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Scholar Says Corporal Punishment May Have Shaped World Religions - Comments

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 1 by Peter Grant

The article raises basic questions about traditional religious teachings but does not automatically point to atheism. "One can accept my argument yet still believe in a God who created the world, intervenes for the good, and provides comfort to those in need," says Abelow.

Up until this point it sounded like he was on to something.

Fri, 14 Oct 2011 22:46:53 UTC | #880983

ConanPhD's Avatar Comment 2 by ConanPhD

If one has a nagging doubt deep down, I would say that it is the result of psychological child abuse. It is from childhood indoctrination, using scare tactics and fear on the mind of an impressionable child during their most formative years to deeply ingrain a set of beliefs that would be laughable otherwise. No one would feel this nagging doubt if childhood indoctrination was done away with, and all religions would die.

Fri, 14 Oct 2011 22:52:06 UTC | #880985

Andres Heredia's Avatar Comment 3 by Andres Heredia

Very interesting!

Fri, 14 Oct 2011 22:54:23 UTC | #880986

Rikitiki13's Avatar Comment 4 by Rikitiki13

"It tells us how impressionable children are. It has implications for how we treat children today"

Well...DUH! This from someone whose own cult 'impressions' childhood minds as often and as early as possible. Ignatius Loyola, anyone? Unfortunately, that's the other-end of religion's treatment of children: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man". Yes, a man who can be a scientist and yet still be steeped in woo.

Fri, 14 Oct 2011 23:20:57 UTC | #880995

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 5 by Red Dog

Correlation does not equal causation. However, even if there is some causal relation why the assumption that it is corporal punishment leads to religion? It seems to me more likely to be the other way around: religion leads to corporal punishment, although I suspect the actual answer is that there is an interplay between the two: more primitive, authoritarian world views support and are supported by corporal punishment.

Fri, 14 Oct 2011 23:50:56 UTC | #881000

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 6 by Neodarwinian

I would tend to agree with Red Dag here. Correlations are too easy to turn on their heads, so you do not know the direction of causation, or even if there is any causation from said correlation. A little more rigor needed here.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 00:15:40 UTC | #881002

calliecparrish's Avatar Comment 7 by calliecparrish

My parents didn't bring me up religious. But they did believe in whipping. Sometimes my father would go too far because he was ill, and it would just scare the hell out of me every time. I was downright petrified of my father because of it. I don't remember very much about God during my youth, but I do remember praying like hell that my father wouldn't whip me with that belt of his. And I wasn't whipped just because I did something bad, I was sometimes whipped because my father had a bad day or that I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. So it gave me mixed signals about right and wrong. I eventually thought that life was there just as a punishment for existence. I pretty much exhibited learned helplessness through my childhood because of the whippings. Which is very sad. It wasn't until I got older that I realized that life wasn't some torturous punishment for just being alive. I learned that life was a beautiful thing that should be cherished. But anyways, I am against corporeal punishment because of all this. Interesting article though, I never thought of it that way.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 00:52:59 UTC | #881005

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 8 by Red Dog

Comment 7 by calliecparrish :

My parents didn't bring me up religious. But they did believe in whipping. ...

What a terrible experience. I had something similar although not nearly as bad.

I unequivocally oppose violence by parents toward their children. It is never acceptable. At best it reflects bad parenting and a parent who can't think of more appropriate ways to discipline their child. At worst as I think in your case its an excuse for the parent to take out their feelings of inadequacy on the people that are most vulnerable and least capable of fighting back.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 01:53:07 UTC | #881013

Benjamin Abelow's Avatar Comment 9 by Benjamin Abelow

I am the Dr. Benjamin Abelow who is quoted in the news story that is being discussed here. I am also, of course, the person who authored the journal article in question, which is the subject of that news story. I am glad that the news story was picked up at this website and that it has provided food for thought and comment.

Regarding the quote from me, in which I say that my research does not automatically point to atheism, I was simply stating a fact. The thesis of my article does not directly pertain to the question of God's existence. It has to do with the particular nature of the God that is portrayed in some of the world's most important religions. I deliberately offered my quote about atheism because I want my work to be considered in a serious way by as large an audience as possible; and I felt that I could do so, without compromise, because the statement is accurate. I felt that by offering that quote, I would be making it possible for a large group of religious people to consider what I have to say. Perhaps for some, my ideas will precipitate a change in world view. I may not agree with a traditional believer on religious questions, but I do not dismiss him or her as someone beneath me or not worthy of being presented my ideas in a manner that might possibly be heard and considered. In fact, I'd very much like to reach that audience. As I see it, that's one of the most important audiences to reach. Plus, isn't it boring to speak only to people of like mind?

