Should Faith Healing Be Protected? May 12, 2011

Should Faith Healing Be Protected?

I don’t really understand how the acceptance of GLBT people can be such a controversial position in the Christian world. It seems like such an obvious answer to me — of course, gay people should be allowed to get married. Of course, gay people should have the same rights as straight people. Leave it to religion to make a “debate” out of something so obvious to everyone else.

It happened again just a few weeks ago, when Christians were taking sides on the existence and nature of Hell, after Christian pastor Rob Bell suggested in his new book that Hell might not exist (though he later admitted to believing in its existence). Think about that for a moment: they were arguing over the nature of a place that has no proof of even existing. Silly, right?

And I don’t even need to mention how they’ve turned the scientific fact of evolution into “just a theory.”

But I’m shocked at the latest “discussion starter” at Christianity Today.

First, some background: You may remember how 16-year-old Neil Beagley died from inflammation of his urethra after his parents Jeff and Marci Beagley decided not to take him in for treatment. They just prayed for him to get better…

You may also remember how 15-month-old Ava Worthington died from pneumonia after her parents Carl and Raylene Worthington decided their god would fix all the problems. He didn’t. The parents later admitted they “didn’t believe in doctors.”

These children died unnecessarily because their parents believed in faith-healing, a scam that has never worked before and which we shouldn’t expect would work now.

And don’t forget 8-month-old Alayna May Wyland, whose eye looked like this at one point:

She’s not dead, but realize the problem could have been fixed had her parents taken her to a doctor. They didn’t. They just prayed.

If you want one more heartbreaking story, just read Liz Heywood‘s ordeal growing up with parents who were Christian Science practitioners.

A couple months ago, the Oregon state legislature rightfully did away with the “faith-healing” exemption in the law. If parents killed their kids out of medical neglect because they believed God would fix their kids’ conditions, they would be prosecuted for it.

Which brings us to Christianity Today, where they actually asked the question: “Should Faith Healing be Legally Protected?

As if that question needs to be asked! As if the answer isn’t already a resounding, “HELL, NO!” They’re debating whether it should be ok to commit faith-based homicide when known cures for kids’ ailments are available!

Who would argue against that?! Only people who believe it’s all a slippery slope to prosecute parents for taking their children to church…

Like Mark Rutland, president of Oral Roberts University:

What if they say, ‘We have to look out for this child and it’s wrong to take them to church’? The government is already on slippery ground — confused and conflicted ground within itself — because we have a bizarre paradox: the government says we won’t protect the parents believing for the healing of the child when it dies, but we will protect the mother who kills the unborn deliberately.”

That’s a ridiculous argument. No one’s prosecuting parents for taking their kids to church. And why is it always religious people who wrongly equate a child who’s alive but suffering with an unborn block of cells? The same people who call a mother a “killer” for having an abortion… but want to protect parents who refuse to take their dying children to a medical professional.

Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, makes even less sense:

“These laws could be used as a club by anti-religious zealots and be open to misinterpretation. Religious people pray for healing often. What if parents prayed for healing and didn’t realize the child was seriously ill and needed immediate medical attention? How will delay in medical treatment due to the parents’ faith or prayers be interpreted? Will parents be liable? It is wiser to deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis versus a blanket law that could be over-interpreted to the detriment of religious freedom.”

He just ignores the fact that all the parents we’re talking about in the aforementioned cases knew the severity of their child’s illness. I have sympathy for parents who honestly didn’t know their child was sick, but none whatsoever for parents who knew about the problem and chose not to do the right thing.

Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of International Religious Freedom Alliance, thinks this is just another example of government overstepping its bounds:

If a child is involved, unable to make his or her own decision, the case for the government to step in is stronger. But there is every reason to be wary, given that our governments are increasingly less respectful of religious freedom — less inclined to respect homeschooling, the nurse who objects to abortions, Bible studies in homes, and adoption agencies that insist on placing children with mother-father families.”

Yes, how dare the government step in to see if kids are getting properly educated. And how dare the government not allow a Christian nurse to decide whether or not another woman should be able to have an abortion?! Those government bastards think kids can be placed in the homes of loving same-sex couples! The MONSTERS!

I’m aware that doctors can’t fix all the problems we’re talking about. But they’re the people who have the best shot at protecting the child and the kids deserve to be treated by someone who has legitimate knowledge of how to cure them.

Leaving them in the hands of these irresponsible parents at the time they’re most vulnerable? That’s frightening.

No one’s asking for a witch hunt against religious parents. But if kids die because their parents willfully chose to pray for them in lieu of taking them to a doctor, the parents should be punished for their poor judgment.

What’s happening in Oregon isn’t a law against religious parents. It’s a law against irresponsible, idiotic parents. It holds these religious parents to the same standards we hold everybody else to. Churches are in no position to hand out “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. And it’s absurd that anyone would defend these parents after what they’ve done.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • We just ranted on this subject in our latest episode of A-News. Glad to see you guys are as well.

