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Posted by MikeH in Religion/Theology
Sat Jun 18th 2011, 08:26 PM
Response to OP: Poll question: Christian DUers, do you believe in the Ten Commandments?
Not being a Christian any more, I do not consider myself to be under any obligation to submit to the supposed absolute authority of the Bible. The Bible was written by fallible human beings, and I think it exhibits human fallibility and human prejudice just like anything else that has ever been written.

About the commandment to “honor your father and mother”

One of the things in the Bible that I think is wrong is the commandment which says to “honor your father and mother.” I think it is very unfortunate that this particular commandment is one of the “Ten Commandments” that have come to be attributed to God, and that have come to lie in the center of traditional Judeo-Christian and Western morality.

I will first agree that it is very right and salutary to honor one’s parents – IF they are and have been good parents, and if they have treated one well and have been respectful and sensitive to one’s needs. (And the same would be true of other positive influences or role models in one’s life, such as for instance good teachers.)

However the commandment, in the biblical text, is unconditional, and makes no exceptions if one’s parents are or were abusive parents or otherwise bad parents.

I think it is very wrong to say to any person who has or has had an abusive parent or parents, that that person has any kind of duty or obligation to honor such parents.

If anything there should be a commandment for parents to treat their children with dignity and respect, that the children might come to treat themselves and others with dignity and respect.

And if there is anything that might be considered true wisdom worthy of being regarded as wisdom from God, it is the poem On Children by Kahlil Gibran.

I would think that it is a much greater crime or sin to abuse or mistreat a child than it is to talk back to or otherwise dishonor or disrespect one’s parents.

In fact I would say that the commandment to “honor your father and mother”, in actual practice, really benefits and has benefited bad parents and not good parents, and certainly not children of bad or abusive parents. The commandment enables bad parents to claim legitimacy no matter what they do; they can always say that God says to always honor your parents.

While not a parent myself, I would think that any good or competent parent, or any parent with any self-respect, does not need the backing of a commandment from God.

If anything, it is bad parents, or toxic parents, who need to invoke an alleged commandment from God when they are displeased with something their child says or does, or who would say or imply that an affront to one’s parents is an affront to God. A good parent would seriously consider the possibility that he/she might be wrong, and that it might be the problem of the parent if he/she is displeased or offended by something the child says or does, and would absolutely not ever want to say or imply that God is in league with or always on the side of parents. And a good parent would be very conscious of the need to EARN the right and privilege to be honored, and would not demand or insist on being honored unconditionally.

Alice Miller and her work

The recently deceased Swiss writer and psychotherapist, Alice Miller, in her books and on her web sites, has documented some of the consequences of exonerating or “forgiving” abusive parents, or absolving them of any blame, in the name of the commandment to “honor your father and mother”. Among these are passing the abuse one has received from one’s parents to one’s own children, or to innocent scapegoats, such as to Jews in Hitler’s Germany, or to gay people, for example, here in America.

One thing that should be very obvious if one thinks about it is that if one is taught from earliest childhood to be mortally afraid of challenging, questioning, or displeasing or offending one’s parents (under threat of punishment, physical or otherwise, and always reminded of the commandment to “honor your father and mother”), then one will later not challenge political, religious, or other authorities. Alice Miller, particularly in her book For Your Own Good documents that this is the case both with leading figures in the Nazi regime and with ordinary Germans who went along with Hitler. A very striking example is that of the Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, as documented by Alice Miller (scroll down):

The strong emphasis on obedience in Rudolf Höss's early upbringing left its indelible mark on him, too. Certainly his father did not intend to raise him to be a commandant at Auschwitz; on the contrary, as a strict Catholic, he had a missionary career in mind for his son. But he had instilled in him at an early age the principle that the authorities must always be obeyed, no matter what their demands. Höss writes:

Our guests were mostly priests of every sort. As the years passed, my father's religious fervor increased. Whenever time permitted, he would take me on pilgrimages to all the holy places in our own country, as well as to Einsiedeln in Switzerland and to Lourdes in France. He prayed passionately that the grace of God might be bestowed on me, so that I might one day become a priest blessed by God. I, too, was as deeply religious as was possible for a boy of my age, and I took my religious duties very seriously. I prayed with true, childlike gravity and performed my duties as acolyte with great earnestness. I had been brought up by my parents to be respectful and obedient toward all adults, and especially the elderly, regardless of their social status. I was taught that my highest duty was to help those in need. It was constantly impressed upon me in forceful terms that I must obey promptly the wishes and commands of my parents, teachers, and priests, and indeed of all adults, including servants, and that nothing must distract me from I this duty. Whatever they said was always right. These basic principles by which I was brought up became second nature to me.

