Philip J. Greven: "Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse" 1991 for free Google preview click here
Before Conscious Memory Begins
When painful blows are inflicted upon infants, not even memory suffices to tell the stories firsthand. Accounts must be provided either by those who chose to inflict the pain or by witnesses who observed the punishments. The body and the brain probably encode such pain, but none of us has any conscious recollection of blows experienced early in life. Yet we know now, as never before, just how frequent such physical punishments are. The battered-child syndrome, brought to public awareness by C. Henry Kempe and his colleagues in 1962, has roots that reach back centuries. Assaults against infants in the name of punishment and discipline have been taking place seemingly forever.
John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism in the mid-eighteenth century in England, were undoubtedly victims of painful blows by their mother and other adults from early infancy. We know this because their mother, Susanna Wesley, herself the daughter of Puritans and the wife of an Anglican rector, wrote a letter to her son John in 1732 detailing her personal methods of child-raring for his edification and use. Even today, her letter is widely quoted among evangelical Protestants concerned with child-rearing and discipline. Her viewpoint still has a receptive audience, two an a half centuries later.
Susanna Wesley recalled that her infants had been “put into a regular method of living” from the outset, in their patterns of sleeping, eating, and dressing, an experience that was to have profound consequences for the characters of John and Charles Wesley, who reshaped the contours of English and American Anglicanism into the rituals and beliefs that ultimately became part of the Methodist Church. But Susanna Wesley was insistent upon harsh physical punishment from a very early age: “When turned a year old (and some before) they were taught to fear the rod and to cry softly, by which means they escaped abundance of correction which they might otherwise have had; and the most odious noise of the crying of children was rarely heard in the house, but the family usually lived in as much quietness as if there had not been a child among them.” Her hostility toward her infant children and her willingness to enforce her control through assaults and violence in order to silence through fear and pain is clear.
The use of the “rod,” begun with the physical assaults in infancy, persisted through John and Charles childhoods, and the pain and repressiveness that began in the cradle continued to dominate the experiences of children in Susanna Wesley’s household. Beatings were a normal part of daily life, she observed: “Drinking or eating between meals was never allowed, unless in the case of sickness, which seldom happened. Nor were they suffered to go into the kitchen to ask anything of the servants when they were at meat: if it was known they did so, they were certainly beat, and the servants severely reprimanded.” She insisted “that no sinful action, as lying, pilfering at church or on the Lord’s Day, disobedience, quarreling, etc. should ever go unpunished.” Punishment thus was a central theme in the Wesley household, dominated for years by the mother who shaped the characters of her children through the persistent use of pain and rigorous control from infancy. She was intent on domination of her children’s wills from the cradle, convinced that only through the use of the rod and the infliction of pain could such submission and obedience be obtained.
Contemporaneously, across the Atlantic in New England, Jonathan Edwards and his intensely pious wife, Sarah, were raising their children in a remarkably similar manner, beginning in infancy and continuing until the children’s wills were entirely under the parent’s control. Edward’s grandson, Sereno Dwight, wrote about the child-rearing methods used by Sarah Edwards.
She had an excellent way of governing her children; she knew how to make them regard and obey her cheerfully, without load angry words, much less heavy blows. She seldom punished them, used gentle and pleasant words. If any correction was necessary, she did not administer it [physical punishment] in a passion; and when she had occasion to reprove and rebuke, she would do it in a few words, without warmth or noise, and with all calmness and gentleness of mind.
He added the crucial observation, parallel to Susanna Wesley’s method of inflicting pain on infants while still in the cradle, that
Her system of discipline was begun at a very early age, and it was her rule, to resist the first as well as every subsequent exhibition of temper or disobedience in the child, however young, until it was brought into submission to the will of the parents, he can never be brought to obey God [emphasis added].
The methods of discipline implied in this grandson’s account are detailed explicitly in the words of Jonathan and Sarah Edward’s daughter, Esther Edwards Burr, who became the wife of Aaron Burr, president of Princeton. In 1754 she reported to her best friend, Sarah Prince:
I had almost forgot to tell you that I had begun to govourn Sally her first born child). She has been Whip’d once on Old Adams account, and she knows the difference between a smile and a frown as well I do. When she has done any thing that she Suspects is wrong, will look with concern to see what Mama says, and if I only knit my brow she will cry until I smile, and although She is not quite Ten months old, yet when she knows so much, I think tis time she should be taught.
By starting her physical discipline of her daughter when the child was nine months old, Esther Burr surely was repeating the experiences she had had as a child herself, thus following her mother’s practice of resisting “the first, as well as every subsequent exhibition of temper or disobedience in the child, however young.”
In the Edwards and Burr families, corporal punishments began in infancy, and thus pain was encountered before conscious memory began. In this family, at least, the observations recorded many years later were confirmed by the mother’s actual testimony to her most intimate friend, revealing in one rare document what appears to have been a consistent practice within the Edwards family over at least two generations. Painful punishments, so central to the theology of her father, the most articulate rationalizer and defender of eternal punishment in American history, began in his family before the first year of life had been completed. By the time the Edwards children, like the Wesley children, had conscious memories, they had already experienced much pain purposefully inflicted by the mothers who loved and cared for them. Infancy was the beginning but rarely the end of such punishments. Philip J. Greven: "Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse" 1991
James Dobson, a psychologist and the director of the multimillion-dollar organization in California called Focus on the Family, whose books on child rearing (especially Dare to Discipline, which has sold over a million copies) have been enormously popular among evangelical Christians, explores the issue of children’s willfulness in The Strong Willed child: Birth through Adolescence, thus joining a long line of corporal-punishment advocates obsessed with the wills of children. Philip J. Greven: "Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse" 1991 Paranoia
The anticipation of pain is often as hard to bear as the pain itself. The sense of vigilance rooted in the anticipation-captured in the familiar words “Go to your room and wait until your father comes home”-lays the groundwork for subsequent anticipations of harm, of injury, and of pain, as well as the persistent sense of threats and dangers to life, spirit, and limb that are characteristic of paranoid forms of being and behavior. Like dissociative disorders, paranoia comes in many guises and degrees, from the mildest to the most crippling and dangerous. Common to all forms, however, is a pervasive sense of being endangered. The anticipation of harm from outside is the core of paranoia.
