A Christian Writes in Defense of Vaccinations

It’s good to see Rachel Marie Stone, a contributor to Christianity Today‘s her.meneutics blog, speak out in favor of vaccinations:

I’m one of the moms you might expect to oppose vaccines. We try to eat local and organic, don’t watch television, homeschool our kids, and wear natural fibers. My son was born into a birthing tub with a midwife present. But in November we’re also moving to Malawi, where diseases like polio, typhoid, tetanus, and cholera are not theoretical. We need those vaccines.

What concerns me about the anti-vaccination movement is not merely the fact that people are so easily persuaded by falsified claims about vaccine risks, nor the tragedy of people losing their lives to diseases that were (thanks to vaccines) nearly eradicated. Rather, I’m concerned that so many people seem willing to let others carry the supposed burden of vaccination so that they don’t have to. To me, that’s a failure of the commandment to love our neighbors

Don’t get too worked up over the fact that someone who believes in all sorts of supernatural weirdness just cited good science in order to debunk a popular myth. I did… and now my head hurts.

Just accept it and hope more people are swayed in the right direction. (While many of the commenters try to rationalize their anti-vax mindsets — God will take care of everything, so no vaccines needed! — several of them support what the author wrote.)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Chris Kilroy

    Why is this even a thing? We have decades of solid medical research to demonstrate that vaccinations are effective and safe. They protect against all kinds of diseases that in the past have caused untold damage to the populace. I can’t understand religious opposition to vaccination. It doesn’t make logical sense. I have friends who don’t let their kids get certain shots and I’ve yet to understand their reasons. They even move pediatricians because their doctor argues in favor of vaccinating their kid. WTF? 

    • machintelligence

      It does make illogical sense, however. These are the folks who believe that, if it didn’t happen to me or someone I know, if doesn’t happen. Think of it as frequency dependent selection.
      http://evolutionwiki.org/wiki/Frequency-dependent_selection 

    • Sagrav

      Why is creationism still a thing?  We have decades of solid data in the fields of paleontology, archeology, biology, and cosmology demonstrating that the universe is much older than 6-10 thousand years and that all animals were not poofed into existence at the beginning of those 6-10 thousand years.  Yet millions of religious people around the world refuse to change their opinions in the face of that mountain of scientific data.

      Science looks like a religion to a lot of people.  Their own religions promise them damnation should they consider even parts of other religions to be true.  Thus, they are acting out of self preservation.  Theirs is a world filled with demon-influenced liars who only seek to drag true believers down into the lake of fire.  Some of these people gain access to new information and choose to break away from this terrible fantasy.  The rest cannot.  

  • CultOfReason

    The fact that this is even worthy of a blog post (i.e.  a Christian speaking sensibly on a topic that the rest of us considers a fairly mundane and well known fact) speaks volumes as to how low the bar has been set.

    • Sinfanti

       I’m not even sure how convinced I am of the sensibility here.  I read that quote and got the impression that if not headed for Malawi the author might not have been so quick to get the kids their jabs. 

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        I’m curious why they’re going to Malawi. Heavily religious family + moving to Africa = converting the heathen?

        • Pseudonym

          I wouldn’t be so sure about that. “Local and organic”, “natural fibres”… they sound more like hippie Christians than your typical evangelicals.

          • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

            They do, but there’s an evangelical subset that is very crunchy, yet still fundamentalist when it comes to doctrine. Since she’s writing for Christianity Today, I’m assuming she’s not a liberal “all paths lead to heaven” Christian.

            • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

              Aha, looks like my first instinct was correct.

              They are missionaries:

              http://rachelmariestone.com/2012/08/01/joining-gods-mission-malawi/

              • Pseudonym

                Cool, I stand corrected.

                Having said that, the word “missionary” merely refers to someone who is on a mission. That mission may be evangelism/conversion, or it may be humanitarian.

                Most non-fundamentalist churches do use the word “missionary” to refer to someone doing purely humanitarian work (which almost all of their missionaries do). Wesley Mission in Australia is a notable example.

                • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

                  That’s true. Though their mission is helping to train ministers, so it definitely seems based on evangelism/conversion.

    • Pseudonym

      A low bar indeed, on several levels. It shows how out of touch many Christian communities in the United States are that it needs to be said. But it also shows how out of touch the Internet atheist community is that it’s perceived as remarkable in any way.

