The Biblical Cruelty of Child Beating

In 1877, the great freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll wrote these words about the then-common practice of corporal punishment:

I tell you the children have the same rights that we have, and we ought to treat them as though they were human beings. They should be reared with love, with kindness, with tenderness, and not with brutality. That is my idea of children.

…I do not believe in the government of the lash. If any one of you ever expects to whip your children again, I want you to have a photograph taken of yourself when you are in the act, with your face red with vulgar anger, and the face of the little child, with eyes swimming in tears and the little chin dimpled with fear, like a piece of water struck by a sudden cold wind.

Even back then, Ingersoll recognized the barbarity of punishing children with beatings and pain. Even then, he was a much greater man, a more loving man, a more compassionate man than the evil, sadistic fundamentalists who still exist today – the ones who believe that whipping a child is an appropriate response to disobedience, that parental decrees should be enforced with fear and pain. Two such people have just been sentenced in California after pleading guilty to beating their 7-year-old adopted daughter to death.

Lydia Schatz’s parents were followers of Debi and Michael Pearl, whom I’ve written about before – the Christian couple who believe that an abused wife’s only recourse is to pray to God to strike her husband dead. The Pearls also teach that beating a child is the proper way to make them obedient, and they specifically recommend implements to use for the purpose, such as belts, wooden spoons or quarter-inch plumbing supply tube.

The CNN interview shows the disturbingly large influence the Pearls have in the Christian community – their warehouse full of books, covers boasting “660,000 Sold”. Predictably, they deny all responsibility for Lydia Schatz’s death, though the interviewer probes no further than that. He also doesn’t mention that, in one respect at least, the Pearls are correct: the Bible does teach parents to beat their children. In fact, the Bible treats child-beating not just as one method of discipline among others, but says clearly that it is essential:

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

—Proverbs 13:24

“Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”

—Proverbs 19:18

“The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.”

—Proverbs 20:30

“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

—Proverbs 23:13-14

So, yes, the Christians who advocate whipping children are following the Bible. That’s how we know the Bible is a wicked book, one that teaches a flawed and savage morality far inferior to the compassionate humanism of Robert Ingersoll. Punishing children with beatings doesn’t make them moral; it makes them cruel, by teaching them that inflicting pain is a legitimate way of solving a problem. As studies have found, corporal punishment correlates with aggression, antisocial behavior, mental illness, and abuse of one’s own family later in life.

The harm done by religion to helpless, vulnerable children is enormous: whether it’s religious sects which shun medicine and let their children suffer and slowly die from treatable illnesses, or religious sects which advocate mutilating a child’s genitals, or religious sects which actively teach the goodness of beating and torture, or religious sects which simply teach children to be terrified of being attacked by demons or of burning forever in a fiery hell. Lydia Schatz is dead because of cruel and evil teachings like these, and she probably won’t be the last. (Did her parents call themselves “pro-life”, do you think?) Robert Ingersoll had advice that seems like it was written just for the Schatzes, advice that I hope they’ll follow some day, hopefully many years in the future, after they’re released from prison:

If that little child should die, I cannot think of a sweeter way to spend an autumn afternoon than to go out to the cemetery, when the maples are clad in tender gold, and little scarlet runners are coming, like poems of regret, from the sad heart of the earth — and sit down upon the grave and look at that photograph, and think of the flesh now dust that you beat. I tell you it is wrong; it is no way to raise children!

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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