For some people, such anticipations take the form of hypochondria, the sense that the body itself is threatened by internal disorders or diseases, which generates a constant sense of watchfulness and anxiety. But the body, in this instance, is perceived as “other” by the self and watched as though it were outside rather than inside the self. Hypochondriacs experience the anxiety, characteristic of paranoia that is associated with the possibility of harm or even destruction and death by physiological means. The sense of being threatened by toxins or by poisonous foods, or by substances such as fluoride in water, is a common form of paranoia.
The sense of being endangered by other people is fundamental to paranoia. The generalized fear of assault or secretive machinations against the self is characteristic of paranoid forms of public beliefs and behaviors. But all of these expressions of paranoia, from the mildest to the most extreme, share the sense of being endangered and threatened, from within or without, a sense that is often rooted in the experiences of childhood. Paranoia arises from the keen and persistent sense of the body, the will, and the self at risk. These are long term consequences of abuse in infancy, childhood, and adolescence, the delayed expression of the anxieties associated with coercion, assault, and pain early in life.
Until very recently, however, we had little awareness of the experiential roots of paranoia, having lived for the better part of a century with the misconceptions fostered by Sigmund Feud in his famous essay on the etiology of paranoia, based upon the autobiography of Dr. Daniel Paul Schreber. Schreber’s memoirs of his mental illness (generally diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia) provided Freud with the evidence from which he constructed his hypothesis concerning the psychic roots of paranoia. Freud never met Schreber, although he certainly knew of his famous father, Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber, one of the most influential writers on child-rearing and discipline in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century, a man whom Freud called “an excellent father”. Schreber’s elder brother, also named Daniel after their father, never married and died by suicide at the age of thirty-eight. Freud, however, knew nothing about this brother, not even his name, although he intuited correctly that he was older than the schizophrenic Schreber
Freud’s “hypothesis” was “that the exciting cause of the illness was the appearance in him of a feminine (that is, a passive homosexual) wish-phantasy, which took as its object the figure of his physician. An intense resistance to this phantasy arose on the part of Schreber’s personality, and the ensuing defense struggle, which might perhaps just as well have assumed some other shape, took on, for reasons unknown to us, that of a delusion of persecution [emphasis added]. Freud’s basic assumption, which has persisted tenaciously to the present, is that repressed homosexual impulses are the basis of paranoia. “We consider, then, that what lies at the core of the conflict in cases of paranoia among males is a homosexual wish-phantasy of loving a man.” the mechanism by which such unconscious impulses are displaced is through projection and transformation into opposites. The love becomes hate, the beloved becomes the hater, the persecutor. As Freud noted: “In delusions of persecution the distortion consists in a transformation of affect; what should have been felt internally as love is perceived externally as hate.
Schreber’s paranoia thus became his own responsibility, an internal disorder arising in adulthood rather than being created by individuals or experiences that were originally external and beyond the control of the person who subsequently became paranoid. Freud’s presumptions-that repressed homosexual impulses were at the root of paranoia and that love was transformed into hate, desire into persecution- made the victim into the victimizer, falsely accusing his innocent and “excellent” father, via the surrogate physician, of seeking harm and even to destroy him. The fantasies of abuse thus become “delusions,” without basis in the realities of experience in infancy and childhood. As with hysterics, Freud seemed to be unable to acknowledge the possibility that the paranoia of the adult could be rooted in the realities of persecution and harm in childhood. It was a serious misperception, with enduring consequences for our general understanding of the etiology and psychodynamics of paranoia.
In fact we know now that Schreber’s “delusions” mirrored, with uncanny accuracy, the varied forms of assault, control, and abuse that he suffered at the hands of his sadistic father, who practiced on his children what he preached in his writings. William Niederland explored many of the details in his pioneering analysis, The Schreber Case: Psychoanalytic Profile of a Paranoid Personality. In 1973, Morton Schatzman made these connections utterly clear in his analysis of Schreber in soul Murder: Persecution in the Family. Both studies provide abundant evidence of the sadistic methods of child rearing practiced in the Schreber household; these provided the roots of Daniel Paul Schreber’s subsequent paranoia.
Schatzman points out that “Schreber’s entire madness is an image of his father’s war against his inde4pendence. The elder Schreber’s assault upon the will and the autonomy of his children (and on all children through the medium of his writings, a part of the German tradition that Alice Miller rightly labels “poisonous pedagogy”) was precisely what generations of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have advocated. Niederland notes that “the Schreber family were devout Protestants,” although he does not specify which form of Protestantism they practiced. Dr. Schreber’s methods of discipline and control mirror those rationales for corporal punishment explored earlier.
Schreber’s father invented a series of devices designed to shape and control children’s bodies and physical movements, including head and neck braces, straps for shoulders, and harnesses to keep sleeping children from turning over in bed (a devise still used in the mid-twentieth century in at least one Philadelphia household run by a Scottish Presbyterian nanny). The elder Schreber’s impulse toward absolute physical and moral control was boundless, and it comes as no surprise that he was described in hospital records found after World War II as a man who “ ‘suffered from obsessional ideas with murderous impulses’ “ Schat6zman perceptively observes that the elder Schreber preached “household totalitarianism.” Niederland notes that “he used a ‘scientifically’ elaborated system of relentless mental and corporal pressure alternating with occasional indulgence, a methodical sequence of studiously applied terror interrupted by compensatory periods of seductive benevolence and combined with ritual observances that he as a reformer incorporated into his overall missionary scheme of physical education. He recommended for instance, that, when a small child cried for no apparent reason, the remedy was to “ ‘step forward in a positive manner: by quick distraction of the attention, stern words, threatening gestures, rapping against the bed…or when all of this is of no avail-by moderate, intermittent, bodily admonishments consistently repeated until the child calms down or falls asleep.’ ” The goal was clear: “ ‘Such a procedure is necessary only once or at most twice and-one is master of the child forever.’ “ thus parents become masters, children slaves, the nexus of sadomasochism that often accompanies the creation of paranoia in years to come. Corporal punishment and other forms of coercion are the means by which this mastery is accomplished early in life,
In the case of Schreber, as in many individuals who become paranoid later in life, the crucial step in the creation of subsequent paranoia was the repression of all memories of abuse and coercion in childhood. This is what Freud failed to grasp: the forgetting, or the repression, of the consciousness of pain and terror that were frequent, if not constant, realities in infancy and childhood. Just as in the case of hysteria and in other dissociative phenomena, the ability to forget the feelings generated early in life by punishment and discipline and the inability to remember that they were inflicted by beloved adults is necessary for the subsequent development of paranoia. Schatzman observes:
Schreber suffers from reminiscences. His body embodies his past. He retains memories of what his father did to him as a child; although part of his mind knows they are memories, "he" does not. He is considered insane not only because of the quality of his experiences, but because he misconstrues their mode: he remembers, in some cases perfectly accurately, how his father treated him, but he thinks he perceives events occurring in the present for which he imagines God, rays, little men, etc. are the agents. He know what he most needs to know, but does not know he knows it. (more information on Schatzman) (more information on Schatzman also cited in "Repression and Dissociation: Implications for Personality Theory" by Jerome L. Singer)
This is precisely the same form of selective amnesia as in hysterias, and both are rooted in the astonishing ability of children to deny their own rage, aggression, hatred, and revengefulness when they are being forced to suffer in the name of discipline by the parents or other adults whom they love and whom they most depend. Schreber believed even as an adult that he adored his father. But he also believed that God and his doctor were intent upon harming or destroying his very soul. He was absolutely right in his assumption that his self and his soul were in grave danger, but he could not acknowledge from whom. Like other victims of violence, assault, and abuse, he identified with his abuser and forgot himself in the process.
