Monday, August 3, 2009

What Next In Wisconsin, A Suit Against God?

Is Madeline Neumann dead today because her parents did not take her to a doctor? Or is she dead because God did not answer her parents' prayers to heal her? The answer is both. But why are only the parents facing prison?

The problem of evil is one theologians just can't lick. Justifying the ways of God to man is hard work. In our talk-show world, we ask: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Ms. Neumann was 11-years-old when she died. She grew progressively more ill as her parents and neighbors stood around her, asking God to heal her. She lost the ability to walk, then she could not eat, then she could not talk or speak. When she stopped breathing, someone finally called 911. It was too late. Doctors say the child died of juvenile diabetes, and that is she had only been given insulin, she'd be alive now.

The State of Wisconsin has charged both parents with reckless homicide. Both have been convicted at separate trials. They each face 25 years in prison.

Mr. Neumann told jurors he did not take his daughter to the hospital because God has promised to heal, and taking her to doctors would be putting man before God. The Wisconsin state's attorney prosecuting the case calls Mr. Neumann "overwhelmed by pride." Neither Neumann nor the prosecutor inspire much faith in humanity.

Mr. Neumann, frankly, is a throwback to William Jennings Bryan and the days of the Scopes monkey trial. Sure, the man has a narrow, cramped, literalistic and foolish sort of commitment to each jot and tittle of the Bible. And he's darn tootin' if he'll let anyone stand between himself and the written word of God.

But the prosecutor looks far worse. What public purpose is served by trying to lock up mom and dad for what amounts to misplaced faith? Sure, the couple should have sought medical treatment for their daughter. They did expose her to risk of death. And the poor child died. But for all that, what the couple did hardly looks like a crime, unless gullibility and stupidity are crimes, in which case we are all from time to time guilty.

We burned witches at various points in prison. Now we lock up people whose only crime it is to believe in the efficacy of prayer. I am not sure how to strike a decent middle ground, but I nonetheless feel free to cry foul when the extremes are so vividly put on display. The case(s) of State v. Neumann are cruel, unusual and worthy solely of scorn. Shame on Wisconsin. What next, a writ against God for not answering the Neumann's prayers?