The kickoff has started for the 2014 annual protest event. Organizers are working on the presentations and gathering people to the event. The 2013 event was a grand success and proved our concept for a demonstration that would bring people people together in cyberspace would work. The project of ending hereditary religion has many aspects and efforts. Recognizing the diversity and many arms of the task we have created a central umbrella group on Google (G+). This group, The Project of Ending Hereditary Religion will encompass all the various aspects of the work. It will serve as a meeting place for reformers working on the project and a central place to share text, video and other media. Collaborators can use the video chat features of G+ and groups can gather in G+ hangouts for focused planning sessions and to exchange ideas and resources for advancing the project. Here is the link to the 2014 event page:
Papers and videos of interest to reformers
Why do members of the public disagree—sharply and persistently—about facts on which expert scientists largely agree? We designed a study to test a distinctive explanation: the cultural cognition of scientific consensus. The “cultural cognition of risk” refers to the tendency of individuals to form risk perceptions that are congenial to their values. The study, published in the Journal of Risk Research, presents both correlational and experimental evidence confirming that cultural cognition shapes individuals’ beliefs about the existence of scientific consensus, and the process by which they form such beliefs, relating to climate change, the disposal of nuclear wastes, and the effect of permitting concealed possession of handguns. The implications of this dynamic for science communication and public policy-making are discussed.related video: Dan Kahan, Cultural Cognition and the Challenge of Science Communication (Cambridge University, Sept. 29, 2010)
The Dangers of Organized Religion in the Moral Development of Children
The recent elections have focused our attention on the role of religion in the lives of Americans. We have seen both the best and the worst examples of how religion can be used to influence others. One group that has not been addressed is children. They seldom have any say in their religious education, or lack thereof, as children. Given that young children are uniquely primed to learn by imitation, religion is likely one of the easiest, and most exclusive ways to mold a child’s worldview. Often, this is a very bad thing.
Children are naturally curious and questioning learners. We often don’t even realize how much they pick up from the people and situations around them. Religious principles are uniquely responsible for much of the difficulty children have with understanding the world around them. Western religions, in particular, emphasize exclusivity at a time when we most need to understand and champion the connections among every thing in the cosmos so that we can bring forth the best ideas unencumbered by religious restrictions. A religion that teaches a child that specific groups of people are going to suffer eternal damnation both confuses them, and makes them fearful about many things they experience – an adult gay relative that they can’t talk to; the family next door that doesn’t celebrate Christmas; the inter-racial family down the block; the aunt with schizophrenia; the poor family with kids that are badly clothed and fed, etc.
Religious principles are used to teach children their place in the family and in society. Children are taught to “do unto others” through some form of the Golden Rule, yet they often witness adults flagrantly violating that “rule.” They are taught that “Jesus loves you”, yet can easily see that there are many who, apparently, are not loved. Or, perhaps their family religion is never quite satisfied that someone is “good enough” to go to Heaven, or who is suffering daily on earth despite the love of Jesus, God, Allah, or any other religious totem. To wield the threat of eternal damnation is not only cruel, but can also be permanently damaging. The Puritans who first settled in North America actually believed that children were born “bad” and the only way to cure them was “to beat the devil out of them.”
What effect does this have on children?
The effects are myriad – ranging from confusion, inaccurate information, being labeled as “bad”, having friends labeled as “bad”, thinking that some topics can never be discussed to the point of understanding, and questioning why adults can use religious dogma to someone else’s disadvantage without following the same rules themselves. Children’s understanding of religion is regularly cut short because the adults around them do not have a clear understanding of the role of religion in their own lives.
The most egregious examples of this occur in smaller sects where there is less oversight of what is done in the name of religion. Punishment “in the name of God” is a frequent part of children’s lives in the most dogmatic religious homes. Religion’s faith-based dogma is positioned not to provide reasons for anything – “Do not question God (or parents), or you’ll be punished.” However, even our more mainstream religious groups can also use their authority to the detriment of children – priests engaged in pedophilia, for example, or sects of LDS that engage in polygamy and child marriage – all under the threat of eternal punishment for lack of unquestioning obedience.
