Jesus nailed to the cross
Over 2000 years after Christ's death, some believers remain convinced that self-flagellation is the best way to pay tribute and get closer to God.

A youth pastor in Pataskala, Ohio attempted to illustrate Christ's suffering by allowing students in his program to spit in his face and slap him without repercussions. The church was forced to apologize to the students who watched and took part in the event, as it "failed at creating that safe, predictable environment."

During Holy Week in Mexico, in the town of Taxco, dozens of people watched processions made by penitents who practice self-penitence. Some carry a cross that weighs over 100 pounds. They whip themselves on alternating sides of their back. The scene is repeated every night of Holy Week.

Why Self-Flagellation in Religious Rites?

It's said that Martin Luther, the Father of the Reformation, practiced self-flagellation. Roman Catholics in the 13th century practiced flagellation. Some members of the Anglican community in the Middle Ages practiced it. Self-flagellation is used as a means of "mortification of the flesh." It's considered a discipline in some cults.

Today, most churches condemn the practice, but that hasn't stopped devotees and devout believers from partaking in the ritual. During Holy Week, it is often symbolic, rather than penitential. Practitioners want to be reminded that Jesus was whipped and hurt before his crucifixion.

Hardcore practitioners believe that self-flagellation is a means of getting closer to God. By enduring the same suffering that Jesus went through, it brings the person into a new relationship with God. Self-flagellation is thought to purify the soul and redeem the person.

The Christian church does not have a monopoly on religious self-harm. Some Native American initiations used beatings in the ceremonies. The Spartans practiced ritual floggings. It's also reported that some Shia communities have practiced self-flagellation in relationship to the Day of Ashura.

One BBC article reports that Pope John Paul II practiced self-flagellation. The article went on to say that the ritual is much less common today than it was even in the 1960s. You might remember seeing the practice in "The Da Vinci Code." However, it's really unknown how many people practice religious self-harm in the privacy of their own home. Given a lack of statistics, it's hoped that the figure is very low.

The Practice Continues During Easter Week

Although most people don't practice self-flagellation for most of the year, it's very popular during Holy Week. Mexican officials have tried to ban the practice in Taxco, but it still occurs. Some of the penitents practice carrying the cross for a year before they undertake the procession. It is not easy to walk bent over with 100 pounds on your back. The penitents are anonymous, covered by a black hood that conceals their face.

The practice is also prevalent in the Philippines and other South American countries. The practice is thought to date back to the 16th century or farther, when the Conquistadores came to the Americas.

Do Onlookers Support the Practice?

It could be said that if people want to partake in this practice, that they certainly have a right to their beliefs. However, Jesus became the sacrificial lamb so that humankind wouldn't have to suffer. Because it's a practice that is questionable, it's hard to believe that religious leaders would support the processions, but there are many reports of these processions around the world every year. What is instead of banning the practice, people stopped attending? Would these Easter events still occur without an audience?

As to the case in Ohio, the police were called. They investigated and determined that no crime had occurred, even though one student used a knife to cut the pastor. The incident was recorded on video and even posted to social media. Many parents were concerned about their students who were involved in the incident and those who watched.

The Ohio incident certainly demonstrates the power adults in leadership have over their students. The pastor offered to be cut with a knife by a student. What was a lesson in suffering for the Gospel quickly became a lesson in the power of suggestion. Students who clearly knew that it was wrong to hurt someone went ahead with harm. Fortunately, the church and the youth pastor realized that practicing such a ritual was inappropriate.

Addressing self-flagellation outside of Holy Week could be a start to thinking about how to handle it when it does happen. Why do believers think that they need to suffer like Jesus?


  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    Of course some believe in self flagellation, what else can you expect from people who have the mentality to believe in the creation, and all the other mythical stories they read in their holy book. I’m actually surprised that Christians haven’t brought back stoning people to death.


    1. Rev. Brien's Avatar Rev. Brien

      Lionheart, please don't give them any ideas. ???

    2. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      If they bring back stoning, or burning people at stakes, I've got plenty of room in my back yard to erect crucifixes, so we can help them better emulate Jesus. You bring the vinegar drenched sponges, and I'll provide the rest.

    3. renie's Avatar renie

      excuse me aren't you talking about the Muslims not Christians. they still stone women children nd cut people heads off and all types of torture. so yeah the story is Muslims.

      1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

        Don't be surprised if the Christian extremists get jealous of the Muslim extremists, and seek to outdo them, with an even more horrendous act that they misconstrued to come directly out of the Bible. And they'll do it while whistling a happy tune, like Onward Christian soldiers, marching onto war... Don't you know that all things done in his name will justify anything they do ?

  1. Lori's Avatar Lori

    These are people that are a few bricks short of a load. Brain washed. It's sad that this stuff continues on.

    1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      It's sad that a lot of stuff goes on in this world, and is downright depressing to dwell upon it. Try to ignore negativity, and have a nice day.

      1. Lori's Avatar Lori

        Thank you, Carl. I try hard to keep the negativity at a distance, but there are moments when I have to wonder why. BB

  1. Greg Harden's Avatar Greg Harden

    They are under the ridiculous assumption that they will be closer to jesus and god if they suffer as he did.

