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Thursday, March 27, 2008

When Faith is Neglect

Madeline Kara Neumann

There's a trend in American thought -- I don't know how global it is -- that's very disturbing. It's the idea that you can choose what you believe to be true. A sort of "wishing makes it so" line of thinking that allows the subject to not only believe things that are obviously untrue and unsupported by any evidence, but to berate others for not believing the crazy stuff the subject believes.

We've all come across it. I've had conversations with people who believe that not only did Saddam Hussein definitely have ties to al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction, but planned to conquer the world, Hitler-like. That no one ever claimed that Saddam had plans of world conquest is beside the point. Reports by the Pentagon that have shot down the ties to al Qaeda and the fact that any WMD in Iraq (not to mention any evidence for them) would've been found by now are irrelevant to these people. It's true because they believe it so hard and so much.

In no area is this line of thinking so popular and so dangerous at the same time as the area of science. If a small group believes something crazy, then suddenly decades of sound science are in doubt. We see it in issues ranging from stem cell research to evolution to climate change. If someone out there doubts, we're all supposed to doubt -- no matter how loosely based in reality their doubt is. The media does it's part in pushing these phony "controversies" by treating crazies as if they were mainstream. If you've got a foundation with a few million in endowments, you get to go on CNN as an "expert" and tell everyone the freakin' Grand Canyon was caused by the biblical flood and that Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark. The media, in a misplaced attempt to be unbiased and objective, removes all BS filters and allows equal time to liars, fools, and crazies.

Think back to the Clinton years, where we were assured by many industry shills that there was no evidence that second-hand tobacco smoke was bad for you. Now think about that. First-hand smoke is pretty much poison. What magic was it supposed to be that only made tobacco hurt the person who was using it? Does it know who's lungs it's supposed to harm? The claim is stupid on its face. Yet there were no shortage of people making this claim in the media and no real criticism of it other than "equal time."

There are times when this idea that you get to choose which universe you get to live in is deadly. When facts you don't like are either discarded as lies or rationalized as mistaken become times that are invitations to disaster. When you superimpose your own "facts" over reality and try to apply them in the real world. The magic fails and the results can be tragic.

Wausau Daily Herald:

The family of a town of Weston [WI] girl who died Sunday from an untreated medical condition did not know she had diabetes, Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said this morning.

Madeline Kara Neumann died of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that develops when a person’s body has too little insulin, police said. She reportedly had not received medical treatment since she was 3 years old, said Vergin, whose department is investigating.

The family chose to pray for the girl’s health rather than seek medical intervention, Vergin said.

Kara Neumann was 11 years old.

Before you hand these people excuses -- they couldn't have known, they obviously had no insurance, etc. -- consider this; the WDH story goes on to tell us, "An aunt in California called police after Kara’s family -- the girl was best known by her middle name -- called her asking for more prayers because of the child’s deteriorating health, Vergin said."

The aunt in California, who's only connection to the family was by telephone, knew there was real trouble and called police. The family, faced with an illness that was so obviously severe that even the description of it was troubling, decided that the 21st century had no answers for them and instead turned to the medical knowledge of the middle ages. Surrounded in their everyday life by the accomplishments of modern technology and modern science, they decided that the wisest route would be witch doctorism.

Police Chief Dan Vergin, who obviously has never been a detective, told the newspaper, "These are not bizarre people." Yet, if we go over to the Associated Press's version of the story, we see that the Neumanns are not only bizarre, they're crazy. There we're told, "The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said."

Given that, Vergin's statement seems a little bizarre. The family believes that Kara died because they didn't have enough faith, but she could get better. It's maddening.

People use words like "cold" and "hard" to describe logic and reason, while using words like "warm" and "loving" to describe religion and spirituality. I never understood this -- both are just as human and the former has served us far, far better throughout human history. The results of centuries of "cold, hard" reason would've saved her easily, while "warm and loving" spirituality was in reality nothing but neglect. Religion provided Kara Neumann the very finest care available to people of the 1st century.

To give you an idea of where Kara's mother Leilani's head is at, we can turn to "Unleavened Bread Ministries" at There, Neumann posted "testimony" of shooting "three other Spirit-filled women" with "the energy of God." It's interesting only because of its author. Some of you know I help moderate a forum on the subject of religion and, I hate to say it, this is really no crazier than other fundamentalist crap I've read before. In fact, I've seen worse. Some people seem to congratulate each other on how nuts they are.

If we go elsewhere on the site, we see an entry titled Roots of Modern Medicine that warns us that the Hippocratic Oath is sworn to Apollo and that "The angel of the abyss is Apollyon, meaning destroyer." Clearly, modern medicine is of the devil.

No, these people aren't bizarre and the AP piece assures us they have nothing against doctors.

So this is where this idea that you get to choose what you believe can lead. When you can disregard facts and history and plain logic and replace them with "truths revealed in your heart" and stuff some equally deluded person told you, nothing is true and nothing is untrue. Nothing can be proved and nothing can be disproved. With faith, there is no final result, no definitive disproval. Even the death of an 11 year-old girl doesn't prove failure -- after all, she can still rise from the grave if you just believe it hard enough and strongly enough and banish all doubt and reason from your mind. Only the beliefs of the 1st century are true -- some guy on the 21st century internet can tell you that.

I suppose, to a certain extent at least, I'm writing an obit for 11 year-old Madeline Kara Neumann of Weston, WI. Cause of death; willful ignorance.

I'd much rather be writing the obituary for willful ignorance.


Technorati tags: ; ; ; ; ; ; Too many are choosing over -- with tragic results


TC said...

Evolution in action.

Emily said...


Carey Anthony said...

A very well articulated post. Thank you.

Shawn Francis Peters said...

I've written pretty extensively on the legal and ethical issues raised by these kinds of cases. For better or worse, my book WHEN PRAYER FAILS: FAITH HEALING, CHILDREN, AND THE LAW (Oxford, 2007) is really the first comprehensive treatment of the topic. And, since I'm based at UW-Madison, I've commented on the Neumann case specifically in a number of different forums (including CNN).

I won't drone on here, but if you're interested in learning more, you might check out my "Religious Convictions" blog at: