Death By Memetic Infection

By now you have probably heard the tragic story of young Madeline Neumann, a home-schooled girl who died of easily remediable diabetic ketoacidosis because her parents thought it better to pray for her recovery than to seek medical treatment. Her mother, who says that said that she and her family “believe in the Bible and that healing comes from God”, is making the best of a bad situation:

“We are remaining strong for our children,” Leilani Neumann said. “Only our faith in God is giving us strength at this time.”

This is criminally insane. Read the story here.


  1. JK says

    I read this earlier in the day, and I was reminded of something from my youth. During my elementary years I can recall my parents distress at my unnecessarily losing a classmate.

    It is criminal. However I must differ with its being insane, to a degree. There is the legal doctrine of “not guilty by reason of insanity.” So long as this permutation is not allowed, I’d be prepared to accept your description.


    Posted March 28, 2008 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  2. JO says

    Criminally insane would mean that they did not have the mental faculties to determine that their acts were dangerous and not aware that they could result in death.
    I think they chose not to use medical attention and were quite aware that their child was sick. Did they know this would end in death?
    I think they see this as “God’s” decision and death could be the verdict.

    Therefore, in our legal system they should be guilty of not preventing a death which in many states is criminal negligence.

    One more note, if the system allowed for them to be criminally insane, then the other children would be removed from this situation permanently(most states). I have no tolerance for endangering children when help is available. Find them insane and let them deal with their own god’s retribution.

    Posted March 30, 2008 at 5:59 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Hi JO,

    I didn’t really mean that I thought the criminal justice system would find them insane in a legal sense. I meant that this is clearly criminal, and that for religion to be able to take such a virulent form in 21st-century America just seems like what the movie announcer might call “a world gone mad”.

    Had they been praying to Odin, or some god of their own imagining, indeed they would have been seen as bonkers by all, but in this case what happened was just that they took a perfectly acceptable ‘mainstream’ religion — though one no more reasonable, or supported by any better evidence than belief in the Norse gods — just a bit too far.

    Indeed, given that most folks in America like to supplement treatment of serious illnesses and injuries with prayers to God, it does seem strange, when you think about it, that they bother with conventional medicine at all. It seems to me that if you have The Creator Of All That Is managing your case, prescription drugs and surgical interventions are really rather superfluous, no? Are they thinking that God really wants you to get over that mitral-valve prolapse or subdural hematoma, but just can’t quite manage it on His own? Or that God is counting up, American-Idol style, the number of people who are voting for little Janie to beat that sarcoma?

    So really, if you buy into the petitioning-God-with-prayer thing at all, the Neumanns are looking, if not sane, at least consistent.

    Posted March 30, 2008 at 10:49 pm | Permalink
  4. JK says

    Uh… Malcolm,

    Admittedly, I’m not precisely on point (en’ point) where JO is coming from. But I seem to see a more appreciative sense of the legal system than I have expressed. I did see however that the parents were charged (3/30/08) with “negligent homicide” in their jurisdiction.

    As to, “Did they know this would end in death?
    I think they see this as “God’s” decision and death could be the verdict.

    Therefore, in our legal system they should be guilty of not preventing a death
    which in many states is criminal negligence.”

    For me this is akin to an argument at the gas station. “Sir, come out here and look at my gas cap, it say’s plainly, Regular Only I certainly would not put Premium in my car. Therefore you cannot charge me the 25 cents/gallon extra.”

    Yes. the gas cap has printed (for the sake of argument I ignore that the gas cap has not likely “said” anything) Regular Only however the meter indicates that $50.00 of Premium was pumped.

    Purposefully avoiding the god hierarchical thing, I (standing in for the poor schmuck getting $5.50/hour) rejoins “The meter shows this!”

    Do I then have recourse to call the cops when the pumper hands me two twenties for the metered $50.00 and drives off?


    Posted March 31, 2008 at 1:59 am | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    Well, we all know that you cannot petition the Lord with prayer. At least, that’s what I heard when I was back in seminary school.

    The parents were indicted today for manslaughter and mistreatment:

    Posted March 31, 2008 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Hi Peter,

    Actually what they were saying back there, if I recall correctly, was that you can petition the Lord with prayer. Check your lyrics.

    Thanks for the link. What a depressing story.

    Posted March 31, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  7. the one eyed man says

    Well, you could parse it differently (there was “a person” who thought you could petitiion the Lord, but the Lizard King felt differently), but I’m not a strict constructionist when it comes to Doors lyrics. I say: interpretation of Doors lyrics ought to evolve with the times, and not be stuck forever in the original text.

    Hence it’s no surprise that they were prescient enough to offer the Bush White House advice about how to resolve the mess with the former Chief Counsel (the time to hesitate is through / no time to wallow in the Miers).

    Posted March 31, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  8. Dharmabums says

    An atheist professor of philosophy speaks to his class on the problem science has with God, The Almighty. He asks one of his new students to stand and…..

