Fasting and Dying for God

Evelyn Boyd locked herself in a room for three weeks straight, with nothing but water, so she could pray.

And now she’s dead.

I don’t understand how some people are surprised by this and I don’t feel bad for her. It sounds like she knew what she was doing. She brought this on herself. No one else killed her.

“If she had been under 18, we’d have taken the parents to jail,” [Sheriff Grady] Judd said. “If she had been a senior citizen and she had dementia or mental issues, and someone in that house had ignored her health, there would be legal culpability. But it’s very difficult to assign legal culpability in this case.”

“It’s not illegal to fast,” he said.

It’s not illegal, but I do question how any rational person could find that behavior acceptable. In the Jain faith I grew up in, people sometimes fast for eight days straight — my sister did it once when she was in middle school — and possibly even more. It’s a harmful and disturbing practice made worse by the fact that people celebrate your fasting when you’re done.

If there wasn’t a religious component to Boyd’s fasting, I wonder what people would be saying about it. Would it have been ok then? Would charges be filed against the husband if she just wanted to lock herself away and fast for no reason?

It sounds like another example of how religion serves as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

You kill your child by not taking him to the hospital? Jail.

You kill your child by not taking him to the hospital because your religion teaches you should pray for him instead? No jail. Or at least a reduced jail sentence.

Boyd’s death isn’t unexpected. But it is senseless and it could’ve been avoided.

  • Claudia

    I’ll admit I’m a little hestitant about legally imposing behaviors on adults when they only affect the individual. Certainly you could make the argument that starving yourself to death is a sign of mental illness and therefore you can be ruled mentally incompetent to make your own decisions, but I think there’s a really high standard for mental incompetence and that’s a good thing.

    Insofar as its viable, adults should be allowed to make decisions about their own health as long as they aren’t causing direct harm to others. Unless there is a VERY clear diagnosis of serious mental impairment by an actual doctor, I don’t think government should be in the business of deciding what you should or shouldn’t do to your body.

    That said there should be no legal distinctions between decisions that are religiously based and ones made on any other basis.

  • Carlie

    Aren’t people sometimes given feeding tubes against their will in hospitals when they won’t eat? Here again is a case of exception being given just because of religious reasons. Not that I’m against it; I just think it should be the same rule for both. I find it interesting that it’s not being labeled a suicide in any of the reports I’ve seen on it, even though that’s what she did.

  • http://sunombreenvano.blogspot.com/ Diego, El Mapache

    It’s retarded to die for such reasons, but she was free to do it. When it comes to kids it’s another matter, but in this case, this woman wanted to do it.

    Come on, she must have died happy, with a smile in her face, thinking that god was taking her to heaven. Don’t be sad for her. Particularly I wouldn’t be sad to see more religious wackos doing the same thing.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    This whole story sounds incredibly fishy to me. A woman locks herself in a room and starves to death? What, she couldn’t open the door and call for help when she realized something was wrong? And her husband doesn’t check on her for 26 days? Yeah… I’m smelling something here.

  • Anna

    If it’s true, this case qualifies for Darwin Award – chlorinating the Gene Pool out of genes of stupidity

  • keddaw

    Force feeding someone against their will who is mentally competent is an assault and the hospital wouldn’t have done it.

    It seems to me undeniable that she was not mentally competent, but in a country that believes in the second coming of Christ within their lifetimes who can say what is mentally competent?

  • Shawn

    I don’t feel bad for her

    A friend’s brother showed up one day while I was visiting. He had two fresh, black eyes (I actually thought he had that football player stuff on at first) after street preaching on one of the most crime-ridden streets in my city. He was going on about how I was Satan (for being an atheist) and my friend’s 10 year old daughter was Satan (I forget, or didn’t follow, her crime). While frightening to see, I felt very bad for him. Whenever I’m angry or frustrated at the devoutly religious, I try to remember him, and remember that these people are ill.

    I feel just as bad for this lady as I would for someone who committed suicide to silence the voices in their head.

  • Shawn

    It seems to me undeniable that she was not mentally competent, but in a country that believes in the second coming of Christ within their lifetimes who can say what is mentally competent?

    I think you hit the nail on the head. We find it abhorrent to set the benchmark for ‘sane’ to exclude a double-digit percentage of the population.

  • medussa

    I have to say i do feel bad for her. She killed herself, hoping all the while that she would be rewarded in the afterlife, get some kind of credibility with a deity that doesn’t exist. I feel for her the way I feel for a ll mentally ill patients..

    As for forcing her to eat, I believe she should’ve been diagnosed with a religiously motivated mental illness and treated accordingly, but if a person is NOT mentally ill, I maintain it’s every adult’s right to make their own medical choices, even stupid ones.

  • DDM

    If my religion, hypothetically, said it’d be okay to kill anyone I want, would that mean I would get off lightly for killing whoever I wanted?

    I’m willing to bet I’d get off lighter than someone whose religion wasn’t telling them that. I’d bet dollars-to-Donuts on it.

  • http://www.travisjmorgan.com Travis Morgan

    I wonder when authorities are going to start holding the “religious component” responsible since it obviously influenced and ultimatly brainwashed the person to believing in something that contributed to their own death. How is the “religious component” not an accessory to manslaughter? What does it take, mass suicides all at once before the address the cuase? I’m getting tired of religion getting this get out of jail free card.

  • Hugh Kramer

    The problem this case presents does not just illustrate how religion facilitates stupid or demented behavior, but how it offers cover for it as well. Evelyn Boyd did not do what she did in a vacuum. She did it in full view of her husband, family, friends and neighbors… and none of them said or did anything about it. She didn’t die during her first long-term fast, but her fifth in a period of a little over a year. Because it was done as an act of faith, people praised her for her piety instead of intervening in what otherwise should have been seen as a medically reckless and risky activity.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    I feel very bad for her. Suicide comes in many different forms. I really wish that someone would have intervened to stop her self-destructive behavior. Many people feel a religious dimension to their suicide; they feel that they will go to heaven or be with the angels after they die. The fact that they feel this does not diminish the tragedy in any way. In a sense, I feel it is worse, because they are willingly giving up on their only chance at life, which is the one we have now and the only one we will ever have.

    Very sad story.

  • Trace

    MikeTI: “And her husband doesn’t check on her for 26 days?”

    Yeah, I also have a problem with that.

  • Lifer

    “In the Jain faith I grew up in, people sometimes fast for eight days straight — my sister did it once when she was in middle school — and possibly even more. It’s a harmful and disturbing practice made worse by the fact that people celebrate your fasting when you’re done.”

    Fasting, and caloric restriction, in a clinical setting with medical supervision is proven to increase lifespan and provide relief for some illnesses. Pretty much anyone can fast purely on distilled water for 7 days without any complications but beyond that it’s risky unless you are incredibly informed about what you’re doing – what to do leading up to a fast, what to expect on it, and how to safely break the fast.

    I don’t agree with fasting motivated by religious conviction; it usually has no scientific component, preparation or review, but the practice cannot be simply written off.

  • Deiloh

    Another one bites the dust. Such a waste and so sad.

  • vivian

    Starving yourself screws up your metabolism. You would think that it would dawn on these people that if their god wanted them to do this than the outcome wouldn’t be bad for them. Maybe these people should switch to kool-aid, works faster.

  • NewEnglandBob

    Good riddance to the incredibly stupid (and I do mean stupid, not ignorant).

  • Miko

    If it hadn’t been religiously motivated, then it probably would have been accepted as occurring for a good (or at least tolerable) reason. I don’t recall a post decrying Orlando Zapata’s death by non-religious fasting.

    Would charges be filed against the husband if she just wanted to lock herself away and fast for no reason?

    Would charges be filed against the husband if she had commit suicide by more conventional means? I realize that we live in an ultra-conservative law-and-order society that attempts to instill the idea that every bad thing in life is always the fault of one person or another, so I understand why you’d think this. But, if we as a society are going to progress to a deeper understanding of justice, we’re going to have to make a conscious effort to leave such conservative superstitions behind. Many things in life are the result of neither malice nor negligence.

    @Lifer: To the best of my knowledge, the research you’re referring to has been done on rats only, and there’s no reason to suspect that it would carry over to humans. And the part about distilled water is pure nonsense.

