Spare The Rod, Spoil The Child Not Relevant In Child Abuse Case

Sometimes I read a report on something depressing, like the needless death of a child, and the way people approach the badness pisses me off even more.

A couple accused of starving their adopted 13-year-old Ethiopian-born daughter and locking her outside in the cold, where she died from exposure, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to homicide and child abuse charges.

That’s some pretty sick behavior.  What could have convinced them it was a good idea?

The parents kept the family isolated from non-relatives, home-schooled the children and followed strict religious principles described in the Christian parenting book titled “To Train Up a Child,” investigators said.

The behavior advocated in that book has already resulted in the death of another child.

The authors of this book have no formal training in child psychology whatsoever, but they believe they have an ancient book containing the will of the wisest being in existence.  As such, they believe they are privy to the keys to greater wisdom than the combined percipience of all the world’s child psychologists.  This is a perfectly stupid idea.  Unfortunately, there are parents in the world who think they’re right.  The couple who just locked their daughter outside until she died from hypothermia were such a couple.

That’s pretty infuriating.  Now, here’s why the handling of this situation makes me see red.

Although investigators found the Washington state couple adhered to a harsh child-rearing regimen prescribed by a controversial Christian parenting book, the prosecutor said Thursday that religion was not relevant to the criminal case.

Religion was not relevant?  Let’s take a gander at some of the Amazon reviews of this book.

This book is in line with biblical teachings.

Proverbs 22:15, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”

Proverbs 29:15, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.”

Some people in our politically correct society may not appreciate the concept of loving, corporal punishment, but even these people should be able to clearly see the difference between abuse or torture and careful correction of a child.

This book, which conflates beatings with ‘careful correction of a child’, is in line with biblical teachings.  I agree with this review: everybody should be able to see the difference between torture and good parenting.  Deference to the bible, unfortunately, has prevented this person and those like them from doing so.

Or how about this gem from Lisa?

Anyone can take information out of its orginial context and make sound as appalling as many negative reviews do on this page. Before you bash this book or the Pearls, please have the intelligence enough to read it first with an objective mind. Yes, spanking and beating children out of rage and for the purpose of relieving the parents anger and frustration is abusive

Beating your children to relieve rage is unacceptable because beating children for any reason is unacceptable, you monster!  Lisa wasn’t done delivering the undiluted perspicacity of the creator…

This is a wonderful book for the parent who wants to understand God’s word on dicipline and also the foundation that needs to be laid for that dicipline to be effective. This is also a wonderful book about establishing a strong and loving family unit that will grow children into productive members of society.

The message here is that if you love your children you’ll beat them. I recall reading a piece a while back that these parents could really get behind.

I’m trying to imagine how the parents who just killed their daughter through heavy doses of biblical, child-rearing love reacted to this…

A Skagit County Superior Court judge reduced their bail from $500,000 to $150,000 each on Thursday, and barred them from contact with their eight remaining children, who were placed into foster care in July, or with each other.

Don’t take our children officer!  Look at these bruises!  Can’t you see how much we loved them?

It is no mystery why every single positive comment on this treatise of abuse cites the reviewer’s steadfast compliance to the bible as a reason to support this insanity.  And for some reason, we are to conclude that religion was irrelevant in this case?  What of their son’s description of how they treated his sister?

According to court documents, their 16-year-old son told investigators that Hana “was kept in a locked closet and the only light switch was on the outside of the closet. He stated that his mother would take her out every other day to walk and exercise. They played the Bible on tape and Christian music for her while she was locked in the closet.”

And still we hear…

But Prosecutor Rich Weyrich insisted that issues of faith were not a factor in the case against the couple. “Religion’s not an element we have to probe. We have to prove that the children were assaulted, tortured and died,” he told Reuters on Thurday.

