Discussion by: Simon Tuffen
Earlier this week, Richard Dawkins questioned whether a journalist could be taken seriously for believing in supernatural entities (specifically a winged horse capable of commuting between Heaven and Earth).
This simple question provoked outrage across the internet, with Richard being labelled, among other things, as "bigoted" and a "gratuitously unpleasant man". Many atheists in particular thought Richard's comments were indefensible. Some said they were even ashamed to be called atheists. Forums were full of heated discussion, with opinions sharply divided.
Today, we read that a couple who, like the journalist, also believe in the supernatural, are facing charges for allowing a second child to die because they allegedly relied on the supernatural power of prayer rather than medicine to cure the child's illness.
A quick skim through the underlying comments to the above article reveals no sign of a debate on this issue. The couple are overwhelmingly condemned. Why is this so? They believe in supernatural forces just like the respectable journalist whose beliefs were are urged to respect. They will have been told all their lives that believing in the supernatural is not only respectable, it is the highest moral achievement and it is outrageous even to question it. This belief will have been enforced throughout their lives by their whole society, by politicians, bishops, pastors, in fact, almost anyone they will have ever met.
However, they weren't really meant to believe this, were they? Only an idiot could really believe that prayer was a better cure than medicine.
This is what people forget when they urge us to respect supernatural beliefs: there ARE idiots in this world. There are also millions of people who are trapped by ignorance and fear that are enforced by their religious societies. This leads to terrible consequences, as appears to be the case with this child's death, as well as millions of other deaths, mutilations and general tyranny around the world.
Every person who claims to hold a supernatural belief, or who demands that we respect anyone's supernatural beliefs, or who claims that such beliefs are harmless, is guilty of this child's death. Probably more so than the parents, because they ought to know better. They are perpetuating this madness. It is NOT a game.