God and the Rod

June 3, 2006

Salon writer Lynn Harris writes about the discipline techniques of Tennessee pastor Michael Pearl, whose childrearing books are hot sellers amongst the Evangelical Christian/homeschooling set. If your child misbehaves, he recommends light whipping with quarter-inch plumbing supply line. Some people have taken his technique too far, as zealots are wont to do. And some children have paid the price. Same as it ever was…

Early in the article, I was struck by this quote:

“These truths,” the tall, white-beaded Michael Pearl, 60, writes in his book, “are not new, deep insights from the professional world of research, [but] rather, the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules, the same technique God uses to train his children.”

His reference to training stubborn animals reminded me immediately of a passage from one of Pastor James Dobson’s childrearing books that my born-again Christian parents turned to for advice. In a folksy tone, Dobson described beating his weiner dog, who got a touch willful, with a belt. He tells the story to illustrate how important it is to establish your dominance over your dependents.

I’ve been known to wack a wayward dog with a newspaper, but it always stemmed from two main limitations: 1) the fact that the animal and I did not share language, so I could not communicate my displeasure/boundary in another way, and 2) the correction needed to occur immediately, because the animal would not remember the incident two seconds later. Children may behave like beasts, but there are so many more options because we are the same species.

Whether the Christian parent believes in corporal punishment or doesn’t, the premise is the same: you are God to your children, and therefore you mirror your God concept in your parenting. “We’re only treating our child the way God would treat us,” says a dad who ascribes to the Pearl plan. “As in Hebrews 12, He chastens those whom he loves.” There are other parents who go the Jesus route, and do unto their children as they would have someone do unto them, and that usually does not involve PVC pipe against thigh meat.

As I see it, the problem is that at a certain stage of development, your children no longer see you as God, but an extremely imperfect impostor. What then?

Well, the worst case scenerio is that your child will grow up and write a review like this one on Amazon:

“My father used Dobson’s methodology as a license to strike. If you wish to die alone in a nursing home, I suggest you listen to those who worship hate and violence. There is not a day that I don’t dream of lashing my old man with a studded belt to punish him in return, and am contemplating not having children to let the cycle of violence end with me.
God bless America, we really need it….”