Sunday, August 8, 2010

Toddler preacher

I found this on Greg Laden's blog at Science Blogs. I had a much different reaction than the commenters did. I won't embed the video, because this link also leads to a funny version with subtitles.

In general, I like Greg's blog. I enjoy dissing religion as much as anybody this side of Robert G. Ingersoll, and he talks about other interesting subjects. Greg's headline for this was "Yes, folks, it isn't just the priests engaged in the whole child abuse in the name of religion thing," and the entire commentary was "First, the horrific, over the top, original video:," and "Then, the funny version:."

The second one was funny, and the first one was over the top, but it was not horrific. It shows a toddler on stage in a church pretending to be a preacher. He has the moves down. He looks and sounds like a 2-year-old preacher bringing them home to Jesus. You can't make out many words (which makes the funny subtitles possible), but he has the intonations, so you could believe it was just poor sound quality making you miss words. He held the microphone to his mouth and stomped around the stage, doing a little James Brown stutter step as he passed behind the piano. He waved, he shouted, he hopped around, he twisted his little body. Adults shadowing him were feeding him lines, which he tried to repeat. People cheered and shouted, and at the end, he got a big hug from the preacher before he left the stage.

Commenters on the blog agreed with Greg.
  • "It takes a good bit of abusive conditioning to reduce little kids and babies to this."
  • "That's just child abuse. How could they believe that baby is saying anything meaningful. They are delusional."
  • "They also believe that the most important knowledge humanity would ever need was given to a bunch of superstitious goat-herders over two and a half thousand years ago - I can't say I'm all that surprised."
  • "It takes only minutes for a toddler to become a popular theologian. It takes decades for a dedicated student to become a respected scientist. This shows the fundamental difference between religion and science: one is making shit up, the other if finding things out."
I think they miss the entire point. I think the people in the church weren't looking at this kid as a preacher but as a toddler showing off for his parents' friends, and they were helping him pretend. I believe that these people's religious views are as false as the Greeks', but I believe they can't help it. It doesn't seem to hurt them personally much, though when it influences public policy it's always in the wrong direction, so we have to keep them away from policy, but they make enough money, have stable enough marriages (though not as stable as as atheists, on average), raise kids not to steal and kill any more than any other group, and are by and large happier in their ignorance than we are in our incremental knowledge system that approaches the Truth. (Do I need to put irony brackets around that? I thought not.)

Maybe I'm giving the parishioners too much credit, but I doubt very much that any of them believed the kid knew what he was saying. They were laughing at  him.

So while I think teaching this kind of religion to the kids is harmful in the general sense that knowing the truth is a Good and in the particular sense of creating voters with false ideas about, well, everything, it's not child abuse. It's giving a kid a chance to show off for the grown-ups, and that's cool.

Of course, if I'm wrong about this, and it turns out they regularly have him preach, because they think he's filled with the near-words of god, then I'll have to reevaluate my views of the parishioners. It's still not child abuse, but it would be dumber on their part.

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