Praying Parents Praiseworthy?

I’ve gotten involved in a conversation with Nick Norelli about the couple who prayed for their child but did not seek medical assistance, with the result that the child died.

Somehow we need to sort this issue out from a legal perspective. Parental negligence cannot be left open to justification by appeal to religion. From the perspective of Christianity, however, there should be no doubt that these parents’ action was utterly despicable. I submit three passages for the consideration of those who would defend the parents:

James 2:14-17 says:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Isn’t this exactly what the parents did? They spoke words, but did not act on behalf of one in need. According to the Bible we are responsible even for those we don’t know (which will lead us on naturally to the next passage from the Bible), but how much more are we responsible then for our own children?

In the second passage, the parable of the good Samaritan, it would be all too easy to assume that the priest and Levite were heartless individuals. That would make us feel less guilty when we read it. But should we assume that they passed by out of indifference? Was it not more likely that they were concerned for ritual purity, or for their own safety? We should not assume that they did not pray. What set the Samaritan apart was that he did something. This point is even clearer in the next text. Matthew 25:34-36 says:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Note, once again, that no one is praised for having prayed for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned and the naked. Prayer, according to the Bible, is not enough. Sometimes it may be all you can do. But that is to be viewed as an unfortunate circumstance, not an ideal one.

This is yet one more example of a “Biblical” Christianity that doesn’t know the Bible. Behold the damage that it does. Dare we go so far to say that those who advocate these ignorant forms of Christianity are complicit in murder?

  • Anonymous

    I shall pray for you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00276860017599044287 Cobalt

    Well-played, McGrath.

  • Anonymous

    “Dare we go so far to say that those who advocate these ignorant forms of Christianity are complicit in murder?”YES! It’s about time.

  • Anonymous

    It would appear the leaders as Unleavened Bread Ministries would disagree strongly with you. They argue, with regard to this very case, that Jesus did not send the sick to doctors and hospitals.I don’t know where they thought he would find doctors and hospitals over 2000 years ago but it’s their excuse and they’re sticking to it.I am not a Christian but it’s good to see that some people have no problem being Christian and still managing to think for themselves. I suspect it’s time for the rational Christian movement to start publicly condemning the lunatic fringe that brings the entire religion into disrepute.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I wish you anonymouses (?) would use the “Name/URL” method and call yourselves something. It gets so confusing when anonymous seems to be arguing with anonymouself.On ancient health care, >Hector Avalos has done some interesting work on Jesus’ healings and early Christianity in relation to this subject, as have others.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08014885672703727636 Ken Brown

    I don’t want to make light of the situation, but it reminds me of that old joke:There was a great storm and a river overflowed its banks, stranding a man in his home amidst rising waters. Scrambling up to the roof he prayed that God would save him, and just then a local fisherman floated up in his row boat and offered him a lift.”No,” said the man, “God will save me.”So the fisherman left and the waters kept getting higher, and the man kept praying that God would save him. Then a rescue worker arrived in a motor boat and told him to climb down and get in.”No,” the man told him, “I know that God will save me.”After pleading with him for several minutes, the rescue boat left to find someone who wanted to be saved, and the man stayed on his roof praying, while the water kept rising. Finally, a rescue helicopter came and tried to pick him up, but he hid in his attic, shouting at them that God would save them, until they too left him there.Before long the flood overwhelmed his house and the man died, and reaching heaven he asked God why he didn’t save him.”I sent you a row boat, a motor boat and a helicopter,” God replied, “what more did you want?”It’s only funny because it seems preposterous, but that some people really do think that way is heartbreaking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01858703176974699911 ….writinginmyhead

    Very good use of scriptural reasoning! As this was an example of: ‘a “Biblical” Christianity that doesn’t know the Bible,’ can you give example(s) of Biblical Christianity(ies) that does/do know the Bible?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I’ve found Keith Ward’s approach to the Bible particularly helpful and honest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04944518104691406838 xJane

    (cross posted)James: abuse in religion comes in many forms. This particular case ended up being physically manifested (death is pretty physical, although it may also be considered both emotional and spiritual). The fact that this is an extreme example does not absolve religion of the ongoing emotional & spiritual abuse that is the norm in all religions. I will agree with you that it is not inherent in all religions, but the way that religion is practiced is often abusive.Prayer can have its place. Its effects on the brain are very well documented. However, prayer advised by religion can often be stupid at best, deadly in this case.

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