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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

21 May 2011. Persistent Infant Deaths Reported in Idaho Faith-Healing Church Peaceful Valley Cemetery in Canyon County, Idaho, has a high number of children buried there. This may be because members of the Followers of Christ Church believe exclusively in faith healing and do not seek medical attention for their children when they are ill.

1 April 2011. Afghans angry at Quran burning kill 7 at UN office Afghans angry over the burning of a Quran at a small Florida church stormed a U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan on Friday, killing seven foreigners, including four Nepalese guards. In a related story Pastor of church that burned Koran calls Afghan mob killings 'very tragic' After first promising to not burn the Koran, Florida Pastor Terry Jones sat as judge at a 'trial' for the holy book last month. The Koran was 'found guilty and a copy was burned.' The Dove World Outreach Center is a small nondenominational church in Florida. Its online store sells T-shirts, ball caps and coffee mugs with the phrase "Islam is of the devil."

29 March 2011. Tanzanian 'miracle' pastor Mwasapile calls for a break Local media report that about 52 people have died while waiting to see him....Belief in magic and the powers of traditional healers are widespread in Tanzania. Some witchdoctors say that the body parts of people with albinism are effective when making magic charms, leading to the killing of dozens of albinos in recent years. In 2009, the government outlawed all witchdoctors and traditional healers

23 March 2011. Roommate of mom charged in tot's death The former roommate of a woman charged with killing her 3-year-old son and carrying around his dead body for almost a year has been arrested and charged with multiple counts for her alleged role in the crime, which she described to police as an exorcism.

18 Mar 2011. Mom's Exorcism on Daughter Ends in Evil "A 3-year-old Massachusetts girl is dead after her mother says God told her to shove a rose down the toddler's throat to exorcise her demons. Only later Dora Tejada, 26, said she realized the rose she was shoving down her daughter's throat was actually her fist, and the devil bit it."

30 Jan 2011. Abuse Case Sparks a Clash Over Limits of Tough Parenting Russian immigrants in Salem, Oregon, regularly beat their children and justify it by citing the Bible. The state's position is that their religious faith does not give them the right to abuse their children. The Russian Christians believe the state is destroying families because of their faith. Oleksandr and Lyudmila Kozlov and have been sentenced to seven years in prison for abusing their seven children (ranging in age from newborn to 15 years) into foster care. The couple has been stripped of most parental rights.

Oregon is now home to about 150,000 evangelical Christians from the former Soviet Union. They were able to emigrate to the U.S. under the same law designed to help Soviet Jews escape religious persecution. The group, which hails largely from the Ukraine, subscribes to a literal interpretation of the Bible, including corporal punishment.

28 Jan 2011. Massage therapist died after spiritual ceremony Laura Thornton, 32, of Salthill, Co. Galway, travelled to Africa to take part in a spiritual initiation ceremony involving a shaman, or traditional healer. She died after consuming iboga, a 'holy' root plant that was being used as part of the ritual. She was a renowned tennis and squash player.

In other African news: Funeral for Uganda gay rights activist David Kato Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda, and can be punished by 14-year prison sentences. An MP recently tried to increase the penalties to include the death sentence in some cases. The Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug) group said Mr Kato had been receiving death threats since his name, photograph and address were published by Rolling Stone (Uganda) last year.

13 Jan 2011. Dad's arrest in sex case results in $1.8M settlement Three years ago police in West Bloomfield, Michigan, arrested a man and accused him of raping his autistic daughter. The charges were based on the testimony of a woman practicing facilitated communication. The child can't speak but the faciliator, a school aide, reported that the 14-year-old autistic girl, who can't speak and functions at the level of a 2-year-old, was telling her that her father began raping her when she was 7 and her mother stood by. There was no physical evidence the girl had been assaulted. Recently the township's insurance carrier agreed to pay Julian and Thal Wendrow $1.8 million to settle a wrongful-arrest suit.

9 Jan 2011. New search for Mary Boyle's remains Six-year-old Mary Boyle disappeared on March 18th, 1977, while on a St Patrick’s day visit to her grandparents at Cashelard. An Irish country singer has hired a Danish psychic to look for her remains, wasting gardai time and digging up old wounds and rubbing them with superstitions.

The 84-year-old psychic came up dry, but he is sure the remains are in a swamp.

4 Jan 2011. Pakistani governor opposing blasphemy law killed The governor of Pakistan's wealthiest and most populous province was shot dead in the capital Tuesday by one of his own guards, who later told interrogators that he was angry about the politician's stance against the country's blasphemy law....The law effectively orders death for anyone convicted of insulting Islam. The assassin is not condemned, however, but praised in Pakistan.

30 Dec 2010. Police Arrest 5 in Danish Terror Plot A group of men arrested in Denmark on Wednesday were about to mount a “Mumbai style” attack on the Danish newspaper that ignited Muslim fury around the world by publishing satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.

29 Dec 2010. Broken Arrow woman who relied on faith healing charged with neglect after son dies Untreated diabetes can be deadly.

7 Dec 2010. The churches, the children and 2 dozen deaths Since 1971, nearly two dozen Philadelphia children from faith-healing families have died of preventable illnesses, according to Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty Inc. (CHILD). All of the children came from families that worshiped at either First Century Gospel Church or Faith Tabernacle Congregation....
update 11 Dec 2010. The Pennsylvania parents who turned to prayer instead of medicine as their son died of bacteria pneumonia were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. The father blamed the devil for his son's death and thinks whatever happens is the will of God.*
update 2 Feb 2011. The Philadelphia couple was sentenced to ten years probabation and required to promise to seek medical care for their remaining seven children. Good luck. Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Engel Temin said that, as adults, the couple is entitled to follow church teachings shunning medicine, which is seen as a lack of faith in God. But the law says parents may not make that decision for their children. "The welfare of the child is more important than the religious freedom of the parents," Temin said. So why are these parents still entrusted with the lives of seven children?

7 Dec 2010. Pakistan mother denied presidential pardon for 'insulting Islam' A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country's blasphemy law.

5 Dec 2010. A dozen killed in Haiti cholera witch-hunt At least a dozen people have been lynched, stoned to death, or murdered with machetes in Haiti in a misguided witch-hunt for evil voodoo practitioners accused of spreading cholera.

3 Dec 2010. Ghanaian woman burned to death for being a 'witch' A 72-year-old Ghanaian woman has been burned to death on suspicion of being a witch, prompting condemnation from the country's human rights groups.

Ama Hemmah was allegedly tortured into confessing she was a witch, doused in kerosene and set alight. She suffered horrific burns and died the following day.

Belief in witchcraft is relatively common in Ghana but there was widespread revulsion at the killing.

2 Dec 2010. Exorcism rapist locked up for 11 years In Tin Shui Wai (Hong Kong), 53-year-old Chow Kam-wah, a delivery worker for a recycling company, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for raping a 19-year-old girl who has a learning disability. Chow told the girl he was a spiritual master and could exorcise her demons if she had sex with him. Judge Judianna Barnes Wai-ling berated Chow for preying on the girl's ignorance and superstitious beliefs.


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* AmeriCares *

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.

faith healers

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

breaking their will book cover

maltreatment of children under the cloak of religion can never be justified and should not be tolerated

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