The Personalist Project

Another one came into my mailbox today, via a conservative internet journal. It's a story, video included, of an adult whipping a child with a belt. A man had a caught a 14 year old boy stealing his pants at a park, and decided to teach him a lesson. He asks the boy whether he prefers to be brought home or get a whooping. The boy chooses the whooping, which the adult proceeds to administer.

Both are black. I see a black man whipping a black child, and all I can think of is slavery. This what has come of it. A long trail of abuse. The evil done to us becomes the evil we inflict. No wonder there is so much violence and alienation and dysfunction in our society.

The boy cries and begs him to stop. It hurts. He promises he'll never in his life steal again. The adult mocks him for crying, tells him to turn around, humiliates him a little further, then finally stops. Then he tells the boy that he's going to give him his phone number and they'll hang out together in the park. He's presenting himself as a father figure. He clearly thinks he's done well by this boy.

Lots of the commenters think so too. They scorn the critics—scoff at the very idea that the punishment is excessive: "That's nothing! You must not remember your childhood." Several think this is just what's needed these days. More kids getting more whoopings. Teach 'em right from wrong.

All I can think of is the master/slave dynamic of the fall.

Children can't be abused into goodness. They may, for a time, avoid wrong from fear. But avoiding wrong isn't the moral equivalent of goodness.

Force and violence induce fear and rage. Love and kindness have a different source.

I have a friend who had a bad upbringing. His father was alcoholic, then died when his son was a teenager. Others who should have helped and protected him took advantage of him instead. His response was to become isolated, angry, and well-armed. Invulnerable. He thinks this is strength. 

Today I'm re-reading Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies. Many of her lefty ideas drive me crazy, but her warmth and humor are winning. So is her vulnerability. She relates a story of herself lashing out at her small son one Ash Wednesday morning, when he disobeys her by turning on the TV. She screams at him and threatens to throw away the TV; she grabs his arm and marches him to his room, where he cries bitter tears. Then she feels terrible.

It’s so awful, attacking your child. It is the worst thing I know, to shout loudly at this fifty-pound being with his huge trusting brown eyes. 

She's right. Most of us have had it done to us and most of us have done it. But it's terrible. It's not okay. Then, she says,

I did what all good parents do: calmed down enough to go apologize, and beg for his forgiveness while simultaneously expressing a deep concern about his disappointing character. 

I wish this is what more parents did. I'm afraid a wretchedly high percentage are more like the man in the video. They don't think they should apologize. They think they should get kudos for disciplining their children, for teaching right and wrong. 

We are in dire need of deep conversion. 

P.S. I don't like to link the story, but I will, so no one can think I'm exaggerating. Here it is. Be advised, though. It's hard to watch.

Comments (12)


#1, Jun 30, 2015 1:04pm

Hard to watch without crying. Can that kid ever really love his father after that?

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jun 30, 2015 1:09pm

I think our tears are good. Tears and soul-searching and remorse for our own uses of violence.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jun 30, 2015 2:15pm

Another thought: I think there IS a way a child can love his parents after abuse, and that is for the parents express genuine remorse—with their acts, not just their words.

Children understand imperfection and wrongdoing from their own moral experience. They are generally much more willing than adults to extend mercy.

But if instead of remorse, the child finds in his parents a claim of rectitude and justice, combined with contempt for the child's weakness and whining, his heart will be profoundly alienated.


#4, Jun 30, 2015 3:43pm


I know that people treat their children the way they were treated. Maybe as a way of avoiding coming to terms with the abuse they received they falsely believe that their parents were correct to abuse them. It was not unusual punishment 50 years ago. No less than James Dobson of Focus of the family has recommended using a switch on a 2 year old. ("The Strong Willed Child") . I think you are right on that a child can forgive a parent that is genuinely remorseful, but I am afraid that is all too rare with this type of behavior. So sad.

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Jun 30, 2015 5:10pm

Yes, I think you're exactly right. We don't want to come to terms with the abuse we suffered, so we tell ourselves it was good parenting, and we pass it on to our children.

I've been thinking about it a lot with respect to the Synod on the family. I've got a long article in the works about how, to renew the family, we will need above all exactly to come to terms with the wrong done to us in childhood and the wrongs we've done as parents. We will need a lot of repentance, and re-learning. 

We will have to get out of the mode of "law enforcement" and into the mode of love and service. It can't be done without pain, though, so it won't be easy.

Rhett Segall

#6, Jul 3, 2015 12:00pm

Katie and Jules;

I didn't know how to contact you on the following article in the National Catholic Reporter by Jesuit Thomas Reese, so I present it here. It has to do with gay marriage and the Catholic Church's response.  I'd love to know what you think. Hope it doesn't disrupt the train of thought here!


Rhett Segall

#7, Jul 3, 2015 12:12pm

I, of course, would love to see the members of the Personalist Project respond too!


Jules van Schaijik

#8, Jul 3, 2015 10:56pm

Thanks for the link Rhett.

I will have to read the article again in the morning, after some coffee, when I'm thinking more clearly.  (It may not be tomorrow morning, because I hope to go for a long bike ride.)  As of now I have two reactions, one positive, the other one less so.

1. I sympathize with the idea that the political fight against gay marriage is over.  Regrettably, and for whatever reason, the Catholic position on marriage is no longer shared by the vast majority of Americans.  Catholics should adjust to this fact, and find a way of living their faith as a minority in post-Christian culture.  (I have long wanted to study the early church to see how they managed in a somewhat similar situation.)

2. Fr. Reese does not seem to realize how fundamental the institution of marriage (in the traditional, Christian sense) has been to western civilization. Unlike him, I am afraid it is "the end of civilization as we know it."  Things will not just be different, they will be worse. Much worse, especially for women and children.  I think Fr. Reese is way too optimistic about the fate of religious freedom, and about the wellbeing of children adopted by same-sex families.

Rhett Segall

#9, Jul 4, 2015 7:10am

Thank you, Jules. Your reflections make much sense and are helpful.

In their book "What is Marriage?" Girgis et al address the question of adoption and evaluate the situation much differently than Reese. But what's the layman (i.e. non-professional) to do?

Reese also wants to lower the profile of sexual issues for the Church. He's not alone with this position. I think this is a mistake. It's not a question of simply turning to poverty issues and peace issues, etc. and giving a benign neglect to sexual morality. It's a question of doing both.


Katie van Schaijik

#10, Jul 4, 2015 9:11am

My main response to the article was dismay over its lack of religion. He seems to address the bishops as if they're mainly political figures, negotiating various practical problems and concerns.

He doesn't seem concerned at all with the objective moral evil of what is taking place.

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Jul 4, 2015 9:14am

I think Archbishop Chaput's response to the decision was great:

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on marriage is not a surprise. The surprise will come as ordinary people begin to experience, firsthand and painfully, the impact of today’s action on everything they thought they knew about marriage, family life, our laws and our social institutions. The mistakes of the court change nothing about the nature of men and women, and the truth of God’s Word. The task now for believers is to form our own families even more deeply in the love of God, and to rebuild a healthy marriage culture, one marriage at a time, from the debris of today’s decision.’

We have to turn our attention to forming families more deeply in the love of God.

Rhett Segall

#12, Jul 4, 2015 10:42pm

Thanks, Katie. I think many people rationalize sexual sins away by stressing social sins. But, as you note, the sexual sins have a negative impact on the family which is the basis of society. Archbishop Chaput's articulation is perfect.



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