The most disturbing 8 year old in the world

This cute kid makes a nice rant that I completely agree with, but yeesh—those aren’t her words. She’s playing dress-up and prancing in front of a camera, and reciting with child-like enthusiasm words someone else wrote for her. That bugs me.

My kids were brought up without religion, and I know what a genuinely godless kid is like. They’re interested in Where’s Waldo and Dr Seuss, not Richard Carrier and Robert Ingersoll and Richard Dawkins. They play video games and like the swings at the local park. They run into religious practices when they visit their friends, and they’re curious, but it’s not a big deal…it’s exactly like discovering the different foods their friends’ families eat. They don’t care about religion.

So sure, this kid is cute, but she rings false. Please, atheists, don’t use your children as props in this kind of anti-religious tirade—speak for yourself.

(via Echidne)


  1. DMC says

    I know you say you brought up your kids without indoctrination, but you also say you brought them up without religion.

    Somehow, I lack belief in your claim that that there was no indoctrination.

    But be of good cheer, kids often later rebel against what they were brought up as.

  2. Aureola Nominee, FCD says


    how hard is it to understand that NOT feeding religion to your kids is not the same thing as feeding them rejection of religion?

    NOT believing in any god is not the same as believing in something else.

    Gee, I don’t know how many times I’ve read PZ (and practically every other vocal atheist I know) clarify this concept, only to have some know-it-all theist (or agnostic, alas) insist that it is not so, they THEY know what being an atheist means!

  3. says

    I agree with you completely. That is a disturbing video.

    I hate it when conservative politicans and the religious right use children as props to promote their agendas — and I hate it even more when someone with supposedly progressive values does the same thing. It’s so disappointing. Ugh.

  4. Hank Fox says

    Oh, you people. Tsk.

    I think this is creative as hell.

    Jeez, of course those are not her words. But it rings no falser than any advertisement on TV or radio.

    It’s a performance piece, and it is obviously the words of a sponsor being PERFORMED by a precocious child.

    And it wasn’t “heavily edited.” It was artistically pieced together from disparate performance elements. Really, I thought it was a brilliant solution, considering that the producer was working with an 8-year-old (I’m assuming, from PZ’s title).

    The message is a good one. One that should be heard. This unique and original PRESENTATION of that message was the creative way the originator saw to do that.

    Take a moment for a second thought, PZ. We atheists have to stop eating our young. This was a good effort, a respectable presentation of the idea that it’s better to teach ethics than religion.

    It may catch the attention of some fraction of our target audience in a way that more scholarly presentations wouldn’t. And it might do that even if (or maybe ESPECIALLY) if it becomes controversial.

    The lighting could have been better. Other than that, though, I say it was great.

  5. Mooser says

    It’s art. It’s a film. The little girl may not even speak English and learned the part by rote for all I care.
    I’m sure the little girl designed her costume, tho.

  6. Mooser says

    Anyway, if I had an eight year old girl I hope she would talk that way, and back it up with her fists, if necessary.

  7. says

    My prediction: “born again” at 16, back in the atheist fold in her mid-20s. She’s cute, though, and if she understands what she’s saying, all the better :)

  8. iGollum says

    She’s a puppet. It’s sad, and creepy. I was a godless kid myself, hung out with other godless kids all the time, and I never met one who talked like that. The only kids I knew who talked like that, although the message itself was quite different, were those of fundamentalist theist parents who force-fed them religion which they’d regurgitate on demand like little show animals.

  9. Richard Clayton says

    Cute kid, and I’ve known ankle-biters who really are that articulate… but I agree that the whole thing rings false. Please, don’t use children as mouthpieces for your ideology, okay?

  10. Patness says

    Maybe there’s a subtext I’m missing here, but this is a promotion for a band. Says so quite clearly at the end. This isn’t anti-religion. At best it’s anti-Christianity, and given the context that message is being delivered from, that’s understandable.

    As far as using the kid, I’m leaning to the idea that I don’t want to see it done, but only because it reminds me of asshole parents who live vicariously through their children. I’d prefer to let kids fight me and not subject them to this stuff.

  11. says

    This was obviously scripted but even at 8 years old I knew the sky fairy was only so much crap. My parents weren’t very religious but I found out I got my healthy dose of cynicism toward religion from my mother. After mom passed away my father went towards fundamentalism, so he and I don’t see eye to eye anymore.

    The only difference was that at 8, I didn’t have a way of expressing the fact that I was a godless kid.

  12. craig says

    “And Skatje’s budding atheism has NOTHING TO DO with how PZ has reared her.”