News flash Rich, children can be assaulted, tortured, and killed because of faith.  It has happened in the past and it happened here.  Unless we start molding a world where irrationality is frowned upon (even when it flies under the banner of religion) it will happen again.  You might be willing to give it a pass, but I am not.  The reasoning of these parents is so transparently backwards, but that’s all irrelevant once an obedient Christian gets sold that it’s the will of god.  The antidote is not a different brand of unflinching submission to scripture.  The remedy for this madness is the application of just an iota of human reason, which has both the happy effect of destroying all religious/Christian beliefs and of allowing us to effectively go after what we want in life (like well-behaved and still-living children) without being slowed by erroneous beliefs.

I’ll conclude this post with one final Amazon review of To Train Up A Child.

The pearls did not invent the notion of “spare the rod spoil the child.” If you want to call someone evil for starting that, maybe you should call God evil and see how far that gets you! Then again, maybe the people who have bad things to say about the Pearls methods already curse God.

If that god exists, you’re damn right I curse him.  I curse him because he is undeniably evil.  I curse him and oppose him with all the abilities in my arsenal.

But that god doesn’t exist.  No gods exist, so that leaves me with only people to call evil.  Parents who beat their children are evil.  Lazy thinking and irrationality are evil, for they are mother to this kind of behavior.  People who lend endorsement to irrationality by imbibing it in sub-lethal doses are failing their duty as a human being.  We can point to the effects of the poison and all we hear from other believers is, “I swallowed it and I didn’t die!”   This perpetuates the problem, and I hold all people who believe in faith accountable for that.

Thanks to Steven for the link.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Randomfactor

    Got to hope that what the investigators mean is that religion is not a relevant mitigating factor–the only question is whether they killed the kid, not whether they felt it was justified to do so.

    • gwen

      I wonder if thousands of outraged emails might change his mind? I also wonder why they would give these abused children to their damaged older siblings and assume they are fit to care for them…after all this is the form of discipline THEY learned was correct. Maybe a thorough social service investigation is in order, with instructions that no corporal punishment ever be used.

  • Doug Kirk

    Sometimes with these child abuse cases that are clearly from religious teachings (but not religiously motivated, wink wink), I think the prosecuters intentionally veer away from indicting religion so they don’t give the parents a chance to appeal on constitutionality.

    The charitable guy in my head says it’s to save the state money and not because they’re afraid if the case reaches the supereme court states won’t be allowed to silently sanction child abuse in the name of the first amendment anymore… but when it comes to ghouls who kill their own children, for some reason I don’t feel very charitable.

    I wonder if all these parents who’ve rightfully spent time in prison for murder could get a class action lawsuit against the writers and publishers of the book?

  • Richard

    Posts like this give me nightmares. It should give everyone nightmares.


  • Ubi Dubium

    You know what galls me about cases like this? No matter how much religious garbage those parents try to force on their kids, those kids died knowing one thing for damn sure. Nobody loved them. Nobody. Nobody came to their rescue. The very people who were supposed to care the most about them cared more about their allegiance to some invisible man in the sky, and allowed them to die alone and unloved.

    Even if a child is deprived in all the other necessities of life, the one thing that every child, every person, deserves above all else is that somebody loves them.

    These “parents” make me ill. I’m going to go home today and hug my daughters.

  • Glodson

    There are aspects of religion I understand. I’m sure many of us here were at one time religious. Most can probably remember something of that mindset. So I can understand why people cling to these beliefs. I can understand that.

    I cannot understand beating a child so severely that the child dies. There’s no justification to that. I cannot understand living in such a delusional world that the systematic torture of anyone can be considered a good act. This is an act of evil, pure and simple.

    And this is what makes the Pearls so bad. They are guilty of putting forth a book that tells parents that beating their children into submission is a good thing. Fuck that and fuck them. I have a little girl. She’ll be two in December. She’s already starting to be an independent little girl. And I absolutely love it. I want her to grow up with the ability to make up her own mind. I want her to be independent. I don’t want her to believe what I believe because I tell her to believe it. I don’t want her to be submissive to anyone.

