(dis)honest to God: How Not to Argue about the Smacking Referendum

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Ian Harris tells us (“Honest to God,” Dominion Post, [Dominion Post. Saturday July 11, 2009. Page B5], reproduced at the YesVote website) that we should reject the “harsh views” on child rearing found in the Bible.

Mr Harris, unfortunately, joins many of those who promote the criminalisation of good parents by muddying the waters. He notes, for example, that someone who defends the right to use physical discipline also believes that children (like adults) are sinners. He then announces that since “progressive” Christians (by which he seems to mean those who no longer accept Christian theology) realise that this is based on an antiquated view, we should likewise reject the right to use physical discipline and we should criminalise those who do.

It is difficult to interact charitably with those who support the ban on smacking if this is the contorted way they are going to reason about the subject. Whether or not one thinks the theology held by some supporters of the right to use physical discipline is correct is quite a different matter from whether or not one thinks they ought to be made into criminals, surely!

Unfortunately again, Mr Harris attempts to use his platform as a mouthpiece of liberal (what he calls “progressive) Christianity to give credence to scientific claims that are obviously subject to great dispute. He makes the sweeping claim that this nebulous thing called “modern research” shows that although corporal punishment does help bring about short-term compliance, it does not help a child to “internalise positive values for the longer term.”

Even if what Mr Harris says is correct, the implication is that corporal punishment in and of itself has short term benefits and no obvious (or at least, no necessary) long term ill effects. Hardly something to be prosecuting people for! The reality is that the effects he cites are perfectly compatible with the good of corporal punishment. Such punishment usually is administered to children when they are not willing to reason or reflect on the long term consequences of their actions. It is for when children are being unruly and unwilling to listen. Circumstances in which they are willing to do so are the circumstances under which corporal punishment is less necessary (meaning that the older a child becomes, the less frequent a smack will become). None of this gives the careful reader any reason to think that the occasional smack is immoral, much less worthy of criminal prosecution, even if it is not ideal.

Bereft of compelling moral or scientifically grounded arguments, Mr Harris turns instead to arousing prejudice against the religious convictions of those who disagree with him about child discipline. Unable to find anything strong enough in what all Christians consider their holy book, he reaches into the book of Ecclesiasticus (part of the so-called “apocryphal” writings that did not make up part of the Hebrew canon) to find the claim that “he who loves his son will whip him often.”

But not only has Mr Harris strayed into literature that the so-called “fundamentalists” (most of whom would identify as conservative Protestants) that he attacks do not even regard to be part of the Bible at all, he has clearly sought out the most extreme translation of the verse that he can find. He conjures up grizzly pictures of leering parents towering, horsewhip in hand, over the broken and bleeding bodies of little children with misleading language like this.

But just a few minutes research would dispel this attempt. The New American translation reads, “He who loves his son chastises him often.” The Douay Rheims translation (the Catholic Bible, which does include this book as part of the canon) reads “He that loveth his son, frequently chastiseth him.” The old King James version, the one that “fundamentalists” are most likely to read if the read this book at all, reads “He that loveth his son causeth him oft to feel the rod.” Of course, because it’s a metaphor for physical discipline that’s probably still too much for Mr Harris, but needless to say, it robs him of his “whipping” bogeyman.

After the rhetorical debris is stripped away, all that’s really left is a string of namecalling and fearful language. He calls the views of his opponents “repugnant.” He calls them “fundamentalists” with “antiquated” views that are opposed to “progressive” thought. But where’s the actual substance? Like much of the rhetorical fireworks that is being leveled at those who want the law changed to a common sense view that refuses to place thousands of good parents in the criminal category, Ian Harris offers more heat than light, and manifests just the sort of shallowness and bias that this debate could do without.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Barbara July 29, 2009, 10:50 am

    Glenn, I don’t have your email. Take a look at the comment at: http://familyintegrity.org.nz/2009/dishonest-to-god-how-not-to-argue-about-the-smacking-referendum/

  • Glenn July 29, 2009, 1:45 pm

    Thanks Barbara 🙂

  • Ilíon August 20, 2009, 1:53 pm

    It is difficult to interact charitably with those who support the ban on smacking if this is the contorted way they are going to reason about the subject. …

    I would say that your problem is that you have tied yourself to a false charity.

    To put it more bluntly, you have succumbed to the common error of attempting to elevate “niceness” above truth.

  • Glenn August 20, 2009, 9:06 pm

    Illion, charity is not niceness, so your diagnosis is uncharitable (in the proper sense, quite apart from questions of niceness). Charity here has a lot to do with fairness and civility. You’ve made this accusation before, I believe, based on the same misunderstanding of charity.

    You are hopelessly wrong if you think that I am elevating niceness above truth. After all, my whole complaint about the article in question was not that it is unpleasant, it was that it presents falsehood as fact. Given that this was the whole point of my responsem, it’s not clear why you would say that I’m elevating anything above truth.