The curiosity that children have while young should be encouraged and celebrated as their best possible way to acquire healthy attitudes about our world. It is a curiosity that is often “trained” out of the child by fifth grade – “this” is the correct answer, or “God hates” certain things, or “God does everything for a purpose” – even when a child dies from a painful illness or parents die while the child is young. How confusing this must be for children, and they are not taught how to reconcile these things with the idea of the God they must love and obey. From its very beginnings, organized religion has been about controlling people’s behavior, and its most powerful gift was eternal life while its most powerful threat was eternal damnation. It is tremendously destructive to be told one cannot question why bad things happen or to think that there might be a better way to do something.
Our best future will come from individuals who constantly question “why”, and never accept the answer “because God said so.” Critical thinking skills must be taught and learned by every single person in order for our entire civilization to progress. Children must be encouraged to ask questions, and to expect to be taught how to find satisfactory answers in order to form a rational, realistic, and progressive worldview. If we followed the natural development of a child’s intellectual growth, we’d focus on learning how to live in balance with Nature; learn how to empathize, sympathize and show compassion; teach problem-solving skills; and model tolerance and acceptance. Nothing should be “off limits” for discussion and/or change.
Neuroplasticity – Dr. Norman Doidge Video Lecture
RELATED ITEMS (on the same web address)
A New Portal to the Brain | Serendip Studio
Blind since birth, Marie-Laure Martin had always thought that candle flames were big balls of fire. The 39-year-old woman couldn’t see the flames themselves, but she could sense the candle’s aura of heat. Last October, she saw a candle flame for the first time. She was stunned by how small it actually was and how it danced. There’s a second marvel here: She saw it all with her tongue.”
Religious Trauma Syndrome: It’s Time To Recognize It
I’m really struggling and am desperate never to go back to the religion I was raised in, but I no longer want to live in fear or depression. It seems that I am walking through the jungle alone with my machete; no one to share my crazy and sometimes scary thoughts with.
After years of depression, anxiety, anger, and finally a week in a psychiatric hospital a year ago, I am now trying to pick up the pieces and put them together into something that makes sense. I’m confused. My whole identity is a shredded, tangled mess. I am in utter turmoil.
These comments are not unusual for people suffering with Religious Trauma Syndrome, or RTS. Religious trauma? Isn’t religion supposed to be helpful, or at least benign? In the case of fundamentalist beliefs, people expect that choosing to leave a childhood faith is like giving up Santa Claus – a little sad but basically a matter of growing up.
But religious indoctrination can be hugely damaging, and making the break from an authoritarian kind of religion can definitely be traumatic. It involves a complete upheaval of a person’s construction of reality, including the self, other people, life, the future, everything. People unfamiliar with it, including therapists, have trouble appreciating the sheer terror it can create and the recovery needed.
My own awareness of this problem took some time. It began with writing about my own recovery from a fundamentalist Christian background, and very quickly, I found out I was not alone. Many other people were eager to discuss this hidden suffering. Since then, I have worked with clients in the area of “recovery from religion” for about twenty years and wrote a self-help book called Leaving the Fold on the subject.
In my view, it is time for society to recognize the real trauma that religion can cause. Just like clearly naming problems like anorexia, PTSD, or bipolar disorder made it possible to stop self-blame and move ahead with learning methods of recovery, we need to address Religious Trauma Syndrome. The internet is starting to overflow with stories of RTS and cries for help. On forums for former believers (such as exchristian.net), one can see the widespread pain and desperation. In response to my presentation about RTS on YouTube, a viewer commented:
Thank you so much. This is exciting because millions of people suffer from this. I have never heard of Dr. Marlene but more people are coming out to talk? about this issue. Millions–who are quietly suffering and being treated for other issues when the fundamental issue is religious abuse.
Barriers to Getting Help for RTS
At present, raising questions about toxic beliefs and abusive practices in religion seems to be violating a taboo, even with helping professionals. In society, we treasure our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. Our laws and mores reflect the general principle that if we are not harming others, we can do as we like. Forcing children to go to church hardly seems like a crime. Real damage is assumed to be done by extreme fringe groups we call “cults” and people have heard of ritual abuse. Moreover, religious institutions have a vested interest in promoting an uncritical view.