  • http://thechristianmanifesto@gmail.com C.E. Moore

    For the record, it has been medically shown that fasting is healthy for the body. But first you have to PREPARE your body for it. A body that is used to eating can’t just suddenly STOP eating for 3 weeks. You have to train your body to accept the rigors of it. Second, there is a point where fasting moves beyond the health benefits of the practice…such as in this case here. The religious component need not be the culprit here, nor do I know of a religion that calls for extreme fasting such as we saw here (that does not mean there may not be some out there). Many people fast or deprive their body for a time or season for health reasons.

    So, I wouldn’t fault the religion in this case. Her reasons are not what killed her. Actually, in this case, I wouldn’t even say it was the lack of preparedness. She made it a long time. The extreme nature of the fast is what I would fault. Even then, I’m not looking to shift blame around or point a finger.

    Hemant, if you value humanity (as you so often claim here), regardless of whether you believe her own stupidity led to her demise, at the very least, you should be saddened at the loss of a human life.

    C.E. Moore
    http://www.TheChristianManifesto.com/
    Twitter.com/CManifesto

  • Miko

    @vivian: “Maybe these people should switch to kool-aid, works faster.”

    Nothing wrong with kool-aid, as long as you don’t stick potassium cyanide in it. And no one who’s looked into the details of Jonestown would suggest that it was in any way voluntary.

  • Lifer

    How is drinking distilled water while fasting pure nonsense? I’m not claiming it has any magical properties. It keeps you alive while you’re fasting.

  • Angie

    What a terrible waste of life. I know religious people who fast, but I’ve never seen anything this extreme. What on earth could have motivated her to starve herself to death in the name of faith?

    This is assuming, of course, that we have all the facts. Something else might have been going on that we don’t know about. Whatever occured, her death is still disturbing and tragic.

  • JB Tait

    @MikeTheInfidel: I agree. I would certainly want to investigate that door very carefully and ascertain how the lock works before I would be certain she locked herself in.
    I would also look for evidence that she had indeed been in that room the whole time.

  • Kevin

    @ C.E. Moore

    It is tough to be sad about the loss of a life when it is clear that this individual did not care about her own life enough to consider the dangers of what she was doing.

    However, I wouldn’t simply assume that Hemant is not saddened by this. Especially since you acknowledge that he values humanity.

    I would be curious to know as to whether Christians feel she would go to heaven, if heaven were a real place that is.

    And finally, while fasting may be “healthy,” I would like to know if it is better than a healthy diet. I personally do not think it is but I would love to see these studies that “show” that fasting is healthy.

  • Sunioc

    As was pointed out earlier, I don’t think the husband should be punished for his wife’s suicide. Had I been in his position, I would have done everything in my power to convince my wife to come out and eat something, but ultimately, an adult is responsible for their own actions. If she had been insane the husband might have had some recourse, but being devoutly religious and incredibly stupid doesn’t neccesarily mean you’re crazy.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Jesus just took her on up so (from the Christian perspective) what is there to be sad about? Her friends and family should be rejoicing. Or is their faith weak? Of course, those without faith should be very sad at an unnecessary and tragic death.

  • Parse

    C.E. Moore,

    So, I wouldn’t fault the religion in this case. Her reasons are not what killed her. Actually, in this case, I wouldn’t even say it was the lack of preparedness. She made it a long time. The extreme nature of the fast is what I would fault. Even then, I’m not looking to shift blame around or point a finger.

    If I shoot somebody fatally with a gun, it is the bullet and/or blood loss that kills them. It would be my actions that kill them, in addition to the previously mentioned causes – I’m not absolved because there’s another thing that killed them. In this case, it was her fasting that killed her, but it was also her faith that encouraged such behavior.
    Also, can’t you see the disconnect in your logic between “So, I wouldn’t fault the religion in this case.” and “I’m not looking to shift blame around or point a finger.” How else could you interpret your first sentence as anything but trying to shift the blame?

  • JulietEcho

    As someone with a long history with anorexia, I’m sadly well aware of “pro-ana” sites, where girls exchange tips about how to hide the fact that they’re starving themselves and even talk about “Ana,” the embodiment of anorexia, as if she were a friend or a spirit, or even a god to be worshiped.

