Spanking Is Intrinsically Disordered

In Catholic moral theology, intrinsically disordered acts are acts that, by their very nature, are always opposed to the will of God. Among these is hitting children, or so I will argue here.

First, The Stubborn Facts (Natural Theology And Anthropology)

The stubborn fact of the matter is that it is not necessary to use spanking to discipline a child. Really that should be the end of the discussion, since I hope those Christians who believe spanking to be moral do so only because they think it is necessary.

But the point needs to be stated. Every day, all over the planet, millions of people discipline their children without resorting to spanking. There is simply no evidence that these children are more ill-behaved than children who are not disciplined by spanking (and ill-behavior is not a criterion in any case, more on which below). There are a million criteria that go into a child’s behavior, starting with the child’s own temperament, countless other behaviors from the parents, the child’s environment and so on. There is, of course, plenty of evidence that it is harmful. You can doubt the evidence one way or another, but necessity is a high bar to clear, and the overwhelming truth is that it is not necessary. There are just too many non-violent alternatives, and the least we can say is that there is absolutely zero evidence that they are less effective.

More broadly, what is education? What is the goal of education, what is a human being, how does one discipline a person over whom one has authority?

Of first importance should be the idea that the goal of education should be the adult, not the child, meaning that the goal of education is to produce an adult with certain qualities. What are those qualities? I think that Catholic Tradition, rightly taking after the ancient wisdom of the Greeks, would summarize it to virtue. Putting aside the primordial question of faith, parents should seek to educate their children so that they grow into virtuous adults.

What is virtue? Virtue, quickly speaking, is a habit of mind and behavior which leads us to make the right moral choices in our lives (at least more often than not), within the context of self-mastery which is both the condition and the fruit of the exercise of the virtues. Within the context of faith and discipleship we are called to reap the fruit of the Spirit by the exercise of the theological and cardinal virtues.

Now, and this is key, one of the key principles of virtue is that it is self-directed. An action which is motivated by fear of punishment or promise of reward is not a moral, let alone a virtuous one. The life of virtue is not a life of fear of punishment, it is a life in which, like a tree grows and bears fruit, we grow in holiness (by the grace of the Spirit) and the motivation for this growth is our own desire to please God.

Let me go on. There are two ways–and what I am saying now is abundantly confirmed by psychology, adult and child psychology both–to elicit behavior from someone: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation means I do something because I want to. Extrinsic motivation means I do something because of something extrinsic, typically a carrot or a stick.

To be virtuous (as opposed to just doing virtuous things), then, is to have an intrinsic motivation towards the good. This is the work of a lifetime. All of us are concupiscent as a result of the Fall. All of us have disordered desires. To practice virtue is not simply to abstain from acting on those desires, but to educate ourselves–again, throughout our lives–so that we are intrinsically motivated towards the good. This is wholly Christian. When Paul talks about the Christian life, he says nothing else. And it is the heart of Christian morality that it is not a self-interested quest to avoid Heaven or earn Hell, but rather a movement of love and worship from us children to the Father. So this distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is fundamentally important.

What, then, does this tell us about education?

Children come into this world with two things: (a) an absorbent mind, which captures everything and then imitates it; (b) an immense reservoir of intrinsic motivation. In the very early years, parents are the total center of the life of the child, and their greatest aspiration in life is to imitate them. Children do not learn to speak and walk because of any extrinsic motivation. They learn to speak and walk–enormously difficult undertakings–because they have a very great intrinsic motivation to imitate us.

The job of a parent, then, is to take this enormous capacity for imitation and this enormous intrinsic motivation, and then, with the respect due to any bearer of the divine image, who is an end in himself, to direct this intrinsic motivation towards the good, so that the child grows into a virtuous adult, i.e. someone who has an intrinsic motivation towards the good. The child’s imitative powers are therefore the parent’s greatest ally. My daughter typically says “please” and “thank you”; my wife and I have never instructed us to do so, but she hears us saying “please” and “thank you” without fail. Whenever my daughter gets to the playground, she starts by picking up loose trash and putting it in the garbage can; this is not something I’ve ever instructed her to do, it’s just something she sees me do (and when I was doing it, I wasn’t even trying to educate her, I was trying to educate myself!). The point is not to brag about how awesome my kid is, the point is that children have an absorbent, imitative mind, and that it is a very, very powerful thing. Of course, for the typical person, reminding themselves to always say “please” and “thank you” will be harder than correcting their own child; it puts the onus on the adult to improve, not the child; it reminds the adult that he is not perfect; this is hard. Remonstrance is easy.

Here is where I am getting at: the thing with intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation is that intrinsic motivation is always better. Not just because it’s moral, but because we do things better when we are intrinsically motivated to do them–we all have had at least one experience, most likely many, in our personal life that has shown us this. So we should always privilege intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. But here is the crucial reason why we should always privilege intrinsic vs. extrinsic: when you give people an extrinsic motivation you destroy their intrinsic motivation. The facts back me up on this 100%. Take a team in a company, where nobody has any incentive pay. Add incentives. Productivity will increase at first, and then plunge to below where it was as people become less motivated and/or game the system. So then you remove the incentives. The productivity goes even lower, because before the extrinsic motivation, people had intrinsic motivation, and now they don’t even have that. You have simply ruined your company. Children come to school with a tremendous intrinsic motivation to learn, then school teaches them that the reason we should learn is extrinsic motivation (carrots and sticks; gold stars, detention, whatever), and their intrinsic motivation to learn is utterly destroyed. It’s science (really!).

The facts are in, and extrinsic motivation just does not work. Period. And Christians should know that, since we know that is not how God made us. God made us to be free, that is to say to do what is right because of our own intrinsic motivation. God did not make us to be lab rats who get a shock when they do this and a piece of cheese when they do that. Why do we see extrinsic motivation everywhere? Because of original sin. Original sin is man who wants to play God. And because we are “scheming swindlers,” in Kierkegaard’s words, when we want to play God we have a disordered notion of what God is like. We think God is a galactic CEO, micromanaging everything–because that’s what we would be like if we were God–instead of a God of Love. You, do this; you, do that. And because we want to play God, we de-humanize our fellow creatures made in the image of God, and treat them like lab rats who respond to crude stimuli, instead of actual real people with genuine wants and needs who need to be motivated to do the right thing–and who, if properly motivated, will surprise you with how great they are at it. Of course I am not a utopian. Yes, we do need rules, and punishments, and rewards. But much less than we usually think. Much, much less.

Gentle correction and reparation works better than spanking, because it creates intrinsic motivation.

But more fundamentally, spanking says to the child that he must do what is right because of extrinsic motivation. In other words, by its very nature, it destroys the seed of virtue. Right and wrong no longer become goods-in-themselves, but a system to be gamed for collecting reward and avoiding punishment. This is on top of the fact that, because children are so imitative, spanking encourages violence. Hannah Arendt distinguishes between power and authority: he who has power compels through force, whereas he who has authority compels through the willingness of he who is compelled; parents should seek to have authority, and as little power as necessary.

Now, do not misunderstand me: children should have rules, and those rules should be enforced. In between the authoritarian parent who seeks to control everything their child does, and the anything-goes parent, there is the parent who has simple authority, that is to say: very few rules, but have those rules uniformly, implacably, thoroughly enforced. (And a life of Catholicism should lead us to that, because it’s impossible to be a micromanaging authoritarian parent if you have a whole brood of kids as opposed to one or two.) Absolutely children need structure, and boundaries, and rules. But they need those because they enable their flourishing, not because the rules are ends in themselves. And they are creatures made in the image and likeness of God, baptized as priest, king and prophet. In other words, they’re just like us–the number one thing that adults forget when thinking about children.

Here is the point: if you parent towards virtue, it’s not just that you will view spanking as unethical (though you should); it’s that you will view it as necessary. You’ll simply never have to do it. Because there are about a billion other tools to use–example, reparation, correction, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement–and they all work better. Violence is always a failure. “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, Asimov wisely wrote. Violence is always a failure. Sometimes, in the broader life, this failure can be necessary, as in the case of self-defense or just war. But in the family it never has to be.

Who Is God? What Does He Want For Us? (Dogmatic Theology)

What do we Christians believe in? First, we believe the living God. Who is he? He is the Creator, and he is one God in three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God exists as three Persons who give themselves to each other in love.

In classical Christian theology, the family is an icon of the Trinity. Humanity, that is to say, man and woman, is the image of God–two persons, alike in dignity and nature yet different, giving themselves to each other in love, and out of this mutual self-giving springs forth life. God is a family.

In classical Christian theology, God wants, first, to be known to us. One of the most important ways in which he does this is through the institution of the family; through the institution of the family, mystagogically, we learn about God. This is what the life-giving one-flesh union is about.

What, then, could be more sacrilegious; what, then, could more besmirch this holy icon than introducing violence to the mutual self-giving in love of persons that the family is ordered towards?

If, as Christians, we believe that the family is more than a mere social unit, but that it is an icon of the Trinity; and if this doctrine ought to not just be a nice theoretical idea but a reality, and actually have consequences for how we live our lives, we should pose that question.

Now Let’s Go To The Bible (Biblical Theology)

I have been told that Christians are allowed to spank their children because of the famous Proverb “spare the rod, spoil the child.” What should we make of this?

We Christians know that we ought to be careful when discussing Old Testament rules. The law is not abrogated, but it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It has importance for us, but only through Christ. In fact, as Irenaeus writes and as apostolic Christian Tradition has held, referencing the slain lamb who opens the scrolls in Revelation, the Old Testament must not be merely read in the light of “the New” but more specifically, in the light of Christ crucified.

This is important, because what does the Cross mean if not the utter rejection of violence? We believe that in the Cross God’s power is perfected and revealed: not a power of violence, not a power that brutalizes, but a power of humility and utter, total love.

Some Christians do not like this language, but it is absolutely clear, blindly so for he who has eyes to see. Kierkegaard has it right: “The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

Violence is always an evil, the Gospel says. It may sometimes be a necessary evil, as in the case of self-defense. Actually, Jesus might even dispute that (“If somebody presses you into service for a mile, use proportionate and deliberate means to defend yourself.” Uh, wait…), but this is something on which we can reasonably disagree. But it is always an evil.

What else do we find in the New Testament?

Well, first of all, we find that the only time that children are manhandled, Jesus rebukes it.

Secondly, we find an important judgement about the Old Testament law: it is made for “hard hearts.” The spirit of the law is good, but the law was amended for hard hearts. We must take the spirit of the law and apply it with soft hearts. This judgement should especially grab our attention given that Jesus is making it specifically within the context of the family. Can we seriously think that this “hard heart” business only applies to the rule on divorce? Or that we should seek to soften our hearts, at the very least, with regard to everything that concerns the family?