His subsequent paranoia was a reenactment of the traumas he underwent throughout his childhood. Niederland assumes that “by the time the child Schreber entered his third or fourth year of life, he had already undergone a notable degree of traumatization.” Schatzman remarks: “The son thinks the ‘miracles’ are enacted upon objective anatomical organs of his body. He does not see that he is re-enacting his father’s behavior towards his body.” Like other forms of post-traumatic stress, paranoia is a delayed and transformed reexperiencing of earlier threats and dangers to the self, to the will, and to the body. Schatzman is surely right when he observes that “many people whom psychiatrists call ‘paranoid’ have been persecuted, and knew it, but they do not recognize their peal persecutors, nor how they have been persecuted….to call them paranoid which presupposes they are not ‘really’ persecuted, but imagine it, is false and misleading.” The old joke remains as cogent as ever: “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”
Children whose wills are assaulted and broken often become paranoid as adults. The long-standing tradition of breaking children’s wills, characteristic of evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantism, is paralleled by an equally long-standing pattern of paranoid ideation and behavior, evident both in countless individual lives and in the culture generally. The historian George Marsden has documented the persistent paranoia rooted in Protestant fundamentalism throughout the twentieth century, but the wellspring of anticipated danger and assault reach back to the seventeenth century and beyond. Richard Hofstader once noted the connections of fundamentalism and paranoia in the postscript to his brilliant essay “The Pseudo-conservative Revolt.” Neither scholar, however, recognized the roots of paranoia in the early childhood experiences of the Christians whom they were analyzing.
The coercion and threats to the autonomy of the self inherent in the breaking of children’s wills are often the seedbeds for subsequent paranoia. David Shapiro sees the will as the focal point of paranoia, although he, too, overlooks the realities of childhood trauma associated with the actual process of breaking wills. He recognizes that Dr. Schreber’s “coercive regimen was [intended] to destroy one kind of autonomy and install another in its place and to force acceptance not only of the adults command but also of the adult’s standards and precepts-to force acceptance of them as his own and identification with their point of view. The result,” Shapiro notes, “was not to be submissiveness but a new kind of will founded in authoritarian strictness and coercive self-control.” The roots of paranoia, Shapiro realizes, are to be found in struggles over the will, of being forced to give in to superior force and power and, we must add, pain and fear.
The pervasive sense of being threatened with harm, of being forced to surrender, of being manipulated or coerced into compliance with the will of another person or persons, persistent in paranoia, is rooted in the experience of aggression by adults against the wills, bodies, and selves of children. The pervasive suspiciousness and fear of subversion and of conspiracies, so characteristic of paranoia, reflect the earlier battles over the child’s willfulness and autonomy, long submerged in the unconscious but still present in the minds of many people for the rest of their lives. Paranoia arises later because children are generally forbidden to react appropriately and effectively to aggression by adults; expressions of rage and of counter aggression that arise from self-defense are suppressed by both the adults and the children themselves. Later, however, these ancient feelings can be displaced, attributed to others, projected inapropiately onto persons and situations entirely removed from the earlier scenes of aggressive assaults and threatening encounters with discipline. American political and religious history is filled with examples of paranoid projections rooted in the childhood history t5hat remains largely unexplored even now.
Aggression against the body, the will, and the self in childhood-not buried homosexual impulses-creates the central core of adult paranoia. Paranoia thus continues to be one of the most widespread and disturbing consequences of coercion, pain, and fear experienced as children by those grown-ups whose wills were bent or broken by violence directed by adults against so many children in our culture. Philip J. Greven: "Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse" 1991
Agression and Delinquency
The most visible public outcome of early violence and coercion in the name of discipline is the active aggression that begins to shape the character and behavior in childhood and continues, in far too many instances, throughout the lives of those who suffered most in their earliest years. Aggressive children often become aggressive adults, who often produce more aggressive children, in a cycle that endures generation after generation. 174 Corporal punishments always figure prominently in the roots of adolescent and adult aggressiveness, especially in those manifestations that take antisocial form, such as delinquency and criminality. Assaults upon children by adults in the name of discipline are the primary familial models for aggression, assaults, and other forms of antisocial behavior, delinquency, and crime that emerge when children grow up.
Physical punishment of children consistently appears as one of the major influences shaping subsequent aggressiveness and delinquency of males.175 The psychologists Ronald Slaby and Wendy Roedell in "The Development and Regulation of Aggression in Young Children," note that "one of the most reliable predictors of children's level of aggression is the heavy use by parents of harsh, punitive discipline and physical punishment." They add that "Parental punitiveness has been found to be positively correlated with children's aggression in over 25 studies, which comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the nature of the assaults done in the name of discipline. Slaby and Roedell define childhood aggression as “those actions that involve actual or intended physical or psychological injury to another individual”; they exclude “assertive behavior” and “fantasy or symbolic aggression.” They note that aggression is the result of a complex set of factors, including physical punishments, rather than a single factor. But harsh physical punishments are always among the key factors fostering subsequent aggressiveness in children from infancy to adolescence. As Saby and Roedell observe, “parental punishment is one important aspect of a general pattern of intercorrelated parental behaviors that influence the child’s aggression. This pattern includes such additional factors as parental permissiveness for aggression, negativism or lack of warmth, low use of reasoning, and inconsistent application of discipline.