  • A3Kr0n

    What the hell is a “birthing tub”? Is that where the baby get baptized on his or her way out?

    • Pisk_A_Dausen

      Basically a bath tub for giving birth in. (I think regular bath tubs are used too, but there are specially made types that help you hold a good position, AFAIK.) And they’re used for water births, i.e. giving birth in a tub of water.

      • A3Kr0n

         GMBO!

        • Coyotenose

           Warm water makes the mother far more comfortable, and human babies actually do fine underwater, as they have an instinctive breath-holding response.

          Some water births require those attending the mother to be in the water also, owing to the size of the tub. I can’t see that as being very pleasant.

          • Coyotenose

             Addendum: that does not mean that it is without its risks, of course.

    • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert

      Its a vaguely trendy way to give birth that is supposed to A) be more natural than the stirrup method favored in hospitals, and B) minimize the stress to both mother and child. The benefits and drawbacks are both hotly disputed at this time, and I’m not aware of any definitive research on the method.

      Suffice it to say that any overlap with Christianity is entirely coincidental.

      • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert
      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

         The stirrup method results in a longer and more difficult birth due to pushing against gravity. Oh, it’s convenient for doctors and others checking up on the woman in labor, but it’s crap for actual birthing. A squatting position is both more natural and more efficient.

        • Pseudonym

          I’d just like to point out that childbirth in the US is completely screwed up. It’s yet another symptom of the underlying problem that the US simply does not understand the concept of “public health”. The whole “health care” system is set up for the benefit of the AMA and the HMOs. Doctors and patients are an afterthought.

          For example, the pain relief options are essentially an epidural, pethidine (“demerol” as you call it) or nothing. Anywhere else in the developed world, there are more options.

          Take nitrous oxide, for example. It provides pretty good low-level pain relief, with fewer side-effects. So why isn’t it provided in the US? Probably because it’s too cheap: it can be administered by a nurse, and doesn’t require a prescription or an anesthetist.

  • Gringa

    I do believe that there are reasons to adapt the vaccine schedule to fit your family’s needs, but I think that is different than avoiding them all together.  I did a delayed/spaced-out vaccine schedule with my daughter, but she did get all of her shots. 

  • Guest

    This is a classic case of stereotypes added to ignorance (willful or otherwise) to make a non-point about a non-issue.  Christians, as a whole, have no more problems with vaccines than anyone else.  Some, fearing that the HPV vaccine would be seen as ‘you could get cancer from sex, take this vaccine and all will be well, now go have sex’ didn’t like the idea of mandated vaccinations.  But it was for this one issue.  While there are some divisions or groups within the global Christian world that oppose vaccines in general, they no more represent the entire Christian faith than those Hollywood celebrities who have made opposing vaccines their cause represent Hollywood.  I know, you can have headline ‘Christian supports vaccines’ and count on ill-informed folks who hate Christianity with the white hot fury of a thousand suns to jump in and give their nickel worth of input.  But reality is reality after all.

    • Patterrssonn

      “Hate Christianity with the white hot fury of a thousand suns”

      It was a good Poe but you blew it with that one.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Reality is indeed reality. But I wouldn’t expect a theist to know that, because you lot don’t live here. 

  • RobMcCune

    I don’t see why the author being a christian is such a big deal, Michelle Bachmann’s campaign went downhill after she strayed from tea party craziness into antivaxx territory. The real news is that she’s into a lot of organic and au natural stuff and hasn’t fallen for that particular alt med conspiracy theory.

  • Py

    Don’t get too worked up over the fact that someone who believes in all
    sorts of supernatural weirdness just cited good science in order to
    debunk a popular myth. I did… and now my head hurts.

    You complement a Christian for supporting a good cause while simultaneously still acting like a complete asshole towards her.

    • MV

       No he didn’t.  He merely pointed out that she accepts the science when it comes to vaccinations but not her religion and that position doesn’t make much logical sense.  Science isn’t a salad bar where you get to pick and choose.  If you are selective with science, then I would suggest that you don’t really understand it or accept it. 

      Vaccination isn’t a “cause”.  It’s the correct thing to do based on our understanding of science which informs our morals and ethics.

      • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert

        How do you know she doesn’t accept science when it comes to religion?

        Only because you assume that science somehow “disproves” religion. But this is impossible: science (used in the modern sense) only speaks to what is observed empirically. It has nothing to say about anything which is not empirically quantifiable.

        It seems you understand this at some level, because you note that science “informs” rather than discovers or dictates our morals and ethics. Morals and ethics are not themselve empirical, so science cannot determine them. But morals and ethics rely on a full understanding of reality, which includes scientific knowledge and theory; so science certainly does inform our decision-making process.

        Likewise, science can inform, but not determine, our metaphysical and spiritual outlook. They are not naturally opposed to one another, and it is a philosophical mistake to set them against one another.

        • nakedanthropologist

          While I agree that science (as used in the modern sense) is a tool with which one can use to inform oneself, I have to disagree with you (respectfully) on the point that ethics and morals are not empirical.  Morals and ethics are an empirical reality – is a person does x, then that action (x) will affect something/someone else – this is an empirical reality. 

          • Pseudonym

            Cause and effect informs morals and ethics, but they are not morals and ethics. There is no controlled double-blind test that you could perform to determine whether or not murder is wrong. You could show that murder kills people, but not that it’s morally or ethically wrong.

            Lest I be misunderstood, I am also not saying that morality or ethics requires an external source which to everyone’s surprise closely resembles my preferred deity.

            Several millennia of philosophers, both religious and secular, have worked on the problem of grounding ethics. I’m not going to try to summarise it here, but both “it’s empirical” and “just defer to a deity” are grossly inadequate.

            And yes, Sam Harris has no clue what he’s talking about, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

    • sam

       yes, I see no weirdly supernatural beliefs in her post. I don’t count xtianity because it isn’t weird in this country. In fact, I tend to agree with most of her concerns (not sure what the big deal is with non-natural fibers, though I happen to prefer the feel of cotton). You might not agree with her, but what’s supernatural about any of that?

      • Baby_Raptor

        She’s a Christian and she’s home schooling. 

        She’s going out of her way to keep her offspring indoctrinated and in the bubble. Keeping them away from anything that would challenge the belief in the supernatural that she’s trying to brainwash them into.

        • Erp

           Home schooling might be a perfectly rational choice if the local schools aren’t teaching science, history, etc because of local pressure.  It goes double if the predominant religion isn’t yours (e.g., Catholics are likely to be unhappy if the school ethos is all evangelical protestant [and even Protestants disagree with Protestants]).   In addition if they are going to Malawi, they may well have no choice but home schooling there (or boarding school) so starting the practice in the US to ensure they have everything they need where they can get anything missing is probably a good idea.    They may also be teaching the children the basics of Chichewa before they get to Malawi.

          My own guess is that most anti-vaxers are New Age types not conservative Christians.  The local Montessori schools and similar tend to have low rates of vaccination.    Note people often claim a ‘religious faith’ exception but in many cases that is because they don’t intend to vaccinate their children and claiming a religious exemption is the only way to do it legally (barring those cases where a good medical reason exists not to vaccinate). 

          • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

            That’s all very true. There are a lot of moderate and liberal Christians who homeschool and use secular curriculum that doesn’t promote creationism, revisionist history, etc. I just wonder how likely it is that someone writing for Christianity Today is one of them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rachelmarie.stone Rachel Marie LaMothe Stone

    Wow

  • http://www.facebook.com/rachelmarie.stone Rachel Marie LaMothe Stone

    Wow, lots of assumptions in these comments about how/why I homeschool, raise my kids, practice my faith, birth in a tub, etc! But, thanks, Hemant, for being brave enough to cite a Christian who likes science! (There are actually more of us than you might think. We’re just not as loud.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/rachelmarie.stone Rachel Marie LaMothe Stone

    You know? Actually knowing a person and why she does what she does and believes what she believes is a lot more scientific than making speculations based on one isolated article. Actually knowing people tends to disrupt preconceived narratives. Most of these comments remind me of Fox News (which I only watch via Jon Stewart, BTW) in their speculative blathering. But whatever. Peace, all!

