It’s not often that one reads an honest-to-goodness, full-on condemnation of someone, either a person or a group of people. Most acts of condemnation are more like posturing or theater than actually consigning someone to an eternity of woe at the hands of some scaly red-skinned demon with a forked tongue, a trident, and possession of the forfeited soul. Isn’t it ironic, then, that the person lobbing all this animus at others doesn’t actually believe in a life after death in which to suffer and repent? No, the damning is for the here and now, not some ethereal realm of our imaginations.
The fellow in question is P.Z. Myers, who writes about modern-day Isaacs, children sacrificed by their own parents in the name of faith via withheld medical treatment. Myers’ blog Pharyngula (in my blogroll at left) is ostensibly a science blog, but he spends more time taking believers to task than writing about science. The volume of comments demonstrates that lots of people find this activity highly entertaining and/or worthwhile. One can debate whether correcting misguided faith is a legitimate objective of science; I think it probably is.
A child killed by a parent (or both parents) is an ancient story, not just in the sense of religious sacrifice (a la Abraham and Isaac) but more commonly in the practice of infanticide. It’s tragic and sad but not without abundant precedent in history. It’s also hard not to feel empathy for the children, who are especially vulnerable and blameless. But that’s the case for defenseless victims of all sorts, not just children. Also, if we feel special remorse over the wasted potential of a life cut tragically short, I wonder why we don’t feel something akin to anger at the billions of lives lived past the age of 50, say, that are a similar waste, though conceptualized from the opposite end of the arrow of time?
The really breathtaking part of Myers’ attack, though, is the wholesale condemnation of the enablers of parents who sacrifice children. The enablers are the other faithful who form the religious context for such irrational behavior. Myers calls them mealy-mouthed moderates for their implied complicity and literal refusal to intervene. This damning by association applies equally to the clergy and the media, both of which look patronizingly favorably upon extreme acts of faith and appear to be more committed to protecting religious freedom in the abstract than protecting a child in a specific instance.