On Facebook, I’ve been following the story of a couple and their newborn daughter, through a mutual friend, though I’ve never met this couple before. During their pregnancy, the couple found out their baby had a duplication in chromosome 3. This typically results in congenital heart defects and intellectual disabilities, and the severity in this baby led doctors to believe she wouldn’t live more than a few hours outside the womb, and suggested the couple terminate their pregnancy. As a devoutly religious family, this was simply not an option, and they carried the baby to term and delivered her routinely. When she was born, doctors found a small hole in her heart, which was allowing blood to circulate, so despite the heart defects and other extensive issues, the baby lived for a full 2 weeks.
While following this story, I felt a lot of sadness for this family, of course. But I was struck also by several other thoughts and questions. There were dozens and dozens of comments and updates on how things were going, well wishes, and prayers for the couple and the baby. At times like this, I often struggle to form an opinion on the use or detriment of faith. For this couple, seeing that people were praying for them, and their belief in the goodness and plan of their god, was likely very comforting. Knowing that though their daughter had died, she was going to be with god in heaven, I’m sure has helped them in this difficult time. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
The thing that I have noticed is how situations like this highlight the immense levels of delusion that the religious seem capable of. I saw comments, or prayers, rather, asking god to remove the extra chromosome, which, of course, we know is a medical and scientific impossibility, and which, of course, did not happen. There were abounding messages that “god has amazing healing power” and “god can produce miracles beyond explanation by science”. When god did not heal this baby, and did not produce a miracle for this family, the new messages were that “god has a plan”, and “god decided to call the baby home to heaven”. There were no questions of why. Why, not only did god not produce one of these “miracles”, but why god saw fit to give this baby such a horrific defect in the first place. Why he thought it made sense to give her such a short, difficult life. Was her life was just a means to some other end- a learning experience for the parents, perhaps- and why couldn’t he have taught the lesson in a less tragic way? This kind of unwavering faith drives people to set aside their rationality, set aside their curiosity, and simply believe that “god knows best”, even when it appears no one at all has benefitted from the situation and many were left with immense heartache and pain.
Recently, a friend of mine told me her sister had just lost a baby, around her 5th month of pregnancy. They found out that the baby had several developmental problems and would certainly not have survived outside the womb. This couple has a 7 year old daughter, and had been trying to get pregnant for 5 years with no success, until this pregnancy. My friend told me her sister had nearly lost the baby at 8 weeks, and expressed how angry she was that god hadn’t taken the baby then- why allow the family to feel such joy and excitement, only to then force the woman to go through labour and deliver a stillborn baby? What kind of god would do such a thing? What is the purpose? Why give them the pregnancy in the first place if his divine plan was to give it so many defects it couldn’t possibly survive? No religious person has an answer to this, because there IS no answer. They’d have you believe that it is part of his plan, which we should never question, and we should try to remember that his will is right even if we can’t understand it. I call that a bunch of bullshit. No loving god would give a baby to a couple who wanted one so desperately, prayed so hard for it, and were so happy to have it, only to take it away in such a tragic way. It’s just completely nonsensical to think that a god could have a reason to do this.
The point of these stories is to illustrate the scope of faith. On one hand, faith in god and in some divine plan bigger than us is hugely comforting to many people. We like the idea that someone is looking out for us. I see no issues with this kind of faith, other than a nagging distaste for the intellectual dishonesty and delusion required to believe in it.
The trouble is that faith isn’t simple, and it isn’t linear. It doesn’t remain as just a personal comfort. Faith, in some cases, is incredibly dangerous. Faith is what leads to parents not taking their children to the hospital when they’re stricken with very curable illnesses; when they choose to remain at home and pray for healing, and receive none, and the child dies… this type of faith is ridiculous, disgusting, and gut-wrenchingly awful. The idea that any child has suffered and died from something easily preventable, simply because their parents were too deluded to take them to the hospital, is beyond disturbing and shakes me to my core. When other religious people are told of these stories of failed faith healing, the common response is that such behaviour is “absolutely wrong”. A reasonable response. But I wonder how they themselves define where the line is. These people, while obviously completely batshit crazy, truly believed their god would heal their children. They probably weren’t awful, evil people- just brainwashed and blinded by their faith. Some Christians I talk to, while not likely crazy enough to let their infants die of dehydration due to a preventable and curable diarrheal illness (http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/faith-healing-parents-arrested-over-death-of-second-child-130424.htm) or due to a burst appendix (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2205306/Russel-Brandi-Bellew-Faith-healer-parents-avoid-jail-Austin-Sprout-16-dies.html), still truly believe that faith healing works. I struggle to understand how any rational person can hear these stories, be as horrified as I was, and STILL believe there is a god out there that loves them and may choose to heal them.
In the grand scheme, faith can be useful. It can be comforting for people. But pitted against the horrors it can lead to, this small benefit in no way pushes the balance in favour of supporting faith as a way to live life. I have no faith in god. But I have faith in people. I know that when I run into difficult times in my life, I will have PEOPLE to love and comfort me. And having a past in which I did believe god was there to comfort me, I can tell you without hesitation that the love and comfort received from real people is leaps and bounds more helpful than the imaginary love and comfort from an imaginary god.