“Little Bundles of Sin”: Evangelical Child Rearing

I recently ran across a truly excellent article on the politics of the conservative family (seriously, go read the whole thing). I found the section on children and child rearing especially pertinent to my own experiences and a helpful overview of a lot of the particularities of evangelical and fundamentalist views toward children and child rearing. I’m going to quote from this section, pausing every couple of paragraphs for some commentary.

…Drawing in part on their belief in original sin and on biblical passages that seem to promote a strict approach to discipline – ‘He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him’ (Prov. 13:24) – evangelical Protestant leaders…stress the divine authority of parents and the need for parents to take a firm hand with children.” And so the fourth characteristic of a Christian Right home is that children are born evil and can become good only through a Godly mixture of love and punishment.

“One does not have to teach antisocial behavior to toddlers,” writes right-wing family psychologist John Rosemond in a 2006 column, syndicated in 225 newspapers. “They are by nature violent, deceitful, destructive, rebellious, and prone to sociopathic rages if they do not get their way.”

I wrote to Rosemond in an email and asked him to elaborate. “In my estimation,” he replied, “toddlerhood is a pathological condition that demands ‘cure,’ accomplished through a combination of powerful love and powerful discipline.…The toddler mindset and the sociopathic mind-set are one and the same: ‘What I want, I deserve to have; the ends justify the means; and no one has a right to stand in my way.’ This is a reflection of human nature.”

Given my own experience, I found myself nodding furiously through this section. I grew up hearing babies referred to as “little bundles of sin.” (I later found out that this exact terminology comes from southern apologist, self-ascribed “paleo-confederate” Doug Wilson, who became infamous this summer for arguing that men have a sexual need to “conquer” in the marriage bed.) Children were seen as inherently evil and in need of training. The infant was without training whatsoever, and thus was purely sinful – “a little bundle of sin.” Or, as Rosemond says, a sociopath.

This is why Michael Pearl, for instance, advocates spanking babies beginning at about six months (click here for the full text of Michael Pearl’s To Train Up A Child). For example, if an infant is crying in his crib even though all his needs are met – he’s not hungry and his diaper is clean – that is interpreted as defiance. It’s selfishness. He should be left to cry.

As the mother, holding her child, leans over the crib and begins the swing downward, the infant stiffens, takes a deep breath and bellows. The battle for control has begun in earnest. Someone is going to be conditioned. Either the tender-hearted mother will cave in to this self-centered demand (thus training the child to get his way by crying) or the infant is allowed to cry (learning that crying is counterproductive). Crying because of genuine physical need is simply the infant’s only voice to the outside world; but crying in order to manipulate the adults into constant servitude should never be rewarded. Otherwise, you will reinforce the child’s growing self-centeredness, which will eventually become socially intolerable.

Similarly, if a baby cries because he doesn’t get his way – say, he wants his mother to pick him up and she doesn’t – it’s rebelliousness and a spanking may be in order.

My nine- and eleven-year-old daughters came in from a neighbor’s house complaining of a young mother’s failure to train her child. A seven-month-old boy had, upon failing to get his way, stiffened, clenched his fists, bared his toothless gums and called down damnation on the whole place. At a time like that, the angry expression on a baby’s face can resemble that of one instigating a riot. The young mother, wanting to do the right thing, stood there in helpless consternation, apologetically shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?” My incredulous nine-year-old whipped back, “Switch him.” The mother responded, “I can’t, he’s too little.” With the wisdom of a veteran who had been on the little end of the switch, my daughter answered, “If he is old enough to pitch a fit, he is old enough to be spanked.”

And just what do mainstream psychologists think of all this? Back to the original article:

Psychologists I interviewed were horrified by Rosemond’s … conception of children as mentally ill, which amounts to a translation of the doctrine of original sin, with its framework of damnation and salvation, into contemporary therapeutic terms. The difference is simple: A two-year-old human being is still learning how to deal with and express her feelings, but a true sociopath has no feelings. To treat a toddler like a sociopath is like studying snakes in order to understand koala bears – and then declaring that koala bears are cold-blooded.

In fact, contrary to Rosemond’s views, research has found that human beings exhibit empathic behavior from as early as 18 months. For example, Nancy L. Marshall at Wellesley College found that “when toddlers saw a teddy bear suffer an ‘accident,’ their faces showed distress and concern. They also responded by trying to help or comfort the bear” - a behavior I’ve seen my three-year-old son exhibit many times. There are literally hundreds of empirical studies that echo these results. Based on findings like these, evolutionary psychologists like Jonathan Haidt and Marc Hauser argue that moral behavior has evolved to keep selfishness in check and has deep biological roots.

