The Great Spanking Debate Revisited

The Great Spanking Debate Revisited September 6, 2014
Street Scene, by Giorgio Conrad (1827-1889) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

(2-6-14)These are my off-the-cuff comments on a Facebook thread of a friend. It was a private thread, so I can’t cite others. I summarize a few of their comments, so my answer is better understood in context. It started out with an approving link of an article (CNN op-ed) entitled, “Spanking isn’t parenting; it’s child abuse.” I chimed in a little after the discussion had begin.

* * * * *

I’m not scared to talk about this issue or any other.

The anti-spanking thing is simply a species of post-Christian, anti-traditional liberalism, based on the fallacious reasoning that if a thing is ever abused it must be everywhere and always wrong: obliterating the clear distinction between proper and excessive, or improper use.

The same sort of reasoning (not saying that anti-spankers are pro-aborts) was used to bring in legal abortion: “some women die from coat hanger abortions, therefore we need to change the entire law and make abortion legal.” Same reasoning with “gay marriage”: “homosexuals have been treated meanly, so therefore we ought to let them marry.”

It’s the old fallacy of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Because some football player was a moron doesn’t make me a child abuser, if I gave a two-year-old a swat on the butt. Sorry, I ain’t buyin’ it. And I’ll stack my four children up against any in the world.

[it was stated that if someone favored “hitting” that they could ignore the thread]
Why would I want to ignore a thread where legalistic falsehood is being promulgated? If a person disagrees, then they try to show why they do, and engage the people they disagree with (assuming discussion is possible).

This is simply another secular idea that is very common today: everything is self-evident, so there is no reason to even discuss anything. Those who disagree are the bad guys, and so they should just disappear and let “normal, compassionate” people dominate, with the accepted, “PC” perspective monopolizing the “conversation” so that all are happy and content as a pig in mud, safely away from the evil folk.

One tires of this sort of thing. We can’t disagree civilly; the ones who dare to spank, as the Bible recommends, are now “child abusers.” I don’t have to demonize anti-spankers. I just think they are thoroughly incorrect on this issue, and victims of postmodernist / liberal / secular fallacious thinking.

Why does it have to be “either/or” [Name]? You act as if no parent who spanks could possibly be doing it with a loving motive. Both things are together. I always did both. Hence I wrote in my paper:

Almost always, after such a spanking, I will take the child on my lap in a loving, nurturing manner and tell them I love them, and that this was the reason they were spanked. I’ll ask them to repeat why they think they were spanked, and if they don’t know (or pretend to not know; parents know this routine!), then I carefully explain it to them and teach them that such discipline is to make them a better person, by preventing them from doing bad and sinful things that will make their life difficult in the future. So the act is grounded in love and explanation and, in the end, positive reinforcement.

So there are a lot of parents out there who can’t control their anger, or use spanking as a controlling mechanism, or get some kind of [disordered] charge doing  it. That doesn’t change a thing. Everything is and can be abused. We obviously can’t get rid of everything, so our task is to reform and punish abuses. A guy who truly beats and abuses his child should get the book thrown at him.

[Someone claimed that corporal punishment was “always wrong.”]

You can’t say that, [Name], without disbelieving in the infallibility and inspiration of Scripture. Which is it? Scripture or postmodern secularism, that rejects the wisdom of Scripture and moral tradition?

The point is not that we are God, but that what He does is our example. Paul told us to imitate him, as he in turn imitates Christ, and Jesus (Who is God) is said to be our example. The Bible often refers to God chastising or disciplining us for our own good, and how painful that is. I’ve often used these passages to prove the principle of purgatory.

Now, what the anti-spanking mentality does is say that this sort of painful discipline is great when God does it (since He can’t sin and is always loving), yet the exact same sort of thing, following the example of God, applied by a mother or father to a child, is now intrinsically evil and wicked and can’t possibly be loving. That makes no sense. It’s moral schizophrenia; literally nonsense.

Do you believe that the Bible is inspired revelation, [Name], or do you believe (as all dissidents do) that you can pick-and-choose what you like from it and reject what you don’t like? 

