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What's the harm?

These links and comments illustrate the harm done by occult, paranormal, pseudoscientific, and supernatural beliefs. The harm may be tangible and easily documented: physical, financial, or interpersonal. »What's the Harm? archives

June 23, 2009. A six-year-old suffered second- and third-degree burns on 25 percent of her body, including her face, torso, and legs, at the hands of her mother and grandmother, who have been charged with with endangering the welfare of a child by conducting a voodoo ritual in which they used accelerant to set the child on fire. The child was placed in a medically-induced coma and hooked up to a respirator. She was hospitalized on February 6 (two days after she'd been burned) and was not released until May.

It is thought the 29-year-old mother and 79-year-old grandmother were using a Haitian voodoo practice known as “Loa.” The mother poured an accelerant on her daughter’s head and placed her naked in the middle of a ring of fire on the floor.

June 2, 2009. Scott Roeder, a 51-year-old Bible-quoting man with a history of anti-abortion and anti-tax protesting was arrested on suspicion of murdering Dr. George Tiller, 67, a doctor who provided late-term abortions at his clinic in Wichita, Kansas. Roeder's brother and ex-wife consider him mentally ill. Those who share his anti-abortion and anti-tax views found Roeder to be a fine fellow.

"If anybody needed killing, George Tiller needed killing," said Kansas City antiabortion activist Regina Dinwiddie. "The gut reaction from everybody who doesn't have their thoughts filtered by fear is 'Yahoo!'"

Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry said that Dr. Tiller was "a mass murderer and horrifically, he reaped what he sowed."

May 26, 2009. Forty-nine-year-old Kevin McDaid, a Catholic father of four, was beaten to death outside his home in Coleraine (county Derry, Northern Ireland) by a mob of some 40 men celebrating Rangers' clinching of the Scottish league (soccer) title. Another man (Damien Fleming) is critically ill in hospital after being beaten by the attackers who arrived in a Catholic area of Coleraine in a cavalcade of cars after their team's victory. The Rangers' fans, commonly Protestant  loyalists, were armed with cudgels and baseball bats in what appeared to be a planned attack on random residents.*

McDaid's widow is quoted by the BBC as believing her husband's death was ordered by loyalist paramilitaries, but a police investigator said it looks like the killing was done by "a maverick group of yobs."*

update: May 28, 2009. Six men have been charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the killing of Kevin McDaid and the attempted murder of Damien Fleming. The attackers were not a bunch of drunken kids. One of those charged is John McGrath, 50, who is also charged with assaulting Evelyn McDaid. Three of those charge are in their forties. One is 33. Only one of those charged, David Craig Cochrane, 18, is under 23. Chochrane's father is 47 and faces a charge of affray. Two others were charged with attempted murder. "At the hearing 17 armed police in riot gear ringed over 70 loyalists who filled the public benches. On the other side of the court, more police provided a human shield around friends and family members of Mr. McDaid, including one of his four sons."*

Support for the two Glasgow soccer teams, Rangers and Celtic, has traditionally divided along religious lines in Northern Ireland. Most Rangers supporters are Protestants while most Celtic fans are Catholic. The rivalry between the teams often leads to sectarian clashes after big games.

The Irish and British bishops who blame society's ills on secularism might want to consider sectarianism in sports and religion as a major player in social degredation.

May 24, 2009. Spanish police arrested twenty-three gangsters running a human trafficking ring that brought Nigerian girls to Spain and forced them into prostitution by threatening them with voodoo curses. The gang tempted young Nigerian women, most aged between 12 and 18, to travel to Europe with promises of prosperity. Later,  the victims were forced to pay large sums of money to avoid voodoo curses they believed would make them go mad or destroy their souls.

The investigation into the sex-slave racket began in February when a Nigerian woman told police in Seville that she had been forced into sex slavery.

Orakwue Arinze of the Nigerian National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons told the BBC that the traffickers target teenagers, especially those from broken homes, and girls and young women who have been accused of witchcraft. He said the girls are forced to take oaths on the graves of their ancestors, with rituals involving their blood, finger nails, and pubic hair. Arinze said that the girls' belief in the oath is so strong that even if given a chance to escape from prostitution, few would dare do so.

The BBC reports that earlier this month, 11 people went on trial in the Netherlands for using voodoo to force up to 150 Nigerian women and girls into prostitution in Europe. For some reason, many of the sex slaves end up in the mostly Catholic countries of Italy, Spain, and France.

May 20, 2009. Thousands beaten, raped in Irish reform schools. A fiercely debated, long-delayed investigation into Ireland's Roman Catholic-run institutions says priests and nuns terrorized thousands of boys and girls in workhouse-style schools for decades — and government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes, and humiliation...."church officials always shielded their orders' pedophiles from arrest to protect their own reputations...." More than 30,000 children were treated "more like prison inmates and slaves than people with legal rights and human potential," according to Ireland's Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse. "The commission dismissed as implausible a central defense of the religious orders — that, in bygone days, people did not recognize the sexual abuse of a child as a criminal offense, but rather as a sin that required repentance. In their testimony, religious orders typically cited this as the principal reason why sex-predator priests and brothers were sheltered within the system and moved to new posts where they could still maintain daily contact with children."

May 2, 2009. A 15-year-old girl had her head down and was looking at her cell phone when she walked into the path of a school bus and was killed on her way to Pilgrim High School in Warwick, Rhode Island. Earphones and an iPod were also found on her, but it wasn’t clear whether she had been listening to the popular device.

