Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Great Spanking Debate, Part II

By Dave Armstrong (1-15-08)

Objections posed by an "anti-spanking advocate" are paraphrased and in blue.

* * * * *

How can you advocate hitting a small, defenseless person?

Because the Bible recommends it as a necessary aspect of routine child-rearing. Let's not get overly melodramatic. We're talking about a swat on the butt: not exactly the most susceptible part of the body to injury. Most spankings cause no more pain or harm than a good fall flat on one's back or the average tumble to the floor in the NBA.

All spanking is, is a stronger adult inflicting pain and fear to get what they want. It's a "strong arm" tactic.

What the adult wants is for the child to be disciplined and well-behaved, so as to prosper in life, and (most importantly) spiritually. This is "tough love." What we "want" is good and in accord with what the Bible and the Church teach. It's not a mere "power play" or "might makes right". God does exactly same thing, since the Bible teaches us:
Hebrews 12:5-11 (RSV)
[5] And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? -- "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor lose courage when you are punished by him.
[6] For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives."
[7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
[8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
[9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
[10] For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
[11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
What sense does it make to create a fearful child, scared to death of his or her parents? That doesn't build a loving, trusting relationship.

Fear and respect / reverence are two different things. We reverence God, and in a very real sense, "fear" Him. This is how it is meant to be, and it is not at all inconsistent with a loving God / Father. The parent---child relationship mirrors in a lot of ways the human---God relationship.

"Fear" comes in very handy when a young child (to use a common example of the principle) is about to run into the street and get hit by a car. One is faced with the task of getting through to the child the extreme importance of not doing that, and many times a spanking is the best, most effective way to do it.

Hitting a child is not necessary to gain childrens' respect, and sets up a hostile parental relationship.

You often have to "spank" (in the early years, as I have argued) in order to maintain discipline, which in turn fosters this respect. There are a thousand sad stories about children who weren't disciplined at all, and how they turned out. The "Dr. Spock generation", etc. But I've rarely heard adults regret being spanked in the right way (not an abuse situation, of course, which is completely different) and disciplined when they were children. Children resent it later if they were not disciplined correctly, because they realize that they could have been spared a great deal of misery.

The spanking mentality would also logically entail physical punishment of a wife as well.

That's not what the Bible teaches. It applies spanking to children (and sometimes to criminals), not wives. One must ground this in the teaching of the Bible and the Church and the Catechism. Our opinions and our conscience must be formed with consideration of those, rather than vice versa.

If a man knows it is wrong to strike his wife, why would he strike his children?

Because children require discipline, and because the Bible, the Church, the Catechism, Catholic Tradition, and even (as I presented) current social science (and I would add, common sense) recommend it as a good and necessary thing. The question in our minds ought to be, "am I willing to go against all those things and make my own opinion binding upon all?"

The "cute" words used, like "pop on the but" or "swat" or "spanking" itself are used euphemistically instead of the literal "hitting" or "striking."

Not at all. Anti-spanking advocates specifically use "hitting" because it conjures up images of violence and serious pain, and wife-beating. In other words, it furthers their agenda; but it is a straw man. Everyone knows what "spanking" means. There is no ambiguity about that, whereas the word "hitting" can include all sorts of violence (much of it immoral and indefensible) that is far different from spanking. So (whether they are aware of this or not) it is an improper, propagandistic use of the word in a wrong context, in my opinion.


But it is still "hitting" a child, is it not?

Broadly speaking, yes, but language is rooted in usage and sociology. We attach meanings to language. That's why the pro-abortion people quickly adopted the democratic-, American-sounding, freedom-loving "pro choice" as their description for child-killing. They knew the importance of language and they knew that whoever controlled the semantics of the issue would control the very agenda of the debate.

The Bible never once refers to the striking of a child.

I don't see how anyone can come to that conclusion. Much more on this below.