None of the findings indicate that human beings are born saints, only that the capacities for empathy and cooperation are present from the very beginning and can be cultivated – or squashed. Rosemond’s views are, at best, one-sided. At worst, they suggest a deep fear and hatred of children. And among conservative evangelicals, Rosemond is hardly alone. “Your child came into the world with an insatiable faculty for evil,” writes Pastor John MacArthur in his 2000 book, What the Bible Says About Parenting.“Even before birth, your baby’s little heart was already programmed for sin and selfishness.”

I love the first sentence of that last paragraph. Babies aren’t born perfect, but they are born predisposed to good behavior just as much as to bad behavior. I see myself as carefully cultivating my children, helping them learn how to get along in the world and to balance their needs with the needs of others (for more, see my Positive Parenting section). How very different from the fundamentalist/evangelical approach being discussed here!

Is it harsh to accuse the parenting gurus of the Christian Right of fearing and hating the precious children they’ve worked so hard to protect? It’s no harsher than the punishments they proscribe for wicked children. Let’s say, for example, that your two-year-old insists on getting out of bed after you’ve told him to stay put. “The youngster should be placed in bed and given a speech,” writes Dobson, who launched Focus on the Family as a forum for Christian parenting and is now a major voice in the Republican Party. “Then when [the child's] feet touch the floor, give him one swat on the legs with a switch. Put the switch where he can see it, and promise more if he gets up again.”

But Dobson seems like Dr. Spock when compared to Tennessee Pastor Michael Pearl. “If you want a child who will integrate into the New World Order and wait his turn in line for condoms, a government funded abortion, sexually transmitted disease treatment, psychological evaluation, and a mark on the forehead,” Pearl writes in his 1994 book To Train Up a Child, “then follow the popular guidelines in education, entertainment, and discipline, but if you want a son or daughter of God, you will have to do it God’s way.” Pearl’s interpretation of “God’s way” entails hitting disobedient children with quarter-inch plumbing supply line or PVC pipe – “chastisement instruments” he endorses as excellent expressions of the Lord’s will.

What strikes me here is the amount of fear. If you don’t raise your child just right, that child will grow up to [insert every bad thing you can imagine, times two]. This is the exact horrified response I got from my mother when she learned that I’m not spanking my daughter Sally. Leaders like Michael Pearl and others frighten parents into following their authoritarian discipline methods. Here is another example of this sort of tactic by Pearl:

I am sorry the psychologists and secular child advocates don’t get it, but then if all parents practiced child training as I have suggested, there wouldn’t be any need for abnormal psychologists or child protection agencies. A lot of people would move on to more practical kinds of work, and there wouldn’t be any more crime or war.

It’s easy to see how child training gurus like Pearl can take people in, especially when they’re already incredibly worried about the state of their children’s eternal souls and already believe their children were born with original sin. (As a side not, more and more evangelicals have begun questioning Michael Pearl’s methods, including the very same Tim Challies who wrote that article about morality and hell for Answers in Genesis not so long ago.)

Let me finish with one more excerpt from the original article:

Unsurprisingly, Christian Right groups like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family actively campaign against laws intended to curb child abuse. “The campaign to end child abuse too often abuses families,” declare the authors of The Natural Family, citing “witch hunts” against misunderstood parents who were probably only trying to protect their kids from the New World Order.

As Lakoff points out in Moral Politics, the Christian Right confuses psychologist Diana Baumrind’s influential idea of authoritative parenting – which sees discipline as supportive, not punitive, and is responsive to children’s needs and thoughts – with separate categories of permissive or neglectful parenting. As an alternative, the Christian Right promotes authoritarian parenting, which denies choices to children and expects them to obey without question – a style that research has shown contributes to lower self-esteem, poorer social skills, and more feelings of depression.

Two things. First, the “obey without question” thing is given huge emphasis in evangelical and fundamentalist homes, and especially in those homes influenced by the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movement. And in my opinion, the feeling of being absolutely stifled because you’re not allowed to make a suggest, ask for a clarification, or explain is the worst part. Second, it was largely Christian Right groups that blocked the U.S. from signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty signed by every other country in the world except Somalia. Why? Because the Christian Right is almost universally opposed to anything that might limit parents’ rights – and especially their right to discipline their children as they see fit.

