Baby killed by cult in Chile

Steven here…

Four members of a cult in Chile have been arrested for immolating a child that they believed to be the anti-Christ. What can I possibly say about this? Atheist and believer alike should find this horrifying. I’m without words. These people murdered a newborn. Because they thought it was the anti-christ. A baby. Just sickening.

Who among those gathered stood up and called foul? No one was willing to say that the emperor had no clothes. Oftentimes you can make sense of pious evil by putting yourself in the position of the person who committed the crime and understanding that if they were correct about the way the universe worked, then they would be right to do what they did. Like this couple who let their kid die because they wanted to pray instead of go to the doctor. Yeah, if prayer did anything besides make the praying parents feel better, it would be the right thing to do when your kid is sick. But that doesn’t work with this cult because even if this infant was the anti-christ, that wouldn’t justify murder.

When my son was born, it changed me. The moment I heard him cry for the first time it just tore straight through me. I cannot imagine ever allowing harm to come to him, let alone intentionally harming him. The very thought of someone else doing so disturbs me greatly. The mother in this story bypassed all of that. Her beliefs trumped whatever love she had for this child. Maybe it was the theology or maybe it was the charisma of the cult leader. Either way, it’s a safe bet that if this woman hadn’t been in that cult, her child would be alive today.

Cults are defined by characteristics that are sometimes distinct from religion, such as preventing members from seeking outside information or having elements of the belief system hidden away from it’s members. There has been a lot of ink spilled to distinguish the two, primarily by religious leaders who try to distance themselves from the Jim Jones types and by skeptics hoping to win religious people as allies in combating the likes of David Koresh. Does it really matter? On a practical level, the main difference is intensity. Both the religion and the cult believe they have access to information that outsiders cannot verify. And they both make decisions on that information which lead to undesirable results. As long as you have religion, someone is going to take it seriously enough to make a cult out of it.

Religion acts against the reality checks and critical thinking skills that we normally apply to our decision making. I ask myself regularly “What if I’m wrong? If my facts are wrong, what are the implications? How do I verify this?” I don’t get these questions right all of the time. No one does. But we would live in a better world if we all asked them without cloistering particular beliefs away from these nagging questions. And doubly so when our actions may cause harm.

I write a lot of jokes. Some of them are in this book.
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  • Glodson

    Who among those gathered stood up and called foul?

    I imagine the way this works in such a setting is that those who aren’t suffering the punishment at the hands of these vile people are relieved. Relieved that it wasn’t their child called the anti-christ, that it wasn’t them. This relief, and subsequent worry that the mob could turn on them, might allow for them to take part rather than rock the boat.

    People either buy into everything the cult leader says, or are cowed into submission by threats within the cult. This is what blind faith can do. This is what happens when a group allows for no dissent and questions about their faith. It is an extreme
    example, but it has played out multiple times.

  • Mick

    Religions are full of control freaks. They start off small but they all hope to one day be like god himself – with the power to decide who lives and who dies. Of course none of them would have the guts to do it on their own, but if their preacher gives them the OK, then they don’t hesitate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anne.orsi Anne Orsi

    You know what’s scary? This has happened in recent memory right here in the US.

    When I was working at the Arkansas Supreme Court in the 1980′s, we had a case from Newton County, Arkansas, that was eerily similar. A 17 year old “prophet” named Mark Harris claimed that a 3 year old girl named Stephanie Hall was “anathema.” The prophet’s father, Royal Harris, and brother, Van Harris, took the little girl into the woods, shot and killed her. All three Harrises pleaded guilty.

    The mother claimed she was not aware that they were going to kill the little girl, and said she had been brainwashed by the cult to the point she was too afraid to object to anything the Harrises said or did. Another cult member, Suzette Freeman, testified against the mother. I don’t know whether the mother was convicted; if she was, she did not appeal.

    Here’s a newspaper article about the mother’s trial: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2209&dat=19780914&id=IRNSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FTUNAAAAIBAJ&pg=5942,3009553

  • John H

    I ask myself regularly “What if I’m wrong? If my facts are wrong, what
    are the implications? How do I verify this?” I don’t get these questions
    right all of the time. No one does. But we would live in a better world
    if we all asked them without cloistering particular beliefs away from
    these nagging questions. And doubly so when our actions may cause harm.

    And Stephen succinctly summarizes why how secular activism and social justice intersect.


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