I’m a skeptic. I’m not a perfect skeptic; we all have blind spots. But I try to base decisions I make and beliefs I have on the best evidence available and reevaluate those things often. I don’t have a lot of patience with people who take astrology seriously, or who swear by homeopathy, or who buy into conspiracy theories.
Some people ask me why I get so bent out of shape when people spout this type of ridiculousness. I mean, what harm does it do if someone designs their day around their morning horoscope? What harm comes from wearing a copper bracelet under the misguided assumption that it will align their chi or whatever? I’ll tell you why. This type of thinking doesn’t stop at little idiosyncrasies or affectations. This type of thinking really hurts the most vulnerable among us.
Need an example? Just this week it came out that Herbert and Catherine Schaible lost a child because of their mistaken belief in faith healing. For a second time. That’s right. They’ve tried to pray two of their children back into health; both times it failed.
How’s your life comprehension, Schaibles? Not too good.
Charges have yet to be filed in this case, but the couple was convicted in 2009 of involuntary manslaughter after the death of their two-year-old son. They were sentenced to 10 years probation. The couple’s remaining seven children have now been placed in foster care.
The Schaibles are members of a fundamentalist church that eschews all medicine. It’s evidently a sin. According to the Associated Press:
Herbert Schaible, 44, and his 43-year-old wife grew up in the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia and have served as teachers there. The church’s website has a sermon titled “Healing — From God or Medicine?” that quotes Bible verses purportedly forbidding Christians from visiting doctors or taking medicine.
“It is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills; and it is real faith to trust on the Name of Jesus for healing,” says the message, from last May.
Yeah, it’s a definite sin to take advantage of modern medicine so we don’t die of the flu or the measles. Oh wait. No it isn’t. Because it 2013.
Deaths from faith healing are nothing new. In 2009, a different couple caused the death of their child, this time in Wisconsin. Dale and Leilani Neumann were convicted of reckless homicide following the death of their 11-year-old daughter, Madeline Kara Neumann. Madeline had diabetes, and instead of treating it like any rational adult, her parents prayed to make her well.
She didn’t get well.
The Neumanns are still appealing the case, and a decision is expected this year. I know that I’ll be paying attention.
Need more? Last year Russel and Brandi Bellew plead guilty to negligent homicide in the death of Brandi’s 16-year-old son Austin Sprout. He died of a burst appendix. Austin presented with cold and flu-like symptoms, but instead of, you know, going to a doctor, the Bellews decided to pray. It was super not effective.
I could go on, and on, and on. Despite having no evidence for its efficacy, people continue to believe that if they pray hard enough they can cure diseases. Despite example after example of tragic and preventable deaths, people persist in this belief. Maybe, as these cases gain in prominence, fewer children will die.
Just don’t ask me to keep the faith.