The violence done in religion’s name is enough to make the most devout atheistic. Nothing, however, is worse than violence against children, and yet To Train Up a Child, a self-published book that details how to beat your children to cause pain without visible injury, by a fundamentalist Christian pastor in rural Tennessee, has sold close to a million copies. The pastor and author, Michael Pearl, advocates the use of corporal punishment by using direct quotes from the Bible.
It’s always a red flag when someone is taking a fictional book written thousands of years ago about events hundreds of years before that, and reading it literally for guidance today. Another red flag: “train up” is neither standard English nor even a common colloquial phrase. But the phrase epitomizes the warped, make your own rules environment that Pearl and others like him, (see Warren Jeffs) have been able to cultivate, all in the name of the (constitutional) right to worship, and the (legal) right to home-school. In such an environment, child abuse is okay. Witness Hilary Adams’ recently posted YouTube video. Her father asks her to bend over the bed so he can beat her with his belt. (Am I the only one to see the gross sexual implication of that?) So far, her father, a judge, has remained unpunished and has publicly said he has no remorse.
I could only watch a few seconds of the video. As I’ve mentioned before, I was physically and mentally abused by my father for the first half of my life, so this type of material upsets me a lot. I found myself grateful my father didn’t use an instrument, like the belt or plastic tubing recommended by Pearl in his book. Perhaps it’s splitting hairs, but at least my father used his own hand or fist – when you use an instrument, you can’t really tell how hard you’re hitting. Moreover, the use of instrument implies premeditation. My father, in the heat of the moment, probably couldn’t find his belt. But he knew when his hand hurt he was done. There is something cold and systematic about having those tools at the ready and having the presence of mind to find them.
Sadly, this book, which advocates the use of physical discipline on children as young as six months, was in the possession of two sets of parents who have been found guilty of killing their own – adopted – children. It’s harrowing to think that predators are adopting children to abuse them, but according to a New York Times article today, it’s far more likely children are abused, sexually and otherwise, by someone close to them – most predators go in for the long con, warping the kid’s mind with gifts and other kindnesses to buy their trust.
The book also advocates fasting for children – one of the dead kids was found emaciated, and had clearly been starving for days. Obviously, the book does not advocate killing your children, and Pearl has not been charged with a crime, however, it raises the question of moral responsibility, something Christians are usually concerned with. Are you to blame, at least partially, if your work is misinterpreted or taken to an extreme? If a child dies, do you continue publishing the same book? It reminds me of Oliver Stone being blamed for glorifying (instead of vilifying) violence in Natural Born Killers when copycat crimes occurred.
It’s very difficult sometimes to identify child abuse, and often, the state doesn’t provide adequate remedies even when it finds abuse. In our building, a toddler was jumping out the window and running away. I knew the child was neglected, but I did nothing because I don’t believe in the over-loaded foster care system which has more abuses than success stories.
I’m concerned home-schooling, like religion, is becoming synonymous with brainwashing in too many instances. In the movie Jesus Camp, home-schooled children don’t believe in global warming. Home schooling also provides another opportunity for abusive parents to wreak havoc on their children. For me, school was a safe haven. For these fundamentalist Christian kids, going from home to church and back, it’s doubly hard for abused children to find an out.