The pattern often discerned in families in which boys are the most aggressive (and subsequently the most delinquent) usually involves both neglect or “permissiveness” and episodic, sever physical punishments. The emotional impact of such brutal and erratic discipline is often devastating, with enduring dangerous consequences both for the children who suffer from these experiences and for the public, which suffers from their delinquency and criminality in the years that follow.
One of the most massive long-term studies of delinquency's origins and etiology, began in 1940 by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, confirms the central role played by discipline and families in shaping of antisocial aggressiveness enacted in male delinquency and criminality in adolescence and adulthood. Although the Gluecks’ studies have been challenged and criticized by many scholars, James Wilson and Richard Hermstein, in the illuminating synthesis of the scholarship on crime, Crime and Human Nature (1985) acknowledge that “most, if not all, of the distinguishing traits of the Gluecks’ delinquent boys have been repeatedly confirmed in other samples.” The Gluecks compared both delinquent and nondelinquent boys from English, Irish and Italian families in poor urban areas and discovered conclusive evidence that delinquency is rooted in early childhood experiences, discipline and family life being of paramount importance.
What the Gluecks prove is that delinquency begins long before children become adolescents; signs are often visible by the time children are between three and six, and almost always before they are eleven:
The onset of persistent misbehavior tendencies was at the early age of seven years or younger among 48 per cent of our delinquents, and from eight to ten in an additional 39 per cent; thus a total of almost nine-tenths of the entire group showed clear delinquent tendencies before the time when boys generally become members of organized boys' gangs 178
By the time most boys who become delinquent have either entered or left elementary school, the patterns of their subsequent aggressiveness and antisocial behavior have been set. Childhood experiences within families is often the matrix from which delinquency later emerges.
In their effort to understand the complex roots of delinquency and the many variables that shaped the lives of both delinquent and non delinquent boys, the Gluecks constructed a “Social Prediction Table,” which focused on “five crucial factors,” including “discipline of the boy by the father, supervision of the boy by the mother, affection of mother for boy, affection of father for boy,” and “family cohesiveness.” They discovered that “71.8 percent of the thousand boys included in Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency whose fathers were overstrict or erratic in their disciplinary practices turned out to be delinquent, compared with only 9.3 percent of those whose fathers were firm but kindly. Those of lax discipline fell in between these extremes. The Gluecks also fond that:
In 95 percent of these 2,000 offenders the disciplinary practices of one or the other parent were of a nature to be clearly assessed as inadequate, involving either extreme laxity or extreme rigidity, or inconsistency of control of the child. In only 4.5 percent of the homes was the discipline essentially consistent and firm and entirely acceptable to the child because it was the product of sincerity and affection.
Sheldon Glueck found “In the far higher measure than was true of the parents of the non-delinquents, the fathers and mothers of the delinquents resorted to confusing extremes of laxity and harshness, instead of applying reasoned and just discipline practices. As Slaby and Roedell point out, subsequent research has confirmed this view with remarkable consistency. The Gluecks continued their analysis of discipline in their major study "Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency" (1950) in which they assert: "All in all, the most marked difference between the disciplinary practices of the parents of the delinquents and those of the non-delinquents is found in the considerably greater extent to which the former resorted to physical punishment and the lesser extent to which they reasoned with the boys about their misconduct." The Gluecks believe their analysis "is a revealing commentary on the relative effectiveness of physical punishment as opposed to an appeal to reason in the control of child behavior. 184
The “mal-formations of personality and character” that Sheldon Glueck and many others have observed have long-term consequences. Although corporal punishment is not the sole factor to the creating and sustaining of aggressive personalities and delinquency, it is almost always one of the major factors that must be reckoned with in any exploration of the roots of antisocial behavior and aggression in adolescences and adulthood especially among males. The lowest incidence of delinquency and antisocial behavior in adolescence and beyond is always found among males who were loved, respected, cared for and reasoned with in childhood. Most people eventually grow up without becoming delinquent or criminal, of course, as the Gluecks and others note repeatedly, but virtually every study done so far reveals that the early lives of nondelinquents have been significantly different from the lives of those who later act out their aggression, anger, and resentment against individuals and the public through delinquent or criminal behavior.
The infliction of pain through physical punishments is one of the causes of subsequent aggression, anger, and hostility, which often take the form of delinquency and criminality. Many people, including fundamentalist and Pentecostal preachers, argue that corporal punishment prevents delinquency and crime. Their apologies for physical assaults against children presume that the children subjected to painful punishments and parental violence will become obedient and law-abiding in later life. In case after case, however, life histories belie that assumption, for the theme that emerges frequently from the autobiographies and memoirs of many evangelical, fundamentalists, and Pentecostal Protestants during the years preceding their conversation and rebirth is disobedience and rebelliousness, sometimes including delinquent or even criminal behavior. Their common adolescent rebelliousness or opposition to their parents, teachers, and other adults often reflects the intense feelings of rage and resentment stored up during a long childhood of pain and suffering. Their disobedience thus is cogent evidence of the failure of this method of discipline: If corporal punishment were successful, children would not persistently disobey and be punished time and time again.
The overwhelming evidence now available from scholarship on the roots of delinquency and crime suggests that corporal punishment -- the application of the rod and other implements of discipline -- is a major factor in generating the rage, aggression, and impulses for revenge that fuel the emotions, fantasies, and actions of individuals, mostly male, who become active delinquents or criminals. But it remains vital to recognize that delinquency generally is the outcome for only a small fraction of those assaulted by adults in childhood.
The vast majority of people find other ways of expressing the anger, rage and rebelliousness that stem from early encounters with assaultive, painful parental punishments. For many individuals who experience religious conversions, previous histories of delinquency and criminality can be overcome and behavior dramatically altered, although the theologies of such converts often continue to mirror their earlier experiences with violence, aggression, and punishments, transmitting these into acceptable beliefs and expressions.
