Over the past few days, I've been writing a series of articles on religiously motivated child abuse, largely focusing on the "Bible-based baby beating" empire of Michael and Debi Pearl (whose tactics have been linked to multiple deaths).
They are, sadly, by far not the only promoters of these tactics. One of the best known promoters of religiously motivated child abuse, in fact, has a network of hundreds of radio stations, a column carried in no less than 400 papers, and an international dominionist lobbying empire that has been linked to everything from the Justice Sunday events in the US to the attempted steeplejacking of the women's NGO AWARE in Singapore.
The folks behind Stop The Rod have been some of the best folks around at exposing this dirty secret of dominionism and keeping the promoters of "Bible-based baby-beating" from sweeping the subject--and the occasional corpse, and the scores more psychically and physically wounded from this--under the rug. Among other things, they were among some of the first to do an expose of the works from the Pearls now linked to the death of a child, and have done valuable work in also exposing the promotion of religiously motivated child abuse by Tedd Tripp (whose methods in some ways are even more abusive than the Pearls'!), Richard Fugate, Reb Bradley (who at times literally commits plagarism of Fugate's baby-beating manuals), Lisa Welchel (who became quite infamous when she promoted the use of "hot saucing"--placing hot-sauces and extracts--on the tongues of small children for things like "sassing"; Tabasco's manufacturers (McIlheny Inc.) and Texas Pete's makers both issued statements calling the practice "strange and scary" and giving strong warnings about it) and has a heartbreaking and horrifying story from a survivor of--and the main test subject for--Roy Lessin's baby-beating books.
And now the folks at Stop The Rod have begun their same stellar work at exposing abuse from probably the most well known name in religiously motivated child abuse--none other than Dr. James Dobson.
Yes, that Dr. Dobson. As in the guy behind "Focus on the Family" Dobson. Sit tight--this is going to be a heck of a ride.
* * *
Dr. James Dobson has made a career off of two industries--running the largest dominionist political group in the US (one which was recently found to have registered itself as a church with the IRS--this should hopefully lead to some investigation).
His other major business is targeting families--and particularly children. Some of it is in the method of recruitment of kids--most infamously in the giveaways of CDs from "Adventures in Odyssey", a radio programme produced by Focus on the Family and targeted at the elementary school set.
The other way he targets kids isn't so innocuous; in fact, he is one of the primary promoters--and probably the most successful--of "Biblically based child-beating". In fact, he makes a healthy living by it--over $25 million dollars of Focus on the Family's income yearly is from royalties from Dr. Dobson's "child-training" manuals, all of which are used to fund dominionism and printing of more of his books.
In my initial series on the subject of religiously motivated child abuse, I mentioned some of the more well-known "highlights" of Dr. Dobson's material that had been documented by watchdog groups concerned about religiously motivated child abuse. A review starts out with possibly the most infamous quote reported--the literal use of the beating of a Dachsund to show how children's wills should be broken in the introduction to his book "The Strong-Willed Child":
"Please don't misunderstand me. Siggie is a member of our family and we love him dearly. And despite his anarchistic nature, I have finally taught him to obey a few simple commands. However, we had some classic battles before he reluctantly yielded to my authority.
"The greatest confrontation occurred a few years ago when I had been in Miami for a three-day conference. I returned to observe that Siggie had become boss of the house while I was gone. But I didn't realize until later that evening just how strongly he felt about his new position as Captain.
"At eleven o'clock that night, I told Siggie to go get into his bed, which is a permanent enclosure in the family room. For six years I had given him that order at the end of each day, and for six years Siggie had obeyed.
"On this occasion, however, he refused to budge. You see, he was in the bathroom, seated comfortably on the furry lid of the toilet seat. That is his favorite spot in the house, because it allows him to bask in the warmth of a nearby electric heater. . . "
. . .
"When I told Sigmund to leave his warm seat and go to bed, he flattened his ears and slowly turned his head toward me. He deliberately braced himself by placing one paw on the edge of the furry lid, then hunched his shoulders, raised his lips to reveal the molars on both sides, and uttered his most threatening growl. That was Siggie's way of saying. "Get lost!"
"I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me 'reason' with Mr. Freud."
. . .
"What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!"
After describing thrashing the family dog, he notes this in the context of childrearing:
"But this is not a book about the discipline of dogs; there is an important moral to my story that is highly relevant to the world of children. JUST AS SURELY AS A DOG WILL OCCASIONALLY CHALLENGE THE AUTHORITY OF HIS LEADERS, SO WILL A LITTLE CHILD -- ONLY MORE SO."