Sometimes discipline can’t be done in non-physical ways, with some young children. They’re too young to reason with; something like grounding is incomprehensible until they are older. With very young children, sometimes only the raw conditioning of getting a little swat on the butt is all that will make them stop doing something wrong. Children have different temperaments. If one is mild and wants to please (phlegmatic temperament), spanking may very well not be necessary. But with a strong-willed stubborn child, it’s very different. 

The Bible does indeed refer to physical discipline, and recommends it for the sake of the child’s soul. Therefore, what inspired Scripture teaches, you are condemning and saying is a wicked thing, and never right:

Proverbs 13:24 (RSV) He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

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

Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol.

Proverbs 29:15, 17 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. . . . Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.

Please interpret. I’m all ears. What do you do, spiritualize away “rod” as non-physical? You can read those passages and not see anything physical there? A “rod” is not a stick? It isn’t used to “beat”? . . . that’s flat-out amazing.I haven’t “added” anything. It’s the plain meaning, and throughout all of Christian history it was understood. You have eisegeted and pretended that what is there is not there, because you don’t like it, coming in . . .

Here is the best commentary on the OT (Keil & Delitzsch), on Proverbs 23:13-14 (bolding added):

Verse 13-14

13 Withhold not correction from the child;

For thou will beat him with the rod, and he will not die.
14 Thou beatest him with the rod,

And with it deliverest his soul from hell.

The exhortation, 13a, presupposes that education by word and deed is a duty devolving on the father and the teacher with regard to the child. In 13b, כּי is in any case the relative conjunction. The conclusion does not mean: so will he not fall under death (destruction), as Luther also would have it, after Deuteronomy 19:21, for this thought certainly follows Proverbs 23:14; nor after Proverbs 19:18: so may the stroke not be one whereof he dies, for then the author ought to have written אל־תּמיתנּוּ; but: he will not die of it, i.e., only strike if he has deserved it, thou needest not fear; the bitter medicine will be beneficial to him, not deadly. The אתּה standing before the double clause, Proverbs 23:14, means that he who administers corporal chastisement to the child, saves him spiritually; for שׁאול does not refer to death in general, but to death falling upon a man before his time, and in his sins, vid., Proverbs 15:24, cf. Proverbs 8:26. 

See also CCC 2223:

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.” Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

[someone said that quoting Bible passages wasn’t “relevant”]

It certainly is for Catholics and other Christians, when claims are being made that something is intrinsically wicked, that God and the Bible recommend. Something ain’t connecting there, and we must make our choice.

[someone asked if the New Testament referred to “the rod”]

No, but there is about discipline and chastisement, which in Proverbs is connected with physical punishment, so indirectly it does condone it. The OT is Scripture, too, so we can’t just dismiss it as irrelevant. I quoted the Bible to contradict claims that spanking is wicked. The Bible says it is righteous. That’s a stark contrast. But you simply spiritualize the passage away, in time-honored fashion.

It’s not a matter of commanding it, but rather, whether it is a moral method of discipline. The Bible says it is. Game, set, match. 

For Scripture to say, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol” (Proverbs 23:13-14) is almost a command, since what good parent doesn’t want to save his child’s life from Sheol (by implication, also hell, which was a far less developed doctrine in Solomon’s time)?

I never said it was a command. What I argued was that Scripture shows corporal punishment as moral; therefore, those who claim it is intrinsically immoral (for those of us who believe in faith in the inspiration of Scripture) are dead-wrong.

Your side claimed that it was self-evident from the beginning, and that there was no other side. But I have Scripture and longstanding moral tradition on my side and you don’t.  

[one person said she was “free” to not spank]

Absolutely. And I am also free from being classified as a child abuser because I follow biblical recommendations in the raising of children.

[one person said she didn’t call me a “child abuser”]  

First of all, I said, “classified as a child abuser”; not called one.

You endorsed the article at the top; the title of which is “Spanking isn’t parenting; it’s child abuse.” Therefore, by straightforward deduction you implied that spankers are child abusers.