For many American males, aggression and violence are channeled into the socially acceptable forms of sports, the spectacle of which enthralls millions in relatively harmless encounters. For equally vast numbers, television provides a nightly domestic theater of visual and verbal violence, through the assaults, mayhem, and murders that captivate so many viewers. Movies, too, provide surrogates for aggression and violence. But the most enduring and most lethal expression of this aggressiveness and violence clearly is military “defense” and warfare.
Authoritarianism has always been one of the most pervasive and enduring consequences of physical punishment, which creates the paradoxical subservience to and rebelliousness against authority that so often mark authoritarian personalities. Authoritarianism-the familial, social, and political obsession with order, control, and obedience- is rooted in violence and coercion. Physical pain and abuse originating in discipline are consistent progenenitors of authoritarianism. Coerced rather than voluntary obedience-“voluntary” meaning obtained through example, persuasion, and consent- is the rule among authoritarians of all descriptions. The polarities of order and disorder, obedience and rebelliousness- always present in authoritarians- are among the most enduring legacies of corporal punishment.
The authoritarian Christian family is dependent upon coercion and pain to obtain obedience to authority within and beyond the family, in the church, the community, and the polity. Modern forms of Christian fundamentalism share the same obsessions with obedience to authority characteristic of earlier modes of evangelical Protestantism, and the same authoritarian streak evident among seventeenth and eighteenth century Anglo-American evangelicals is discernable today, for precisely the same reasons: the coercion of children through painful punishments in order to teach obedience to divine parental authority. Fear and suffering still shape the characters of children whose obedience is obtained involuntarily by physical punishments.
From the colonial period to the present, evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant treatise on child rearing and discipline- have been preoccupied with the necessity of absolute unquestioning obedience to authority- obedience obtained by force rather than by persuasion, since it is assumed that no child would obey without such intimidation and pain. Corporal punishment often does force children to obey authority, but it does so by methods that instill an enduring consciousness of the limitations of the very authorities being obeyed. Consent plays little or no role in the fundamentalist advocacy of the rod as the proper and necessary mode of Christian discipline. The rod coerces consent through suffering and fear. The fear is the primary motivation for obedience and submission to both parental and divine authority.
Fundamentalist authoritarianism is generally absolutist in its quest for total obedience from children. As Larry Christenson writes with obvious approval, either paraphrasing or quoting his mid-nineteenth century German source, Heinrich Thiersh’s Christian Family Life:
In the command of obedience given to children, there is no mention made to any exception. It must be set forth and impressed upon them without any exception. “But what if my parents command something wrong?” this is precocious inquisitiveness. Such a question should perish on the lips of a Christian child.
Given such a conviction it would not have been inappropriate for Christenson to have called his book The Authoritarian Family instead of the The Christian family, since the two appear virtually synonymous.
Alice Miller has explored remarkably similar attitude towards obedience to authority among nineteenth and eighteenth century Germans, many of whom supported Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. She believes that the harsh discipline these people experienced as children prepared them well for the absolute obedience sought by the totalitarian leader they obeyed. But such obedience, as Miller knows well, becomes possible only after a series of hurtful assaults upon the bodies, wills,, and selves of children through spankings and other punishments such as those advocated in this country for Christian parenting.
One of the most enduring characteristics of authoritarianism is the dominance of males, the assertion of patriarchy as the cornerstone of authority and power. Fundamentalist Christianity always presupposes the domination of males and the subordination of both woman and children to the absolute authority of fathers and husbands, who are themselves theoretically subject only to the will of other superior males and to that of God himself. Christenson, for example, believes that wives owe total obedience to their husbands’ divinely ordained authority over the household: “Submission to authority means that you put yourself wholly at the disposal of the person who is set over you.” This extends even to those situations in which woman find themselves being tyrannized and abused by their husbands. Christenson says that such wives should “acknowledge this [Godly] guidance even in the sufferings which her husband may cause her. Let her yield herself to them with the certainty that this is the school wherein she has to learn patience, the hardest of Christian virtues.”
According to the reverend Jack Hyles, girls are supposed to be trained to absolute obedience from infancy. He believes that
Obedience is the most necessary ingredient to be required from the child. This is especially true in the life of a girl, for she must be obedient all her life. The boy who is obedient to his mother and father will someday become the head of the home; not so for the girl. Whereas the boy is being trained to be a leader, the girl is being trained to be a follower. Hence, obedience is far more important to her, for she must someday transfer it from her parents to her husband.
Hyles immediately points out the long-term implications of his conviction:
This means that she should never be allowed to argue at all. She should become submissive and obedient. She must obey immediately, without question, and without argument. The parents who require this have done a big favor for their future son-in-law.
The authoritarian patriarchal family is thus created in childhood, with the patterning of sex roles and the training in absolute, unquestioning obedience by children and females of all ages. The complete domination of females by males and the belief that obedience must be total if it is to be effective are convictions characteristic of authoritarians everywhere.
When we ignore the connections between corporal punishment and authoritarianism, however, as most of us generally do, the etiology of authoritarianism is often obscured and the childhood roots of adult authoritarianism remain unnoticed. This was clearly the case with one of the most disturbing experiments ever undertaken in America to explore the nature of obedience-Stanley Milgram’s experiments on submission to authority, which were designed and carried out by psychologists at Yale University in New Haven and at Bridgeport, Connecticut, during the early 1960’s, before the Vietnam war transformed the American political and ideological scene.
In his remarkable study Obedience to Authority (1974), Milgram demonstrated the extraordinary lengths to which ordinary men and women from many walks of life and backgrounds were prepared to go in order to obey the commands of individuals whom they did not know in a situation made up to appear to life-threatening to another person. A person volunteered to participate in a learning experiment in which punishment would be applied to another “volunteer” (in fact a member of the experimental team) by a series of electric shocks whose voltages ranged from 0 to 450 (enough to do serious physical harm). The actual volunteer, called the “teacher,” was led to believe that these electric shocks were being inflicted in response to incorrect answers to a series of questions. The experiment’s true purpose was to discover the point at which an individual would refuse to obey and then actively disobey the insistent commands of the experimenter. Milgram found that in experimental situations in which the “learner” voiced his response to the increasing shocks, from mild discomfort to agonized screams and pleas to be released from the straps binding him to his chair, many of the “teachers” nevertheless continued to inflict the shocks.