[a website was recommended]

This source tries to make a case from a wide latitude of meanings, that striking is not in mind. Most biblical words are like that, so it is of little consequence if one can find different applications. Every word has to be interpreted in context as to its specific meaning. Shebet, the word in question, means, literally "stick". It can have a figurative meaning as well. But does it in the passages under consideration? Not according to Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament:
a staff, stick, rod . . . (1) used for beating or striking, Isa. 10:15; 14:5; and chastening (virga), Prov. 10:13; 13:24; 22:8 . . .
(p. 801, cross-referenced to Strong's word #7626)
That's what it means in those instances, according to the language expert on Hebrew. Proverbs 10:13 is not referring to a parent-child relationship but is clearly physical ("a rod is for the back . . ."). Proverbs 13:24 was one of my texts ("He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him."). Yet this source, Joan Renae, claims:

There are no [biblical] examples of children being beaten with a rod.

Moreover, she overlooks the fact of other words used in conjunction with rod, that prove that physical contact is being referred to:
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.
Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 30:1,12-13 He who loves his son will whip him often, in order that he may rejoice at the way he turns out . . . Bow down his neck in his youth, and beat his sides while he is young, lest he become stubborn and disobey you,
"Rod" by itself has different meanings in Scripture, true, but the phrase "beat with a rod" in conjunction with discipline is extremely evident as to meaning. Likewise, "whip him" and "beat his sides" do not leave much to the unknown, with regard to what is meant and intended.

Thus, "beat" in Prov 23:14 is the Hebrew nakah (Strong's word #5221). It can mean, literally, according to Strong, "strike, beat, cast forth, clap, give [wounds], kill, punish, slaughter, slay, strike, (give) stripes." One can see that the idea is physical contact. In the KJV, it is translated as "smite" 340 times, according to Young's Concordance.
Joan Renae makes much of a long commentary by famous Presbyterian biblical exegete Matthew Henry on 2 Samuel 2:14. What she doesn't inform her readers of, however, is what the same commentator stated about the passages in question, regarding spanking:
Proverbs 14:24:
24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
Note, 1. To the education of children in that which is good there is necessary a due correction of them for what is amiss; every child of ours is a child of Adam, and therefore has that foolishness bound up in its heart which calls for rebuke, more or less, the rod and reproof which give wisdom. Observe, It is his rod that must be used, the rod of a parent, directed by wisdom and love, and designed for good, not the rod of a servant. 2. It is good to begin betimes with the necessary restraints of children from that which is evil, before vicious habits are confirmed. The branch is easily bent when it is tender. 3. Those really hate their children, though they pretend to be fond of them, that do not keep them under a strict discipline, and by all proper methods, severe ones when gentle ones will not serve, make them sensible of their faults and afraid of offending. They abandon them to their worst enemy, to the most dangerous disease, and therefore hate them. Let this reconcile children to the correction their good parents give them; it is from love, and for their good, Heb. xii. 7-9.
15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
. . . That correction is necessary to the cure of it. It will not be got out by fair means and gentle methods; there must be strictness and severity, and that which will cause grief. Children need to be corrected, and kept under discipline, by their parents; and we all need to be corrected by our heavenly Father (Heb. xii. 6, 7), and under the correction we must stroke down folly and kiss the rod.
13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. 14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
. . . A parent correcting his child. A tender parent can scarcely find in his heart to do this; it goes much against the grain. But he finds it is necessary; it is his duty, and therefore he dares not withhold correction when there is occasion for it (spare the rod and spoil the child); he beats him with the rod, gives him a gentle correction, the stripes of the sons of men, not such as we give to beasts. Beat him with the rod and he shall not die. The rod will not kill him; nay, it will prevent his killing himself by those vicious courses which the rod will be necessary to restrain him from. For the present it is not joyous, but grievous, both to the parent and to the child; but when it is given with wisdom, designed for good, accompanied with prayer, and blessed of God, it may prove a happy means of preventing his utter destruction and delivering his soul from hell. Our great care must be about our children's souls; we must not see them in danger of hell without using all possible means, with the utmost care and concern, to snatch them as brands out of everlasting burnings. Let the body smart, so that the spirit be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
Parents, in educating their children, must consider, 1. The benefit of due correction. They must not only tell their children what is good and evil, but they must chide them, and correct them too, if need be, when they either neglect that which is good or do that which is evil. If a reproof will serve without the rod, it is well, but the rod must never be used without a rational and grave reproof; and then, though it may be a present uneasiness both to the father and to the child, yet it will give wisdom. Vexatio dat intellectum—Vexation sharpens the intellect. The child will take warning, and so will get wisdom.
For more on Hebrew and "rod", see the article by Dave Miller, Ph.D.: Children and the Rod of Correction.

