The promise of miracles tortures dying children

The promise of miracles tortures dying children August 20, 2012

So reported the Torygraph last week.

“Parents who trust in divine intervention, even after doctors say there is no hope of survival, are putting their children through aggressive but futile treatments, they said.

“In an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics they warned that families with deeply held hopes for a “miraculous” recovery were increasingly being allowed to “stonewall” medical opinion…

The authors of this paper are quoted:

“While it is vital to support families in such difficult times, we are increasingly concerned that deeply held belief in religion can lead to children being potentially subjected to burdensome care in expectation of ‘miraculous’ intervention,” the authors warned. “In many cases, the children about whom the decisions are being made are too young to subscribe to the religious beliefs held by their parents, yet we continue to respect the parents’ beliefs.” 

Citing examples of the treatments involved, they argued that subjecting children to suffering with no scientific hope of a cure could breach article three of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture. “Spending a lifetime attached to a mechanical ventilator having every bodily function supervised and sanitised by a carer or relative, leaving no dignity or privacy to the child or adult has been argued as inhumane,” they argued.”

This is relevant to this blog because it concerns the rights of children vs. the rights of parents, and that’s important when making decisions about faith schools. The part in bold above (emphasis mine) is the most relevant. Where’s the balance between parents’ rights and childrens’ rights?

There’s another matter here. In the interests of pluralism, we generally don’t like to say that people’s religious beliefs are categorically wrong. We try to remain humble in our claims to truth. But that’s a problem when it comes to miracles, because unlike claims about the existence of God, or an afterlife, miracles are empirical. And they don’t happen.

I know the type of fundamentalist mentioned in the article well. They’re my old bunch:

“Although the cases included Muslim, Jewish and Roman Catholic families, the biggest obstacle the authors said they faced were less established, “fundamentalist” evangelical Christian groups with roots in the African community.

“In the Christian groups who held fervent or fundamentalist views, the parents did not engage in exploration of their religious beliefs with hospital chaplains and no religious community leaders were available to attend meetings to help discuss or reconcile the differences,” they said. “The parents had their own views or interpretation of their religion and were not prepared to discuss these tenets.”

These are the people who go to Benny Hinn conventions. I spent my childhood with them. And they’re not prepared to discuss their beliefs. Of course they aren’t. They know they’re right.

Benny Hinn
Benny Hinn. Miracles do not occur at his crusades. I will not be sued for saying this, because that would require him to produce evidence that they do.

Every week they watch shows like Benny Hinn‘s This Is Your Day and every week dozens of people get up and walk from their wheelchairs (wheelchairs they are given by Benny Hinn’s team, multiple people have claimed), or are healed of cancer, and AIDS, or other invisible diseases. Of course, there’s a commonly raised objection: Why doesn’t God heal amputees? Well, I was convinced that He did. I never saw it, but I heard lots of stories from preachers and fellow churchgoers. And there’s no way these people would lie. They were Christians.

But the bald facts say that these kinds of miracles don’t happen. Pentecostal faith healers don’t just claim they happen occasionally; they claim they happen in their hundreds, every night. If that were true, they’d be in medical journals and newspapers globally so often that by now they would be old hat. There’d just be a quick mention in the New In Brief section of the paper: Kenneth Copeland was in town last night. Five blind men saw, a barren woman conceived, a shark attack victim regrew a limb, and someone’s grandmother came back to life. 

This does not happen. Unexplained medical miracles may sometimes occur, but they are not significantly more likely to occur to evangelical Christians than other sections of the population. Prayer studies do not show a better recovery rate for believers (or, overall, for the recipients of prayer). And yes, I know, I know. God will not be tested. He would have healed all those people, if the scientists hadn’t been watching, right?

So then, we are not treading on someone’s spiritual beliefs if we say, “Your child is almost certainly not going to be miraculously healed.” They are making an empirical truth claim, and it’s false. In the same way, we’re not treading on someone’s religion to say that God did not make the world in six literal days. However much we have still to discover about our origins, we can definitely rule out a version of Creation in which there were three days and nights before God even made the sun.

So if we can say, factually, that miracles do not happen for evangelicals with any frequency, and that Creationism is a complete load of twaddle, why should we tell children those things? This is not a matter of belief; it’s a matter of ignorance. In which case, telling children that they’re true is not an alternative belief system. It’s a lie.

A blog reader sent me an excellent and thoughtful email this week. In it she said (and this is wildly out of context): “The downside of having no faith is, in times of crisis, it can be kind of scary to think that there is no God looking after you, or that life’s trails and tribulations are for nothing.”

That’s true. But I would much rather face a world with no God looking after me, than the false hope of miracles and divine intervention – followed by crushing disappointment when they don’t materialise.

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