Pharyngula

Modern day Isaacs

Colleen Hauser has flown the coop. She has defied a court order to bring her sick son, Daniel Hauser, to a qualified doctor for essential medical care. The boy has Hodgkins lymphoma, a disease with a very good prognosis if treated soon, but is a painful death sentence within a few years if neglected. His mother, though, is fervently religious, and no doubt smug in her righteousness, has bundled her son into a car and is devoutly driving to Mt. Moriah. I hope she’s not expecting an angel of the lord to appear and spare her son.

What she has done has gone even deeper. Daniel is 13 years old; he has been tested for his competency, and has been found to be completely illiterate. He was homeschooled. Colleen Hauser has been wielding the sacrificial dagger of her faith on her son for years, crippling his brain and rendering him unable to evaluate the real-world consequences of their decisions. I wonder how many Daniel Hausers there are in this country, living lives of quiet ignorance, unexposed by the trauma of a physical disease?

And here’s the real tragedy: Colleen Hauser almost certainly loves her son and believes she is doing what is best for him, every step of the way. I can identify with her in that regard — I can understand that deep, gut-wrenching love a parent can have for her children, the kind that can put you to your knees with agony at every little hurt they suffer…and Daniel Hauser faces deeper pain and an imminent threat of death that my kids have never had. But Colleen Hauser is so afflicted with the poison of religion that she has lost sight of reality, and is going to kill her son with her ignorance.

Here’s another case: Leilani Neumann watched her daughter Madeline die of diabetes.

A mother accused of homicide for only praying while her 11-year-old daughter died of untreated diabetes knew the girl was gravely ill at least a day before she died, her sister-in-law testified Monday.

Susan Neumann of rural Merrill was the first witness to testify in the trial of Leilani Neumann, 41, who is charged with second-degree reckless homicide in her daughter Madeline’s March 23, 2008, death.

Susan Neumann said Leilani Neumann told her that she came home from work at the family’s coffee shop on March 22 and “felt the spirit of death” when she reached for the knob to open the door to the house.

“She was afraid,” the sister-in-law said. “She ran upstairs to Kara (Madeline’s nickname) and felt her and was relieved to feel warmth in her arm. Then she said they started praying and praying and praying and didn’t stop praying until supper time.”

Prosecutors contend any reasonable parent would have known something was wrong and Neumann, who believes healing comes from God, recklessly killed her daughter by praying instead of rushing her to a doctor as the girl became so weak she couldn’t walk or talk.

I read that story, and it’s heartbreaking. These were not uncaring parents, and you can tell that they are wracked with grief and loss — their little girl is dead. That pain is real.

But then look what they have done. Juvenile onset diabetes is easily treatable; I know healthy, successful 70 year olds who have lived with it for most of their lives, who have gone on to worthy careers and raised happy families, all things denied to Kara Neumann because her family was infected with the deadly taint of dogmatic superstition. Her parents killed her as certainly as if they had put a knife to her neck on the altar of their faith. Religion turned love into a death sentence.

And they haven’t learned from this tragedy.

Before the start of the trial Monday, Leilani Neumann read from her Bible and circled the defense and prosecution tables several times in prayer.

That, I confess, hardened my heart. I hope her prayers in the courtroom are as effective as the prayers by her dying daughter’s bedside.

These are cases of religion gone pathological, of belief so absurd and so deep that it denies truth and has overt negative consequences. Moderate Christian believers will read about this and dismiss it as irrelevant to their faith; sure, they’d pray, but they’d also get their children in to legitimate doctors who would give them effective treatment.

I have to say something that is heartfelt, and is also meant to offend. I do not absolve you mealy-mouthed moderates, I do not regard your beliefs as harmless. If Colleen Hauser or Leilani Neumann were in your church, you’d tell them to get medical care, but you’d also validate their belief in prayers. You would provide the soothing background muzak that says prayer is good, prayer is virtuous, prayer will connect you to the great lord who can do anything, prayer will give you solace in your time of worry. You would not raise your voice to say that prayer is useless, prayer is self-defeating, that while prayer might make you feel better while your child is suffering, that is no virtue. You pray yourselves. You think it is a noble and generous act for your representatives to prowl the corridors of hospitals, preying on the desperation of the sick. You abase yourselves before false hopes, and sacrifice human dignity on an altar built from the bones of the dead. You would spread the poison, piously excusing yourselves because you only want to administer sub-lethal doses.

You are Abraham’s enablers. I hope you all feel a small tremor of guilt when you sit your own children down at bedtime to beg a nonexistent being for aid, when you plant the seed of futile supplication and surrender to delusions in their trusting minds. Damn you all.