In fact, if you look closely at the website where the news story appeared, you will notice that it is a Bible-oriented, on-line newspaper that is affiliated with a K-12 Christian school located in Texas. Not exactly where you'd expect to see my research discussed! Keep in mind that we are talking about research that attributes foundational New Testament teachings not to God or prophets or apostles of God but to the harsh treatment of children in the ancient world. That website claims 2,000,000 unique visitors each year. I'm very glad for the opportunity to reach even a small part of that broad audience, something that might not have been possible if I had not volunteered the (entirely accurate) statement in question.

As far as the issue of correlation and causation, please keep in mind that what you've read is a news article written for the general public. A news story of that type is no place to discuss issues of method. In the journal article itself, I address the issue of correlation and causation explicitly and in a manner that I suspect would be interesting and perhaps persuasive to some of those writing here.

I would like to invite anyone whose interest was piqued by the brief and necessarily watered down summary, which they read in a Christian publication, to read my original article. The article is titled "The Shaping of New Testament Narrative and Salvation Teaching by Painful Childhood Experience." This was the lead article in Archive for the Psychology of Religion, a publication that reaches an international audience of scholars. The article is dense but if you skip the footnotes--and you know something about Christianity--it's a pretty good read. You can read the complete article at my very simple and somewhat scholarly website; the article is available on the "Writings" page of the site.

I sent an email to the Richard Dawkins Foundation about 10 days ago, saying that I think Dr. Dawkins would find my article interesting and useful. I have read The God Delusion and thus understand some of his conclusions and questions about Christianity. I believe my article would be something he'd find germane to his own interests. So, Dr. Dawkins, if you are reading this--or if anyone can bring this to his attention--I would be pleased if you, too, would consider reading the journal article in question; I think it will give you additional insight into the historical origins and reasons for the cultural persistence of Christianity. Although the main argument of the article pertains just to Christianity, the article also discusses Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a number of other traditions; in each case, I focus on the possibility that the suffering of children lies behind seminal religious teachings. (As an aside, I'll mention that the article also discusses a form of cultural evolution that is based on selection from among randomly mutated traditions, not far off from Dr. Dawkins' work on memes.)

I will try to check in on this page periodically and will, if no one objects, continue to respond to any comments or questions that are posted. Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

Benjamin Abelow, M.D.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 02:52:25 UTC | #881017

calliecparrish's Avatar Comment 10 by calliecparrish

Comment 8 by Red Dog :

Comment 7 by calliecparrish :

My parents didn't bring me up religious. But they did believe in whipping. ...

What a terrible experience. I had something similar although not nearly as bad.

I unequivocally oppose violence by parents toward their children. It is never acceptable. At best it reflects bad parenting and a parent who can't think of more appropriate ways to discipline their child. At worst as I think in your case its an excuse for the parent to take out their feelings of inadequacy on the people that are most vulnerable and least capable of fighting back.

I believe any kind of corporeal punishment is a terrible experience no matter the severity. I agree with you that it is never acceptable! I never really wanted to accept that my father was doing horrid things, I was just scared and didn't know how to react. But I think that you're right what you said in your last sentence, well everything that you just said to be honest.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 03:10:57 UTC | #881018

xsjadolateralus's Avatar Comment 11 by xsjadolateralus

Once again my dear Johny my dear friend And once again you are fighting us all And when I ask you why you raise your sticks and cry And we fall

Oh my friend How did you come to trade the fiddle for the drum

Those still arguing in favor of any kind of rationalization of abuse are only shooting themselves in the foot, and ours, as well. We all lose when abuse is accepted and rationalized, instead of understood and condemned.

Do you actually think our children's children won't look back and say "WTF were they thinking"?

You poor, poor, thoughtless victim of the age of unreason. I pity you and so will the children of the future. They'll look back at us, exactly like we look at cavemen. I pity myself, too. I have to live among such poorly evolved apes. Oh how stupid and unaware they are.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 03:31:10 UTC | #881019

xsjadolateralus's Avatar Comment 12 by xsjadolateralus

Comment 6 by Neodarwinian :

I would tend to agree with Red Dag here. Correlations are too easy to turn on their heads, so you do not know the direction of causation, or even if there is any causation from said correlation. A little more rigor needed here.

