Praise the profit!

News from the BBC today that evangelical churches catering to the African migrant community in Britain are touting the power of prayer as a cure for HIV (among other things).

At least three people in London with HIV have died after they stopped taking life saving drugs on the advice of their Evangelical Christian pastors.

The women died after attending churches in London where they were encouraged to stop taking the antiretroviral drugs in the belief that God would heal them, their friends and a leading HIV doctor said.

This is particularly frightening in Britain. Depending on who you believe, between 29% and 42% of new diagnoses of HIV in Britain (in heterosexuals) are among African migrants, despite their being a population that accounts for less than 0.8% of British residents. And it’s an astronomically growing problem – The rate of new diagnoses among African migrants grew by a factor of 100 between 1995 and 2006.

The Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) is singled out by the BBC for special mention:

The church is headed by Pastor T B Joshua, Nigeria’s third richest clergyman, according to a recent Forbes richlist.

The church’s website, which was set up in Lagos, Nigeria, shows photos of people the church claims have been “cured” of HIV through prayer.

In one example, the church’s website claims: “Mrs Badmus proudly displays her two different medical records confirming she is 100% free from HIV-Aids following the prayer of Pastor T B Joshua.”

“HIV-Aids healing” is listed on the church’s website among “miracles” it says it can perform.

“Cancer healing” and “baby miracles” are also advertised.

The church’s UK website promotes a monthly “prayer line” for which it says: “If you are having a medical condition, it is important you bring a medical report for record and testimony purposes.”

If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering why? Why would any church kill off its own congregation with terrible, terrible advice and false promises? Well, we’re getting to that part.

[SCOAN] has posted videos on the internet showing its services in south London, in which participants who claim to have arthritis, asthma and schizophrenia say they have been healed after being sprayed with “anointing water” provided by the church.

Ding! There’s the money!

T B Joshua even has a blog, which proclaims the wondrous powers of his Anointing Water, with testimonies that make the medical professional part of me cringe.

The SCOAN website does say that “the Anointing Water is not for sale! Healing, salvation and all of God’s blessings are free gifts of God”, but I find the pretense that it’s not all about the Benjamins very hard to believe. The church itself features a big-screen that could put the Super Bowl to shame; it’s every bit the megachurch. Then there’s Emmanuel TV, which (if you can bear to watch it) contains no shortage of admonitions to hand over your money (because God can heal your cancer, but he can’t lend his own anointed prophet a bit of cash). This continues as far as the website, which contains the usual barely veiled inference that in order to receive God’s healing, you must first pay into God’s coffers, as well as advertising premium-rate telephone numbers, upon which you can reach “Prayer Warriors” who will presumably FedEx your prayer straight to God and smack him with a stick until he personally answers it.

The only conclusion that I’ve been able to reach is that T B Emmanuel knows very well that he’s not healing anybody, but he also knows that if people think he is, then those people will throw money at him in the hope that he’ll heal them too.

SCOAN’s own website describes T B Joshua as a “prophet”, though given that he is Nigeria’s third most wealthy evangelical pastor (estimates of his personal wealth range up to $15 million, not including the value of his church or its assets), I wonder if that might be a spelling error.

This ramble off into the shady aspects of the church’s and pastor’s finances should not detract from the most important part of this, however: People are dying because they believe what their church tells them. Whether it’s deliberate profiteering or self-deluding stupidity, the result is the same.

I must confess a morbid curiosity about something. This post will leave several track-backs to SCOAN affiliated websites – Will we get a comment or discussion from T B Emmanuel?

Should math be taught in schools?

Controversial.

EDIT: I’ve been accused of disparaging women, and some folks have missed the parody of this.

So. I present you the video it’s parodying; A question put to contestants in the Miss America 2011 – “Should evolution be taught in schools?”

You accuse me of disparaging women, I bring you fifteen minutes of video that will make you cry for the state of humanity. Let this be a lesson ;-)

This is a British Conservative Prime Minister…

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Find me a liberal American President who’d do and say that. Slow train comin’?

"Pro-lifers" and medical termination of pregnacy.

Or “abortion” as it’s commonly known. Today I had a rather ugly argument on a Facebook group for UK based liberals, with a woman who claims to be a liberal, but… Well… Isn’t.

The theme of the discussion was Nadine Dorries’ proposed amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill which cover the issue of abortions. The tl;dr version is that Dorries was trying to strip not-for-profit charities who carry out terminations of the right to counsel pregnant women because they might try to improve their profits… By… Wait a second… Not-for-profit…. Worried they might profit… Say, somebody’s not being honest here. And it’s Dorries. And her backers (rumoured to be US based “pro-life” organisations, but that’s unconfirmed because they’re hiding behind a law firm as a front, and the law firm isn’t saying – neither is Nadine Dorries).

