The power of prayer to kill a child

I almost found myself in the unprecedented position of defending alternative therapies recently. Well, not the therapies themselves but those who believe in them. Given that I devote much of this blog to attacking these very same people as deluded morons, this admission will come as a surprise to regular readers. But after reading the story of the child who died of diabetic ketoacidosis because her parents — Dale and Leilani Neumann — failed to get medical help and relied on the power of prayer instead, I was feeling almost charitable about the father of Gloria Thomas, who’d relied on homeopathy to save his desperately ill child’s life. At least homeopathic ‘remedies’ — as they are laughingly called — are tangible and some people swear that they work as they’re supposed to and not just as a placebo. Obviously, these people are wrong but at least I can see where they’re coming from (a place of  astonishing ignorance).

When has prayer ever even seemed to work? For every prayer that has ‘worked’, there are a billion more that get ignored, so anyone thinking of sharing an account of how a prayer has worked for them can think again unless they can also share an answer as to why they don’t work for everyone. And by ‘work’, I don’t just mean made someone feel better or more positive about whatever their problem was or made something happen that can easily be attributed to causes other than prayer. I’m talking about intercessory prayer: prayers that saved a dying child’s life, for example.

This isn’t a trick question. I don’t mind admitting that no anecdotal evidence will convince me that prayer has saved the life of a single creature in the history of the universe, however miraculous a recovery was made and however much the recovery may have mystified doctors. My point is that stories of such recoveries are extremely rare, if they happen at all. It’s not as if the media are full of them, nor is it the case that most religious people shun orthodox medicine in favour of prayer — mais non! they see it as supplement, surely? A complementary therapy, so to speak. So where on Earth did the Neumanns get the idea that it might work for their child?

Dale Neumann describes himself as someone who partied hard and drank until he found Jesus. Was it finding Jesus, then, that lead him to kill his daughter? It seems so.

If I in a moment of crisis and in a moment of time, I went to anyone else but the Lord, it would not have been favorable to God,” Dale Neumann said. “It would have been idolatry and sin because it is disobedience.”

I use the word ‘kill’ deliberately because both the Neumanns have been convicted of second degree reckless homicide and, as it happens, I think this conviction is justified simply because they didn’t plead insanity and, in spite of reportedly once burning library books “because the Holy Spirit told him to” and calling a prayer meeting instead of an ambulance for his daughter, Dale Neumann had not been sectioned (or whatever the US equivalent is). The Neumanns reportedly gave the appearance of being a normal American Christian family and Dale has reportedly said that he wouldn’t do anything differently should another of his kids get sick. Note the word ‘reportedly’ — I’m having trouble believing everything I read about this couple and I am open to correction. But if it is all true and if their delusions are not deemed to be symptomatic of mental illness, then they are guilty as charged.

For pity’s sake — they didn’t grow up in some isolated primitive tribe so if they are not insane then what excuse have they got?

That said, growing up in the most powerful industrialised nation in the world, they will undoubtedly have encountered some pretty primitive and outlandish ideas about a dysfunctional paternalistic creator god who sent his only begotten son (who was really himself, you understand) on a suicide mission to this planet because we earthlings turned out to be no better than he made us in the first place. If you are going to indoctrinate people from birth to believe in bizarre myths and a load of other stuff about an omniscient, omnipotent and altogether improbable god, then it’s perhaps not surprising that someone somewhere takes it seriously.

Gloria Thomas and Kara Neumann both died because their parents disregarded reason and evidence in favour of superstition.

There’s a moral there somewhere.

2 thoughts on “The power of prayer to kill a child”

  1. …But if it is all true and if their delusions are not deemed to be symptomatic of mental illness, then they are guilty as charged.

    I would argue that delusional behaviour is a symptom of mental illness and by definition anyone who genuinely believes in the power of intercessory prayer should be regarded as mentally ill.

    The trouble is, when a disease is incredibly common it is not seen as deviating from normal, so people do not consider it to be serious unless it has high mortality or morbidity. This is just one example of another fatality caused by a mental illness which presents as excessive religious fervour.

    Great post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.