But mind-control and emotional abuse is actually the norm for many large, authoritarian, mainline religious groups. The sanitization of religion makes it all the more insidious. When the communities are so large and the practices normalized, victims are silenced.
Therapists have no real appropriate diagnosis in their manual. Even in the commonly used list of psychological stresses, amidst all the change and loss and disruption, there is no mention of losing one’s religion. Yet it can be the biggest crisis ever faced. This is important for therapists to be aware of because people are leaving the ranks of traditional religious groups in record numbers1 and they are reporting real suffering.
Another obstacle in getting help is that most people with RTS have been taught to fear psychology as something worldly and therefore evil. It is very likely that only a fraction of people with RTS are even seeking help. Within many dogmatic, self-contained religions, mental health problems such as depression or anxiety are considered sins. They are seen as evidence of not being right with God. A religious counselor or pastor advises more confession and greater obedience as the cure, and warns that secular help from a mental health professional would be dangerous.
God is called the “great physician” and a person should not need any help from anyone else. Doubt is considered wrong, not honest inquiry. Moreover, therapy is a selfish indulgence. Focusing on one’s own needs is always sinful in this religious view, so RTS victims are often not even clear how to get help. The clients I have worked with have had to overcome ignorance, guilt, and fear to make initial contact.
What is RTS?
I suffer with guilt and depression and struggle to let go of religion. I am also battling with an existential crisis of epic proportions and intense heartache. . . I feel like I am the only person in the world that this has happened to. Some days are okay, but others are terrible. I do not know if I will make it through this.
Religious Trauma Syndrome is the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination. They may be going through the shattering of a personally meaningful faith and/or breaking away from a controlling community and lifestyle. The symptoms compare most easily with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, which results from experiencing or being confronted with death or serious injury which causes feelings of terror, helplessness, or horror. This can be a single event or chronic abuse of some kind. With RTS, there is chronic abuse, especially of children, plus the major trauma of leaving the fold. Like PTSD, the impact of RTS is long-lasting, with intrusive thoughts, negative emotional states, impaired social functioning, and other problems.
With RTS, the trauma is two-fold. First, the actual teachings and practices of a restrictive religion can be toxic and create life-long mental damage. In many cases, the emotional and mental abuse is compounded by physical and sexual abuse due to the patriarchal, repressive nature of the environment.
Second, departing a religious fold adds enormous stress as an individual struggles with leaving what amounts to one world for another. This usually involves significant and sudden loss of social support while facing the task of reconstructing one’s life. People leaving are often ill-prepared to deal with this, both because they have been sheltered and taught to fear the secular world and because their personal skills for self-reliance and independent thinking are underdeveloped.
Individuals can experience RTS in different ways depending on a variety of factors. Some key symptoms of RTS are:
• Confusion, difficulty making decisions, trouble thinking for self, lack of meaning or direction, undeveloped sense of self
• Anxiety being in “the world,” panic attacks, fear of damnation, depression, thoughts of suicide, anger, bitterness, betrayal, guilt, grief and loss, difficulty with expressing emotion
• Sleep and eating disorders, substance abuse, nightmares, perfectionism, discomfort with sexuality, negative body image, impulse control problems, difficulty enjoying pleasure or being present here and now
• Rupture of family and social network, loneliness, problems relating to society, personal relationship issues
These comments from people going through it may be the best way to convey the intensity of RTS:
I get depressed and upset. Jesus no longer saves me. God no longer created me. What purpose is there? What am I left with? What do ex-Christians fill the hole with? So we are here for no reason, no divine plan. From nothing—into nothing; reality is harsh. Plus I’m pissed that I was so brainwashed for so long – smashing CDs, burning books, rebuking Satan. . . it’s like having your entire world turned upside down, no, destroyed.
There is a lot of guilt and I react to most religion with panic attacks and distress, even photos, statues or TV. . . I guess although I was willing it was like brainwashing. It’s very hard to shake. . . It’s been a nightmare.