Oh, so you and Red dog were unable to comprehend the article. Try reading it again, slower. Then take time for reflection. Time to comprehend and digest what you've read. Give it another whack, a good ole' mulligan. Kay?

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 03:34:19 UTC | #881020

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 13 by Neodarwinian

@ xsjadolaterralus

The article was well comprehended and your hyperbole is not appreciated. I will read the article, but any Journal article in a psychological publication is more likely as incomprehensible as your post rather than " dense as Abelow claims for the article. "

Dr. Abelow. You did not summarize the methodology, so, instead of persuasion, I will read the article and see if I am convinced by the evidence.

Perusing now. Sorry, doctor, but calculus is dense and your article is not. Almost my bedtime. Will return tomorrow.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 03:48:47 UTC | #881023

Dexteronly's Avatar Comment 14 by Dexteronly

My mother, out of frustration and anger, did occasionally resort to slapping round the face as a youngster. Into my teens too. This brought home the fact that I really pissed her off and did me no harm whatsoever.

Entirely different from getting "the belt" or some other violent punishment meted out for disobedience for which children suffer everyday. Very important that we try to define what is and isn't abuse, I hope we can draw lines without making any physical chastisement illegal. I honesty have no idea.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 06:24:47 UTC | #881030

Greyman's Avatar Comment 15 by Greyman

Comment 1 by Peter Grant :

The article raises basic questions about traditional religious teachings but does not automatically point to atheism. "One can accept my argument yet still believe in a God who created the world, intervenes for the good, and provides comfort to those in need," says Abelow.

Up until this point it sounded like he was on to something.

Sure, and one can accept the argument that telling children that there is someone who always knows when they are naughty or nice is just a way of coaxing good behavior, and still believe that Santa Claus brings presents to all the good little boys and girls.

Never underestimate the power of doublethink.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 06:43:45 UTC | #881032

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 16 by Premiseless

I also think there a powerful historical 'tool for surrogacy' in many children's lives and that religions have exploited this to full effect. This feature has grossly helped nurture development of an imaginary construct. The tool is the collateral emotional damage due death of a loved one coupled to the hardship of survival. Consider the all too common feature, in times past, due disease, war and famine, of ones parent dying and compromising ones future survival. The trauma and perennial loss simply posit unbearable responsibility on that individual for their own plight and that of other loved ones - a responsibility lacking in know how - a journey into surviving on ones wits. Little wonder, in their despair, they might incline to speak before sleeping, to dead loved ones, for direction. "What would they do who knew?" is the despair that prompts appeal to outside agency. The powerful are aware of this latent potent emotion. Also how it translates to their own children!! And successive generations!

On a political level, leaders would be behooven to rally the troops, to maybe go and do what they already 'hated' having happened to their own fathers. What better way than to elevate their sacrifice as 'ultimate' and due eternal reward? And loving dissenters?, like wives and children, hating the prospect of losing their livelihoods (husbands and fathers) - tell them the fearful consequences of not doing as heaven directs! Put the fear of eternal damnation there as partner to the eternal liberation granted those who would walk into death for their superiors.

Voila - the machinery of national man management, in spite of the wages being death! A very military motive. It's a society built upon willingness to walk into death at the drop of a hat! You can see the advantages this might have had for many leaders past. But, like air pollution, few worry about the fallout (psychological) upon successive generations which then requires more and more 'psychological detergent' to clear up the polluted mess spilled by the previous generations dogmas! Most of what we see in religious speak is 'psychological detergent' whilst they still wallow in the spoils of the oils of yesteryear!

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 07:48:28 UTC | #881035

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 17 by justinesaracen

@Dr. Abelow, Thank you for joining us here at Dawkins.com. Articles about religion are always fodder for our ruminations (is that a mixed metaphor?) so yours fits right in.

I think you've hit on something by identifying a certain parallel between the abusive family dynamic and the typical (western) religious constellation, that is, of an unpredictable and often bad tempered father and a child forced to obedience out of fear. Surely even the most rudimentary examination of the psychology of the believer will reveal a certain need for the love of a father figure. What I (and several others) might take issue with is whether you can establish a historical causality by the one (abusive parent/submissive child) of the other (submissive religion).

