On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Child’s Song: The Religious Abuse of Children

Bringing Childhood Back Home

In The Child’s Song: The Religious Abuse of Children, Donald Capps discusses the impact of legalistic, bible-bludgeoning parenting and the urgency of its injustice toward the children involved; children who will eventually grow into anxious adults. Capps begins his book by reflecting on the life and works of Swiss Psychologist Alice Miller, and then moves into discussing the abuse suffered by Saint Augustine as an example of religious trauma, as well as the “vicious cycle” of abuse that follows. From here, Capps discusses various religious sources of trauma and the long-term consequences of trauma, instilled by religious authorities who think that religion justifies abuse. Capps later will go on to discuss the parent-child relationships between Abraham and Isaac and God the Father and Jesus Christ. 

As a resolution to his exposé, Capps employs the Biblical image of the Garden drawing upon, as described on the back cover, “the same biblical tradition that has contributed to the physical and emotional abuse of children to envision and initiate the healing process.” Explosive and honest, The Child’s Song offers an alternative look at the child’s will: one to be cherished and protected, not broken by fundamentalist teachings.

Donald Capps is a professor of Pastoral Theology at Princeton. He is the author of dozens of books, including At Home in the World: A Study in Psychoanalysis, Religion, and Art, Jesus: A Psychological Biography, and A Time to Laugh: The Religion of Humor. This book was used as a topic of discussion during PLT Director Charles Marsh’s class “Anxiety: Religious and Theological Perspectives” this Fall.

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