"[I]t is possible to create a fussy, demanding baby by rushing to pick him up every time he utters a whimper or sigh. Infants are fully capable of learning to manipulate their parents through a process called reinforcement, whereby any behavior that produces a pleasant result will tend to recur. Thus, a healthy baby can keep his mother hopping around his nursery twelve hours a day (or night) by simply forcing air past his sandpaper larynx."
Dobson, much like other promoters of "Bible-based baby-beating", claims that if you don't whack the hell out of your kids (literally) they'll be damned:
"Perhaps this tendency toward self-will is the essence of 'original sin' which has infiltrated the human family. It certainly explains why I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood, for that rebellion can plant the seeds of personal disaster."
Dobson has, previously, been considered one of the "kindler and gentler" promoters of "whacking your kids for Jesus"; Stop The Rod, however, is showing that in many ways the "Dr. Spock" of the dominionist set is just as bad as the Pearls and more infamous "child training" manual authors.
In what is an appropriate start for an expose of Dobson, Stop The Rod--a group that has been successful in getting a bill in Congress that may finally stop the marketing of devices as "chastening rods"--begins with a review of "The New Strong-Willed Child". Of course, the Scourging of Siggie is covered with the observation that this would be considered animal abuse. (Not only that, but it's also the observations of people I've know who have worked in humane shelters that beating dogs like that tends to turn them into fear-biters--which, sadly, often have to be put down as unadoptable.)
The article also notes, of interest, how Dobson really seems to feel about kids--and, much like the Pearls, apparently he thinks that all infants are in a great conspiracy against their parents for World Baby Domination (and he even has a nice little bell graph to explain his original views, followed up with a graph showing most kids as "defiant" as his present view:
(from page 7)
However, having talked to about 100,000 harried parents, I'm convinced my supposition was wrong. The true distribution looks more like this...
The fun continues with the claims of Infantile Tyranny, as documented by Stop The Rod:
Dobson calls children many insulting names in this book: brat, bratty, pugnacious, spitfires, defiant, confirmed anarchists, hot lava, Goody Two-Shoes, sneaky, horrid, little revolutionaries, defiant, contentious, double trouble, hardheaded as mules, tough-minded, little fat-fingers, defiant, toughie, irritating, pack of adolescent wolves, confirmed revolutionary, Hurricane Hannah, little chameleon, negative, sour, sullen, ill-tempered, prissy, stick of dynamite, flighty, spoiled brat, goof-off, obnoxious, fireball, snippy, defiant, rambunctious, difficult, testy, groaning lump, nasty, all legs, all nose and ears, cantankerous, rude, unruly, stubborn, defiant, hostile, mischievous, gangly legs, foolish, selfish, insane. Did I mention "defiant"? On p. 6 he makes the bizarre claim that some children have "crooked wheels" and that's why they are "defiant"!
Dobson has some particularly disturbing ideas about infants, claiming that some are "defiant upon exit from the womb" (p.x) "They come into the world smoking a cigar and yelling about the temperature in the delivery room" (back cover). Dobson also says "A healthy baby can keep her mother or father hopping around her nursery twelve hours a day (or night) by simply forcing air past her sandpaper larynx" and "Don't be afraid to let her cry." (p.94)
Dobson says children cause "constant battles" (p.xii) they "pull stunts" and "they just love to go toe-to-toe with their parents. They get their kicks by playing power games." (p.17). Dobson claims "most children seem to have a need to take on those in authority." (p.39) He says "children are naturally inclined toward rebellion, selfishness, dishonesty, aggression, exploitation, and greed." (p.45)
Frighteningly, the theme of "tyrant babies" and the need for children to be broken is a recurrent theme in these books--and a recurrent theme in dominionism in general.
Of course, the recommended tactic is to whack the kid, starting at around fifteen months of age (incidentially, the age at which children start recognising themselves as separate beings from their parents) on page 136. Dobson even recommends making kids cut their own "chastening rods" to be used on them, a common tactic among dominionist "child training" manuals to make kids an active participant in their torture:
My mother always used a small switch, which could not do any permanent damage. But it stung enough to send a very clear message. One day when I had pushed her to the limit, she actually sent me to the backyard to cut my own instrument of punishment. I brought back a tiny little twig about seven inches long. She could not have generated anything more than a tickle with it. Mom never sent me on that fool's errand again.
