A recent study shows that children exposed to religion make it harder for them to distinguish between fantasy and reality:
A study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science determined that children who are not exposed to religious stories are better able to tell that characters in “fantastical stories” are fictional — whereas children raised in a religious environment even “approach unfamiliar, fantastical stories flexibly.”
Let’s face it; children rely on their parents and adult authority figures to learn. When we teach them that virgin births, talking snakes, flying horses, walking on water and other mythological stories are literally true, we set them up to believe other fantastical tales that don’t mesh with reality.
The researchers took 66 children between the ages of five and six and asked them questions about stories — some of which were drawn from fairy tales, others from the Old Testament — in order to determine whether the children believed the characters in them were real or fictional.
“Children with exposure to religion — via church attendance, parochial schooling, or both — judged [characters in religious stories] to be real,” the authors wrote. “By contrast, children with no such exposure judged them to be pretend,” just as they had the characters in fairy tales. But children with exposure to religion judged many characters in fantastical, but not explicitly religious stories, to also be real — the equivalent of being incapable of differentiating between Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer and an account of George Washington’s life.
The researchers couldn’t use just one more kid in their study? They had to go with the unfortunate number 66?
Anyways, I suppose you could make the same argument about other magical figures we as a society often tell our kids are real, such as the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause. You could probably make an argument that these stories also help make our children less skeptical and rational. Once you start accepting some magical nonsense, I think it becomes easier to accept other non-reality based stories as plausible.
The study would seem to indicate this as well:
This conclusion contradicts previous studies in which children were said to be “born believers,”i.e. that they possessed “a natural credulity toward extraordinary beings with superhuman powers. Indeed, secular children responded to religious stories in much the same way as they responded to fantastical stories — they judged the protagonist to be pretend.”
The researchers also determined that “religious teaching, especially exposure to miracle stories, leads children to a more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is, a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal relations.”
One more reason to consider letting your children make up their own minds when they’re at an age that they can make a rational choice, instead of indoctrinating them with your version(s) of God.
However, I’d like to see a similar study conducted that uses more than 66 children. I’d also like to see a long range study done to map the long-term effects (if any) religion has on an individual. While this study seems to point towards religion making it harder for children to distinguish between fantasy and reality, does that hold true into adulthood or just for their childhood years?
What are your thoughts on this study?