When Faith Kills

I’m reading tonight about the case of Dale and Leilani Neumann, an American couple who let their 11 year-old daughter, Madeline Kara Neuman, die of diabetes last year. When it was obvious that she wasn’t well, her parents didn’t seek medical care for her. Instead, they prayed to God.

Last week, Leilani Neumann was found guilty of second-degree reckless homicide.

Then there is this mother who is on the run with her 13 year-old cancer-stricken son to avoid chemo.

This highlights what I’ve often said is one of my major concerns with religion. It invariably teaches that faith is not only equal to reason but actually superior to it. I’ve often said that this is a dangerous and despicable kind of brain washing. The death of this child is just one example of why faith is dangerous. On a larger scale, it seems to me that once people come to accept that faith is all you need, they are less likely to challenge authority figures when told things like "Saddam is going to use WMD on us" or "climate change is natural". If we live in a society that conditions us not to say "well hold on a second, where’s the proof?" but "ummm okay, if you say so", then we can be lead like sheep to the slaughter house by figures of power and authority.

Madeline Kara Neumann, known as Kara, died on Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008. Three weeks before that, on Feb 28, her mother wrote this article on a Christian site called "America’s Last Days". In the article, she talks about how she and her husband had been ‘laying their hands’ on people so that, as with one woman they touched, "the power of God fell on her and she immediately felt the Holy Spirit fill her with His Presence". She also writes:

"Many times The Lord has told me things that are going to happen many years down the road…"

Apparently he neglected to tell her that her daughter had Type 1 diabetes, was going to die in three weeks, and needed to see a doctor urgently.

The Neumann’s are part of a church called Unleavened Bread Ministries which is run by the preacher David Eells. Apparently in his conversations with God, the subject of Kara’s disease didn’t come up either.

Even worse than adults being inculcated with faith is when kids are brain washed before they are old enough to know better. In a press release Leilani wrote after the trial, she claims:

"Madeline Kara was a very mature Christian of deep faith in God’s Word; she did her own study on doctors and medicine exactly one week prior to her death…. Kara found out through her study of God’s Word that the Bible did not advocate doctors or medicine but, rather, that modern-day medicine is a counterfeit to God’s healing power."

I’m torn between feeling genuinely sorry for the Neumann’s and feeling disdainful at their ignorance. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to lose a child. And I don’t doubt for an instant that they thought they were doing the right thing. On the other hand, believing that your imaginary friend is going to heal your sick child is just plain stupid and irresponsible. There’s no excuse. She writes:

Dale and I thought we were within our rights to pray for our daughter’s recovery.

I agree. But why not take her to a doctor as well? What about Kara’s right to live? What about her right to have medical care? As a society, where should our priorities lie – respecting people’s religious beliefs, no matter how primitive and ignorant, or protecting children from their irresponsible parents?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1944 ruling in the case of Prince v. Massachusetts ruled:

The right to practice religion freely does not include the right to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill-health or death… Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.

Neumann writing about the progress of her daughter’s illness:

Later on Sunday, I recognized a change in Kara’s condition, as we witnessed the deep sleep and a completely limp body, but for reasons some may not understand, I was not fearful — thinking this was something my daughter could fully recover from. Again, I did not understand what the changes in Kara’s body meant, whether good or bad, so we sought for answers from God.

"We sought answers from God." No doctors.

Now – if you’re a Christian reading this, and you’re saying to yourself "oh yes, well those people are obviously stupid Christians, but my particular kind of Christianity has it right", let me ask you: what’s so different between what you believe and the Neumann’s believed?

I continually talk to Christians who tell me that they have a "relationship" with God or Jesus and that one or both of them "talks" to them. What makes them different from the Neumanns?

Perhaps you’re thinking "well *we* would have taken our child to the doctor." Well good for you. But what areas of your life *do* you put faith ahead of reason and facts? If you put faith ahead of facts in any circumstance, then I submit to you that you are just as deluded and dangerous as the Neumanns.

Faith is dangerous. The people who told you that faith is superior have brain washed you so that you won’t question them while they pick your pocket and lead you down a blind alley. Faith is basically not thinking for yourself. Anyone who tells you not to think for yourself is someone who you should not trust.

The only sensible way to evaluate anything in life is to collect as much data as you can, think about it as best you can, and make the most educated decision you can.

“’Faith’ means not wanting to know what is true” – Friedrich Nietzsche

9 thoughts on “When Faith Kills

  1. While I agree that faith to the detriment of everything else is foolhardy I think we all need and have faith in something.

    Pure rationality is a dangerous thing too. Rationality can override many good but non-rational instincts.

    The hard part is the balance between faith, rationality and being human. The hard part is accepting the fear of the unknown and openning up to the possibility that faith or rationality may have something to offer.

  2. We have faith in humanity. We have faith in human decency. We have faith in our community.

    We have faith that life means something. We have faith that our existence means something.

    We have faith in science. We have faith in progress.

  3. Michael,

    I’m not really sure what consitutes “faith in humanity”, “faith in human decency”, etc, but I certainly don’t have ‘faith that life means something’. As far as I can tell, life is just one output from a particular sequence of chemicals just obeying the laws of chemistry. And I don’t have ‘faith in science’, either. I believe that the scientific method is the only sensible way to reliably determine what is likely to be true, but that doesn’t constitute having ‘faith’ in it. It’s rational, there is overwhelming evidence that the scientific method works.

  4. How do you define faith? Jesus is supposed to have said something like “the poor will always be with us” by which I think he also meant that the ignorant will always be with us too as a result of that poverty. When I look at rural American fundamentalism, I do not always see so-called religious faith in a higher power so much as I sense a private ego belief system and a relationship to a book only.
    When parents cannot or will not give basic care to a sick child, then the state must step in to approve standard scientific procedures. Belief is one thing, delusion is quite another.

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