Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Religious Objections to Reducing Suffering and Postponing Death

Since the start of the year - given that this is an election year – I have been writing about Sean Faircloth's new political strategy for atheists.

Faircloth's presented six strategic rules or principles followed by ten policy objectives that the six rules will be used to advance. The last item on that list of policy objectives is:

Medical and scientific information shall be dedicated to health and advancement.

this principle refers to a set of religious beliefs causing avoidable death and suffering on a wide scale - those that bring religious objections to medical advances. It is as if these people are saying, "My God is happier with your death or suffering than he could be with your healthy survival, so i am going to force you to accept sickness, permanent disability, and early death - even though you are not a member if my church and do not choose these things for yourself."

This mode of thinking has a long history. At one time, religious organizations opposed surgery or opening up corpses to study anatomy. They delayed the medical treatments this knowledge would have provided by centuries.

When scientists first started to understand the possibility if inoculating children from disease such as small pox, many religious institutions stood opposed. Plagues belonged in the realm of the divine. Attempting to prevent plague was "playing God" and, thus, immoral. Indeed, whenever religion takes a position that means more suffering and an earlier death, we can typically find those who take that position to trot out the objection to "playing God" – an objection that simply goes to ensure that there is more suffering and earlier death, on average.

Today, embryonic stem cell research gets the same primitive treatment. Like its predecessors, this objection will be pushed aside eventually as people seek the benefits of a healthier and longer life. However, we will suffer decades in which people who could have been helped will, instead, suffer long or die early because of those who insisted on turning mindless superstitions into law.

I am looking for the day when a mother and the family dog both have their backs broken in a car accident. A year later, the woman is sitting in her wheel chair looking out the window, while her young children play and rough house with the family dog. These are the cases that will bring an end to these absurd objections.

In fact, any time a theist brags that religion or religious institutions get credit for caring for the sick and injured, one can point out that much of that credit can be discounted by the fact that they have brought about or failed to prevent much of that sickness and injury.

Which is better- to tend to a sick child, or to not tend to a healthy child?

One might be tempted to say the former, since it is noble to care for the sick and injured. However, this is not the type of nobility that would justify going around breaking legs or re-introducing small pox just so that we can have more sick and injured to care for.

There may be some religious traditions that disagree with this statement. They seem to hold that suffering is such a good thing that we should intentionally seek more of it so that we can experience more of its spiritually uplifting qualities.

However, this is one of those religious traditions that those who follow it may impose on themselves, but that they have no right to force on others. It is just as morally outrageous, to say the least, to claim, "I will not help you or protect you at this time because I hold that you need more of this spiritually uplifting suffering I have been telling you about."

The suffering and death in these cases are - unlike the gods used to justify more suffering and an earlier death - very real.

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