My own interpretation (although my degree is in literature and not psychology, so I have zero credentials here) is that the infantile need for a protective parent is universal -- and timeless --, whether the parent is abusive or not. The carry-over into adulthood of that need in the form of religion comes from a lack of intellectual maturity, in which one recreates the parent/child relationship and tries to remedy any bad behavior and win approval in the childish way. Thus the guilt component that is so prominent in all the Abrahamitic faiths.

My point is that there is certainly a parallel, a quite obvious one, but the historical element you introduce seems less substantiated.

In any case, well done to you for at least planting a seed of scientific skepticism in a Christian journal.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 07:49:17 UTC | #881036

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 18 by Stevehill

The trouble with Christians is they think Jesus meant it when he said "suffer the little children to come unto me".

It's just an archaic usage, meaning "permit", not an injunction to beat the shit out of them first.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 08:54:47 UTC | #881040

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 19 by Cartomancer

The article raises basic questions about traditional religious teachings but does not automatically point to atheism. "One can accept my argument yet still believe in a God who created the world, intervenes for the good, and provides comfort to those in need," says Abelow.

While it may be technically true that some people can square the circle and cling to silly superstitious beliefs about creator gods while understanding the entirely man-made nature of religions, this does not say anything more than that cognitive dissonance is possible. It certainly does not suggest that doing so is a rational, sensible or valid thing to do.

For my money, it's precisely the obviously man-made nature of religions that leads to atheism. I've never really placed any stock by abstract philosophical discussions of the impossibility of the nature of gods, and while the scientific picture of the world that has emerged over the centuries is good as a guide to what is actually real, I don't think it is the most powerful reason to be an atheist. For me, the most powerful reason by far is the history of religions. They behave exactly as we would expect them to behave if they were just the same as every other kind of human idea-complex. The marks of their manufacture are all over them, such that they might as well come stamped with "made in the human brain" on the bottom. And when one understands where religions come from, one cannot take their claims at all seriously. One does not come to the belief that Winne the Pooh isn't real from a careful study of ursine behaviour patterns, but clearly from the knowledge that he is a character in a book made up by a human being.

As such I cannot help but find the statement above entirely out of keeping with the reality of the matter - that research of this nature is actually the most powerful evidence we have that leads to atheism. To say otherwise is like saying that smoking does not automatically lead to cancer - technically true, in that less than 100% of people who smoke get cancer, but still highly disingenuous.

On the other hand the research itself seems very plausible indeed. I am reminded that before he got into the frothing hate-cult game Fred Phelps was a notorious child abuser who beat his children hundreds of times with an axe handle. It is also the case that medieval schooling was heavy with corporal punishment, possibly more so than in the classical world. The artistic language of the period even encapsulates this: where the seven liberal arts are personified, the accoutrement given to grammar is almost always a whipping cane, because that's how young children were taught grammar (i.e. Latin) - by beating them when they got it wrong.

Admittedly the first versions of christianity did not emerge in the Middle Ages or in Fred Phelps's house, but that's not the issue here. The issue here is where religions come from, and new religions are invented all the time. Medieval christianity was not the same religion as late antique christianity, and phelpscraft is not the same thing as lutheranism or mormonism or catholicism, or any of the other types of christianity. Indeed, it could quite legitimately be said that a new religion is created by every religious person, since no two believers will hold quite the same beliefs. It is only by sheerest convenience that we treat religious world views with some common material as being "the same" religion.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 09:20:10 UTC | #881042

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 20 by Alan4discussion

Comment 5 by Red Dog

Correlation does not equal causation. However, even if there is some causal relation why the assumption that it is corporal punishment leads to religion? It seems to me more likely to be the other way around: religion leads to corporal punishment, although I suspect the actual answer is that there is an interplay between the two: more primitive, authoritarian world views support and are supported by corporal punishment.

Children need to have ground rules physically enforced by caring reasonable parents exercising their parental authority which maintains family and community relationships, while children mature enough to be responsible adults. The raising of selfish, uncaring, spoiled brats is the result, where this guidance and responsibility is abdicated. Woo-heads result from abdicating objectives to theocracy but slavishly enforcing their thinking!

In a similar way to colonialists recruiting local chiefs/politicians, theocrats recruit parents and political leaders to impose their woo and empire building on the next generation. There are plenty of examples of brutal punishments being used by theocratic leaders, often in cahoots with dictatorial war-lords.