  • Nakor

    /sigh

    How dare the government take away religion’s rights to take away the rights of children, gays or whoever the hell else they feel like stripping the rights of at the time?

    Religious freedom doesn’t apply to actions that would be illegal without religious reasoning. Just as murder in the name of religion is still murder, so is bigotry in the name of religion still bigotry, and child abuse in the name of religion still child abuse.

  • Dianne

    I have a friend who died of ovarian cancer because she believed god would cure her. I got so angry at one point that I said “Did it ever occur to you that maybe your god wouldn’t have created chemotherapy and other treatments if he didn’t intend for people to use them?” She had no answer. To her credit she didn’t get angry with me or cut off the friendship either.

  • Iason Ouabache

    Their ability to misunderstand the issue just boggles my mind. Do they honestly think that the government will use this to stop people from taking their kids to church? If so, why should we listen to their “expert” opinion on this subject?

  • Jessmonster

    I fully agree with Oregon’s new law.

    But as a mild aside, as an athiest and a homeschooling mom, I REALLY hate when homeschooling is lumped in with faith healing and anti-abortion activists, and treated as a religious freedom issue. Thanks, Mr. Carlson-Thies, for pushing all my buttons on this beautiful day.

  • SWare

    Sure, no abortion of a cluster of cells because that would be “murder” but it’s so much better to bring a life into the world and watch that child suffer horrendously and needlessly because “faith” will take care of everything. The ignorance is mind boggling!

    Very well said, Nakor.

  • The simplest and most appropriate way to think about this (and talk about it) is this: it’s not about introducing a rule that treats religious people differently from everyone else; it’s about removing a rule that treats religious people differently from everyone else.

    It’s going from

    You are responsible for protecting your children and giving them access to medical care (except when you really believe you shouldn’t have to).

    to

    You are responsible for protecting your children and giving them access to medical care.

    Simple as that.

  • Religious people are brainwashed since the instant they begin to learn English. It’s a cyclical problem of the dumb.

    “Can’t brain today, I’ve got the dumb!”

  • mingfrommongo

    Faith healing should not only be protected, but encouraged. The genes of those stupid enough to choose faith over medicine will then die out eventually.

  • MRL

    I’m willing to shoot headlong down that (false) slippery slope. I’m fully in Dawkins’ camp in believing that religion and religious indoctrination of children is child abuse.

    I realize that’s not good ground (and not the best ground on which to argue) but I’m perfectlyl willing to draw that line in that sand way on the extreme and say “so WHAT if it leads to prosecution of parents who take their kids to church!?”

  • Rebecca

    “…Did it ever occur to you that maybe your god wouldn’t have created chemotherapy and other treatments if he didn’t intend for people to use them?…” Dianne. I couldn’t have said it any better!

  • John

    Once again, illogical people deliberately misunderstanding the notions of the law. This isn’t a question of religious freedom any more than 9/11 was.

  • JW

    But there is every reason to be wary, given that our governments are increasingly less respectful of religious freedom

    Huh… I guess someone’s nostalgic for the halcyon days when children could be brutally beaten in public schools for being the wrong religion. *sigh* Where have our freedoms gone?!

    Moving on, if they’re going to say that the state has an interest in protecting pre-natal life by denying or impeding the chance for a woman to have an abortion how can they justify saying that the gov’t doesn’t have the right to intervene or prosecute that same woman in cases of child neglect which leads to death or serious suffering? Because she had “good” intentions? Come on…

  • Hmm… there’s actually a “Christian Medical and Dental Association”? Now I know where those 1 in 6 dentists who don’t recommend sugar-free gum come from.

  • I have to wonder if these Christian Zealots that are so in favor of the protection of faith healing, and so against the government stepping in on behalf of the health and well being of the child, ever stopped to consider the fact that over 80% of the government that produces these laws are in fact Devout Christians themselves? What it must feel like and mean for the majority of your own faith’s followers to turn against you and tell you you are doing it wrong.

  • I live in Portland about twenty minutes from the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, Oregon. Since arriving here in the fifties from Kansas, dozens of children and women in labor have died as a consequence of the cult’s faith-healing practices. The Followers – appropriately – operate their own cemetery where most of the young victims lie buried.

    To be clear, HB 2721, which would remove faith as a defense in the murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide of minors like Neil Beagley and Ava Worthington, has not yet been signed into law. This morning it was approved by the judiciary committee and is now headed for a floor vote in the Oregon Senate.

  • Nordog

    Hmm… there’s actually a “Christian Medical and Dental Association”? Now I know where those 1 in 6 dentists who don’t recommend sugar-free gum come from.

    LOL.

    Now that’s funny. 🙂

  • Demonhype

    @Timothy Mills:

    Right on! That’s it in a nutshell. I’ve often argued about the discriminatory nature of such faith-healing exemptions that if I, as an atheist, allowed a child of mine to suffer and die from such neglect I’d be arrested. But if I allow them to suffer and die from such neglect because I claim it’s God’s Will that I do so or that Jesus would cry if I took them to a doctor, I get a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. You can’t use a secular excuse like “Doctors are crooks, I don’t trust them, etc” but just prefix it with Jesus or God and it’s generously overlooked.

