Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prayer Therapy? Are you freakin' kidding me?

Snake oil comes in various forms and shapes, and its salesmen (perhaps I should use the PC term, 'salespersons') are of various hues and creeds. The commonalty between many of them lies in their relentless push to gain mainstream acceptance, which, of course, would mean more funds and more followers. They are not hampered or thwarted by the inconvenient fact that their brands of quackery, often founded on religious/mystical beliefs, are not supported by hard empirical evidence, or indeed, rationality. Undeterred, they plod on, championing superstitions, promoting lies, feasting on the fears, uncertainties and vulnerabilities of disadvantaged people.

Take, for example, the Church of Christ, Scientist, founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 in Boston, which purports to tend to the sick using "Christian Science", a hodge-podge of elements of the Christian faith and severely evidence-challenged practices that combine airy hand-waving and crazy superstitions. According to an article published in the New York Times today, the faith's central scripture, written by Eddy who claimed an inspired understanding of the “science” behind Jesus’ healing method, expressly forbids medical care, and relies instead on Christian Science healing - a form of spiritual healing, based on Eddy's understanding of the Bible. Disappointed that existing Christian churches would not embrace her discovery of the "science" of healing, Mary Eddy created her own church, which trains its practitioners to "help" patients with "transcendental prayer intended to realign the patient's soul with God".

This is wrong on so many different levels.

The myrmidons of this faith are so steeped in the church dogma that they actively refuse medical care, even for children with grave illnesses, leading to several documented cases of death of the children. These mindless followers don't question the dogma; they are incapable of questioning the fact that the said stricture against conventional medical care came out of Mary Eddy's sad and pitiable experiences with 19th century medicine - which are no longer relevant at present.

Mary Eddy, a semi-literate woman with a mind stuffed with scriptural dicta, had long been dabbling in various form of quackery, including homeopathy, hydropathy and therapeutic touch, among others (Ref: Mary Eddy's Biography). When none of these met her expectations, she sought refuge in the Bible, and disappointment turned into delusion of grandeur as she bought more and more into the spiritual healing idea, deciding that she had the gift of healing. She successfully preached her methods to hundreds of women, who - in the late 19th century - lacked suffrage and were barred from entering the religious and medical professions, and as a result, possibly saw her as a role model standing up to the mighty Christian churches of the time. The charter for the Church of Christ, Scientist, drafted by Mary Eddy in 1879, sought “to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing” (Ref: Christian Science website).

The modern practitioners of Christian Science have not evolved a smidgen, and are firmly stuck in the late 19th century. Philip Davis, the church’s national spokesman and a credentialed Christian Science practitioner, believes that sickness is the manifestation of a conflict between “correct” and “incorrect” thinking; he does not believe in germs or the existence of illness, which the Christian Scientists are taught to consider a dreamlike state (Ref: NY Times article).

Armed with this anachronistic lunacy, the Christian Science practitioners go forth to supposedly help real people with illness. I can only pity those that submit to such quackery, because for most parts, they, too, are believers, and therefore, complicit in the perpetration of this outrage. For instance, consider this rather egregious and odious display of ignorance, superstition and mumbo-jumbo that is generic to the Christian Science practitioners (reports the NY Times article):
One of the practitioners, John Q. Adams of Manhattan, said a patient who came to him with a lump under his arm was experiencing “a manifestation of fear, not a lump.”

The other practitioner, Rebecca Odegaard of Boston, said that if a patient had a bleeding gash in his arm, “I would try to calm this person, and help him overcome the fear.” Such a patient is suffering anxiety over the illusion that something has injured his “true self,” when the gash has only happened to his “material self,” Ms. Odegaard said.

In both cases, said Mr. Adams, healing requires engaging in “an argument with yourself to restore the truth.”
Common sense and sanity would be reviled by this mind-numbing stupidity. Lawsuits have resulted in several cases. However, using its significant political clout and lobbying influence, the Christian Science church have successfully promoted religious exemptions into law in more than 40 states, in order to protect those followers that are charged with child abuse and neglect for relying solely on prayer for curing the child of an illness, thereby endangering the child's safety. Small wonder, then, that the strongest criticism of the church has come from the medical establishment, notably the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has been fighting to end those exemptions without much success - a testament to the church's clout and financial power. To add insult to injury, the Christian Science church has been lobbying hard in recent years to convince lawmakers that its prayer therapy is a valid approach to medical care, never mind the absolute lack of evidence, and that it should be covered by insurance companies and included in health care legislation.

In the legal challenges that the church has been embroiled in, its lawyers often use the First Amendment argument, seeking to blur the line between religious conduct and religious beliefs. None of those, however, take into account the truly horrific facts of the neglect and abuse, resulting in death, of several children born to Christian Scientist parents.

In 2008, in the aftermath of the preventable death of a Wisconsin child (of Christian Scientist parents) from lack of proper medical care, a Wall Street Journal article cited a 1998 study published in the journal Pediatrics, by Rita Swan, president of Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, and Seth Asser, a Rhode Island pediatrician, which reported that 172 children died with no medical care because of religious reasons in the two decades after states began exempting faith healing. The researchers found that in most cases, the death was from preventable causes, and 140 children out of 172 in the study had a greater than 90% chance of survival if they had been treated medically. "Some of the religious defenses to felonies are a chilling betrayal of children," said Ms. Swan. She should know. She is a former Christian Scientist who lost a child to spinal meningitis in 1977 after initially relying on church practitioners before finally seeking medical help.

Me, I can only hope for the return of sanity and rationality to this country. Perhaps, some day; but I am not holding my breath.

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