May 1, 2009. Before planning that trip to Laos, read this article about a 20-year-old woman from London who was arrested at the Laos airport and faces a death sentence if convicted of possession of heroin. While awaiting trial in a Laos prison, she got pregnant, and it wasn't an immaculate conception. The young woman was born in Nigeria but has lived in south London since she was eight. Her father lives in Nigeria; her mother and three sisters live in Ireland.

She had been on holiday in Thailand and the Netherlands before traveling to Laos.

March 30, 2009. Sylvia Browne told a northern California woman that her son, who went missing at age fifteen some 25 years ago, had been killed in an accident in Canada. The woman broke down in tears. Browne, of course has no idea what happened to her son. She claims she's psychic and gets "messages" from somewhere. The woman's daughter and another son went to Canada to investigate. Who says false hope is better than no hope at all?

March 14, 2009. A 19-year-old deranged sex offender, Blaine Keith Milam, tried to hide behind religion to justify his bludgeoning, biting, and strangling to death a 13-month-old child. He and the girl's mother, 18-year old Jessica Bain Carson (who was present during the killing), told authorities that they were trying to rid the child of demonic possession when she died. The couple were indicted on murder charges.

Milam was supposed to be behind bars at the time of the homicide, but was out due to a snafu. Carson graduated as an honor student in 2007 and had not been in any trouble with police in the past. Both Milam and Carson remain jailed on $2 million bonds in Rusk County, east Texas.

update: 4 Mar 2010. More than 530 people lined up outside the Crighton Theatre Wednesday as potential jurors were vetted for the capital murder case of Milam and Carson.

update 29 Mar 2011. Jury selection has begun in the capital murder trial of Carson.

update 14 April 2001. A Rusk County jury found Jesseca Carson guilty of capital murder and she received an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole in the sexual assault and beating death of her infant daughter. Carson's boyfriend, Blaine Milam, is on death row after his conviction for capital murder in the death, which Carson believed was an exorcism.

March 9, 2009. Brazilian Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho has excommunicated the mother of a nine-year-old rape victim and the doctors who participated in aborting the child's twin fetuses. The Catholic Church tried to prevent the abortion, but failed. The girl's stepfather, 23, has been arrested and accused of raping both the nine-year-old and her handicapped 14-year-old sister.  Cardinal Giovanni Batista Re, who heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, told reporters that "life must always be protected." Re had nothing to say about the rapist. Archbishop (of Olinda and Recife) Sobrinho did note, however: "It is clear that he committed a very serious sin, but worse than this is the abortion."

The young girl was not excommunicated because of her age. The case has outraged many Brazilians, including President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, as well as some bloggers here in the U.S. See Lost in Tarnation and Pharyngula.

Abortion is permitted in Brazil only in cases of rape and where the mother's life is at risk. Doctors say the girl's case met both conditions.

It has long been the position of the Catholic Church that abortion is never justified, not in cases of rape and not even to save the life of the mother.

February 2, 2009. Sometimes religious fervor gets a little to hot and becomes abusive. Such seems to be the case with a group of Mormons. Victims have set up a website called the Mormon Gulag. The name says it all.

January 10, 2009. According to a team of Harvard University researchers, 365,000 premature deaths could have been prevented had South Africa's government provided appropriate drugs to AIDS patients and to pregnant women who were at risk of infecting their babies. South Africa's former president Thabo Mbeki, in ignorance, rejected science and the recommended drug treatment for his people. The new president of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, has fired Mbeki's health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, because of her stance on HIV/AIDS treatment. She had recommended that those with HIV eat garlic, lemon juice, and beetroot.

January 8, 2009. According to CNN, a woman in rural Papua New Guinea was bound and gagged, tied to a log, and set ablaze because villagers suspected her of being a witch. "Her death adds to a growing list of men and women who have been accused of sorcery and then tortured or killed in the South Pacific island nation, where traditional beliefs hold sway in many regions."

January 7, 2009. People who think God talks to them can sometimes have trouble distinguishing reality from delusion. This seems to have happened to Neale Donald Walsch, author of the popular series “Conversations With God.” He says he's been telling a heartwarming story about his son in a kindergarten Christmas pageant for so many years that he didn't realize that he'd stolen the story from Candy Chand, who published her story in 1999. Walsch would still be telling the story if he hadn't posted it on Beliefnet.com and got caught. Walsch is claiming this is a case of cryptomnesia, but Chand isn't buying it. According to the New York Times:

Except for a different first paragraph in which Mr. Walsch wrote that he could “vividly remember” the incident, his Dec. 28 Beliefnet post followed, virtually verbatim, Ms. Chand’s previously published writing, even down to prosaic details like “The morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in ten minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor, and sat down.”

Chand's essay was published in "Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul." I think we should pray for them both.

In case you're curious, the story had something to do with a kid in a line of kids holding up letters. The kid held the letter 'm' upside down. It looked like a 'w' and the line of kids spelled out "Christ was love" instead of "Christmas love." It chokes me up just writing about it.

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About harm

It is difficult to assess the harm done to society and the world at large by the spread and encouragement of anti-scientific, irrational, and magical thinking. It is also difficult to measure the extent of harm done to individuals and their families who give up thinking for themselves to follow some guru astrologer, psychic, or cult leader.

It is impossible to calculate the losses to those bilked because they are ignorant of basic logical and psychological principles. Even so, Tim Farley gives it his best shot.

For those cancer patients who are thinking of trying an untested alternative therapy, please read Dr. Stephen Barrett's A Special Message for Cancer Patients Seeking "Alternative" Treatments.

Read this book and you will wonder no more about the harm done by false beliefs


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