(Some of the "chastening devices" sold by groups promoting religiously motivated child abuse are around 12 inches, and a switch can cause injury even if it is small. This is completely aside from the whole aspect of making the kids pick their own switches; I remember I would be beat rather severely for attempts to bring in logs or very thin switches in an attempt to avoid a "switching"--once for having misbehaved (which could be as simple as not responding right away), and once for trying to be "defiant" in getting out of the original beating.)
Of course, Dobson's typical argument is "if it was good enough for the Good Old Days, it's good enough for kids now":
On p.120 Dobson quotes an anonymous poem "Grandpop seized a slipper and yanked Junior `cross his knee. Grandpop hasn't read a book since 1923." Then Dobson says "Dear ol' Grandpop. He may have been a little old-fashioned in his ideas, but he certainly knew how to handle Junior."
Dobson even suggests some things that could put parents at risk of visits from the local child-protective services:
On p.15 Dobson tells the story of a mother who spanks her 5 year old daughter and locks her in the garage for throwing some stones at cars. On p.18 he tells the story of a mother who slaps her 18 month old 9 separate times for reaching for a candy dish. On p.20 he tells the story of a mother who counts to three "and if the kids had not minded by then, they would have to face the wooden spoon."
On p.61 Dobson says to spank a 6 year old for calling his parents "hot dog" or "moose" and on p.63 Dobson says to spank a 7 year old for lying.
. . .
On p. 135 Dobson is asked this question: "Q: How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished or spanked? Is there a limit? A: Yes, I believe there should be a limit. As long as the tears represent a genuine release of emotion, they should be permitted to fall. But crying can quickly change from inner sobbing to an expression of protest aimed at punishing the enemy. Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less but may continue for five. After that point, the child is merely complaining, and the change can be recognized in the tone and intensity of his voice. I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears."
On p.136 Dobson recommends using a switch or paddle to beat children. (link above)
On p.137 Dobson says "The spanking may be too gentle. If it doesn't hurt, it doesn't motivate a child to avoid the consequence next time. A slap with the hand on the bottom of a diapered two-year-old is not a deterrent to anything. Be sure the child gets the message."
When it's been pointed out to Dobson that research is showing that religiously-motivated child abuse (and, increasingly, even moderate to severe corporal punishment) causes longterm harm, he boils it all down to a conspiracy and basically accuses accredited researchers of making things up from thin air:
On p.123 Dobson states his beliefs about corporal punishment: "Many children desperately need this resolution to their disobedience" and says spanking actually prevents child abuse because when parents spank they don't "get more and more frustrated" and "blow up". However, research by Dr. Murray Straus and others show that 70% of child abuse cases start out as spanking!
On p. 125-130 Dobson inserts an article that claims the research on corporal punishment is mostly "opinion-driven" and "flawed" and "spanking is not abuse" if done "appropriately and not in anger". This article also recommends hitting a toddler who hits, or the toddler's "hitting will persist or even escalate".
. . .
For the record, Dobson calls positive discipline "repackaged permissive claptrap" "ridiculous advice" "horse manure" and "wimp parenting" (p.37-39).
Were this just one book, it'd be bad enough--especially considering Dobson's multimillion-dollar media empire and the fact he runs the single largest dominionist group in the country (giving him a very large platform indeed to promote this stuff).
Unfortunately, it's not isolated. Stop The Rod has also evaluated another Dobson book, The New Dare To Discipline. If anything, it's actually worse in that it uses some of the same hard-sell tactics of fear to promote what is, in fact, religiously motivated child abuse.
Chapter 1 begins with a round of Tyrant Infants Part 2, this time involving a three-year-old who has the audacity to not want to take a nap when she isn't tired--and Dobson's recommendations to beat the poor tyke into submission:
On p.4 the story is told of a 3 year old girl whose mother tries to force her to take a nap when she is not at all tired. This is a daily occurrence; the girl doesn't want a nap and is never tired at the mother's designated "naptime". The absurdity of the mother expecting her to sleep anyway is never commented on by Dobson. Instead, he describes the girl as "defiant," a "tyrant," a "dictator," and her mother as "hopelessly beaten." The child was crying from her crib. Dobson says she "was brazenly rejecting the authority of her mother."
