Saturday, March 6, 2010

Faith healing exposes the danger of prayer

Faith healing, the practice of forgoing modern medical practices in favor of healing by the power of faith alone, exposes the inherent danger of prayer. Last week, a woman named Liz Heywood had been planning to go share her story directly with the White House representatives at the Secular Coalition of America briefing. Unfortunately, weather prevented her flight from arriving. She instead sent a statement, which was read by an SCA staffer at the meeting. It is a must-read: go read the full text over at the Friendly Atheist.

The highlights:
When she was 13, her knee swelled up "like a melon." It was later learned that she had a strep-infection in her joint: while it is serious, when caught immediately it is treatable. But she never saw a doctor.

Her parents were Christian Scientists: they believed that the real world is an illusion. Here's wikipedia on the subject:
Man and the universe as a whole are spiritual rather than material in nature and that truth and good are real, whereas evil and error are unreal. Christian Scientists believe that only through prayer and knowing and understanding God will this be demonstrated.
There's the crux of the issue. In Christian Science, prayer is the only form of medicine. She remained bedridden for nearly a year, in horrible pain. She survived, her leg "scarred to the bone and my knee fused at an angle of about eighty degrees." She lived with this until she was in her forties. Orthopedic surgeons were unable to correct the damage: 3 years ago, she opted for above-the-knee amputation.

The worst part about all this: it is sanctioned by the law. Child abuse laws in 30 states have exemptions from neglect in cases of "faith healing."Another astonishing fact from this New York Times article-- 300 children have died over the past 30 years when treatment was withheld on religious grounds.

In their defense of prayer, many religious people assert that it gives one peace of mind. At the very least, doesn't do any harm. Liz Heywood and those poor 300 children are direct evidence against this statement. She would have her leg, and those children would have her lives, were it not for their parent's belief in the "healing power" of prayer. Critics could counter that this is an extreme example, and therefore doesn't apply to prayer in general. That is false- it merely demonstrates something that is always true about prayer. Prayer tells us that wishful thinking is an acceptable alternative to action.

One of my favorite quotes is that "Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer." This is especially true when, by forsaking work, those hands clasped in prayer allow their children to suffer and die. This is neglectful homicide, and we should all work to ensure that religious exemptions come off the books.

For further reading on faith healing and neglect, check out these sites:
Religiously Based Child Abuse
Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty
Faith Healing and the Law

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