In fact, we find that whenever Jesus discusses the family, it is to strengthen its law in the order of love. The husband should love his wife so much that not only does he not commit adultery or covet, but he does not even lust after another woman. Husband and wife should love each other so much that they become one flesh and never separate in this life. But this call for radical love inside the family should have no impact on how we think about educating children. Uh-huh.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Of course, taken literally, spanking is to spare the rod, since it is to hit with the hand instead of with the stick. I presume that most Christians who today advocate for spanking would feel queasy at the idea of hitting children with sticks to correct them (although this was, sadly, not true at all times). Do they not believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child”? After all, “if you beat him with the rod, it won’t kill him.” But I guess our hearts are too softened to do that. If you like, you can say that the verse simply means that children need structure and boundaries, which is certainly true. For my part, I am completely comfortable saying it doesn’t apply any more than prohibitions on eating shellfish.

The Tradition

What does the Tradition say about spanking? I’m not sure. I do know what it says about wife-beating. Augustine’s view on wife-beating seems to me to be roughly analogous to what we hear some Christians say about spanking: regrettable, not to be done in anger, but sometimes necessary, or in any case not especially condemnable. After all, the husband is the head of the wife, and this Trinitarian theology of the family is nice but the difference is that sometimes persons in the family need to be corrected.

We hold a very different view today. Even if we hold to a “strict complementarian” view of male headship in the household, we would say that a husband beating his wife–even a little bit, even if she is totally out of line, even without doing physical harm, even with good intentions–would always be wrong. Not because there are better ways to correct someone, although that’s true, but because it is intrinsically wrong. I think we would consider that given what the bond of love between husband and wife symbolizes, and given the physical power imbalance that often obtains between husband and wife, a husband beating his wife is particularly wrong; it is not like other kinds of violence.

Indeed, the expression “domestic violence” is revealing. It is precisely because of the quality of the domestic sphere, the home which is supposed to be a haven, where the relations are supposed to be marked by love, that we have a special revulsion for domestic violence.

All of these arguments, of course, obtain equally when it comes to violence against children. There is simply no argument against wife-beating that is not also an argument against spanking, and there is no argument for spanking that is not also an argument for wife-beating (for surely we can imagine cases where a spouse would “need to be corrected”).

I trust that today no self-respecting Catholic theologian would talk about spousal abuse the way Augustine does. Child abuse is no better.

This is how Christian Tradition works sometimes. There is growth in understanding, and development and, yes, progress. It is not to threaten the truth of the Faith to say that, to the contrary, since Faith is ever alive–ever ancient, and ever new.

Take slavery. From the very beginning, from Paul, there is the seed, the unspoken, unarticulated instinct that this is wrong. And indeed, the Church took the lead in reforming, limiting, and even combatting slavery. But it took a very long time for us to get the full awareness, and to get the kind of sweeping, absolute theological condemnations of slavery that we take for granted today–and all along, there were people using the Old Testament to justify the institution; people who did not read the Old in the light of the slain Lamb.

Similarly with domestic violence. Augustine knew that the spouses should love each other. And, no doubt, a husband who beat his wife ‘excessively’ would come under withering condemnation from Augustine the bishop, in a way that would seem “folly” and “scandal” to the pagan Roman, for whom a wife is property. And yet clearly Augustine does not view spousal abuse as an intrinsic evil the way I’m sure, say, Joseph Ratzinger would. The seed is there, but the full awareness is lacking.

The Holy Tradition of the Catholic Church, which is the life of the Spirit within the Church, says that because of the intrinsic dignity of human beings, slavery is always wrong, a husband hitting is wife is always wrong, and violence against children is always wrong. Take it from me.

What Is An “Intrinsically Disordered Act”?

The concept from Catholic moral theology of an “intrinsically disordered act” is a very useful one. It means that an act is, by its very nature, always contrary to the will of God. What this conversely means is that “intrinsically disordered act” does not mean that it cannot have extenuating circumstances, or that the person committing the act is somehow themselves particularly evil or disordered. It’s a “love the sinner, hate the sin” type of concept.

And yet it was striking to me, from interactions on Twitter, that a lot of people who have no problem calling other people’s actions “intrinsically disordered” react much more personally to the concept when it is applied to actions that they or people they are close to might have performed. But, of course, to call an act “intrinsically disordered” is not to judge its author–right? After all, we have all committed “intrinsically disordered” acts at some point–right?

“Intrinsically disordered” just means what it means. It doesn’t mean that if you spank your children, you are History’s Greatest Monster. (And it doesn’t mean that if you don’t spank your children, you are a Good Christian.) It does mean that violence against children is always and everywhere against the will of God. Good intent can reduce the gravity of the guilt of sin, and invincible ignorance eliminates it (too late for that now!–sorry).

“Intrinsically disordered” is intrinsically disordered. Some people have told me that when they spank, it is not in anger; it is deliberate and limited, and with the best intentions. That may be so, but spanking is still intrinsically disordered. (And by the way, premeditation makes illicit acts worse.)

The Holy Spirit and I agree: it is the truth, and until the Pope says ex cathedra I’m wrong (don’t hold your breath), I will keep believing it and keep saying it.

EDIT: The excellent Dr Gregory Popcak, family counselor and theologian, agrees with me (and he’s not excellent just because he agrees with me). And, the good doctor notes, so did a bunch of saints, including Saint John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church. But, I guess he just never read the Bible.

Agnus Dei (The Lamb of God), by Francisco de Zurbaran, c. 1635-1640 – San Diego Museum of Art – DSC06627” by DaderotOwn work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Kathleen Worthington

    Very St. Crispin’s Day. “Perish the man whose mind is backward now!”

    I am a member of the choir on this issue, but I can’t imagine anyone arguing with such a thorough presentation.

  • peicurmudgeon

    Exactly when was it that spanking became ‘intrinsically disordered’? It seems to me that until very recently it was considered the correct way to discipline and raise children. It seems to me that it was humanists who lead the way on this issue too.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      It was always intrinsically disordered. Yes, until very recently it was considered the correct way to discipline children. That viewpoint was nonetheless wrong.

      • Joe Carter

        So it was always against the will of God and yet at one point God sanctioned it? How does that make sense?

  • Alastair J Roberts

    This argument would be much more persuasive if external motivation and deterrence were the only real reason why principled people might spank their children. It really isn’t. Spanking wasn’t used as a deterrent when I was growing up.

    Also, I would be interested to hear your interpretation of Hebrews 12:5-11:

    Hebrews 12:5-11 — 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

    Personally, I wouldn’t so much mind having spanking called ‘intrinsically disordered’ if there were evidence that the person making the claim was making it as a conclusion reached after careful engagement with the evidence, rather than out of a moral prejudice accompanied by limited acquaintance with the contours of the question.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      1) That Hebrews passage is clearly about the struggles of life and suffering; it has nothing to do with educating children.

      2) “This argument would be much more persuasive if external motivation and deterrence were the only real reason why principled people might spank their children.”

      If I make the claim that asbestos causes cancer, “When I put asbestos in my house, I didn’t do it in order to get cancer” does not rebut the assertion “asbestos causes cancer.”

      Of course extrinsic motivation might not be the only reason why people spank their children. They might do it because they enjoy it.

      3) Dismissing the argument based on the (imagined) motivations of the person making the argument. Also I guess many paragraphs presenting evidence means I haven’t looked at evidence.

      Your comment is like a synthesis of logical fallacy. In its way, it’s like a work of art.

  • Joe Carter

    You say that spanking is always opposed to the will of God. Yet you cite a verse from the Bible (Proverbs 13:24) that rebuts that very claim. You also fail to point out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church cites that very verse in section on the responsibility of parents (

    Is your claim that both the Bible and the Catholic Church are wrong on this issue?

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      I take note of the fact that you haven’t read my post.

      • Joe Carter

        Oh, I read it. But as I said, you claim spanking is always opposed to the will of God and yet we find a verse that clearly refutes that very point. Claiming that the “law is fulfilled in Christ” doesn’t change the fact that spanking cannot be both always against the will of God and yet also sanctioned by God in his Word.

        You also don’t explain why Catholics have gotten the issue wrong until now. I think that would be an important point for a Catholic intellectual to address.

    • mochalite

      Stepping between swinging fists is dangerous, but may I suggest that you’re reading the word “rod” incorrectly? The same word is used in Psalm 23, where it says that both the shepherd’s rod and staff are a comfort to the sheep.

      Here’s a detailed look at what a shepherd’s rod was: It was used for examination, protection, defense, and discipline by getting attention (which, as I argued above, parents would do by using whatever method that works for their child …music worked for our girl). The rod is never used to hit the sheep.

      • Joe Carter

        The rod is never used to hit the sheep.

        Sure it was. I used to raise sheep and it was not uncommon to strike them with a rod, stick, etc. for their own protection. What warrant do you have for claiming that shepherds in the Bible never hit their sheep with their rods?

        (Even the source you cite says it was for “discipline.” How do you discipline a sheep with a rod without striking them with it?)

        • mochalite

          You equate “discipline” with “strike” or “hit.” I don’t, especially with respect to children. Discipline is discipling, encouraging following.

          I haven’t raised sheep, so I guess I have no warrant in your eyes, but everything I’ve read tracks with the cite … the rod was thrown in warning.

          I’m out. God bless your day.

  • samueljames

    I hope you realize that you have deeply offended many people with your comparison of spanking to spousal abuse. You are in effect telling me my father abused me, and that he was as guilty of that as he was as if he’d hit my mother.
    That is a truly callous comparison.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      I direct your attention to the paragraphs concerning the definition of “intrinsically disordered.” I’m afraid I don’t see how I can be held responsible for the offense caused to people with poor reading comprehension and/or attention span. (Also, the truth sometimes causes offense.)

      • samueljames

        “There is simply no argument against wife-beating that is not also an argument against spanking, and there is no argument for spanking that is not also an argument for wife-beating (for surely we can imagine cases where a spouse would “need to be corrected”).”
        That paragraph says anyone who believes in spanking is logically making a case for spousal abuse. I don’t believe it’s me who has the comprehension difficulty.

        • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

          Yes. That is an argument about logic. That has nothing to do with whether spousal abuse or child abuse carry equivalent moral guilt.

          • Theodore Seeber

            Logic that doesn’t take into account alternative cases isn’t logic, it’s just an appeal to authority.

        • Mike

          I think you’re extrapolating too much, but i see your point.

  • Mike

    I see your point and i think it might be correct that spanking in and of itself is ID, like violence in general; but it can be put to good ends but that would make the ends justify the means so yeah i see your point BUT what about a smack: when my daughter’s hand got too close to the hot stove top i smacked it out of the way…yeah that’s different.

    PS Maybe this is really unorthodox but some ppl i believe from personal experience simply need physical guidance in the form of punishment or physical exhaustion like in the army; some ppl are so stubborn that it’s for their own good that they be “broken”. I am saying this from person experience of 1 particular person i know very well, a person who only responds to “threats” even though this person was and is loved and cared for and loved and comes from a peaceful if divorced family which gave him everything he ever wanted.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Slapping a hand away from a hot stove, especially in an emergency, is certainly one of the most excusable forms. Again, that an act is intrinsically disordered doesn’t mean that there can’t be extenuating circumstances or that everyone who ever does it is History’s Greatest Monster.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Mike

        Yes i agree and i agree with your understanding of ID; notice how when applied to homosex it gets a different reaction ;). But this probably only suggests that the concept of something being ID is accurate and true.

