A few issues have come up lately that I think highlight a divide and a problem that should be getting more attention, that being the difference between the liberal and conservative view of children. As I've said before, Jon Haidt's work is incredibly useful for understanding these differences and how they lead to entirely different politics and philosophies. Here I'll just be focusing on a small part.
The liberal view of society is atomic; the basic unit of society is the individual, which individuals come together in free association to form communities and groups. The conservative view is molecular; the basic unit is the family, which form the smallest of a nested set of authoritarian hierarchies. Father is at the head of the family, then the family is part of a church with a priest at the head, then state/governor, then country/president, then Christian Commonwealth/God. Authority descends from god in heaven, to each level of the hierarchy below.
This is important for two reasons. The first is that it grants the father with god-given authority over the lives of his family, and that any outside interference is an abrogation of god's will, Christian duty, etc. The second is that this isn't interpreted merely as authority or hierarchy, but as ownership. By any reading, the Christian bible says that children are property (sons until they're grown, women until title is transferred to her new owner, her husband). Thus interfering with parental authority is in fact abrogating the most sacred of American rights; property rights. This finds expression in a number of harmful ways, not least of which is simple and straightforward physical abuse, but also emotional abuse.
This conflict has a history going back decades, as when conservatives attacked Dr. Seuss's objecting to spanking as "permissiveness", which epithet is still popular today. Because, obviously, if you're not hitting your child then you're letting it do whatever it wants, yes? They still find outlet by attacking, for example, that most wondrously uppity of bitches, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who wrote the book It Takes a Village, and who is still attacked for trying to steal children1.
Take two examples that cropped up in my RSS feed recently. Both are from Christian fundamentalists: Ken Ham and Mark Driscoll. Ham was upset that mean atheists were attacking a poor, defenseless Christian school (notwithstanding that no one was certain which school it was until Ham put its name into the public discourse) for the most painfully ignorant and vile of indoctrination. Children learned to spew creationist talking points (behemoth=dinosaur, sharp teeth <> carnivore, "Were you there?") and atheists were appalled. Ham defended the school and said it was just another part of evil atheism's recent growth in attacks. He included a list of bullet points that PZ Myers took apart quite handily. However, Myers was mystified at number five and didn't know what to make of it (except to say "Citation needed"). Number five was "Many atheists claim that children belong to the community, not to their parents."
Meanwhile, Hemant Mehta was appalled by a recent sermon by Driscoll, which included the following gem.
One of the dumbest conversations I’ve ever had on this topic was with a pastor. He asked me to pray for his teenage daughter, who claimed to be a Christian but was dating and having sex with a non-Christian teenage boy. I asked him what specifically i should pray for — that God would give him a steady trigger finger? He told me that he had never told her not to have sex because she was an adult, and he did not want to pry into her personal life. I told the man that I would not pray that god would give his daughter wisdom, because God had already given that wisdom to her father, who did not lovingly dispense it to his daughter, and that he was a wicked man who apparently hated his daughter and was a coward unfit for the pastorate.
How clearly do you think it needs to be stated? Driscoll obviously denies the woman any agency, laying all blame for her actions at her father's feet, as if she were a dog who broke the leash rather than an actual human being. And then Driscoll thinks the only proper thing for the other pastor to do is to kill someone. My guess? The heathen who vandalized his property (the man who had sex to his daughter. Not with, because that implies she's human something can be done with).
This is all rather disgusting, and part of a larger conservative Christian worldview that posits that children aren't human, but property, and only men truly escape the status of being property and graduate to humanity.
On the other side, we have the progressive view that posits parents as limited caretakers of their children, who have a positive duty to see their children happy, healthy, and well-prepared for adulthood, and who have limited rights stemming only and necessarily from their obligations as parents. All obligation flows from parent to child and not, as a conservative might have it, the other way around.
1 - Ironically, that's exactly the sort of shit fundies pull with the Good News Club, an after-school program that indoctrinates children into fundamentalism. Their parents think "Oh, it'll be like Sunday School but with their friends" and instead they end up wetting the bed in terror thinking they're going to burn in hell for not cleaning their room. Be careful following that link; you might end up infuriated. Remember what Eusebius said, "If you're doing it for Jesus, anything goes."