    Anyone starving themselves for “Ana” would not be found mentally competent and would be hospitalized and tube-fed if necessary. I know this – I’ve read all the material out there on anorexia and I’ve lived through some of it. Having the irrational belief that you’re too fat or that you’ll be happier if you’re thin is treated as just that – irrational. But holding the belief that the god of any well-respected religion is honored by fasting keeps the same behavior (going without food for days, usually without taking any precautions to make sure it’s safe and healthy) from being treated as a serious sign that someone needs help.

  • http://reanhouse.blogspot.com Sarah

    I can’t believe she managed to starve herself for 3 weeks! If I’m 10 minutes late for mealtime I look at my husband like he’s a pot roast!

  • TychaBrahe

    There’s historical precedence. In the Middle Ages, many women starved themselves, refusing all food except the Eucharist. It is called Anorexia Mirabilis.

  • http://www.travisjmorgan.com Travis Morgan

    Angie said,

    “What on earth could have motivated her to starve herself to death in the name of faith?”

    You answered yourself within the question. She was motivated by her faith to starve herself. It was in the name of faith that she starved herself. And apparently, god rewarded her with death for it.

    This is what “faith” can do to people. Had she of been on the “rational” side of things, maybe this could have been prevented.

    If she was “out there” enough to do this, maybe her husband let her be on purpose, maybe he is thinking, “good riddance.” (That would be pretty cold) Or he actually believes she went to heaven for it. Who knows. Don’t know his details, just saying.

  • Arctic Ape

    I also started to think about eating disorders. Juliet, as you’re an expert on this:

    Would you say that the Ana people, or anorectics in general knowingly risk their life? If so, do they not value their life per se, or do they just feel obligated to take the risk?

    As Mike said, this case looks suspicious. However, it is also very plausible that it was a case of sadly neglected anorexia or other mental disorder.

    P.S. Sorry if I used clumsy word choices on a delicate issue. I’m not a native speaker.

  • JulietEcho

    Arctic Ape:

    Would you say that the Ana people, or anorectics in general knowingly risk their life? If so, do they not value their life per se, or do they just feel obligated to take the risk?

    To the first question, yes, most of them are knowingly risking their lives. Whether or not they’re voluntarily risking their lives is a point of contention between “pro-ana” groups and pretty much everyone else. The pro-ana movement claims that anorexia is a chosen lifestyle, not a disorder. The facts pretty much make this an open-and-shut case though, as all the evidence points toward anorexia being a mental disorder that features obsessive, compulsive and addictive components.

    As to whether they “value” their lives… well, depression and eating disorders go hand-in-hand, and it’s often hard to tell which came first in any given case (kind of like chicken/egg debates), because depression can lead to low appetite and poor self esteem, and poor diet can lead to chemical depression. Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness, and many sufferers commit suicide.

    Faith tends to get jumbled up with mental illness (“God told me to it” or “I heard demons threatening me” or “I had to kill my kids so they’d go to heaven” or “I’m cutting religious symbols into my flesh because it’s making me holy!”) and this woman could have been suffering from an eating disorder, but we haven’t heard any real evidence.

    The eventual side-effects of prolonged fasting (past the point of medically-okay fasting) can include the disappearance of hunger pangs/cramps, and a sort of “high” where colors seem brighter and everything seems better somehow. It’s possible that she just went for so long that she interpreted the eventual weakness/numbness/high with God rewarding her or with being closer to God, so she just kept going.

  • muggle

    What he couldn’t pick up the phone and call the Crisis Unit if his city has one, 911 if they don’t. Please, I’m not buying not checking on her in all that time. Not one honey, are you okay through the door?

    This is the same as if he had just calmly watched as she picked up a gun and shot herself in the head. Feels like he should be charged with something.

    They were both fucked up. Religion is probably a symptom of the disease.

  • cathy

    @juliet, the high you mentioned is well documented in christian aestheticisim (as well as in other fasting cultures). Let’s not forget that fasting for lent used to involve literally living on water and lentil beans, not just cutting out meat like modern Catholics do. Theordoret’s Historia Religusa (also titled History of the Monks of Syria) is a great historical source to look into about early post-Roman christian fasting and self torture (yes, chains and spikes and all sort of other odd things).

