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Feeling the Heat

But there is wide disagreement even among fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, just as there is among other parents. Some question whether the tongue is the proper target for disciplinary action.

"The tongue doesn't do the lying, the heart does the lying," said Kimmel, the evangelical parenting author. "When you direct a form of discipline to a body part that created the problem, it's like in [other cultures] when they cut off your hand for stealing."

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Ken Williams, executive director of Christian Counseling Associates Inc., in Columbia, accepts a connection between lying and the tongue, and allows that the use of hot sauce is "biblically supportable in principle." But "the inordinate pain and cruelty . . . wipes out anything that makes sense."

Other authorities on religious education for children agree. For example, the Christian Homeschool Fellowship on the Web states on a prominent page of its site, "We do not believe that some discipline methods are appropriate -- such as applying hot sauce to the mouths or tongues of children."

Old vs. New

Margaret McGowen of the District, a staff scientist for a trade association and the mother of a 17-month-old, is familiar with the intense feelings about hot sauce. McGowan's mother sauced her tongue when she was 3 and 4 years old, as punishment for telling fibs.

"She told us the devil was dancing on our tongue, and she put a drop of Tabasco on it to drive him away," said McGowen, who grew up in Philadelphia.

McGowen "couldn't connect" the idea of her tongue's getting punished for a lie, though she remembers that "it really did discourage us from fibbing. All I had to do was see the bottle. Even if [my mother] was just using it for cooking or adding it to a recipe, it put fear in me."

McGowen will not pass her saucing experience down to her son.

"I don't need to resort to chemical warfare," she said. Though she does not blame her mother for the punishment "because she was probably ill-informed," McGowen believes that "today we are more educated about the psychology of children."

She still remembers the feeling of hot sauce on her tongue 30 years ago: "It hurt. It burned. It was hard to get rid of the sensation."

Alison Buckholtz, a Washington area freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to The Post.

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