Science vs. Sorcery

Church sign: 'God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts'On Friday, I wrote a post about people who believe whatever they want to believe, facts be damned. People doubt evolution because it makes them uncomfortable, they doubt global warming because it's either too frightening or because creationism has taught them to distrust science, and they believe that their taxes are being raised at a time they're actually being cut, because they trust talk radio liars more than reality. Personally, I don't understand any of it. Why would you want to be dumb? What purpose does it serve? I know it's not a rational thing, but what emotion drives people to be willfully and proudly ignorant?

Take healthcare reform; nearly every industrialized nation has some form of universal health coverage, yet people believe it's a recipe for disaster that will literally kill people. If it's so deadly, how can so many people live so well under it? How is it that our life expectancy, under the "finest healthcare in the world," is actually 49th in the world? You'd kind of expect that "the finest" would result in number one; that is, after all, the definition of "finest." But facts are wrong, because they say so. And now we can have a debate based not on the facts, but on whether or not "death panels" will let the boogeyman gitcha.

These phony beliefs come with consequence. This idea that you can believe whatever you want to believe has an effect in the real world. People die. Real people really die, which might be part of the problem. After all, this death happens in reality, which crackpots have already decided to ignore. If you can deny the facts on paper, how difficult would it be to deny the facts right in front of you?

I thought about all this last night, as I read the story of Neil Beagley, a sixteen year-old Oregon kid killed by faith-healing. Neil died of a urinary blockage, something that's easily treated. But his parents denied the effectiveness of science and relied instead on the best medical knowledge of the 12th century. Because you get to believe what you want to believe. Given a choice between 21st century medicine and sorcery, they went with sorcery.

[Associated Press:]

The judge who sentenced an Oregon couple to prison Monday for the death of their son says members of their church must quit relying on faith healing when their children's lives are at stake.

"The fact is, too many children have died unnecessarily -- a graveyard full," Judge Steven Maurer said. "This has to stop."

Maurer spoke in a quiet, unemotional voice as he led up to his conclusion: Jeffrey and Marci Beagley each should serve 16 months in prison. Members of the Followers of Christ church who packed the courtroom sobbed.

What Judge Maurer was referring to was the fact that the Followers of Christ church have done this before. In fact, it had happened to the Beagleys themselves once before -- they lost their grand-daughter, Ava Worthington, to this faith-healing mumbo jumbo. The Beagleys had all the evidence any rational person would need that faith-healing was the same as doing nothing and they still chose faith-healing, because you get to believe what you want to believe. Choosing to be a freakin' idiot is what religious freedom is all about.

The difference between this and human sacrifice lies in the lack of a ceremonial knife. And that's pretty much it. It's the 21st century and there are people in Oregon who believe that if they wish hard enough, a cosmic being will come down and grant that wish, like a genii.

And this isn't an isolated incident. I can think of two right here in Wisconsin. In 2003, a nine year-old Milwaukee boy died during an exorcism -- which was supposed to drive out the demon causing his autism. More recently, eleven year-old Kara Neuman died from diabetic ketoacidosis -- another easily treated condition -- because her parents believed that she could be cured by the "power of prayer." Her parents were later convicted of second-degree murder.

Did I mention that this is the 21st century?

For their part, the local Oregon paper has a solution; use the power of law to make the Followers of Christ live in the real world.

[The Oregonian:]

This may seem modest for a criminally negligent homicide, but it is both fair and fairly tough, considering the couple had no criminal record.

The problem is, it's not enough. In and of itself, even the threat of prison is unlikely to persuade the Followers of Christ to take their children to the doctor. This Oregon City congregation has, after all, passively watched children's graves multiply in its cemetery for years; can prison be more of a deterrent?


[T]he county must also take aggressive steps, and even consider requiring routine medical exams for children in this congregation. And child protective workers should seek out a doctor's opinion when there's any semiquaver of a doubt about a child's prognosis.

If dragging idiots kicking and screaming into reality is what it takes, then let them kick and scream. If it means saving lives, then we should just ignore all the kicking and screaming. After all, they're just ignoring reality.

And turnabout is fair play.


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