I felt despair and hopelessness that I would ever be normal, that I would ever be able to undo the forty years of brainwashing.
My form of religion was very strongly entrenched and anchored deeply in my heart. It is hard to describe how fully my religion informed, infused, and influenced my entire worldview. My first steps out of fundamentalism were profoundly frightening and I had frequent thoughts of suicide. Now I’m way past that but I still haven’t quite found “my place in the universe.”
I feel angry, powerless, hopeless, and hurt—scars from the madness Christianity once had me suffering in.
It took years of overcoming terrific fear as well as self-loathing to emancipate myself from my cult-like upbringing years ago. Still, the aftermath of growing up like that has continued to affect me negatively as a professional (nightmares, paranoia, etc.).
The world was a strange and frightening place to me. I feared that all the bad, nasty things that I had been brought up to believe would happen to anyone who left the cult would in fact happen to me!
Even now I still lack the ability to trust very easily and becoming very close to people is something I still find very alien and hard to achieve.
After 21 years of marriage my husband feels he cannot accept me since I have left the “church” and is divorcing me.
My parents have stopped calling me. My dad told me I’m going to hell (he’s done this my whole life!).
I had to move away from my home because I just could not be in the environment any more. My entire family is Christian and I struggle to explain to them what I am going through. I feel extremely isolated and sometimes I wonder if I am going insane. I am extremely lonely and I suffer from intense depression at times.
I lost all my friends. I lost my close ties to family. Now I’m losing my country. I’ve lost so much because of this malignant religion and I am angry and sad to my very core. . . I have tried hard to make new friends, but I have failed miserably. . . I am very lonely.
Many of us feel that we cannot relate to the ‘outside’ world as the teachings we were brought up on are all we know and our only frame of reference.
My new secular friends wouldn’t understand. My Christian friends either have abandoned me or keep praying for me.
My attempts to think outside the Christian box are like the attempts of a convict to escape Alcatraz prison– tunnel through hundreds of feet of stone and concrete, outsmart gun-carrying guards, only to maybe make it to the choppy freezing cold water and a deadly swim to safety. This may be a little dramatic, but true to my heart. I now continue to try to rebuild my soul from the abuse it’s endured.
RTS can range in severity, depending on specific teachings and practices of particular churches, pastors, or parents. Persons most at risk of RTS are those who were:
• raised in their religion,
• sheltered from the rest of the world,
• very sincerely and personally involved, and/or
• from a very controlling form of religion.
The important thing to realize is that Religious Trauma Syndrome is real. While it may be easier to understand the damage done by sexual abuse or a natural disaster, religious practices can be just as harmful. More and more people need help and the taboos about criticizing religion need to be questioned.
Part 2: Understanding RTS: Trauma From Religion
Part 3: Understanding RTS: Trauma From Leaving Religion, Why RTS is So Invisible
1 The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) from 2008 indicates that Americans by the millions are making an exodus from their faith. The number of people who affiliate themselves with “No religion” has nearly doubled from 1990 to 2008. The 18.7 million people who fall in this gap have presumably come from mainline Protestant, Baptist, and Catholic churches, which have lost 12.7 million believers during the same time frame.
More information about RTS and recovery services can be found at www.journeyfree.org. A 3-day recovery retreat is scheduled for July 29-Aug.1, 2011 in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Influence without indoctrination (Parenting Beyond Belief #4)
Second annual day of protest against hereditary religion coming soon
January 20, 2013 will be the date for the second annual international day of protest against hereditary religion. The protest will again be held in cyberspace, but the aim is to eventually have annual protests in the real world. Complete with marches, rallies, and public speeches. Not to mention music.
The concept of children as the property of their parents comes from antiquity and is part of the legacy of patriarchy. Modern children are conceived as persons in their own right because the notion of one person owning another person amounts to slavery. Furthermore, children have internationally recognized rights, including the right to make their own decisions according to their ability to do so. The decision to join a religion is a decision best left until a child is a mature adult. But, institutionalized religion has been unwilling to acknowledge that children have religious freedom rights. The institutions depend upon a steady stream of new adherents to maintain their flocks as older members fall into sickness and death due to aging. Until recently no one has mounted any serious challenges to hereditary religion.
