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Maria MacLachlan

Accolades & Quackolades

"There are ~20 published reviews of my book, but this one must be THE BEST! THANK YOU."
Edzard Ernst

"Best blog of the day IMHO."
Simon Singh

"This blogpost is simply brilliant."
Mark Burnley

"You are a rude argumentative bully. You are a typical "skeptic" - not sceptical at all."
Andrew, anti-vaxer

"Your piece about House of Commons Science and Technology sub-Committee’s ‘evidence check’ on homeopathy was one of the best I’ve seen. Strength to your elbow."

" individual calling themselves ‘scepticat’ or ‘sceptikat’- a highly volatile dictatorial site run by a wannabe megalomaniac. A truly disturbed person with a anger management issue venting via their little site to their own personal herd of sycophants."
Centella, one of Dr Andrew Jones personal herd of sycophants.

"Excellent report, which I can vouch for completely."
Jack of Kent

"The ludicrous nature of the complaint, and some of the responses by Dr Ranj and the BBC, has already been expertly documented on the Skepticat UK blog".
Dean Burnett

"Choke on your own vomit and die in agony..."
r wesley edwards, aka @CommonCormorant, author

"A very good rebuttal…"
Anna Watson, anti-vaxer Arnica UK

"A staggering amount of pathological disbelief allied with a staggering amount of arrogance."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"I just love this blog, and this post is a fine example of it’s content – ‘Inside the spine wizard’s den’ – Skepticat. Why do some of us feel that we are above challenging argument and peer review? I just wish that I could write as well as some of these bloggers!"
Jonathan Hearsey, osteopath

"Skepticat is a particularly venomousness (sic) skeptic, a humanist who lives by the "golden rule", she refused to let me follow her on twitter because I am "bonkers" which may endear her to many in the chiropractic profession..."
Richard Lanigan, chiropractor

Facebook image helpfully captioned by Sandra A Hermann-Courtney (@brownbagpantry)

"Die Die die die!"
r wesley edwards, aka @CommonCormorant, author

"Loved that article. It really shows what chiropractors are really all about. What I call the "chiro show" Exposing people to totally unnecessary X-rays should be criminal. Thank you!"

"I think skepticat is plain mad at not having children of her own. Hatred projected out to the world. It's sad to see someone with so much self hatred, destroying themself internally without even realising it."
Bebo, chiropractor (Note: In fact I'm the proud mother of two brilliant children, whom I mention frequently. Glad of the excuse to do so again.)

"Hooray for Reason! Just want to thank you for writing this. Even though the arguments presented are tired, and played out, they still must be refuted."

"I understand that you have been traumatised by your experience and that this is your way of coming to terms with the emotional scars."
Stefaan Vossen, chiropractor

"All you really seem interested in is banging your repetitive drum and preaching to the converted."
Rick, osteopath

"All the entries I’ve read are excellent. I’ll be coming back to read more. Love the cat logo as well."

"Research in Homeopathy Conference - Skepticat's hilarious account. She went to it."
David Colquhoun

"Her site is Skepticat UK... she wouldn’t know a punchline if it raped her. Or maybe she’d thank it."
Scott Cappurro, comedian

"I rather love the lunacy of the anti-Homeopathists, such as yourself."
James Pannozzi, acupuncturist & would-be homeopath

"Good blog from a skeptic which examines the "science" of Homeopathy in a very detailed way. Skeptics will love this. Proponents of homeopathy? Not so much."

"I really shouldn’t waste my valuable time with someone who obviously has at the very least a borderline personality disorder."
Erika Alisuag, homeopathist

"I’m finding it difficult to come up with some suitable words to say how good and interesting your stuff is. So, in the absence of suitable hyperbole can I say what a very well written and presented blog you have here. Really well thought out and researched. And passionate about it too! Complimenti!"

"You’re whole life is worthless because you lack reason."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"Great stuff Skepticat."

