The Dallas News published an interview with 9-year-old Mason Crumpacker. You might remember her as the girl who asked Christopher Hitchens about his favorite books. Since most of us don't read the Dallas News1, Jerry Coyne posted the entire interview on his
I'm stealing the entire interview from Jerry's website and reproducing it here just in case there are some Sandwalk readers who might not look at Why Evolution Is True and might not read the Dallas News2.
Why can't we create a society where every child can give answers like this?
When atheists and “freethinkers” 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 God’s existence], that it’s something unprovable. And they’re right. An atheist is someone who says the same thing, but they’re probably going to go with “no.” 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 don’t believe in religion. … It doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t believe in God. I don’t really believe in religion. It treats kids very badly.
When we were at the atheist convention, a man … talked about a 15-year-old who had a brain tumor, and her mom didn’t 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. I’d 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 people’s 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 don’t know what is going to happen.
How does a religion have to “make sense”?
If someone questions [a religious belief] and just says, how do you know this is right? The priest says: Well, it’s in the Bible, isn’t it? Everything revolves around the Bible. Some people believe that if the Bible says it, it’s 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 it’s kind of scary. Because some people can get hurt very badly over religion. That’s what happened to a lot of atheists in the United States. That’s 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 he’s a brilliant man. And I felt that his knowledge of the world shouldn’t be wasted, and that someone should continue what he started.
Where will he go when he dies?
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. They’re living people, too. I especially hate when adults dumb it down for me.
Should you be treated like an adult?
I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I like being taken seriously, but I’m just not ready to be an adult. I don’t want to pay taxes. I never want to do that.
So which are you, an atheist, an agnostic or a freethinker?
I wouldn’t say I’ve decided my religion yet. I’m going to kind of experiment around and see if there’s any religion I like in particular. But if I do decide to be a freethinker, the chances are very high. … I just want it all to make sense.
Is there anything that Hitchens has said or written that you don’t agree with?
I haven’t read Christopher Hitchens. I’m 9.
We used to sing songs about God and Jesus and rainbows and pretty bunnies. The bunnies didn’t bother me so much.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. … We used to sing songs about God and Jesus and rainbows and pretty bunnies. The bunnies didn’t 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 it’s very good to question things, for adults, children of all ages to question their beliefs and work them all out. … I personally think the story of Adam and Eve doesn’t 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? It’s like saying this to a kid: OK, don’t eat the cookie on the countertop. You know what they’re going to do. They’re going to eat the cookie!
If people read this interview and tell you that you’re wrong, how would you answer them?
That people are entitled to their own beliefs. Beliefs like the Buddhists are inclined to believe that there’s 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. I’m a pastafarianist.
Why do you think we’re 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? … [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 aren’t you busy thinking 9-year-old thoughts? Why aren’t you just enjoying your childhood?
I am enjoying my childhood. I’m 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. It’s 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 you’re 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, it’s a really good story. … And when [Aslan] sacrifices himself on the stone table, that’s sort of like Jesus on the cross. I like the [Greek] Myths by Robert Graves. I also like Ali Finkel’s Rules for Girls , by Meg Cabot . She likes rules. It’s 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. … She makes up some rules. And the book is partly about … surviving.
Does man need to have rules?
Some would argue that religion is really just a set of rules.
It sounds like worshiping to me.
It is, but it’s also a set of rules. Like the Jews, who believe you can’t eat crustaceans or cloven-hoofed animals. For Muslims, you have to pray five times a day. For Christians, some rules apply, and some don’t. Which is why I asked if religion helps people know the difference between right and wrong.
I just don’t believe that religion qualifies as a set of rules. I know that people believe in religion and trust it.
What’s 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 ‘miracle’ of life. …
Is it OK for the word “miracle” 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 wasn’t real. I was crushed because if the image of Santa Claus isn’t there, then who is the person who gives you the presents? But then you eventually figure out that it’s 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 didn’t 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 email@example.com. Mason Crumpacker can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Shocking, isn't it?
2. Doubly shocking, but I know those people exist. This is for the members of my family.