This paper examines the role of religious texts in the legitimation of punitive parenting. Such texts predate Christianity, most notably passages from the book of Proverbs, and extend to pedagogical materials in use today. These include a parenting pamphlet by Matthew McMahon, an American Christian fundamentalist who advocates severe punitive parenting based on Biblical texts, and James Dobson’s best-selling books, which moderate such severity with principles of modern psychology. The persistence of punitive parenting in Christianity can be related to an overarching theological model: the notion that Jesus the Son of God needed to suffer a violent death so that his divine Father would consent to save sinful humanity.
Constance L. Benson is a scholar, educator, and the author of God and Caesar, a study of religion and politics in Imperial Germany. She holds Masters degrees from Harvard Divinity School and Columbia University and has taught comparative religion and the sociology of religion at Fordham University and Manhattan College. She is a member of the International Psychohistorical Association and currently teaches English as a Second Language in New York City.