    • mochalite

      That’s totally different, as would be grabbing her and dragging her back on the sidewalk if she were about to run out into the path of a truck, or pushing her out of the way of a charging animal. Those actions are necessary physical interventions and aren’t related to discipline. Afterwards, of course, teaching the lesson of the event would be in words, not in further manhandling!

  • samueljames

    “An action which is motivated by fear of punishment or promise of reward is not a moral, let alone a virtuous one”
    “”But store up for youselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.””
    “And when you pray in secret, your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      And thus we come full circle. You should try Christianity, it’s really great.

      • Micah Murphy

        Samuel makes an interesting observation against your argument and you shoot it down with condescension. I’m sure he’ll buy your argument now.

  • Joe Carter

    By the way, I tried to read your post generously. But it essentially comes across as you saying that your opinion and reading of Scripture trumps the historical interpretation as well as the teaching of the Catholic Church. I don’t mind the presumptuousness of that move. But surely you recognize that it’s a form of “Me and the Holy Spirit” type of proof-texting that even us most rabid Protestants would avoid.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Try harder. Your objections really are all addressed, and thoroughly.

      • Joe Carter

        I think you are confusing wordiness with thoroughly addressing the issue. For instance, nowhere in our piece do you explain why the Catechism is wrong for citing the verse in Proverbs. You also don’t explain anywhere how it is possible for God to always be opposed to spanking and yet include in his holy Word an admonition to spank children.

        • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

          Your premise is that these verses refer to corporeal punishment, which is not at all self-evident.

          The Catechism paragraph you cite talks about the humility and guidance of parents. Nowhere does it endorse corporeal punishment. It actually strengthens my case.

          And again: spanking children, literally speaking, IS “sparing the rod”, since it is softer than beating with a rod. So you say “admonition to spank children” but it could more easily be read as the exact opposite. And I think any 500 BC Israelite would be in my camp on this; Ancient Mediterraneans would doubtlessly view spanking as laughably effete and weak; *precisely* as sparing the rod. But you do not believe in beating children with sticks, do you? You would view that as immoral, would you not? How then can you stand in contradiction with the Word of God?

          If your response is that the verse cannot be taken literally, then we are in agreement. How, then, is it to be read? Does not Scripture interpret Scripture? Is not the Old to be read in light of the New? What does Christ say about children? About family, and about Old Covenant instructions concerning the family? About violence?

          Of course I am merely restating what I have already written (at length, as you note).

          • Joe Carter

            Your premise is that these verses refer to corporeal punishment, which is not at all self-evident.

            Then what in the world do they refer to? Do you think the Bible is just recommending hitting children with sticks for no reason?

            The Catechism paragraph you cite talks about the humility and guidance of parents. Nowhere does it endorse corporeal punishment. It actually strengthens my case.

            Then why do you think that Catechism includes that verse? You say it strengthens your case, but if the point of its inclusion was to claim that corporeal punishment was “intrinsically disordered” it probably would have said so clearly.

            So you say “admonition to spank children” but it could more easily be read as the exact opposite.

            The “exact opposite” would be that the verse is an admonition to *not* spank children. How in the world would the verse make sense if that was the meaning?

            But you do not believe in beating children with sticks, do you?

            I know this will shock and appall you but: Yes, I believe in spanking children with pieces of wood (either a battle or a switch from a tree). As a child I was often spanked with a switch from a peach tree. I rarely had to spank my daughter, but often when I did I would also use a thin branch from a tree.

            If your response is that the verse cannot be taken literally, then we are in agreement.

            I think it can be taken literally, though it does’t have to be. The verse is saying that sparing corporeal punishment spoils children. While the verse has been abused, that has been the common understanding of it for thousands of years.

            Does not Scripture interpret Scripture? Is not the Old to be read in light of the New? What does Christ say about children?

            All of that is true. And Christ affirms *all* Scripture, not just some of it. I believe he would fully endorse reasonable corporeal punishment because he endorsed it in Proverbs.

            Of course I am merely restating what I have already written (at length, as you note).

            And yet you have still have not addressed the point the central point that refutes your entire claim. Something cannot be “intrinsically disordered” if God previously endorsed it. That’s just not possible, which is why no one in the history of Catholicism has ever made such a bizarre claim.

            I can appreciate that you oppose spanking. If you had said that you think it is not longer justified, I’d have no problem with it. But when you make a claim about it being “intrinsically disordered” it makes you sound as if you are completely unfamiliar with Scripture, basic hermeneutical principles, and the traditions and thinking of Catholicism. I’m not sure what you thought would be gained by making a claim that no serious Catholic thinker has ever made before. But it undercuts your argument against spanking when you overstate the hermeneutical and theological warrant for your position.

            (By the way, have your considered that your cultural views on spanking might not be shared by all cultures? You seem to be proposing a perspective that is almost completely foreign to most Christian thinkers throughout history.)

          • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

            The circularity of the argument is quite striking. It refers to corporeal punishment because it refers to corporeal punishment. Again, that is not at all obvious.

            In any case, it’s best to end here. I will pray for you and your family.

          • Joe Carter

            I merely saying it refers to corporeal punishment because that is the way it has been interpreted throughout Jewish and Christian history. If it’s not obvious, then you really should explain why everyone has been reading that verse wrong for thousands of years until you came along.

          • Micah Murphy

            It’s even simpler than that. The verse is clear that punishment is called for. PEG tried to claim in the article that there was no room for punishment at all because it wouldn’t lead to virtue.

            “Spare the rod, and thou art no friend to thy son; ever a kind father is quick to punish.” Ever a KIND father is quick to PUNISH. Punishment has a place in discipline. Period.

            About the verse, the Haydock commentary says, “God has always treated His friends in this manner, to preserve them from sin, or to increase their reward.” Punishment is a matter of being a friend and a kind father.

            Additionally, the argument could be made that a parent acting in line with God’s will would punish as an agent of God. You know what moral theology does with OT passages in the context of agency. Mwahahahahaha!

          • Micah Murphy

            One more thing: I wish my parents had spanked me. I think I got spanked once.

            Instead, I was controlled with emotional abuse for many years. My poor wife has had to deal with watching my mother try to treat my kids the same way, but I’ve told her off over it before.

            Corporal punishment is not the worst discipline a child can endure.

          • John Wilwerding

            I ask you to read my comment, for some, more than you wish to believe, sexual damage, emotional, and physical damage remain a life long harm from that belief that spanking is just not the worst!

          • Micah Murphy

            I’m sorry for your suffering, but to attribute these things to spanking itself is misguided. If spanking led to those things intrinsically, we would see the same results in everyone who was spanked. We don’t. Yours is extraneous data.

            Additionally, the vagueness you mention in the definition of spanking is not evident. I’ve never heard of any confusion over the meaning of that term that would admit sexual abuse or the like.

          • Micah Murphy

            No, he’s not being circular at all. It’s quite clear that “sparing the rod” as a thing that leads to “spoiling the child” is an endorsement of the rod, not of the opposite. As he said, to interpret the verse as being against spanking is less in line with the verse than to interpret it as allowing spanking, clearly, since it endorses the rod. He’s answered you sufficiently and for some reason, you refuse to admit it.


            And again: spanking children, literally speaking, IS “sparing the rod”, since it is softer than beating with a rod. So you say “admonition to spank children” but it could more easily be read as the exact opposite.

            Might take the cake for the most convoluted interpretation of Scripture I’ve ever seen. [Sparing the rod] = [Spanking] = [Spoiling the child], so the verse means you shouldn’t spank, and that means no corporal punishment? I mean, that’s asinine. If anything, it’s an endorsement of the rod.

            What is more likely, that the verse which on the face endorses the rod actually is against all corporal punishment OR that the rod symbolizes corporal punishment? Sorry, you’re wrong about this verse and now you’re just trying to do gymnastics to avoid admitting it.

            Then the condescension returns. You bow out of the conversation, but add in how your opponent *and his family* will be in your prayers. What a passive-aggressive assault on the entire idea of prayer! You’re not winning any converts to your side with this tactic.

          • adn8

            You’re missing his point: he’s saying that by using your hand to swat on the bottom, you are literally sparing them the rod, which you could have used. So the author would see you as too indulgent, in that you are failing to use the rod which is a sterner punishment.

            PEG is saying that you are vulnerable to the same critique you level at him, in that you are not really following the scripture as a literal piece of parenting advice. You, too, are being too lenient. So now it becomes a completely relative argument about what level of beating/non-beating is the right level. Which is to say, if you are not literally using a stick to hit the child, you are interpreting down the verse to make it accord with some personal/contemporary standard.

            So you and PEG are both reading the verse as some level of metaphor. He’s taking the position that the persistent meaning of verse is that a child needs to be disciplined, and that if you don’t discipline the child, the child will be spoiled. You are taking the view that the verse means the punishment must literally be corporal, but not that it must literally be a whipping. So he seems on firm ground is asking you why your derogation is acceptable, but his, which seems to make more literary sense, is not.

            But to me, the verse is a moot point. I’m frankly always a bit surprised by how seriously people take old testament verses when it comes to matters of practical wisdom like governance, finances, etc. Those are precisely the vectors along which scripture is likely to be influenced by the author’s cultural context. (Suffer not a witch to live!)

          • Micah Murphy

            At least my interpretation follows the sense of the verse. His is totally opposite.

            Only a fundamentalist would argue that the verse must be taken in a rigorously literal sense. A Catholic could easily hold that it stands for corporal punishment in some more general sense, in which case I am squarely with the passage and he is against it. But to argue that it means the opposite of its letter and spirit is to defy Catholic hermeneutics, not to mention plain common sense.

          • adn8

            You’re still missing his point. He was saying that if you take a fully literalist interpretation, the verse condemns spanking. FOR NOT BEING HARSH ENOUGH.

            I have no stake in whether you agree with him, but please don’t misrepresent the arguments being made. It confuses everyone and isn’t fair to the author.

          • Micah Murphy

            And you’re missing my point. I’m not in favor of a fully literalist interpretation, so his critique has no bearing on me. I’m in favor of a Catholic interpretation, not a fundamentalist one. I favor a view that accepts the rod as symbolic of punishment, while he favors emptying it of any meaning at all. My view empties it of nothing, because my view accepts that speech may be metaphorical – a Catholic principle. Only a fundamentalist would see in a metaphorical interpretation some lack of fullness.

            I haven’t misrepresented him at all. He argues, as I said, that the verse is against punishment. Go read his words.

          • adn8

            Where exactly did he say the verse means no corporal punishment? All I see is his statement that it could be read as admonishing against spanking because spanking is too mild. Did I miss it?

    • Micah Murphy

      He even essentially said “me and the Holy Spirit” at the end. This is my-way-or-the-highway ideology at its finest.

