A personal view from our guest author, Stephen
If you saw someone in a wheelchair, would you walk up to them and ask: “how come you’re crippled then”? An offensive question, put in a less than pleasant way, but exactly the sort of thing a religious zealot will do, even if they think they have phrased their question in rather nicer language it is still offensive.
Sat at the bar of a pub I heard “these things are sent to try us” and, turning round, saw a smug looking priest with a sickly grin and his finger on one of the crutches resting next to me. “What?” I replied. “We all have our tests” said the priest. “What?” I repeated, in no mood to give him an easy in. “Your crutches, a football injury was it?” was the reply. “I was born with a hereditary condition if you must know and I don’t see how that can be classed as a test or a trial, it is a bloody inconvenience and potentially life-threatening,” was my retort. “Oh! I was only trying to help and be friendly”, the priest came back. There followed a discussion on how if I embraced the Lord I could be helped, but it was the usual claptrap from the holy roller and not worth boring anyone with again, we will all have heard it many times before.
The point was that this priest was doing what so many religious zealots do, intruding into the life of an unknown person for the sole intention of trying to push his religion. The highly religious are quick to spot an opportunity and a set of crutches; Zimmer frame or wheelchair is the sort many cannot turn down. A convert, a dupe to try the latest bogus potion or just a simpleton they can persuade can be cured by prayer. They operate legally and there is no protection against them, and any attempts to have them stopped will be met with cries of persecution.
There are those who genuinely believe the stuff they are peddling, such is the indoctrination of many religious cults, but there are those, notably at the top of their particular church/cult, whose motives may not be so honest and who may well possess a bank account of the Swiss variety. So why is there no legislation against this? Why can they operate with impunity and cause harm or even death, which they do in some cases, without any action against them?
Years ago it was not a surprise to hear a waiter or waitress say to one of my friends, “What would he like?”, actually more commonly used than the more famous “does he take sugar?” phrase. There was a general assumption that ‘disabled’ meant mentally as well as physically. Things are much better in some areas, but religion is not one of them; we are still looked at by many as second-class beings. That does not bother me a lot as what I think of the religious zealots is considerably more damning. It is the fact that people who are seriously ill, have a difficult life or live with severe pain are seen as a soft touch. Unfortunately sometimes they are.
There have been cases of HIV sufferers who have died as a result of stopping their medication. Modern HIV drugs can prolong life considerably, so to stop taking them is dangerous. But some of us are looking to win the lottery, in more ways than one, so a chance of a real cure from someone well versed in selling their product is going to be tempting. They pay the price – further harm or even death – and a glib preacher will say their faith was not strong enough, as well as coming out with enough excuses to avoid prosecution.
We also have all the healer’s evidence, far-fetched at best, bogus at worst, that entices the weak and always the same old excuses when the legs still don’t work or the tumour has not gone; “Your faith was not strong enough”.
We all know gullible people and those who are not well educated but does that give us a right to exploit them? Obviously some members of the faith-healing brigade have a different moral stance to this atheist on that question. Even those evangelicals who have been indoctrinated should have enough about them to consider their actions, but faith is a dangerous drug with a side effect of making people scared of reality.
However, it is not only the uneducated and gullible that can be easy prey, we all have weak moments and serious disease can exacerbate them. A friend and lifelong atheist admitted he did have second thoughts at one stage, after his second set of chemotherapy failed and he was waiting for a stem cell donor. He was lucky, a donor was found and the treatment, despite poor odds, worked.
Here was a big difference between science and faith. A brilliant medical team of highly trained and honest people gave him facts not stories. He was told his chances were at best 50 to 60% and that there was a 10% chance of the donor cells killing him outright. It was his only chance and the honesty of the specialists, despite the numbers, was an encouragement as they had medical and research documentation to back up their claim, unlike the Reverend Wacko from St. Loony-up-the-Pole, who swore on his bible that Aunt Mable’s boils disappeared as soon as she converted.
My friend had support from friends and family and he would never have taken the religious route, others are not so lucky and if you are down and, seemingly, out without support of close friends there is a much bigger chance of the religious crazies snaring their prey. This is why I am suggesting there should be some sort of legislation to combat the action of these ‘faith’ healers; it is not a diminishing of religious and human rights, it is simply a way of protecting the vulnerable.
Freedom to believe and worship is one thing and must be a basic human right, freedom to cause suffering and death is quite different.