I wanted one more day off but this is too appalling to ignore

October 12, 2011

Parents in the Uganda capital are freaking out right now because of fears that witch doctors will steal their children away and kill them for sacrificial luck. People who pay these guys to do this think the sacrifices will make them and/or their companies prosperous.

According to official police figures, there was one case of child sacrifice in 2006; in 2008 the police say they investigated 25 alleged ritual murders, and in 2009, another 29.

The Anti-Human Sacrifice Police Task Force, launched in response to the growing numbers, says the ritual murder rate has slowed, citing a figure of 38 cases since 2006.

Pastor Sewakiryanga disputes the police numbers, and says there are more victims from his parish than official statistics for the entire country.

The work of the police task force has been strongly criticised by the UK-based charity, Jubilee Campaign.

It says in a report that the true number of cases is in the hundreds, and claims more than 900 cases have yet to be investigated by the police because of corruption and a lack of resources.

I don’t know if the true number even matters. One child killed for such a reason is one too many. The BBC reporters posed as businessmen wanting to hire a witch doctor. The first luck ceremony involved a goat, but

At our next meeting, Awali invited us into his shrine, which is traditionally built from mud bricks with a straw roof. Inside, the floor is littered with herbs, face masks, rattles and a machete.

The witch doctor explained that this meeting was to discuss the most powerful spell – the sacrifice of a child.

“There are two ways of doing this,” he said. “We can bury the child alive on your construction site, or we cut them in different places and put their blood in a bottle of spiritual medicine.”

Awali grabbed his throat. “If it’s a male, the whole head is cut off and his genitals. We will dig a hole at your construction site, and also bury the feet and the hands and put them all together in the hole.”

Awali boasted he had sacrificed children many times before and knew what he was doing. After this meeting, we withdrew from the negotiations.

We handed our notes to the police. Awali is still a free man.

Why wouldn’t they look into it? Don’t they care about the safety of children? Even if this guy is lying his ass off about the number of sacrifices he’s performed, people are still paying the guy with the belief he’ll kill someone for them. Is that part of the problem, that cops don’t want to stir the waters these rich folk wade in in case they choose to take their businesses and jobs elsewhere? What a country.


edit 11:15 for grammatical error. Note to self: Preview is useful…


Why follow a god that permits abuse?

August 18, 2011

Oh right, so abusers can justify spanking their children to death. Kevin and Elizabeth Shatz spanked Lidia 7 hours (with a few prayer breaks in between) and it resulted in severe tissue damage causing death.

That site offers part 1 of the CNN broadcast of the case and quotes the end:

Kevin Schatz has pleaded guilty to torture and murder, and will spend the next 22 years in prison. His wife Elizabeth will serve at least 12. At their court hearing, Lydia’s 11-year-old sister Zakiah asked her parents, “Why did you adopt her? To kill her?”

The Shatz were influenced by the cruel teachings of a couple known far and wide as promoters of violence against children as a way to obey God utterly: Michael and Debi Pearl. They’re co-authors of numerous books, one of which was found in the Shatz’ possession, To Train Up a Child. In their books, and on that video, they insist that “sparing the rod” doesn’t just mean spoiling the child, but hating the child. Real love is to hit them with anything that will make a great slapping noise against their skin, like a spatula. The Shatz chose sturdy plumbing pipes. Those worked really well.

It’s sickening. Truly sickening. How anyone can get so wrapped up in that bloody book and think it’s giving the world an acceptable way to live… This is unacceptable. Anyone who supports the Pearls and their horrific version of child-rearing should wake the hell up and see just what kind of monsters they’ve become. Situations like this are reasons why I can get behind the notion of capital punishment sometimes. I suspect each Shatz will wind up spending the majority of their prison time in solitary. There are some lines even die-hard criminals would never dream of crossing.


Incestuous Jesus OneTouch to get out of jail free

June 16, 2011

Damnnation.

Jesus Onetouch, Founder and General Overseer of Jesus Blood Prophetic Ministry, who was convicted about six months ago for committing incest, had filed the appeal to challenge his 10-year jail-term.

His defense team claimed that the prosecution failed to properly contest the appeal and begged the judge to uphold it. Apparently the prosecution was late getting there.

A few minutes after the case had been adjourned, the prosecutor arrived. Although Mr. Wiredu informed the court that he wanted to make a submission, the judge did not allow him to talk because the matter had already been adjourned.

Until July 15th. Justice Emmanuel K. Dzakpasu will use the time until then

to study the case since it was possible for him “to disagree with the decision taken by both the defence and the prosecution”.

Presumably the judge still grant the very early release, sadly. OneTouch was accused of having sex with his ten year old daughter. The man was supposed to get 10 years each for defilement and incest, to be served concurrently. It sucks that a guy who’d do that can escape punishment for it. I’m sure his followers are already making plans to celebrate this particular miscarriage of justice and OneTouch has his “God loves me best” speech already prepared.


Christian group attempts to stop stopping school bullies?

June 13, 2011

At least, the kind that use gender and sexuality as a reason to pick on people. The Edmonton Logos Society is a Christian group that is allowed to run a program in a few of the city’s public schools. They’re freaking out about a new policy put forth by the schools regarding sexual minorities and the need to improve their school experience.

All children should be free from bullying and everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, in keeping with Jesus’s teachings, the notice says.

“However, if the policy developed . (it) means that our Logos teachers and principals would no longer be able to express freely in their classrooms that the homosexual lifestyle is not in accord with their Christian beliefs, and that they would be required to ‘affirm’ homosexual lifestyle as acceptable to traditional Christian family values, then we cannot accept this,” the two-page notice says in bold lettering.

So all kids deserve dignity and respect, except those destined for their particular brand of hell?

The alert, sent out in a newsletter and on the Logos website, urges parents to read the draft policy, express their opinions to Edmonton public school officials and trustees, and pray trustees won’t “put teachers and principals in a position where they would be prohibited from freely expressing their Christian beliefs in the classroom. After all, this is what our program is all about.”

Then I think it’d behoove school organizers to try and get that religious group’s program out of public schools. I suppose that’s unlikely to happen, however.

They state on their website that their program “operates under the jurisdiction and authority of the Edmonton Public School Board and is subject to such rules and regulations as the Board shall determine.” So, if the Board has decided that these LGBT kids need more support in a school environment they will have to abide by that decision, no matter how much it might pain them.

They’re also pissed off that the schools wouldn’t let them hand out their discrimination documentation directly to the students like usual. Distributing “politically motivated communications” such as that goes against school policy so they resorted to making parents stand on the sidewalks and hand them out that way.

At the time the article was written, less than 30 families had gone to the board complaining about the policy. School board chairman Dave Colburn is quoted as saying,

“I would hope that, by and large, the Christian community would understand the importance of respecting the dignity, safety and well-being of all of our students,” Colburn said Sunday.

“It seems to me the principles of safety, respect and acceptance of all people and understanding the value of every human being would be a fundamental part of Christianity, and I’d like to think people would consider those values when they respond to the creation of this policy.”

While Christian beliefs remain at odds with this human rights issue, these kinds of of stories are going to keep cropping up. It’s good to see the schools are trying to embrace a more inclusive way of looking at gender but so long as Christian groups have say about what goes on in those buildings, it’s going to be a challenge to carry it out. These groups are intent on keeping a slice of society down by demonizing their existence, in much the same way as early Christians dehumanized blacks. More people need to stand up and criticize these groups and their so-called ethics and morality. They’re not helping as much as they like to claim.


Quebec daycares to ditch religion

June 2, 2011

Yesterday, the Globe and Mail reported on a new rule in Quebec regarding daycares and no more religious references allowed in them. Some parents have a problem with this, of course. Those who want their toddlers to be labeled Catholic or Jewish (or whatever) are annoyed that religion is being culled from the places their kids hang out all day.

a newly formed group, Quebeckers for Equal Rights to Subsidized Day Cares, argues the government directives are vague, a bureaucratic headache to apply, and discriminate against parents who believe daycares should be an extension of the family home. The group is challenging the rules under the Quebec and Canadian charters.

“This is a fundamental question,” said Marie-Josée Hogue, lawyer for the coalition, which includes more than 200 parents and associations from the Catholic, Jewish and Egyptian Copt communities. “The benefits of the law should be the same without distinctions like religion and belief.” Daycare, she said, “is a substitute to the home environment.”

I poked through some of the comments and most of them are siding with the government’s promotion of secularism. This one from Toast is worth noting.

Children can be (perhaps should be) made aware of religous diversity without the use of dogma and without prejudice. Creating an environment where people pretend religion doesn’t exist is foolish.

He or she may have a valid point there. Maybe it’s akin to getting kids primed for a camping trip but never mentioning the possible danger of bears. It’d be a fur paw faux pas to encourage them to hug the damn things. Better to make an effort to teach them how to protect themselves in bear country.