Religious authorities deny any harm comes to children and insist a child is always free to make a choice later on in life. This claim simply does not stand up to the facts as observed. Indeed, there is nothing tentative about the religious indoctrination process. It is designed to produce a lifelong adherent and it usually succeeds admirably.
The notion of ending hereditary religion is novel and can startle people upon first hearing the proposal. An immediate reaction is often instant rejection. Defenders of the status quo argue that children need religion in order to behave. Such arguments completely ignore the fact that children in the highly secular societies of Europe and elsewhere behave just fine without being subjected to religious superstition and dogma. Moreover, the evidence is mounting that early religious indoctrination is detrimental to a flourishing intellectual life and can even produce mental anxiety problems when there is a stress on obedience and fear.
Here is the link to the 2013 protest event page:
Where is the debate over spanking children?
Why Does Everyone Pretend There’s A ‘Spanking Debate’?
By Lisa Belkin, Huffington Post, July 9, 2012
By Stefan Molyneux, Freedomain Radio
Spanking was a subject of debate on every parenting website on the continent during the past week, and I don’t understand why.
Yes, I know why it was a topic of conversation — the prestigious journal Pediatrics released a study early in the week showing a possible link between childhood spanking and mental health struggles later in that child’s life, and that was news worth talking about.
What I don’t understand is why it was a debate. By definition, that would require two sides. I see only one.
At what point does something become simple fact? The Pediatrics article was just the latest in a decades-long march of studies showing spanking — defined as hitting with an open hand in order to correct or punish — to be ineffective at best and psychologically harmful at worst.
In April, an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal analyzed two decades of data and concluded that spanking has no upside, and its downsides include increased risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse and aggressive behavior later in life.
A few years earlier, another Pediatrics study, this one by researchers at Tulane University, concluded that children who are spanked as often as twice a month at age 3 are twice as likely to become aggressive, destructive and mean when they are 5.
And it has been a decade since Columbia University psychologists went through more than 80 studies over 62 years and found that there was a “strong correlation” between parents who used “corporal punishment” and children who demonstrated 11 measurable childhood behaviors. Ten of the behaviors were negative, including such things as increased aggression and increased antisocial behavior. Only one could be considered positive — spanking did result in “immediate compliance.”
So would pointing a gun in their general direction. But that does not make it the right thing to do. And, as other research points out, if that temporary compliance comes at the price of long-term depression or defiance, then what has really been gained?
In spite of this mountain of data, though, polls and studies find that up to 90 percent of parents spank their children. And each time we parenting reporters write about the latest studies, our comment threads fill with practitioners, whose remarks range from outrage (“I was hit and I turned out okay god damn it”) to despair (“I don’t want to hit, but it is the only way I can get them to listen”). (You can get the idea here…)
I am continually amazed at what it takes to redirect parenting opinion. It is dizzying how quickly one study or article can — sometimes — change our ways. We started placing infants on their backs rather than their stomachs when there were hints of correlation, but not proof of causation, with crib death. Pregnant women stopped having sushi, soft cheese, caffeine and even a sip of alcohol on the remote but striking possibility that a small amount could have consequences. BPA bottles disappeared in certain circles overnight when there was an unofficial link to cancer.
But other times, we just don’t want to know. In that way the spanking conversation is like the vaccine “debate.” In spite of no credible evidence of a link with autism, and many studies that tried and failed to find such a link, there are some minds that just won’t change.
Your parents hit you, and you are okay? They probably smoked around you, too, and they didn’t make you wear a seatbelt, either, but we know better now. Also, might I respectfully ask how you know that you’re okay? Perhaps if your parents hadn’t hit their kids, you wouldn’t feel a need to hit your own?
It is the only thing that works when your children won’t listen? Swedish children are not running amok in the streets, and spanking has been illegal there since 1979. Sweden was the first of 32 countries — including Costa Rica, Israel, Kenya and most of Europe — to approve such a law.