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/643454-actor-in-australian-film-sentenced-to-90-lashes Self flagellation by monks, crucifixion, burning at the stake, public hangings and floggings. - Are all designed to impress an audience and pass fear down the pecking order. In modern societies (as in the past) social and economic pressures together with discrimination in employment are often used as a substitute.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 09:43:29 UTC | #881044

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 21 by drumdaddy

Shed many tears for the innocents.

Sat, 15 Oct 2011 10:01:02 UTC | #881045

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 22 by Premiseless

Comment 19 by Cartomancer :

For me, the most powerful reason by far is the history of religions. They behave exactly as we would expect them to behave if they were just the same as every other kind of human idea-complex. The marks of their manufacture are all over them, such that they might as well come stamped with "made in the human brain" on the bottom. And when one understands where religions come from, one cannot take their claims at all seriously.

The pernicious nature of a psychology which posits on the working man,

"Take up the yoke of death for your family, your country, your honour. Take up the yoke of manhood in provision for your family. Take up the yoke of getting loved ones into an eternal reward via imposition of dogma and behaviours it requires. Take up the yoke of collateral damage and never yield to the responsibilities of ALL the above."

  • Exhibits a 'doomed to fail' agenda upon any human. The spirit will buckle and the fallout be cruel!
  • It is a master - slave psychology masquerading as loving overseer! The powers that be know this or are deluded into advertising it as worthy. In truth it is the old pollution of group politics rendering the individual expendable for group profits. It is the old markets exploiting then selling out a 'bleeding' share for the investment in the one with sword in hand. Group success has no morality. It only seeks power, survival, progress and profit whilst laying waste the inessentials of the masses. What the masses require are only of value insofar as they increase the corporate share. Individuals needs and elements of self fulfillment are baggage to it unless some corporate value relies upon it.

    We are talking about the life of a slave against that of his master and arguing for equality.

    We are all oft caught in the non sequiturs of individuals rights, as if this can be achieved, because after all that is what we all are, whilst simultaneously relying upon the accidental benefits of being born to the group we are in, which elects to cannibalise its own by due process. The symbiosis is chronic and tragic. Children, and their parents are oft, one and the same victims of its perniciousness.

    Sat, 15 Oct 2011 10:28:24 UTC | #881049

    mtgilbert's Avatar Comment 23 by mtgilbert

    Classical conditioning is such a powerful force in psychology, who is surprised that it is employed by religions? What better way to control people than to promise rewards and threaten with punishment on a grand scale? It's a wonder that it took so long to be discovered and described (Pavlov's birthday was a few weeks ago, incidentally - found out in the FFRF's Freethought of the Day email).

    This topic reminds me of why I (now) hate the Narnia books - they just make Christianity easier to swallow. I wasn't raised religious, and didn't see the connection until I was an adult. Loved 'em as a kid.

    Sat, 15 Oct 2011 12:17:31 UTC | #881059

    Kurt75's Avatar Comment 24 by Kurt75

    Questioning the religion you were brought up with? That's a paddlin'.

    Sat, 15 Oct 2011 12:25:52 UTC | #881060

    jpgj's Avatar Comment 25 by jpgj

    Here is a quote from Dr. Ablow' artclle:

    In 1732, Susannah Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism, discussed the connection between childhood corporal punishment and the development of a religious world-view. Susannah, who began punishing her children before they were one year old, saw the physical inculcation of obedience as a necessary part of the child’s religious education. She wrote:

    I insist on conquering the will of children betimes [i.e, early in life],
    

    because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education, without which both precept and example will be ineffectual. … This is still more evident if we further consider that religion is nothing else than the doing the will of God, and not our own....1

    In this remarkable passage, Wesley identifies a link between the experience of the child, who is coerced into disregarding his or her own will and following the will of the parent, and the experience of the religionist, who disregards his or her own will and attempts to follow the will of God. Wesley makes the striking suggestion that one who has not, as a child, been coerced into obedience will not develop a religious outlook. Although she did not speak in overtly psychological terms, Wesley proposed that the child’s experience of enforced submission to the parent provides a necessary psychic foundation for a belief system centered on submission to God.

    How horribly, shockingly clear!

