What one of the anti-vaccination movement’s least favorite doctors discovered about Jesus
This afternoon I saw this article which appeared in the Washington Post. It is the story of a doctor, Paul Offit, who was saddened at the detrimental impact of certain religious beliefs. He saw five children die within 10 days during an outbreak of measles in 1991.
At the center of the epidemic were children who were unvaccinated in accordance with their parents’ radical brand of Christian belief.
Having seen this he had sympathy for ‘new atheist’ writings of authors like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. He wrote a book, ‘Bad Faith: how religious belief undermines modern medicine’.
“Bad Faith” is full of stories of needless deaths: the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses dying for lack of a blood transfusion, the children of Christian Science believers dying for lack of antibiotic treatment and the infants of ultra-Orthodox Jews dying or suffering brain damage after being infected with herpes from unsanitary ritual circumcision.
Offit began to write assuming that religion ‘should be left behind’. At one level here I tend to agree with him, for there are certain forms of ‘religious’ practices which are dangerous and foolish. If these were the types of behaviour that characterised and defined all religious belief then I think the call to leave all religion behind would have some merit.
Yet Offit began to read the Bible and investigated the history of Christians’ work in child welfare and health care and he began embracing religious teachings! His comments on children are fascinating,
Offit said that Jesus’ advocacy on behalf of children, who were treated as property in the ancient Greco-Roman context, moved him “to the point of tears.” He referred to Christianity as “the single greatest breakthrough against child abuse” in history.
He correctly identified that, “Historical expressions of care for the sick were aligned with “the religion of Jesus.” He has little patience for Christian practices (“religion about Jesus”) that place children in harm’s way by pitting modern medicine against faith.”
Crucially Offit identifies that not all religions’ are the same and that there are some expressions of “Christianity” which are clearly in tension and opposition with Jesus himself,
Those who insist that medical treatment is unnecessary “because Jesus is my doctor” are promoting ideas antithetical to Jesus’s values, he said. Offit has not converted to Christianity, but he has newfound respect for the religion that motivated people to abolish slavery and establish the Red Cross.
I find this conclusion compelling. There is great consistency between Jesus’ words and actions and his legacy in his followers. There are some “followers” who act antithetically to Jesus and this gives a test for genuine Christianity and ‘hypocrisy’. This is also one of the ways in which Jesus has changed the world.
I also find myself in complete agreement with Offit’s conclusion that that religious exemptions to vaccinations — and the freedom for parents to refuse medical treatment on behalf of their children — should not be allowed. I think his assessment that this is ““not much different from child sacrifice,” is a powerful and accurate way of describing the practice.
I found Offit’s reflections on Jesus and the history of Christianity fascinating and refreshing. He isn’t a Christian believer, but he certainly sees that Jesus welcomed and loved the little children.