    Of course it does. If you DON’T drill into someone’s head since birth that there’s a secret sky wizard they have to believe in to not be an evil person, there’s a pretty decent chance they’ll not grow up to believe in secret sky wizards.

    Because the very idea is pretty freaking stupid.

    People who haven’t been systematically brainwashed since birth tend not to show symptoms of having been brainwashed. Pretty startling revelation there, hoody.

  13. says

    Unless PZ used to lecture his daughter regularly and insistently on the nonexistence of god, nothing even close to “indoctrination” ever occurred. There was, of course, lots of teaching by example, which is what naturally occurs if you don’t go to a house of worship on specially designated days, etc., etc. Sunday school and catechim classes are much more like indoctrination than anything nonbelieving parents are likely to do while raising their children.

    For a really disturbing abuse of children, consider the loonies at Westboro Baptist Church, who drag their children to “Hate Fags” and “Hate America” demonstrations.

    P.S.: I have a new missive from AiG’s Ken Ham, who seems to agree with Richard Dawkins on the fragility of Biblical literalism. Quoted here.

  14. junk science says

    Why PZ would have to “indocrinate” his daughter against god, I can’t imagine. Where the hell would a kid come up with the idea of a god? Kids like imaginary friends they can talk to who aren’t giant judgmental assholes.

  15. llewelly says

    But it rings no falser than any advertisement on TV or radio.

    Quite true.
    However … I find it interesting that you appear to see these words as indicating that the video has an adequate level of sincerity, whereas I see the same words as indicating it has a deplorably low level of sincerity.

  16. says

    Thanks PZ. It’s a classic example of how not to behave with your children. This is what Dawkins means when he talks about child abuse.

    We need to teach tolerance and skepticism and give our kids the tools to make up their own minds when the time comes. This girl doesn’t understand half of the words that have been put in her mouth, and that’s very sad.

  17. Older says

    Okay, it does look like she’s following a script. But acting ability (for lack of better terminology) is not something everyone has. As to the ideas being expressed, I have myself a son (now 18) who was , as a kid, very interested in such things. He was obssessed with questions of social equity, and was for instance a vigorous advocate of Ralph Nader’s campaign for the presidency (when he was six or so). Not us, we had plenty of arguments with him about it, and it was clear that he understood the issues, but we couldn’t persuade him.

    So she might very well have written the script herself. But would a kid like that actually watch Oprah? Well, maybe.

  18. says

    Funny thing, actually. I thought I was a Christian when I was little because all the other kids said they were, but my parents never told me anything about religion. So I just assumed I was like the rest of the kids, without even knowing what a Christian was.

  19. says

    I know you say you brought up your kids without indoctrination, but you also say you brought them up without religion.

    Somehow, I lack belief in your claim that that there was no indoctrination.

    But be of good cheer, kids often later rebel against what they were brought up as

    Wasn’t it Dawkins who said that people who make the claim atheism is a belief system might as well say not collecting stamps is a hobby?

    The other great argument that also touches on this is the “everybody is an atheist” about something bit. Excepting maybe the leprechaun/astral plane girl, most people disbelieve in most theologies as a requirement of their faith. Most Christians for instance are Zeus atheists. Does that mean their Zeus atheism is a belief system? I would think not since they probably never think about Zeus.

    So, for the last time theist/agnostic people, atheism isn’t a belief or its own religion, it is the absence of one. If you can’t handle tha we’re going to demand that when you describe your beliefs you’re going to have to say something like, “I’m a Christian, Buddha agnostic, Roman Pantheon atheist, Ra atheist, Cthulu atheist….”

  20. Rob says

    You guys are way overreacting. She’s a kid performing a script. It’s a performance and it’s funny. There’s no reason to assume she’s being indoctrinated in any way, any more than the little boy in Bad Santa was indoctrinated to wet his pants. It’s a silly video she probably won’t even remember making in ten years.

  21. says

    I agree with you, Rob–honestly, I can see my 7YO (who has thespian tendencies of his own) being stoked to appear in something like this.

    And I’d probably let him–it would be a good jumping-off point for a conversation about how people come to believe what they believe and the difference between speaking for yourself and following a script.

    (N.B.: He was actually in a (very) amateur (and ultimately unproduced) film production last summer and appeared in a scene where he had to join his film-family in prayer. The first couple takes were messed up because he kept opening one eye and peeking over at me, obviously thinking “I can’t believe I’m bowing my head and listening to this.”)

