In just the latest chapter of religion destroying the hopes and dreams of children, a 4-year-old boy named Dmitry was killed, allegedly by suffocation, during a questionable exorcism in Russia. His parents left him alone with the village exorcist, and returned a few hours later to find their son dead. Criminal charges are being sought. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/15/russian-exorcism-tragedy_n_647018.html
This tragic story should highlight two important points. Demonic possession and exorcism are bronze age practices that should be held up to scientific inquiry, and children should not be exposed to religious beliefs until they are old enough to decide for themselves.
The Christian community are divided even among themselves as to whether demonic possessions still happen today. Conservative Christians who hold the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God vary in their opinions. Some say that demonic possession only happened in biblical times, apparently so that Jesus could prove his divinity by casting them out, and others would say that possession still happens today.
There is also a difference between demonic oppression and demonic possession. Oppression is characterized by abnormal and irrational fear, anxiety and loneliness, depression, and lack of logic and reasoning abilities. Possession is characterized by extreme physical strength, abnormally high IQ, intense negative reaction when Jesus’ name is spoken, multiple personalities, and paranormal abilities. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_exor3.htm)
The science of possession and exorcism is shaky at best; perhaps many scientists and doctors feel that it is too “hokey” to even consider legitimately. However, it is imperative that these studies be approached vigorously, and the findings published as soon as possible. Some disorders associated with so-called “demonic possession” include Dermatographic Urticaria, Allotriography, Alien Hand Syndrome, Pseudobulbar Palsy, along with more recognizable disorders such as OCD, epilepsy, and Tourette’s Syndrome.
Is it any wonder that demonic possessions seem to only happen to deeply religious families who, more often than not, live in small, isolated villages? Children are taught the stories of religious belief (Creation, Adam & Eve, The Flood, Jesus, etc.) along with the stories of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Jack and the Beanstalk. The difference is that these stories are later exposed as fairy tales, while the Resurrection is still held to be true.
This is not to say that children should not be taught religion at all. Religion is ingrained into society, culture, literature, music, and poetry, and religious knowledge is necessary to understand these works; however, to teach a child that Jesus walked on water, but Mohammed didn’t really talk to Allah is misleading and damaging to a child’s intellectual development. The parents of Dmitry were undoubtedly raised in this way, and they undoubtedly would have raised their son in this way had their beliefs not killed him before he could be indoctrinated.
Science must examine these superstitions and lay them to rest before they take the lives of any more innocent children. And we must continue to cast a critical eye on the underlying beliefs that allow for these atrocities to happen.