It concerns me that this debate has been framed by these people. The very fact that it is called the anti-smacking bill shows that this issue has been captured by the opponents of reform. Why not call it the spanking debate? I'll tell you why; because the word spanking has connotations of eroticism, of ritualistic beating for sexual pleasure. For the proponents of child-beating, the world of kinky sex is uncomfortably close.
When one reads the guides to disciplining children produced by the churches and pastors who advocate child abuse as a way of life, you see how close their worldview is to those of de Sade and Sacher-Masoch. The ritual is crucially important. The child must be told the nature of her sin; she must be shown the weapon of her punishment; some advocate having the weapon on permanent display in the family living room, as a constant reminder of the dangers of transgression. This weapon will have been chosen carefully, to provide just the right amount of flexibility and to avoid bruising (for if the punishment left scars, they might be discovered by the Others: the schoolteachers, social workers, the authorities, the World). The punishment must be administered without anger; this is a ritual, not a release. When it is complete, parent and child should pray together.
It is not easy for the Christian Right to defend their practices. There was a time when beating your children was quite acceptable; but this was also a time when it was acceptable to beat up homosexuals just for being what they were. It was a time when violence was seen as a solution to many problems. We have moved on, most of us, and the fundies find themselves like the White Rhodesians: left behind, struggling to defend what was normalcy so little time ago but is now unacceptable; struggling, as well, to comprehend what happened.
Faced with the obvious peculiarity of their beliefs and the threat from outside to their way of life, the fundies are looking for secular support. Family First, a coalition of various strains of intolerance, has found it in Robert E. Larzelere, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Oklahoma. Professor Larzelere is well known for his defence of corporal punishment. It is not as if he or his university are particularly distinguished; but a little secular, academic, support goes a long way in the world of the fundies. They might claim the sole authority of the Bible in all matters, but the support of a real, live Psychologist from the USofA is worth much more than a host of pleading pastors.
Family First have brought Professor Larzelere to New Zealand; is it just me, or is there a huge cultural cringe reflected in the way these organisations always have to go overseas for their support and in the way that local media gives the visitors such credence? Family First have given him a whirlwind tour of the local media. You might have heard him on Leighton Smith's show (I did not: Leighton's broadcasts for the dead make me want to vomit) or with John Tamihere (likewise). You can see him tonight debating the Children's Commissioner on Campbell Live.
In case you do not have time to catch up with the professor, this is what he advocates for children from 2 to 6 years: 2 open-handed swats to the buttocks, leaving no bruise. It will be interesting to see if he advocates the sort of punishment recommended for children by Craig Smith of Family Integrity in his pamphlet, The Christian Foundations of the Institution of Corporal Correction:
Go to a private place, collect the smacking rod, then fully discuss the crime...child. Their admission of guilt, their agreement that a smack is necessary and the need to master selfdiscipline together make it important that the child voluntarily submits to the discipline of smacking.Notice that this punishment is for children from the age of 18 months. Think about that. Craig Smith does not have the sort of learning that the Professor will doubtless bring to this debate. So why does he do it? He doesn't know:
I freely admit that I do not understand the connection between a physical smack on the bottom and a rebellious spiritual condition of the heart, nor how the first drives out the latter. But the Scripture declares it is so, therefore I am obliged to believe and practice it.I am sure that having a real life American academic to support their cause will hearten Family First. Before they get too excited, let's burst their balloon. Here is a media release from the American Psychological Association. It is fair and balanced, giving space both to Larzelere and to more mainstream opinion. It is worth reading, especially the quotation with which it ends:
Until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of positive effects of corporal punishment, including effectiveness in halting future misbehaviour, not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists can not responsibly recommend its useEnough. To end, I found this extraordinary footage in the course of my research: