Religion is Harmful - Faith Healing Kills Kids
There is a great deal of discussion on the internet about the validity and widespread effects of religious belief. Atheists, who make up a very small part of the global population, have become increasingly vocal and not just in their opposition to organized religion but also in the contentious idea that all of these superstitious beliefs carry consequences far more disruptive than the positive results they claim to offer. These atheists are sometimes called Anti-Theists, they not only disbelieve in gods but also believe that belief in god(s) is harmful.
So why is it that this vocal subset of atheists, myself included, can't seem to keep our mouths shut about why we disagree with religion? After all if someone wants to believe, or wants to be part of a church, what is the harm in that? Why bother trying to talk all these people out of their faith when it gives them some level of emotional comfort and community support?
This hub is the first in a series that will explore the very real harm that religion does both to individuals and society at large in an attempt to explain why so many atheists are vocal and actively trying to debate people on the topic. This particular hub will deal with one of the most obvious and unfortunately recurrent ways in which religious thinking harms people, the death of children at the hands of parents who rely on faith instead of proven medical science.
No True Scotsman Disclaimer
Before we delve into the topic at hand I want to put a disclaimer here to nip in the bud an argument that I'm sure someone will bring. Namely someone will try to argue that “No true Christian who actually follows Christ would do X...”. This is a fallacy known as the No True Scotsman fallacy. Anyone who chooses to call themselves a Christian and who attempts to back their opinions up with, or hide their opinions behind, religion, is fair game.
It is not fair to say that simply because they disagree with your version of Christianity that means they are not actually Christian. Attempts to make the religion seem blameless by reducing the number of legitimate participants using only your own arbitrary personal interpretation will be ignored.
It does not matter whether you agree with, say, the people in Westboro Baptist Church. It also does not matter whether religion is being used a shield for crazy people or if religion is actually giving them the idea to begin with. For example homophobes might hide their hate behind Leviticus, the Catholic Church might hide their child molestation behind their religious authority. The point is that religion, whether directly or indirectly, is doing serious harm to society at large by presenting the false idea that its beliefs are true, sacred and not to be criticized, questioned or torn down.
The Basis of Belief in Miraculous Healing
In the case of the topic I want to discuss, faith healing, the basis in scripture is as firm, if not more firm, than any other religiously motivated harmful doctrine. Christ claimed that his followers would have the same sorts of miraculous abilities that he possessed while he was on Earth. Specifically believers are meant to be capable of casting out demons, healing the sick and even raising the dead. Yet we do not see too many zombies walking around do we?
It would seem on first glance that Christians have failed to produce the results their Savior claimed they would and that the fact that 69% of the world is non-Christian is at least in part a direct result of that. After all if Christians could do what the Bible says they should be able to no one would go to a hospital unless all the churches were full up, everyone would be lined up outside churches with injuries from missing limbs to Alzheimers fast becoming a thing of the past.
Those with a strong faith and a belief in Jesus' words about healing sometimes decide not to go to the doctor and instead pray for healing from God. This is perfectly legal in the case of adults who decide voluntarily to exempt themselves from medical treatment but in the case of exempting your own children the law is far fuzzier. Many states, unfortunately, allow some form of religious exemptions for parents who refuse their child medical care which has shown, time and time again, to have disastrous and often deadly results.
Faith can Kill
The failures of faith healing are well documented as are cases of faith healers being revealed to be frauds and snake oil salesmen. At the very least parents who attempt to heal their children are genuine believers, unlike the con-men who make a living selling such cures on TV and in revival tents around the world the parents, at least in most cases, seem to actually care about their children. It is not out of malice or the desire to see harm come to the child that these parents forgo medical care but out of misguided faith making that much more tragic when a child dies as a result.
Christians reading this might argue, “they simply didn't have ENOUGH faith” to heal their children. But what sort of cruel and hateful God would allow a child to die simply on the basis that his/her parents didn't BELIEVE hard enough. Can you imagine a God so petty as to allow a child to die based on the mental slip-up a couple who simply didn't exhibit enough faith?
Here in my own home state of Pennsylvania a Pentecostal couple, Herbert and Catherine Schaible allowed not one but TWO of their children to die preventable deaths because they believed in faith healing. They were led astray by their church, they were led astray by their beliefs and they and their children paid the price. The death of their second child, ironically, tragically, took place while they were STILL ON PROBATION for letting their first child die.
This case hits close to home because not only am I from PA, but I grew up going to a Pentecostal church, though not one that argued against using modern medicine. I did however see plenty of attempted healings in my time in the Church. Including at least half a dozen attempts by own Father to seek healing from God of the degenerative muscular disease that he suffered from (and still suffers from to this day). My Father would often sit me down as a child and tell me he was ripe for a miracle, and I would sit there and pray hard for my Father and hope that he was healed. There is a powerful emotional response to prayer and I can recall feeling like the power of God was coursing through me in hoping that my Father was healed.
There have been well over a hundred documented child deaths since the 70s by parents pursuing faith healing in the United States alone. This can include newborns and toddlers but has even included teenagers. In most of these cases administering medical care would have saved the lives of these children, at the very least it would have immensely increased their chances of survival, something that prayer failed entirely to do.
This is not even to mention the psychological trauma of mentally ill children and homosexual children who are sometimes forced by parents into exorcisms or “pray the gay away” style camps.
Snake Handlers, Danger of Belief
I wanted to start this series out by talking about Faith Healing because it is something that disturbs me and absolutely disgusts me but not in the way of inspiring anger or vitriol toward the parents. Rather it is a clear example of the protection that even harmful religious ideas get backfiring. Because these ideas are seen as religious and sacred they are not questioned as much, they are protected under the umbrella of religion. Not all of these parents are horrible people and not all of them actually know any better (though I am sure that at least some of them do). But the Bible is clear, Jesus is clear, ask and you shall receive, with faith as small as a mustard seed, and miraculous results.
Faith healers are operating on the words of Jesus in much the same way that Snake Handlers of the south do. What they are doing is stupid and dangerous and against everything we know about safety and human well being. We see videos and hear these stories and think “WHY? Why would they do this?”. Religion, of course. Because when all of your ideas are based upon faith and not based upon actual facts, when your positions are not fact reliant positions or at the very least based on rational logical thought this is the sort of thing you inevitably get.
The issue is we allow religion a free pass, as we've seen we even allow religious exemptions from certain things that would seem obvious to the rest of us, like vaccines and giving medical care to our kids. Because religious faith has so embedded itself into the psyche of individuals and become part of their identities and attempted to cement itself in the fabric of society as a necessary institution it becomes difficult to separate out the good ideas from the bad and the bad ideas from the good.
It might be a good idea to love your neighbor but it seems an awful idea to withhold medical care from your kids. We can separate out these good ideas and reject the superstitious and harmful notions which have no basis in fact. Religion should not be considered exempt from public outrage or criticism because some people feel it is an important part of their personal identity.
People angry that religion is finally being criticized remind me of people angry about the NFL being criticized. Everyone has their own team, their own horse in the fight, their own tribe that is a part of their emotional identity and when football is criticized, in whole or in part, the fans rise up to defend even the most ridiculous OR claim that the ridiculous isn't being shielded by their religion at all.
Faith healing kills kids that proper medical care could have saved, it's a fact. If people are willing to accept faith based beliefs that have no basis in reality than they open themselves up to believing false and harmful beliefs. This is why its so important to formulate as many beliefs as we can on the evidence that fits reality the best and why we must criticize religion for shielding and promoting ideas that do harm without doing the slightest bit of good.