Nick wrote:I am very happy with the BHA campaigns in general, precisely because they are in some way related to religion. (The Make Poverty History is the exception, not because I don't want to see the 3rd World out of poverty, but because I consider it beyond solution by one single grand plan. and too big a problem to be so simply solved. As you say, not entirely successful.) In each of the cases, the BHA position is essentially to get rid of religion and religious justification for or against any particular ethical or moral issue. To take one example: assisted dying. We, as a society should decide whether it is good or bad by reason, not by reference to religious texts. It would be wrong, IMO, for the BHA to get too involved in saying what the law should actually be, since there is a fair amount of variation amongst those who do not hold their position by referring to a religious belief.
OK. I think that's a fair point. I suppose I was hoping that, by being more proactive about a wider range of ethical issues, the BHA could somehow demonstrate how a humanist society might make decisions about such things, but on reflection that is rather too much to expect. I've just read an article called "Punishing Parents
", by Frank Furedi, who is a self-declared humanist, and who is very much opposed to the banning of "smacking", even to the compromise reached in Section 58 of the Children Act 2004
. While I don't accept most of his conclusions, I think he makes some valid points, and I acknowledge that his approach is compatible with a humanist position. So yes, I shall back down on this and agree that humanist organisations should not
involve themselves in campaigns to change the law in a way that effectively criminalises all "smacking".
However, it would be perfectly reasonable to follow the line you suggest, and campaign specifically against the arguments in favour of corporal punishment made by religious individuals and groups. See, for example, "Smacking a 'Biblical right', court told
, 14 May 2002:
Forty schools, spearheaded by the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, want a change in the law to allow them to use corporal punishment ... Corporal punishment was a doctrine advocated in the Bible and was thus part of the ethos of evangelical schools, Mr [Paul] Diamond told the court. "We assert that this is a valid philosophical doctrine and in addition it is founded on a religious doctrine to which elevated status must be given by the court."
And in "Smackers Fight Back
, 10 March, 2004:
Phil Williamson believes fervently that a smack is often the best way to impart moral guidance. More than that, it is God’s will, a parental right and part of the answer to the disciplinary problems plaguing British schools. As head of the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, he is leading a campaign, backed by other Christian fee-paying schools in Britain, for the return of corporal punishment to the classroom ...
The argument is that this “Biblical practice” usually ensures that children need no more smacking by the age of nine: “This was my experience with my two children and, in the days when we were allowed to smack at school, it was usually only children who had not been to our Christian primary school who needed the paddle.”
Instead of accepting this Godly wisdom, he says, society has been hijacked by children’s rights groups: “The nanny state has enforced its politically correct views on parents.”
As it turned out, that campaign failed anyway ("Law lords reject return of corporal punishment
"). But similar arguments are used by evangelic Christians when it comes to the "smacking" of children by parents. See, for example, "Should parents smack their children
?" (NB: pdf file), from the Association of Christian Teachers, which makes some of the same points that Furedi does about the research into the effectiveness of smacking, but also helpfully mentions in passing that King Solomon advocated corporal punishment as a means of disciplining children, and that "every child (like every adult) is both created in the image of God and therefore capable of doing good and fallen and capable of doing evil". The article specifically mentions a meta-analysis of the research into the effects of "smacking" by Robert E. Larzelere and Brett R. Kuhn, which concluded that "smacking is no less effective, and may sometimes be better, than other disciplinary tactics in modifying children’s long-term behaviour. The authors also concluded that, contrary to the social psychology theory of aggression, smacking does not promote any more, and sometimes promotes less, antisocial violence than other disciplinary techniques". I shall have to dig this out. In the meantime, I have found Robert E. Larzelere's name in a different context. He is the author of "The Task Ahead: Six Levels of Integration of Christianity and Psychology", a chapter in a book entitled Psychology and Christianity Integration: Seminal Works that Shaped the Movement
. Hmm. Interesting ...
Anyway, it seems that there might be scope here for the involvement of humanist organisations, along exactly the same lines as the assisted dying or ritual slaughter examples. But it would only be in response to the objections of religious organisations to proposed changes in the law, where they used the "Biblical right" type of argument. How's that for a compromise, eh, Nick?