  • mochalite

    I agree, of course, though in perhaps fewer than 3,700 words! Twenty-eight years ago, God blessed us with our one child, a daughter. As odd as it sounds, I swear that the first time I held her, I heard God’s voice. He said, “She is not yours; she is My child on loan to you. She is your sister in Christ.” (Well, maybe not that clearly … there were drugs involved, thank heavens … but the impression was unmistakable).

    I think that the desire to discipline using spanking, slapping, pinching, pushing, punching, or psychological versions of the same (and yes, those are all related) is disordered because of that “she belongs to me” thing. If we look at our children as ours, then our self-esteem is involved, and we need to do whatever it takes to make them bend to our will. When, instead, we see them as belonging to God and to themselves, then we accord them the respect due a young brother or sister in Christ. We are charged by God with their spiritual, intellectual, moral, and social formation, and we take that charge very seriously.

    Proverbs 22:6 (another proof text!) says: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Clearly, parents are told here to study their child and find the key to his/her heart, mind, and spirit … the way he should go, not a one-size-fits-all discipline regimen. It takes more work, observation, and prayer, but it really does eliminate the necessity of physically overpowering the child to get proper behavior. This is what you’ve called “Jedi parenting” … arranging the child’s universe so that she chooses the good on her own. We were gifted with a girl whose heart, mind, and spirit respond to humor, rationality, and words, so her whole life long, we have taught her using those modalities. It’s been fun, stimulating, and joyful.

    I spanked our daughter exactly once. She was about 8, and she was dancing around the kitchen while I was trying to do something. I remember it was summer, because she was wearing a bathing suit, and I was hot and frustrated. She was in my way and didn’t respond when I told her to do something. I just swung out and slapped her on the rear/leg. She’s very fair-skinned, so the red mark showed up immediately. I was so shocked, I just sat down and cried. So did she. We ended up hugging, crying together, and eventually apologized to each other. Even today, I am sorry for that. There’s always a better way.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      This entire story is so touching, it almost brought a tear in my eye.

      • mochalite

        Me too, 20 years later. My husband chuckles over it, and our daughter reports that it’s okay … she wasn’t permanently scarred. ;)

    • Dan13

      “If we look at our children as ours, then our self-esteem is involved, and we need to do whatever it takes to make them bend to our will. When, instead, we see them as belonging to God and to themselves, then we accord them the respect due a young brother or sister in Christ. We are charged by God with their spiritual, intellectual, moral, and social formation, and we take that charge very seriously.”

      I agree, although since I don’t have children I usually don’t like to be involved in these sorts of discussions.

      “As odd as it sounds, I swear that the first time I held her, I heard God’s voice. He said, “She is not yours; she is My child on loan to you. She is your sister in Christ.’”

      So true, and Catholics are generally the sort of people who wouldn’t see this as odd.

  • Micah Murphy

    I agree with much of what you say, but your suggested methods ignore the age group that is incapable of understanding, yet still does things they shouldn’t. My youngest son is 18 months. He tries to stick his fingers into electric sockets. I cannot reason with him. I cannot explain why he shouldn’t do it. If he is imitating me, he is right to put things into electric sockets. I do it all the time. For him, however, it is dangerous, and he is incapable of understanding how to imitate me in a way that is not dangerous. So I slap him lightly on the hand to help him associate pain with the electric socket. How would you suggest I handle it?

    I’m against the belt and any sort of heavy corporal punishment, but virtue is something that grows. A person may go from a fear of punishment to doing something for the good of itself. I’ve done so in many ways. Yet it may be necessary for their first instruction to center on punishment where there is no better option.

    It’s ludicrous to call light hand-slapping, which in this case is an act of mercy to help my son recognize the evil and danger of what he’s trying to do, a sin. I think your view is short-sighted and ideological.

    Additionally, you say that the meaning of the cross is a complete rejection of violence, but violence is to act against nature, and what most people mean by “violence” today can sometimes aid nature, as in the case of self-defense or, as I said above, trying to teach as an act of mercy. The cross is against true violence, not “violence” in these cases. Otherwise, the Church would not teach the morality of self-defense.

    Finally, you point out that Christians are capable of misinterpreting the Old Testament, but you don’t really prove that pro-spanking Christians are doing so. You just offer your own reading, which has no authority, in light of your totally pacifist ethic.

    God bless,


    PS – The presumptuousness of this article’s title is especially humorous, considering that when addressing anger, Aquinas didn’t even see fit to make it a mortal sin to pull a child lightly BY THE HAIR. Somehow, I don’t think he’d be on your side, and certainly not to the point of such intense certainty that he’d feel comfortable being as arrogant and condescending as you’re acting in the combox.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Thanks for your comment.

      Except that an 18 month old is capable of understanding. For things where it has to do with our child’s safety, we used a stern, loud no. Since she almost never hears her parents raising her voice, she realized that this was a Big Deal. She never touched an outlet, or our stove, or anything else we put off limits for safety.

      And kids really do understand. From astonishingly early, she knew very well the difference between things that she can’t touch bc of safety (never touched) & things she “can’t touch” bc parents don’t like it, eg computers, where she would occasionally touch them to get a rise out of us.

      I hope this helps—in any case, it isn’t the biggest deal in the world.

      If you object to the idea that an act can be wrong even when it is done with good intention, your problem is with Catholic moral theology, not me. It is certainly an extenuating circumstance, a venial sin, and may not even be a sin at all because of ignorance, but it is still contrary to the will of God.

      • Micah Murphy

        I have no qualm with Catholic moral theology. In Catholic moral theology, an intrinsically evil act done with good intention is still evil. I agree. I disagree with your assertion that this act is intrinsically evil, nor have you done anything more than to assert your position as the correct one.

        As for your suggested method, it doesn’t work. I have 4 kids. I know from experience. An 18-month-old doesn’t understand “no” without prior negative enforcement. How would you have me teach him that “no” is a negative thing without giving him a negative experience? Further, many psychologists would probably argue that raising your voice in a way that would startle a child as you suggest would do harm in much the same way spanking might. I don’t see the difference. I continue to believe you’re proposing empty ideology.

        • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

          Kids understand “no” without “needing a negative experience”. And again, countless psychologists agree hitting is unnecessary (not saying harmful, just unnecessary), and countless parents have kids who did not lick electric sockets and yet were never slapped. It’s possible. Demonstrably so.

          Again, slapping a hand away from an electric socket is not at all the worst thing in the world, it is mild. But it is also not morally neutral.

          • Micah Murphy

            How can an 18-month-old understand a negative word without associating it with a negative experience?

            You’ve not proved that it’s demonstrably true that this will work with my kids. You’ve said (SAID) that it’s true with some kids. So no, not buying it.

            Additionally, you’ve not yet proven that light spanking is intrinsically wrong. I’m just supposed to take your word for it, apparently, because you’re a magisterium of one.

          • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

            Anybody who writes anything about anything related to theology is a “magisterium of one.” Aquinas was a “magisterium of one” when he wrote the first Summa (and was quickly indicted before the Inquisition for it). Ratzinger was a “magisterium of one” when he was an academic and a priest at a small German university. My point is not that I am a new Aquinas or Ratzinger, I am not, my point that your “Who are you anyway?” posturing is really quite beside the point.

            “How can an 18-month-old understand a negative word without associating it with a negative experience?”

            Again: they do. They understand. Children have brains, even the small ones, they understand their parents, they understand the tone that they use, they understand very well. To me you are asking “How can an 18-month-old breathe?” It is obvious. This is really the spanking mentality laid bare. It’s quite astonishing.

            My point (perhaps I was not clear enough) was not just that it was possible with some people, but that every parent who has tried has succeeded. I do view that as strong evidence.

          • Micah Murphy

            Neither Aquinas nor Ratzinger would have argued as you do, flippantly tossing aside counterarguments, including those of Doctors of the Church. You swat at Doctors of the Church like flies and you treat your combox opponents like less. No, Aquinas and Ratzinger had humility. Ratzinger was always willing to listen to his opponents and answer their objections, but you simply lean back on your own sense of near infallibility (it would, afterall, take an ex cathedra proclamation to overrule you). As for. Aquinas, we have four (or three, I suppose) volumes of his style for answering objections. You’re nothing at all like him, but how fanciful of yourself to think you are.

            Regarding your answer to my question, “again, they do” is not an answer. In fact, it’s a bit of circular reasoning, which you elsewhere condemned in another opponent. It’s not an answer to the question. I asked how. I’m looking for a psychological or philosophical answer. To say, as you did, that a child can understand “no” as simply as a child can breathe shows the lack of depth of thought you’ve given this. Breathing is instinct. Children practice it before birth and no one has to tell them to do it. Language, on the other hand, is acquired. Children do not simply know what “no” means. If you say no every time you give them a jelly bean, they’ll think it means something very different from if you say it every time you swat them on the hand. You must associate the word with something they perceive as negative, and there are so very few things children perceive as negative to begin with. Their instinct is to assume the good.

            Your expressed point is that every parent who has tried you method has succeeded. My point is that this is not true. I have four children. It’s never worked. It can work once their capable of basic reasoning, but not in very early childhood. Not for my kids, anyway.

          • Micah Murphy

            I was thinking of the Summa Theologica when I wrote this, but obviously we have more examples if we consider the Contra Gentiles et al.

          • adn8

            I think the problem is that you’re extrapolating from a small data set to a very large one. I’m willing to accept that in a broad swath of cases (including my own) spanking is unnecessary. But I don’t rule out the possibility that there are cases, perhaps even a significant minority of boys, where gentler forms of correction do not actually have any dissuasive power.

            I’ll give you an example: my 14 month old likes to climb onto the sofa and walk around in an extremely reckless manner right to the arm edge, where he is likely to fall, at some point, onto a concrete floor. When I tell him NO in this circumstance, he is concerned at first, but then, especially when he’s punchy at the end of the day, begins to think it’s the most entertaining thing in the world. To the toddler, the world is a game, and it is quite possible that a smack on the ass might shatter his sense that getting dad to say NO! is a game, too.

            But it’s a low couch, so I’ll probably never find out.

            I do agree with your view generally, but I reserve the right to be wrong about doing so. I’ve seen cases of oppositional defiance that require, at least, convincing the toddler of your absolute physical dominance. That might take the form of abrupt physical removal from a situation, or holding the child down on their bed for some time until they calm down. When a child is trying to tear the house down with all their might, just restraining them in a convincing way can feel more violent that the pedestrian swat at the bottom that many on this board are talking about.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I know of at least one subclass of 18 month olds that don’t use language at all- severe autistics.

          • Jim Russell

            PEG, I actually think your post goes beyond the term “intrinsically disordered” because you seem to be saying that spanking is not *merely* intrinsically disordered but that it’s also intrinsically *evil*. Evil acts are of course intrinsically disordered, but not all intrinsic disorders are evil.
            Seems you are saying that spanking is intrinsically evil. That it oughtn’t be done under any circumstances. Am I right?

          • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

            Hey. Thanks for your comment. I do find it interesting that so many people are breaking out in hives over my use of “disordered” language, precisely given that it’s softer than “evil”. I used it to be milder, and to take account cases like the one that was mentioned of rapping a child’s finger when he’s about to touch a hot stove.