A lonely, not-at-all tired, three year old kid is crying for her mom who is trying to force her kid to a specific schedule (a tactic often promoted in dominionist baby-beating books to "break" children and get them used to regimentation; the Ezzos are particularly infamous with this with the "Babywise""Growing Kids God's Way" books, and multiple cases of malnutrition and failure to thrive have resulted when those books were used as recommended). Oh, the /humanity. :P
Dobson confuses the home and family with boot camp in chapters 2 and 3:
p.11 Dobson decries the lack of discipline (spanking) from the "unstructured permissiveness we saw in the mid-twentieth century." This is when 99% of parents spanked their children, according to surveys! Dobson is making absolutely no sense here.
p.13 Dobson says a child must obey or he has "utter contempt and disrespect for those closest to him" and "anarchy and chaos reign in his home" and his mother will be "nervous, frustrated" and "embarrassed," enduring "hardships."
. . .
p.18 "My primary purpose...has been to record for posterity my understanding of the Judeo-Christian concept of parenting that has guided millions of mothers and fathers for centuries." and "It is imperative that a child learns to respect his parents." Dobson says a child must not "defy" parents, "laughing in their faces and stubbornly flaunting their authority," and developing a "natural contempt" for parents.
. . .
p.20 Dobson says to hit a child for "willful, haughty disobedience" and when a child says "I will not!" Dobson says to "respond to the challenge immediately." Challenging authority and "disrespect" deserve corporal punishment.
p. 21 Dobson turns parenting into a contest of wills: "You have drawn a line in the dirt, and the child has deliberately flopped his bony little toe across it. Who is going to win? Who has the most courage? Who is in charge here? If you do not conclusively answer these questions for your strong-willed children, they will precipitate other battles designed to ask them again and again." Dobson never considers that children might have good reasons for not wanting to go along with everything a parent wants them to do.
. . .
p.25-6 Dobson says "Parents should be gentle with their child's ego, never belittling or embarrassing him or her in front of friends." Contrast these words of Dobson's with all the belittling names he calls children, like "tyrant, brat, terror, little fat-fingers." Dobson also says "A father who is sarcastic and biting in his criticism of children cannot expect to receive genuine respect in return." Yet in the very next paragraph, Dobson says: "A toddler is the most hard-nosed opponent of law & order" is "selfish" "demanding" "rebellious" "destructive" "a tiger" "a butterball" an "anarchist" and has "fat little legs."
. . .
On p.28 Dobson says "If discipline begins on the second day of life, you're one day too late."
p.29 Dobson says parents must not "yield authority to their infants." "A child's resistant behavior always contains a message to his parents, which they must decode before responding. That message is often phrased in the form of a question: `Are you in charge or am I?' A distinct reply is appropriate to discourage future attempts to overthrow constituted government in the home."
. . .
p.34 Dobson claims "Nothing brings a parent and child closer together than for the mother or father to win decisively after being defiantly challenged."
In chapters 2 and 3 he gives the usual cure--literally knocking the hell out of Junior:
p.28 Dobson describes a mother shaking her 3 year old for spitting. The child spat again. This was "embarrassing" to the mother; she was "too weak or tired or busy to win." Shaking can cause brain damage and death, but Dobson doesn't comment on this.
. . .
p.34 Dobson sends wife Shirley on a "seek and destroy mission" when their 2 children are noisy in a church balcony.
p.35 Dobson says "spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause genuine tears." Afterwards when the child crumples "to the breast of his parent, he should be welcomed with open, warm, loving arms." "Tell him how much you love him."
p.36 Dobson's wife whipped their 15 month old daughter for going onto the patio in the rain. Dobson says to show "parental warmth after such discipline" and to have a "Loving conclusion to the disciplinary encounter." This is what leads to S & M behavior.
p.36 Dobson recommends painful squeezing of the trapezius muscle on the neck to obtain "instant obedience." Dobson does this to a teenager on p. 41, as well as hitting him.
. . .
p.57 Dobson says "sick and deformed" children can be hit too.
. . .
On p.64 Dobson recommends using "switches" and "paddles" to hit children.
On p.65 Dobson recommends starting whipping at age 15-18 months, and "there is no magical time at the end of childhood when spanking becomes ineffective."
p.66 Dobson recommends hitting a toddler when he "defies his parents' spoken commands!" He says to hit toddlers when having a tantrum, and when a toddler "hits his friends." Toddlers should be "taught to obey." Toddlers can be given a "firm rap on the fingers."