When the authorities later required Höss to run the machinery of death in Auschwitz, how could he have refused? And later, after his arrest, when he was given the assignment of writing an account of his life, he not only performed this task faithfully and conscientiously but politely expressed gratitude for the fact that the time in prison passed more quickly because of "this interesting occupation." His account has provided the world with deep insight into the background of a multitude of otherwise incomprehensible crimes.

Alice Miller, in her book, also has an entire chapter on Hitler, and how he became the person he became as a result of his brutal upbringing, particularly by his father.

Elsewhere, most notably in her book The Body Never Lies, Alice Miller does what I consider to be a very good job in refuting the promise that comes with the commandment (“that the days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you”), and the implied threat that one’s days will be short if one does not honor one’s parents. The first part of her book has brief information about a number of well known writers and artists, including Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who may have been very perceptive about the ills and evils of the society in which they lived (particularly Nietzsche), but to whom it never occurred to challenge or break the commandment to always “honor your father and mother”, and who thus never assigned any blame or culpability to their parents or other early caretakers, no matter how cruel or abusive they may have been. The writers and artists whom she deals with in her book all died at an early or relatively early age, due either to sickness or to suicide. Physical illness is very often a consequence of or is aggravated by repressed emotions stemming from childhood mistreatment, according to Alice Miller (and I would agree).

I think there is no difference between exonerating abusive or toxic parents, or absolving them from blame, or not confronting them, in the name of the commandment to “honor your father and mother”, and failing to prosecute Bush and Cheney for their crimes.

My own difficult relationship with my father

I feel very strongly about this personally because of my own very difficult relationship with my father, for which my being a Christian and supposedly having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” had been of no help to me.

While my dad did many very nice things and many very good things, and I had many good times with him, and my dad was an excellent provider for his family, and was certainly far from being the worst father anybody ever had, my dad was often extremely judgmental, and sometimes bordered on being abusive, especially emotionally and psychologically (though I did receive my share of spankings as a kid). He often decided in Godlike fashion that I needed to be talked to or treated like I had committed a crime or heinous sin if I had made an honest mistake, if I had honestly forgotten something, or if something fell short of his standards or expectations. And he would always say that whatever he said or did was done out of “love”, and “for my own good”. And he was often especially poor at understanding, or sometimes even trying to understand, from my point of view, something I was struggling with, or some very sensitive personal issue that was causing me to be frustrated, upset, or unhappy.

Though he would deny it, my dad often seemed to have the attitude that being father of his children and head of the house gave him certain arbitrary privileges, and that because of all the nice things and good things he did, and how hard he worked, that he could do no wrong. If I were upset or angry with something he said or did, it was always a problem with me, never with him. One of his favorite sayings which he sometimes said only half jokingly was “I may not always be right, but I am never wrong”.

My dad died a little over 25 years ago now. I came to realize a little over a year after he died, after the grief and other normal feelings associated with the loss of someone close had worn off, how angry I still was at him, and that his attitude at times and much of his behavior were in fact abusive (or borderline so) and very disrespectful to me. I.e. it was not just something wrong (or “sinful”) with me that I had problems with my dad and was often angry toward my dad and resented things he said or did, which anger and resentment often spilled out to other people and other areas of my life, most notably to bosses or authority figures at my early jobs.

Along with that realization came the realization that my being a Christian had been of no help to me in enabling me to deal with my dad those times he was obnoxious or abusive. And I don’t think it was simply unfortunate that Christianity was not of help; I would say that Christianity aggravated my problems with my dad with, among other things, the commandment to unconditionally “honor your father and mother”, and an exhortation in Hebrews 12 to gladly accept the chastening of the Lord, like that of a “good” father, i.e. much like my father.

In fact my difficulty with my father, for which my being a Christian had been of no help to me, was I would say my biggest reason for my disenchantment with the Christian faith, and my eventually parting company with the faith, and in particular absolving myself of any duties and obligations specifically imposed by the faith (as opposed to those incumbent on any good or moral person). I feel as certain as I do of anything that this was the right and healthy thing for me to do, and am happy about having done so.