    Other authors like the (non-freudian) analyst Alice Miller who researched the effects of violent upbringing reached similar conclusions and believes there is a more general effect on the child's future capacity for cruelty and atrocity. Most child rearing techniques in Austria and Germany were pretty sadistic in the early 1900s when the future Nazis were growing up.

    Sat, 15 Oct 2011 12:53:40 UTC | #881064

    Benjamin Abelow's Avatar Comment 26 by Benjamin Abelow

    Hi Esuther,

    Thanks for your comment, and for giving me the opportunity to say more about the correlation-causality issue, which is certainly an important one and is--very reasonably--of concern to several people here.

    I realize that not everyone is going to read the full article (though all are invited to do so at the "writings" page of my very simple website: www.benjaminabelow.com). Therefore, I'll copy here the part of my article that deals most directly with the issue you raise. What you'll see below is the start of a new section of the article, beginning with the section heading, followed by the first part of that section. I'm pretty much a newcomer to on-line forums, so hopefully my attempt to "box" this excerpt will work out. If not, I'll post it again, without trying to box it. See what you think. If you're still not persuaded about the correlation-causality issue, let me know and I'll copy a couple of other parts of the article and see if those are any more convincing to you. As you read, keep in mind that the article itself documents several points with footnotes, which got stripped away when I copied the text into the comment box.

    New Testament Parallels with Childhood Indicate a Causal Relationship

    If New Testament parallels with childhood are too extensive to plausibly be explained by chance, one must ask how they could have arisen. Later, I will argue the thesis strongly, but for now I will merely assert, as a working hypothesis, what some may already intuit as the probable explanation: that foundational New Testament traditions were shaped as a reflection of the painful historical realities of childhood. Expanding this assertion slightly, I suggest that those persons involved in the creation of early Christian ideas, having been reared in a punitive patriarchal context, unknowingly projected or “mapped” patterns of childhood onto a religious cosmos. According to this explanation, canonical themes of innocent suffering, salvation through filial obedience, and the like were fundamentally shaped in response to childhood experience.

    This possibility must be considered of first importance. The New Testament’s theological narrative and salvation teachings are constructed almost entirely around the relationship of a Son and his Father. If one is willing to countenance any role for human psychology in shaping images of the divine, then one must suspect, a priori, that childhood could be an important or even decisive formative influence. Basic to the argument presented here is a simple methodological feature: the process of identifying and drawing inferences from parallels that cannot adequately be explained by chance. A similar methodological feature is central to the work of scholars who study textual relationships among the synoptic Gospels—specifically, that group of textual relationships that underlies the so-called synoptic problem. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are similar to each other in structure, story, and, at many points, specific wording. These similarities, which are often conceptualized as “parallels,” are so strong that, at least since Augustine, it has been recognized that the three Gospels must have a common source. Augustine himself thought that Matthew’s Gospel provided the foundation for the other two; currently, most scholars ascribe priority to Mark. Whatever the exact details of the sourcing process, virtually all scholars agree that linguistic parallels among the synoptic texts cannot plausibly be explained by chance and must therefore indicate a sequence of causation and copying. Similar logic applies to our current concerns: like the textual parallels among the Gospels, so, on a macro level, do thematic parallels between text and social-historical reality appear to be too precise and extensive to have arisen by chance. This fact points to some form of causal relationship between social-historical reality and text. Because entrenched patterns of childhood corporal punishment and abandonment long preceded the development of Christianity, the primary direction of this causal sequence, with respect to the particular themes we are considering, must be that childhood shaped Christian tradition, not vice versa.

    Sat, 15 Oct 2011 12:59:19 UTC | #881065

    QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 27 by QuestioningKat

    When I attended my liberal church, this concept of God as authoritarian "Father" and you as a child was taught as a way to discredit the idea of sin and God as a punishing God. It was considered that we know better now and those ancient sheep herders did not. It was considered that they were projecting their views of child rearing onto God. This was reason enough to take the Bible symbolically, metaphysically and not literally. Unfortunately, they did not take it a step further and realize that they were then projecting their views onto what was written and viewing the Bible in a way in which it was not intended.

    Sat, 15 Oct 2011 13:01:47 UTC | #881066

    Benjamin Abelow's Avatar Comment 28 by Benjamin Abelow

    Hello Cartomancer:

    Thanks for your extremely perceptive comment no. 19.

    I do think that, for some people, my research will support a move towards a more secular or atheistic position, and that it will do so without making any reference to traditional arguments about the existence of God, which are obviously very far from universally persuasive to either side of the theism-atheism debate.

