First off, let me say I have no problem with prayers for sick or hurting people. You want to pray about an injury or illness? Go for it. Want to request prayers or offer to pray? Go ahead on that too. I’m cool with it. You can pray for me too if you’d like, anytime. It certainly can’t hurt anything. What can hurt, however, is if someone is sick or hurt and ALL you and everyone else does is pray.
I just read this story of parents who are into faith healing and had a second child die from medical neglect. The thing that made me extra angry is they only got probation for the first time it happened and they got to keep the rest of their kids and do it again. Wasn’t that little boy’s life worth more than that? Apparently not. They had a slap on the wrist the first time and an opportunity to neglect this second little boy, let him die too. They are murderers in my opinion, people who have barbarically engaged in human sacrifice in the name of religion.
Now, lest you think I am perhaps being harsh towards these misguided parents who are in all likelihood hurting and in mourning right now, let me share a few personal experiences with “faith healing.” I come at it from the child’s perspective.
Every time I used the bathroom for “number two,” until about age 9 I had a hernia that would pop out and cause me pain. I had gotten it from being born breech and almost dying while being born, unconscious and with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. One of the “birth attendants” from church thankfully had the sense to call 911 and they also got me breathing before the ambulance got there. My Mom always spoke of her hospital experience the way someone else might discuss a mugging, but it’s due to their care that she doesn’t suffer from an obstetric fistula of some sort today. Still, the way she tells the story is that she was pressured to submit to things that went against her faith while there and is sure that they fed me “sugar water from a bottle” when I was away from her in the neonatal unit.
It didn’t take too much to convince my Mom that modern medicine was dangerous, hateful, ungodly, poisonous stuff. She was traumatized as a girl because her best friend died of ovarian cancer at age 13, a “DES daughter” statistic. So she willingly went towards this anti-doctor extreme after meeting my Dad, who encouraged her in this belief although he always seemed to get medical care when he needed it (Theraflu, Robitussin, and root canals back then, stents in his heart, insulin and Cymbalta for his diabetes and neuropathy today). She still doesn’t get medical care and for a long time, us kids didn’t either.
As a teen girl I had a painful lump in my right breast. It scared me, especially as my Grandma had had breast cancer. I told my Mom. She offered to pray about it. I told her she was an idiot and to go away. I got grounded. I silently worried about the lump until it went away. Luckily it was just a cyst.
I asked my Mom once what she would do if the baby fell out of the second floor window and cracked his head open on the pavement. Would she call an ambulance? Her face turned white at the thought and she said she “would have to pray about it.”
This kind of mindset is incredibly dangerous because people believe they are doing something about the injury or sickness when they pray, engaging in an actual form of treatment, when they are not. They do this because they lose perspective and see everything as spiritual, leaving no room to think realistically about the physical part, the bodily needs. In actuality they are doing nothing about the physical issue and so people can be hurt very badly or die from it.
While my Mom is still into faith healing for herself, thankfully she has become resigned to the idea that her kids do not agree and she now takes my younger siblings to their regular dentist and doctors appointments although they have to hear her wax on about her views on the subject matter before she sets the appointment and on the drive over. None of them have ever been convinced and I am sure glad they have it different. I suffered through a decade of pain from that untreated hernia and was told I had 7 cavities when I finally went to the dentist. Faith healing of that sort is medical neglect and medical neglect of children is definitely child abuse, in my opinion.
While the memories of those times don’t seem traumatic to me now, there is a numbness, an absence of feeling, that I get when I think back on them, so I guess they are in a way.
At age 14 I helped my sister with something gross that she needed every once in a while – popping a bubble of pus she had on one of her gums from an abscessed tooth. This abscess had shown up when she was around 10 years old, likely due to a cavity, my Mom surmised. My Mom would give the prayer and agonize and I would pop the abscess every few months or so, trying to follow the sanitary and safety directions I’d read about in a 1940’s home medical guide someone had donated to us. I was the family nurse as my Mom was squeamish and would almost pass out at the sight of blood. My sister would cry when I did this, say it hurt and tasted bad. I’d try to be gentle yet clean it out as best as possible, talk her thorough it, try to keep her calm. There was no other way because my parents had decided there wasn’t. I was given no options but to minimize the damage, so that’s what I did. I lived my childhood terrified of infection because I knew any one of us could die from one.