"When you have learnt some big words and also studied your history books you’ll find that the world was once thought to be flat…by people just like you."
Sarah Hamilton, homeopath

"Thanks for keeping the banner of reason flying high."
John Willis Lloyd

"This is just a general comment. I love this well-written an unfussy little blog (I don’t mean little in a derogatory way, but in the sense it’s not bombastic, self-important and posturing). Excellent material and a worthwhile focus, keep up the good work."

"Her website is a temple to diatribe – I have no sympathy for the homeopaths, etc, with whom she battles, but she clearly gets off on confrontation."
JF Derry

"Skepticat is strictly logical and attacks in unparliamentary words what she deems to be “quackery” – or suggestions that she sounds a little strident."
Andy Reporter

"LOVE the badass attitude! Seriously...KEEP IT UP!"

"You were a playful little diversion for a. moment, but I do have better things to do with my time than waste more than half an hour of it stooping down to play your ego supporting self delusional mind games……"
Susan Elizabeth, homeopathist

"An excellent read, thanks for taking thr time to compose it."
Alan C

"You need to do a course in anger management."
katenut, nutritionist

"FWIW I think you manage your anger rather well...mostly by focusing it into a thin, narrow beam of incisive rage which you then use to inscribe words on screen. ;)"

"Excellent description of the events."
Simon Perry

"You seem to be of probably well-meaning, but bigoted and fundamentalist disposition, just parroting slogans from others without any really knowledge or insight yourself."
Neil Menzies

"Superb, as usual"

"You seem only interested in ranting against an enemy which you are apparently still struggling to come to terms with “fifteen years” later."
Rick, osteopah

"Bravo, great post!"

"One day if you are not very careful you will be left behind in the dark ages. I’m sure this will not be printed..but hope it is read by you poor little scaredy cats."
Sarah Hamilton, homeopath

"Brilliant piece!"

"While you babble on like a total airhead about Myhill, you ignore the real doctors who are a danger in the UK".
struck-off doctor, Rita Pal, 'NHS whistle-blower'

"I sincerely hope I never get to your stage of wilful ignorance. You know absolutely diddly squat about the subject but you think your opinion is the only opinion."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"Keep up the spin, you manky old chicken's foot."
JB, chiropractor

"I am forced to conclude you are blogging on behalf of a specific entity that does wish to remain anonymous."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"The person writing all this negative press on homeopathy must be getting a big fat check from one of the pharmaceutical companies who would dearly love to push homeopathy off the map."
Erika Alisuag

"Such reporting lands you clearly in the realm of fundamentalist extremism–much noise, no substance, and money from those who have something to sell. It is so unfortunate that your listening skills are in need of repair."
Tanya Marquette, homeopath

"She seems to revel in presenting the many insults that she has attracted as a column of “Quackolades” on her site, as if war wounds on display,"
JF Derry, self-publicist

"Oh shut up SK. You write hot air and spew rubbish as usual."
Rita Pal again.

Deborah 13: Servant of God

Do you consider yourself a good person?
Have you ever told a lie?
Have you ever stolen anything?
Have you ever used God’s name in vain?
Have you ever coveted anything?

You need to answer ‘yes’ to all of the above to hear 13-year-old Deborah Drapper say, in all seriousness,”So you’re a lying, thieving, blasphemous, coveting person. Do you still think you’re a good person?”

BBC documentary, Deborah 13: Servant of God, which aired on Tuesday 11 March 2009, was a programme that changed the way I think. Previously, I had maintained that ‘brainwashing’ was a term that should be reserved for what cults do to the young adults they ensnare. Here is a post I wrote about a year ago on an internet forum in a discussion comparing cults with mainstream religions.

I think there are many similarities but actually I think the use of brainwashing is one of the differences. As I understand it, cults do employ brainwashing in the strictest sense of the word: sleep and food deprivation, ‘love bombing’, inducing time disorientation etc.

