Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Armstrong and the Worthingtons

Karen Armstrong is fond of claiming that Christianity is about deeds of compassion rather than belief in tenets, and a local story provides a case in point, I gather. The story involves devoted, loving, caring Christian parents who watched their child die from a curable medical condition:

Carl Brent Worthington, 29, and Raylene Worthington, 26, are charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminal mistreatment. Their 15-month-old daughter, Ava. died March 2, 2008, of complications from pneumonia and a blood infection after multiple faith-healing sessions at her parents' home in Oregon City.
Standing around beseeching a storybook savior as your child wheezes her last is, I suppose, an instance of doing, but with whatever respect is due to Armstrong's scholarly glosses, I can't help but note the compound of deed and creed at its root.

The most charitable interpretation of the parents' actions here requires consideration of what they believe about the proper response to a sick child, since what they did is not in dispute. They believed, and apparently still do believe, that seeking treatment from doctors, nurses, hospitals, or any care provider other than Jesus is an affront to Jesus and inefficacious to boot, and they believed this so fervently as bet their daughter's life on it.

The child lost their bet.

So where does this leave Karen Armstrong? Will she be writing a column pointing out that the Worthingtons have Christianity all wrong, that they have made a "metaphysical mistake," that they are placing an "extraordinary and eccentric emphasis on 'belief'," one that has ill-served their understanding of compassion, or religion, or god, or whatever?

Equivocations and glosses aside, a child died. The only thing the Worthingtons have to exculpate themselves is a set of beliefs about what constitutes compassion in situations such as the one they faced. The beliefs they hold are at the center of it, and therefore the quality of the beliefs is at the center of it.

The Worthingtons should already have known that modern scientific medicine often succeeds and that prayer always fails. The Worthingtons have a right to their own quirky beliefs; they do not have a right to their own reality. Their child is actually dead, and they actually sat by and watched it happen.

2 comments:

Laura said...

The brand of Christianity to which I subscribed back in the day was probably very similar to theirs, and for these Christians, there is no down side. They believed they appealed to God and God said "No." Her sickness and death was God's will, and now she's with Him for all eternity. The child is not actually dead. They will see her when they die if they believe in the proper biblical interpretation of God.

As for Karen Armstrong, she doesn't address the problem of literal interpretations of religious texts. She lives in her woo-woo world of magical thinking.

Dale said...

Laura, interesting. Under such theologies, isnt grief over the death of a loved one a marker of failed or weak faith?

You're right about KA -- and overlooking that is something like overlooking slavery in a consideration of the history of African-Americans.