    Prof: So you believe in God?
    Student: Absolutely, sir.
    Prof : Is God good?
    Student: Sure.
    Prof: Is God all-powerful?
    Student : Yes.
    Prof: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to God to heal him.
    Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But God didn’t.
    How is this God good then? Hmm? (Student is silent.)
    Prof: You can’t answer, can you? Let’s start again, young fella. Is God
    Student: Yes.
    Prof: Is Satan good?
    Student: No.
    Prof: Where does Satan come from?
    Student:From…God.. .
    Prof: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?
    Prof:Evil is everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything. Correct?
    Student: Yes.
    Prof: So who created evil?
    (Student does not answer.)
    Prof: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible
    things exist in the world, don’t they?
    Student:Yes, sir.
    Prof: So, who created them?
    (Student has no answer.)
    Prof: Science says you have 5 senses you use to identify and observe the
    world around you. Tell me, son…Have you ever seen God?
    Student: No, sir.
    Prof: Tell us if you have ever heard your God?
    Student: No, sir.
    Prof: Have you ever felt your God, tasted your God, smelt your God?
    Have you ever had any sensory perception of God for that matter?
    Student: No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.
    Prof: Yet you still believe in Him?
    Student: Yes.
    Prof: According to empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol,
    science says your GOD doesn’t exist.
    What do you say to that, son?
    Student: Nothing. I only have my faith.
    Prof: Yes. Faith. And that is the problem science has.
    Student: Professor, is there such a thing as heat?
    Prof: Yes.
    Student: And is there such a thing as cold?
    Prof: Yes.
    Student: No sir. There isn’t.
    (The lecture theatre becomes very quiet with this turn of events.)
    Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega
    heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called
    cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go
    any further after that. There is no such thing as cold . Cold is only a word we use to describe
    the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy . Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it .

    (There is pin-drop silence in the lecturetheatre.)

    Student: What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?
    Prof: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?
    Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You
    can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light…..But if you have no
    light constantly,you have nothing and it’s called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness
    isn’t. If it were you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?
    Prof: So what is the point you are making, young man?
    Student: Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.
    Prof: Flawed? Can you explain how?
    Student: Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is
    life and then there is death, a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the
    concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science
    can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has
    never seen, much less fully understood either one.To view death as the opposite of
    life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive
    thing. Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it.

    Now tell me, Professor.Do you teach your students that they evolved from a
    Prof: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of
    course, I do.
    Student: Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?
    (The Professor shakes his head with a smile, beginning to realize where
    the argument is going.)
    Student: Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and
    cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching
    your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher? (The class is in
    Student: Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s
    (The class breaks out into laughter.)
    Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain,
    felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to
    the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science
    says that you have no brain,sir.
    With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?
    (The room is silent. The professor stares at the student, his face
    unfathomable. )
    Prof: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.
    Student: That is it sir… The link between man & god is FAITH . That is all
    that keeps things moving & alive.

    NB: I believe you have enjoyed the conversation. ..and if so…you’ll
    probably want your friends/colleagues to enjoy the same…won’t you?….
    this is a true story, and the student was none other than…….. ..

    APJ Abdul Kalam ,
    the former president of India ..

    True story

    Posted March 31, 2008 at 10:56 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Thank you, “Dharmabums”, for a splendid example of exactly the sort of mechanism that religions have long ago perfected for their self-defense. First a pompous and detestable straw man is erected, then an oleaginous mixture of vague mumbo-jumbo and outright nonsense is applied, and finally a ringing and uplifting, but breathtakingly vapid summation is given: in this case, that faith is “all that keeps things moving and alive”. What mindless poppycock.

    Please, sir, if you wish to discuss these matters with our thoughtful and intelligent readers, don’t lead off with such long-winded and patronizing rubbish; we are not children here. Or go and peddle your snake oil elsewhere.

    Posted April 1, 2008 at 12:14 am | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    While you may regard religion as “snake oil” and “poppycock,” I am eager to hear what your reaction is to the following statistic in this week’s Economist, based on how different groups describe themselves as being content with their lives:

    “Married, religious people are more likely than secular singles to be happy. … Secular liberals are as likely to say they are “not too happy” as to say they are very happy (22% to 22%). Religious conservatives are ten times more likely to report being very happy than not too happy (50% to 5%). Religious liberals are about as happy as secular conservatives.”

    The piece also states that “American conservatives have been consistently happier than liberals for at least 35 years,” which is surprising due to their markedly inferior sex lives. Also surprising because, as the article notes, you can’t ascribe liberal anguish to the aftermath of seven years of George Bush.

    You could say that belief in all of this poppycock and snake oil makes people happy but credulous and naïve. John Stuart Mill said that it is better to be Socrates satisfied than a pig dissatisfied. I’m not so sure. If I had to choose between being Homer Simpson and Soren Kierkegaard, I think I’d choose Homer. Same with religion. If it is something which gives people solace and makes them happy, who cares if it is based on something other than scientific fact?

    Posted April 1, 2008 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    I am not saying that all religion is necessarily “snake oil” and “poppycock”; I was referring to the facile presentation offered above.

    As far as I am concerned anyone is welcome to pursue happiness as they wish — through religious fantasies, drugs, autoerotic asphyxia, or whatever does the job — as long as it doesn’t interfere with the well-being of others. In the case mentioned in this post, this family’s preposterous religious delusions directly resulted in the death of an innocent child.

    My pointing out this horrifying fact was answered by a condescending and simple-minded pantload of idiotic drivel. It seemed altogether fitting and proper for me to express my disapproval.

    Posted April 1, 2008 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    By the way, Peter, wasn’t the pig the satisfied one?

    Posted April 1, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  13. the one eyed man says

    Whoops. Right you are. Satisfied pig, dissatisfied Socrates.

    Maybe the better way to tie everything together from the Greeks to the Simpsons would be to have used Aristotle as an example. Hence the Rembrandt painting: Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.

    Posted April 1, 2008 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Well, as I recall, many years ago Aristotle Onassis was thinking of buying a house that Buster Keaton had previously lived in, and there was a headline that said “Aristotle Contemplating Home of Buster”.

    But we digress.

    Posted April 1, 2008 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

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