The promise of miracles tortures dying children

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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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on August 20, 2012, in Christianity, Creationism, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, Word of Faith and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. It still boils down to money. The “miracle workers” like Hinn and his ilk make quite the living off of the gullible. Invoke “Gawd-a” and folks believe. Torturing a child is somehow akin to trusting Gawd-a to intervene, and allowing a child to die with dignity becomes lack of faith. This is an awful truth that should be addressed and intervened.

  2. saw hinn in birmingham NEC once, I was 13-14 ish. He did his shtick then sent round the collection buckets. When that was over he walked onto the stage and said that not enough had been collected (how did they count it that quickly?) and sent the collection buckets round again. As a gullible youngster, I emptied my purse (boys can carry purses ok! what are you trying to say?) into the bucket. It was every penny I had at the time and we were not a rich family. He flies around in a private jet. I was a child at the time but why grown adults are not able to see the con is beyond me.

    Love this blog. Nice to know I’m not the only one.

    • Matt, the “not enough money, send the plate around again” is a ploy used by many. It’s happened in several fundamentalist churches that I used to attend, and others, like yourself, have experienced this.
      How arrogant to do this! Fleecing out loud!

      • I’m shocked too, even though I must have seen it happen. Of course, I thought the preachers were doing everyone a favour. Giving money was one of the main ways to obtain the blessings of God. How kind of the preachers to give everyone a second opportunity to be blessed.

  3. I’ve just always wondered why, if they’re sure they are sure, that they’re going to heaven when they die, and all that– why in the world wouldn’t they let their kid go? That kid will be in heaven, right? When I was in the position of choosing whether or not to sign the DNR for my son, I signed it. He was born so early, and if he couldn’t make it, I wasn’t going to hold him here out of my selfish desires. Lucky for my, and thanks to medical science he’s alive– but I know it was a little luck, and a lot of science.

    Course, I’ve also wondered why the most fervent ‘end of days’ christians don’t all commit suicide– then they can skip this horrible life with its atheists, and humanists, and socialists, and go straight to heaven.

  4. There’s a singer/songwriter I follow called Martyn Joseph, and one of my all-time favourite lines of his is ‘gonna take me a tv evangelist and punch him in the face’. When he sings it live, the emphasis on the ‘punch’ is phenomenal!

    TV evangelism embodies everything that is the worst about public Christianity, because it creates an industry by playing on people’s fears and weaknesses. Of course people don’t want to have to face horrendous illnesses and accidents, and the possible long-term consequences, so if someone is offering the chance to escape the pain and suffering, we’ll flock towards it – unless we stop and think critically, which for those educated by the ACE system is problematic. Even for those of us who have been educated a little more liberally, it’s difficult to stop yourself thinking along the lines that ‘God will take away my suffering because I’m a Christian’, DESPITE the fact that Jesus says the complete opposite in the Bible.

    Be that as it may, the Church still needs to hold itself responsible for the damage it does to people’s faith, as adults but particularly as children. It takes huge courage to stand up and say ‘actually, I don’t believe what we’ve been taught about miracles’ when it is an idea so entrenched within a religious group, but that’s no excuse not to do it. There are compensations for following your conscience.

  5. I had a customer once with a young child dieing of cancer, and she was somehow sucked into Hinn’s vortex, went to see him with her child, maybe more than once. Her little boy died, such a sad thing, it sticks with me many years later.

    I like your thoughts on this. Believers and unbelievers can both face existential angst, worrying about an eternity with no god, or worrying if god really exists. The point on the spectrum of belief and worry is just shifted.worry

    • I’ve known people who made big sacrifices to see faith healers, including Hinn, and at least one case where a child ended up dying anyway.

      It’s just a savage, inhumane thing to tell people – that they never have to be sick.

  6. Strange…I wonder if this is what was meant somewhere in the Bible concerning an individual who walked the desert for a while, questioning his faith or belief in God…it makes me wonder if the individual experienced thirst and starvation out in the intense heat in the middle of the desert which culminated in his going loopy where his body was screaming for water and food, and his near dessicated brain was pumping out chemicals which caused him to hallucinate…back then their skills for diagnosing physical conditions caused by thirst and starvation were still steeped in superstition or very primitive thinking. Yet, two or three thousand odd years later into the present a vast swathe of humans are still functioning in primitive mode considering all the advancements in science and medicine. Humans have choices to be what they wish whether God has a say in their lives or not, the Big Guy is moulded like playdoh to suit a believer’s thoughts and feelings. Where kiddies are concerned, in the realm of religion, let them develop naturally with plenty of good support and love, but leave religious dogma out of the equation, once they hit adulthood they have the choice as to whether they want to follow some religious path, something that hasn’t been dictated by family.

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