About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Superstition can kill your children
Jesus may have offered healing by faith only, but did it work? If the case of little Kara is any indication, it didn’t, and an innocent child was killed as a result. (Incidentally, Jesus never preached via the internet. Jesus preached by talking to people in person only! So I strongly encourage Unleavened Bread Ministries to shut down their web site immediately, or they risk going to Hell "en mass"…)
As readers of this blog know, I have my disagreements with Richard Dawkins, one being that I do not think that religious upbringing automatically constitutes child abuse, as Dawkins maintains. But in this case that term surely applies. Kara’s parents, Leilani and Dale Neumann, claimed that the Marathon County, Wisconsin, State Attorney violated their constitutional right to religious freedom in charging them with a crime. But Judge Vincent Howard of Marathon County Circuit Court ordered them to stand trial anyway, responding that “The free exercise clause of the First Amendment protects religious belief, but not necessarily conduct.”
Indeed, it is the demarcation line between belief (or thought) and conduct (or action) that defines issues of morality, a point often completely lost on religious zealots. I have a close friend who was raised in the Church of Christ and who went through a terrible period in his late teens and early twenties. The reason was that he was absolutely convinced that he was going to Hell. Why? Because he had lusting thoughts about attractive women (imagine that!), and although he never acted on such thoughts, his preacher told him that thinking them was just as bad. I always wondered why he didn’t pursue the women in question anyway, then. I mean, if you are going to Hell regardless of your actions, you might as well enjoy the ride before you get there.
Back to the case of Kara Neumann, it may turn out to be important if it ends up setting a legal precedent. Apparently the law in the United States is very vague (and, as usual, an incredible patchwork at the state level), so that, for instance, 30 States (including Wisconsin) provide limited protection from prosecution in cases of child neglect involving religious beliefs, but it isn’t clear how limited such protection actually is, because the statutes are rarely challenged in court. The result of this protection, meanwhile, has been the death of a 15-month old girl in Oregon last year (pneumonia), and, in the same state, the death of a 16-year old boy of a very painful -- and eminently treatable -- urinary tract infection. Praised be the Lord!
The bottom line is that adults have the right to hold whatever insane and stupid beliefs they like, and even to conduct their life accordingly -- unless such beliefs directly lead to the death or injury of others, children or adult alike (think 9/11). As one of the Neumann’s neighbors put it, “That little girl wasn’t old enough to make the decision about going to a doctor, and now, because some religious extremists went too far, she’s gone.” Precisely.