A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

What's the harm? No. 7

These links and comments illustrate the harm done by occult, paranormal, pseudoscientific, and supernatural beliefs. The harm may be tangible and easily documented: physical, financial, or interpersonal.

September 19, 2007. An Australian naturopath who bought his doctorate from a Sri Lanka diploma mill has been charged with manslaughter in the death of a 37-year-old kidney patient. Jeffrey Dummett's natural detoxification program took 11kg off his patient in 10 days and hastened the patient's death, according to the prosecutor. (Read more about the Sri Lanka diploma mill for alternative degrees here.)

September 14, 2007. Faith-based engineering activists have managed to get the Indian government to withdraw a report that called into question the existence of Lord Rama. According to the BBC, the report, presented to the Supreme Court last Wednesday, evoked outrage from some hard-line Hindus who oppose a shipping canal project that would destroy a "bridge" they believe was constructed by Rama and a band of monkeys. Scientists attribute the formation of Lord Ram's Bridge to natural forces. The central issue in the objection to the report had nothing to do with the environmental impact of destroying the "bridge." What outraged the protesters was the report's claim that the belief about the bridge's construction was based the Ramayana epic, a mythological set of stories for which there is no evidence that its characters even existed, much less that they performed the actions depicted. True believers set up road blocks around the country and disrupted train service to express their contempt for the challenge to their faith.

September 6, 2007. Nepal Airlines officials sacrificed two goats in front a plane that had been grounded because of mechanical problems.* It is still common in many cultures to kill animals according to some ancient ritual formula that was designed to appease gods or devils. The goats were killed to appease Akash Bhairab, a Hindu sky god. One blogger called this faith-based aircraft maintenance. Whatever else we might say about prayer, it represents progress and is an advancement over human and animal sacrifice as a form of superstition.

August 7, 2007. A 70-year-old Tunisian woman was killed in an exorcism ritual at her home in Lyon, France. Two women were arrested, the victim's adoptive daughter and a friend she met during a stay in a psychiatric ward. Apparently, the women suffocated the old lady with a scarf and plastic bag in their efforts to "trap the devil."

August 4, 2007. In Phoenix, Arizona, 49-year-old Ronald Marquez died after being shot twice with a Taser gun by police who responded to a call and found Marquez barricaded  in a bedroom and choking his 3-year-old granddaughter as part of an exorcism. A relative had called the police, who also found the little girl's mother, Marquez's 19-year-old daughter, bloody and naked in the room. The exorcism victim is expected to recover.

Meanwhile, in Monroe County, Indiana, 22-year-old Eddie Uyesugi, a pastor in training at Cherry Hill Christian Church, is accused of doing an exorcism on a 14-year-old autistic boy. Uyesugi told the boy's mother he could cure her son of autism by prayer and casting out demons. The would-be minister is accused of beating the boy over a period of eleven hours and of sticking his fingers down his throat, causing him to vomit.

Pastors at Cherry Hill Church told police that they teach how to cast out demons but that their methods don't include violence. Uyesugi, who says he was just trying to restrain the boy, was removed  from the parsonage.

update: A year-and-a-half later the trial has started. The minister trainee still maintains that he was just trying to restrain the boy. He's charged with battering the boy for about eleven hours.

update: May 22, 2009. Uyesugi is sentenced to six months house arrest and is ordered to perform 400-hours of community service.

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* AmeriCares *

The Skeptic's Shop

About harm

It is difficult to assess the harm done to society and the world at large by the spread and encouragement of anti-scientific, irrational, and magical thinking. It is also difficult to measure the extent of harm done to individuals and their families who give up thinking for themselves to follow some guru astrologer, psychic, or cult leader.

It is impossible to calculate the losses to those bilked because they are ignorant of basic logical and psychological principles.

For those cancer patients who are thinking of trying an untested alternative therapy, please read Dr. Stephen Barrett's A Special Message for Cancer Patients Seeking "Alternative" Treatments.

Read this book and you will wonder no more about the harm done by false beliefs


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