bit of unacceptable behavior would make them, for any normal person, for any good parent, untrustworthy. Because no matter what good might be contained in a service or a person, some things are completely beyond the range of what you can permit. Given a choice, you’d refuse to deal with this school, this computer repair service, or this cousin.

And that’s really the problem I have with religion. The Range of Permissible Acts in religion is very, very broad. Not just in the things people in religious cultures do, based in their individual minds on the details of their religion, but in the things it actually says in each religion’s source book. The Bible and the Koran both have some freaky stuff in them.

The Bible clearly says “If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by the private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.”


The Koran says “… [as to women] on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them …”



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