Monthly Archives: November 2009

Is theism compatible with the rule of law?

Skeptics are well-aware of the deleterious impact religion can sometimes have on the lives and well-being of humans, particularly on the vulnerable and innocent.  And sadly, justice for faith-based crimes has been the exception rather than the rule, which only compounds the problem.  An article in yesterday’s Washington Post that will surely boil your blood reminds us anew that we still have a long way to go to turn that around.  More broadly, it demonstrates why religion can have no place in law and governance.

The article follows-up on the court cases of Christian parents whose children died as a result of the withholding of medical treatment in favor of administering magical incantations (aka, “prayer”), specifically, what punishment these parents received for their gross neglect.  Its author, Professor Jonathan Turley, found that judges were exceptionally lenient in these cases.  A “faith defense” was factored in to sentencing decisions, resulting in jail times less than those received for misdemeanors.  Even more galling, the murderous parents were allowed to retain custody of the remaining children.  Professor Turley contrasted the treatment these parents received against sentences levied on parents in which belief played no part and found the latter were far more harsh.

It is of course outrageous that innocent children should die due to the criminal negligence of their parents.  Even more outrageous is that countless others will die until the justice system stops sentencing these parents with a relative slap on the wrist and punishes them commiserate with what their act truly is: murder.

Unfortunately, this may prove far more difficult than many appreciate.  For in a worldview steeped in god-belief, what rational grounds exist to reject the practices of these Christian parents?  Most religions, including the various Christianities, tell us the will and plan of their god is inscrutable, mysterious, unknowable.  Moreover, their holy books and deities promise supernatural healing miracles by uttering a few fervent words.  Consequently, how can a theist gainsay the defense put forward by these parents?

“I do not regret trusting truly in the Lord for my daughter’s health.”

“I am guilty of trusting my Lord’s wisdom completely. . . . Guilty of asking for heavenly intervention. Guilty of following Jesus Christ when the whole world does not understand. Guilty of obeying my God.”

One of the judges, a theist, “reminded” one of the parents during sentencing, “God probably works through other people, some of them doctors.”  But how could this judge possibly know what the Christian god “probably” does?  The more reasonable assumption, based on a biblical worldview, is that Yahweh probably wanted the children dead, otherwise it would have supernaturally cured the children of their illnesses as a result of their parents’ supplications.  And if that’s what probably Yahweh wanted, who is any human to judge or condemn the parents?  Could that be what’s really underlying the travesty of these laughable sentences?

And ask yourself this.  What’s to prevent neglectful parents from utilizing the theist defense any time a child is injured or dies?  “But Your Honor, I had prepared the proper offering to Hestia to care and feed my 2 year old while I was gone on vacation.  If I’m guilty of his death, I’m guilty of asking for heavenly intervention.  Guilty of following the gods atop Mt. Olympus when the whole world does not understand.  Guilty of obeying Zeus.”  Where does it end?

Religious belief is an acid on the rule of law.  If judges and legislators cannot separate such belief from their official duties, they’re simply unqualified.

P.S. I realize it’s been a few months since my last blog entry. I’ve been reading (slowly imbibing is probably more accurate) David Eller’s powerful book, Atheism Advanced.  More than any other recent book, this one has strikingly changed my perspective and understanding of religion.  I believe it’s a must-read for every atheist.  More to come on this wonderful book.