Friday, August 12, 2011

Got Discipline?

The London riots and those in other parts of the UK in the past week have revealed a general lack of discipline and respect for authority. Some have shown how this is the natural outgrowth of a culture of moral relativism.

Parenting that is based on the fundamentally egocentric nature of moral relativism results in psychological correctness versus moral correctness. Instead of asking the questions, "Is this behavior of my child good? Is it moral?" the questions are asked, perhaps not explicitly but they are implied: "Is my child's ego alright? Are they feeling good? Will they develop psychologically from this situation?"

Recently when I was called to discipline a teenager I noticed her first reaction was to psychoanalyze her behavior and to give me justification stemming from her relationship with her parents. I simply told her, "I am not Oprah. I am your priest, and I am telling you that I don't care why you do what you do. You will NOT do it again otherwise there will be very immediate consequences. Is that clear?" I am always surprised how well this works, while if I had gone the Oprah route she would have known that I was another authority in her life she could manipulate or soft-peddle her disobedience. Instead what happened was that she was corrected and she grew immediately in the knowledge that in Church there are clear boundaries around her to keep her safe, protected, and in truth - LOVED. When I was teaching high school last year it always impressed me how discipline, when it is applied with consequences that are clear, immediate, and deliberate, actually works! There is a change of behavior. Children who do evil learn to do good, and their lives become better. They start to learn that these morally good effects bring them peace of mind, balancing of their personality, and ordering their interior or emotional life, and then something really miraculous happens - they begin self-discipline.

God the Father doesn't need to explain why he made distinction between good and evil. He doesn't need to justify himself, make excuses for the corrective crosses and trials that he allows us to suffer. His discipline is the expression of his love for us. The better we know this and see how he disciplined Jesus on the Cross for our salvation, the sooner we will see that discipline flows from discipleship, the sequitur Christi, following the very interior discipline of Jesus Christ which he lived from the Father. The Father disciplined Jesus on the Cross not for his own sake but that by it we might become good.

It is in the shadow of the Cross that the words of Hebrews (12:11) become clear, "All discipline seems harsh at the time it is administered but later bears the fruit of a peaceful life." When I was the department head of the religious department in a high school I posted this scripture above the door of the teacher's lounge leading out to the classrooms, reminding the teachers that they are not the child's "friend or buddy." They are the authority to be obeyed. To whom does discipline seem harsh? To the child or to the parent? In our days of being oversensitive to one's feelings I would say it is the parent. Here the old adage comes to mind, "This is going to hurt me more than it does you." The truth is that moral discipline does in fact hurt the ego, it denies the ego its self-satisfaction, and this is very psychologically incorrect, and an intelligent child will probably pull out all the stops to tell a parent how mean they are for doing what they are doing, how harsh. In the words of my favorite expert on the topic, "Discipline without love maybe harsh but love without discipline? - Child abuse." Neglect is 50% of all child abuse and love without discipline is a very real neglect that the child will feel for the rest of their life, and if their parents don't discipline them, then their employer, the police, the magistrate, or worse - their wife will have to do it for them.

Discipline needs to be re-contextualized in our relationship with God. This IS happening all over the Church, but there are some sectors of the Church that are perhaps incapable of understanding this. Ultimately their understanding and psychologically feeling good about why canon law is exercised isn't important. What is most important is that it needs to be practiced and done with consistency, universality, and fidelity and let them figure out from the effects why it is good. Thank God there are wonderful new bishops and priests who are practicing this.

Here is one of my heroes with regard to the renewal of parental discipline, which bears within it the ethos ecclesiastical discipline, Dr Ray Guarendi, a child psychologist who specializes in discipline, authority, and developing moral children.

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