Another article hit the news this past weekend from Philadelphia in the Kansas City Star. The title was ”Jury finds faith-healing couple guilty in child’s death”. I am always saddened when I read these stories. I feel a sense of anger too. In this particular case,
Herbert and Catherine Schaible told police and a city social worker shortly after 2-year-old Kent Schaible died in January 2009 that they prayed for his recovery rather than seek medical help because they believed in faith-healing… Herbert and Catherine Schaible could face a maximum of five to 10 years in prison on the manslaughter charge when they are sentenced early next year
What upsets me most is that the article finishes by saying, “Their faith in God is intact even though the persecution is as heavy as can be. They depend upon God for the answer, they depend upon God for the victory – and we shall overcome.” Really? After all this drama, you still have faith in your god? What is wrong with these people? My first guess is… a lot.
But, I know where they are coming from. I used to believe like they do. I sat in on many prayer sessions and laid hands on fellow church members and prayed diligently for their healing. Some got better. Some did not – much like the general population. One story that I always think of (and will never forget) when I read about these tragedies is from my own church as a child.
A pastor we had, John Horner, was set to be married. He was marrying the most beautiful girl in our church, Amy Payton, from an important family. Both were virgins and the ideal church going Ken and Barbie. The entire church came to their wedding. John wore an all-white tuxedo. So, when it was announced that they were pregnant (conceived on their honeymoon none the less) it was rejoiced by the church. When it was discovered they were expecting twins, it just hyped up the fervor even more.
When the time came, they opted for an “at-home” birth with their family and a Christian mid-wife. Things didn’t go so well. Shortly after the second baby was born, he unexpectedly stopped breathing normally. The mid-wife immediately went for the phone. John stopped her. He thought god was testing his faith. So, they gathered in a prayer circle and prayed for over 30 minutes for the child to be ok. No other medical attention was given to the newborn (at the pleading of his mother). After all divine attempts at normal breathing were made, the baby died. It was discovered that there had been plenty of time for an ambulance (or the parents) to get the child to the Emergency Room and assist it in it’s breathing. Medical treatment would have easily led to that child being alive today. Prayer did nothing. Their FAITH in god killed their newborn child. John was never arrested of prosecuted for any crime. Luckily, I have seen the mother since (this was almost 20 years ago). She had left John, was re-married, and had another child – happy ending (sort of) for her. I had Christmas dinner with her about 4 or 5 years ago. She was as beautiful and cheery as I once remembered. Things seemed good. Earlier this year, Amy took her own life… no one can say if the guilt from John Horner’s neglect and the death of their child played a part – but I would be surprised if it didn’t.
John Horner didn’t stop. He went on to do much more damage. In doing research for this article, I found out more about John than I had known before. I knew he moved away from Springfield, MO (where I grew up) but had no idea his insane delusions on faith healing kept going… and killed two more people. The church basically kicked him out shortly after the above incident (which really triggered his craziness) for his teachings and ever increasingly outrageous behavior. John then moved back the KC area where he started his own home based church. John’s main teachings centered entirely upon how evil medicine was and how the “church” was an abomination.
You can read more about this story here, on a blog and on one I found from Misty’s family. This kind of practice needs to be stopped. I’m glad some judges are starting to hold people accountable for this nonsense as in the story in Philadelphia. Freedom of religion is one thing, but it shouldn’t be used as a defense when neglect leads to harm or death. The evidence on intercessory prayer is clear, yet these people just keep believing it. Let’s look at some logical arguments as to why prayer doesn’t heal.
The New York Times printed an article in 2006 that pissed off a lot of people in the religious community. It was about the study, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston. In this large and much touted scientific study, one group of patients was told that strangers would pray for them, a second group was told strangers might or might not pray for them, and a third group was not prayed for at all. The $2.4 million study found that the strangers’ prayers did not help patients’ recovery.The study concluded
“It is unsurprising and not a little ironic that patients in the study who were told unequivocally they were being prayed for did worse than those who were told only that they might be. When medical personnel dabble in religious practices, we should anticipate that patients might interpret this as a sign of desperation.”
My friends at whywontgodhealamputees.com have explained this very well (and loads of other topics) so, with permission, I will let you read their analysis on the subject.
The dictionary defines the word “superstition” in this way:
An irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome. [ref]
We have all seen plenty of superstitions. There are the superstitions that a rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover bring good luck. There are the superstitions that breaking a mirror or seeing a black cat bring bad luck. And we all know that these superstitions are silly. A rabbit’s foot or a broken mirror has no good or bad influence on the course of events. This is obvious to any intelligent person.
So let’s imagine the following situation. Let’s say that you have cancer. You are lying in the hospital after a round of chemo and you feel terrible. A person pops into your room with a bright smile on his face and a horseshoe in his hand. He says to you, “This is an amazing and lucky horseshoe. If you touch this horseshoe, it will cure your cancer. But I need to charge you $100 to touch it.”
Would you pay the man $100?
Of course not. We all know that touching the horseshoe will have zero effect on cancer. The belief in lucky horseshoes is pure superstition.