Unfortunately, these parents don’t want to protect their kids from bears, they want their kids to be taught which bear to hug. (It’s the Jesus bear, honey. The Mohammad bear will bite your head off and juggle with it…)

I’ll add this one from Uffen.

“Extension of the home”? Well, does that mean the daycare has to provide for second hand smoke and the TV on all day? What about adults arguing in loud voices? A few curse words thrown in?

Also, regarding the article comment on the seperation of Jewish faith, culture, etc. I didn’t know that turning your kids over to the state for the day was part of the Jewish culture.

KJ-Can makes a good point, too.

But, banning specific words from stories and outlawing symbols is really just censorship. And there is something wrong with that. I see no reason why there can’t be stories from other religions (besides christian) that can be written in French or English and allowed in the daycares. Exposure to all of this will bring about a much more rounded individual and allow that person to make up his or her own mind about what religion to follow if any.

Young as they are, they’ll probably still follow whatever their folks believe, though, no matter how many other cultures and belief sets they’d be exposed to through stories. I agree on the censorship angle but if the government really wants the daycares secular then those who run them will have to find alternatives to the religious standards that have made up their singalongs to this point. There are scads of great performers that record for children and stick to secular lyrics. No angels on the daycare Christmas tree? So what? Let the kids design their own kooky ornaments and make the tree really special.

If there are religious options for daycare that’s great. Put your kids in those if you have the money for it. If you don’t have the money for that then learn to deal with the reality that your kid will spend every $7 day doing secular activities and you can ramp up the faith shilling swill on your own time to make up for it. If you really want your kids to be religious, you’ll do it. For everyone else who has kids there and no dreams of making saints or martyrs out of them, it probably won’t mean much of a change at all.

It’ll be interesting to see how this works out.


Appeals case up re: proselytizing in school

May 26, 2011

The story is out of Plano, Texas, where Jonathan Morgan who, when 8, was not allowed to give religious-themed treats to his classmates at their Winter party. They were pens shaped like candy canes with some sort of scripture stamped on them. (I don’t know why people insist on thinking the candy cane was designed as a Jesus message. Snopes cleared that up years ago.) Eight years later, this case, and other similar ones, are up in Appeals court and Charisma reports on it as the students’ lawyers see it.

“The school officials are asking the court to change the law to actually allow religious discrimination for the first time in American law,” says Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Liberty Institute, which represents several students and their parents in the case. “The judges were very attentive and active today, and we are hopeful they will reject this radical request from the school officials.

“I think it was pretty clear right off the bat that a number of judges were very disturbed by arguments made by the school district’s lawyers,” Shackelford adds.

According to Charles Bundren, an affiliate attorney with the Liberty Institute,

“The big surprise today in the courtroom is that now the defendants are trying to shift their argument by throwing Plano Independent School District and their representation under the bus, and that school officials have no responsibility to know that they cannot engage in religious discrimination against student speech,”

The Christian Institute mentions that the case includes a few other incidents of schools getting in the way of supposed juvenile proselytizing: kids who weren’t allowed to put “Merry Christmas” on cards headed to US soldiers, and a girl who tried to pass out tickets to a religious play. (More about various “They also report on the fact that all 17 judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals are hearing this case, which is apparently unusual and “something reserved for cases of national impact.” They’re probably right.

Which is why I find it curious that this story is only found on Christian news sites, not much in any mainstream or secular sources. One article by Hans von Spakovsky provided quite a bit of information about the case for the National Review and defends the kids’ rights to be overtly religious on (public?) school grounds.

Since these events, the school district and the principals have only compounded their errors. Rather than acknowledge that they made a mistake, apologize, and change their discriminatory policies, they have spent over a million taxpayer dollars fighting this lawsuit all the way up to the federal appeals court. In fact, they claim that they did nothing wrong and should be granted “qualified immunity” because “the First Amendment does not apply to elementary school students” and the “Constitution does not prohibit viewpoint discrimination against religious speech in elementary schools.” And these are the people teaching civics to our children!

Another is from Dallas Morning News but focuses more attention on the history of Liberty Institute and its overall goals in that state and across the country.

In recent years, Liberty has moved to extend its reach and has tapped into the growing field of Christian legal advocacy. It has become involved in national conservative causes from a Mojave Desert cross to the National Day of Prayer. Along the way, the nonprofit’s annual budget has quadrupled to more $2 million. It has merged with its parent policy organization endorsed by evangelist James Dobson, opened an Austin office and relocated its headquarters to a building for Christian ministries.