    In my article, I discuss in some detail psychological motivations, arising from childhood pain, that might contribute to religious belief. I do so in a way that I think (and hope) is respectful to everyone, including believers. Really, I don't feel that I'm writing against religion at all; I feel that I'm writing on behalf of children: past, present, and those "children" who in some sense remain alive within us throughout life, whether we are religious, atheistic, or something else. If in the process I say things that lead some people to move away from traditional religion, or belief in God, then so be it. But my goal is not to remove a support that some people feel a need for, but to provide additional insight into an aspect of reality: the reality--which is just a memory to adults and, for some, not even a memory--that is childhood. At the same time, by showing that particular historical constructs--about the nature of God, divine Punishment, and the persistent need to escape punishment and find love that is known as "salvation"--are human products that may have originated in childhood pain, I believe my work will point towards a view of the universe that, even if it remains religiously constructed, is much less frightening and much less potentially destructive than some of the fear-laden ideas that one finds in traditional religious teachings.

    Regarding a particular quote by me, you wrote:

    As such I cannot help but find the statement above entirely out of keeping with the reality of the matter - that research of this nature is actually the most powerful evidence we have that leads to atheism. To say otherwise is like saying that smoking does not automatically lead to cancer - technically true, in that less than 100% of people who smoke get cancer, but still highly disingenuous.

    In saying this, you have given me food for thought, which I will continue to ponder (or chew on). I'm not sure what I'll decide, but for now I'll simply say that I think it is important to acknowledge that there is no necessary connection between what I've concluded in my research and the view that there is no God. I guess you don't like these words "automatically" and "necessary," but I think they are probably valid--accurate, in accord with reality--qualifications which have the additional benefit of opening the door to discussion with people who otherwise might not be willing to consider what I'm saying. Certainly, if I did not think that religious people would be reading that news story, I would not have said what I did. But I did think there would be such readers, and I wanted to leave an open door.

    Thanks again for your excellent comments, which I take seriously.

    Benjamin Abelow, M.D.

    Sat, 15 Oct 2011 14:04:26 UTC | #881073

    Red Dog's Avatar Comment 29 by Red Dog

    Comment 12 by xsjadolateralus :

    Comment 6 by Neodarwinian :

    I would tend to agree with Red Dag here. Correlations are too easy to turn on their heads, so you do not know the direction of causation, or even if there is any causation from said correlation. A little more rigor needed here.

    Oh, so you and Red dog were unable to comprehend the article. Try reading it again, slower. Then take time for reflection. Time to comprehend and digest what you've read. Give it another whack, a good ole' mulligan. Kay?

    First of all neither of us said we didn't understand it. We had what I think is a very viable criticism of the research as presented in the article. If you take a course on statistics and the experimental method the first thing they teach you is that correlation does not equal causation.

    Actually if you read the comment by Dr. Abelow himself (comment 9) he doesn't entirely disagree with our critique of the way the research was presented in that article. Rather, he suggests that we look at his original paper where the issue of causation is treated in more detail. I am grateful for his thoughtful reply and am going to take a shot at reading his original article as he suggested.

    Sat, 15 Oct 2011 14:13:36 UTC | #881074

    Benjamin Abelow's Avatar Comment 30 by Benjamin Abelow

    JPGJ - Thanks for posting that passage from my article, the one where I quote from Susannah Wesley. That's a wonderful quote from Wesley. The insight behind it is remarkable, and not dulled by the fact that Wesley herself was a staunch advocate of corporal punishment. (I would have said "lamentable fact" but the reality is that in those days, and for most of history, just about everyone was an advocate of corporal punishment, so to say "lamentable" seems rather anachronistic.) If someone grapples just with Wesley's quote, and spends enough time on it, I think they probably could derive a good chunk of my article even without reading it. That said, reading my article will save them a lot of time!

    Thanks also for mentioning Alice Miller, whom I cite several times in my article. Her writing on Nazism--especially the chapter on Hitler's childhood in her book For Your Own Good--is an eye-opening masterpiece that can rapidly disabuse one of any mystical notions one might have about the alleged eternal and transcendental human impulse towards evil. Miller shows how childhood pain can lead to violence. In my article, I show how childhood pain can shape religious ideas.

    Sat, 15 Oct 2011 14:32:23 UTC | #881078