Anyway, back to the argument. The lady on Facebook, let’s call her Derpina, treated us to a grisly tale of woe in which she was emotionally manipulated by one of their counsellors into paying the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS, one of the aforementioned not-for-profits) for a termination that she didn’t really want, they were only interested in her money, she only went there for contraceptive advice but instead they used her partner (who didn’t want kids) to emotionally blackmail, trick or otherwise coerce her into a termination. Yeah, I know. Visiting a charity who carry out terminations (rather than, say, your doctor), in order to ask for contraceptive advice, for a couple who are already pregnant. Sounds legit.

So anyway, after I’d very politely dismantled her story and her claims that every woman who’s used them hates BPAS by posting reams of positive testimonials and their Quality Care Commission reports (their average patient satisfaction survey score is 9 out of 10), she messaged me the following:

“Hi – about the abortion thing, I do not really expect you to understand. I am not going to post on [the board we were using] any more as I have made my point as clearly as I can. As things stand it is possible to get abortions really easily, and post-abortion councelling. Where the balance is wrong is that it is really hard to get impartial pregnancy advice. You would not agree but I can see that abortion clinics are more interested in getting money off vulnerable women than advising them, are very doom and gloom places and are far from impartial, in my limited experience (but at least I have more experience than you!). You argue that religious groups would blackmail pregnant women into keeping their babies. Again in my experience that was absolutely not the case! Thanks to people like you, I will be taking up this issue further. How would you feel if you had booked in for contraception advice, turned up to find that you were booked in for an operation on your most private parts and was pressured into going through with it “before it’s too late”, in the presence of your partner who does not want any children with you, who then say they are not in a position to offer any couple councelling, and then charge you £50? I can’t think of a better analogy that a man may understand? Yours in disappointment… with a British culture that just does not value life :(“

Well, something about that didn’t sit quite right with me… So I checked Derpina’s Facebook page. Want to guess what she has under “Religion” and “Favourite Book”? I’ll spare you my reply to her, but suffice it to say I pulled no punches. Quite unlike me, I know.

The whole exchange reminded me strongly of a page we talked about here two or three years ago, but which I couldn’t find in the archives, so I assume it’s never had a thread of its own: “The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion” – When the Anti-Choice Choose, published in 2000 by Joyce Arthur. I recommend reading that whole page if you haven’t already, but the one she reminded me of was this one:

“We saw a woman recently who after four attempts and many hours of counselling both at the hospital and our clinic, finally, calmly and uneventfully, had her abortion. Four months later, she called me on Christmas Eve to tell me that she was not and never was pro-choice and that we failed to recognize that she was clinically depressed at the time of her abortion. The purpose of her call was to chastise me for not sending her off to the psych unit instead of the procedure room.” (Clinic Administrator, Alberta)

With perhaps a soupçon of this one:

“”I once had a German client who greatly thanked me at the door, leaving after a difficult 22-week abortion. With a gleaming smile, she added: ‘Und doch sind Sie ein Mörderer.’ (‘And you’re still a murderer.’)” (Physician, The Netherlands)”

Why science wins.

I’ve just read a story on the BBC about the latest data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that contains a passage which, to me, neatly sums up all that I love about science and all that I respect about the scientific method.

The basic story is that the LHC Beauty experiment should have found evidence for supersymmetry by now, but it has found none. Supersymmetry is the theory partly used to explain why there appears to be less matter in the universe than other theories predict there should be – in simple terms, it predicts Dark Matter.

The Beeb got a comment on this from a guy called Dr Joseph Lykken, who works at Fermilab and who is one of the organisers of a conference for theoretical physicist who are advocates of Supersymmetry theory. In any other area of life, you’d expect somebody like that to be defensive about their pet theory, perhaps to criticise the new data. But what did he actually say? He said this:

“It’s a beautiful idea. It explains dark matter, it explains the Higgs boson, it explains some aspects of cosmology; but that doesn’t mean it’s right… It could be that this whole framework has some fundamental flaws and we have to start over again and figure out a new direction.”

This is why science wins. Because when scientific knowledge advances, and what we thought we knew turns out to be wrong, scientists like Dr Lykken who have dedicated blood, sweat, tears and years of their lives to the old theories don’t fight against progress – they smile because now they know more than they knew before, and they move on to try to find a new explanation that explains the data.

Professor George Smoot, a Nobel Prize winner for physics, agrees:

“Supersymmetry is an extremely beautiful model… It’s got symmetry, it’s super and it’s been taught in Europe for decades as the correct model because it is so beautiful; but there’s no experimental data to say that it is correct.”

I love science.