On Friday the Dallas News published a Q&A with Mason Crumpacker. Youíll remember Mason from an earlier post as the girl who, at the Texas Freethought meetings, asked Christopher Hitchens to recommend some books; Hitch took the time to answer her in detail.
Anyway, the piece is behind a paywall, and that ticked me off a bit, so Iíll put the whole thing up here.
Youíll want to read this, for the child is amazing. Itís hard to believe, from her answers, that sheís only nine. Whatever her parents are doing, theyíre doing right (and of course her genes play a role. . . .).
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Point Person: Our Q&A with 9-year-old Mason Crumpacker
When atheists and ďfreethinkersĒ gathered in Houston this month to hear noted atheist and author Christopher Hitchens speak, Mason Crumpacker of McKinney, who just turned 9, drew international attention by asking Hitchens a question about what books she should read. Points recently caught up with Mason and her parents to ask some questions of our own. Note: This is a longer version of the Q&A in the Oct. 30, 2011, Points section of The Dallas Morning News.
What is the difference between a freethinker, an agnostic and an atheist?
An agnostic is someone who says that they can never be sure [about Godís existence], that itís something unprovable. And theyíre right. An atheist is someone who says the same thing, but theyíre probably going to go with ďno.Ē A freethinker is somebody who thinks outside of the church.
Does a freethinker not believe in God, or just not believe in religion?
It means you donít believe in religion. Ö It doesnít necessarily mean that you donít believe in God. I donít really believe in religion. It treats kids very badly.
How so?
When we were at the atheist convention, a man Ö talked about a 15-year-old who had a brain tumor, and her mom didnít believe in modern science. So she [the child] never really got [the tumor] out. So she died. She [the mother] only believed that God would make it better.
Why did you decide to go to an atheist convention?
I thought it would be interesting to meet different freethinkers and see what they thought about the world. I just wanted to boost my intellectual curiosity.
If someone invited you to a Christian convention, or a Buddhist convention or Hari Krishna convention, would you go?
Probably. Iíd like to experiment with different religions. I just like to see what they believe and see if they make sense or not.
What do you think is the role of religion in peopleís understanding of right versus wrong?
Religion is a way to get their children to behave. The world is kind of scary without religion, for them because they donít know what is going to happen.
How does a religion have to ďmake senseĒ?
If someone questions [a religious belief] and just says, how do you know this is right? The priest says: Well, itís in the Bible, isnít it? Everything revolves around the Bible. Some people believe that if the Bible says it, itís true, completely true. If I do decide to believe in something, they should have further proof.
Without religion, how would children distinguish between right and wrong?
I personally think they would have their parents to guide them along the way. And if their parents were raised right, they could have an open mind, have fun and be safe.
When people went on the blogs to write about what happened between you and Christopher Hitchens, did it frighten you, considering that you live in the very religion-oriented state of Texas?
I think itís kind of scary. Because some people can get hurt very badly over religion. Thatís what happened to a lot of atheists in the United States. Thatís all. Verbally and physically.
Why did you decide it was important to ask a question of Hitchens?
Because I had just found out that he was dying, and heís a brilliant man. And I felt that his knowledge of the world shouldnít be wasted, and that someone should continue what he started.
Where will he go when he dies?
Nowhere.
Did he answer you the way you expected to be answered?
Yes. He was very honest to me and very, very nice. I think all adults should be honest to kids with their answers and take them seriously. Theyíre living people, too. I especially hate when adults dumb it down for me.
Should you be treated like an adult?
Iím not sure if thatís a good thing or a bad thing. I like being taken seriously, but Iím just not ready to be an adult. I donít want to pay taxes. I never want to do that.
So which are you, an atheist, an agnostic or a freethinker?
I wouldnít say Iíve decided my religion yet. Iím going to kind of experiment around and see if thereís any religion I like in particular. But if I do decide to be a freethinker, the chances are very high. Ö I just want it all to make sense.
Is there anything that Hitchens has said or written that you donít agree with?
I havenít read Christopher Hitchens. Iím 9.
You used to go to a Christian school. What did you think about their lessons?