    Biologically, the high is probably there to give you enough motivation and energy to continue to seek food.

    As to the right to suicide, knowing that the act can make you die and knowingly deciding to do it is enough, for me, to count as legally competant. You don’t get to take away someone’s rights over their body just because they have a mental disorder.

  • http://blog.apphacker.com Apphacker

    People should be allowed to die for whatever reason they want whenever they want. And fasting is not a bad thing. I’m an atheist, but when I was a religious cook I fasted and out of all the nutty things I did as a Christian, that’s the one I don’t regret. I may fast just because of the altered state it puts you in and for how great it feels to eat again. Of course three weeks is a bit ridiculous.

  • http://www.hillsideslide.blogspot.com Tina

    I wonder if there is something in our bones/genes that triggers us to “go off of our feed” when we are hit with an epic crisis.

    Fasting appears in many religions, and even among the non-religious, throughout recorded history.

    Many people report positive experiences, such as metaphysical or psychological break-throughs. Those are impossible to measure, but can they be dismissed?

    “Fasting” may be woven into our human nature.

    Is this a biological response that we humans have incorporated into our religions & lives?

    There is so much we don’t know about the human brain & body. And, we like to fill those gaps in with what makes sense for us.

    Meanwhile, I do feel bad for her & her loved ones’ loss.

  • Jen

    Mike, it never occured to be that it could have been the husband… but I could see that, if she had a history of doing this, and he was really, really bored of never getting to go to dinner as a couple…

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    So, I wouldn’t fault the religion in this case. Her reasons are not what killed her.

    Her reasons are exactly what killed her. Without those religious beliefs, she wouldn’t have been fasting in the first place, let alone fasting long enough to starve herself to death. Of course, her excessive religiosity may have been compounded with severe mental illness, and therefore both could have had a strong part to play in her untimely demise.

  • Arctic Ape

    Thank you for insight, Juliet.

    This is all very sad and complicated. That’s all I can say.

  • http://www.takedeadaimontherichkids.blogspot.com Alice

    What Kevin said:

    And finally, while fasting may be “healthy,” I would like to know if it is better than a healthy diet. I personally do not think it is but I would love to see these studies that “show” that fasting is healthy.

    Studies or it didn’t happen.

  • neil

    sorry for jumping in late, but it seems that most people here are making some very drastic assumptions about fasting.

    I have fasted for 2 weeks with only water, and while it is not an experience I am looking to duplicated, it is not one that I regret.

    The hunger goes away in the second or third day, soon after you stop thinking about food. By a week food seems like a foreign object.

    Along with fasting comes an amazing feeling of clarity, which isnt the right word but I can think of no better. You feel fine, and while energy goes quickly while being active, nothing seems wrong. It really resembles a high that you get 24/7.

    let me say that again, your feel a high the whole time. Like doubling down with valium and vicodin, pains all seem distant and while everything seems a little different, it is for the better. If nothing else do not under estimate the draw of that surreal feeling.

    High school kids hold there breath to pass out and get a blood rush, I am surprised more dont do this.

    I had to be talked into giving up the fast after 2 weeks. I can see how someone that deep into it would just loose interest in food, addicted to the high so to speak.

    Fasting obviously has its dangers, and doing it to seek approval from an imaginary friend is just silly. But the experience is one I have not been able to replicate, and one that should not be underestimated.

    Getting to the point of the question, if it can be proved she was of right(ish) mind and she was acting autonomously then so be it. Gandhi would fast to the brink of death, as social dissidence, not for religion. If he died in the process it falls under his power of autonomy.

    Even if we look at this as a long drawn out suicide, shouldn’t people have the ability to choose life on there own? I am not advocating suicide, but isn’t the continuation of life a personal choice?

  • statrata

    If it hadn’t been religiously motivated, then it probably would have been accepted as occurring for a good (or at least tolerable) reason. I don’t recall a post decrying Orlando Zapata’s death by non-religious fasting.