  22. says

    I raised my son without religion and when he was about 15 he thanked me for it. (Some of his friends’ parents practiced psycho homemade religions).

    One problem he cmae up with is not being able to pigeonhole people correctly, so I had to explain that Jews are not Christians, Mormons are not always accepted by other Christians, and that “Nazi” is not a religion to be tolerated.

  23. says

    Even if you don’t want to call atheism a belief system, an atheist still carries the baggage of the surrounding theism. So a pagan atheist might still be swearing by Thor, while a Sean Carroll (on cosmicvariance) talks about the Devil’s Workshop.

    On a deeper level, the atheist probably still carries implicitly the surrounding theism’s notions of human nature and so on.

    For instance, Professor Balagangadhara argues regarding the active and passive versions of human rights, and concludes:

    “Both the notions of rights are thus essentially and non-trivially bound up with Christian theology. The plausibility of these secular versions depends very much upon the presence of their theological or religious original in one’s intuitive world model. By saying this, I do not want to imply that all theorists of human rights are Christians, much less theists. I do not even want to suggest that all Christians have a uniform understanding of their God. And yet, I suggest, it is only from within the framework of such a culture that one can provide intelligibility to the concept of rights. Outside of it, both the rights doctrine and the notion of sovereignty remain unintelligible.

    One could, without problem, grant Christians their God; but why accept a doctrine, which crucially requires their religion to make it intelligible? The “Asian gods” are not the least like their Christian counterpart: our gods are not “sovereigns” and their will is not law. Our gods cannot own what they create just because they have created it. Our gods are not ‘good’ and they do inflict injustice upon men. And yet, all of us are Christians: or, at least, we talk as though we were. To this day, the world over, the Christian God rules us!”

    So it makes sense to know if you are a Christian atheist or some other atheist, until, at least, atheists put together a intuitive world-view of their own that does not rely

  24. says

    Eh, it was just a kid acting, saying some very adult things. Steven Colbert does it on his show all the time, and it’s a hoot. (Of course, partly because the kids are deliberately amateurish. . .)

  25. Mike Haubrich says

    I checked out the band’s site, and the music is okay. I think it is an attempt at viral marketing for a band, even though they give the music away they may think that they can be the next “Tapes N Tapes.”

    The music reminds me of “Tessa and the Wall.”

  26. says

    I think the main problem is that it’s not very amusing… the hook is that it’s a kid saying it, and that’s it. My advice to atheists is: If you must exploit your children in this way, try to give them better material (rather than just a humorless topical rant).

    I liked the “going to hell” song at the end.

  27. Scott Hatfield says

    Would that my fellow Christians would also refrain from using their offspring as totems and standard-bearers. It’s hard enough being a kid without taking on the burden of defending your parent’s belief system. We should be encouraging our children to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions, rather than parrot our beliefs.


  28. Russell says

    But if not religion, Skatje, surely there are other things you learned from your parents that you later had to unlearn? I don’t ask this to denigrate PZ in any fashion. It just seems to me that it is impossible to raise children otherwise. We don’t pop out of the womb full of self-reflection and ready to examine our own thoughts, but rather, as creatures greedy to learn. And parents teach, most of the time not aware when or what they’re teaching.

  29. LL says

    It has always bothered me, ever since I was 5 years old, when children try to act like adults (or, as cartoon characters, have adult voices). LAME. I have no idea why people think that shit is funny.

  30. Hank Fox says

    My advice to atheists is: If you must exploit your children in this way, try to give them better material (rather than just a humorless topical rant).

    Again, I don’t see this little girl as “exploited.” Or at least, no more than, say, Macaulay Culkin was exploited while doing those Home Alone movies.

    I’m guessing from the “you atheists” bit that you’re religious? How about if “we atheists” agreed to creep around quietly and not call attention to ourselves at all? That would be great, huh?

    I mean, goodness knows, Christians have been soooooo circumspect for the past couple of thousand years, it’s only fair that “we atheists” respect that — and maintain the balance — by self-censoring when these novel little ideas crop up.

  31. says

    Dear Pz and posters,

    I enthusiastically await the release of the upcoming Charlotte’s Web movie, so I can read your condemnations of Dakota Fanning’s parents for allowing her to express scripted pro-PETA propaganda.

  32. Gwendolyn Oblivion says

    I stopped the video halfway through because it bored me to tears. A very cute little girl to be sure, but the scripting was duller than a very dull thing that was designed to be dull.

  33. Mary says

    All talk of propaganda and puppets aside, it was both dull and cutesy. I couldn’t make it past the first few seconds.

