On Faith, Reality, and Failure to Protect One’s Children

Posted on June 13, 2013


Relying on God to fulfill your parental responsibilities is arrogant, childish… and fatal

As USA Today reports, yet another family has lost a child to illness as a result of relying on prayer over medicine.  This was the second such loss for this family.  One would think, after Herbert and Catherine Schaible lost their two-year-old to pneumonia in 2009, that they would have seen God’s grace in the fact that we have doctors and effective medicines today; instead, they repeated their own history and lost their 8-month-old to pneumonia in April of this year.

As in so many things involving bad choices and horrible consequences, I am unsympathetic, even judgmental.  And in so many of those cases, people misunderstand, and the shrill condemnation comes:  “So you think they deserved to lose their child, that the child deserved to die?”  No:  nobody “deserves” to die or to lose a child because they were religious, or stupid, or whatever adjective you want to put here.  It’s not a matter of merit, but of cold hard natural fact:  pneumonia kills, as it did little Ava Worthington in 2008.  Hemophilia kills, as it did little Dean Heilman in 1997.  Cancer kills, as it did young Jessica Crank in 2002.  Meningitis kills, as it did little Matthew Swan in 1983.  All of these children had the simple misfortune to be born to parents who put too much stock in prayer and none in medicine.  Here is the reality:  you can seek medical treatment for these diseases and vastly improve the chance of survival, or you can forgo medicine and vastly increase the chance of a swift, painful and merciless death.

Again, it is not a matter of merit; the real world simply does what it will do, so it behooves us to pull our collective heads out of our collective butts and see, really see, what is happening around us.  It seems to me that all too often, extreme faith in religious dogma really does blind us to consequences (hence the term “blind faith”).  We think, quite unreasonably, that we can just ask a deity to do what we want Him to, and if we just believe enough, He will comply.

Is this not the height of arrogance, of personal hubris, to think even for a moment that a deity capable of creating the vast reaches of space, our planet, all the variety of Nature, us… would or should stoop to obey the wish of one of us, in our billions, less than a short-lived speck of dust, a mote, a nothing in the grand scheme of the universe?

Ah, say the faithful, God is omniscient and omnipotent.  He is quite capable of hearing the prayers of the least among us.

Even if that is true, it still strikes me as the height of arrogance to think that such motes as we should ever ask such a being as Him for anything at all.  Has he not given us an entire planet over which to exercise our dominion?  Why then do we think He intervenes in every aspect of our lives, that we essentially have no personal responsibility to act on our own behalf?  If we will stand by and hope that God will cure our child of a disease, would we also stand by and hope that God would avert an onrushing car, or an attacking dog, or that He would prevent the child from drinking a jug of bleach?  Why is disease somehow different?

As I have written previously, belief in a higher Being who can be lobbied through prayer is similar to the viewpoint of a small child in relation to his parents.  The child has an adult who shelters him, feeds him, takes care of his cuts and scrapes, and comforts him when he has been teased at school; exhorts him to do better when he fails, but is always there, loving and protecting.  With such parents, we are essentially free to fail on a regular basis; failure is expected.  And our parents will never leave us, never stop loving us, never withdraw their protection.  So we cling to the apron strings and treat God like a doting parent, and charge ourselves with no higher expectations than one would charge a toddler with.

How very comfortable, to never have to grow up and think and act like an adult.  The Lord will provide, but if He doesn’t then it was God’s will.  And if God’s will brings misery, poverty, and death, we simply re-read the book of Job and tell ourselves that it is all part of His plan even if we cannot understand it.  If this childish belief prevents us from seeing the world as it really is and being able to respond accordingly, harsh Nature will step in at some point and in Darwinian fashion, wipe out our legacy even as we take solace in our faith.  It’s not a nice way to learn the truth about faith and reality, but failure to learn it means more child deaths.

The faithful would do much better to believe in the free will that God gave us, and to use it, instead of waiting for God to come running to grant their every wish.

Related article:  God’s Apron Strings