Painful groans were heard on administration of the 135-volt shock, and at 150 volts the victim cried out, “Experimenter, get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment any more! I refuse to go on!” Cries of this type continue with generally rising intensity, so at 180 volts the victim cries out, “I can’t stand the pain,” and by 270 volts his response to the shock was definitely an agonized scream. Throughout, from 150 volts on, he insisted that he be let out of the experiment. At 300 volts the victim shouted in desperation that he would no longer provide answers to the memory test>
Silence followed for the remainder of the experiment. The subjects were told to continue to ask questions and provide the appropriate shocks if the learner did not respond, which many did right to the limit of 450 volts.
What astonished Milgram and his colleagues was the proportion of individuals willing to obey the command to inflict pain right to the limit even when, in at least one instance, the person inflicting the shock believed that the person apparently being shocked had died. After the termination of the experiment, this man commented: “Well, I faithfully believed the man was dead until we opened the door. When I saw him, I said, ‘Great this is great.’ But it didn’t bother me even to find that he was dead. I did a job.”
In most experiments, Milgram found that approximately half the people who volunteered to give the shocks were willing to obey the authority to the limit despite the anguished pleas, and subsequent silence, of the person they were helping to “teach.” This result dismayed Milgram, whose book Obedience to Authority reflects his effort to comprehend the nature of obedience rendered even to authorities who instruct the infliction of pain beyond ordinary measures of tolerance. Milgram noted: “With numbing regularity good people were seen to knuckle under to the demands of authority and perform actions that were callous and severe. Men who are in everyday life responsible and decent were seduced by the trappings of authority, by the control of their perceptions, and by the uncritical acceptance of the experimenter’s definition of the situation into performing harsh acts.
In the quest to understand the motives for such extremely high levels of obedience to punitive authority, Milgram emphasized the role of “agency”-the sense of personal responsibility individuals may or may not have for their own actions and behavior- and the role of autonomy and selfhood. He also considered the role played by the “teacher’s” relative distance from both the authority and the “learner” in influencing willingness to obey. But at no point in the entire study did Milgram ever ask explicitly about the childhood experiences of the individuals whose actions as adults he studied. In an appendix to Obedience to Authority, however, he observed: “I am certain that there is a complex personality basis to obedience and disobedience. But I know we have not found it.
Not once, it appears, did Milgram ever ask the volunteers about their childhood encounters with authorities-with the parents, teachers, and others who0 first taught them to obey. Not once, it appears, did he ever ask directly about their childhood experiences with punishment and discipline, particularly with corporal punishments. Had he done so, undoubtedly he would have gained a range of information that might have enabled him to probe more deeply into the psyches of those whose obedience appears to have had no bounds and whose consciences remained either silent or muffled while the “victim” cried out in anguish, terror, and pain before lapsing into silence and noncompliance at the end of the experiment. These people were willing to obey authority far beyond any expected boundaries.
Quite clearly, Milgram was encountering the ordinary, everyday forms that authoritarianism takes now in New England and elsewhere, but his assumptions about the nature of authority in this country precluded his anticipation of such high levels of obedience. Had he been able to read Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good or any of the Christian apologias for corporal punishment, perhaps he would not have been as astonished by his own discoveries. Without realizing it, Stanley Milgram tapped into the vast collective reservoir of earlier encounters with coercion and pain present in a culture that tolerates and even advocates assaults upon children’s bodies, wills and spirits as normal forms of discipline.
Child abuse is the primary means by which authoritarianism- in both its religious and secular forms- is created. Authoritarianism, in turn, is one of the most enduring of all consequences-both internal and external, private and public- of corporal punishments. The persistent “conservatism” of American politics and society is rooted in large part in the physical violence done to children, for their autonomy and their very selves were threatened and suppressed by the adults who bore and nurtured them, and who educated them both at home and in school from infancy through adolescence.
Americans have always been far more prone to authoritarianism than the public ideology of participatory democracy would suggest, but the roots of this persistent tilt towards hierarchy, enforced order, and absolute authority- so evident in Germany earlier in this century and in the radical right in America today- are always traceable to aggression against children’s wills and bodies, to the pain and the suffering they experience long before they, as adults, confront the complex issues of polity, the society, and the world. Stanley Milgram’s discoveries remain haunting revelations of this relatively uncharted territory of obedience to authority.
Authoritarianism is usually a form of “order” that is actually a reaction to the hurtful violence children experience and the rage and hatred that violence creates. Authoritarianism is “order” built upon coercion rather than consent, upon self-alienation rather than empathy and love for oneself and others. Such efforts at control usually fail to achieve their goals in the long run, for the very impulses that create authoritarian personalities create aggressive, violent, and antisocial feelings and behavior that subvert and betray the wish for “order” and “power” and “uniformity” characteristics of authoritarianism. Without violence, there would be less authoritarianism, since it is violence itself that both creates and sustains authoritarianism in many of its guises.
But authoritarianism has another side-even deeper, darker, and far more dangerous-that is present even when it is most covert and hidden from view: the destructive and murderous impulse to destroy life itself, the alliance with death that is always present in authoritarianism. Living in the age in which nuclear annihilation is always a possibility, we must reckon with the impulses towards destruction of life and the end of history and the earth itself that arises from the abuse of children-impulses that have, for the past two millennia, been expressed most powerfully and persuasively in the apocalyptic imagery and dire threatening of the Gospels and the Book of Revelation.
The Apocalyptic Impulse
For the last four centuries, the apocalyptic impulse has continually been present in this land, waxing and waning in intensity, taking various forms, but often anticipating the imminent end of this world and the inauguration of the millennium, the thousand years of peace promised in the Book of Revelation to those who survive the horrors of the tribulation marking the end of humanity and history. Only “true” Christians, obedient and submissive children of God, are expected to survive the ultimate holocaust and the Last Judgment and to become the eternal inhabitants of the New Jerusalem on this earth or elsewhere.
Today many millions of Americans live in daily expectation of the end of this world, eagerly anticipating the return of Jesus and their removal from this earth prior to the onset of the period of devastation and destruction, punishment and horror, set forth in vivid detail in the prophetic texts of the Old and New Testaments. Evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant bookstores are filled with books prophesying the imminent end of the world.* The apocalyptic fantasies set forth in best selling books, in sermons preached in churches and meetinghouses across the land and throughout the day and night on television and radio, hymn the approaching holocaust, keenly expectant of the Second Coming and the subsequent destruction of this world and most of its inhabitants.