Raising a child to have specific beliefs, disallowing contact with other ideas and discouraging – even punishing – questioning or dissent may be the antithesis of humanism and freethought but they’re not the same as brainwashing. Outside of theocracies and countries with very repressive religious cultures, children will hear of other ideas especially in the age of the internet and will be able to investigate them and adopt them as their own if they are so disposed. And inside theocracies and repressive cultures, people can still have thoughts even if expressing them would mean risking their lives. The point about brainwashing techniques is that they wash the ability to think independently right out of the brain. (Emphasis added)

What I realised when watching Deborah in action is that she will probably never be ‘disposed’ to seriously investigate ideas other than the ones that have been drummed into her head (and the heads of her ten siblings) since birth by her fundamentalist Christian parents. The children, who live in a farmhouse in rural Dorset, are home-schooled. They are taught that the Bible is literally true and not to be questioned. At the tender age of 13, it appears that any capacity for independent, critical thought has already been washed right out of her brain.

In Deborah’s eyes, anyone who can believe a theory as daft as the Big Bang, “needs help”. Someone who’s told a little white lie is as much a sinner as a murderer and every single one of us — including her — is “wretched and deserves to go to hell”. Her party trick of establishing whether someone has ever lied, stolen, blasphemed or coveted in order to demonstrate that they aren’t a good person after all, wasn’t examined too closely on the programme — a shame, I think. Does worshiping her god really mean judging others so harshly?

In 1961, I stole a half-finished pack of toffees from the desk of one of my classmates who at the time, like everyone else in the class except me, had her eyes closed for the end-of-day class prayer. I was aware I was doing wrong — committing a ‘sin’ — but the thought that all that delicious chewy sweetness could be mine made the temptation impossible to resist. I enjoyed the stolen sweets as I walked home alone, even though I had set myself the task of reciting the Lord’s Prayer as I chewed in order to cancel out the sin. With hindsight, I am quite impressed at the 5-year-old’s reasoning ability that had lead to this deal I’d ‘negotiated’ with the god of my imagination, who was obviously a more humane and reasonable god than Deborah’s. By Deborah’s reasoning, this act of theft committed nearly half a century ago would presumably be sufficient to warrant the charge that I’m a ‘thieving person’ and so deserve to burn in Hell for eternity.

One of Deborah’s targets — a young woman at her brother’s university — gently and politely raised the question of how a white lie such as reassuring someone their bum doesn’t look big could be the same as murder. The answer to this and every other question, according to Deborah, lies in the Bible and that’s all there is to it. But I would dearly like to have gone a bit deeper. Deborah suggests that coveting something makes you a bad person. How does it? What is Deborah’s understanding of the word ‘bad’? If her father — who openly admits he is ‘training his children for Eternity’ — has trained her well, he will have trained her in the art of quote-mining from the Bible in order to justify condemning as evil what most of us would see as normal human feelings.

And he probably has, for every day of Deborah’s life starts with Bible study before the children are schooled in English, arithmetic and basic science. We learn that Deborah’s older brother Matthew, who is 20 and as camp as a row of pink tents, “won his place at university, despite never attending a traditional school” (or any other kind of school, actually). At the University of Derby you can train to be a chef, apparently. Unsurprisingly, the two-year course in ‘Professional Culinary Arts’ has no academic entrance requirements whatsoever. (Click here for the course webpage, which contains a video featuring Matthew sweetly explaining how he fell in love with the kitchens.)

This brings me to my main objection to Deborah’s family. Matthew is interested in food and, fortunately, found a course he could get onto without formal schooling. It’s a good job he didn’t really want to study languages or law or physics. “You don’t need A-levels and certificates and things to get where you want to go,” the mother assures us, evidently confident that her children won’t want to go anywhere far. Her eldest daughter got married at 19 and is now a mother herself. Apart from Matthew, the rest are still in their parents’ crowded farmhouse. By denying them the social and educational opportunities offered by a school-based education, the Drappers are narrowing their children’s horizons and closing their minds. (This isn’t to say that home-schooling is always a bad thing. In certain circumstances it can be a good thing but these circumstances do not apply here.)