I didn’t see any anti-spanking person make a disclaimer over against the article: that they didn’t agree it was child abuse: what wicked people like me and [Name] do (may have missed it tho, since I didn’t read every comment).

“Hitting” has the connotation (I think) of being struck on the head, whereas “spanking” clearly has the connotation of “butt.”

Thus, when you are trying to overturn longstanding tradition, you use words that have connotations that you wish to get across for the purpose of your goal: to delegitimize the practice. “Hitting” sounds violent; sounds like wife abuse, etc.

Movements always do this. The pro-aborts did; the pro-“gay marriage” manipulates language with silly terms like “homophobe” (which means, absurdly, “fear of sameness”).

The first goal of any movement is to control the terminology and language. That is more than half the battle won, right there, because people more often respond impulsively and emotionally (based on associations), rather than reflectively and reasonably. Serious dialogue tries to get beyond slogans and stereotypes and manipulation of language, to the substance.

[a person said she was a teacher and heard many stories of kids being “hit” or abused, etc.]  

Yes, and you’re naturally gonna hear the horror stories. It’s just human nature. You’re gonna hear a hundred stories about “my dad beat me” (where it is clearly abuse: hit on the head, etc.). You’re not gonna hear nearly as much the success stories: “my parents loved me enough to swat my behind once in a while and then explain it was for my good, for discipline.”

Therefore, since you hear mostly horror stories, you fallaciously conclude that all spanking is a species of abuse, and oppose it.

It’s the demonization of opponents that ends all constructive discussion. I don’t demonize anti-spanking advocates (anymore than I would, say, a pacifist, who is also mistaken). They have the best of intentions and mean well. I sincerely disagree with them and think they are dead-wrong, for reasons I have explained. Doesn’t make them wicked; makes them (I believe) wrong on this issue.

I think a factor in this that is important to recognize is that many of us struggle a lot with things like a temper, anger, a controlling nature, passion, impatience. Or we may have been truly abused as a child (beaten, not merely spanked on the butt). Those things make it tough to spank in the right way.

In my paper on the topic I made it clear that if one struggled with any of those and couldn’t spank in the proper way, that they shouldn’t do it at all. Let the other parent do it. If the other parent has the same problems, then better to not do it (because it will likely be done wrongly) and to find an alternative.

But none of that means no one can do it. Human nature is such that there will be so many people who can’t do certain things. Some men are womanizers; doesn’t mean all men are. Some women are “loose” etc. Doesn’t mean all women are. Some people hate homosexuals. Doesn’t mean that every person who thinks homosexual acts are sinful hates them as people.

Thus, some folks don’t know how to spank properly (with control and love and only the best of motives). The solution to that is not to conclude that all spanking is wicked because some don’t know how to do it. It is to advise the particular folks who can’t do it, to not do it.

I don’t think this is rocket science at all. But it has become such an emotional issue, with all the hot-button associations of wicked or alcoholic fathers, etc. or people like this football payer, that it is hardly able to be discussed rationally anymore.

[someone argued that spanking was never necessary ever. She brought forward as evidence, her 12yo who is wonderful, etc. and claimed that this is because she was never spanked. Then she contended that spanking is a manifestation of power and domination, and equated it with spousal abuse.]

It’s just more fallacies. If a child is “gentle, kind, obedient” it is most likely due to prior temperament (the type that doesn’t require spanking in the first place). I know, because we had one like that, and three who were not like that (i.e., as small kids). It’s the different temperaments. The strong-willed two-year-old likely won’t respond to much else, in cases of outright obstinacy.

Like I said, I’ll stack my four kids (now 23, 21, almost 18 and almost 13) up against anyone’s in the world. Well-behaved, polite, considerate of others, serve others in many ways, active in church and youth groups, completely orthodox, never got in any trouble with the law, never drank, never did drugs, don’t swear, don’t look at pornography or watch garbage movies or listen to filthy lyrics in music, treat women with respect, great work ethic, chaste before marriage, go on mission trips all the time, great grades in school (my son in college has gotten all A’s over two years). Everyone testifies to it.