            My belief is indeed that it oughtn’t be done under any circumstances, but my understanding is that this is true of intrinsically disordered acts as well.

            Again, the “disordered” framing fits well: not necessarily a grave evil, and maybe not even evil at all in some cases. But never in accord with the will of God.

            But maybe I’m wrong about the disordered/evil distinction, or the definition of disordered. I don’t *think* so but I might be wrong on this point, and if so I will amend. Do you have good reads on that?

            Thanks again.

          • Jim Russell

            Thanks for your reply—full disclosure: as a parent, I don’t
            spank. But I’m not sure that it’s not among the legitimate “tools” in the parental toolbox, so to speak. At least at some level. Thus I’m curious about how to characterize the “act” itself.

            And I think you may be correctly applying the term “intrinsically disordered,” after all, now that I’ve looked at the CCC and how it uses the term. I think it uses it to describe concrete actions that are contrary to God’s
            will for us. It also uses “disordered” to describe unwilled inclinations that can’t be considered morally wrong, but that’s a separate case.

            Yet I’m interested in the question of whether spanking
            does indeed fall into the category of “intrinsically disordered” and whether that term is co-extensive with the terms “objective evil,” “intrinsic evil,” and “moral evil,” e.g., as used by the CCC.

            Consider CCC 1755: The object of the choice can by itself
            vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts—such as fornication—that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.

            And CCC 1856 quotes Aquinas distinguishing mortal and
            venial sin by saying that mortal sin always contradicts love of God and neighbor while some venial sin may involve a “disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor.”

            If we consider capital punishment, for example, does one
            say that the “act” of executing a criminal is always “intrinsically disordered,” or is it sometimes “ordered” and morally permissible? My understanding is that the “act” may sometimes be “ordered” and sometimes not (increasingly or almost exclusively “not” in our time, but sometimes permissible).

            For clarity, we must consider particularly whether a
            specific human act involves a specific kind of “disorder”—the “disorder of the will” mentioned above relative to objective/intrinsic/moral evil, acts that are
            “always wrong to choose.” But they’re wrong because of the disorder of the *will* (because of the “object” chosen by the will), not merely because of the “physical” act done.

            So, in assessing spanking, we have to consider whether the “physical” act of spanking is always a “disorder” and never capable of being “ordered” to the good. AND, we have to consider whether what is going on in the *will* is
            disordered or not, if we want to know whether spanking is intrinsically/morally/objectively “evil.”

            I think you’re attempting to address the “physical act”
            and are concluding it’s “intrinsically disordered” and never capable of being “ordered” to the good. Thus, when the physical act is the choice of the will, it’s also an intrinsically evil act.

            But I’m not completely convinced by this, because we also
            know that sometimes the infliction of physical discomfort upon another is actually “ordered” toward the good (self-defense, treating the wounded, etc.). Is spanking likewise capable of being ordered toward the good?

            I’m still thinking it is capable of being ordered toward
            the good under some circumstances.

            And if that’s the case, then it’s not counted as being “intrinsically disordered.” Rather it becomes a question of the prudential judgement of the parent to apply the right parenting tool under the right circumstances.

            My twenty-two cents (sorry so long!). God bless.

          • Sheila Connolly

            It seems to me that the Church doesn’t allow for any violence against anyone who is not doing violence themselves. Doesn’t it follow then that spanking isn’t justified, because it’s doing violence against someone who has usually done something simply inconvenient or rude, not violent?

          • Theodore Seeber

            Could you have just had a precocious kid?

            Hint: No doesn’t always mean “don’t do that” to all cultures.

        • Sheila Connolly

          Kids understand “no” because every time I say it, I remove them from the thing they aren’t allowed to have. Simple. So they don’t think no means “hitting,” they think no means “I can’t have that.” Around 18 months they make this connection, which so far as I know is the same as what people get with spanking their kids.

      • Theodore Seeber

        The difference there may be “she”.

      • Sheila Connolly

        My boys took a little longer to understand “no.” So we used those little plastic plug protectors. Pretty simple. Child-proofing is really the sensible solution for kids that young.

        I did try hand-slapping for outlets with my first. I soon realized that my choices were to spend ALL DAY slapping his hand, or give up this stupid idea and buy some plug protectors. It was about the most ineffective form of discipline I have ever tried — he would be crying, with his hand bright red, and still reaching for that same outlet again.

  • BTP

    Oh my. I suspect that when someone asserts that a Doctor of the Church endorses (by implication, at least) an act that is intrinsically disordered, it provides a pretty good indicator that whatever it is really isn’t intrinsically disordered.

    Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, doesn’t mean the French haven’t been able to raise their children without spanking, doesn’t mean it has no downside. But wrong by it’s very nature? Come on.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      And what do we do when another Doctor of the Church disagrees? Do our heads explode? Doctors of the Church aren’t infallible. They disagreed with each other a lot. Augustine wrote against the Immaculate Conception, shoud we revise that too?

      “the French” Ha. They’re actually more violent than American parents, in my experience.

      • Micah Murphy

        No, but they are Doctors of the Church, which (with no insult intended) is more than you’ve got under your name. Why should your audience take your side in the matter, especially when you have a “more Catholic than all you people out there, I’m absolutely right about this and it’s a very serious thing and intrinsic this and inherent that and everyone who disagrees with me is misinterpreting the OT even though I give no evidence to back that up and by the way, it will take an ex cathedra declaration of the pope to overrule me” attitude?

        • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

          Note: none of the Doctors of the Church had “Doctor of the Church” under their name when they wrote.

          If they don’t take my side, maybe they will take Chrysostom’s. Who is a Doctor of the Church.

          • Micah Murphy

            Obviously, the point was to show that some Doctors of the Church disagreed with you. That they disagreed amongst themselves doesn’t discredit the pro-spanking side, as we never claimed to be irrefutably correct. When a Doctor of the Church disagrees with your side, however, and you had claimed to be irrefutably correct, it certainly doesn’t look good for you. There is at least uncertainty, but you’ve been completely unwilling to admit that perhaps you’re not applying moral theology correctly here. It seems to me that it hinges largely on whether spanking is intrinisically immoral.

          • BTP

            Yeah, I think I’m with you here. It’s one thing to lay out reasons why spanking might be really bad, but intrinsically disordered is too strong of a claim.

          • fredx2

            Intrinsically disordered is, with all due respect, an ridiculous claim. What I dislike is when people take the “I don’t like it therefore I will call it intrinsically disordered”.

        • Joe Carter

          That’s exactly what I find most curious. The tone of this article seems completely out of character with PEGs usual writings.

        • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

          So if the argument is “You’re a meanie-head”, well, I will let it stand.

          • Micah Murphy

            Blatent strawman. You’re being a jerk, yes, but that isn’t the main point above. Rather, my point is this: why should we care about your opinions on virtue when you don’t show in your manners that you have any? Why should we take you seriously as a Catholic authority when you argue with all the bullheadedness of Martin Luther? Why should I give weight to your argument when you give no weight to the views of Doctors of the Church, nor answer our objections? All I see from you is a lot of opinion and a refusal to consider that anyone else might have anything valid to say.

      • BTP

        The Doctors are allowed to be mistaken. But you aren’t just saying St. Augustine was mistaken about something, you are saying he advocated an act that is, by its essence, always and everywhere contrary to the will of God. Think of other intrinsically disordered acts and imagine what a claim that Augustine advocated any of them would mean.

        As for my comment about the French: I suppose I’ve been influenced by my Francophile friends and their propaganda. You do spend most of the day hanging out in cafes, talking philosophy with beautiful people, right? That part was still right, wasn’t it?

  • Manny

    Oh that is such nonsense. We can argue whether spanking has merit or demerit, but to say it is disordered makes no sense at all. I agree with BTP. Your argument is analogous to arguing on how many angels can sit on the head of a pin. The real criteria is scientific data. And by the way, I don’t formally spank my child, but a swat on his behind after being disrespectful makes him listen.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Just one quick point: the idea that only “scientific data” should bear on our education decisions is intellectually deficient and really false from the viewpoint of Catholic Tradition.

      • Manny

        There should be a high standard placed on overturning something biblical. Despite what you say in your piece, “spare the rod and spoil the child” is biblical support for corporeal discipline. My Italian Catholic mother never had any qualms of giving me a smack, and neither did my grandfather, and they didn’t spank on the behind. (My father only once hit me, and that was when i completely infuriated him by throwing something at him and striking him in the eye.) In all my years I’ve never heard a homily against physical discipline nor until this post have I ever read anything that would suggest it was against catholic teaching, let alone disordered. Frankly this smacks (excuse the pun ;o) of backfitting today’s Liberal notions into Catholic history. Sort of like the death penalty today, when in fact Popes themselves as head of the Papal States had people executed.

      • Manny

        As to scientific data, the church has changed its mind when the overwhelmning evidence supports a change. Bank lending and usury come to mind. The church seems to have changed its mind on the death penalty. Those are not doctrinal issues. The church is free to change its mind on those. Why would something like spanking be a doctrinally fixed?

        • fredx2

          Actually usury is still a sin. The problem was that before the invention of a free market economy, virtually all money lending was usurous. However, once free markets got going, there was an instance where lending could be a benefit for both parties, so the church quite rightly recognized that lending itself was not wrong, it was lending in unfair or grossly disadvantageous conditions that was the problem, That is still against church law

          • Manny

            Yes, the church changed its view on it.

      • Thomas R

        But Jesus did get angry and throw out money-lenders. In a highly debated part of the Acts of the Apostles Ananias and Sapphira apparently died for lying to God.

  • Antiphon411


    God uses “extrinsic motivation”. The fear of hell is a strong motive for avoiding sin (“…because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell…”). God also chastised His chosen people Israel (destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonians; Exile; destruction if Jerusalem by Romans).

    People have been using corporal punishment in the formation of children for thousands of years with success. Studies mean very little.

    Spanking is one tool in the parent’s toolbox to aid children in their moral and behavioral development. It is certainly not the primary tool (modeling good behavior is primary), but it is indispensable. Its usefulness varies by child and age. Corporal punishment did not work with our eldest daughter. It worked with our eldest son, but he outgrew it–I would never dream if spanking him now (at 5). Our middle son (2) still needs it, but less and less.

    The thing about extrinsic motivation us that it helps children to develop intrinsic motivation. It clearly shows them that a certain behavior or attitude is wrong or bad. At first they avoid it to escape punishment, but later they learn to avoid it because it is bad and they want to do good in imitation of parents, saints, Our Lady, and Our Lord.

    Frankly studies are loaded with nonsense. I would rather follow the example of God and His Church and the natural human order than the studies and dictates of a bunch of social engineers. Perhaps PEG will also rely on studies such as Kinsey’s (he is the sexpert after all) when it comes time to talk about sex and purity with his daughter.

    Rather than reading studies, I study the people around me. We know many large Catholic families with exemplary children. They were spanked, but such motivation quickly became superfluous as they grew in virtue.

    • Ryan Godfrey

      Exactly right, PEG’s blogs are getting hard for me to read without getting somewhat inflamed.