    Perhaps you’ve swung in the other direction – you’re so bothered by those who do elevate niceness above truth, that you condemn charity in all forms and think that being right is a warrant for being ungracious and a bit of a jerk. I’m not saying that’s what you are, but your reaction suggests that something is awry in your attitude towards good and charitable conduct.

  • Ilíon August 21, 2009, 8:21 am

    Ian Harris:[said things Glenn Peoples characterizes as ‘muddying the waters’]

    Glenn Peoples:It is difficult to interact charitably with those who support the ban on smacking if this is the contorted way they are going to reason about the subject. …

    Ilíon:I would say that your problem is that you have tied yourself to a false charity.
    .
    To put it more bluntly, you have succumbed to the common error of attempting to elevate “niceness” above truth.

    Glenn Peoples:Illion, charity is not niceness, so your diagnosis is unchritable (in the proper sense, quote apart from questions of niceness). Charity here has a lot to do with fairness and civility. You’ve made this accusation before, I believe, based on the same misunderstanding of charity. …

    Mr Peoples, your initial comment doesn’t even make sense if one is using the term ‘charity’ properly. It does make sense, though false, when one understands that you are accepting the false equating of ‘charity’ with this “niceness” thingie.

    Even this comment shows you doing it. ‘Charity‘ has far less to do with ‘fairness’ or ‘civility’ than with truth. ‘Charity‘ — to *be* charity — must be informed by and conform to truth.

    According to what you’ve said in your blog-item, Ian Harris et all are making intellectually dishonest arguments for their position and against yours. ‘Charity‘ permits — I would say *requires* — one to publicly state the fact when one’s opponents are behaving in an intellectually dishonest manner. On the other hand, the “niceness” imperative demands that one not only not point out said intellectual dishonesty, but that one join in viciously attacking those with the temerity to point it out.

    It is not a commitment to ‘charity‘ which makes it “difficult to interact charitably with those who support the ban on smacking if this is the contorted way they are going to reason about the subject” … though a commitment to “niceness” certainly may.

    I’ve made the same accusation before after seeing you in action … aimed (dare I say it? … uncharitably) at me.

    Glenn Peoples:You are hopelessly wrong if you think that I am elevating niceness above truth. …

    Not at all. I analyze, and I’m careful in my claims.

    Glenn Peoples:Perhaps you’ve swung in the other direction – …

    Motive mongering? Cheap psychoanalysis? Mere psychobabble?

  • Glenn August 21, 2009, 12:11 pm

    Illion, I do not understand your driven nature when it comes to erroneously claiming that I am too busy trying to be nice to be concerned with truth. My entire blog post here was concerned with showing that someone was distorting the truth, and it had nothing to do with niceness. It is therefore a nonsense of your own making to claim that my concern with charity has to do with niceness over truth.

    You claim that the meaning of “charity” is bound up with truth. It’s not, but that’s moot, since I have shown a clear concern for telling the truth in a charitable way. Out of interest, I’d like you to supply some lexicographical evidence that charity has a meaning involving truth, incidentally. But charitability in the sense that I have been talking about it has a very widely understood meaning. It has to do with fairness and Christian character. Here’s an example:

    “You are flat out wrong, and here is why [insert evidence here]” < - This is charitable. This, hopefully, is what I have done in this blog entry that you have attacked.

    “You are not just wrong, you’re an idiot who couldn’t even tie his shoes. You don’t even want to tell the truth. [etc – also insert multiple false dissections of motive here]” < - Uncharitable.

    You even admit that your claim about me is false. You say:

    “According to what you’ve said in your blog-item, Ian Harris et all are making intellectually dishonest arguments for their position and against yours. ‘Charity‘ permits — I would say *requires* — one to publicly state the fact when one’s opponents are behaving in an intellectually dishonest manner.”

    Since I have – as you say, pointed this very thing out, you should simply get off your hobby horse about me miscontruing charity. You are merely looking for something to fight about, and to hell with the facts. You admit that charity consists in doing precisely what I have done. When I said that it is difficult to interact charitably, I meant that it is psychologically difficult to remain fair with people who are basically lying. It’s tempting to stoop to their level, become uncharitable, and be as careless as they are just for the sake of rhetorical point scoring.

    Your final comments about psychobabble and motive mongering are quite hypocritical, since your initial unwarranted attack on me was itself an attempt to get behind the words and peer into my true meaning – which you have fundamentally misrepresented. All I was doing was inviting you to consider that your method of diagnosis could be applied to yourself.

    But hey, instead of admitting that you agree with my point and exposing the dishonest social agenda that I am criticising, by all means continue to miss the point and attack the messenger. Perhaps your intent all along was to support Ian Harris by doing this. If you had the humility to ask for clarification, you could have instead ended up saying “amen!”

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