They are that way because they were loved and taught the right values and morals. A rare swat on the butt has absolutely nothing to do with anything, except for the discipline needed at the time. And they were nurtured with love right afterwards to make sure that they understood this was loving discipline, not some sort of idiotic retribution or domination or the parents’ tantrum.

It doesn’t [equate with “aggressiveness” and “overpowering” behavior] if it is explained at the time (as we always did). We didn’t sit there and say, “you know, I just spanked you because I’m a mean bastard who likes to see children cry and suffer and likes to get my way by violence and force.” We explained, “do you know why you were spanked? You did x wrong, and left us no other recourse. We did it because we love you and don’t want you to go down a wrong path and suffer for it in your life.” And hugs and reassurance with that . . .

If that is “aggressive and overpowering” then we speak two different languages and have vastly different definitions of many things.

I absolutely hated to spank. It was used only as the absolute last resort for young kids below the age of reason (up to maybe 5 or 6). As soon as they had sufficient reason we used other punishments like deprivation of a toy or grounding or not going outside, etc.

I did it because I thought it was right and necessary, not because I loved it and got some charge of being powerful and dominating. These stereotypes are highly insulting and equally absurd.

[it was said that the thread was merely about sharing alternatives to spanking, and that PMs were coming in, resonating with that message]

Some parents do do the bad things, of course. No one is denying that; only denying that it is intrinsically wicked and that all who use it are these moral and mental morons.

It’s not just about alternatives because of the sweeping, insulting language being used. If it was just about that, you wouldn’t have to condemn those of us who use it: starting with the idiotic article at the top: equating all of us with child abusers.

I agree with alternatives in most cases: above the age of reason; in cases of non-obstinacy, in cases where the parent can’t control their anger or were abused as a child (where it is known that they tend to pass that one) . . . there is significant agreement here, but it’s the legalism and condemnation that is unacceptable.

We spanked only very rarely: maybe 5-6 times for each child in their entire life. I think with our most compliant child it was only once or twice.

[a person said she was happy no one used the “pejoratives” I used (“moral and mental morons”) ] 

What’s worse? Calling someone a moron or a child abuser? I’d much rather be called a moron. Being called a child abuser is one of the two or three absolute worst things I can imagine anyone being called or classified as.

Yes, the PMs are (I highly suspect) mostly from folks who did it wrong in the first place. I don’t have the slightest regret or guilt about it, because we did it the right way. I said in my paper that one time in my whole life as a parent I lost my temper and spanked when I probably shouldn’t have, and I apologized for it. I’m not perfect. But that is my record.  

[I was told that I didn’t have to feel bad about being called a “child abuser” if I know that it isn’t true]

So you stand by the article and insist (by implication, by linking to something with an outrageous title like that) that someone who spanks is automatically (by definition) the equivalent of a child abuser? This is slander. It’s a lie.

Yeah, I know it doesn’t hurt me, because it’s wrong; it’s untrue. What it does is hurt those of you who believe that we are child abusers, and it poisons discourse. That’s not worthy of you.

You can still disagree and argue your point of view without having the baggage of demonizing those who disagree. Just retract that and continue on with your thoroughly fallacious argument.

There is actually much middle ground to be had here, where all can meet. I’ve staked out some of that. But more extreme language from your side undermines any such mutual understanding by continuing to make out that it is this “us vs. them” sort of issue: black-and-white; the good guys with the white hats, who wouldn’t hurt a flea, and us abusive mean spankers with the black hats . . .

I’ve been called evil many times over: because I’m a pro-lifer and supposedly hate women, because I’m Catholic and supposedly hate Protestants; because I’m politically conservative, or because I think sodomy is a grave sin; I’m a racist because I criticize Obama. I hate women because I criticize radical feminism. Now I’m (along with many millions of others) a child abuser because I believe in spanking in rare cases, because the Bible plainly teaches it. [it was said that I called anti-spankers “pro-aborts” and “liberals”]

I didn’t describe them as that at all. What I said was that the outlook derives from liberal assumptions. It doesn’t follow that a person with the belief is a liberal; only that he or she has been influenced by the tidal wave of secularist thought. This is true on many issues, such as, e.g., contraception or cohabitation or 80% of young people favoring “gay marriage.”.