  • Theodore Seeber

    I only want to know two things: Did you use these methods with your own children, and how did they turn out? Are they still in the Church?

  • Rebecca in ID

    Hmm, had a lengthy comment ready but it was lost…perhaps it is for the best. Thank you for your brave words. I have four children six through fourteen and I agree with you one hundred percent. I have a great deal of reverence for St. Augustine as he is my confirmation patron, but we are all to some degree subject to the errors of our times, and as you point out, just as many good people including Doctors of the Church have thought that hitting a spouse can be an acceptable option at times, good people can think that hitting a child is an acceptable method of discipline. I was spanked (by loving, affectionate parents) and spanked my first child during her second year–I will never forget the first time I did it, and the look on her face. Every time I would spank her, she would seem so confused and hurt that I thought it necessary to solve the problem by hitting her. This really pierced my heart and I began to think very carefully about what I was doing and why. Since I stopped spanking, I have developed very close, trusting relationships with my kids from a very early age and the thought of hitting one of them now horrifies me. I have never needed to slap a toddler on the hand to teach her about danger–toddlers who are connected to their parents hear the sound of fear in our voice and respond to it like an electric shock. You nailed it when you said this comes down to our view of nature: I believe that in America we are still subject to the sometimes twisted views of our Puritan forbears, and this leads almost inevitably into behaviorism. I would like to research this more but I think that in countries more traditionally Catholic, children are not often hit, with the exception of Ireland where Jansenism was rampant pretty recently. Our view of nature and of what Christ has done for us ought to profoundly affect our relationships. I was also thinking, another example would be the family of St. Therese–her father was so very gentle with his children.

  • empathylouis

    Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with spanking. If a child repeats a negative, possibly dangerous [to the child or to others], action, while having repeated prior warnings from the parent, then that child should be punished by some sort of external factor. For example, as a 5 year old child, I repeatedly threw rocks at those who displeased me. My parents told me that it was wrong several times, but I persisted on doing it because I found it to be fun. I kept on doing this, until, I hit my classmate in the face [almost near the eye] with a piece of glass, that I possibly thought, at the time, was some type of clear quartz or white garnet. On this occasion, instead of the normal time out or corner sitting punishment, my parents spanked me for around 2 minutes with a belt. I was shocked that my parents would hit me, yet I was also incredibly fearful that it would happen again. It was this instance that finally made me give up my rock throwing ways for good.

    • fredx2

      And there goes his ridiculous “intrinsically disordered” argument. Of course it was not wrong for your parents to spank you in that case. Yet he would consider it always and everywhere wrong. What nonsense.

  • Thomas R

    “There is simply no argument against wife-beating that is not also an
    argument against spanking, and there is no argument for spanking that is
    not also an argument for wife-beating”

    Although some of this is interesting I don’t think this parts makes all that much sense. In fact I would say it borders on being obviously false even if one rejects spanking.

    Even non-spanking disciplines you can do to a child may not be appropriate to a wife because children’s understanding, knowledge, and ability to judge situations is different. Although I guess, in part, you’re saying there should be no rewards or punishments of any kind. Which is…interesting. But even taking that seriously telling your wife firmly “no” and, if necessary, carrying her to another room (I think that was in the Montessori page) would likely be a little silly or even outrageous. Also I think you’re placing way too much weight on debatable psychologist and Montessori schools as somehow “proving” you are correct. (Your page is somewhat new to me and I’m thinking I likely won’t be back)

    Also I think part of this is sort-of a backhanded way to say we should be nicer to people with same-sex attractions, like myself, but

    1) I don’t know that you have anything showing yours is officially part of Church teaching, Montessori was Catholic but I don’t think she counts as a Church authority, whereas homosexuality as disordered is Church teaching.

    2) I don’t know that people have a strong, and difficult or impossible to eliminate, desire to spank kids. I think this is more cultural than some firm abnormality.

  • Irenist

    M. Gobry:

    My firstborn daughter is approaching the age where I’m seriously beginning to wonder about the rightness or wrongness of spanking.

    I lean toward avoiding spanking. However, I consider that God seemed to “chastise” Israel with corporal punishments like war and exile when they disobeyed Him, and worry that avoiding spanking, I will be disserving my beloved daughter through overindulgence.

    I very much want you to be right, sir. But the Old Testament examples worry me–a lot. If you could explain in more detail why corporal “chastisement” is unbiblical, it would set this parent’s mind very much at ease.

    Many thanks for this wonderful blog.

    EDIT: FWIW, we’ve started looking into local Montessori schools for our daughter since your blogging brought their excellence and catholicity to my attention. I really do deeply value and respect your opinions on childrearing!
    EDIT 2: The Chrysostom/Popcak links are very helpful, btw. I’ve ordered Dr. Popcak’s parenting book. At least if Chrysostom was against spanking, then I’m not an unchristian parent if I don’t spank, which has been my fear.

    • Rebecca in ID

      Irenist–the best thing I did, and I encourage you to do as well, is read read read. The Popcak is a great start but also pick up a few books by Maria Montessori and Dr. Sears (who is Catholic and has eight grown children, I believe). Dr. Suzuki is also a wonderful example; he was not a Christian but he was all his life a great admirer of Christianity and like Maria Montessori, worked with so many children.

  • John Wilwerding

    There are unrecognized adult victims of child spanking in the general population, the social sciences have proven this harm. I’m one of them. I have lost faith in my Catholic church’s leadership for it’s role in perpetuating this harm to children. Physical illness, sexual damage, and emotional scars are all a part of this harm. While I admit some children are less harmed than others by this parenting practice our church like Christ should be fighting to spare all children from this risk of live long harm. The act of spanking is deliberately defined quite vaguely and within that definition lives experiences of sexual assault, ritualized forced nudity and exposure etcetera. With so much proof that our church and our parents have harmed children, there children with adult consequences from this punishment why do we choose to use religious arguments to support this serious sin against God’s gifts of life? I have come to understand some parents because they were psychosexually harmed by the attack upon their innocent sexuality by their parents have developed sexual gratification from spanking or being spanked. Does God really wish that upon anyone human soul? Those adult parents then like my mother who suffered this damage can indulge their sexual attraction to spanking in the safety of their families with the moral support of religious support to punish for wrong doing their own children and gratify a sexual compulsion they developed by the cycle of abuse which visited them when they suffered spanking as children themselves. Sadly we will not spare future children this risk of real lasting harm and suffering until we find Catholic church leadership brave enough to admit their past position on child spanking was harmful and dangerous and said leadership understands the more monsterous side effect harms from this act upon a child than what it currently understands. Just because one sees themselves as completely free of damage from their own childhood spanking experiences does not mean we as a church and Body of Christ should believe no harm or damage finds any child from this punishment! God may forgive ignorance when it honestly exists and harms another but the truth is with present understanding and proof that harm is being committed even if only to some but not all children then you and our Catholic leaders will each be held accountable despite it’s best intentions.!

    • fredx2

      No, Spanking that includes sexual assault, forced nudity etc is not spanking that of course is abuse. Spanking is a swat on the butt to get their attention fast, and to make sure that they get the point.
      If you think that spanking includes definitions of sexual abuse etc then that may be why people disagree. If the studies that “prove” spanking is bad include those definitions, no wonder they found something harmful that virtually every parent agrees is needed now and then

      • John Wilwerding

        Society has no rules against ritualized forced nudity and genital exposure with spanking, and anecdotally it’s a very common sexual abuse found in that punishment experience. Indeed the practice is sexual abuse because there are NO protections against it and it occurs regularly. No wonder sexual damage and trauma are a part of it, and our Catholic church sanctions it with it’s silence and Biblical quotes in it’s document Catechism of the Catholic Church, “spare the rod”. It’s a social blindness allowing parents the freedom to fuse sexual body shaming as part of the punishment, sexually damaging children and for some parents suffering the same damage a way to indulge their own aberrant sexual impulses with spanking, completely guilt free because socially they believe they are helping their child.

  • John Wilwerding

    Here is a link that was blogged recently discussing the current understanding that is slowly working to actually ban this dangerous harm to “some” children. I share Christ’s words IF you are ignorant or a non-believer of present knowledge on this topic, “Father Forgive Them, For They No Not What They Do!”

  • Steve Brown

    We took a parenting course at Regis College sometime ago and although the prof there would agree that spanking is unnecessary and counterproductive to educating your child, it is definitely NOT intrinsically disordered for the simple reason that there are cases (albeit very few) where it is warranted; for one when it involves safety. A good example might be a child suddenly running across a shopping center parking lot, or a child playing in the street, or crossing a busy street, unattended.

    • Rebecca in ID

      If I saw that someone was in a dangerous position, about to be hit by a car, I would pull them out of the way. It would not occur to me that it would be necessary to hit the person.

      • fredx2

        That’s not the point he is making. What he is saying is that you have a kid who runs in parking lots or in the street, you can’t afford to have several long talks with him to convince him it is a bad idea and he doesn’t have time to learn by experience that bad things will happen to him if he runs in the parking lot, because he will be dead.

        • Rebecca in ID

          But the person he trusts most and looks up to most, hitting him, seems awfully counterproductive. It would not seem to inspire confidence. My children were very obedient from a very early age; they were very attuned and like other higher mammals have instincts of self-preservation. I have seen toddlers who are spanked develop an antagonistic attitude towards their parents, and that seems to me to be more likely to produce a dangerous situation.

        • Sheila Connolly

          This is a common argument, but it doesn’t follow. If spanking isn’t effective for other things, it isn’t effective for running in the road either. A child under two probably can’t be trusted near a road at all, so it’s YOUR responsibility as a parent to keep them away from it, carry them, or hold their hand. A child over two can understand “the cars go by here really fast, they can’t see you, and they will bump into you and hurt you.”

          I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old and keeping them from running into the road is pretty much the easiest parenting challenge I have ever had to deal with. First they’re carried, then they hold hands, then they learn it is dangerous, and then ……. they happily wait for me at the edge of the street so I can come hold their hands, because they KNOW the road is a dangerous place.

          If I were coming at them ready to spank, I think they would run *away* from me, into the street, wouldn’t you?

      • Steve Brown

        Rebecca, I’m just relaying what we were told by a current child development expert. This expert even criticized another child dev. expert for supporting spanking; but in this one instance, she was in aggreement.

  • vosinfan

    Are you serious? This is a ridiculous esoteric head piece that ignores precedent, tradition, and catholic moral teaching. Malarkey. There is nothing wrong with spanking if all other forms of dissuasion have failed and it is for the betterment and safety of the child. That’s precisely what “spare the rod, spoil the child” means. We have a generation of exceptionally pampered and overly inflated young Americans that have never learned how to respect authority, and therefore the naturally important recognition of servitude. Christ himself was “disciplined” by the Father in a most brutal, humiliating fashion, but “being made perfect through suffering” he shared in the glory of the Father. This is what happens in the natural order of things. Children, especially boys, are disciplined, even spanked, when absolutely necessary. “For what Father does not discipline a son whom he loves.” But in doing so, the child is made to learn to reorient themselves away from selfishness that harms them to service that brings life. In such a way a child matures; a boy becomes a man, and shares in his Father’s glory. Personally, I have a severely retarded son, and I’m sick of all this cockamamie self-righteous pontificating about how I should describe him, and how I should rear him. He has down’s syndrome, and 92% of American parents would have aborted him. My wife and I did not. But he, every day, tries to touch things, or get into situations that are troublesome at best, downright dangerous at worst. Without corporal punishment he may have died from running in front of a car, running off in a crowded place, touching dangerous appliances or devices, swallowing dangerous objects. Check you mental ramblings at the door before you write or speak about absolutes the rest of the world has to follow.