. . .
p. 68 Spank children if their bedwetting is an "act of defiance."
p. 70 If a child cries more than a few minutes after being spanked, hit them more.
p. 71 If spanking a child doesn't produce "obedience," parent needs to "outlast him and win, even if it takes a few rounds." Parents must always punish "acts of defiance."
p. 72 Spanking should not be "too gentle."
p. 73 Dobson recommends a child should respond to a hitting playmate by hitting back.
. . .
p. 108 Dobson says "With most children, tantrums are a form of challenging behavior that can be eliminated by one or more appropriate spankings."
p. 115 Don't pick up crying infants right away, to minimize "reinforcement of their tears."
p. 117 If child loses lunch money, "let her skip a meal."
p. 122 Justice should "sting the child who has challenged authority."
At one point, Dobson literally blames the decline and fall of Western civilisation on working mothers (most of whom must work now to put food in the bellies of their children!) and on abandonment of abusive childrearing tactics:
pp. 156-158. Blames the supposed crumbling of "moral values" and "anarchy that is now rumbling through the midsection of democracy" on working mothers and "permissiveness."
. . .
p.249-250 Dobson quotes the "rod" verses in Proverbs. (There is not a single quote from Jesus in the entire book, and not a single verse from the Gospels).
p.250 Dobson states: "From Genesis to Revelation, there is consistent foundation on which to build an effective philosophy of parent-child relationships. It is my belief that we have departed from the standard which was clearly outlined in both the Old and New Testaments, and that deviation is costing us a heavy toll in the form of social turmoil. Self-control, human kindness, respect, and peacefulness can again be manifest in America if we will dare to discipline in our homes and schools." But where is the "human kindness" and "respect" for children? Not in this book!
One of the more interesting notes, IMHO, in Stop The Rod's evaluation is the fact that Dobson himself--in a case all too sadly familiar in the dominionist community--seems to have been the victim himself of some pretty horrific child abuse and now thinks this is "normal". Examples from the book:
p.23 Dobson says "I learned very early that if I was going to launch a flippant attack on her (Dobson's mother), I had better be standing at least twelve feet away. This distance was necessary to avoid an instantaneous response--usually aimed at my backside." Dobson here admits his normal fear of being hit when he was a child - and his efforts to avoid the hitting. But it doesn't stop him from the behavior that triggers the hitting.
p.23-24 Dobson's mother once whipped him with a girdle that had "a multitude of straps and buckles." "Believe it or not, it made me feel loved." (!!)
Pretty much ANY child protection agency nowadays would see being literally flogged with a girdle as being sufficiently abusive as to remove the child from the home. One only wonders now how things could have been different had Dobson been removed from that abusive situation as a kid and taught that such things are not normal. (Frankly, this is something I'm still learning to this day, partly because of my own experiences with religiously motivated child abuse.)
Dobson also expresses an interesting commentary in the book which could be taken in his direction--but not in the way he presumably would like:
p.19 Once when Dobson is out of town, his 2 year old son is asked by Dobson's wife to pray before dinner. The toddler was "startled" but then said "I love you, Daddy. Amen." Because the tiny child said "Daddy" instead of "Our Father" Dobson decides his tiny son's mistake means the child has identified Dobson with God. He takes this idea even further, concluding that ALL children believe Daddy is God.
It's been quipped before that "The name for 'God' on the lips of all children is 'Mother'". If anything, especially based on his abusive treatment growing up and his recommendations to parents now--their God is a wrathful, borderline sociopathic creature who pretty much believes in "the ends necessitate the means", no matter how unethical those means may be.
I wish I could say this is exaggeration, but one only needs to look at the activities of Focus on the Family in promoting dominionism, in the demonisation of their critics and LGBT people and women and anyone who ISN'T a dominionist, to see it. If their is truth to the concept that the first image of God to a child is in a child's parents, it's probably no wonder that they are in a path of hatred and fear and have hatred and fear towards others.
I write this series on religiously motivated child abuse and on coercive tactics within dominionist groups in part to show this, and partly in the real hope that their kids might not grow up knowing God--and their first image of God in their parents--being hateful, wrathful, hurtful. That there's a better way to things, and hopefully someday kids won't grow up with the scars that persons like me, like Beth Fennimore, like the three successful walkaways from the Phelps'...that we deal with every day.
And maybe, just maybe, there won't be any more James Dobsons either.