*Hal Lindsey has sold more than fifteen million copies of his book The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), which has been followed by a series of apocalyptic titles such as The Terminal Generation, The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon, and There’s a New World Coming. The John Walvoords published Armageddon: Oil and the Middle East Crisis in 1974. David Wilkerson published his apocalyptic study, the Vision in 1974, followed by Racing Toward Judgment in 1976. In 1977 John Wesley White published WWIII: Signs of the Impending Battle of Armageddon. Other such books include William Goetz’s Apocalypse Next (1980), Harold Lindsell’s the Gathering Storm (1980), Billy Graham’s Approaching Hoof-beats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and many others.
Vast numbers of Americans are expecting the end at any moment. Even Ronald Reagan, both before and during his presidency, has been an apocalyptic, believing that he, too, has been living in the End Times. As the President told an Israeli lobbyist in October 1983: “You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering, if-if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of these prophesies lately, but believe me, they certainly describe the times we’re going through.” Casper Weinberger, Secretary of Defense during much of the Reagan administration, told an audience at Harvard University in 1982: “I have read the Book of revelation and, yes, I believe the world is going to end-by an act of God, I hope-but every day I think time is running out.” When A.G. Mojtabai, a novelist and writer, went to Amarillo, Texas, to study the lives and reactions of people living next to Pantex, the assembly plant which puts together nuclear weapons, she found that the community was immersed in apocalyptic biblical imagery and the anticipation of the end of the world.
The apocalyptic impulse has been and continues to be an integral part of the American consciousness and culture, both religious and political, although very few of us seem aware of this profoundly disturbing fact. What are its roots? Why are so many people enthralled by the imagery and the fantasies of punishment, devastation, destruction, and doom set forth in the Book of revelation and other New Testament texts? Why are so many individuals and groups captivated by the fantasies of rescue implicit in the doctrine of the “Rapture”? (According to this doctrine, common to most fundamentalist and Pentecostal Protestants today, all twice-born Christians will be spared the horrors of the tribulation that will precede the worlds end, by being lifted bodily from the earth when Jesus returns.) As A.G. Mojtabai, asks “Out of what felt life does it come?”
The apocalyptic impulse generally emerges from a life history of pain and suffering, and is grounded in the assaults against the body, the will, and the spirit of children that are rationalized as discipline. It is surely no accident that so many of the Protestant Christians who are ardent advocates of corporal punishment for children are also intensely apocalyptic.
The painful punishment of children creates the nuclear core of rage, resentment, and aggression that fuels fantasies of the apocalyptic end of the world. This has been true at least from the early seventeenth century to the present. The most consistent thread connecting apocalyptics generation after generation has been the experience of pain, assault, and physical coercion resulting from harsh corporal punishments in childhood.
For vast numbers of people, however, the anxieties, fears, and sufferings of childhood through various forms of discipline and punishment have been augmented and intensified by other forms of suffering, such as poverty, transiency, marginality, and the constant humiliations and anguish and stress inherent in poverty or the economic and personal struggles of the middling ranks of our society. The first few generations of Pentecostals in the early twentieth century were emblematic of such generalized deprivation and suffering. Throughout our history, the lives of vast numbers of apocalyptics have been the scars of suffering from many sources, including illnesses and personal experiences of all kinds.
The outer sources of apocalypticism, important as the undoubtedly are, only fuel the inner impulse toward the apocalypse that are generated in apocalyptics’ most formative experiences early in life. Central among these psychological sources, I believe, is the pain of punishment and the experience of domination and submission inherent in assaults by adults upon children. Alice Miller has explained the implications of such physical and emotional violence in the context of German-speaking cultures, especially in her portraits of Nazis, including Adolf Hitler, whose rage, nihilism, and hatred provided the impulses and the ideas that ultimately generated the mass murder of six million Jews and millions of others in the Holocaust, and the wartime death and destruction of many millions more. Miller traces the roots of this holocaust ultimately to the abuse of children and the denial of selfhood inherent in the coercions of corporal punishments.
The end of the world envisaged two millennia ago in the Book of Revelations-if it comes about- will be the ultimate holocaust. After a series of horrendous events that millions of people currently anticipate happening, the final battle at Armageddon, which most contemporary Protestants apocalytics believe will be located in Israel, is expected to occur. This is the fantasy-for it can only be a fantasy unless it is acted out and brought into being, Hal Lindsey has provided lurid details of the end, as he, like so many others, interprets the scenario unfold in Revelation. “It staggers the imagination,” he observes, “to realize that one-fourth of the world’s population will be destroyed within a matter of days. According to projected census figures this will amount to nearly one billion people! Since one of these grim reapers of death is Hades, it means that only unbelievers will perish in this phase of the holocaust.” Later he writes: “The horrors of the first five seals seem to be the inevitiable results of what will happen when men’s evil natures are totally unrestrained. The sixth seal unleashes a worldwide nuclear holocaust and is God’s judgment on the world for its persecution of his saints.”
David Wilkerson has a similar fantasy of the End Times:
These are exciting days for the true Christians. God, in his love and mercy, is allowing disasters to strike the earth to warn all who will hear that Jesus is coming back, and that it’s time to get ready. He loves his children too much to bring His kingdom to pass without warning…. These disasters are a kind of countdown, to painful to ignore, choreographed by God to set the stage for the final moments of time.
Wilkerson was convinced in 1974 that “God has it all programmed. He knows the exact moment Christ will return. The final tribulation, the judgment, the battle of Armageddon are all on His calendar.” He was confident, however, “that God is suddenly going to deliver His true children from His final fury that will be outpoured on the earth. He will deliver His children from the most gruesome hour of disaster that the Bible predicts will fall upon the earth.”