Another person (Michelle Richards) recommended on this topic, has no qualifications to make the exegetical judgments she makes, apart from scholarly support, either. She argues:
The “rod” in these Proverbs passages that so many see as a license to spank is symbolic. This Hebrew word is normally translated as shepherd’s “staff” or king’s “scepter”. So, if we were to be more literal, a closer translation would be bat and not twig! But that is not the author’s intent. This “rod” is a symbol of authority and guidance, like a shepherd guiding his sheep or a king governing his people . . .
That's not what linguist Gesenius and commentator Matthew Henry thought. That's not what the clear, plain meaning of "beat him with a rod" would suggest. She then tries to set the New Testament against the Old Testament (a tendency in many Protestants), and tries to make an argument from "euphemism":
Personally, I find it very interesting that when Christians teach spanking, the majority has several cute euphemisms to describe it and a list of guidelines as to how, when, and with what. There is absolutely no Biblical basis for any of them—they are essentially cultural. Whether you call it spanking, popping, smacking or hitting, they all mean to strike a child in order to produce pain and fear. . . .
I would submit that the reason behind the euphemisms and rules that Christians create is that our conscience is condemning us. We are aware on some level that hurting those who are smaller and weaker goes against the nature of Christ, and feel a need to justify and minimize what we are actually doing.
This pseudo-psychological (and arguably, offensive) analysis is faulty for the reasons I already gave: it disregards dictionary meanings and commonly accepted meanings and abuses the English language. Here, for example is an online definition of spanking:
spank (spāngk) Pronunciation Key
v. spanked, spank·ing, spanks

v. tr.
To slap on the buttocks with a flat object or with the open hand, as for punishment.
Not much to misunderstand here, is there? This is what people are talking about when favoring "spanking": not child abuse, not slaps on the face or hitting a child on the head with a frying pan or merciless beatings and kickings or what not, from monstrous criminal parents. To deny this is to do violence to the very meaning of the word. Here's another:
: to strike especially on the buttocks with the open hand
Compare this with the same dictionary's long, convoluted definition of "hit".
She does say one thing I heartily agree with: "If the child is old enough to reason, spanking is unnecessary." That's why I, and many of the family advocates I have cited, believe that it is appropriate only up to age 6 or 7, which is pretty much "the age of reason" -- when other methods of discipline can be just as, or more effective.

She refers readers to another argument against spanking, that I would consider equally desperate, and an example of eisegesis (literally, "reading into Scripture," rather than "out of it"):
Now, if we assume the reference is to the actual stick called a shebet we must discount the next passage as a lie—because Torah makes it clear that you can kill someone through beating with a shebet. And the penalty for it is death. Solomon would not be giving wise instruction, which we know the Proverbs to be, if he was informing parents they could discount the cautions in Torah given for slaves and believe that a beating to a son would never result in death. But if we understand the reference to the shebet as speaking to the father’s absolute authority to correct his children, we can see that if you continue to correct your child until you figuratively “beat it into him” you will be able to accomplish the guarantee of the next passage—saving his soul from an early grave. This type of a beating will bring a pang to his moral conscience and entice him to do what is right. He will be smited into right thinking.
This is rather weak reasoning: arguing that if an object can possibly kill someone, it can never be used at all. Using that logic, one could argue that one mustn't play in a backyard pool because, after all, a person could drown another person in the water. A baseball bat could crush someone's skull; a jump rope could strangle them, etc. Just because a thing is used immorally doesn't mean that it can't be used at all in a moral fashion. Even a human hand can be used to stroke a child's face lovingly or pet a kitten, and also to strangle and slap someone's face or punch them in the face, or pinch or scratch, etc.

