It seems that hallucinations are far more common in children that was previously thought, and in fact are fairly frequent. In one 2011 study of nearly 8000 children, two-thirds were found to have had at least one psychotic-like experience (PLE) which was more than a simple childhood play fantasy.
Do we have here a simple, and above all natural, explanation for many of the supposed miracles, very often involving young girls, of visions of, in Catholic countries, the Virgin Mary?
Background Psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) in the general population are common, particularly in childhood, and may constitute part of a spectrum of normative development. Nevertheless, these experiences confer increased risk for later psychotic disorder, and are associated with poorer health and quality of life.
Method This study used factor analytic methods to determine the latent structure underlying PLEs, problem behaviours and personal competencies in the general child population, and used item response theory (IRT) to assess the psychometric properties of nine PLE items to determine which items best represented a latent psychotic-like construct (PSY). A total of 7966 children aged 9–11 years, constituting 95% of eligible children, completed self-report questionnaires.
Results Almost two-thirds of the children endorsed at least one PLE item. Structural analyses identified a unidimensional construct representing psychotic-like severity in the population, the full range of which was well sampled by the nine items. This construct was discriminable from (though correlated with) latent dimensions representing internalizing and externalizing problems. Items assessing visual and auditory hallucination-like experiences provided the most information about PSY; delusion-like experiences identified children at more severe levels of the construct.
Conclusions Assessing PLEs during middle childhood is feasible and supplements information concerning internalizing and externalizing problems presented by children. The hallucination-like experiences constitute appropriate items to screen the population to identify children who may require further clinical assessment or monitoring. Longitudinal follow-up of the children is required to determine sensitivity and specificity of the PLE items for later psychotic illness.
One of the arguments for, for example, Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes and Lúcia Santos of Fatima experiencing more than a simple childhood fantasy was the tenacity with which they stuck to their story when questioned, (although Bernadette Soubirous' memory of the event seems to improve with age). So, could these children have had a PLE?
The same case can be made for the Medjugorje 'miracle' of 1981 in Bosnia-Herzegovina in what looks remarkably like a re-run of Fatim, where the main instigators were a sixteen year-old girl, Mirjana Dragicevic and fifteen year-old Ivanka Ivanković and where, once again, the Catholic Church had a very strong political motive for wanting a 'miracle' to keep control as the political situation deteriorated as former Jugoslavia degenerated into inter-religious civil war, anarchy and eventually disintegration, following the death of Tito a year earlier.
In all these cases these 'visions' were then elevated to the status of miracles by first the local Catholic Church, then, when it realised the potential, the Vatican itself, and in all cases with a clear political motive and now a financial one, but what we probably have is essentially a childhood PLE, nothing more and nothing less.
Other supposed 'miracles' usually associated with the appearance of figures, normally Mary, to children, usually young girls, several of whom appear to have had a troubled childhood, include:
- Rue du Bac, Paris, France. Mary appeared to Catherine Labouré, in the chapel of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, at Rue du Bac in Paris, three times in 1830. She showed her the design of the the medal of the Immaculate Conception, the "Miraculous Medal." This medal, when propagated, helped to renew devotion to Our Lady, both in France and eventually around the world. [Catherine Labouré was 24 at the time but had a history of claiming to have had visions.]
- La Salette, France. Mary appeared to two children, Maximin Giraud, aged 11, and Mélanie Calvat, aged 14, in 1846, one afternoon while they were looking after the animals high up on the mountain. She appealed for penance and an end to Sabbath breaking and blasphemy in the region. This apparition is credited with a major revival of Catholicism in the area.
- Pontmain, France. Mary appeared in the sky over the small town of Pontmain in north-western France to a group of young children for about three hours in January 1871, as the Franco-Prussian war was threatening the area. Her message appeared on a banner under her feet, and encouraged prayer while emphasising Jesus' love and concern. The village was spared invasion.
- Beauraing, Belgium. Mary appeared thirty-three times to a group of children in the winter of 1932-33 at Beauraing in Belgium, in a convent garden near a hawthorn tree. She described herself as "the Immaculate Virgin" and "Mother of God, Queen of Heaven," while calling for prayer for the conversion of sinners.
- Banneux, Belgium. Mary appeared eight times to Mariette Beco, aged 11, outside the family home at Banneux, a small village, in Belgium. She described herself as the "Virgin of the Poor," and promised to intercede for the poor, the sick and the suffering.
The Church needs to put aside it's own greed and avarice for once and start recognising the fact that these hallucinations could be a symptom of psychological, even neurophysiological disorders requiring medical attention, in the interests of the children involved, rather than seizing on these possible, even probable, examples of psychotic episodes, as miracles and using them to enhance the Catholic Church's income and influence, and often effectively taking over the lives of children who then get caught up in their own legend and tied to a treadmill they can never get off.
But without these fake supernatural events to fool the masses with, what would the Catholic Church have to promote it's evidence-free superstition and dogma with?
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