30 August 2007

Demonic Dreams

(Image cred here)

Dreams are a funny thing. In the '70s, the late Carl Sagan wrote a landmark popular science book called The Dragons of Eden which explored the brain as a product of our evolutionary history. His son's 'sequel,' Up From Dragons, continues on the elder Sagan's work using more up-to-date research. The Sagan view of dreams is that they may be a way to process thoughts and emotions perceived during the day's experiences, allowing for the organization and storage of information into short and long term memory. So basically, when you dream, the more primal parts of your brain are re-experiencing the thoughts that you are tucking away.

I don't dream much (well, that's not true - I probably dream about as much as everybody else but I don't tend to remember them much). Last night was the first dream I remembered in over a month, and it was stupid: Hyde, Fez, and Kelso from That '70s Show playing a triet(?) together on an electric keyboard (employing some very fancy and completely unrealistic fingering techniques, I might add).

On the other hand, my wife remembers her dreams frequently. Moreover, she has nightmares a lot. While a portion of these present physical terrors, many are supernatural in variety, or, as she terms them, demonic. She had another demonic dream last night.

Now, if the Sagans are correct, it means two things:

1) I watch too much That '70s Show

2) My wife worries about demons way too much.

As a little explanation, my wife does worry about demons a lot. In her theology, demons are very real: they possess people, they harm people, and they tempt people into sin. My wife often worries about the last one in particular; she thinks she has demons hounding her to be slothful, or gluttonous, or vain, and she often prays for help from God to combat these demons (when she's not praying for ninja skills, that is). In her dreams, the demons perform more of the first two options, I guess because they have a more striking visual component; a dream is more obviously demonic when it mirrors a scene from The Exorcist than when it shows you sitting on your couch eating Fritos and doing your nails.

If this isn't an example of how religion is child abuse, I don't know what is. Before you argue that my wife's not a child (or that I'm a pedophile), consider that she was indoctrinated when she was a child and it still traumatizes her to this day. Her religion, which is supposed to help her and give her peace and strength, literally gives her nightmares in a regular basis. That's messed up.

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At August 31, 2007 10:26 a.m., Blogger TheBrummell said...

To play Devil's Advocate here (yes, the terminology is deliberate):

While I agree that your wife's childhood religious experiences contribute to her unhappiness today (not that I've ever met her), we lack an appropriate control group for the nightmares.

Imagine a person otherwise identical in brain chemistry to your wife who was raised without religion. She's now the same age as your wife, and presumably is just as prone to remembering her dreams as is your wife.

This hypothetical woman also might have nightmares. Instead of demonic, religion-themed nightmares, though, she has nightmares about non-superstitious terrors - car accidents, chemical mishaps, building and bridge collapses, and the like. She still wakes up scared in the middle of the night, but instead of being scared of demons stealing her immortal soul, she wakes up scared of her neighbour's new sports car and the undermaintained local highway onramp.

In that experiment, with a control (no religion) and treatment group (religion), would we still be able to say that the religion constituted child abuse?


I basically agree with Richard Dawkins' assertions in The God Delusion regarding religion and children. But I think there must be a better example of religion-as-child-abuse than demonic nightmares. The example he cites in the book, about the child forcibly separated from his parents because of some quirk of birthplace and differing religions, qualifies, I think, even if it's a much more rare category of example than unpleasant dreams.

At August 31, 2007 10:40 a.m., Anonymous Mana said...

I agree, religion is abusive. I reacted to your post with a full post of my own.

At August 31, 2007 12:33 p.m., Blogger Carlo said...

Wow... well, Carl Sagan's book has a bit of garbage in it, but his thoughts about dreams are nothing new. I'm pretty sure that psychologists in some form have been theorizing stuff like that for a century or more.

I remember my dreams frequently, and they're usually pretty weird. The thing for me is that, no matter what the dream is about (ninja are the best ones!) I cannot move quickly. I run at a snail's pace and even if I get into a vehicle, everyone around me is moving more quickly. I wonder why? I doubt it's from any fear of speediness.

At September 05, 2007 9:26 a.m., Blogger Bronze Dog said...

I get a lot of dreams in videogame format. The stuff of my few nightmares tends to be insectine, whether swarms of typical insects or nasty human-sized buggers trying to take over the Enterprise/DS9 while I'm on board.

Anyway, Brummell does have a point, but I suspect in addition to coming up with horror movie imagery, churches often generate as much of an atmosphere of fear and paranoia as they can.

At September 05, 2007 12:08 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

My wife doesn't go to a church that focuses on the fear and paranoia - there's lots of crappy singing of pop songs etc (which gives me nightmares, btw).

You have a point, Brummell, about the fact that people will have nightmares about whatever it is that scares them, be it religious or whatever. I guess the difference is, when Bronze Dog wakes up, he (hopefully) knows that the reason for his dreams is that he's a geek with an overactive imagination, while my wife wakes up worrying that real demons may have actually been messing with her mind.

At September 15, 2007 3:48 p.m., Anonymous slut said...

That's the thing about superstitions - they were developed to help people feel calmer and more in control but they end up making people neurotic.


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