03 June 2011

For the love of god

Kara was a happy, active 11-year old.  She and her friends jumped rope, played dolls and beanie babies, and swam. She was a bright imaginative student who was doing great in school.  Suddenly she started feeling incredibly tired even after a full night's sleep.  Her parents knew something was wrong, so they prayed.  They knelt beside their daughter as she slept and prayed that she would be healed.  Kara was now nauseous all the time, and had no appetite.  She was continuously thirsty but she kept vomiting up the fluids she drank.  Her parents enlisted members of their church to pray for their daughter but her health failed to improve.  Within a month, Kara was near death. She slipped into a coma.  Within the day, she was dead. 

18-month old Alayna was born with a birthmark over her left eye.  As she got older the birthmark grew into a small lump.  It continued to grow larger until it swelled so large that she couldn't open her eye.  Her parents prayed for her to be healed.  They anointed her with oils, fasted, and had fellow church members lay their hands on Alayna and pray.  But each week the growth above her eye was noticeably bigger, more obtrusive to Alayna's vision, and more painful.  Her parents remained devoted to prayer but to no avail, the growth covered had now completely covered her eye and was applying pressure that left untreated would lead to blindness in her left eye.

For centuries before there were doctors or hospitals or medical science, people turned to the unknown for aid.  They prayed to the god of rain when a drought set in; they prayed to the god of war for victory in battle.  The stories about Kara and Alayna could have been plucked from the dark ages but sadly they were not.

Madeline Kara Neumann died in 2008 of diabetic ketoacidosis a treatable form of diabetes that even in the advanced stages could have been cured had she been to a doctor.  Her parents were convicted of second-degree reckless homicide and sentenced to spend 30 days in jail each year for six years and were placed on 10 years’ probation.  Two months ago a judge refused their request for a retrial.

Alayna Wyland's story started in 2010 when the DHS took her into custody due to parental neglect.   She might not lose her eyesight in her left eye because of DHS intervention and despite her parents faith treatments instead of seeing a doctor .

For people like the Neumanns and Wylands, time has stopped in the nineteenth century.  It's astonishing and frightening to think that for many fundamentalists their devotion to ancient, man-made mythology trumps medical science.  (Scientologists are the exception - they are devoted to modern, man-made dogma.)  Their faith in a nebulous, eternal heaven transcends and surpasses progress that could be made during their lifetimes. They are the most conservative among us and the most recalcitrant.

What's interesting is that the Neumanns and Wylands, and similarly the End-of-Worlders, like Howard Camping, continue to believe that there is a god who cares about them - as if human beings are so much more significant than any other life form.  Additionally they can rationalize any misconception or error in judgement.  When asked about why the prayers were ineffective or why the world didn't end, the believers invariably blame themselves or invent a reason.  When Kara Neumann died, her parents explained that it was their fault because they hadn't prayed hard enough nor did they hold enough faith.  Of course, they are dreadfully wrong.  They are at fault, for that they are correct, but not because of their lack of faith.  They are at fault because they refused to seek medical advice.  It has nothing to do with god or obedience or diligence of faith.  It has to do with the ability to reason and question our own ulterior motives.

Because of the continued ignorance associated with archaic, conservative religious views, countless numbers of children die each year in America.  As Shawn Peters pointed out in When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law:  "A number of factors make it difficult to determine precisely how many children have lost their lives in such tragic circumstances.  Members ... isolate themselves."  He quotes a minister as saying, "We don't mix with the world."  So to ascertain an accurate number of deaths due to faith-based medical neglect is next to impossible.  Children could have been born, have died, and been buried without anyone outside of the community knowing about it.

Why do these obscure potentially disastrous ideas persist?  Why is society afraid to confront the perpetrators of faith-based medical neglect with more stringent punishment?

I believe that the underlying problem is related to our inability to question our belief systems effectively without being aghast and/or offended.  There's a reason it's called indoctrination - if your beliefs can't be mocked without you losing your temper or feeling infringed upon, you're probably indoctrinated.   In the closed religious communities, the followers express utter devotion to their way of life and are unwilling to accept any alternative world view.  The Wylands are livid that the DHS took away their baby and allowed her to be treated by a physician. 

There are simple solutions to all of these problems.  Acquiescence.  Take religious persecution for example.  Let's just say you're a christian and someone wants you to become a muslim or else someone in your family will suffer.  Here's what you say: Toss me that Zaytuna Cloak and let's head out to the mosque.  Done.  You've just saved our family member and sacrificed nothing.  Clinging to old beliefs for no other reason than because that is in line with tradition, is not productive nor necessary.  It's detrimental and can lead to tragic results.

Or, let's take a more mundane example.  Let's say you found out about a free swim class offered by a christian church.  You really wanted to participate but there's one catch.  The rub is that you have to a be a christian.  You're an atheist.  So what would you do?  I'll tell you: you hang a cross around your neck and thank the lord for blessing you with such lukewarm water.  The lesson in this story: don't cling to non-belief when a free swim class is offered.

There are parents who believe that praying will extricate the 'demons' of sickness from their children.  I mean, holy shmit the exorcism was just a movie.  That wasn't real.  Do these people know about imagination?  For their devotion to god, they've lost a daughter, who very well could have been the future researcher who discovered the cure to cancer.  There are also people who believe wearing a cross to join a free swim class is moral morally wrong.  Are all lies wrong?  How can a lie be morally wrong when everyone benefits?  I get to learn how to swim and the christians get to think that they've found another christian.  That's a win-win.

Peters wrote, "Religion-based medical neglect is a pervasive phenomenon that continues to jeopardize the welfare of children throughout the United States."  That's a testimonial understatement.  More importantly what continues to jeopardize our welfare is the harm caused by idiotic and misplaced devotion.  There are no legitimate reasons to justify obstinate devotion that puts innocents in harm's way.  Ignorance is not an incurable disease.  For the love of god, it's time for some real intervention on the ultra-conservative religious cults.

God bless us, everyone.

Keep abreast of all the wacky, discouraging, tragic, and disparate religious news: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
Check out American's United fighting to support the separation of church and state: http://www.au.org/
To remind myself how pathetic I am, I watch this.  Hopefully you'll find the same insight.  Watch Mr. Bensusan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXtnpotwW8s

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