“A lot of people say that it’s about time that somebody is actually out there to make sure and hold us back to the Constitution and the principles upon which the country was based,” said Liberty’s president, Kelly J. Shackelford, who says the group relies on 20 full-time staffers and hundreds of volunteer lawyers across the country.

Another Charisma article about this quotes Hiram Sasser, one of the main attorneys on the students’ side.

“If we lose, it will be a massive change in the law authorizing school officials to intentionally discriminate against students who say something religious, even in their free time when they’re not bothering or disturbing anybody.”

This case is bringing up not only what rights elementary school children have, but also people with special needs. According to Sasser, the Association of Retarded Citizens is concerned for its members who have the IQ of an elementary school child.

Liberty Institute is asking for prayers that the judges would rule in their favor—which means the law would stay the same—and the Plano school district would not have the right to censor children’s speech because of its religious nature.

What if they are disturbing or bothering somebody? What about Jewish kids, or Muslim kids or atheist kids who’d rather not have to hear all about how great Jesus is and how they all should love Jesus? Public school is not the place to sell religion. If kids want to preach and pester and bribe potential converts after school hours, they’re welcome to it. During school they should avoid the urge to promote their faith, plain and simple.

Sadly, it’ll never be that plain and simple, not if groups like Liberty Institute insist on getting involved.


The “patience of Job” is one thing…

May 11, 2011

I hadn’t come across this story before but Kate McCann has written a book about the abduction of her daughter, Madeline, and how that experience challenged her faith in God.

“I do not blame God for Madeleine’s abduction. The abductor is responsible for that.

“What I do wrestle with though, is the inexplicable fact that despite so many prayers, almost total global awareness, and a vast amount of hard work, we still do not have an answer.

“My aunt quotes a saying, ‘Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you’, and I truly believe that is what we’ve done.

“Thousands of other people, maybe millions, have prayed. So if Madeleine is alive, why hasn’t God brought her back to us?

“If she is not, surely He could lead us to the truth and put a stop to the terrible anguish of not knowing?

“What do we have to do, how long do we have to wait, until He tells us something? Anything?”

She added: “I’ve found it hard to understand the further awful experiences that have come our way. How can so much suffering and injustice be heaped upon one family?

“It is said that God only gives you a cross He knows you can bear. Well I’m afraid this cross has been far too heavy for far too long.”

I don’t like the story of Job.

Job is set up as a righteous believer at the start. Satan suggests that God’s protecting him somehow and that’s the only reason his faith can be that strong. God agrees to test Job’s faith, allowing Satan to make his life a living hell to see if he’ll crack under pressure.

In the story, Job starts off well off financially with seven sons and three daughters. He loses all of his possessions and all of his kids die tragically in a house collapse. Job’s justifiably upset at the loss but doesn’t rail against his god over it. Not good enough proof, unfortunately. An arrangement is made to do more to him, to torture him nearly to the point of death. His wife thinks he should curse god and die rather than endure all the burns and boils but he refuses. His friends come around, see the pain he’s in and assume he’s done something to deserve it. Job assures them that he has not, but never gets to the point of cursing god for his troubles, just the day he was born for some reason. God hears this business, does some chastising of all of them, avoids mentioning his own role in this game (only the readers learn of the arrangement made beforehand), and then Job is rewarded with brand new better children (because kids are interchangeable like goldfish) and more wealth than he had before. There. All fixed.

To me, the lesson to take from this is that God lacks trust in his faithful and is something of a bastard. But McCann still believes he knows what he’s doing in her case and will leave him to it.

Mrs McCann admits that, despite the torment she has faced, she held on to her faith and believes that Madeleine is in God’s care.

She said: “For the most part I try my best to accept that it is not for me to question His plan. Maybe I just need to be patient and trust Him.

“There is one thing of which I am confident: I believe wherever Madeleine is, God is with her.

“And in my calmer moments, I also believe that in God’s time we’ll get there.”

Well, I suppose it’s better than sitting around imagining all the things the abductor might have done to her daughter (or her remains if that’s the case). I can’t imagine the stress and horror a family deals with when a child goes missing. Cope how you can, even if it means holding onto the belief that it’s all part of some bigger divine (desired?) arrangement. Beats me how that can be reassuring in this case. Are we supposed to pray that God will reward her long suffering at some point by giving her a new and better kid, too? Will that fix it?


