Jesus ‘n’ Mo and religious “healing”

Here’s a new Jesus and Mo showing that both prophets (praise be upon them) are deluded—but not in the way they think:


I’ll throw in a slide from my Storer Lecture a week from today in Davis, California (all are welcome), showing the health dangers of catering to faith in the U.S.:

Picture 2

h/t: Linda Grilli


  1. Posted April 2, 2014 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    That something of these things happen in the US of A instead of some backwater country is simply shocking.

  2. Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    American exemptionism.

  3. bonetired
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    My late GP father said he could cure a cold in a week. Left to itself it would go away in 7 days ….

    • TJR
      Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:24 am | Permalink

      I often use the same example in classes, “every time I have a cold I take a homeopathic remedy and every time it is cured within a week, so clearly homeopathy works”.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted April 2, 2014 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

        You teach homeopathy? Good gig, should be paid in homeopathic money.

  4. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    That line (in the slide) about “metabolic testing for disease” is pretty obscure. I’m sure your lecture point will cover it in more detail, but I find it hard to work out what the problem is.
    If it’s a metabolic disease, then wouldn’t that mean that it’s something essentially private to your metabolism, rather than something communicable? I’m thinking of, for example, diabetes. Metabolic disorder, very unfortunate if it’s going on in your body, but generally, it doesn’t affect other people. At least, not until it gets bad enough that you start fainting while flying planes or driving trucks. So, if someone gets a message from the invisible pink unicorn that getting tested for it is forbidden, then so what. As long as they’re not crashing planes, buses or lorries because of it, “meh, let them die”.
    Religious exemptions for bicycle helmets … is this a logical cousin of the Sikh requirement to wear a turban (if you’re male). But when the UK introduced compulsory motorcycle helmets in the 1970s we had this thrashed out and came up with designs of motorcycle helmets with appropriate crash-worthiness and which also complied adequately with the religious requirements. And everyone was more-or-less happy. Or are people just being uncompromising?

    • CDubya
      Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:36 am | Permalink

      It’s an exemption for faith healers, I believe. If the parents of a child who has a metabolic disorder lets that child suffer terribly and even die a horrible death because their religious beliefs don’t allow for real medical diagnosis/treatment they won’t be charged with torture/murder.

    • Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      I’ll try to explain. Newborns in most places are routinely tested for the presence of diseases affecting their metabolism. The classic example is testing for phenylketonuria (PKU), a disease that makes one unable to metabolize the amino acid phenylalaine. If detected early, the child can live a largely normal life if kept on a diet without that amino acid. If you don’t test the kid, and he/she eats normally, it will develop the disease, which is pretty bad, leading to seizures, abnormal brain development, and death. Early detection can prevent this stuff. It’s mandatory in most places, but you can opt out–but only on religious grounds. That, of course, leads to dead or ill kids—martyrs to their parents’ faith.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 2, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

        That, of course, leads to dead or ill kids—martyrs to their parents’ faith.

        To quote Larry Niven (and either Jerry Pournelle, or Stephen Barnes ; I forget which) “Just think of it as evolution in action.”
        Hmmm, not feeling very charitable today – it must be lunchtime.
        That would be the blood drop from the heel thing that they do with kids these days (I’m told)?

        • Posted April 2, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

          It’s not quite natural selection because the kids have no choice! And when they do, they’ve been indoctrinated. I suppose you could conceive of it as a form of self-eliminating faith, but it doesn’t work very quickly, and the converts offset the dead. And we are partly responsible, for it is we who sanction these exemptions–the exemptions that help kill children.

          • Posted April 2, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

            Well, it’s selection in the sense that the parents are seriously diminishing their chances of successfully propagating their genes, in the same way that a mammal mother who lacks sufficient instinct to nurse her offspring is selecting against her own genes.

            What I’d argue is that we as a society understand the evils of using eugenics, even if some overly-simplistic narrowly-focussed idealistic analysis might (generally incorrectly) suggest some particular benefit to the human gene pool. That extends to parents, consciously or otherwise, practicing eugenics on their own children.

            Our genes may well be selfish, but our brains are capable of wresting the controls from the genes. That lets us as a species, potentially, transcend our genetic origins. Richard eloquently makes the point that organisms can’t back down Mount Improbable. Human society is making Mount Improbable less and less relevant, with Craig Venter even leading the charge up Mount Impossible.

            As such, we can afford to let the gene pool take a back seat in favor of our own selfish interests.

            In this particular case, it means protecting children from the maladaptive traits their parents suffer from.

            As a bonus, it’s quite likely that the traits in question are only vanishingly encoded in DNA and instead are a part of our cultural extended phenotype. That means that protecting children from their parents potentially results in Lamarckian-style immediate expressions of enhanced fitness in the children.



          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted April 6, 2014 at 4:57 am | Permalink

            It’s not quite natural selection because the kids have no choice!

            To take a stereotypical example, does the juvenile wildebeest have a choice in being … swift change of attack … targeted by a bacterium which successfully reproduces massively in it’s flesh (and incidentally kills the wildebeest)?
            I’m not sure that individual choice is necessary for something to be considered “natural selection”.
            That some adult humans choose to have incorrect beliefs concerning the nature of disease doesn’t change the validity of the model of natural selection. Whether your society chooses to allow those adults the freedom to kill their children in this way is a problem or American society. We do have some elements of the same problems over on this side of the Pond too – good luck with getting it stopped.
            But nonetheless, the death of children as a consequence of their parents stupidity remains a case of evolution in action. Unfortunately, it is quite possible that the parents will get around the evolutionary consequences by having many more children. (Which is partly a testament – not that they’d admit it – to modern scientific medicine. Hand-washing ; toilets ; obstetrics ; that sort of thing.) In which case, assuming the parental gene pool remains fixed (i.e. no adultery), then the parents are just culling the genes for [metabolic disease] from their particular branch of the human family tree.
            It’s eugenics. With all it’s ugly implications.
            (Hmmm, I’ll try to remember to use “culling” as a counterbalance to the euphonious sound of “eugenics”.)

        • eric
          Posted April 2, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

          Just as Jerry said, the ‘why we should care’ point is that the newborns are the ones potentially at risk because of the religious beliefs of their parents. If the parents were taking the risk of death and disability, it wouldn’t be such an issue.

          I have the same issue with cults. I don’t really care if some adult chooses to live on a communal farm where reading Dembski is required but Darwin is forbidden. I do care how such people raise their children. The children don’t have informed consent and both the state and I as a citizen have an interest in ensuring other citizens are raised to some minimal level of health, education, etc… After all, these folks are going to vote in elections that affect me and my tax dollars are going to support them if their religious upbringing results in serious health problems or lack of employable skills. In a very direct sense, it matters to me whether the next door neighbor’s kid becomes a burglar vs. a doctor. So to the extent that it is reasonably feasible and doesn’t seriously restrict other family’s rights to self-determination, I want all kids from 0-18 to be educated, socialized to the larger society, and healthy. I will, like you, wash my hands of them once they are an adult. But while they are children I feel both a communal and personal interest in ensuring they are not the victims of other adults’ whims.

  5. John K.
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Bicycle helmet religious exemptions? Seems like a self correcting problem . . .

  6. Daoud
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Not that I’m jumping in to defend religious exemptions (I’m not), but some of those points are using pretty charged language. e.g. particulary 1, 2, 4: what exactly is the “child abuse and neglect”? What felonies against children? Manslaughter and murder?

    • Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      That “charged” language comes largely from CHILD (a national organization founded by Rita Swan to protect children from being medically injured by their parents’ religious beliefs) and from the National Association of District Attorneys. If you abuse or neglect your children by withholding food, for example, or not meeting their other needs, you can be prosecuted in many states–for murder and manslaughter if you neglect them deliberately and it kills them. The religious “exemptions” are that if you kill your children by withholding needed medical care, you are largely immune from prosecution on those grounds.The language isn’t charged at all: it’s accurate, so do some Googling.

      In fact, the language doesn’t seem “charged” at all, and you’d best not pursue that insupportable claim on this site.

      • Daoud
        Posted April 2, 2014 at 5:58 am | Permalink

        Sorry I was inquiring for more information. If someone says there are religious exemptions for murder and manslaughter in some states in the US, I think it’s fair to ask for more details! I am not American so not as familiar with these American legal topics as some. I do agree withholding food or other necessities from your children should not be exempt for any reason, and should be prosecuted.

        • Kevin Alexander
          Posted April 2, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          It’s not murder to the parents. They see it as god taking their child for some mysterious reason or worse, to punish them for some transgression.
          Part of me feels for the parents. They must be going through all the terrible pain that one suffers to lose a beloved child.
          I know that it’s not exactly correct to call religion a mental disorder but it’s hard to see this any other way.

          • madscientist
            Posted April 2, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

            The “poor suffering parents” crap makes me want to shoot those poor suffering parents to put them out of their misery and give the kid a chance to be helped. If only the miserable parents could be the ones who genuinely suffer rather than the defenseless child.

            • Kevin Alexander
              Posted April 2, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

              I have a strong romantic attachment to the idea of free will but life has taught me that it really doesn’t exist.
              These poor children are the offspring of people whose brains are broken. They don’t deserve to be shot in the head. They aren’t evil, they’re sick.
              The evil ones are the state legislators who cynically pander to the religious to get elected. They are the ones who care nothing for the children.

          • eric
            Posted April 3, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

            There is a considerable ‘range of badness’ here. Refusing vaccination because you think God tells you you must is far less abusive (IMO) than starving or hitting your child because you think God tells you you should. I may feel some empathy for the former parent, but not much for the latter.