    • Rebecca in ID

      Wait, Christ was “disciplined” by the Father in a most brutal, humiliating fashion? I have never heard such a thing from a Catholic before…where does this idea come from?

      • John Wilwerding

        I have met many people who live with the sexual damage from spanking, and you believe the Father approves?

    • cajaquarius

      [Christ himself was "disciplined" by the Father in a most brutal, humiliating fashion, but "being made perfect through suffering" he shared in the glory of the Father.]

      I know it is called the Roman Catholic Church but Rome is not God. Roman law and human beings killed Christ, tortured him, and so on and Christ allowed it to happen (remember, he mentioned he could have called legions of angels to defend him but chose not to). What a bizarre statement.

      As for the rest, no one is saying you can never spank but in my experience growing up, I never really learned anything from spanking besides to resent authority in secret and fear it in the open. Now that I am older, I rarely handle confrontation well – I prefer to stay out of sight and stab in the back from the shadows. Figuratively, of course. Evidence shows that spanking is not as effective as other forms of punishment that teach intrinsic motivation.

  • mochalite

    One other comment on this: If you haven’t seen the movie “Temple Grandin,” I recommend it. She is a professor at Colorado State University who is autistic. In her doctoral studies, she worked with cattle in stockyards. They had a lot of problems with cattle injuring themselves and others, mini-stampedes, requiring a lot of hitting, electric prodding, etc. as they were herded around.

    Grandin’s autism enabled her to hear differently … She spent a lot of time watching and listening to the cattle and heard the difference between contented lowing and panicked lowing. As a result, and in opposition to the accepted model, she designed chutes that would let the cattle walk “in the way they should go.” The result was many fewer injuries and much more order. She revolutionized the stockyard industry.

  • Randy Gritter

    You seem to have category issues here. There is the extrinsic and intrinsic. Then there is the corporal vs other punishments. You seem to argue that not only is corporal punishment intinsically immoral but other forms of punishments like time outs and loss of privilleges are immoral as well. They are all extrinsic.
    The trouble with intrinsic methods is they take a long time to work. I talk to my son all the time about the value of doing chores, about participating in the family by doing the work of the family, about developing a good work ethic, etc. It never works. I still give the speech because I think some of it eventually sinks in. Yet he never gets up and does his chores in response to my speech. When I tell him he won’t be allowed to watch his TV show until his chores are done. Then he moves. Extrinsic works. Intinsic does not.

    • cajaquarius

      I would argue that is intrinsic in what you are doing, if done correctly. If you, the dad, decided to stop going to work one day and just screwed around instead of making money and paying your bills your TV would go out (so would your utilities like power and water, actually). By removing his access to electronic media like TV as you have done you are creating a link in your son’s mind between consequences as they directly connect to his actions or lack thereof.

      No work equals no money. No money equals no power. No power equals no TV.

      As a kid, the no money bit doesn’t factor in but you are raising him to be a grown up so creating the links between action and consequence here and now like you are doing is great and exactly what I think the article addressed. The problem with beating a kid is there is no intrinsic link that carried to adulthood. Beatings are fast, terrifying experiences that teach fear of authority and nothing else.

      • Randy Gritter

        Then everything is intrinsic. If he moves out and shares an apartment he will have to do chore. If he does not his room mate might punch him in the nose. Does that mean punching him in the nose is intrinsic?

        Certainly physical punishment for physical crimes can be seen as intrinsic by your definition. If your hit your sister I hit you. That is totally what would happen in the world if I engaged in violence the way they do. To me, intrinsic is simply teaching them to hate violence. Extrinsic is giving them a time out. I don’t think my kids would be safe if I didn’t give time outs for hitting.

        • cajaquarius

          You are dishing out an extrinsic punishment because everything you do and teach is extrinsic to your son as I would define it (ie it comes from outside of him) but by applying it with focus on teaching your son via the method of punishment or correction (rehabilitative rather than punitive) you elicit an intrinsic response. That was the message I took from the article but maybe I totally misread it. I can try to illustrate with an example:

          I have had a father figure in my life (an uncle, of sorts) who did punishments made to fit the crime, so to speak. For example, when he found out his son and I had been manufacturing fireworks using gasoline, gunpowder emptied from shotgun shells, and PVC piping (particularly stupid, even by teen boy standards) he signed us up at a local charity for a day of helping out folks who had come to miss limbs for any variety of reasons. The work was hard and the lesson was obvious – life is hard without fingers on your hand or a nub where your foot should be.

          I have had a father figure in my (thankfully, temporary) step-father who punished transgression of a poor report card by beating me to the point of unconsciousness on a few occasions with his closed fists and kicking me in the chest.

          In the former case, I lost my sense of preteen invulnerability and never fooled around with that stuff again. In the latter case my grades stayed poor and I grew an intense resentment for authority that exacerbated the problems at school. The punishment didn’t fit the crime. Both external but the latter inspired no intrinsic response from me. At least nothing positive.

  • cajaquarius

    Spanking is just Sloth. It is lazy parenting. Actually showing the moral fortitude and willpower to enforce long lasting punishments is hard so some parents take the short cut of smacking their kids around. I can beat a kid black and blue during a commercial break of my favorite show. God forbid parents bother parenting. People get angry at anti-spanking rhetoric because they know they are in the wrong and taking the easy road with their kids.

    Growing up I had both relatives who smacked me around and ones who had me make ammends or used labor to punish me. One summer, after I got bad grades due to my not studying, my uncle had me redo the roof on his house to teach me what kind of life awaited me if I messed around in school. I woke up, took breaks, lunches, and everything a roofer would have done but had to be at “work” every day for nine hours of every week day.

    Can you guess which one of these punishments turned me around in school?

    • fredx2

      No, I suggest you read the The American College of Pediatrics Challenges Report on Spanking.

      There is a differnce between hitting a kid and spanking a kid, and that is the essential difference.

      No, parents don’t get angry at anti-spanking rhetoric, because they are lazy, its because once again, a group of supposed experts are spouting obvious nonsense.

      “Beating” a kid is always wrong. Spanking a kid is something different.

      • cajaquarius

        ["Beating" a kid is always wrong. Spanking a kid is something different.]

        Uh huh. And a forty year old man convincing a nine year old girl that they are in love and then proceeding to have sex with her is totally different and better than holding her down and raping her.

        35% less lazy child abuse masquerading as discipline is still lazy child abuse masquerading as discipline.

        Spanking is lazy parenting. It is an indisputable fact. If the lazy parents just admitted they were more interested in their TV shows and childish personal affairs than putting forth the effort to raise their kids I could at least respect the sincerity. Just be honest; long term punishments like grounding, time out, and using labor to teach are hard because you have to be there to supervise while whipping a kid black and blue during the commercial break of your favorite show is easy. Just admit it. The world can see that, the research proves it, my experience corroborates, and the best you can do is rebut me with the semantic vagaries of a known hate group?

        Better luck next time.

        • guest

          Wow, comparing spanking to child rape. Dramatic much?

        • Laura

          You’re kind of closed-minded, biased, and sanctimonious, so I would bet a substantial amount of money that you’ve never read anything but the summations, never gone in and actually analyzed the research. I’m sure it would completely escape someone as close-minded as you to the many confounders and limitations (in case you were unaware, most research is self-reported, and thus not terribly reliable, surveys) that only barely leave enough evidence to make a statement on a veeerrrry broad public health level. (The same level that includes stressed, 20yo single mom and emotionally-damaged narcissist mom who could easily really hurt their kids if someone weren’t telling her to just not even go there.)

          Your inability to make distinctions and lump all spanking as “abuse” is akin to saying that rape and marital intimacy are the same things because they both involve the same body parts doing the same things. The kidnapping and imprisonment of those women for 10 years is the same thing as incarceration because they both involve taking away freedom. They are not because INTENT, RELATIONSHIP, FORCE, and AUTHORITY matter.

          I am NOT a lazy parent. I don’t watch TV (except some BBT with hubs after the kids are asleep and Daniel Tiger because DS loves it.) I stopped working to raise my kids, and enjoy spending time with them. Personally, I could care less what a jerk like you thinks of my parenting. I don’t comment to defend myself against your judgment… I comment because ignoramuses like you should not get to dominate the discussion.

        • Josh

          I wonder if there is a causal link betwern watching reality tv while eating Cheetos and spanking/child rape. Probably. People are such idiots. And lazy too!

      • Tom

        Because readers are likely to understand that there is disagreement on the topic among experts, I need to point out that the American College of Pediatricians is an ideologically conservative advocacy group reported to have fewer than 500 members. It was formed in opposition to the research and policy statements of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the professional association of pediatricians that comprises at least 60,000 members and publishes the journal “Pediatrics.” The position of the AAP on spanking can be found here, and it is unequivocal:

  • Mike the Professor

    Oh bull. I will continue spanking my kids when they need it. I will wallop my children’s butts when they need it, such as when the 4 year old gives me a smirk and runs into the street. Pascal apparently needed a few more spankings to give him some sense and rationality growing up. No appeal to anything of substance in his article other than hand waving and pop psych.

    • Sheila Connolly

      If your four-year-old is still running into the street, obviously your method is not working. Neither of my kids has run into the street since two. They are intrinsically motivated because they know it is dangerous. Kids who are spanked only understand “don’t run because mom or dad will hit me” and it becomes a big game as they try to see if they can get away with it.

      I was spanked, I turned out more or less okay, but NOT spanking is working so much better that I’m never going back to it. I can’t help but think the reason parents think their kids are particularly challenging and NEED spanking is because they have already destroyed their natural cooperative relationship with their kids, and so the kids rebel twice as much as those who aren’t spanked. But instead when people see my well-behaved, non-spanked kids, they think I must have “especially easy” kids. I don’t. I have intrinsically motivated kids.

  • Nancy de Flon

    Spanking produces obedient, frightened automatons, not responsible adults. Parents who take the easy way out — spanking and other physical punishment — are too lazy to consider the long-term consequences of their stupid actions. Having had parents like these, I speak from experience.

    • fredx2

      Actually, the problem is how the “spanking” is administered. And, some of the studies of “spanking” actually treat things most people would consider “hitting”. Hitting a kid is not justified, however, spanking (a swat or two on the behind) is OK.

      The The American College of Pediatrics Challenges Report on Spanking actually said that spanking is OK, and in fact, those kids who had received a swat on the behind etc when young ended up being better adjusted. Of course, hitting is wrong.