  34. JYB says

    I was brought up non-religious and I wasn’t indoctrinated. It simply wasn’t a big deal. That was the key. Religion was a non-issue. I remember asking my dad why we didn’t go to church and he said if I wanted to I could. It was up to me to decide. I decided to play basketball on Sundays. Of course my Grandma tried her hardest to Christianize me whenever I’d visit. She even bought me “Bible Adventures” for the Nintendo so I could go around and collect two of every animal. If you’ve never heard of the game here’s a link. It was fantastically bad. There was this other one too where you were Moses and you shot people with this giant “W” representing the Word of God.

  35. says


    I’m tickled you thought I was arguing from the other side :)

    Note that to give advice “to atheists” is not to exclude oneself from that group. It only just occurred to me that I probably should have broadened my comments to everyone, but then, I’m not actually interested in helping Christians hide their dumb ideas behind clever humor.

    One of the hardest stigma to overcome as an atheist (or anyone with strong views) is the appearance of being humorless. It makes us seem like pedantic assholes when we start lecturing someone who couldn’t actually give a shit about religion either way, and the best way to avoid this is at least to be entertaining. Read some of the comments on this site and you see this prickly “comic book store guy” vibe cropping up all over.

    While being defensive and analytical doesn’t invalidate ones viewpoint, it doesn’t help sell it either, and the best way to make the bogey man go away is to laugh at him.

  36. says

    “I know you say you brought up your kids without indoctrination, but you also say you brought them up without religion.

    Somehow, I lack belief in your claim that that there was no indoctrination.”

    This strikes me as similar to the ‘Atheism is just another belief system’-argument.

    ‘Isn’t non-indoctrination just another form of indoctrinatin?’

  37. zilch says

    Performance? Cutesy.
    Lasting ill effects on kid? Probably none.
    Political/Social impact on potential converts? Hard to say.

    My wife-in-sin and I tried to raise our kids to be critical thinkers. When they got to the age where they asked about God, their Mom said she believed and I said I didn’t.

    Adam is now eighteen, Rosalind is sixteen, and they’re both atheists. I strongly suspect indoctrination in critical thinking is at fault.

  38. Damien says

    Arun: I’d agree that many atheists carry theist intellectual baggage, with concept networks that have had the ‘God’ and ‘soul’ nodes knocked out, so they’ll say they don’t believe in a soul but still talk about rights or the possibility of AI like a theist. I don’t think Christian think is the only source for thinking about rights, though. As for an intuitive world-view, that was done 600 years before Christ by the Carvaka, then again 200-300 years later by Democritus and the Epicureans, with atomism filling out the world-view.

    Of course, neither had an idea of absolute rights, but that’s fine by me; social contract ideas, or “this is the sort of world I want to live in” ideas, work too.

  39. Russell says

    Natural rights? “Nonsense on stilts.”

    Well. Someone had to say it. It might as well have been Bentham. ;-)

  40. says

    Natural rights can be just as easily derived from logic and the basic necessities of society as they can from religion (and with far less baggage and contradiction).

    “But if not religion, Skatje, surely there are other things you learned from your parents that you later had to unlearn?”

    It’s always bugged me how much people have to unlearn over the course of their lives. I’ve gotten into several math- and science-class rants ever since High School on the subject. We tell kids “you can’t subtract a larger number from a smaller one” and “you can’t take the square root of a negative number” and then later on say “yeah, that? Forget it, here’s the real truth.” It’s frustrating to go through that; if you just told kids “all knowledge is conditional on the assumption that later/more reliable knowledge doesn’t contradict it,” or something like that, life would be much easier.

  41. Dan P says

    Yes it is probaply scripted by an adult but disturbing? No way! I watched it with my 11 year old brother and we loved it. Don’t you people remember when you were 10 years old, I loved science and had recorded Carl Sagan and science programs on tape, I sure wasn’t interested in “simple things” I’m 21 now and still remember my experiences and state of mind at that age. Do you really forgot it all when you get much older?

  42. Hank Fox says


    I apologize for misreading you. When we meet in person someday, I’ll share with you the Atheist Brotherhood Hug and present you with one of our official Atheist Lodge Hats.

