fidesquaerens (marta_bee) wrote,

Spiritual Healing

Sojourners has an interesting piece up on a sixteen-year-old Oregon boy who died because he (or his parents?) refused to get him medical attention. His church is for "faith-healing" rather than modern medicine.

When I first heard of this case I was intrigued by it because the boy, while still a legal minor, is still old enough to be tried as an adult for serious crimes in most states. He's old enough to drive and (at least in NY) he's old enough to legally consent to sex. And in many countries (I'm thinking the UK here but I'm sure there are others) he'd be well within his rights to order a beer from a restaurant. So in many ways society recognizes that he's not so young we have to protect him. That makes the issue of consent more interesting: Is he old enough that we should expect him to stand his ground against his parents' religious beliefs? I know I couldn't have done that in high school, especially if I was part of a subculture like this.

The SoJo post really gets interesting, though, because it looks at the larger issue of religious exemptions. Where do we draw the line? Does scaring kids with talk of brimstone and hell-fire constitut emotional abuse? (More specifically, does this?) What about parents who take their kids to a protest where they might get hurt, or who indoctrinate them with extreme beliefs that lead them to break the law? You don't have to paint this in religious terms; for instance, white supremacists (or black supremacists, etc.), militia movement advocates, and other groups that have nothing to do with organized religion could be seen as harming the children of their members. You alson don't have to go extreme; many atheists would probably see even mainstream evangelical ideas like evolution isn't scientific fact, global warming is a hoax, homosexuality is a choice, feminism is evil, hormonal contraceptions are abortifacients, etc. as being harmful to kids. Where do you draw the line?

My impulse is that we should look at whether the practice does more good than harm even if the belief it's based on isn't true. Say Christianity is wrong and there's no heaven; should we still tolerate kids being scared with talk of hell? I'd say yes, because the only way to avoid that kind of talk is to interfere with both freedom of speech and parental rights to raise up their kids as they believe. Whatever harm kids might suffer is outweighed by those goods. Of course other people adults are also free to try to convince the parents not to subject their kids to such talk, if they believe the talk is harmful and/or wrong. That's how free speech works.

In the Pennsylvania case I linked to above, where youth group members were "kidnapped" and "interrogated," I'd say that's a step too far. The damage done to the students seems more intense. Empathy for missionaries is a good thing, but hatred toward and fear of non-Christians in the developing world - which this exercise seems just as likely to develop - is obviously not good. And even if the goal of this exercise was good, there's surely a better way to teach it than putting kids through this directed of a trauma? It's one thing to hear a preacher talk for an hour about scary things, quite another to be blindfolded, bound, and interrogated. And that's the test that should be applied in a democracy.

It's important to remember, I think, that there's a difference between something being illegal and it being forbidden. I view the law like a contract. If you oppose a law enough that you're willing to go to jail to break it, then that's your right as well. In some situations breaking the law might be the right thing. Take a parent whose child is about to die without a transplant, and the only one available is for sale on the black market. While we might send the dad to jail, would we really say he'd done the wrong thing? But the law can still serve a purpose, by making sure those exceptions are rare. (A functional organ donation system is a good thing, and the less people circumvent it, the less people will need to circumvent it.)

What do you think? Should faith-healing like this be illegal? If so, where do you draw the line? How much accommodation should the law make for religious practice?
Tags: philosophy, politics, religion
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