    I can’t help but think that religion, far from being the source of morality that everyone claims it to be, is actually an excuse that lets people weasel out of doing the right thing while feeling smugly superior about it.

  • Richard Wade

    If faith healing should be protected, then how do you separate the hocus pocus from the mumbo jumbo? If relying only on prayer to a Bronze Age desert god absolves parents of medical child neglect and murder when the kid dies, then relying on a hired Borneo shaman who shakes a rattle and sprinkles the ground up bones of an albino giant mole rat should absolve them of criminal responsibility as well.

  • Re: faith healers, I highly recommend British illustionist Derren Brown’s recent television piece Miracles for Sale, where he trains an actor as a faith healer as a way to expose their practices. I doubt anyone here will be surprised by the tactics and conclusions, but it’s well done and would be good to pass around.

  • L.Long

    Yes we should completely protect a persons right to faith healing when S/He is the sick one and S/He is over 18yrs. But as one above stated child abuse is child abuse. When the child is 18, S/He it can kill itself with my blessing.

  • Faith healing should absolutely be criminal. It is wrong, legally, ethically, morally, to let a child die because it’s “God’s Will”.

  • Anansi

    In Canada, the question over whether the government can temporarily apprehend minors to give them life saving medical treatment over the religious objections of their parents was settled when the courts ruled that while anyone is free to die for their own faith, they are not free to let someone else (like their child) die for it.

    Child protection workers report that many parents are privately relieved when their children are taken for treatment, because they want their child to live but if they were to agree to medical treatment, they would be ostracized by their faith community. When the government takes their child they get to have it both ways.

  • CanadianNihilist

    Faith healing should not only be protected, but encouraged. The genes of those stupid enough to choose faith over medicine will then die out eventually.

    I really really want to agree with this. Unfortunately it’s not the stupid idiots dying out it’s their kids. Kids that can still reject religion, kids that could grow up to possibly be of some use to society. The idiot parents will still convert people over to their lunacy and lobby governments regardless of what happens.
    But if they kill themselves I’m all for it.

  • A person has the right to refuse medical treatment for themselves and that right should be protected. A parent (or other guardian) has the responsibility to protect their child and seek whatever medical care is available. Not taking that responsibility is neglect and if it leads to harm then the parents should be prosecuted for criminal neglect at the very least. All this does is say that there is no exception for faith, that faith is not a special case because faith does not heal people. Medicine does, faith does not.

    Arguments that these rights and responsibilities are anything to do with church attendance or abortion are ridiculous distractions. Who would have thought that theists could be so dishonest. 🙄

  • Brian

    I think evolution is culling the herd. Stupid parents make stupid children.

  • Let me clarify my earlier comment.

    Faith healing for children should be criminal.

    If an adult wants to “leave it in God’s hands,” and end up dying of a treatable illness, hey, it’s their life. If I support the right to die with dignity, I have to support the right of the religious to refuse life-saving medical treatment for themselves. I think they’re stupid for it, but, again, it’s their choice.

    The children, however, need to be protected from this lunacy, precisely because the children are unable to decide for themselves, and at the mercy of their parents’ idiotic beliefs.

  • Steve

    Thankful I live in the UK, we’re not perfect but we don’t see that sort of thing here and even if it does happen, it’s quite rare, i.e, Plymouth Brethren. Prayer is a waste of time, it has never achieved anything and it certainly does not heal!!!!

  • Matt H

    I think evolution is culling the herd. Stupid parents make stupid children.

    Except ultra-religious families typically have fifty thousands kids, so if a few die to faith healing neglect, they’re still beating out secular families. Those Christians have sex like rabbits.

  • I wonder how long my answer is going to stay up there, or if they remove them when somebody complains?

    I think that a parent’s obligation to commit faith-based torture on their children is our Consitutional right! (It’s in there somewhere, probably right after the “pursuit of happiness.”) Jesus suffered and died on the cross, and our children only get closer to Jesus when they’re allowed to share in His suffering! It’s the same reason my wife and I scourge each other every night before going to our separate beds. Yes, some sin-filled atheists will bring up names like Neil Beagley or Ava Worthington, and whine “They wouldn’t have died if the parents had gone to a doctor!” And to them I say “Fall down on your knees! If God wants to call you home, then by… well, by Him!… you’re going home!” We know our dead children are in a better place now. They’re in heaven, while we’re still here on Earth. (Which is why suicide is against the law – everybody knows that you WANT to be inside of the Pearly Gates instead of out here among the unwashed and sinful!) God WANTED them to suffer horribly!

    I’d probably be going to hell for that, if I thought there was one…

  • ckitching

    “and adoption agencies that insist on placing children with mother-father families.”

    Interesting word use there. It’s really telling how far things have come that they feel the need to skirt around the issue. It really wasn’t all that long ago that they’d use the worst pejorative possible.