“He is never late, His timing is always perfect”

May 9, 2011

Makes God sound a bit like Gandalf:

A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.

The title is a direct quote from a press release and has little to do with what follows. All bold is in the original.

God will test us to see how much we are trusting in Him to do what He said He will do for us that is recorded in the Bible. Are you passing the test?

James 1:3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James 1:12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

2 Corinthians 2:9 Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything.

Trust that he’ll turn up eventually, is the point, I guess. Like Waiting for Godot.

This is the lead up to the promotion of a couple books by Michael Anthony Gagliardi, called A Divine Connection With A Message From God Volume I & II. Hardly gripping titles, but once you start reading them, don’t you dare quit. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial…” after all.

The author connects the widespread job losses, home foreclosures, and financial struggles characteristic of our times with maladies such as anxiety, depression, worry, sickness and even thoughts of suicide, affecting both Christians and non-Christians alike.

I’m not sure if this was supposed to startle people or not. We already know that job loss is depressing and stressful. We already know the threat of foreclosure is a cause of worry and anxiety. We know both of those have a bigger risk of happening if there is a health issue in play and that person has shitty access to affordable healthcare. And it’s quite likely many suicides occur on account of debt. I remember that feeling, that sense of hopelessness and fear about never getting out from under it. It was not a good feeling.

We’ve also designed a society that puts tremendous pressure on people in terms of performance and perfection. Never mind economic issues, just think about all the personal stress we’ll put ourselves under to conform, achieve, diet or change everything else about ourselves in order to fit someone else’s assumption of what we should want to be. What we think we have to live up to. Goals we think we should have. Status and recognition we think we deserve, with or without effort put in to earn it.

We have a tendency to not make things easy on ourselves. A lot of us are overscheduled. Sadly, a lot of parents have done the same bad turn to their kids, too. A lot of parents have made it worse by thinking that the only way kids can be happy is if they’re always given everything they want on top of it. Then there are the groups who are always on the look out for danger in the innocuous, stripping the fun out of things we know were fun as kids don’t dare to let kids do now.

Ever wonder why? I sure as hell do. From not letting kids try a toboggan at school to not letting them play sports in a park because they just might trip on a rock or something, it’s ludicrous is what it is. I’ll quote a bit from a Salon piece called The war on children’s playgrounds:

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued reams of playground regulations and actually gone so far as to recommend against “tripping hazards, like tree stumps and rocks.” Maybe we should just bulldoze the local parks and put in a couple of blobs — this time, made of plastic.

The idea, of course, is that playgrounds need constant overhauling because kids are hurting themselves unnecessarily. But that depends on your definition of “unnecessary.”

“Children rise to risk,” says Joan Almon, executive director of the U.S. Alliance for Childhood. “Give them some genuine risk and they quickly learn what their limits are, and then they expand their limits.” The problem is: If kids never encounter even tiny risks, they never develop that thing we call common sense.

They may never develop decent motor skills, either. I found an About piece that reports on a study done in 2010 by Ohio State University professor Jackie Goodway and her colleagues. Using a standardized locomotor test, they recorded the skill levels of 469 kids from urban, state-funded preschools meant to serve the “disadvantaged” youth. Disadvantaged is an understatement.

An astonishing 86 percent of the children in the study scored below the 30th percentile of children nationwide, which is considered developmentally delayed. It puts them at a greater risk for obesity, says Goodway. “These fundamental motor skills–running and catching and throwing and kicking–are the movement ABCs,” Goodway said in a press release issued by Ohio State. “If children don’t learn the ABCs, they can’t read. And if they don’t learn basic motor skills they won’t participate in sports or exercise.”

How many of those kids are going to get enough encouragement from parents, teachers and mentors to persevere and overcome that monstrous setback? It will take more than faith in Jesus, that’s for damn sure.

To finish on track with the original intent here, I quote the press release again:

for Christians who truly understand the power of redemption, it doesn’t have to be that way: “God’s people do not need to be in a constant worry, fear or a panic state of mind because the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross at Calvary offers victory over every situation we face here on earth,” says Gagliardi, whose own home was in foreclosure while he wrote the book. “With Jesus Christ, complete victory is completely possible.”

And have proceeds from his books paid the debt on his house now? The press release doesn’t say. It takes more than faith in Jesus to pay off a house, too, obviously. I’ll bet a cookie Gagliardi worried a little about the possibility of losing it. Maybe prayer (and book sales) eased his worries but, truth be told, a little worry can be a good thing. It can prompt you to get off your ass and do something to fix the problem so you won’t have to worry about it anymore. You can’t aim to persevere at something if you never get around to starting in the first place.


