Frederic C. Rich retired from one of the United States's largest law firms. He also found time to write a speculative fiction (by now, nearly alternative history) novel set in our time about the takeover, via election, of the United States by Christian dominionists and reconstructionists.
The author maintains a website with more information about the book and a list of questions for discussion. You can search for the book at your local independent book store or at a library near you.
While the book is alternative history, its pre-2008 public events and persons are real. Governor Sarah Palin, R. J. Rushdoony of the Chalcedon Foundation, Michael Harris of Patrick Henry College and the Home School Legal Defense Association, Doug Coe of The Family, Senator and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz (whom President Palin nominates to the Supreme Court in the book) and others are real people who have advocated dangerous policy choices. It's worth reading the book while connected to the Internet to learn about how close some of the changes described in the book are to reality.
The book draws heavily for inspiration from Hannah Arendt's writings, Lewis Sinclair's It Can't Happen Here and Chris Hedges's American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
The novel is not great literature, but it is worthwhile edutainment. It prompted lively discussion in the book club I attended. ...more
Dr. Offit reviews a series of incidents in which children died of treatable illnesses due to the pursuit of their guardians or parents of spiritual healing through supplication in lieu of standard medical practice. He then gives an interpretation of Christianity which rejects spiritual healing as a substitute for medicine. Then he provides an overview of the historically recent development of state protection of children from abuse by their parents and guardians. Finally, he discusses efforts to proscribe and punish parents and guardians who fail to provide standard medical care to the children in their care and resistance by some religious groups which led to religious exemptions to these anti-neglect laws.
The organization of the book makes for a logical progression to Dr. Offit's call for an end to all religious exemptions to laws designed to protect minors.
The variety of USA religious groups which rejected standard medical treatment in favor of supplications surprised me. And while I knew that most pre-progressive era law systems ignored abuse of guardians towards their children, I did not know anything about how that changed in the United Kingdom and the USA. I also didn't realize how important developments in radiology in the 1950s were to exposing child abuse.
Muslim bioethicists, health care practitioners and counselors/imams should read this book to understand better the dangers which occur on the periphery of alternative, holistic and spiritual treatment modalities. The Journal of the Islamic Medical Association of North America has published numerous articles exploring "Prophetic Medicine" and "Islamic Medicine," While most of these articles supported standard medical practice, they may not have expressed with Offit's urgency how easy it is for charlatans and con artists to prey on ignorant and vulnerable people in matters of religion and disease.
Some of the most valuable passages in the book are Offit's analysis of Larry Parker, who, after hearing a faith healer speak in his church, decided to stop administering insulin to his eleven-year old son Wesley, who died after several days of suffering. This analysis is based on published reports and the two books Parker has authored since his conviction, We Let Our Son Die and No Spin Faith: Rejecting Religious Spin Doctors. Parker may have suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, defined by the [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] as a "pervasive pattern of grandiosity, in fantasy or behavior, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy." When [Parker's pastor Nash] pleaded with the Parkers to take Wesley to the hospital, Larry said, "God has given me the faith." After Larry was arrested, he likened himself to Paul the Apostle. When Larry asked God to set him free from prison, God talked to him. When Larry wondered whether he should fast, God sent him a delicious helping of sweet potatoes. ... To Larry, God was like the CEO of his own personal "make a wish foundation," ready to reward his faithfulness whenever asked; like many believers in faith healing, he had presumed to know the mind of God. (pp. 55-6, emphasis in original) Imams and preachers need to steer people away from these kinds of temptations and misinterpretations, assuming the religious functionary hasn't succumbed to them himself/herself.
Another great point Offit makes about faith healers is that they tend to cling to some passages of scripture with their sectarian interpretation, but they don't use the same epistemology for other passages of scripture.
I came into the book extremely suspicious of government attempts to force healthy behavior. Offit's evidence that passage of laws did result in changes in behavior made me more open to this idea. It seems that ending religious exemptions to child neglect laws results in fewer people believing in faith healing without standard medical practice. Law establishes value.
Nevertheless, I'm still reluctant to imprison neglectful parents and strip them of guardianship of their surviving children. I wish there was a way for them to continue raising their children while ensuring that they receive standard medical treatment. In practice, this has proven difficult since many of these parents, while on probation which specifies standard medical treatment for their parents, continue to practice faith healing exclusively. Some of these parents have lost two or more children to preventable disease.
To me, the cases most calling for government intervention are those involving infectious diseases, where other children are placed at risk by the actions of faith-healing parents. Certain vaccines are not administered until children reach a certain age, and maintaining herd-immunity is important, as there will always be some children who are not vaccinated, either by choice of the parents, issues of access or contraindication.