Some questions really don’t have two sides. “Is it okay to do something to your child that would land you in jail if you did it to a stranger on the street?” is one of those. You can phrase it other ways too — like “Is it okay to hurt a child because it serves your immediate goal when science shows it can lead to long-term harm?” But there is still just one answer.
And yet, we keep seeing it presented as a disagreement.
“To Spank or Not to Spank” was the headline on both the CNN’s report yesterday and the “Good Morning America” segment on Thursday about the latest Pediatrics study. The “Today” piece added the tagline: “Mommy Wars: Raging Parenting Debate,” and a Babble blogger was found to represent each side.
But there aren’t two sides. There is a preponderance of fact, and there are people who find it inconvenient to accept those facts.
Where, exactly is the debate?
Children and the Burden of Shame
Children in fundamentalist families are often regarded as little adults, with the same sinful tendencies and the same need to be “saved.” Consequently, there may be little or no realization that a growing child needs to progress through various stages of cognitive and emotional development. Instead, childhood issues such as egocentrism, aggression, sexuality, and teenage rebellion are labeled as sins, instead of natural and predictable processes. The “sin” is attributed to an innate fault in their natures that needs to be corrected, the child is made to feel ashamed of him or herself, and is disciplined accordingly: “Shame on you,” “You’re so selfish. What’s the matter with you?” “You know Jesus sees you when you do that!” The focus is on guilt, control and force, instead of fostering self-confidence and new coping skills. The innocent child feels they are defective, bad, inadequate, or a failure. They become filled with shame.
Shame is more damaging than guilt, when we feel bad because of what we have done, not because of who we essentially are. Shame takes a heavy toll on a child’s self-esteem, and often becomes a part of their psyche that persists into adulthood.
On the other hand, good parents know that poor childhood behavior is linked to needs, not to a flawed nature, and is part of a child’s natural development.
Laurence D. Houlgate
I. THE CHILD: A PERSON OR A NON-PERSON IN CUSTODY?
Attempts to extend constitutional rights to children did not succeed in American law until the late 1960s, when the Supreme Court declared that “neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone.”‘ In the case of In re Gault,the Supreme Court pronounced that juveniles are entitled to a variety of procedural protections under the Constitution.2 For example, they must be given adequate, timely, written notice of any allegations against them.’ If they are in danger of losing their liberty they are to be afforded the right to counsel,4 the right against incrimination,5 and the right to confront and cross-examine opposing witnesses under oath.” Subsequent cases have emphasized juveniles’ rights to proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ and protection against double jeopardy.8
“Students in school as well as out of school are ‘persons’ under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect.”
When Justice Fortas wrote these memorable words, he was not abiding by either the “Framers’ Intent” or the”Original Understanding” theories of constitutional interpretation. That is, he was not making the claim that those who participated in formulating the amendments to the Constitution intended to include children under its provisions; I doubt that Justice Fortas thought that the amendments were generally understood at the time of their adoption to apply to children. Instead, I believe that if he were alive today, he would probably agree with legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin that the Constitution and its amendments should be interpreted in light of the strongest philosophy of government that could justify them.’ At least part of the strongest philosophy of government that could justify the classification of children as persons is the moral principle of individual autonomy, which I understand to be the right of a person to govern himself, to be free from any external control to which he has not consented. If this principle is part of the moral justification of our Constitution, then it becomes clear why we should include children under its provisions. Young children do not have the competence to make many of the choices that adults make on a regular basis in complex social systems, but they will in a few years develop many of these competencies. Hence, the right to be treated as a person is best understood as a right-intrust. Once we acknowledge this, it becomes legitimate for children to complain if they are not provided with opportunities and conditions assuring their full enjoyment of their constitutional rights when they acquire the characteristics of persons.’ Moreover, the classification of children as persons as a right-in-trust is not only consistent with their being regarded as individuals in custody during their minority, but it defines the limits of our custodial duties. We must provide them “the conditions for their becoming individuals who are able freely and in an informed way to choose and who are prepared themselves to assume responsibility for their choices. And we must refrain from denying children the enjoyment of their rights if we cannot show that this is necessary to protect their future autonomy. Only in this way can we legitimately discharge our custodial duties toward children as persons.