  1. James's Avatar James

    Self flogging? masochistic? self mutilation, Self Infliction of damage to ones being created out of LOVE (in the image of GOD)? Self-chastisation? How is cellular destruction / Nano-micro killing of life forms (cells) by egotistical abuse serve any positive outcome? How does abuse of gods creatures by inflicting distress, torture, suffering or the like bring any one closer to the likeness of any GOD? Most all biblical materials are stories, ideals and symbolism is for self growth & development. Not intended as a form of corrupt entropy thru one personal phaneron. What part of "Thou shall not kill / murder" is misunderstood here? IE: Emotional murder, physical murder, Spiritual murder or Mental murder. WMD in the micro views or WMD in the Macro view.. One cell (life form) at a time or one country at a time. Humans are a destructive species. One person or one group or one country. Humans have to satisfy their ego to mame & destroy. Resonate with how healthy this planet and it's inhabitence are. Then think about why.

  1. James's Avatar James

    Addendum... Opus Dei, stipulated that self-harm is mandatory if one wishes to live the "Spirit of Opus Dei" fully. In his book The Way, he wrote: "Blessed be pain. ... Sanctified be pain. . . glorified be pain! * * * It is also stated in weight training "no pain-no gain). does that imply we lifters should bring knives to our work-out and start slicing up out bi & Triceps? This Opus-dei MUST be balanced w/ how the ego works, how the trinity of ones being operates and how to suffer the agony of the EGO being denied. This is NOT all about ONE focus of ~ PHYSICAL ABUSE being mandatory. Whatever one focuses on, waters & nurtures shall be their path. Don't impose personal choice on ones neighbors, family or society. Kill the infidel = ONES PERSONAL-EGOtistical drives. It's painful but one MUST bear it for self-growth.

  1. Bill Kinsland's Avatar Bill Kinsland

    Self crucifixion...self flagellation etc are under 1st Amendment protection...(and believe it r not...there are self-crucifixion kits available...complete with spikes and all...)...but the minute someone besides the lunatic himself drives the nails or wields the flagrum...then it becomes assault & battery....and 1st Amendment disappears...Lock 'em up!

  1. Bill Kinsland's Avatar Bill Kinsland

    To re-phrase Miranda...."You have the right to remain stupid. Anything you say can and will be ignored by a courtroom full of intelligent people"

    1. Rebekah Johnston's Avatar Rebekah Johnston

      Love this!

  1. Dr.Rev. Annie's Avatar Dr.Rev. Annie

    Self-flagellation has sexual undertones, and since a lot of religious people are repressed about sexuality, they sublimate their natural sexual urges into self-abuse. It's sick.

    1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      Let's keep the whips and chains in the bedroom, people ! It's not meant to be taken outdoors, in real life scenarios. It's just supposed to be a game, not to be taken seriously. Talk about guilt ridden, self - defeating masochists. Isn't it bad enough that Christians feel guilty about being human, self - gratification, and otherwise enjoying life. Of course, if they lock up all the nuts in this world who would be left in the free world. There wouldn't be enough people left to run the planet. So pick a group of crazies who you can relate to, and try to fit in.

  1. Bill Fox's Avatar Bill Fox

    You really need someone else to do it to you. Jesus didn't whip himself.

    1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      Whatever floats your boat, old Bill.

  1. Secretary3rd's Avatar Secretary3rd

    Banging ones head on a stone wall also is somewhere in the Bible. I just forget where the passage is.

    1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      I think it goes on to say "Lay your head and wake the dead. Metal health will drive you mad!!!"

  1. Sandy's Avatar Sandy

    What people did centuries ago, needs to be put on the back burner permanently— people back then were highly superstitious and pretty much believed anything that anyone told them to do —i’m pretty sure that God wouldn’t want us to harm our bodies like that— our bodies are supposed to be temples, and we are supposed to take care of them not mutilate them !!

    1. pat h's Avatar pat h

      amen sandy, that says it all, our body is a temple and we are required to take care of it...

  1. Qrez's Avatar Qrez

    That just wierd! if he want to engage in sadomasocistic roleplay he should just find a consenting adult partner to do it with!

    though to be fair one has to wonder at a god who insists at sacrificing himself to himself so he can forgive people for something their ansestors did… wierdo god, wierdo belivers…

    1. Carl Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Elfstrom

      Amen to that, brother Qrez!

  1. John Joseph Dawber's Avatar John Joseph Dawber


    1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      I doubt very much your god is listening John. It’s a nice thought though isn’t it? If your god was listening when people needed help, your god would have helped those on the Titanic, and in the planes heading to Twin Towers, those in the buildings, and all those heading for the gas chambers during the Second World War, plus countless other times people needed help from a deity.

      History in fact shows us that your god is not only not listening, he appears incapable of doing anything about mans inhumanity to man. The obvious conclusion we can all draw is that your god doesn’t exist John. But if it helps you psychologically to believe your god exists, and you seriously believe he’s interested, please keep believing.


      1. Grant's Avatar Grant

        Lion heart, you are truly the king of sophism. I bet you think you’re really cutting edge huh?

        1. Reverend Bob's Avatar Reverend Bob

          Hardy thank yous to Grant and Lionheart...I was able to spend a few minutes of inquiry into the word "sophism". Though I fail to deeply comprehend the whole concept, I have begun to conclude, "Thank God that He doesn't exist!" Thank you both for the profound inspiration!

Leave a Comment

When leaving your comment, please:

  • Be respectful and constructive
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Avoid profanity, insults, and derogatory comments

To view the full code of conduct governing these comment sections, please visit this page.

Not ordained yet? Hit the button below to get started. Once ordained, log in to your account to leave a comment!
Don't have an account yet? Create Account