            But ultimately its not about empathy, its about an adult consciously choosing to violate the law. If the parent understands the law and chooses to flaunt it, then they have made their choice and the state is perfectly within their rights to prosecute. It doesn’t matter whether its for religious or other reasons. IMO the best way to deal with those cases is not to create a raft of exceptions, but for the law to operate as per normal, and for the person to explain exactly why they did what they did to the jury (or judge) and let the jury (or judge) decide whether to rigorously enforce the law or do a ‘jury nullification’ move instead. So, for example: if you break the speed limit rushing someone to the hospital, you still broke the speed limit. Do I think you should be fined for that? Personally, no. Were I on the jury in such a case, I would nullify. But do I think we should write an exception into our speed limit laws to account for such cases? No!

            • Posted April 3, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

              Refusing vaccination because you think God tells you you must is far less abusive (IMO) than starving or hitting your child because you think God tells you you should.

              Both are pretty fucking bad, actually. Spanking is more immediately harmful and emotionally traumatic, but failure to vaccinate carries an high risk of disease, disfigurement, and death — and not just for the child, but for everybody the child comes in contact with, especially other children and the elderly and infirm.

              So, for example: if you break the speed limit rushing someone to the hospital, you still broke the speed limit. Do I think you should be fined for that?

              In a modern city? Absolutely. Probably jailed as well. Maybe even with a disproportionate sentence guaranteed to make the local news headlines.

              In older days, before the ubiquity of telephones and sub-five-minute response times from first responders, or in rural or less developed areas, rushing to the hospital was the least worst thing you could do.

              But today, you’re putting everybody at unnecessary risk by doing so, especially the patient (the EMTs can stabilize the patient immediately on the scene and / or in the ambulance, and will likely get the patient to the ideal facility in much less time than you will) as well as everybody else on the road. Ambulance drivers are highly trained; they have lights and sirens to tell people to get the fuck out of the way; and people understand and expect and anticipate them and their actions. You driving down the worng side of the street and running red lights while panicking that your friend is bleeding out are just likely to cause the sort of wreck that gets innocent bystanders killed and the street shut down for the rest of the day. Oh — and you’re not going to come out of the wreck in good shape, yourself, if you’re at all motivated by self-preservation.

              Don’t play ambulance. Call 9-1-1 and get the real deal. That’s what you pay taxes for. Hell, that’s what I play taxes for — so people like you don’t feel like they have to T-bone me at an intersection just to get to the hospital.



              • Diane G.
                Posted April 4, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

                That seems to be going way beyond the point Eric was making, which is that laws should be enforced rationally with certain exceptions made for certain situations.

                (Plus, you describe an ideal situation. For one thing, most ambulance services have been farmed out to for-profit companies that are most interested in cutting costs to maximize revenue; some of those drivers hired are not as highly trained as you might imagine, or even as rigorously screened as we would prefer.)

            • Kevin Alexander
              Posted April 3, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

              If the parent understands the law and chooses to flaunt it, then they have made their choice and the state is perfectly within their rights to prosecute.

              I understand and agree completely. My anger is directed at the fact that in many states parents have the law on their side when they abuse and even kill their children.
              The law should protect everyone but it doesn’t. The parents, religiously deluded or not, should go to prison if only to protect any more children that they may bring into their f*cked up little world.

  7. Kevin
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Command-Option-Shift-G will toggle the guidelines on/off of the ppt slide shown. It used to be Command-Shift-G before Office 2011. Assuming the slide is screen shot (Command-Control-Shift-4) from a Mac, which I think it was.

  8. Posted April 2, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I never thought to use the religion card to oppose unfounded bicycle helmet laws.

    It’s a sad day when religion can do what actual numbers can’t.

    • Posted April 2, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      This may be its primary purpose, and raison d’etre, no? Resisting a monolithic onslaught of policy driven by other people’s reasons, even if you prefer to not be part of their calculations?

      I (semi) jokingly say that the Sabbath is the first instance of a labor union, and the Jewish people had to appeal to God to get a day off of slave labor.

      Religion as resistance to other forces that otherwise have no resistance. I hate the unfounded beliefs and harm, but empathize with (or at least see/understand) the “tool” to get out from under oppressive economic/political situations.

      • Posted April 3, 2014 at 5:13 am | Permalink

        That vision of the Sabbath pretty much agrees with Jesus’s own, if I remember Sunday school correctly; God having made the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath.

        In real world terms, it does remind us that we should never let the letter of the law get more important than its spirit.

  9. madscientist
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Wow – religious exemptions from TB testing? Now that’s braindead (well, all those quoted religious exemptions are incredibly stupid). It took a huge effort in improving sanitary habits, strict quarantine, and killing off the bacterium with the then newly discovered antibiotics to finally take TB off the list of common killers in the USA and elsewhere. That’s one disease I wouldn’t want to see in resurgence, especially these days since there have been quite a few reports of drug resistant TB. I think I’d rather see the smallpox come back than TB. What next – we re-import poliomyelinitis from the good ol’ religious countries who murder the people who are trying to eradicate the last traces of the disease?

  10. Newish Gnu
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Professor Ceiling Cat,

    If it isn’t too much trouble on your part, could you identify the sources for that slide. I’d love to see which of the categories my state is on.

    If it is too much trouble, I’ll understand.
    Thank you.

  11. Diane G.
    Posted April 4, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Love the PP slide! It should go, ahem, viral.

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