    Don’t get me wrong, when she does something wrong she needs to be disciplined. She needs to learn she cannot do some things. There are always limits and boundaries, and they exist for a wide variety of reasons. Beating her isn’t the way to teach her that. Sure, I cannot really reason with her now. But I can build a foundation on which I can reason with her later. Smacking her around is a fucking poor way of going about it.

    But I will say this in the defense of the prosecutor that wants to separate the religion from the acts of violence. In a prefect world, both would be addressed. We don’t live in a prefect world. And we all know that logic can go out of the window when it comes to religion. I wouldn’t give the defense a chance to confuse the issue before a jury(or judge). These people need to be locked up for a long time. What they did was unspeakable. But by drawing attention to their religion might give them an out. And they don’t deserve that out.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    The Pearls recommend beating a child with flexible plastic tubing. It doesn’t hurt the beater, unlike using a fist.

    • Glodson

      The Pearls certainly make a great run at being two of the worst human beings alive, don’t they?

      • Richard


    • sithrazer

      …flexible plastic tubing.

      AKA, a garden hose. Which is what loan sharks use to beat the money out of you when you miss a payment.

      • Aliasalpha

        You can use it to beat children or debtors? That is very flexible!

        Also evil but that’s sort of obvious

  • WMDKitty

    I’m… I’m just gonna go hug my parents, now.

  • B-Lar

    I think we should, as skeptics, step away from branding these people as evil. Its too subjective, intangible and steeped in rhetoric. There is a certain scientist who has been trying to redfine evil as a lack of empathy (which is a bit more measurable) and might make for interesting study.

    These parents were born with the power to empathise but they chose to ignore their feelings and discard their critical faculties because they assumed that a magic and all knowing god knows better than they do about how to raise their kids.

    They gave up their humanity freely. WooWoo doesnt make all WooWooites commit atrocities, but it does demand of them all, without exception, give up the thing that sets us apart from other primates. The only thing we really have. The ability to think for ourselves.

    (An aside: Religion creates and overhypes the notion of a soul as extremely precious and cautions you not to sell it to Captain Brimstone on pain of eternal torture. Sweet Irony, thou art my diamond in the rough)

  • mephistopheles

    I completely agree with the moral outrage being vented at these unspeakable atrocities. In no sense would I EVER defend these monsters or their so-called principles.

    J.T. says the handling of the situation makes him see red because the prosecutor states that religion isn’t relevant to the criminal case. The prosecutor is correct in terms of the American legal system’s capabilities. Unless the charge is first degree murder– the pre-meditated lurking in the bushes with a gun waiting to kill variety– motivation is of negligble importance as an element of the crime in most states. And motivation is by far the most difficult element to prove in court.

    Crimes are defined by state statute. The “elements” of the crime are basically a checklist of things the state must prove to get a conviction, no more and no less. The prosecutor, as I understood the report, was simply stating that religion was not a necessary element to be proved for the particular charges against these people. There was abundant evidence in this case that these children were assaulted, tortured and died at the hands of their parents for the state to secure a conviction without bringing in the material that is the subject of our rage.

    Also, note that the defendants/monsters actually pled guilty, thereby waiving their right to appeal, and were sentenced to 22 and 12 years. There was no issue in terms of confusing a jury, or a risk of their acquittal, etc.

    I suggest that in this particular case our fury should remain narrowly focused where it belongs– on religion and the pernicious evils it spawns. In the final analysis, it is the failure of basic critical thinking skills that culminates in the irrationality of unquestioning belief in these ancient holy books that promulgate authoritarianism and violence. In short, the antidote here is to pull this weed up by the roots by doing the hard, slogging work that freethinkers already do of (pick your own verb) teaching, influencing, confronting, questioning, persuading, deconverting or otherwise instilling the necessary cognitive skills so that people can recognize and reject religious dogma for the bullshit that it is.

    But, in re-reading the original post, perhaps J.T. already said most of that. I’m just saying ease up on the prosecutor for adhering to the duties and limitations of his office (and not wasting taxpayer resources).