It is also very easy to scientifically prove that the horseshoe has no effect on cancer (or anything else). The way we would do it is simple: we would take 1,000 cancer patients and split them randomly into two groups of 500. We would let 500 of the cancer patients touch the lucky horseshoe and we would leave the other 500 alone in a double-blind way. Then we would look at cancer remission rates between the two groups. What we would find is zero benefit from the horseshoe. We would see no statistical difference between the remission rates in the two groups of 500 patients.
Now let us imagine another situation. You have cancer, you have just finished a round of chemo and you feel terrible. This time, a person pops into your room with a bright smile on his face and a bible in his hand. He says to you, “There is a being named God who is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe. I am his representative on earth. If you will allow me to pray to God on your behalf, God will cure your cancer.”
You agree to the prayer, and the man prays over you for 10 minutes. He invokes all the healing powers of God, beseeching him, reciting verses of scripture and so forth. Afterwards, as he is getting ready to leave, the man says, “Oh, and by the way, God says that you should tithe 10% of your income to the church. Would you consider making a tax-deductible donation today?”
The question is: Is there any difference between the two men? Will the prayer have any effect greater than the horseshoe?
The answer is: No. The belief in prayer is just as superstitious as the belief in lucky horseshoes.
The fascinating thing is that we can prove that prayer has no effect in exactly the same way that we can prove that horseshoes have no effect. We take 1,000 cancer patients. We pray over 500 of them and we leave the other 500 alone. Then we look at cancer remission rates between the two groups. What we find is that prayers have zero benefit. We would see no statistical difference between the remission rates in the two groups of 500 patients.
In other words, we can prove that the belief in prayer is pure superstition. The belief in the power of prayer is no different from the belief in the power of lucky horseshoes.
These experiments have been performed many times, and they always return the same results. For example, this article says:
One of the most scientifically rigorous studies yet, published earlier this month, found that the prayers of a distant congregation did not reduce the major complications or death rate in patients hospitalized for heart treatments.
A review of 17 past studies of ”distant healing,” published in 2003 by a British researcher, found no significant effect for prayer or other healing methods.
An article from Live Science from March, 2006 discusses another study that confirms the same thing:
In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.
A peer-reviewed scientific study published in 2001 did indicate that prayer works. According to an article from The Center for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI):
“On October 2, 2001, the New York Times reported that researchers at prestigious Columbia University Medical Center in New York had discovered something quite extraordinary. Using virtually foolproof scientific methods the researchers had demonstrated that infertile women who were prayed for by Christian prayer groups became pregnant twice as often as those who did not have people praying for them. The study was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine. Even the researchers were shocked. The study’s results could only be described as miraculous.”
This study was later proven to be completely fraudulent. However, everyone who cut out the original article in the NYTimes and posted it on their refrigerators still has that article as “proof” that prayer works.
This article entitled A prayer before dying uncovers another case where a “scientific study” of prayer is unmasked as fraudulent.
It’s not just prayer that is ineffective. Not even a hopeful attitude helps. According to this article:
A positive attitude does not improve the chances of surviving cancer and doctors who encourage patients to keep up hope may be burdening them, according to the results of research released Monday.
Quite simply, prayer has absolutely no effect on the outcome of any event. The “power of prayer” is actually “the power of coincidence.” Belief in prayer is pure superstition.
Now here is the problem. We all know that people who believe in superstitions like rabbits’ feet and broken mirrors are daft. And we know that the man with the horseshoe asking for money is a complete fraud. These facts are obvious to everyone with intelligence.
It should now be obvious that the believer’s faith in prayer is just as daft, and the minister asking for donations is just as fraudulent.
This is the problem with religon. We allow daft and fradulent people to run freely in our society, spreading their superstitions and collecting their money, rather than pointing out the superstition and the fraud:
For a person to say “God answered my prayers today!” is just as silly as a person saying, “My lucky horseshoe granted me my wishes today!” or, “The planet Jupiter answered my prayers today!”
For a person to say, “God wants you to tithe 10% of your income to the church, and if you do, God will answer your prayers and let you into heaven when you die,” is completely fraudulent.
The time has come for intelligent people to stop accepting or “tolerating” superstition and fraud and, instead, to call it what it is. It is time to state clearly that God is imaginary. Religion is pure superstition, nothing more — It has been proven time and time again with dozens of scientific experiments. It is time for us to begin eliminating the superstition and fraud from public discourse, for the simple reason that superstition and fraud are detrimental to society.
CONCLUSION: Prayer simply doesn’t work. Billions of people have prayed for things. Many of them as devout and believing as they could be. Sometimes, things improve, and they thank god for answering their prayers. But, when they don’t get answered, oh well, no one’s fault. God never gets blamed for misses. In the cases of the child deaths mentioned at the beginning of this article, the parents rationalized the deaths and didn’t blame god. They went on to continue to be believers. John Horner even went on to allow his beliefs to lead to other deaths. It’s time America wakes up and tells believers it’s ok when your beliefs are personal… but we wont’ stand by and allow those beliefs to hurt other people.
It angers me to think that if you saw a child drowning, stood there, did not offer help, and watched them drown when you could have saved them, you could be charged with neglect or manslaughter. But, if you say you were praying for them the whole time and god just chose not to save them, well… then you are within your rights. I hope prayer helps these religious zealots, like John Horner, sleep at night. They at least have the choice – their victims do not.
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