Deborah rarely leaves the farm she lives on. On the social occasions contrived especially for the programme, she seemed unable to socialise naturally with other youngsters. Every choice of her own is explained with reference to the Bible. “I’m only 13 so legally I’m not allowed to drink and the bible says do not look upon the wine when it becomes fermented,” she explains to her bemused companions. Every social occasion is an opportunity to witness and save souls. “I don’t mind offending if it means they are saved for Eternity,” she says flatly. “I don’t try to make people upset but it’s good to scare them about Hell.”

Much of the time she comes across as sanctimonious and defensive. “My friends are my family…I don’t see that there’s anything special about anyone my age that I should like to spend time with just people my age.” Her isolation from her peers is apparent when she’s revealed to be clueless about who Victoria Beckham and Britney Spears are and what reality TV entails.

But the worst thing, the absolute pits, is her preoccupation with Hell and her conviction that everyone is going there unless they are saved for Jesus. The Hell of Deborah’s imagination is, like her God, not very nice.

I think people can have their opinion but it’s not true. I think that when you die you go to Judgement and if God says you’re a liar and because of that you’re going to Hell, that’s a horrifying thought. It’s not nice. I mean, you don’t like to think about it because you don’t want to go to Hell do you? With fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth. It’s not a nice place to be. It’s a place where God isn’t.

The last shot in the programme is Deborah yet again proclaiming that “we are wretched, horrible people,” and that “I, Deborah Drapper, am a wicked person,” then breaking down in tears as she recounts that Jesus had died for her. Her palpable distress at the scenario she’s been indoctrinated to accept: that God sent his only son (who was really himself) to die an agonising death because we turned out to be no better than he made us and we are all going to Hell unless we ask for forgiveness, made me want to phone for a social worker and report her parents. Yet in the days after the programme was aired, some Christians rejoiced that it was shown on the BBC. The sight of a child breaking down in distress at the thought of Hell was ‘wonderful’ and ‘awesome’, apparently.

Shame on them.

6 Responses to Deborah 13: Servant of God

  • It’s bizarre how she and others like her consider us “daft” for accepting evolution and the Big Bang, yet they swallow the garbage about creationism hook, line and sinker. I find it both sad and loathsome the way fundies push the notion that we’re by nature depraved, vile, evil beasts who are unworthy of groveling at the feet of their precious god–but we must grovel anyway because it’s our sacred duty. Then there’s that laughable (yet annoying) nonsense that atheists are immoral presumably because we have no guidelines yet they are “saved” just because they believe and for extra protection all they need do is ask forgiveness each time they do something wrong and *presto!* all is peachy. Where is the accountability there?

    But it’s not like I’m telling you anything you don’t already know, right?

  • you can’t really stop such indoctrination, but why oh why does the state allow parents to keep kids from school? Real school, I mean. Faith schools should all close whatever their academic results are, and I distrust the Tory ideas about parents starting their own schools

  • technical correction, just because I’m an anal git…

    She has 10 siblings not 11.

    As for home school, I’m not sure it would make a difference. She’s obviously very intelligent in an absorb the book kind of way. She’s got the internet at her disposal. She’s probably watched the Ray Comfort Proudf00t debate, and laughed at Proudf00t all the way. I’m not sure being in a real school would change that level of knowing you’re right.

  • Thanks for the correction, Rich. It’s nearly two years since I watched the programme so I don’t recall much about it, I’m afraid.

  • Kudos to her for not knowing a damn thing about that wretched X Factor though 🙂

  • An excellent critique on Deborah 13 – Servant of God. I have only recently watched the documentary, but now I can’t forget it. The girl is clearly intelligent and articulate – but then comes out with total nonsense, drilled into her by her parents. And when I say nonsense, I mean crazy Young Earth Creationist nonsense. How on earth will she survive in the real world if she is constantly bible-punching to every passing stranger? Imagine her at university!! The problem is that she is now a mini-celebrity within fundamentalist circles, so maybe she will never open her mind. Her parents have done too good a job in brainwashing the girl. This is truly a case of child abuse.

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