Read the entire paper here:
THE PROGRESS OF NATIONS
THE PROGRESS OF NATIONS
The day will come when the progress of nations will be judged not by their military or economic strength,
nor by the splendor of their capital cities and public buildings, but by the well-being of their peoples:
by their levels of health, nutrition, and education;
by their opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labours;
by their ability to participate in the decisions that affect their lives;
by the respect that is shown for their civil and political liberties;
by the provision that is made for those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged;
and by the protection that is afforded to the growing minds and bodies of their children.
-The United Nation’s Children’s Fund, 1993
The USA must ratify the UN CRC and reform our laws to comply
Measures and mechanisms required to eliminate corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment
Legal reform is essential in eliminating corporal punishment. All provisions which allow a “reasonable” degree of corporal punishment – whether in statute or in case/common law – should be repealed, as should all legislation which specifically regulates the administration of corporal punishment, for example in schools and other institutions. But the law must also explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, as the Committee explains (paras 34 and 35):
“In the light of the traditional acceptance of violent and humiliating forms of punishment of children, a growing number of States have recognized that simply repealing authorization of corporal punishment and any existing defences is not enough. In addition, explicit prohibition of corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment, in their civil or criminal legislation, is required in order to make it absolutely clear that it is as unlawful to hit or ‘smack’ or ‘spank’ a child as to do so to an adult, and that the criminal law on assault does apply equally to such violence, regardless whether it is termed discipline or ‘reasonable correction’.
“Once the criminal law applies fully to assaults on children, the child is protected from corporal punishment wherever they are and whoever is the perpetrator. But in the view of the Committee, given the traditional acceptance of corporal punishment, it is essential that the applicable sectoral legislation – e.g. family law, education law, law relating to all forms of alternative care and justice systems, employment law – clearly prohibits its use in the relevant settings. In addition, it is valuable if professional codes of ethics and guidance for teachers, carers and others and also the rules or charters of institutions emphasize the illegality of corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment.”
The Committee emphasizes that law reform should be accompanied by awareness-raising, guidance and training, because the primary purpose of such reform is prevention – “to prevent violence against children by changing attitudes and practice, underlining children’s right to equal protection and providing an unambiguous foundation for child protection and for the promotion of positive, non-violent and participatory forms of child-rearing” (para 38). Prohibition in law does not mean that all cases of corporal punishment of children by parents should lead to prosecution – “[w]hile all reports of violence against children should be appropriately investigated and their protection from significant harm assured, the aim should be to stop parents using violent or other cruel or degrading punishment through supportive and educational, not punitive, interventions” (para 40).
Effective prohibition requires “comprehensive awareness-raising of children’s right to protection and of the laws which reflect this right” (para 45) and the consistent promotion of positive, non-violent relationships and education “to parents, carers, teachers and all others who work with children and families” (para 46). While the Convention does not prescribe in detail how parenting should be carried out, it does “provide a framework of principles to guide relationships both within the family and between teachers, carers and others and children” (para 46). For example, children’s developmental needs must be respected, their best interests are fundamental, and their views should be given due weight.
Finally, States parties should monitor their progress towards eliminating corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment, including through the use of interview research involving children and the establishing of independent monitoring bodies, and should report on all measures taken in their periodic State party reports to the Committee.
The General Comment is available at: www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/comments.htm
Bigotry is a feature, not a bug
Recent advances in cognitive science reveal clear evidence there is a biological basis for bigotry. For a democracy, in which everyone gets to vote, this is really a serious issue we must address. Our world is undergoing rapid changes that demand flexible strategies, not hide bound rigidity. Consequently, conservative religious bigots are a problem because they refuse to compromise and negotiate; they shrink in terror at the thought of bold new ideas. Were they open to honest and honorable free inquiry there would not be a problem and our issues would be more amenable to democratic debate and resolution. We can clearly see this is not the case. Neuroscience may be opening the door to ways of dealing with bigotry.