    Meanwhile, fight the good fight. :D

  43. Steve Watson says

    Define “indoctrination”. I was raised by agnostics, and though my father never systematically sat down and told me what I was supposed to believe or anything, I knew his views from an early age (probably when I first discovered that some other families believed in this “God” thing, and went to church). Even without any hint of coercion, that sort of thing carries a lot of weight to a young child. By the time I was in grade 2 or so, I not only knew what “agnostic” and “atheist” meant, I could even spell them ;-). Subjectively, my childhood unbelief was not just an unconcious default, but held in full awareness that it was not a universal (or even very common) opinion. So my point in all this is that it is difficult or impossible to raise a child in a way that is neutral w.r.t. religious issues — the surrounding society has its own views; kids are sponges, and they absorb your attitudes by osmosis, if nothing else. The “default” state of most children, pre-teenage-rebellion, is to be whatever the parents are.

    Fortunately there is one way to avoid having your kids just repeat your mistakes (or merely making the opposite ones, out of rebellion): teach and model critical thinking. If they never stop asking questions, they are never likely to become trapped in their (or your) prejudices.

    (And when, at age 15, I became an Evangelical, did that represent an advance of critical thought on my part, or a failure of it? I could argue both ways, but not just now).

  44. says

    We tell kids “you can’t subtract a larger number from a smaller one” and “you can’t take the square root of a negative number” and then later on say “yeah, that? Forget it, here’s the real truth.”

    I was usually the smartass kid arguing with the teacher on points like that. They’d usually tell me I was wrong and to be quiet, which… now that I think of it, kind of bothers me! But it’s okay. It only reinforced my developing opinion that it’s best to question everything, even from authority figures (my parents had a lot of fun dealing with that particular policy).

    The video above is obviously scripted, but it accurately reflects some of the opinions I might have been beginning to form by that age (I know because I was putting some of them on paper as early as 10 or 11). I may not have understood references to specific people or groups mentioned, but I definitely could have understood the main point well enough to agree or disagree, and to comment on it myself (probably would have determined that “Bill O’Reilly is a stupidhead”). So it doesn’t necessarily “ring false” to me.

    Whether or not it’s disturbing, I can’t say, since I don’t know the girl, her ability to understand what she’s saying, or how she might feel about those words. However, the girl knows that she is reading words that aren’t her own, and if she’s 8ish, I figure that she’s probably able to separate herself from them reasonably well. “Here, read this” is different from “these are the facts”. Without knowing how much of the latter went on, it’s hard to comment.

  45. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    I noticed O’Reilly and “former sex crimes prosecutor” Wendy Murphy seething about this yesterday. They were demanding that social workers be brought in, that the girl be taken into care to protect her from further abuse by her parents and, at the very least, the girl and her family should be shunned by their neighbours. It wasn’t clear whether they thought child abuse or atheism was the worse offence.

  46. Ottnott says

    Not at all disturbing for me.

    It had the feel of a public service announcement – one using a kid to deliver a message because the same words coming from an adult would be resisted by those who don’t react well to being lectured to by peers (and isn’t that most of us?).

    In fact, it specifically reminded me of some “stop smoking” campaign I’d seen on TV long ago, where children were used to deliver the very adult words in a very adult manner.

    So, I’m not at all creeped out by a child performing delivery of the video’s message. I do believe, though, that a child performer is less effective than an adult performer in delivering this particular message.

    In the “stop smoking” campaign, the message the child performers delivered was pretty much straight-up facts about the negative effects of smoking. The message in the video above is much more an expression of personal understanding that is far too mature for a child of 8. As PZ put it, it “rings false.”

    PZ needs a little more self awareness about why he is uncomfortable with the video. He wrote:
    She’s playing dress-up and prancing in front of a camera, and reciting with child-like enthusiasm words someone else wrote for her.

    Isn’t that a pretty good description of any school play or Children’s Theatre you’ve ever seen, PZ? Do those plays bug you?

  47. Steviepinhead says

    There’s a factually and emotionally-relevant reason to use children in Stop Smoking campaigns: children are directly impacted by second-hand smoke; the economic and emotional well-being of children may be directly impacted by losing their parents or grandparents to death or disease; the fiscal ability of governmental and other aid organizations to protect the health and welfare of children is diverted and drained by the medical costs associated with smoking-related illnesses.

    It’s a bit harder to grasp a connection between the immediate interests of a child and the Evo-Creo dispute–if a child’s parent *falsely* “believes” in “Darwinism,” the child’s parent might go to the “wrong place” in a speculative *afterlife*? Assuming an otherwise loving and attentive parent, this impacts the child’s welfare how?

    One might, of course, construct an opposing argument, in favor of children “coming out” for evolution–parents who don’t “believe” evolution are more likely to inculcate strange and antiquated anti-science, anti-education, quack-medicine notions that might directly impact the child, but even that seems strained, except in the most pernicious cases amounting to outright “child abuse”…