I’m not a big Dr. Seuss fan but a Freudian Cat in the Hat…

April 23, 2011

… analysis made for some interesting reading. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Cat in the Hat encourages a couple “Home Alone” kids to do a bunch of ridiculous crap and their goldfish attempts to be the voice of reason.

Or possibly Jesus:

The Cat proceeds to charm the wary youths into engaging in what he so innocently refers to as “tricks.” At this point, the fish, an obvious Christ figure who represents the prevailing Christian morality, attempts to warn the children, and thus, in effect, warns all of humanity of the dangers associated with the unleashing of the primal urges. In response to this, the cat proceeds to balance the aquatic naysayer on the end of his umbrella, essentially saying, “Down with morality; down with God!”

After poohpoohing the righteous rantings of the waterlogged Christ figure, the Cat begins to juggle several icons of Western culture, most notably two books, representing the Old and New Testaments, and a saucer of lactal fluid, an ironic reference to maternal loss the two children experienced when their mother abandoned them “for the afternoon.” Our heroic Id adds to this bold gesture a rake and a toy man, and thus completes the Oedipal triangle

Has the anonymous author of this piece read too much into this tale of childish recklessness, or is he hitting the phallic nail on the head here? According to CNN, Ted Geisel wrote the book as a statement against the boredom that was Dick and Jane books and wanted something better and more fun so kids would grow up loving to read. Decide which of these theories you like better, I guess.

It turns out that Geisel was Lutheran and Christians have been encouraged to use his secular writings in morality lesson plans for some time.

In 2004, Judson Press published a thin book by clergyman James W. Kemp called, The Gospel According To Dr. Seuss, which sought to liberate Geisel’s theology from the pages of his children’s books. Kemp was somewhat successful in connecting biblical passages to Geisel’s themes of faith and forgiveness, and to the social concerns about war, racism and the environment that are found in his books.

As an artist, Geisel created flamboyant creatures for children to enjoy, and placed words like diamonds on pages to bring them joy. It seems that in it all he was just passing on the Christian values he learned as a child.

But there’s also evidence that Geisel and his wife might have been pro-abortion. His widow raised a stink over an anti-abortion group that took the Horton Hears a Who quote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” for their own advertising campaign.

Atheists can find meaning in his books, too. I found a nice piece by Pinoy Atheist, comparing atheist/religious debates to the Zax and their stubbornness. I hadn’t heard of that one so I hunted down a video version. The music is provided by someone emulating Bob Dylan from an album called Dylan Hears a Who.

Why ask why, I say…


So thinking someone’s watching is kind of “childish”?

April 19, 2011

Not really the point of the study. I’m just sayin’…

The study involved 39 kids and researchers in Belfast set up a game that was difficult enough to make cheating seem like the only way to win it. They also set the kids up with the possibility that an invisible princess named Alice might be in the room while they played.

While secretly being videoed, each child played the game either with an adult present, with no one present, or with no one except “Princess Alice” present.

Beforehand, they were all asked if they believed Princess Alice really existed. Of the 11 children who did, only 1 cheated in her “presence”. Five of the seven disbelievers cheated, but not before they’d manually “checked” the Princess didn’t exist by running their hand over the chair to feel if she was there.

“This is an interesting example of an audience effect and the drive to preserve our reputation,” says Chris Frith of University College London, who was not involved in the study. “It’s certainly consistent with the idea that belief in an invisible watcher will increase social-norm conformity.”

Next, the researchers hope to delve deeper by finding out why children behaved well when being watched by Alice: whether it was from fear she would punish them directly, or that she would tell the experimenter.

I wonder if it occurred to the researchers to do another round of this with kids told that the invisible watcher is something other than nobility. Maybe the presumed importance of the invisible person was in play here, too. Would it make a difference if they’d been told it was an invisible janitor or even another kid who might be watching?

It’s certainly interesting in terms of how people in general might decide the best course of action. I’m amused by how many kids checked the chair to see if they could literally “feel” a presence rather than taking a researcher’s word for it (or their own sense about the impossibility of invisible people). I wonder if any of them considered the possibility that she was still in the room but standing.

How many of us need the feeling of being externally monitored in order to “encourage” us to make moral decisions and play fair ? How many choices wind up being made with the intent to save face rather than because the decision itself is the “right” one?


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