What I wrote specifically was: “The same sort of reasoning (not saying that anti-spankers are pro-aborts) was used to bring in legal abortion:”

So now you say I was calling non-spankers “pro-aborts.” Nice try. Later I also observed that the modification of language for a cause was also a pro-abort tactic (as we all know); not that using the tactic makes one a pro-abort. I was talking about the incessant use of “hit” in this thread rather than “spank.”

But the article at the top undeniably classifies us spankers in a sweeping way as child abusers.

[a person denied being a “modernist” or given to fads and trends because of being a certain age]

Age has nothing to do with being influenced by current fashions of secularism and liberalism (which are as ancient as the hills). But I was speaking broadly. There could be many such reasons for non-spanking policies. Some people are too gentle to do it, because it’s difficult. As I said, I hated it myself. I did it because I felt that it was right and necessary in a tiny amount of cases. If I was a far more gentle soul than I am, I can see that I would have decided to never do it. But that would have nothing to do with reason. There are parents who discipline hardly at all, so we would expect them not to spank. Lots of reasons. But my generalization remains true. It is a non-traditional tenet of liberal secularism: one of many being forced upon us in terms of more and more laws. It’s already to the point where you don’t dare spank in public.[a person said she is in a group that discusses “gentle discipline.”]

I agree with you in 99% of the cases of disciple. It was only in the worst cases of obstinacy and rebellion that we ever spanked, and we can count on one hand the total times for each of our four children. That’s why I was saying that there is a lot of common ground here. 99% of the time! We can all agree and talk about methods in those cases. But you guys won’t allow the 1%!

[she said she never condemned spankers]

I appreciate that. But what you did do was use highly charged words like “aggressive” and “overpower” that create this image of the spankers as somehow these terrible people who are trying to dominate children because we have more strength, etc. Maybe even that was not your intention. But in context, perhaps you’ll excuse my interpretation . . .

[she denied using the term “child abuser”.]

My remark wasn’t directed at at you or even at [Name; owner of the combox]. But look at the title of the article at the top of this thread and tell us whether you think that is highly offensive to anyone who thinks it is part of discipline to occasionally spank. [Name] won’t retract the implications there (which shocks me).

If I had actually said that a non-spanker was a pro-abort (as you mistakenly believed I did), then you would be offended. Your very reply proves that. But when we’re called child abusers no one on your “side” sees the outrageous slander in that? Has anyone renounced it yet?

[the webmaster said that she stands by the lead article and that no one called names.]

Flat-out amazing . . . you think you can have the stupid article at the top with its hyper-polemical title and main thesis and just separate yourself from it . . .

[agreeing with someone else]  I totally agree, as I have said. I said that if you have a temper, or anger problem, or have been abused, never do it. There is no disagreement in that regard.

[someone inquired in a friendly manner about the talk after the spanking, asking why it couldn’t be done minus the spanking, if it works so well]

Good question. I think that this is what is called a “false dilemma” though. The fact was that the spanking had occurred in the first place as an absolutely last resort. Reasoning wasn’t working. The behavior wasn’t stopping. We always try to talk to our kids. Therefore, the spanking was necessary, so to say that the talking was “better” . . . yes it was, if they would only have received it.

After spanking, they do receive it. We showed love. This was especially true with my daughter, because of the special nature of the father-daughter thing. She was rebelling, being a total pill (the last time I spanked her). Then I held her for a long time, was as tender as I could be, explaining that I loved her and had to stop the bad behavior, that it was for her good.

Then it worked. It wouldn’t have before the spanking because she was neither listening nor behaving, but being a total defiant rebel. And there was a total behavior change afterward. The line was clearly drawn, and that is the whole point.