I’ll conclude by referring you to a post I wrote about how glad I am that I am a “post-fundamentalist mother.” It sums up how different my very understanding of my children is from the evangelical/fundamentalist understanding I was taught growing up.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Ismenia

    From an outside perspective, it seems incredible that this is actually legal. UK law on “lawful chastisement” is ambiguous as it hinges on what a jury think is reasonable in the circumstances but Pearl’s ideas would be miles outside the limit. It really sickens me that anyone would give an ounce of respect to a man who advocates beating a seven month old baby with a stick. I’ve told my husband and mother a little about Pearl and the response is a mix of incredulity and horror and it’s clear that both would prefer not to hear more as it’s too upsetting to hear about. Discussing it with my Mum I found I instinctively kept my voice down and made sure that my six-year old nephew was out of the room because it’s not a suitable topic for him to even know about.

    To be honest even I get a little nauseous reading this stuff and I’ve worked for a human rights organisation and am used to reading accounts of torture, murder and other unpleasant topic.

    • The_L

      I was emotionally abused by my father* in a milder form of what the Pearls teach (I was spanked and yelled at for every little thing, but with hands, not other “tools”), and I’m still shocked and horrified that their bizarre, twisted forms of “discipline” and “punishment” are considered acceptable by anyone.

      Sadly, you can put God’s name on anything, and there are some Christians who will automatically trust it just because of the branding.

      * My mother would hate to see me calling it this, because my father loves me and meant well. I’m sure he did, but accidental abuse has the same effects as actually hating-your-kid abuse.

  • Christine

    If I had a 9-year-old tell me to switch a baby, I’d call child protective services. That right there is evidence that the child is being abused. (Not that all hitting is necessarily abuse, but to normalize it like that, to the point where they’d suggest using it on someone too young to learn…)

    Even if the methods that were suggested by the Pearls et al weren’t wrong (let’s see… aside from the assault issues, you’re teaching so very many bad things by hitting), their end goal is so disturbing to begin with. I do appreciate them being so clear about it though – it makes it so easy to go “no, that’s wrong”.

    • AnotherOne

      So true. It’s a sign of how truly noxious Pearl is that he considers his 9-year-old daughter telling someone else to hit a baby something to brag about. This stuff makes me sick.

    • Audrey

      A seven-month old baby is able to understand cause and effect and “learn”… but the question is what exactly do they learn when they are hit? My dad hit me and I learned that he was mean and a person to avoid at all costs. My mom watched as my dad hit me and my siblings I learned that she was not willing to stand up to protect her children (even if she did come over to “comfort me” once it was all over). I did not trust either one of them for most my childhood. There are other ways to condition a child than through physical punishment and I am convinced any time I’ve ever spanked my children (I regrettably have) I took a part of them away (dignity) and lost a part of myself (dignity). How did Jesus handle sin? How did Jesus handle children? There is no account of Jesus hitting anyone in the bible and that’s very significant to me. Jesus handled the problem of sin in an amazing way. As for “rods”… I believe “rod” in the “spare the rod” means “measure” or standard (rods were mounted to city walls for accurately measuring fabrics –a very important commodity in the time of Christ). ‘It is important to have and uphold standards for your child, but this CAN be done without inflicting physical pain.

      • Christine

        You have a very good point – a seven-month-old can learn some things, but they’re not going to learn “crying is wrong and I shouldn’t do it unless I have a physical need”. (I feel slightly ill from typing that sentence, because that is so messed up to begin with.) They’re going to learn “No one will take care of me.” I doubt that hitting the child is significantly more effective than simply ignoring them. Neglected children don’t cry either.

        I have always assumed that the “rod” was a physical one, but that the intent of the statement was to not just let your kids get away with everything, make sure you discipline them. (And here I plan to not discipline them, just use consequences and time outs, but I’m still going to be teaching.)

      • The_L

        Not to mention–a shepherd uses the rod to gently push sheep back in the direction they need to go. Contrary to what I’ve heard from other people, he generally doesn’t whack the sheep with the rod, or use it to deliberately break the sheep’s legs (!!!) to keep it from running away again.

      • Scotlyn

        The_L, in my experience of herding sheep, we use sticks to lengthen our arms, and we wave them – they never go within a couple of metres of a sheep. The sheep simply see the movements in their peripheral vision, which guides them in the desired direction, and with a stick you can achieve this effect from further back than with your short little arms.

  • machintelligence

    It certainly looks like these Christian “experts” have taken the page on operant conditioning straight out of the works by B. F. Skinner, that famous atheist animal behaviorist and psychologist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner

  • http://www.jendireiter.com Jendi

    Horrifying…and ironic since the same conservative Christians who hold these views also selectively invoke children’s and babies’ “innocence” when the issue is abortion or a gay-friendly school environment.

    • http://becomingpeculiar.com Kathleen Quiring | Becoming Peculiar

      Great point, Jendi!

