Many religious practices are harmless. If people want to waste their time going to their church or mosque or synagogue or temple, praying, reading their holy books, or otherwise indulging in individual and group observances like dancing and singing and speaking in tongues, I say knock yourselves out. It keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.
But what infuriates me are those religious practices that result in real harm to people, especially children. Some of these things cause psychological damage, such as instilling irrational fears of hell for indulging in acts that merely violate religious taboos. Others cause children to feel less compassion for the plight of those who worship the ‘wrong’ god.
But there is one religious belief that is particularly pernicious and that is the belief that god can work miracles as a result of prayer. This belief is like a virus that uses the brains of ‘liberal’ and sophisticated believers to flourish and spread since they don’t seem to really believe it and consult doctors when they or their loved ones become ill. The virus lays dormant in such brains but becomes lethal when it occupies the brains of people who take it seriously and put their children’s lives and health at risk by insisting on treating ailments with faith healing when conventional medicine would have helped them.
So I was furious to read of Herbert and Catherine Schaible, members of a fundamentalist Christian church, whose 8-month old child died as a result of diarrhea and breathing problems that were untreated.
What was shocking was that in 2011 they were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of another child, a 2-year-old, from pneumonia. As a result of that, they were put on 10 years probation on the condition that they provide proper medical care for their other children. Clearly they failed to do so and they could have been put in jail for violating their parole conditions but they were not because the couple has seven other children who have now been placed in foster care.
We do not know much about the Schaibles. They may, for all we know, be kind and loving parents in all other areas. But this one crazy belief, fostered by religion, is enough to create this double tragedy.
The trouble with ‘liberal’ religious people is that by not vigorously debunking the idea that faith can heal, they share some culpability for the actions of people who take it seriously. They are like those who do not vaccinate their own children because they think they can protect them from harm but the resulting loss of herd immunity can be devastating for other people’s children.