When any of us got sick, for some reason my Mom didn’t allow any food or liquids while you were still throwing up as she didn’t want you “making a mess.” So when I was 8 I watched my lethargic toddler brother’s eyes roll back in his head as he suffered from a bad “flu” accompanied by vomiting and dehydration. I thought he was going to die and so did my Mom, who fervently prayed and watched this generally bouncing baby just lay there, looking pale, eyes sunk in, out of it, like a little Holocaust victim almost. It was on that day that I lost trust in my parents that I never got back. They had tried to indoctrinate me that this was the right way but in my gut it just felt wrong, so very wrong. I knew they needed outside help for my brother but they didn’t get it. Thankfully he lived, but not thanks to them.
When it comes down to it, the faith healing was just one part of a toxic and extreme pattern based on a strong belief in the idea that “God will provide” if you believe a certain way and try to live a certain way, as indicated to you by the bible and whatever things (dreams, etc.) you interpret as being messages from God. My Mom would also pray for “the Lord to change my husband’s heart” but she stayed and let him continue to bully and be violent towards us, essentially because she’d put it “in God’s hands.”
My parents did not have even enough resources to support themselves, let alone me, but they irresponsibly had eight more children together and were not able to properly provide for us, financially or otherwise. They said it was God’s decision for such a big family, not theirs. My Mom still responds to criticism of her ways of handling or not handling things by saying “Jesus knows what’s in my heart.” It’s the most maddening response I think, an excuse for abdicating responsibility and passively allowing vulnerable people (kids) to get hurt and have to go without. As it is, my grandparents chose to step in and fill in where my parents failed, spending their time, money, and energy, using their retirement years to help raise and care for a bunch of kids that that they’d never asked for. My parents considered some of this to be “God providing” too. I think for my Dad, this type of religious belief was mostly an excuse for power and selfishness (when one sister needed eye surgery for strabismus he ultimately took her, despite my Mom’s wishes), but for my Mom it consumed her. She was furious that my Dad decided that my sister, who now has perfectly straight, beautiful blue-green eyes today, should go to a doctor. If it had been up to her, the girl would likely have developed a lazy eye at a young age. If one of us kids had died because of all this foolishness she would have likely interpreted it as “God’s will.” After all, she held herself to the same screwed up standards.
When I visited as a teen one afternoon after I’d moved out, my Mom told me and a few of the others that she had a “testimony” to share. She proceeded to recount how she had gotten what she assumed was blood poisoning. She had had an infected cuticle on her thumb that had gotten very bad. Instead of getting any sort of treatment, she’d watched as a line had traveled up her arm. She said that she’d always heard that if the line got to your heart, it could kill you, so she prayed and the line “miraculously” went away. Now she was so excited and moved by this “miracle” that she just had to tell us about it. Apparently in her excitement she’d plainly forgotten who she was talking to. I was about as impressed as if she’d told me she was playing Russian roulette, had prayed diligently before she pulled the trigger, and praised God because she didn’t end up with a bullet through the head.
So I heard all this “testimony” and then responded to her quite instinctually, in that I called her a stupid fucking bitch and started crying. She was my Mom and she was going to tell no one, just let herself die, leave all these children motherless, over something as stupid as a sore thumb and a refusal to use antibiotics?
Last time I checked, human sacrifice was not permitted in the name of any religion here in America, including the Christian one, so why do people do this? Why do we have any sympathy for it (because it certainly seems we do)? Why did those parents receive no real punishment for letting the first little boy die, and why was there no intervention on behalf of their other children, all of whom deserved to live? Why were they allowed to keep the second little boy, let him die too?
As it is, I grew up with this faith healing stuff keenly feeling that there was a disturbing lack of value for our lives and wellbeing. For both of those little boys that lack of value ended in a worst case scenario – their untimely deaths.