Recent discoveries using advanced imaging devices reveal that the brain physically rewires the actual neuronal connections that dictate our beliefs and our behavior based on our life experience and information we deliberately feed ourselves. This brain plasticity feature is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because revolutionary treatments based on the emerging science of neuroplasticity are showing success in treating OCD, phobias, and even schizophrenia (The Brain Can Change Itself by Dr Normon Doitch is a seminal opus). The treatment techniques work by essentially reconfiguring the brain’s neuronal networks. These astounding new findings pose profound questions for all of us and go to the very roots of our science, law, philosophy, and culture. In this respect the new knowledge is as “disruptive” as the theory of evolution and some writers say just as profound.
While these advances are most welcome, we must note that the science poses profound questions for our moral understanding, as it applies to law, and relationships. The age old idea of free will is about to be tested as never before. As Robert A. Burton points out in his book, On Being Certain, Believing you are Right Even When You are Not, what we experience as conscious decision making actually happens in deep layers of the brain we cannot directly control or access.
We now know that once neuronal connections become “hard wired” in the brain they are extremely impervious to things like logic or simple will power to dislodge. One theory that underlies this claim is based on the notion that humans cannot live with cognitive dissonance so we must make choices between alternatives and live with them. Once a choice is made you cannot vacillate between opposite positions, because that would put you in a state of constant uncertainty. We humans crave certainty and are vexed by anything that brings on cognitive dissonance (a point Burton makes). In other words the bias towards adopting rigid positions (whether good or bad) exists to prevent us from spinning our wheels, so to speak.
This trait may go back eons in human history, all the way to Africa. When our African ancestors went hunting in the tall bush and one of them thought they saw a lion in wait and yelled out “lion”, all the hunters would run for the nearest tree without wasting time. There may have been a lion or maybe it was just shadows. Whatever, it is better to be decisive and wrong than be indecisive and get eaten for lunch. Evolution favored our ancestors who were decisive because, think about this. We are really adept at discerning possible threats, but not so good at knowing how to deal with them all. Nature comes to the rescue. She hardwires our mindset so that running for cover is usually the best survival strategy. Otherwise, when confronted with diametrically opposed options (fight or flee) we would vacillate back and forth, essentially spinning our mental wheels attempting to resolve cognitive dissonance. Instead, the brain relies on stereotypic thinking. Once you work out a position on hitting children as a way to control them, raping your spouse as a way to control her, or voting a straight party line as a way to control the country, your mental energy gets conserved for more immediate matters like what to watch on TV or eat tonight for dinner. We roll through life virtually on autopilot and most people may not even be aware of this fact.
Accordingly, discoveries about brain neuroplasticity makes it crucial for everyone to understand that their choices must be based on evidence and facts and not dogma, propaganda, folk wisdom, tradition, intuition or the like. President George Bush was famous for saying that he went with his gut instincts. (If he used his gut to think with, did he digest food with his brain?). Gut instincts, otherwise known as intuition, can suggest promising avenues to investigate, or provide startling insights, but they complement reason and are no substitute for employing evidence and rational thinking when deciding public policy. Who can say how many brilliant intuitions arrive in the morning and after sober reflection are discarded by sundown? Rather than relying on intuition as a guide, a better plan is to adopt the stance of a critical thinker and become a skeptic. This habit of thought is the best way to guard our mind against unsound ideas. What we consistently pay attention to is likely going to wind up hardwired in our brain.
In recent years there has been a lot of attention paid to the rise of far right religious conservatives, the leading population segment composed of bigots. They now are allied with wealthy plutocrats and threaten democracies. Some cultural cognition researchers (Professor Dan Kagen at Yale leads a team) are working on methods of conversing with bigots that doesn’t send them scurrying for a tree to climb. Rather than deal with bigotry as a social problem why not go directly to the source of where people are taught rigid dogmatic habits of mind?
Institutional religion is where the habit of dogmatic, bigoted thinking gets firmly implanted during the most vulnerable years of a child’s life. Furthermore, indoctrination dulls a child’s intellectual development, inhibits their curiosity, and shackles their mind possibly for life, and that is certainly the goal. The “war on reason” is a direct outgrowth of the religious grooming by bigots who hate intellectuals and anyone that disagrees with them.
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