[then this person asked about some kids getting spanked more than others, because of more rebellion, and how that makes them feel] 

Sometimes they resent it because that is human nature. I said above that we had one compliant child and three very strong-willed ones. We have simply explained that we had to discipline as parents when someone did wrong (and this extended well beyond spanking, to all discipline, that was resented), because that’s our job.

We explain that it doesn’t mean one child is “better” than another, but that God made different temperaments for His purposes, and all have a purpose and a calling in His kingdom, and all have faults. If they are better in this way, then surely they will be worse than the other child in some other respect.

I’m very stubborn and strong-willed myself (I almost have to be that in this line of work and all that it entails). I understand how that works.

[I was asked what kind of behavior was “last resort” and deserved a spanking]Usually it is absolute rebellion, as I said: a total refusal to do what they are told, combined with a contempt for parental authority, talking back, etc. That’s against the natural order of things, and so is well-qualified for serious punishment. If they are below the age of reason, spanking. Older kids: serious grounding or other deprivation to bring home the seriousness of total rebellion against authority as God ordained it.

[I was asked how spanking even changes behavior]

It’s simple. The bad thing produced an immediate negative reinforcement: spanking. Therefore, below the age of reason a child seeks to avoid the negative thing by avoiding the bad behavior that brought it about.

When they can reason, then being grounded or whatever is such a frightful, dreadful spectre that it keeps them in line. God does the same thing with all of us. When we stray, He disciplines us, as the Bible says several dozen times.

I’m glad you brought up running in the street, because there a life could very well literally be saved. That’s nothing to fool around with. The parent has no time to endure ten, twenty times of such disobedience. If a car comes during one of those times, there could be a dead child. Very clear-cut and concrete . . .

So love dictates a very harsh punishment (spanking), to make absolutely sure that they don’t do it and endanger their lives. Spanking is absolutely the most loving and merciful thing to be done in that situation.

We’re not saying it only takes one time, either. It depends on how strong-willed the child is. And of course there are other ways. In a small number of situations, spanking is by far the most effective way to stop the sin. The sooner it stops, the better for the child. 

The wisdom of spanking in discipline (where necessary) is that often it’ll stop the behavior flat and be a deterrent for all or most of the potential violations in the future, because then the threat is almost as effective as the actual thing. These sorts of things used to be instinctively understood by almost all people. But secularism has so undermined traditional Christian values, that now we actually have to discuss what for many of us is (and through history was) almost self-evident. 

It’s the same with contraception, too. It used to be instinctively understood (especially by women). Children are blessings, and the primary purpose of marriage. Now even those things are questioned. And so we are engaged in the Great Liberal Death Wish (as Malcolm Muggeridge called it) and see decreasing populations around the world in formerly Christian countries, and the explosion of Islam, because they still have lots of kids.

[my friend denied that secularism had anything to do with her not spanking; it was, rather, “Do unto others . . .”]

As for alternate methods, I have agreed that we can agree on that 99% of the time. We used all “alternate”  methods above the age of 6 or 7.

You may not be affected by secularism. But the larger culture undeniably is, and this is part of it. I know what secularism is and how it works. I majored in sociology, love the history of ideas and am well-read in that, love history, and philosophy as well. We can have that discussion all night if someone wants to.

If you quote Dr. Greg Popcak, we can just as well cite Dr. James Dobson or Dr. Ray Guarendi (sort of the Catholic Dobson and an acquaintance of mine).

I sure do “do unto others.” I don’t want my child to be hit and killed by a car, just as I wouldn’t want to be (nor want to be the parent of a dead child or make my mother the grandmother of one or my other kids the sibling of one). So I make damned sure that I stop the behavior that could end that way: a decisive swat on the butt, where the fat is, so there is no lasting damage: just a temporary pain that has a marvelous capacity for concentrating the mind on obedience (and in this instance, quite possibly saving a child’s life).

I hated spanking, as I have said. I’m as tender with, and love children as much as anyone. Ask anyone who knows me. I adore them. Spanking is very difficult. But it’s necessary out of love, and life involves doing things at times that are not easy. The fruit is there. I have four fantastic kids, and they are blessing us every day by how wonderful they are. 


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