It was a Christian Montessori school. Actually, all they did was build block towers, shine mirrors and eat Chex mix. Ö We used to sing songs about God and Jesus and rainbows and pretty bunnies. The bunnies didnít bother me so much.
You said you want religion to make sense. Have you ever tried looking at the teachings of the Bible and applying your own criterion: Does it make sense?
I think itís very good to question things, for adults, children of all ages to question their beliefs and work them all out. Ö I personally think the story of Adam and Eve doesnít really make sense. What proof is there of a Garden of Eden? What proof is there of God creating man and woman and giving them a tree of knowledge [whose fruit] they were not supposed to eat? Itís like saying this to a kid: OK, donít eat the cookie on the countertop. You know what theyíre going to do. Theyíre going to eat the cookie!
If people read this interview and tell you that youíre wrong, how would you answer them?
That people are entitled to their own beliefs. Beliefs like the Buddhists are inclined to believe that thereís a Buddha. Christians are inclined to believe that there is a Christ. And Pastafarians are allowed to believe that there is a flying spaghetti monster. Iím a pastafarianist.
Why do you think weíre here? How did we get here?
By evolution. We evolved from tiny little microscopic cells, which formatted into bigger cells, which created the first fish, who slowly evolved into lizards, who became the dinosaurs. And then [they] kind of started over again but took a different path to becoming the first mammal, which became the chimp-like creature we call Australopithecus afarensis, who slowly evolved into Homo habilis, who evolved into Homo erectus, to Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon people who slowly gave way to who we are. [She turns to her parents.] Did I do good with that? Ö [She then translates each into French.]
These are the kinds of questions that occupy a lot of adult thought. People might want to know: Why arenít you busy thinking 9-year-old thoughts? Why arenít you just enjoying your childhood?
I am enjoying my childhood. Iím kind of shocked about that. I think questioning beliefs is good for a 9-year-old, since most 9-year-olds are halfway out of the house. Itís a good time to start questioning things and questioning their beliefs and making them become good people who know a lot about the world.
When youíre not questioning your beliefs, what do you do for fun?
I like to sing, I take dancing lessons, and I also like reading. I love swimming and roller skating.
What do you like to read? Your question to Mr. Hitchens was about books.
I said I was on the seventh book of Harry Potter, and I also like The Golden Compass books by Phillip Pullman, which are kind of in response to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
You like that book?
Yes, despite all of the religious metaphors, itís a really good story. Ö And when [Aslan] sacrifices himself on the stone table, thatís sort of like Jesus on the cross. I like the [Greek] Myths by Robert Graves. I also like Ali Finkelís Rules for Girls , by Meg Cabot . She likes rules. Itís a book about a 9-year-old named Ali Finkle, where she has to go through a move, and her best friend is all against that and tries to prevent the move. Ö She makes up some rules. And the book is partly about Ö surviving.
Does man need to have rules?
Yes.
Some would argue that religion is really just a set of rules.
It sounds like worshiping to me.
It is, but itís also a set of rules. Like the Jews, who believe you canít eat crustaceans or cloven-hoofed animals. For Muslims, you have to pray five times a day. For Christians, some rules apply, and some donít. Which is why I asked if religion helps people know the difference between right and wrong.
I just donít believe that religion qualifies as a set of rules. I know that people believe in religion and trust it.
Whatís the meaning of life?
The meaning of life is to learn, have fun and experience different things, about the miracle of life. Or maybe not the Ďmiracleí of life. Ö
Is it OK for the word ďmiracleĒ to just express the wonderment of life without it necessarily having a religious connotation?
Yes, I think so. Yes.
You found out a few years ago about Santa Claus. What did that do to your whole belief system?
I found out when I was 6 that he wasnít real. I was crushed because if the image of Santa Claus isnít there, then who is the person who gives you the presents? But then you eventually figure out that itís your mom and dad who are [playing] Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, I eventually found out about those, too.
Did that make you ask questions about God?
No. I really didnít think about it that much when I found out about Santa Claus.
This Q&A was conducted, edited and condensed by editorial writer Tod Robberson. His email address is trobberson@dallasnews.com. Mason Crumpacker can be reached via mama@socraticmama.com.
Pretty bright and perceptive young girl IMHO.