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Rachel, you’re certainly welcome to comment here. I think it’s in human nature to speculate on the people we read about in articles. Since we don’t know why you’re homeschooling, or why you’re moving to Malawi, all we can do is make guesses based on the limited information we have. If any of us have misconceptions about you, your family, or your belief system, you can always respond and clear things up.

      • Guest

        You could argue this entire blog is based on misconceptions about believers, their families, and belief systems.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          You know you would get a better response if you weren’t always so hostile. If anything I’ve said about particular believers, their families, or their belief system is incorrect, then I’m certainly open to being educated.

      • http://rachelmariestone.com/ Rachel Marie Stone

        Well, it’s kind of hard to “clear things up” when people have already been assuming all kinds of things. But suffice it to say: we’re going to Malawi at the request of Malawians to teach in a (gasp!) seminary (80% of Malawi is Christian), and I plan to work as a volunteer doula and women’s health advocate. Who advocates access to birth control, by the way. I homeschool the kids because I believe kids need freedom from long school days and freedom to create and pursue the knowledge and understanding that they find themselves drawn to. I birthed in a tub because it feels darn good compared to birthing on dry land. Who doesn’t like to relax in a bath when something is hurting? 

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          Thanks, Rachel. I found your blog post about Malawi, so I managed to figure out what you were planning to do there.

          From the time he was very young, Tim has always wanted to study the Bible and to help people understand what is often a very confusing text. When we learned that Malawi was home to a thriving church–but with limited resources for theological education–we were excited about the possibility of serving alongside our brothers and sisters there.  

          How do you preach the good news of peace in Christ in a country with fresh memories of famine, regular seasons of hunger, high rates of disease and childhood mortality? Does the Old Testament have any salience to these kinds of issues? These are some of the things that Tim is looking forward to exploring with his students at the College, many of whom are studying in preparation for the ministry.

           
          Suffice to say that many people here have a problem with the concept of missionary work. Malawi may be 80% Christian now, but it wasn’t always, and those numbers are the result of religious imperialism, in short wiping out most of the native religions. Your efforts would seem to be just another example of white Christians coming in and trying to spread their religion on the continent.

          Thanks for explaining why you homeschool. I know some evangelical Christians do homeschool for non-religious reasons, but I admit that my first thought is always that it involves religious/creationist curriculum. Out of curiosity, and if you don’t mind sharing, do your children use secular curriculum?

  • grerp

    Interestingly, when the U.S. was far more Christian, vaccination was nearly universal.

    • grerp

      This was not because they were Christian but because they were living in an age where children routinely died in large numbers from diseases that were preventable with vaccination.  We are far enough away from those days that people feel comfortable speculating whether vaccination is necessary.  

      • Pseudonym

        It may also be a non-coincidence that acceptance of the need for vaccination has decreased as political polarisation increased. It’s now a partisan issue.

        • Coyotenose

           But people on “both sides of the aisle” claim that vaccinations are harmful, evil or unnecessary. They just claim it for different reasons.

    • Gringa

      Since then the number of shots on the vaccination schedule has
      sky-rocketed.  It’s getting a little ridiculous.  I started delaying
      shots because my daughter had a particularly bad reaction/rash/fever after
      receiving several shots in one visit (8 vaccines in total), which led to
      3 sleepless nights for us.  After that I put a limit on the number of
      shots she could receive at once.  Yes this resulted in a few more
      doctor’s visits, and she was a little behind, but at least she was functional afterwards. 

  • Suetusor

    It’s shameful that you are using “love your neighbour” for vaccination compliance and reject out of hand all the evidence against vaccination. vaccines are made from cloned human fetus cells from an abortion for goodness sake and a part of the baby parts industry. You are injecting your child with repugment filth and corruption, then have the cheek to use the holy bible wrongly in order to try to make  comply with this abomination? The logical fallacy of your argment can be turned back on you, if you loved your neighbour you would not ask them to take a risk with their long term health for your benefit, especially as they can be vaccinated if they want to.  Your morality and ethics stink my friend.

  • son123

    Hemant – look at the sky at midday. Next, take a look at the moon.

    The sun and moon – the principal sources of light at day and at night — are the same size.

    Coincidence? Not really, a significantly sized moon that’s _exactly_ large enough to block out the sun during celestial events?

    Coincidence? Or evidence for theism?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      You got me. I’m a believer now!


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