This dissertation addresses the relationship between religion and beliefs about physical punishment and abuse. The relationships of level of evangelical beliefs, tolerance of ambiguity, and experience of physical punishment to physical punishment acceptance were studied utilizing a quantitative correlational design. Data collection consisted of completing questionnaires, including an open-ended exploratory question asking people to write a paragraph about how they developed their beliefs about physical punishment and abuse. One hundred ninety-eight participants, obtained through churches, non-religious organizations, and a graduate university, self-identified as "No Religion" (n = 11), Catholic (n = 33), Jewish ( n = 4), Protestant (n = 140), and Other ( n = 10). The sample was placed onto a continuum of religious beliefs utilizing the Revised Religious Fundamentalism Scale (RRFS) and the Short Christian Orthodoxy Scale. The sample was obtained through churches, non-religious community organizations, and a graduate university.
Results of the study indicated that individuals with more fundamental religious beliefs, such as accepting a literal interpretation of the Bible, endorse higher use, and thus acceptance, of physical punishment practices (r = .37). Self-identification as Protestant, as compared to individuals self-identifying as having no religion, Catholic, Jewish, or Other, was positively correlated with a higher level of physical punishment acceptance. A positive correlation was also found between physical punishment acceptance and past experience of being physically punished (r = .32). There was a negative correlation between being nonreligious and acceptance of physical punishment. Analyses indicated that tolerance of ambiguity was not related to level of acceptance of physical punishment. However, tolerance of ambiguity was found to be a mediator of the relationship between level of evangelical beliefs and acceptance of physical punishment. There were not significant differences between level of acceptance of physical punishment based on gender, but gender was found to be a partial mediator between level of evangelical beliefs and level of acceptance of physical punishment.
Regarding beliefs about physical abuse, this study found very low levels of endorsement of physically abusive practices. There was, however, a significant relationship between acceptance of physically abusive practices and acceptance of physical punishment. This study found a significant negative correlation between annual household income and acceptance of physically abusive behaviors (r = .12).
An exploratory measure was utilized to gather information about how people came to have their beliefs about physical punishment and abuse. The most important influence on decisions regarding physical punishment and abuse was one's own parents. On the qualitative portion of the exploratory measure, both positive and negative experiences in one's own family of origin were listed as the most important influences.