Pharyngula

The law loves American Christianity

At first glance, I thought this story was good news: Oklahoma is going to build a Christian prison! About time, I thought, I can think of a few Christians who deserve a few years for faith-abuse. But no…it’s a prison to be administered by Christians to give Christian criminals special privileges. Not quite as appropriate, but more in line with what we’ve gotten used to from our dominant faith tradition.

We’re getting more of the same from Congress, too. Religion is being given permission to intrude on science once again, with the sanctimonious Orrin Hatch (abetted by a pair of Democrats, Kerry and Kennedy) sponsoring a provision in the mangled health care football to allow prayer to count as medicine. It’s specifically a sop to Christian Science, that nonsensical superstition that believes that medicine is a betrayal of faith and that wants to charge sick people money to pray over them…and also get reimbursement from the government. Let the Christian Scientists get a foot in the door and official recognition of mumbling to Jesus as a billable service, and you know the Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish and Mormons and, of course, the Catholics will be surging through to take advantage of the opportunities.

I may just have to convert to Catholicism under this bill so I can charge the US and my insurance provider to cover my near-sightedness treatments at Lourdes. And the French Riviera.

You laugh. But look at the absurdity of existing loopholes.

The Internal Revenue Service, for example, allows the cost of Christian Science prayer sessions to be counted among itemized medical expenses for income tax purposes — one of the only religious treatments explicitly identified as deductible by the IRS.

Moreover, some federal medical insurance programs, including those for military families now reimburse for prayer treatment.

The Christian Science religious tradition has always emphasized the role of trained prayer practitioners. Their job, as outlined by the church’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, is to pray for healing and charge for treatment at rates similar to those charged by doctors.

Practitioners are not regulated by the government, but many buy advertisements in a leading Christian Science publication. The publication requires an application process for the ads that includes the submission of patient testimonials, a practice that church leaders say is tantamount to a vetting process.

Davis has been trained as a practitioner and still occasionally treats the sick. “We’ll talk to them about their relationship to God,” he said. “We’ll talk to them about citations or biblical passages they might study. We refer to it as treatment.”

During the day, Davis may see multiple patients and pray for them at different moments. He charges them $20 to $40 for the day, saying, “I think that it would be considered modest by any standard.”

Modest in absolute terms, but relative to the quality of the “treatment”, that counts as a major ripoff.

We can at least hope that the bad publicity this provision is getting will lead to its removal…and even more optimistically, that it will lead to scrutiny of the unethical fraud of a secular government legitimizing any of these superstitious practices.

I hope the Oklahoma prison for pampered Christians is also found unconstitutional.