  • smrnda

    The whole doctrine of ‘original sin’ teaches parents to interpret normal behaviors as evil, and to confuse a child’s expression of legitimate needs with selfishness. Also, I worked with kids for years. Years. I never saw any indication that toddlers are really even that difficult most of the time.

    However, once you see things through the lens of original sin and see all behaviors in terms of obedience or rebellion, it shapes how you view a child’s behavior. If a baby is crying I assume that the baby is expressing a need, even if the need is just to have an adult hold the baby. These fundamentalists don’t see that – they see the baby as trying control me and get her own way. Kids don’t stay in bed when they aren’t tired because if someone picked me up and put me in a bed when I wasn’t tired, I”d get out of it too. It’s not rebellion, it’s just adults being control freaks.

    In fact, this whole view of child-rearing could be summed up by the psychological phenomenon known as an Hostile Attributional Bias. If fits with the interpreting every behavior as rebellion or defiance.

    The belief that beating your kids will lead to a better world is absurd. You don’t teach compassion with a stick. Plus, it’s all the kids who get beat who are violent and aggressive. I know people will make a case tha these people aren’t ‘disciplining’ right, but I see no meaningful distinction. These people should read the works of Alice Miller, who showed how violent, punitive child-rearing practices helped condition people to accept Fascism.

    • http://www.texannewyorker.com jwall915

      Amen!! I don’t spend time around toddlers as in working with them, but I do spend time with my nephews and nieces and friends’ kids, and I’ve NEVER found them to be manipulative or sociopathic. Yeah, sometimes they have melt-downs. They’re disappointed because you took away the video or toy, and that’s how they express themselves. Sometimes they are impatient, but they are by definition, not mature yet. Sometimes they test limits, which is completely normal behavior. I agree with setting the limit firmly and consistently, but I vehemently disagree with trying to stomp out the behavior itself.
      One of the sadder things I’ve ever seen is a distant cousin who’s very into Dobson et al, with his young son at a family reunion. His son was going through the “Why?” phase (you know, where they ask “Why?” to literally everything you say). He was told to eat something on his plate and responded with Why? To which his dad said, It’s good for you. Why? Because I said so. Why? Then the dad started yelling, Stop asking why! I said so and that’s all you need to know. What I say goes in this family!
      Gave me chills. That poor child. Unfortunately, the exchange was all too familiar in my house growing up.

      • smrnda

        When I think about what things kids get frustrated about, it’s largely because they aren’t in charge and have to put up with the decisions of adults. Adults decide when they eat, what they eat, when they can play and when they have to stop. Adults decide when to go outside and when to come inside. Adults decide when is bedtime and when you’re supposed to get up.

        Given that we all have our own feelings and opinions of when we like to do things and what we like to do, I can imagine that if someone was controlling all those choices for me I’d get pretty frustrated, especially if it was clear that my opinion didn’t count. If kids are showing some resistance to that, it’s only natural.

      • Christine

        Very young children also get frustrated for less logical reasons. “I want to wiggle around, but I want Mommy to hold me too!”, or being overtired, or not being able to stand up at 7 months. But I can UNDERSTAND all of those reasons. I can’t understand hitting your children for being human. Basically, under this system the perfect child would be one with no curiosity, and no desire to try anything they can’t already do. Who would want a kid like that?

    • Kevin Alexander

      Yes. Steven Pinker’s latest book documents how the world is less violent now that we no longer use violence (so much) to solve problems. There have been very few wars lately compared to the past and I can’t remember a successful one.
      The Pearls beliefs are exactly contrary to the facts.

    • lucrezaborgia

      Me too on the toddler front. I was a damn near expert by the time my friends had children to the point that they asked me before they asked their own moms about their babies. The whole part about the baby stiffening at going into the crib? When I read that I think: “Oh, the parent hasn’t figured out how to put the baby in the crib without those awkward body movements and they woke the baby up.” I definitely don’t think the child is trying to manipulate me or the parent.

      • lucrezaborgia

        No seriously…that was always a move that made my new parent friends jaw drop.

        “How did you put them in the crib and they are still sleeping?!?!?!?!””

      • Fal

        Mind if I ask what the secret is? No kids, myself, but I used to do a lot of babysitting and definitely never managed to put a kid in a crib without having them wake up. Sounds like a useful piece of information!

      • Christine

        Given that a lot of the leaders in the evangelical child-rearing movement advocate strongly in favour of sleep training, I don’t think that was referring to the baby waking up when being put in the crib. I read it as a child who is upset that they’re going to be left along in the crib again.

    • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

      It takes some practice, but shifting my thinking from “why is he doing this to me?” to “he has a need, he doesn’t have any other way of expressing himself” completely changed how I parent my son. You’re absolutely right.

