I saw something rather horrible the other day. I was hopping from one blog to another, randomly clicking on links in people’s postings and on their side panels, seeing what would turn up, when I came across a link to this page in somebody’s blog (whoever you are, I’m sorry, I can’t remember your URL). I clicked on it and saw that on the page that came up there was a call for a boycott of a certain book on child rearing and notice of a petition to Amazon asking them to stop selling it. Well, I am instinctively opposed to book banning, so of course I went straight to Amazon to see what all the fuss was about.
Now, I know it’s unwise to review books you haven’t actually read. A lot of it goes on (just look at the tirades against the latest books by Dawkins and Hitchens) and I have always sneered at the practice. Yet I am about to do exactly that. I don’t have a copy of the book, I don’t want to put money in the authors’ pockets by buying one, and quite frankly I don’t know if I could bring myself to read it. The name of this book is “To Train Up A Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl, and it is apparently a guide to raising your child on good old fashioned biblical principles.
What’s so wrong with that, you may ask; what’s so bad about teaching a child to turn the other cheek, to forgive the sins of others, not to be judgmental, to bless the meek, to pray in private and to give to the poor? Well, absolutely nothing actually. If that’s what you do I’ll be on the sidelines applauding you.
The thing is, this book takes its lead from the Old Testament, and in amongst all those chapters, along with the tales of miracles, seas parting, bushes burning and donkeys talking, there are stories without parallel of genocide, mass murder, rape, child abuse, and exhortations to kill and kill again – all by the good guys. With Proverbs 13:24 to set the tone of the book (He that spareth his rod hateth his child), the book advocates bringing children up in a godly fashion by whipping them.
There are almost 700 reviews, about two thirds of which are as horrified as I am, and from the excerpts they quote I know of some of the excesses in this book while being mercifully spared the need to read it. If a babe in arms bites when he is being breastfed, then pull his hair till he cries. If a baby won’t stop crying, whip him. When training children, the command "no" should always be accompanied by pain.
The book is mainly aimed at Christian homeschoolers, who can keep their children isolated from contact with the outside world and away from anyone who might notice signs of abuse and be tempted to interfere. It advises parents on the best weapons to use on their children (plastic pipes and cable ducting are apparently the most efficient for causing pain), where to get them, and how best to use them to cause pain without leaving marks.
It is, of course, a manual for child abuse. If you treated your pet dog or cat that way you would be arrested, and rightly so. But if you attach the label Christian or biblical onto something horrible, you are bound to find people who will accept it unthinkingly and, to the converse, will accuse anyone who does not accept it of being misguided, heretical or even satanic. Myself, I don’t believe that if God does exist that he actually does want you to whip babies, whatever his followers may have got up to in the Old Testament. If he does, that would make him a psychopath who does not deserve to be worshipped. And my religious scepticism aside, I think that Jesus, divine or not, was a good person without malice in him. I can not accept the idea of him sitting in heaven, punching the air in glee and saying :”Yessss! That’s what I want! Whip those children!”
But if two thirds of the reviews were horrified, the other one third were absolutely delighted with this abominable publication. One after the other, they point out that the bible tells us the true way to raise children is to physically chastise them. Many of them say the book helped them to raise their own children. There are even references to children who have been brought up this way and now use the same methods with their own offspring. That is not surprising. Children brought up to believe that violence against them is normal will go on to be violent themselves. It was ever thus. The cycle of abuse . So many child abusers were once victims themselves. Occasionally they hit back. As one anti reviewer said, this book will help you raise children who will one day murder you in your sleep.
So, what to do? I am against banning books and all forms of censorship. I don’t think I even want this book hushed up. Maybe I am in the minority here. Maybe my horror at this book is just one eccentric’s reaction to what most people view as a harmless part of everyday life. I slightly suspect not though, and perhaps the best thing to do is to give this book as much exposure as possible. Then, with luck, the outrage it will generate might lead to action being taken against all those parents who are battering their babies for Jesus.