Here's a passionate answer to those who ask, "What's wrong with letting religious people believe anything they want?"
Because innocent children die! Religion is dangerous! It makes people act like idiots!
Case closed. Religion is guilty.
But there still will be a trial here in Oregon, where prosecutors have charged Carl and Raylene Worthington with manslaughter and criminal mistreatment in the death of their 15-month old daughter, Ava.
I hope they punish these horrible parents as harshly as the law allows. Which is more than six years in prison. Not enough, but hopefully that will discourage other religious fundamentalists from forcing innocent children to suffer and die in the name of a non-existent God.
A story in yesterday's Oregonian asks the right questions.
The Worthington trial will touch on some profound questions. When does a child's welfare outweigh religious freedom? When does the state's responsibility to safeguard children trump parental rights? Perhaps the most haunting question is this: What kind of parent stands by while a child writhes in pain or suffers a lingering death?
The answers seem obvious in cases where a child is in danger of dying or is suffering a serious illness:
A child's welfare always outweighs religious freedom. The state's responsibility to safeguard children always trumps parental rights. Anyone who stands by and lets his or her child suffer is a lousy parent who doesn't deserve any sympathy.
If it weren't for religion, this would be a clear case of criminal child neglect. But American society has a disturbing habit of excusing actions that would be inexcusable in they weren't committed in the name of God.
Who, of course, is nowhere to be seen. Only holy books and holy people are. These claim to speak in God's name, and true believers, unbelievably, believe in them.
So much, they are willing to let their child die because of a few words written a few thousand years ago by someone who, almost certainly, made them up on his or her own with utterly zero divine inspiration.
The Worthington case has opened a window on the Followers of Christ church.
The Followers never grant media interviews, but church President Fred Smith briefly discussed the church's approach to healing the sick in a recent court hearing. "We believe in Jesus Christ ... and he tells you to anoint them with oil and pray for them. So that's what we believe in."
The church's reliance on spiritual healing over medical treatment stems from a passage in the Book of James: "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."
Jesus Fucking Christ! I was so goddamn happy to be an unbeliever in the crappy cruel God of the Bible when I read those words in the newspaper story.
And here's the thing: it isn't just the religion of Christianity that is ultimately responsible for Ava's death. It is each and every person -- which included me for many years -- who shrugs their shoulders and says, "What's the harm in believing unbelievable stuff?"
Here's the harm.
Ava Worthington died surrounded by loved ones who believed their prayers would heal the young child.
As the 15-month-old girl struggled to breathe, church members anointed her with oil and pleaded with God to provide a cure. But Ava died March 2, 2008, of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. Antibiotics could have saved her life, the state medical examiner's office said.
Do you believe in prayer? Do you believe in God?
If so, you helped create the cultural foundation that supported Ava's death. Her parents simply had more blind faith than you do. They actually acted full-out in accord with weird dogma, while you probably believe nowhere near so wholeheartedly.
Regardless, unquestioning blind belief is dangerous. That's why I'm so proud to be a questioner now. Whenever I challenge an unfounded religious tenet for which there is no evidence, I feel like I'm helping to protect children like Ava.
And so many others who suffer from religion. Religions keep people ignorant, prejudiced, delusional, uncaring, and egotistical -- to name but a few deleterious effects.
The worst thing is, once you're caught in the claws of religious dogma, you don't know it. You think you've burst free of a secular straitjacket, while actually you're tightly bound to an illusion that is obvious to the churchless, but invisible to your fundamentalist addled mind.
"Part of what makes these cases so tragic is that the parents are doing what they think is best for their children," Peters said. "There is no criminal intent."
No, just criminal idiocy that's caused by religion.