Informed adults are allowed to engage in behaviour that might harm themselves. Examples include drinking alcohol and sports. Sometimes, the dangers are more prominent, such as in extreme sports. We accept that those concerned have a right to do those things because they are consenting adults. We do not accept that you can force people to risk their own lives against their will. If you kill someone through such coercion, you have committed murder. In some countries and states, however, it is legal to force your own children into risky behaviour if you happen to do so out of a religious conviction. I am talking about parents who refuse medical treatment for their children because of the beliefs that the parent is forcing upon their child. A long stream of high-profile cases emerge from fundamentist Christian congregrations in the USA, and the true extent of the frequency of such events is far greater than anyone suspects1. Clearly, this should always be considered murder, even when it is done for religious reasons.
Examples include cases where children died from everyday illnesses such as diabetes and bee stings because parents prayed even while their neighbours emplored them to take their children to hospital. There are many cases where Christian Science practitioners and Faith Healers were called in to a house when a child needed a doctor, not religion, to help them. There are many horrific cases of murder where parents engaged in barbaric medieval exorcisms (often with the help of local priests and other Christian staff) resulting in the death of their own children. The Bible itself contains many of the examples that these believers rely on and believe in, but the results are deadly and shocking. Thankfully in most developed countries such behaviour is illegal, but that does not deter strict religious believers. One major exception in the USA, where in many states religious freedom has a greater legal priority than child welfare.
“I had no idea how frequently these cases occur across America - or how bizarre and horrifying the details can be - until I read about literally hundreds of them in a newly published history of this collective national disaster, When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law (Oxford 2008), written by Shawn Francis Peter, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. [...]
In April of 1998, pediatrician Seth Asser and children's advocate Rita Swan published an alarming study [... of] 172 child deaths in American faith-healing churches during a twenty-year period. [...] One hundred forty deaths were caused by conditions for which medical science provided a 90 percent survival rate. [...]
Parents are seldom persecuted, because thirty-nine of our fifty states provide religious exemptions to child abuse or neglect charges, and nineteen states permit religion-based defenses to felony crimes against children.”
Children should not be so endangered by parental religious fundamentalism.
“In September of 1998 [Harrison Johnson] was stung by over 430 yellow-jackets. His parents are Christians who believe in "faith-healing" so they prayed for him for seven hours before calling for medical help. Harrison died. His parent's actions are perfectly legal in the state of Florida where this tragedy took place. This murderous behavior is also legal in 45 other states in the 50 United States. The only states that are progressive enough to not permit the killing of innocent children for religious "reasons" are Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and South Dakota.
The second child pictured above is Amy Hermanson from Sarasota, Florida. She had diabetes. She also had Christian Science parents. The two don't mix and Amy lost. Amy was visibly sick for a period of four weeks. As many people do who believe in the hocus pocus of faith-healing, Amy's mother was pretending everything was alright. She took Amy to visit a neighbor who encouraged her to take Amy to a doctor. She refused. A few minutes later Amy crawled into the room begging her mother to take her home. Amy died a few days later.
The third picture is of Ian Lundman from Minnesota. He also suffered from both diabetes and Christian Science parents. [...] Ian exhibited all the signs and warnings of diabetes [but] his custodial mother did nothing but hire a Christian Science practitioner and Christian Science nurse. Since they believe in the deadly superstition of faith-healing they offered no medical help. Ian became yet another victim of "revealed" religion.
The fourth child pictured in his casket is Caleb Tribble who was [...] only four months old when faith healing took his priceless life. [...] It's estimated that every month between 1 and 5 children die in the US alone due to the religious superstition of their parents or guardians.”
Here are a few cases from Krause (2008)2:
It was not just conduct that was the problem, however, it was the underlying beliefs that caused their conduct. Their religious beliefs made these Christians unsuitable for parenthood. The loss of poor Clayton Nixon was not the end of their story:
Their other child, Shannon, also became ill. The parents again went without medical aid, instead praying for her and anointed her with oil in accordance with Scripture. During a brief recovery, they praised God. But the poor child died, despite intense prayer, in spring 1995. She would have been saved by regular insulin injections, as she had DKA, a form of diabetes. Haberstroh filed a fresh set of criminal charges, and said 'They sacrificed this little girl for their religious beliefs.'
