From The New York Times:
CHICAGO — A Wisconsin couple were sentenced to jail time on Tuesday for failing to seek medical attention for their ill daughter, renewing a debate in some circles over whether states should allow parents to practice spiritual treatments.
The parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, were ordered to spend 30 days in jail each year for the next six years and were placed on 10 years’ probation. Mr. Neumann, 47, and Ms. Neumann, 41, who live in Weston, in central Wisconsin, had been convicted of second-degree reckless homicide in August.
Their daughter, Madeline Kara Neumann, 11, died from untreated diabetes on March 23, 2008, the authorities said. When the girl became ill and could no longer walk or talk, her parents prayed for her instead of taking her to a doctor, prosecutors said.
This is not so much a discussion about religion, but rather a discussion about that volatile place where secular law and religion meet, and a little about religion.
I am not a particularly religious individual, and while there is an inherent respect in me for not only the religious beliefs of others, but for the right of some to question religion, my stance on the subject of faith and belief can be best summed up by some lines of dialogue from the movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons”.
On meeting the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church in his role as the acting head of State of Vatican city after the sudden death of Pope Pius XVI, Professor Robert Langdon and Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Carlo Ventresca in the novel) have the following exchange:
McKenna: Do you believe in God, sir?
Langdon: Father, I simply believe that religion…
McKenna: I did not ask if you believe what man says about God, I asked if you believe in God.
Langdon: I’m an academic. My mind tells me I will never understand God.
McKenna: And your heart?
Langdon: Tells me I’m not meant to. Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.
The first significant thing about this exchange is the deft way that the Camerlengo pushed aside the post-modern attempt at equating “God” with “religion”, or defining Him as a summation of the beliefs and actions of religionists, rather than as a real, existing entity, independent of the manipulations and machinations of men.
God is, independent of religion, God is.
The second thing about that exchange, and the point where it touches me in particular, is the description of faith as a gift yet to be received.
So here I sit, this yet-to-be-gifted man trying to make sense of this type of belief. The type of belief that allows you to stand by, and watch your 11 year-old child die from an undiagnosed, easily treatable disease, believing the entire time, that if God finds you worthy, or that child worthy, He will free her from the disease.
I think that the guilty verdict was correct, and the sentence generous in nature.
I do not for a moment believe that God expects anything less than a zealous stewardship of not only ourselves, but even more so of our children. That this visible, tangible gift of living flesh made from living flesh, is to be safeguarded to the fullest extent of not only our personal abilities, but via the full use of any all all technology available to us. And in that sense, the Neumanns failed to respect the true gift that had been bestowed upon them, the gift of a little girl they named Madeline Kara.
Secular law failed Madeline Kara as well.
“Faith is a gift I have yet to receive.”
This is the point where secular law must meet with religious beliefs, and religious freedoms. Secular law should have secured for Madeline Kara the ability to receive the gift of faith independent of her parents, as an adult sufficiently responsible to fully understand the breadth and scope of the decision to forgo medical treatment in exchange for prayer.
Madeline Kara simply believed whatever her parents told her to believe, as do most 11 year-old children believe whatever their parents tell them to believe. Mostly, she believed that nothing her parents would do could harm her. But harm her they did.
I am not saying that Dale and Leilani Neumann for one minute stop doing anything but loving their daughter. I am saying that in their actions they grievously abused their child, and neglected to be the zealous stewards of the living gift that was Madeline Kara.
I am saying that what they did had very little to do with God, and a lot to do with religion, and that secular law has a duty to interject itself into religion and protect the Madeline Karas of the world by buying them the opportunity to be the independent recipients of the gift of faith, and not the victim of the religious beliefs of their parents.
If we are to believe that The Holy Bible is what Christians believe it to be, and that Jesus of Nazareth is who Christians say that He is, then His words should be what guides every Christian parent in similar situations:
15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
By pointing out that those who are well have no need of a physician, Jesus is clearly saying that those who are sick have need of one, just as they who are sinners, have need of Him.
The Neumanns failed to tend to that which God giveth them, and for that, there is no Court on Earth that can render a proper judgment.