Can Spanking Tell Us Whether God is Internal or External?

Can Spanking Tell Us Whether God is Internal or External? October 14, 2022

Aldous Huxley was best known for his dystopian novel Brave New World. Readers may remember it from their high school English. His lesser-known utopian novel Island describes Huxley’s ideal society. While I don’t agree with every aspirational idea, I have marked dozens of sections in my copy and contemplated many of the insights—everything from Huxley’s critique of the Nazi educational system to communication methods and meditation techniques.

Childrearing and Theology

One passage has stayed with me longer than most. It is on page 139 and revolves around childrearing and theology. Read it for yourself and think about what it has to say.

“Applied sadism. Sadism with an ulterior motive, sadism in the service of an idea, as the expression of a religious conviction. And that’s the subject,” he added, turning to Will, “that somebody ought to make a historical study of—the relation between theology and corporal punishment in childhood. I have a theory that, wherever little boys and girls are systematically flagellated, the victims grow up to think of God as ‘Wholly Other’—isn’t that the fashionable argot in your part of the world? Wherever, on the contrary, children are brought up without being subject to physical violence, God is immanent. A people’s theology reflects the state of children’s bottoms.”

Comparing Iceland and Texas

I was taken aback when I first read this and had to put the book aside for a few moments while I thought it through. My birth country of Iceland had mostly erased corporal punishment when I left in 2010—according to Huxley, that is because of the prevalence of humanism in that society, not because all Icelandic people believe that God is immanent—and was shocked to find that the practice was still alive and well when I arrived in Texas.

Naturally, I started thinking about the theology of being ‘born in sin’—the flesh being inherently sinful, worthy of flagellation. With time, I realized that this Calvinistic view was still held in high regard in many of the churches in my surroundings, although the younger generation seemed to be rejecting spanking in larger numbers.

Tat Tvam Asi: Thou Art That

Huxley continued his narrative in a way that put my thoughts into perspective.

“Look at the Hebrews—enthusiastic child-beaters. And so were all good Christians in the Ages of Faith. Hence Jehovah, hence Original Sin and the infinitely offended father of Roman and Protestant orthodoxy. Whereas among Buddhists and Hindus education has always been nonviolent. No laceration of little buttocks—therefore tat twam asi, thou art That, mind from Mind is not divided. And look at the Quakers. They were heretical enough to believe in the Inner Light, and what happened? They gave up beating their children and were the first Christian denomination to protest against the institution of slavery.”

A Lot to Unpack

There is a lot to unpack in the second part of the quote from page 139. I, for one, don’t know enough about Hindu and Buddhist societies to say whether children face corporal punishment as a rule or as an exception. And, because Huxley was pushing against a version of Christianity he did not like—something I wrote about recently—I will not go into the historical aspect of his statement. But the central idea remains. If someone believes that God is both internal and external, inside and outside, immanent and transcendent, it will go against their beliefs to harm another. After all, God resides within that person too.

Central to Oneness

The idea of being ‘one with’ instead of being ‘apart from’ is central to Eastern theologies. It is what attracted me to them in the first place and kickstarted my interspiritual journey. In a rather aggressive manner, Huxley jarred my thinking and helped me see the concept in a new light. That is why I wanted to share this passage with you. Plus, I am against corporal punishment and have managed to raise two healthy kids without applying it once.

Gudjon Bergmann
Author and Mindfulness Teacher
Amazon Author Profile

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