Time and again, some (usually conservative Christians) exclaim that spanking their children is an ‘act of love’, with the violence being inflicted upon the children ‘with love’. The notion being that a child can be hit in a positive, respectful, and loving manner. It’s a terrific excuse for spanking, but where in the world would such a ludicrous concept originate? It would seem that children are the only segment of humanity who can be ‘loved’ while being abused (with the possible exception of wife-beaters who will also at times claim that hitting their woman is done `in love’, and `because of love’, and `for the sake of love’). Well, I have a thought on how this convoluted definition of `loving behavior’ may have come about as it relates to the brand of violent Christian parenting that still persists to this day throughout the world.
Once upon a time, (I can only surmise) there was a member of the Christian clergy who was attempting to reconcile the teachings of Jesus Christ and the teachings of Solomon. With Christ talking about love and compassion all the time, it’s understandable that this cleric would have had great difficulty trying to figure-out how he could justify telling his flock that their inherently evil little kids needed to have the devil beat out of them. With Christ saying things like, `however you would treat your lessers is how you would treat me’, and, `love your enemies as you would love yourself’, and, `do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, how could this cleric justify sermonizing to his flock that kids should be beaten with a rod or they would be hated by their parents, as taught by Solomon in the OT book of Proverbs?
Eureka! The solution to this problem suddenly came to him. He (we know for sure it couldn’t have been a woman in such a Godly position back then) decided to simply begin promoting the idea that acts of violence committed against children were actually acts of `loving’ behavior instead of hateful acts of violence as previously thought. It delighted him to think that this idea was so ludicrous that it just might work! By simply introducing an expanded definition of love to include violence toward children, parents would be able to whack on their kids with impunity, while explaining to Jesus Christ that this violence toward their lessers was merely another expression of their love for Him. If this leader of the Church were asked by his flock how love could be expressed through violence, he would simply tell them that God works in mysterious ways.
And so it came to pass that parents began hitting their children as an expression of their love for them, and we have come to hear things said to children like, ‘I’m only hitting you because I love and respect you.’
Well, no doubt this is pure speculation on my part (after all, it may have been a whole council of church elders who came up with the concept of `violence as loving behavior’). But nevertheless, it seems apparent that the last societal institution standing as a bastion of support for violence toward children lies in the teachings of conservative Christianity. With dogma stating that children need to be purged of their evil ways and sinful natures through loving violence, the excuses to perpetuate the practice of spanking children would seem compelling to the great majority of blindly devout followers of this particular religious orientation.
Sadly, this violence toward children being coupled with expressions of love and affection, are most certainly a major (if not exclusive) cause of children developing an association between violence and loving behavior. This is an unnatural conditioning that can result from children coming to confuse love and violence through an unconscious attempt to fulfill their basic need for love. Unfortunately, this dysfunctional learning can lead children into later tolerance of abusive relationships, and/or leave them prone to the development of sado-masochistic proclivities.
I fully appreciate the fact that some people can be made to believe anything, but if there are any die-hard spankers reading this who are finding themselves attracted to the idea of starting to define spanking as an act of tender loving care, please don’t start trying to convince your kids that you hit them as an expression of your warmth and love. Again, the need for love possessed by children is so powerful that some of them will buy into just about any behavior a parent chooses to define as loving in nature…even acts of violence.
The extent of potential negative consequences inherent in the practice of telling kids that act of physical aggression are a part of loving behavior represents both a terrible disservice to children, as well as the perpetration of an egregious act of parental irresponsibility.
It’s simply too often the case with such practices that children come to associate or confuse loving behavior with violence and pain…both physical and emotional pain.
James C. Talbot