Friday, 10 November 2017

Spare the Rod

When I moved to Scotland seventeen years ago I found myself (I’ll leave out the reason) talking to church councils about the smacking ban. That I had moved to a country which had passed a law against smacking children seemed something to celebrate... until I noticed the ‘small-print.’ It was a ban of smacking children with an implement.
Talk about half-measures! Finally, the law has caught up with itself and realised that smacking in any form should be made illegal. And yet some people still believe it is their ‘right’ to chastise a child with violence. Does that word jar? Well, I’m afraid that is what hitting is, whether with an implement or a bare hand.
Anyone who says to me, “I was beaten when I was a kid – never did me no harm” is lying, and not just from a grammatical stance. Sure, people of my generation didn’t endure beatings like those of the past. In the novel His Bloody Project Graeme Macrae Burnet describes beating and bullying among his fictional crofters’ community as a way of life – although it results perhaps in the brutal incident of the novel’s title.
The implements used over history present a barrage of instruments of torture. In my father’s school days, the ‘tawse’ – a leather strap with three cut strips into the end – was common. Elsewhere, adults deployed birch twigs, a wooden paddle, a willow switch, a rattan cane, ruler, yard-stick, walking stick, wooden spoon, or ‘slipper’ (slippering being euphemistic since being slapped with a rubber plimsoll would smart far more than being tickled with a slipper) and probably other unmentionable items.
With regards to hitting other people, there have been many anomalies over the years, but the fact that adults aren’t allowed to hit each other, yet can hit a small, defenceless person supposedly in their care seems preposterous. That smacking is carried out as a punishment is absurd. It is – literally – a vicious circle.
Violence creates violence. Smacking a child doesn’t tell them what they’ve done wrong; it just tells themthat they are wrong. There is no correlation between their behaviour and the punishment: it makes no sense. The threat of being smacked creates an irrational fear; it doesn’t alter their behaviour.

And fear is the mother of violence.
The Criminal Justice System put a stop to flogging adults as a form of punishment in 1948, yet teachers were happily thwacking kids for years after that. The first legislative ban of corporal punishment in schools came about in 1987, although private schools were permitted to use it until 1998 – a perverse example of so-called privilege.
Judicial Corporal Punishment continued elsewhere after 1948. In prisons, it wasn’t outlawed (supposedly) until 1967, although I can assure you that this was not an end to it. Corporal punishment, one could say, has its roots in scripture. Proverbs 13, 24 is often quoted by those who advocate the use of such punishments, and serves as justification and efficaciousness for giver and receiver respectively.
For Christ’s sake: ‘the rod’ should not be taken literally. As we all know, using religious texts to justify any behaviour is a tricky game. Using scripture to justify violence... it’s a black and white NO. Don’t go there. But some do go there, and even church leaders fail in their understanding of Christ’s message of ‘peace to all.’
In this BBC article, the only person mentioned defending the practise of smacking was a Free Church of Scotland minister. For fuck’s sake, Reverend: are you missing a theology brain cell? In a sense, we are all missing a trick here. Banning smacking is of little use unless society finds a way to teach adults that violence is not the answer.
The word ‘discipline’ tends to be synonymous with restraint and control. In theology, the term should be thought of as primarily pedagogic, not negative and repressive. It’s easy to see the link to the word ‘disciple’ which means ‘follower.’ For Christians, discipline should be about showing by good example. Sadly, often it is not.
As we enter the season of Remembrance, we’ll endure the nonsense of observing minutes of silence remembering those killed in war, yet forgetting that those who died ‘in service’ may well have killed others also. The Armed Forces are so-called because they are ‘armed’ (to kill) using ‘force’ (ie, violence) – it comes with the job.
But preaching the fruits of the Spirit – love, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control, et cetera – comes with the job if you’re a fucking preacher! Sometimes I despair of society, and at other times I can take heart. I’m glad that, albeit seventeen years later than I thought, Scotland is taking a lead on this. It gives me something to celebrate about staying in this funny, contrary country.
Perhaps – like the smoking ban – the rest of the UK will follow. If not, we could always threaten to send kids to England if they misbehave. For anyone who thinks it’s not my place to bang on about these sort of issues, well I’m sorry: it’s my blog, and I’ll say what I want. And I’ll say what I always say on Remembrance Day:
Today, as always, I refuse to keep silence
’til Church and State renounces violence