  • http://www.texannewyorker.com jwall915

    This is an excellent post that sums up what I think is so wrong with this method of child-rearing. In my humble opinion, the spanking isn’t the worst part, not that I wish to downplay that aspect at all. What hurt me the most was the constant assumption that I was a bad person who needed the evil beaten and yelled out of me. If I asked for a clarification for something, I was being stubborn and disobedient. If I disagreed, I was being sinful and rebellious. If I was upset or hurt about something, I was being manipulative. It leaves kids in an environment where they cannot ever express themselves, they just have to learn to toe the party line.
    It leads to disastrous results. It leads to rearing adults who don’t know how to communicate in any honest fashion, who have no confidence in themselves, and who often literally think they are terrible people who don’t deserve basic respect and dignity.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      If I asked for a clarification for something, I was being stubborn and disobedient. If I disagreed, I was being sinful and rebellious. If I was upset or hurt about something, I was being manipulative. It leaves kids in an environment where they cannot ever express themselves, they just have to learn to toe the party line.

      THIS. So much THIS.

    • The_L

      I think this is a big reason why I started hiding things from my parents. It wasn’t that I felt there was anything wrong with those things, exactly. It’s that I never figured out how to tell my dad things in a way that wouldn’t make him explode. So it sort of got ingrained to just not tell him things, and now I have trouble telling either of my parents things that are actually important.

      Authoritarian parenting is HORRIBLE at getting kids to communicate effectively, especially with their own parents.

  • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

    Can it be they just don’t like children? That they are having child after child and are miserable so they project it onto innocent babies? That pro-life is just a way to give those dirty girls their rightful punishment which is a baby? I asked myself questions like these when I was losing faith.
    My children, and now grandchildren, are the most precious people in the world to me.
    I feel so badly for anyone raised in this system of belief. You could never do anything right. I hope they all escape such poison and live out the rest of their lives in freedom and love. Some will but others will perpetuate their own dysfunction and those victims will become perpetrators.

  • Pingback: News Links August 30

  • http://www.bipolarlessons.com Mary

    This article helps me to understand my mother a little better. I was never beaten but the general dynamic was the same. My mother told me that when I was able to stand up in my crib that I would cry for attention. Her solution was to spank me. One day she found blood on my pillow, I had been crying because I had an ear infection. She felt guilty about that, but her general idea of child raising didn’t change.

    I wonder how these so-called “experts” could possibly think that a little child would be able to understand WHY they are being hit? For the child it just means rejection and a breech of trust. During my entire childhood I learned that I was an evil child with motives that I never had. It felt like I was being made to drink poison.

    Ironically I was considered a very well behaved child with straight A’s at school. Nobody there thought I was evil. These so-called experts ought to see where their sick twisted theories lead to. When I was 16 I tried to kill myself.

    • The_L

      When I was 15, I wanted to but was too terrified even to make the attempt.
      I was beyond “I want to escape and suicide is my only hope.” I was to the point of, “…but if I do that, it’ll disappoint my parents even more and just prove what a huge screw-up I am. I have no hope.”

      It took years to break out of that and understand that my parents didn’t have it in for me (and that the Vatican has no idea what it’s talking about, telling teenagers that something everyone does is “intrinsically disordered”).

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Christianity teaches that people have “original sin” but also that people are “made in the image of God.” Just like you said, children have the capability to do good or evil. They are naturally selfish, but they also naturally show empathy. This kind of teaching which only emphasizes the bad tendencies is horribly wrong.

  • mostlylurking

    How can you even truly love your child if you are convinced it is the embodiment of evil, a conniving, selfish, manipulative sociopath?

    Reading about this always upsets me to the point of nausea, especially when the Pearls are quoted. Their absolute callous disregard for the children in question, and pride they take in being able to deliberately cause pain…. I can barely stand thinking about it, because this is the reality for real children out there. It is just too horrible.

    And the reasoning behind is sickening to! In what world is absolute, blind obedience of authority a good thing? They claim to “protect” their children, but set them up for a lifetime of accepting abuse because they are never taught to question if what happens to them is right. Not to mention blind obedience can lead to very bad places; Nuremberg should have taught us that! (Did I just Godwin the thread?) Obedience is for dogs and horses, I prefer humans to be thinking!

  • Niemand

    How does a baby go from being an innocent angel five minutes before birth to a little bundle of sin five minutes after birth? If babies are inherently sinful, shouldn’t abortion be legal, accessible, and encouraged in order to bring less sin into the world?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Let me make this just even more confusing for you, okay? I was taught that if a child dies before age seven or so, that child goes to heaven because he or she wasn’t old enough to consciously make a decision to accept Jesus. Little bundles of sin? Yes. Headed to heaven if they die? Also yes. This makes the abortion issue confusing, because I was taught that all those aborted fetuses go straight to heaven and sit on Jesus’ lap. So…it seems like abortion should be a good thing, then, right? Because if allowed to be born and grow to adulthood, they would have a decent chance of not being saved and of going to hell. What really matters, this life, or eternity? Aborting a fetus would guarantee it eternity in heavenly bliss. The conservative response to this is generally that only God can take life, and that it’s wrong and a sin for humans to take life, so even though those fetuses go to heaven, it’s wrong of us to send them there. Given this, I submit that George Tiller was a saint, sacrificing his own salvation to send hundreds of souls straight to heaven that might have otherwise ended up in hell. What could be more self sacrificing than THAT? Of course, that’s tongue in cheek, but the thought experiments involved are interesting.

      • plch

        unfortunately, that seems to have been the completely logical conclusion Andrea Yates reached too… the whole thing is so tragic.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Plch – Well exactly! I was in high school at the time, and I remember thinking “that’s horrible! but…she’s kind of right, isn’t she?” :-/

      • Niemand

        It sounds to me like the ideal then would be to conceive as many zygotes as possible and abort them as quickly as possible to make the largest number of sin-free angels and prevent any of them from ending up in hell.

        As for one’s own sins, isn’t it better to think of others first and see to their salvation, even if one loses one’s own soul in the process? I’d go to hell to allow my child to go to heaven, if I thought that either existed and that my actions could affect her salvation.

      • machintelligence

        To see someone actually use this argument, here is a video *warning — for those with easily offended sensibilities, bail out at 1:00 *
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyA9f-rs1-M&feature=related

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Niemand – Exactly! The Christian ideal is self-sacrifice, and Jesus died that others might live, and aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus? What Andrea Yates did was 100% consistent within this system of beliefs. But this is I think where you start to see inconsistencies and double think, because evangelicals and fundamentalists soundly condemned Andrea Yates’ actions and we haven’t seen masses of them following her example (thank goodness!). And really, they don’t ever address the contradictions, they just gloss over them.

      • Niemand

        I think I read a science fiction story about this problem once: The missionary goes to spread the Christian word throughout the galaxy. He comes across a group of very peaceful beings who immediately take him in. They listen to him and completely love his message! They all convert. Everything is going great…except this particular missionary has a bit of a fixation on stories about martyrs…Yep, just what you think might happen happens. They martyr him because that means he’ll go straight to heaven and eternal bliss. They consider themselves damned for their actions, but feel their own souls’ fates less important, as they were taught. I believe this story was by Stanislaw Lem, who was almost certainly an atheist.

  • Hilary

    Reading this, I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am to be Jewish. We don’t believe in original sin, at all. We believe that all people are created in the image of God, and born innocent with both the instinct for evil (yetzer hara) and instinct for good (yetzer hatov). Even if all you athiests roll your eyes at ‘image of god’ (B’tzelem Elohim) at least realize that as a Jew I look at all people as born innocent as I am born innocent, with the potential to do evil as I have the potential to do evil, and likewise the potential for good, as I also have the potential to do good. Even more then the ritualized cannabolism of communion, this different view of sin I think is one of the most profound differences between Jews and Christians. Which is not to say our right-wing wacko black hat fundies can’t have extremely religiously dysfunctional families, because they can and do, but still. Babies as bundles of sin? Uggghhh.

  • Michael Busch

    Libby Anne,

    Your discussion of how authoritarian parenting and all of the suffering that it produces are rooted in fear reminds me of some of the work of the social psychologist Robert Altemeyer. He ties _all_ forms of authoritarianism to fear – fear of the unknown as well as fear of known dangers. One way to deal with fear is to try and control everything, no matter how horrific the consequences,. And making people afraid is a very effective way for someone who wants power to get followers, even if the fear is of something that is not real. Altemeyer gives lynch mobs, homophobia, and Anti-Communist witch-hunts (and, in the USSR and China, Communist party purges) as examples, but I think the insane extremes of authoritarian parenting are perhaps an even more stark example of both how fear can be exploited by cynical social dominators for their self-benefit, and how people can do things that they know are horrible because they are afraid.

    But there is one thing in your description I don’t understand. How much of the fear that drives authoritarian parents is deliberately elicited by people like the Pearls – perhaps out of an honest, if horribly mistaken, desire to help people save their children from damnation as well as out of selfish desire for money and power; how much of it is a general religous-cultural ‘I have to make sure my child is saved’, and how much is normal parental anxiety?