    I’ll just repost this, because it hasn’t been answered.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Stratata, I hadn’t heard of him, but after researching his case I don’t see much difference between the two. Is there a difference between religious and non-religious fasting? Should we decry one more than the other? Both people are dead as a result of their own actions. Both circumstances are tragic. While Zapata at least had a motive, and while hunger strikes may be common for political prisoners, they are only effective if the authorities are likely to relent and capitulate to the faster’s demands. Otherwise it would seem to me that they are fruitless, futile, and (sometimes) deadly.

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  • Lynn

    If she had done this several times before, her husband, children, and friends must have known about it. Her husband was a pastor of a church, I think. Did the congregation know? Did they approve? If the husband seemed to be okay with it, did that keep them from interfering?

    Did their children consider it okay? Did they realize the extent of it? It just seems that if you are only around like-minded people, then you could do something this drastic. If you had regular people in your life also, they would surely call authorities or try to reason with the husband or something.

    I think it also said she liked to be alone. And people will respect that. But being a loner can be dangerous cause not enough people know what you’re truly up to.

  • Lynn

    I think it says a lot that the husband is allowing his wife to do this dangerous behavior for long periods over and over. Maybe he did love her and was concerned and a little worried, but let his religious beliefs comfort him. They both probably thought God would honor it and it was all in God’s hands or something like that.

    I think it’s the trusting God in these situations that is the problem. They think something supernatural is going on. Like, although something possible harmful is happening, God will protect you somehow. They are shocked when he didn’t. Just my thoughts.

  • azraelgnosis

    C.E. Moore: Breatharianism is a philosophy that asserts that the body can survive indefinitely without food or sometimes also water, suggesting that fresh air and/or sunlight provides satisfactory amounts of nourishment. Some propenents get rather rich (in the way most cults do) from members joining for extravagent fees. Needless to say, there have not been any successfully completed scientific/medical trials, several scandals, and several deaths.
    There are of course other examples.

    Cathy: I am otherwise an advocate for the right to suicide and euthanasia but in such cases it is often an unneccessary act that could be prevented by appropriate medical attention. And yes, you do. I don’t know how many times I’ve been threatened with hospitalization and in-patient therapy for less destructive acts. As far as if you should, well, you could say it is an extension of the governments responsibility to take care of its citizens, including when they don’t know what’s good for them.

    Tina: Like other destructive acts (self-harm/mutilation, autoerotic asphyxiation)fasting can be pleasurable in various, afermentioned ways. Also, apparently animals sometimes fast when sick or injured but I’m not sure if that’s because of potential health benefits (this seems doubtful) or as a symptom of the sickness.

    Neil: I would say that the difference is that Gandhi (and others) act with distinct, tangible objectives. Religion in itself often seems like a mental illness even when it’s not having you threaten your life. Compare the buddhist monks who commited suicide by self-immolation to protest the Vietnam war. Actually, being public and potentially traumatizing, I would say that’s disruptive behaviour.

    Miko: Statrata: um, tha depends on what the non-religious reason was. If you loob at this case stripped of its religious aspects, then mental illness is even more likely.
    I just looked up Orlando Zapata’s incident. I would again refer to tangible objectives.

    Miko: it seems there have been studies of the health affects on humans.

    Water will prevent you from becoming dehydrated which would effectively cut your fasting period to less that two weeks.

    It raises the question if your death is a direct and forseeable, in fact inevitable result of your actions despite there being alternative choices that would have been acceptable, does christianity view that as suicide and if so, all suicides go straight to hell apparently. This line of thought always makes me think of Jesus. In particular, if Socrates is considered a suicide, so should Jesus.

    I’ve starved myself before for about a week (and for shorter periods sporadically). After awhile the desire to eat left and the thought/smell of food made me nauseous. It was hard to start again but if I wasn’t forced to, to hide my activities, I might not have done so until it was apparent something was up. Not that I wanted to starve myself to death or thought I was fat (I was 5’8 and 115 lbs. not that that stops people) but it was just something tied to depression.

    It’s likely that she went further that she might have intended due to various psychological affects after starving yourself for awhile.

    If someone is in the act of commiting suicide in a slow and easily preventable way, are the people who are aware of this and don’t intercede culpable?

  • Japannow

    Hemant, there are no atheists, just deniers.


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