The fundamental assumption shaping the prophetic convictions of such writers and preachers is that only twice-born Christians will be rescued from the coming holocaust. (This belief excludes, of course, most Catholics, many Protestants, Jews, and virtually all non-Christians of every persuasion- the vast majority of the world’s population thus being expected to suffer in the tribulations to come and in the fires of hell thereafter.) Not all Protestant apocalyptics share this assumption, since not all believe in the doctrine of the Rapture, but the great majority today seem confident that they will not be present at the end, having been rescued by the returned Christ just prior to the final tribulation. In 1977, Billy Graham believed that Jesus would reappear just in time to save the world from nuclear holocaust. He wrote, in the forward to John Wesley White’s WWW III: Signs of the Impending Armageddon: “All of this will plunge the world to its nadir-the war of all time, which will universally involve all mankind in a holocaust more horrendous than anything man has experienced since his appearance on this planet. With humanity locked irretrievably into Armageddon, with sure annihilation beckoning, Christ will suddenly come and miraculously save man from himself, and set up His kingdom throughout the whole world.” This is faith, but faith is a fantasy. It assumes that nuclear annihilation, the ultimate Holocaust by fire, will not occur even if it is set in action by men prior to the miraculous intervention of Jesus himself.
Billy Graham, however, has had second thoughts, and has committed himself publicly to preventing the nuclear annihilation that he seemed to take for granted earlier. In 1983, in his book on the apocalypse, Graham noted that “it is important to remember this: though Christ warned us there will constantly be wars and rumors of wars, it does not follow that we should sit silently by while the peoples of the world destroy each other. We must not by our silence give approval to such devastation with weapons of mass destruction. We must warn the nations of the world that they must repent and turn to God while there is yet time.” He is now convinced that “evangelicals cannot afford to stay isolated in a world where nuclear holocaust threatens to destroy us. We must leave out safe enclaves and journey into the world, standing for what we believe-in love, in strength, in openness and in trust.” Graham acknowledges that he does not “plan to be a leader in a peace movement or organization. I am an evangelist. But I am a man who is still in process.” That sets him apart now from many other apocalyptics. Being “in process” is being fully alive and committed to the preservation, not the destruction, of life on this earth. His acknowledgment of his personal responsibility for the preservation of life has propelled Graham, as it has so many other people, into becoming an active opponent of nuclear warfare.
What is most dismaying about the vast majority of American apocalyptics today is that they appear to be both prepared and willing to witness the demise of life on this earth in the immediate future. Many Christian apocalyptics seem to be joyous at the prospect of Armageddon, because they believe it to be the necessary and inevitable prelude to their salvation and the end of Satan’s reign on this earth. After the tribulation has passed, Hal Lindsey believes that “Christ will lead His rescued followers into God’s kingdom of peace and rightness on a beautiful new earth.” Convinced that all signs point to this imminent end, Lindsey reassures his readers: “Even though many of these signs are appalling in themselves, their tremendous significance should gladden the heart of every true believer in Christ.” Similarly, David Wilkerson once declared that “when you have God’s glory, you can rejoice in God’s doom. You and I may live to see the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds-nevertheless, we will not fear.”
For apocalyptics such as these, the fundamental assumption shaping their fantasies of the end is that God the Father is filled with wrath against the sinners of this world and is about to punish sinners and the world itself in one culminating series of catastrophic blows, the seven vials of wrath set forth in the Book of Revelation. Rage and retribution by the divine Father against his sinful and disobedient children on earth are the primary reasons for God’s long-planned punishments and destruction of life on earth. Perhaps it will come as no surprise that Lindsey once informed his readers that his own father “gave me my share of lickings, too, and I know now that it really was for my good, though at the time I didn’t think so!” Although Lindsey’s punitive God seems to be a projection of his own father, his earthly father, unlike his heavenly Father, could not destroy the entire world and nearly every person living on this planet.
God, however, according to the visions of revelation, is planning to destroy his own earthly creation once again. The images of wrathful and murderous destructiveness ascribed to God’s will by the Book of revelations haunt the consciousness of apocalyptics, who are obsessed by the fantasies of destruction and suffering set forth, in the familiar language of the King James translation, by this prophetic text:
And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image. And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead [man]: and every living soul died in the sea. And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments. And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory. And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds. And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs [come] out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. (Revelation 16:1-17)
The Apocalypse is thus to be the final solution to sin and disobedience on this earth. It will entail mass murder and annihilation of life both in the sea and on land on a scale without precedent in human history. The god responsible for this apocalypse, wrathful and pitiless as he appears to be, is surely the ultimate authoritarian.
Punishment has always been at the core of this apocalyptic scenario. Apocayptics are usually people who have been hurt and harmed early in life, who have suffered, often far more than they themselves realize or can acknowledge. Their eagerness for the end is grounded in the anguish, and the sorrows, and the pains of their own lives. Fundamentalist Protestant forms of apocalyptic Christianity mirror theologically the violence an abuse that so many once experienced in childhood, transforming their earlier pain and fear and terror into fantasies of rescue and triumph.
The apocalypse of the Book of Revelation has been one of the most enduring sadomasochistic fantasies obsessing many Protestants. It has provided and still provides endless pleasure and satisfaction to those who consider themselves safe from the punishments that will be meted out to so many others by the all-powerful master of the universe. Only in heaven will such pain and suffering cease for those who have submitted themselves to the will of the master of the universe and become obedient children forever. The rest will be tortured in hell eternally.
The apocalyptic impulse, which arises from the violence suffered in childhood, is far more common than we generally realize. It is one thing to have an impulse, however, but entirely another to act upon it. The common impulses to punish and to destroy need not become the alternatives most of us will wish to choose, once we become conscious of the power of the buried rage, hate, and murderous aggression that so often find displaced expression in apocalyptic visions of the End Times. There have always been other alternatives available to the vast majority of Christians and others who have rejected the image of God as the Father who is the wrathful punisher and destroyer of life on this earth.
As we enter the final decade of the twentieth century, we have only begun to reckon with the consequences of the pain and suffering inflicted upon successive generations of children by the abuse and violence associated with physical punishments. The consequences, both personal and collective, are so complex, so massive, so intertwined with our consciousness, our feelings, our thoughts, our lives, our culture, and our society that we have much still to do before we can have any confidence that we understand the full implications of such commonplace hitting and hurting. Yet even though our understanding and our knowledge remain limited, we face choices for ourselves, our children, our families, our communities, our nation, and our world that need to be explored and confronted. It is to these choices that we now must turn our attention. Philip J. Greven: "Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse" 1991