      “The most recent review was a meta-analysis that looked at over 40 years of studies that compared physical discipline directly with other disciplinary tactics. Its conclusions:
      • The outcomes of physical discipline, when compared with other tactics, depended • The outcomes of physical discipline compared unfavorably with alternative disciplinary tactics only when it was the primary disciplinary method or was too severe (such as beating up a child or striking the face or head).
      • The outcomes of customary physical discipline were neither better nor worse than for any non-physical tactic, except for one study favoring physical discipline for reducing drug abuse.
      • The strongest causal evidence showed of benefits from physical punishment came when spanking (2 open-handed swats to the buttocks) was used to enforce or back-up time-out with 2- to 6-years-olds. This type of back-up spanking reduced defiance and/or aggression better than 10 of the 13 other disciplinary tactics with which it was compared. Another benefit is that, because this approach leads to greater child
      compliance with time-out, it reduces the need to use spanking later on.”

      The research cited by the author of this blog post cites Gershoff, who the report above heavily criticizes for confusing hitting with spanking, and for misinterpreting the results of some studies to arrive at her biased conclusions.

      • Tom

        Again, the American College of Pediatricians is not a major professional organization, but a conservative advocacy group set up to oppose the positions of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which publishes the journal “Pediatrics.” The AAP roundly rejects the practice of spanking, or any striking of a child:

        • Laura

          “how angry they felt. ” Any parent who is motivated by anger when administering a spanking is venting frustration, not administering a consequence/admonition in the context of discipline. Not all spanking is motivated by anger (I think I’ve spanked my children once in anger, and I broke down in tears apologizing and asking for his forgiveness.) Yet, the AAP (and most others who take a predetermined stance on spanking and try to make absolute claims on a very nuanced subject like parenting) presumes that it is always motivated by anger? Sure, I will happily sign on to being against all spankings administered in anger, just as I do physically or emotionally abusing a child… but not all spankings fall into either category.

          • cajaquarius

            Notice that nowhere in Laura’s post was there a link to any of this supposed counter evidence. Just more ad hominem and strawmen. Her anger is her Jungian Shadow reacting to getting called out. In truth, she knows that spanking is an immoral parenting short cut made all the more inexcusable by her own admission of being a stay at home mother.

            I was a kid who was spanked. It teaches through terror. You are either lying to yourself or an objectively terrible mother. I suspect the former.

            Swallow your pride and accept I and the blogger are right and you are indefensibly wrong. You will feel better as will your children.

      • John Wilwerding

        So when is spanking NOT hitting?
        You delude yourself if you believe otherwise. The context being punishment so it’s not hitting, delusional.

  • pburg

    I disagree with every point made here. But what bothers me most is that Gobry is right when he states that many children who don’t get spanked turn out just fine. Sure. Because not ALL children respond to spanking, or need it. Spanking a child over a certain age (or if it is overly severe) is violence but lets not attribute this loaded term all physical discipline. Positive parenting is palegianism.

  • Mrshopey

    I laugh when I read these because they take extremes – extreme beating is abuse – extreme other is abuse in that you are not correcting the behavior. I know I have done it right when my child(ren) is begging me to just “spank them” and get it over with. Yes, sometimes they would rather have that smack vs whatever creative discipline I have pulled from my hat.

  • guest

    I think it is hilarious that you base all of your claims on secular sources and then try to claim spanking is against God’s will. The only passages in the Bible (you know, the one place where we can hear God’s opinions on things) that address spanking are all in the pro column. So please, for the sake of your own soul, feel free to speak your mind, but don’t try to pass off your opinions as God’s.

  • Laura

    Consider that a young child CANNOT understand anything besides “extrinsic” motivations. He doesn’t come to the conclusion that it was a bad idea to pull the dog’s tail by pondering the philosophical implications– he knows it was a bad choice because he got nipped. Likewise, using physical reinforcement to teach children isn’t about “punishing” them– it’s about speaking to them in a language they “get” before their interiorly-motivated capacity for self-regulation is developed. There is a reason that the “loss of heaven and the pains of hell” or “Thy just punishments” (i.e. extrinsic consequences) are mentioned in the old Act of Contrition. They ARE a motivation to do what is right. Is it much better to be motivated interiorly by that which is “good and deserving of all my love?” Of course. But it isn’t either/or, it’s both/and. (and shouldn’t God be the model parent?)

    • Laura

      And all that “gentle” correction is STILL extrinsic motivation. Lose a privilege? “Natural” consequence? Time-out/time-in? NONE of them touch a child’s heart. They are all oriented toward creating unfavorable external situations to motivate cessation of poor behavior.

      • Rebecca in ID

        I disagree that children do not understand intrinsic motivation. I know a lot of children and I have four myself. Children, especially young ones, are the most intrinsically motivated people I know. Their love of their environment and of self-perfection motivates them to incredible activity and no adult activity really parallels what they accomplish in a very short time. They are given by God a very strong desire to imitate and please their parents and this *is* an intrinsic thing, because children do have a nature and are not a)a collection of behaviors or b) a mess of “sin nature” or total depravation, as our Protestant forbears say. They have a nature that is good and to be revered and cherished. I agree with you that punishments are oriented towards external motivation and would argue that any type of punishment is rarely useful or necessary *especially* for young children. The more you understand young kids, the more you understand how punishment is unnecessary. The youngest of my children, now six years old, has never been punished (I’m including time-outs or anything else) and is extremely obedient. Maria Montessori worked with thousands of children and noticed that when their needs were met, the teachers found no need of either rewards or punishments, and this was in Europe, Africa, everywhere. The pains of Hell–well yes, it is necessary; it’s a little like the fear of going to jail. Do I primarily abide by the law, and do I want my children to abide by the law because they are afraid of going to jail? Does society want its citizens to primarily be motivated by that fear? I would hope not. It is the last net, the last grace which might save someone and protect someone else, but it is a sad thing for a person if he desires to commit the crimes but *only* refrains because he fears punishment. If we *begin* by teaching people not to do things *because* they might go to Hell; well we’re aiming very low and we will most likely hit the mark we are aiming for. Children, and citizens, who are raised well, ought for the most part to be motivated by love, compassion, desire for the common good, etc. Notice that this is Christ’s primary mode of action and of communication.

  • John Wilwerding

    The swat is defined as spanking, so is ritual methodical over the knee spanking with a hand upon a bare bottom that was exposed by the parent after ritual undressing and genital exposure. Both descriptions are “common”, both fall under the definition of the word “spanking”. Can you then understand where the science is revealing the psychological damage that has occurred, the various forms of mental illness and depression some children take into adulthood for a life time from this common religiously supported form of punishment? Most damaging when the experience is cross gender parent child, a daughter experiencing this from her father, a son experiencing this from a mother! The infant/child needs such intimate exposure by a parent for hygiene and health care needs and the context understood by the child is positive and not threatening like punishment is, children ritually humiliated and sexually exposed by their opposite gender parent develop feelings of intense body shame and some accidental sexual arousal, and elicits the same trauma feelings found in rape, shame and fear. Guilt and remorse might be positive behavior motivators, but shame and fear are not, especially when it involves the child’s body. Again the definition of spanking is extremely vague and various in it’s experience, yet ritualized and semi nudity are common to most forms of it.

  • Christian LeBlanc

    I would love to have seen someone try to raise me without the credible threat of physical pain as a last resort.

  • TheSquirrel

    If you are a parent and you have hurt your child you have lost the trust of that child, even if just a little bit, and you relationship will change forever. You will have failed in your duty to INSTRUCT your child and to protect and support them. Spanking is not necessary and can cause great harm.

  • pburg

    I responded to the blog post you linked to which quoted saints who were supposedly against spanking. My comment is still awaiting moderation, so I also posted it below. We should be careful when criticizing other people’s parenting techniques — especially when making a moral case of it.

    The beginning of your St. Chrysostom quote “If thou shouldst see him transgressing THIS law..” It seems important to note what law Chrysostom is referring to in order to put the rest of the quote in context.

    The preceding sentence: “Make a law straightway that he use no one in despite, that he speak ill of no man, that he swear not, that he be not contentious.”

    These are particular transgressions, specific to certain age children. He is not suggesting that an eighteen-month-old who decides to throw a temper tantrum mid poopy-diaper change or the two year old running into the street shouldn’t get a spank.

    Another omission: “Have not recourse to blows and accustom him not to be trained by the rod; for if he feel it…, he will learn to despise it.”

    What is the “…” ?

    missing phrase: “for if he feel it *CONSTANTLY as he is being trained*, he will learn to despise it.” He is simply discouraging constant use in these specific cases. He is not condemning physical discipline all together.


    As for your St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle quote, I read through the page you linked to and didn’t find it. An internet search only showed me pages that referred back to your quote. Please point me in the direction of your source.

    On pages 137 -139 of his actual work, “On the Conduct of Christian Schools”, La Salle’s views on corporal punishment are strikingly opposed to those you attribute to him. He encourages hitting children with the ferule and the rod in prudent moderation, and, yet, for something as small as being late for school or scribbling on paper. He, like Chrysostom, did not condemn physical punishment outright. La Salle criticized those who go to either extreme of gentleness or harshness.


    St. Don Bosco did discourage physical punishment of students by teachers because “[the children] easily forget punishments by their parents but only with great difficulty those inflicted by their teachers.” When the Saint discouraged corporal discipline he was specifically addressing punishment toward school age children by members of staff within a school setting, not parents of young children. To project these pedagogical methods onto that of parenting one’s own children goes a step too far.

  • John Wilwerding

    Christ ran away from His parents, when they found Him teaching in the Temple they expressed their fear about Him being gone and lost, in the New Testament their is no use of ANY physical punishment by Christ’s parents, Joseph and Mary for this “bad” behavior. That’s a sound biblical and theological insight most of the Catholic faithful have overlooked or ignored.

    • Guest


  • John Wilwerding

    We as parents and a society we conceal how much spanking we are inflicting upon our children in the privacy of our homes. Here’s the latest study,

  • Josh

    I think the post missed the point in our differences with Augustine regarding wife beating. It’s not that he implied (or stated maybe) that some form of wife beating is acceptable (though that is obviously problematic too) but that he understood the spousal relationship to be one where the husband can/should discipline his wife at all, corporally or otherwise. We understand now that the proper role of a husband does not include disciplining his wife, a fellow adult who he does not have that sort of authority over. I think this shows Augustine was a product of his age (something no one, including Mr. Gobry, escapes).

    I also think it’s incorrect to imply, as Mr. Gobry does, that Proverbs is part of the Law. It’s not. It’s a book of truisms that were true then and now or never true. Comparing them to proscriptions regarding shellfish is a meaningless argument (just like the “sure, the OT condemns homosexual activity, but it also condemns oysters Rockefeller, so it’s not relevant today” argument many make). It’s a bold move though to claim the Holy Spirit inspired “spare the rod, spoil the child” while thinking all parental corporal punishment is objectively sinful (something the post says without using the word “sin”), so I give Mr. Gobry chutzpah points for that.