Children and the Supernatural

I read this really fascinating article about children and the ages at which they are prone to believing in the supernatural.  So often we think of faith as childlike, and no matter what religion or superstitions you hold to, those of other people always seems silly and naive.  Something a 4 year old might believe in, but not an adult.

Now, I know one study doesn't prove anything, but there are some interesting conclusions.  The younger a child is, the less likely they are to believe that a supernatural being is trying to communicate with them.  And, without being primed with information, children aren't very likely to believe something supernatural is causing events.  Very young children are the most skeptical of all!

The researchers gave the children a game to play and during it knocked pictures off the wall and made the lights flicker — the control group wasn't told anything about it and the experimental group were told there was a friendly ghost in the room ahead of time.  The control group didn't make anything of the supposed signs, but the way the children reacted was sharply different between age groups.

The eldest children (7-9) got the idea that the spirit was doing those things to signal them and responded accordingly.  The middle group (5-6) thought that it was the spirit, but didn't or couldn't make anything of the intention behind the behavior, she was "like a mischievous poltergeist with attention deficit disorder: she did things because she wanted to, and that’s that."

But the youngest children (3-4) simply thought that the picture wasn't stuck to the wall very well or the light was broken.

So, it seems that believing in magical beings who can communicate with you through the real world is an acquired cognitive skill or requires some development that doesn't happen until you're a bit older.  

Skeptical Baby is Skeptical

skeptical baby is skeptical

The Adult Bullies

I haven’t written anything on the many suicides of bullied teens.  Partially because it’s so awful I have a hard time willing myself to actually sit down and think about it for any length of time.  Dan Savage has been at the front of this, starting the “It Gets Better” video series and generally being willing to speak out for the kids who aren’t being treated right.

One thing he’s done that has pissed some people off is to accuse religion, particularly Christianity, particularly Fundamentalist Christianity, of being complicit at best in the bullying, harassment, and assaults that led to these children taking their own lives.

The dehumanizing bigotries that fall from lips of “faithful Christians,” and the lies that spew forth from the pulpit of the churches “faithful Christians” drag their kids to on Sundays, give your straight children a license to verbally abuse, humiliate and condemn the gay children they encounter at school. And many of your straight children—having listened to mom and dad talk about how gay marriage is a threat to the family and how gay sex makes their magic sky friend Jesus cry himself to sleep—feel justified in physically attacking the gay and lesbian children they encounter in their schools. You don’t have to explicitly “encourage [your] children to mock, hurt, or intimidate” gay kids. Your encouragement—along with your hatred and fear—is implicit. It’s here, it’s clear, and we can see the fruits of it.

I think Dan has a hard time choosing between most Christians are gay bashers and most gay bashers are Christian. The second is definitely true, in the US at least. The more religious you are, the more likely you are to teach your kids that homosexuality is evil or, as someone told me the other day in an attempt to really sell me on the idea that he was a liberal Christian and ok with LGBT, “gays are no worse than murderers”.

I agree with Dan, Christianity and the religious right in this country are absolutely complicit in making it OK for kids to say horrible things about homosexuals. I think he’s also responding to things like the Prop 8 campaign, which made a point of never explicitly saying that gays will fuck your children, but heavily implied it and was funded by the Mormon and Catholic churches. As long as Christians think that it’s OK for their faith to allow them to treat homosexuals as less than human (and yes, refusing to support gay marriage is treating them as less than human) they are supporting bullying. They ARE bullying, just in a less personal way.

I’m not sure how people are missing that, so I’ll say it again: if you don’t support the right to gay marriage you are a monstrous bully.  If you think you’re morally superior to the kids who drove these children to suicide, you are not.  You are worse, because you’re old enough to know better.  If your religion tells you to treat other people as subhuman, then your faith is evil.

I will stop accusing Fundamentalist Christians of being bigots when they stop acting like them.

Richard Dawkins Welcomes Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity.

He’s an enemy of children, whose bodies he’s allowed to be raped and whose minds he’s encouraged to be infected with guilt. It’s embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell. And most concerned with saving the longterm reputation of the church itself.

He’s an enemy of gay people. Bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews before 1962.

He’s an enemy of women, barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties.

He’s an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.

He’s an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families they cannot feed and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty which sits ill beside the obscene wealth of the Vatican.

He’s an enemy of science. Obstructing vital stem cell research on grounds, not of true morality, but on pre-scientific superstition.

Ratzinger is even an enemy of the Queen’s own church, arrogantly dissing Anglican orders as “absolutely null and utterly void,” while at the same time shamelessly trying to poach Anglican vicars to shore up his own pitifully declining priesthood.

Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, Ratzinger is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that have made Catholic education infamous throughout the world, he and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation, and authority. His authority.