In Wisconsin, 11-year-old Madeline Neumann also died from DKA on 2008 Mar 23. "Instead of seeking medical care, her parents, Leilani and Dale, chose to pray. [...] The Neumanns were eventually charged with second-degree reckless homicide. But Marathon County District Attorney Jill Falstad decided that she could not charge them with child abuse, because section 948 of the Wisconsin statues provides a criminal exemption for religious parents who chose to treat their afflicted children with nothing but prayer".
The belief in exorcism, and its description and practice in the Bible, has led to the suffering of countless children. Rather than seek medical or psychological help, parents in the modern world, because of their religion, severely risk their children's lives by trying to expel demons using potions, fasting and other forms of what-is-otherwise-torture.
Bizarre Magazine ran a feature on seven famous, lethal, exorcism attempts in 2004 Feb. I only present four here. These abusive and ignorant parents should never have been allowed kids and in most cases the abuse was fostered by the extended family, and sometimes endorsed by entire communities.
“The Devil goes round like a roaring lion looking for souls to devour", warns the Exorcisms, the Catholic Church's official doctrine on exorcisms. This year, the Vatican updated the document to warn that demonic signs might actually be signs of mental or physical illnesses, rather than an invasion by Old Nick.
In 1997, AMY Burney, a five-year-old girl from the Bronx, was fed a lethal poison by her mother and grandmother to rid her of demons. Angelic Burney (her real name, honest) forced her daughter to drink what she called "the blue bottle medicine" - a lethal mixture of ammonia, vinegar, pepper and olive oil. As Amy's grandmother, Rosa Wilerson, explained to the police, "After she took the medicine, she started to growl and fight with us. We tied her hands with tape behind her back and we tied her feet together. We put a pair of underpants in her mouth and we taped her mouth."
Amy stayed bound for several hours until calmed down. Her mother and grandmother cut the tape from her mouth, legs and hands. At first, she had no pulse, but they were able to revive her. They bathed Amy and then put her to bed in Angie's room. "For about five days, she stayed on the bed in Angie's room", said Wilkerson, "and then we decided to get plastic bags because she started to smell. Amy was wrapped up and dumped in a trash bin.
A police source described old Ma Wilkerson as possessing 'extreme religious fervor'. Prior to Amy's death, she had attempted to have her granddaughter baptised at the New Jerusalem Holy Church in Harlem, but the ministers had refused on the grounds that Amy was too young. "She was always saying her kids were possessed", Church minister Frances Lopez said, "but she had a personal thing against that little girl." When Amy appeared in church with scratches and bruises on her face, Wilkerson explained that she scratched herself because demons were inside her.
Bizarre Magazine (2004 Feb)
It is the last paragraph of that story that struck me. The horror of the story is bad enough, but one cannot blame religion for the crazy behaviour of this family, can we?
As with all these stories, it wasn't just one mad person, but (in this case) two, both of whom apparently thought she was possessed. You could say that one of them crazy, but two? Crazy religious teachings infiltrate some sects of society so deeply that this type of behaviour is encouraged, increasing the chances of any less-than-sane believer from acting out their fantasies.
Where is the loving, Christian community that they constantly say they uphold?
But no-one called social security, etc, no-one seemed shocked or scared beforehand. In a secular community, if a mother associates "evil" with their child then people know something is wrong. It seems that where religious sentiment is strong (be it an individual, family or society), we see increasingly dramatic bad psychology.
There are too many people who find religion as a source for craziness and justification for all kinds of horrendous acts. Personal beliefs are fine, but no-one should ever assume their theology is correct to the extent that it justifies antihuman action.
