Of course, child sacrifice should horrify us. But the fact that it still exists, and is making headlines in a number of states, should not really surprise us. After all, the notion of using the life of one’s child to prove the depth of one’s faith and commitment is present in virtually all of the world’s religious and political traditions. The followers of all three Abrahamic faiths flirt with this tradition in numerous ways including the foundational stories of the “binding of Isaac” in Genesis, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael in the Qur’an, and the entire story of Jesus which celebrates a “father” who offers “his only begotten son” on the cross.
Similar stories can be found in other religious traditions as well, and writing this on Memorial Day reminds me that politics is just as effective as religion in mobilizing nations to prove their commitment to a cause by sacrificing young men and women to implement the policies of their elders.
Since I believe that some wars do need to be fought, I can accept this. But we should not pretend that the impulse to celebrate the loss of children “who made the ultimate sacrifice” is foreign to any of us. In fact, our distancing ourselves from this question actually empowers and protects those who respond to it in the most grotesque ways. The real question is what do we do with that impulse, the impulse to offer those people we love most for the ideas we love most?
Clearly, the parents of children like Leilani Neumann and Daniel Hauser have decided that murdering their children to honor their faith is the way to go. But they are just the tip of the iceberg. From coast to coast, thousands of kids are in danger because of the fanatical faith of their parents.
In Oregon for example, there is a cemetery filled with the graves of 80 youngsters whose families decided to let them die because their faith forbids modern medicine. It’s going on all over the country and there is a word for it, murder.
Parents are murdering their kids and the really disturbing part is not so much that they are doing it, but that they are getting away with it. Why? Because we let them. That’s right, us. And our culpability is the real story here.
It’s easy to go on about how sick and wicked these parents are, but the real story here is how nice people like you and me tolerate a situation in which, according to the law in as many as 45 states (the statute is debatable in a few) parents who withhold standard-of-care medical treatment for curable illnesses from their kids are not criminally culpable in the deaths of those children. Talk about freedom of religion having run amok!
Freedom of religion does not include parents’ rights to make irreversible decisions which contradict the best medical information that we possess, about the lives of their children. I agree that the last thing we need is government regulation of our spiritual lives. But when we are dealing with kids who can not make decisions for themselves, the government does have a role in assuring these children a safe passage into adulthood, when they can do so.
Better laws alone, will not end the phenomenon of parents murdering their kids for God. But assuming our full measure of responsibility for having a legal system which holds such parents fully accountable will help. Most importantly, it will move us from a culture of complaint about “those people” to a culture of activism on behalf of the young victims of fanatical faith. And if this really is about our genuine concern for these children, nothing could be more important.