    • Michael Busch

      Or, which I suspect is most likely, is this whole mess so fed back on itself that there is no point trying to disentangle cause and effect when the goal is only that people stop beating their children?

  • vasaroti

    Mr. Rosemond needed to be exorcised with a stack of T. Berry Brazelton books.

  • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    Why the focus on physical needs? If a child’s physical needs are met and he’s still crying, that means that there’s an emotional need that hasn’t been met yet. Are emotional needs not important?

    Scratch that. These are people who would rather script their relationships than face dealing with the complexity of real people. Of course they don’t value emotional needs!

  • http://www.texannewyorker.com jwall915

    Just had to add something I saw on FB today, concerning the whole idea that toddlers are little sociopaths. A FB friend posted this today, here is my summarization.
    Her 3 year old son was crying/screaming in the other room, she ran in to find him looking through one of his little books. He was crying b/c he ran across a page with a picture of Elmo making a sad face because he didn’t have any ice cream in his cone. Her son cried and cried for Elmo, and wasn’t consoled until she found an online pic of Elmo smiling with ice cream in his cone. Her son never asked for ice cream himself, he just wanted Elmo to have some and for Elmo not to be sad anymore. And you know what else? There were 10 comments, all of which said something to the effect of, “Oh, my kid does/did that too at that age.” But yeah, toddlers are horrid people.

    • Niemand

      But a quiverful or Pearl believing parent might have come in and hit the child for crying for Elmo. That would have taught the child that having empathy and compassion leads to being hurt and make them less likely to have empathy. Hence, they become sociopaths, though they weren’t by nature.

      • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

        Even regardless of empathy, the belief system teaches children not to have emotions (because any emotion other than the superficial “joyful countenance” is punished). You can’t recognize and respond to the emotions of others if you can’t recognize and respond to your own. So yes, I do believe that this believe system creates sociopaths. At the very least, it’s about raising children with as low an EQ as possible.

    • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

      Whenever my son (at 18 months) is eating something he really loves, he’ll do his normal lip smacking and “yum yum!” exclamations, then he’ll stop, look at me, and offer me some. He doesn’t do that with food he doesn’t like (which he’d rather just throw on the floor). But he wants to share, he wants me to have some of the good things he has.

      Yes, he does get angry, and then he’ll lash out and sometimes that means hitting or biting. But 95% of the time, all he wants is to love and be loved.

  • http://www.thedrantherlair.com quietpanther

    I was taking care of our nine-month-old yesterday morning. I was exhausted, she was exhausted, Mommy wouldn’t be home from work for about an hour, and she was being particularly fussy. In frustration, I started to cry a little. She immediately stopped fussing, reached up, and gave me an open-mouthed kiss on the cheek.

    Anyone who insists infants are sociopaths deserves the hell their religion invented.

  • Josh

    Dear Libby Anne, thank you very much for writing this thoughtful. It is very helpful for me as a parent who started out parenting with exactly the calvinist evangelical/fundamentalist background you describe. It is so crazy and dangerous for both the children and parents, and so liberating to leave behind.

  • Christine

    So I have finally remember one study (I think there may have been more than one, but they’re all on the same behaviour) which shows innate behaviour in toddlers which could be considered sinful from a Christian perspective. (I’m not counting lying to parents, because that’s generally associated with being punished, although not exclusively, so I would call it taught). It was that study where they did a skit with the two toys, and one toy was mean to the other one. The children would preferentially play with the victim toy, not the aggressor toy, UNLESS the mean toy got punished in the skit.

    So one study, with a pretty mild version of inappropriate behaviour, that you’d have to be really sick to see as evidence of children being innately sinful.

  • Kopfkrabbe

    Thank you for this post! I volunteered in a South African children’s home after school and was shocked and disgusted at how the children were treated by the personell. They were hit on a regular basis, not only spanked but hit with folded up cloth or plastic sticks – by everyone from the house mother to the cleaning ladies. I had never seen this before and, being German, I was not familiar with Christian fundamentalism in a way a U.S.-American might be, so I didn’t make that connection at first. Of course, I wrote my family and friends about it and one day I was cited into the director’s office. Somehow, he knew about what I wrote home in my E-Mails – they had read them! And he just smiled, cited the Bible in my face (“Do not spare the rod…”) and told me to “be careful what I write home in the future!”. I was appalled. Your post made me understand more of what I experienced there – Christian Fundamentalism in pure form. It’s been 6 years now but I still think about it. Thanks again for giving me a little more clarity!

