Threats of Punishment

When I started teaching, the single best piece of advice I got is”never threaten your students.  If you say it, you better do it.”  When I became a parent, the single best piece of advice I got is “never threaten your child.  If you say it, you better do it.”*  While roaming the internet and posting things that someone thinks is controversial, “never threaten.  If you say it, be prepared to back it up.”

Some teachers, parents, internet trolls never learn this and their lives are pure hell. The children/kids/internet opponents know that the teacher/parent/troll can’t back up what they say and so safely ignore them.

We have a very simple system in my house.  If the x-boy isn’t listening, then I count, slowly to three.  If I get to three, he gets a pop in the butt and all toys of one class put away (transformers or LEGOs).  Yes, it’s pretty harsh (hah, my family would laugh that is harsh), but x-boy knows that when I start counting, it’s very close to time for him to decide whether it’s worth a pop in the butt and no toys. I have transferred the decision to him.

When these types of discussions come around (and I will tell my son this) I say, “You CAN do whatever you want.  However, you must be prepared to accept the consequences.  If you are willing to accept the consequences, then go for it.”

If you’re willing to accept the possibility of a ticket and a wreck, then go ahead and speed in your car.  It’s your right.  Of course, it’s also the right of the rest of the society/culture to provide consequences for when you do something the society/culture has declared to be wrong.

If someone threatens my family with a weapon, then I have no problem shooting them in the head.  The attacker has accepted the possible consequences of threatening people.  Everything from arrest and jail-time to be shot.  He has accepted those consequences.

I may go to jail, in some places defending one’s self is just as illegal as attacking someone.  That’s fine.  I’ll go to jail, I accept that is a consequence.  But I go to jail knowing that my family is still alive.  I can live with that.

Several discussions of ‘hell’ have come up recently.  Attached to that are discussions about how atheists can have any moral or ethical fiber.  I won’t get into the arguments.  If you are reading this, you’ve probably heard them.

Usually, the person asking this is a Christian, so I ask them a simple question, then explain the possible results.

Your God come to you and says, “From henceforth, I require that all my worshippers eat one baby a month or they will go to Hell.”

You either say
a) “Pass the Ketchup” in which case you are a evil, evil man by any modern standard of morality. Of course, for a true Christian, this is the only possible answer.

b) “No” in which case you have denied your God’s authority to make moral decisions on your behalf and instead are fully capable of making your own moral decisions… even without God.

c) “God would never say something like that”, in which case, there is a morality that is external to God which even He must follow.  Which, again, means that you can go directly to that external morality and skip God entirely.  Provided you have the strength and courage to do so.

Atheists understand that morality and ethics is based on one’s culture.  To a Mayan, it was perfectly acceptable to sacrifice a young woman in the Spring.  The young boys competed for a chance to be sacrificed.  To a citizen of Judea about 2011 years ago, slaves were perfectly acceptable and a slave could be beat almost to death.  Women and children were regularly stoned to death while the entire village looked on.  etc. etc. etc.

Our modern culture does not find any of that acceptable.  Even the Southern Baptists have taken slavery out of their charter (in 1996!!!!).

So, how can atheists be moral?  Because we are smart enough to know what is acceptable in our culture.

That is why we don’t need the threat of Hell.  Atheists act morally and ethically because we want to, not because we are forced to.

And this is a very important distinction.  It is always easier to get certain behaviors if the subject wants to do something instead of being threatened with punishment.

This is a common teaching/parenting ploy.  Engage the kids in the activity, even if it’s cleaning their room.  If it’s a game or there’s a race to see who can clean half the room the fastest, then they will happily do so, threats and the application of punishment is not required.



* The other best piece of advice (from my mom) is “do you want to die on that hill?”  That means, is this a battle that you absolutely must fight?  Kids have a limited about of hearing for parents.  Save your fussing for the really important crap.  If you fuss about everything, pretty soon, the kid tunes you out.  Then he doesn’t hear the really important things.

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2 Responses to Threats of Punishment

  1. Scott says:

    When someone asks me how there can be morality without god, I simply ask them if they actively repress the urge to rape, steal, and kill. Usually doesn’t require an explanation. =D

  2. chrisd says:

    I don’t steal. It’s because I recognize the effect it has on society as a whole and because it is unfair and dishonest to gain illegitimately what isn’t mine. Granted there are grey areas (stealing bread to live) but these only matter in the case of determining punishment, not whether it was right or wrong.

    I don’t cheat. Once again I recognize the unfairness to others involved in academics as well as that the repercussions to my cheating do me no favors – if I excel at something then I shall be judged by it and when I fail at something I shall improve in that. If I falsify my capabilities then I would be forever reminded of them when it comes time to utilize that specific knowledge. For me it wouldn’t matter if I was caught, guilt is enough of a deterrent.

    A lot of the moral edicts proposed by Christianity are common sense, such as if you beat another man’s slave then you must recompense the owner. A lot of them are arbitrary – no meat on Fridays, okay . . . And even more creepy are violations of personal privacy, dictating how many doves to kill when you touch yourself at night.

    It makes me glad to see religion in the civilized world in its death throes – the fervency of adherents today seems to be like last gasps to retain their method of control. And we should all be fine with it – personal discretion about how we conduct ourselves isn’t diminished without religion (mainly because indiscretion seems rampant even inside the hallowed walls of divine morality) – a morality derived from respect for other persons is honest. It is also more compelling than any imaginary stick would be.

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