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1123 posts
Member since 2002
San Diego, California, USA
Learning from Hitler and his childhood
What point is there for us today in learning about Hitler and his history? For me, the main point is this: our knowledge will serve as a warning against our blindness and encourage us to give it up once and for all and to struggle against collective repression. This is what I do consistently in all my books in order to help people understand the psychodynamics of the mistreatment of children and its immeasurable danger for society, as demonstrated by Hitler's case. My explanations are by no means intended to suggest pity for a man as merciless as Hitler.

it was in large part owing to Hitler and his history that I became aware of the dangers of our traditional morality. We are exhorted to honor our parents and never question them no matter what they have done. Yet when I realize that millions of human beings had to die so that Adolf Hitler could keep his repression of childhood trauma intact, that millions were subjected to humiliation in concentration camps so that he never had to recognize how he had once been humiliated, then I believe that one can't point out these connections often enough in order to shed light on this unconscious production of evil. How should young people be expected to recognize and reject inhumanity and crime if these continue to be disguised instead of being pointed out as plainly as possible? Only when young people are permitted to know exactly what happened and how it could happen, only if they don't allow anything to stifle their curiosity and are not afraid of the truth, can they free themselves from the burden placed upon them by their forebears' blindness.

Alice Miller
Adolf Hitler: How Could a Monster Succeed in Blinding a Nation?

See also
For Your Own Good: Preface to the American Edition

For Your Own Good: Adolf Hitler's Childhood: From Hidden to Manifest Horror
The "Final Solution", Adaptation to Society's Norms, Morality and Duty, and Childhood Feelings
People with any sensitivity cannot be turned into mass murderers overnight. But the men and women who carried out "the final solution" did not let their feelings stand in their way for the simple reason that they had been raised from infancy not to have any feelings of their own but to experience their parents' wishes as their own. These were people who, as children, had been proud of being tough and not crying, of carrying out all their duties "gladly," of not being afraid--that is, at bottom, of not having an inner life at all.


This perfect adaptation to society's norms--in other words, to what is called "healthy normality"--carries with it the danger that such a person can be used for practically any purpose. It is not a loss of autonomy that occurs here, because this autonomy never existed, but a switching of values, which in themselves are of no importance anyway for the person in question as long as his whole value system is dominated by the principle of obedience. He has never gone beyond the stage of idealizing his parents with their demands for unquestioning obedience; this idealization can easily be transferred to a Führer or to an ideology. Since authoritarian parents are always right, there is no need for their children to rack their brains in each case to determine whether what is demanded of them is right or not. And how is this to be judged? Where are the standards supposed to come from if someone has always been told what was right and what was wrong and if he never had an opportunity to become familiar with his own feelings and if, beyond that, attempts at criticism were unacceptable to the parents and thus were too threatening for the child? If an adult has not developed a mind of his own, then he will find himself at the mercy of the authorities for better or worse, just as an infant finds itself at the mercy of its parents. Saying no to those more powerful will always seem too threatening to him.


Morality and performance of duty are artificial measures that become necessary when something essential is lacking. The more successfully a person was denied access to his or her feelings in childhood, the larger the arsenal of intellectual weapons and the supply of moral prostheses has to be, because morality and a sense of duty are not sources of strength or fruitful soil for genuine affection. Blood does not flow in artificial limbs; they are for sale and can serve many masters. What was considered good yesterday can--depending on the decree of government of party--be considered evil and corrupt today, and vice versa. But those who have spontaneous feelings can only be themselves. They have no other choice if they want to remain true to themselves. Rejection, ostracism, loss of love, and name calling will not fail to affect them; they will suffer as a result and will dread them, but once they have found their authentic self they will not want to lose it. And when they sense that something is being demanded of them to which their whole being says no, they cannot do it. They simply cannot.

Alice Miller
For Your Own Good: The Central Mechanism of "Poisonous Pedagogy"
Other tyrants and their childhood
In the lives of all the tyrants I examined, I found without exception paranoid trains of thought bound up with their biographies in early childhood and the repression of the experiences they had been through. Mao had been regularly whipped by his father and later sent 30 million people to their deaths, but he hardly ever admitted the full extent of the rage he must have felt toward his own father, a very severe teacher who had tried through beatings to "make a man" out of his son. Stalin caused millions to suffer and die because even at the height of his power his actions were determined by unconscious infantile fear of powerlessness. Apparently his father, a poor cobbler from Georgia, attempted to drown his frustration with liquor and whipped his son almost every day. His mother displayed psychotic traits, was completely incapable of defending her son and was usually away from home either praying in church or running the priest's household. Stalin idealized his parents right up to the end of his life and was constantly haunted by the fear of dangers that had long since ceased to exist but were still present in his deranged mind. The same might be true of many other tyrants. The groups of people they singled out for persecution and the rationalization mechanisms they employed were different in each case, but the fundamental reason behind it was probably identical. They often drew on ideologies to disguise the truth and their own paranoia. And the masses chimed in enthusiastically because they were unaware of the real motives, including those operative in their own biographies. The infantile revenge fantasies of individuals would be of no account if society did not regularly show such naive alacrity in helping to make them come true.

Alice Miller
The Political Consequences of Child Abuse
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