Cheerleader Charity Miranda cried out in pain as her family engaged in her two-hour exorcism. Her sisters, 15-year-old Elizabeth and 20-year-old Serena, assisted their mother Vivian in holding the 17-year-old Long Islander down. The mother, who had recently embraced the Santeria religion, believed that her daughter had become possessed by demons.4
In a four-page handwritten statement, Elizabeth wrote, "Charity knew the demon was consuming her and that it had to leave her body." Elizabeth claimed that the demon screamed and fought them. Once Charity stopped screaming, they let her go. Elizabeth described the exorcism: "My mom asked her if the demon was gone and if it was her in there, meaning Charity. Charity shook her head no and very faintly said 'no' ... Mom put her mouth to Charity's mouth and told her to blow the demon into her and she would try to kill it" When this failed, Vivian tried to smother her daughter with couch pillows. When that didn't work, she placed a plastic bag over Charity's head.4
After the 'ceremony', Vivian and Serena periodically chanted, napped and read aloud passages from the Bible. They were listening to Frank Sinatra when the police entered the home. Attempting to make the death appear accidental, mother and daughter had removed the plastic bag and placed Charity's body at the bottom of the stairs. Detectives surmised that tensions had been created when Charity did not fully embrace her mother's new found religion, and this ultimately led her mother to perform the fatal 'exorcism'.4
“ON 31 MARCH 1996, Mario Garcia from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, gathered his family to perform an exorcism on his brother-in-law, who was depressed because his mother was acting strangely. Garcia burned leaves and spoke to demons only he could see while his wife, father-in-law, brother-in-law and three small children all prayed. Garcia claimed that the devil flew out of his brother-in-law and into his mother-in-law. He then jammed two 8" steel crucifixes down his mother-in-law's throat, puncturing her oesophagus. When police arrived they found the women on the front porch with blood pouring from her mouth, and Garcia screaming, "The devil is inside her!"”
Bizarre Magazine (2004 Feb)
“TWENTY FIVE YEAR-old Kyong A Ha travelled with her family from South Korea to the San Francisco Bay Area, where they were taken in by Jean Park, a self-proclaimed Reverend of the 15-member-strong Jesus-Amen Ministries. After a few days, members of Park's flock began to suspect that Ha was possessed by demons, an opinion shared by her mother. Aware that something bad was going down, the frightened Ha made a desperate call to relatives saying: "get me away from these people". Her plea was in vain. A few days later she found herself the focus of a bizarre pre-dawn ritual.
The group fasted for two days before then grabbed Ha and wrapped her in an electric blanket and comforter. Park and Ha's mother hit her over 100 times while three other women held her down. A towel was stuffed in Ha's mouth to prevent her from swallowing her tongue and to muffle her screams. She suffered ten broken ribs and defecated on herself before dying. After she was dead, the group continued to hold prayer meetings over her body. Park eventually phoned Ha's relatives and informed them that Ha 'was in a deep sleep' and should be seen immediately. The family phoned the police. Park's defence? "The damage to Ha was done by demons."”
Bizarre Magazine (2004 Feb)
“An autistic eight-year-old boy has died during a prayer service held to supposedly cure him of the evil spirits blamed for causing his condition. Torrance Cantrell was wrapped in sheets and held by his hands and feet while members of the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith in the city of Milwaukee prayed over him.
This procedure had been taking place three times a week. However, on Friday those involved in the ceremony - including his mother - noticed the boy had stopped breathing.
Paramedics were called to the scene but were unable to revive him.
The brother of the church's pastor, Ray Hemphill, who was also present at the ceremony, was arrested shortly after the incident on suspicion of physically abusing a child, local police said.
"[We] didn't do nothing wrong," the pastor, David Hemphill, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper.
"We did what the Book of Matthew said... all we did is ask God to deliver him." [...]
David Hemphill started the independent church in 1997. It has a small congregation of six families.”
"US boy dies during 'exorcism'" BBC News (2003 Aug)
It is the same story of religious literalism trumping all common sense; people pour scorn against perceived Islamic extremists saying that they proclaim the ways of violence, but, Christian doctrine is just as bad. It seems that entire communities are led astray; they need to be asked critical, serious questions - they need to be taught to question the wisdom of anyone who claims to be doing what God wants. And they need to learn that Bible is simply terrible and dangerous when it comes to medicine and psychology.