While it may be outside the scope of his book, I think Offit neglects some of the structural reasons why faith healing remains popular. Large segments of the USA population can't afford standard medical care. Standard medical care doesn't have great results with some of our chronic diseases such as diabetes and dementia. Being on the patient side of standard medical care is often frustrating, disempowering and humiliating. So it's not far-fetched that adults are trying to treat their children outside the health system. The obvious retort to this is that the diseases which kill children are actually the ones which our health care system, with all of its flaws, actually does a good job addressing.
Another problem is the undermining of science by special interest groups and of government by oligarchy, as exposed by Cablegate, the Afghanistan war logs and the Panama Papers. People don't believe scientists and government officials when they say vaccines don't cause autism.
Finally, major segments of public and private education fail to provide students with the tools necessary to evaluate claims of faith healers and Ponzi schemers alike, although it should be noted that many educated and high-performing individuals follow them....more
Note that the author of this book is not this Ken Silverstein, who writes in energy industry publications.
If you care about the poor or the environment, be prepared to vomit in your mouth at nearly every other page of this account of the oil and other resource extraction industries.
Ken Silverstein devotes a chapter to each of the following categories of players in this woeful tragedy: the fixers, the dictators, the traders, the gatekeepers, the flacks, the lobbyists and the hustlers.
While varied dictatorial regimes from Africa and Asia figure throughout the novel, Silverstein profiled Teodorin Obiang, the heir apparent to Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the dictator of Equitorial Guinea.
Have you ever heard of Glencore? It makes mountains of money trading rights to exploit natural resources around the world.
Do you know George W Bush's torture consiglieri John Yoo (and here), who also happens to heartily approve of Barack Obama's warmongering? Before him there was Ronald Reagan's legal yes-man Bretton Sciaroni, who wrote memos explaining why it was legal for the United States government to aid the Contra terrorists killing Nicaraguans. Do these guys end up in prison or at the end of a noose like Nazi war criminals? Yoo is teaching at University of California - Berkeley, and Sciaroni, who talks with Silverstein without the slightest recognition of himself as a sleaze, is a potentate in Cambodia.
If you ever have the opportunity to throw your shoe at Tony Blair, do so with righteous anger. Before you read the chapter about him, you may want to have some inanimate object close by that you can destroy. At least write and perform a song about him.
Lest you think that resource extraction only impacts politics in the Third World, read the chapter on Louisiana. And think twice before voting for Bobby Jindal.
Silverstein ends with a humorous narration of the career of Neil Bush, the son of President George H.W. Bush and brother of President George W Bush. I guess you'll think it's funny if you find humor in the ability of USA blue-bloods to land in money no matter their incompetence.
The book does not offer solutions or best practices. The people interviewed in this book agree that there's simply too much money at stake to care about poor people or the environment.
A large question humanity must answer is whether capitalism can adapt to prevent destruction of our biosphere. This is the premise behind books like Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and E. O. Wilson's The Future of Life. These liberal environmentalists believe that market mechanisms can be adjusted to delay ecological collapse until technology or human consciousness solves the threats to our biosphere. Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything is more radical in its demand that our entire economic system needs revolutionary change.
Silverstein's book certainly takes the sparkle out of liberal environmentalists' proposals.
Silverstein makes excellent use of USA diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks. Consider supporting whistleblowers and the news outlets which publish material using the leaks.
I'm tweeting some of tidbits from the book under the hashtag #SecretWorldOfOil. Join the conversation....more
Professor Greenawalt's book examines different common claims made by parents, students and school employees that public schools have violated the FreeProfessor Greenawalt's book examines different common claims made by parents, students and school employees that public schools have violated the Free Exercise clause by interfering with their practice of religion.
The book's only mention of such a claim by a Muslim is a school teacher who wore hijab in violation of the district's clothing policy.
For some reason, I always thought that public schools had to accommodate religious requests provided they did not disrupt operations. I don't remember reading the term "accommodation" at all, and it does not appear in the index.
If you are concerned that religious claims are reducing the quality of public schools, you should read this book because it will help you understand why teaching evolution and science-based sex education is warranted.
I would also recommend this book to people who operate private schools. When discussing possible options to resolve objections to actions of public schools, one of the most common reasons for public schools to continue doing what they are doing is the lack of a good alternative. If the purpose of your private school is to "shield" children from general society, you'll find that your school's students, parents and employees are very likely to disagree with specific policies and you're back to choosing between "watering down" religion and marginalization of part of your school community. ...more