I don't find these arguments at all compelling.

Causing pain or striking someone is not loving. God disciplines us, but it is in love. Discipline is not identical with physical force.

Then God is not loving, either. Your argument proves too much. God often causes us pain, as we know from His revelation, Holy Scripture. Pain comes from all kinds of things. Emotional and mental pain can be just as bad if not worse than physical pain (as most people would agree, I think). But there is much pain, sanctioned by God, for our good:
Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Deuteronomy 8:5,16 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you . . . that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.

Job 5:17-18 "Behold, happy is the man whom God reproves; therefore despise not the chastening of the Almighty. 18 For he wounds, but he binds up; he smites, but his hands heal.

Job 23:10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.

Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man whom thou dost chasten, O LORD, and whom thou dost teach out of thy law.

Psalm 119

50 This is my comfort in my affliction that thy promise gives me life.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep thy word.
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.
75 I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.

Isaiah 48:10 Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.

Romans 5

2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

2 Corinthians 1

5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
9 Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead;
 2 Corinthians 12
7 And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.
8 Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me;
9 but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

Hebrews 5:8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;
James 1

2 Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials,
3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
12 Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.

2 Timothy 1:8 Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God,

2 Timothy 2

3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.
11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;
12 if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

1 Peter 4

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you.
13 But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Revelation 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
It occurs to me that this kind of argument also leads to extreme pacifism (itself is a most unbiblical position). One can never use any force at all against another, let alone kill them, for any reason whatsoever. It's all evil. Okay, so a murderer comes into your house to torture and kill your children. Is it loving to prevent him by force? Of course it is: it is loving to your children. If we can never use any force for any reason whatsoever, we can't oppose tyrants. The whole world would be either Nazi or Communist by now.

There could be no police, so the criminals would run wild, making our society even worse. Etc. You couldn't stop a maniac with a blowtorch, about to set a building full of people on fire, or the wackos who shoot up schools. All of that would be immoral action. It reduces to absurdity. Clearly there is justification for use of force, including minor corporal punishments of children, intended for their well-being, according to clear biblical principles and mandate.

I think this "anti-spanking" position would be a lot more respectable and respected if it wasn't embraced in a legalistic sense of "it is immoral for everyone to do it." Live and let live. But people seem to have a need to make things absolute, when they are not at all. Whatever they don't like, no one can like. Whatever they think is wrong, even when reasonable people disagree, and there are nuances and different situations where good people differ in good faith, must be wrong for everyone. The attack is aggressively made against everyone who disagrees, as if they are doing something seriously wrong.

But, lacking a coherent or sensible biblical argument (I have yet to see it), I think the position falls flat and is based (in my opinion) largely on emotional reaction to actual instances of child abuse, one's own background, and flawed social science of our time that doesn't proceed from biblical and theistic premises.

I suspect that in many cases, we would discover that the anti-spanking advocate had a history of abuse in his or her own life, or did not approach spanking in the right way when they became a parent, or do not have the requisite self-control to do it in the right fashion, and so turned against it totally. But these are not reasons to extend a principle to everyone in the world and to make a moral absolute out of it, especially since the Bible and the Church have both sanctioned the practice (properly done) as perfectly moral.

I don't want to judge others, as the person cited above did, claiming that merely using the word "spanking" proves some guilt complex. I'm just saying that I suspect this in many cases, and would ask anti-spanking advocates about their own history in this regard to see if it might have had a significant bearing on their position.

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