    • The_L

      I would have politely said, “There is a clear difference between physical forms of discipline and child abuse. Your staff has clearly crossed that line. There is a HUGE difference between a stinging swat with a hand, and using an object to beat a child. You are harming these children, physically and emotionally, and stunting their spiritual and emotional growth. That is anti-Christian.”

      If you phrase it in a way that makes it clear that you have nothing against either Christianity or corporal punishment in general, there is at least a slim chance that they might take the hint. US Fundies are extremely touchy about criticism of themselves, because they view it as an attack on Christianity itself.

  • Pingback: Costly discipleship in the discount bin

  • reynard61

    Rosemond, Pearl and their ilk sound more like they’re about breaking horses than raising children.

  • The_L

    My father wasn’t nearly as far-right when I was a kid as he is now, but he’s also a Boomer and a combat veteran–which, combined with his personality type, turns out to be the perfect combination for creating an authoritarian parent.

    Every failure at impulse-control, every spilled drink, every “accident” during potty-training was perceived as a personal slight, or a sign that he had somehow failed. So we got yelled at, and spanked, quite often. Mom never saw anything wrong with Dad’s discipline when we were little, but that’s because she also either wasn’t in the room when dad yelled “HOW STUPID ARE YOU?” (general trigger: asking why we did something, getting “I don’t know” as an answer), or she was good enough at calming him down before he went too far.

    I lived in constant fear of screwing up and making my father angry–fear that I recognize in the testimonials of ex-Quiverfull blogs. Being blamed for your poor impulse control is one thing when you’re 16 and neurotypical. It’s quite another when you’re a 4-year-old, or a 7-year-old with severe ADHD.

    I wasn’t beaten by my father. I didn’t get hit with anything other than his hand to my bottom. By itself, his physical punishments were not at a level I consider abusive. But hurtful words when your child makes an honest mistake ARE abusive–and emotional abuse is just as bad as physical abuse when it comes to screwing up your kids’ minds. In fact, emotional abuse is probably an automatic consequence of physical abuse.

    To bring into perspective how atypical this was, and how much a fear of my father was burned into my subconscious: I recently brought my current boyfriend home to meet my parents. I am a college-educated adult living alone. Yet, the whole way to my parents’, I was so nervous I had to force myself to take deep breaths just to stop my teeth from chattering. Again, this is as an adult.
    (In case you’re wondering, the introduction went well, and everybody got along great.)

  • Pingback: Link Love (02/10/2012) « Becky's Kaleidoscope

  • Ms. Stabby

    Or as Donald Glover put it, “Children are tiny Hitlers.”

  • Anon

    ‘I am sorry the psychologists and secular child advocates don’t get it, but then if all parents practiced child training as I have suggested, there wouldn’t be any need for abnormal psychologists or child protection agencies.’

    So if EVERYBODY abuses their children, there won’t be any need for people to protect children from abuse.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure if all parents practised ‘child training’ the way you do, there would be far more need for child psychologists and child protection agencies.

    As an antidote for this mess, I direct everybody to this article http://www.azcentral.com/news/azliving/articles/2012/07/13/20120713bikers-against-child-abuse-make-abuse-victims-feel-safe.html

  • Michelle

    The really crazy thing about Michael Pearl’s advice is that we know so much neurobiology and neuroscience now that counters any idea that a 7-month-old child could be “intentionally” acting out. Infant brains are extremely plastic – they can adapt to a lot of situations – but they do not have the internal brain structures for understanding emotional manipulation, and at 7 months, a baby is just beginning to have the most rudimentary conscious understanding of cause and effect. All that inflicting pain on a child of that age will do is cause an immediate negative reaction to the pain which will probably make them cry more. “Switching” (aka beating) is useless on very small children because they aren’t doing what they’re doing out of a conscious desire to manipulate, and it also is useless because they won’t associate the pain with a need to modify their behavior. They can’t “learn” not to cry at that age because they can’t consciously associate their actions with the caregiver’s reaction – they actually do not have the right neurons activated in the right places to be able to make the association. Enough pain inflicted by the primary caregiver, however, will eventually cause insecure attachment to the caregiver, and if you want to talk about lifelong emotional and psychological problems? There isn’t much that causes that more effectively than fear and insecure attachment to the person the child is supposed to love the most, and who is supposed to care for them.

  • Kellen

    “In my estimation,” he replied, “toddlerhood is a pathological condition that demands ‘cure.’”

    I had to stop there and comment. I have unapologetically stated on multiple occassions that there is nothing in the known universe more selfish and stupid than a newborn human… and even *I* think that was over the line.

    BTDubs, I’m going through your entire “Parenting” archive, and finding it most hopeful and enlightening. Who knows, maybe in a few years I won’t see myself as completely unfit for the stewardship of a new life.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X