Monday, April 5, 2010

Moral Relativism for Professionals

Andrew Sullivan muses on the current abuse scandals troubling Holy Church:
It's very odd - and deeply revealing - to see theocons dancing with moral relativism and cultural context on the issue of child abuse.
What's so odd about it? Theological conservatives have always used moral relativism when it suited their purposes, and as Sullivan has also acknowledged (via), the sexual abuse of children has been covered up for a very long time, not by liberals but by the conservatives who run the institutions. And I won't do more than mention physical abuse of children -- beatings, overwork, starvation, et cetera -- which is a tradition of great antiquity.
Up through the period when Meibom composed his De Flagorum Usu, flogging was the standard method in Europe of punishing unruly children. In early modern England, both in homes and schools, across the boundaries of social class, the birch rod - as administered by parents, servants, nurses, tutors, or teachers - became the conventional instrument of retribution. Both boys and girls were expected to be unremittingly deferential to their elders and were beaten routinely for a great range of offenses: disobedience, obstinacy, laziness, a missed stitch, a flubbed Latin conjugation. And the punishments varied enormously in severity, from a gentle hand slap to prolonged, violent whippings that sometimes resulted in the death of the child. For the determined castigator, the child’s hand, mouth, face, and buttocks (either naked or clothed) were fair game. In addition to the birch rod, a ferula - a wooden slat with a large rounded end and a hole in its middle - could be used to raise a large and painful blister. Lawrence Stone notes that in the grammar schools (which drew a far greater number of boys than they had during the late Middle Ages) the standard method of administering the rod required one active and two passive participants: a boy would be beaten “with a birch” by his master “on the naked buttocks while bent over and horsed on the back of another boy.” Even in universities, young men were regularly submitted to public whippings, floggings over a barrel, or detention in the stocks. ...
(David Savran, Taking it like a man: white masculinity, masochism, and contemporary American culture. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998, pp. 17-18.)