Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Faith-Healing, Medicine and Freedom

I recently read an article (linked below) regarding faith-healing religious sects that deny medical care and the pain and deaths of children that come as a result. The article focused on the changing of laws that protects the parents of these children from charges of negligence, manslaughter, etc. due to medical care being withheld on religious grounds and consists of a string of heartbreaking stories with links to find more.
I see two issues going on here: (1) Religious Liberty, particularly the right to it and the need for it to be protected, and (2) The relationship between Faith and Medicine. I will address #2 first.
I am personally saddened that many of the "sects" that reject medical care tend to be (or claim to be) Christians. I have run into atheists from time to time who lump all believers into this group or somehow imply that we are being inconsistent or hypocritical to believe in miracles AND make use of medical science. There is no Biblical basis I can find for a doctrine of outright rejection of medical treatment. (I haven't looked into it, but I wonder where Amish fall on this issue and what the death from treatable disease is like among those communities. That would be interesting to know.)
There are common graces in the world, things which all people, believers or not, can all equally enjoy and take benefit from. Rain. Oxygen. Friendships. Just governments. Good food. Love. Humor. Reason. And intellegence. Our ability to reason and invent and discover things about the world God made was given to us by Him. Science of any kind is only possible because God gave us the means by which to do it. Not making use of medicine when sick would be like not making use of prepared food when hungry, claiming that God will simply make a nurishing substance appear in your stomache or grow a fruit tree in your backyard if He wanted you to eat. Could He? Absolutely. But we do not make general rules based on rare or exceptional circumstances.
I understand that many of these sects or religions come from a more charismatic or word-faith understanding of theology. This claims that if you only have enough faith or believe enough then God will do a miracle. That is another issue altogether. Suffice it to say, I believe their interpretations of scripture to be in error.
Another issue that was touched on in the article and that I come across sometimes is the dismissing of the idea that physical illness can have spiritual causes. It is seen all throughout the Gospels and New Testament that demonic possession or oppression by an evil spirit can manifest physical ailments. Whether or not that is true is not the point. Aside from where you fall on that specific issue, it does not follow logically that simply believing that an illness has a spiritual cause would negate the possibility of getting medical treatement to alleviate symptoms while also addressing the underlying spiritual cause. If I suffer a disease or condition because of malnourishment, why would I not be allowed to ease symptoms while fixing the underlying nourishment issue and changing my diet? If I am dehydrated and get a headache, I can take a pain reliever in the short term while addressing whatever habits or activities keep draining without replenishing my fluids. In the same way, even if an illness were to have a spiritual cause underlying it, nothing prohibits us from treating the body with medicine while addressing the spiritual cause with spiritual means.
I think the church at large and Christianity in general tends to get preoccupied with secular worldview issues and "the culture war". I wonder if we might also need to make a consious effort to reach out to those waving the flag of Christianity whether they be false teachers or misguided brothers. This is not an issue we should leave to be decided by secular society who more often than not throws us all into the same pot.
That leads to the other issue here: Religious Liberty.
How do you strike the balance between protecting religious rights and protecting those who may be harmed on the basis of religious beliefs? That answer is complicated and not easily found. Perhaps that is the reason we are a constitutional republic, so that rights are protected from mere disagreement or alternate belief and not easily taken away.
Certainly we do not allow child sacrifice or executions for leaving a church, but Amish people get to be exempt from certain codes and regulations that violate their rejection of technology. Where do we draw the line.
Because of my beliefs based on the Bible, in most cases I may be willing to allow for legal prosecution when there is harm or death caused for withholding medical care. However, we create a very dangerous slippery-slope.
One comment in the article stated the following: "Society has a duty to over-ride parents' wishes when necessary to protect children from harm."
When does society's duty cross the line and invade on parents' rights?

The Romeike family from Germany are looking at being deported back to a country that denied them the ability to homeschool their kids and as a result their kids will be taken away from them if/when they return. Our current administration here in the US has said that homeschooling for religious reasons is not a protected religious freedom.
You may say homeschooling and withholding medical care are 2 different things, but I have had people aggressively argue to me that homeschooling is child abuse. 

So where does the line get drawn? I know where I think the line should be based on my Biblical worldview and political philosophy, but we live in an increasingly diverse culture. Which views and assumptions do we use to make this determination? On what basis do we claim religious freedom should be protected or that medical care must be used when sick? On what belief do we define "society's duty" and what constitutes "parental neglegence"?
There are no easy answers, and I do not think we need to be quite as quick as this article was in tossing aside religious freedom protections. But I also agree that children should not be left to die when medical care is readily available. However, my reasons and justifications may cross paths with secularists on this issue, but their reasonings are easily turned against me down the road when the issue isn't life/death of children.
In summary, it's ok for people to love and serve God, believe the Bible, pray for healings and yet stillseek medical treatment. How we protect religious freedoms yet also deal with the tragic and sad results when people don't get treatment and children die .... I don't know.

Here's the article: www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/faith-healing-religious-freedom-vs-child-protection

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