Monday, March 15, 2010

Woman dies from trying to get too close to God

I mean, I know it's nothing new and exciting, but it's always important to remember these kinds of things when people say that religious beliefs, even if practiced nonviolently, don't ever harm people.

The entire article is here, but I just want to show you a couple direct quotes from the article:

1. "The Polk County Sheriff's Office says it appears she died because of the fast. Deputies don't plan to file charges because they believe she fasted willingly and her family said she was mentally sound, Sheriff Grady Judd said."

I don't think it's usual for mentally sound people to starve themselves to death. Unless there are other factors going on, that make otherwise rational people do irrational, potentially harmful things...

2. "On Friday, her death baffled family members, Bartow residents and religious scholars."

Really? Baffled religious scholars? Maybe they missed the part where the Bible encourages starving yourself as a holy activity.

3. "Even Judd was surprised that a common religious practice went bad. 'I'm a god-fearing man, and I can tell you, God doesn't intend you to fast yourself to death,' he said."

What? Who has ever heard of religious practices going bad (potential rant)? But I'm glad that Judd here can tell me that God doesn't want his creation to starve themselves to death on his account. But in his holy wisdom he did manage to make it pretty confusing when he mentions people fasting, without food or water, for 40 days and 40 nights at multiple times in the Bible, considering not drinking or eating for that long would kill just about anyone.

4. "Lots of religions use some act of starvation as a part of their spiritual process," said Kristen Swenson, who recently published a book about how the Bible affects today's culture. "But most religions stress the importance of maintaining health."

Yes, because starving yourself is a great way of maintaining health.

5. "Everyone is just wondering why he didn't check on her," said Sarah Lovelace, owner of a flower shop near the church. "It's the talk of the town."

Maybe because, in a religious society, starving yourself is considered a pious and admirable activity until someone dies from it.

Well, I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Fasting is one of the religious practices that bothers me the most. I mean, seriously:

What kind of God would want you to starve yourself on his behalf?

And, of course, the answer is the Christian one.

18 comments:

Jason said...

Just to be clear, not all fasting consists of "starving" yourself. There is also partial fasting. Maybe that's why you see it as such a pernicious practice.

It seems most religions incorporate fasting, not just Christianity.

And there are also contexts other than religion for fasting.

Medical (thought not prolonged): "Fasting is often indicated prior to surgery or other procedures that require anesthetics."

Political: "Fasting is often used as a tool to make a political statement, to protest, or to bring awareness to a cause. ... In British India, the political and religious leader Mahatma Gandhi undertook several long fasts as political and social protests. Gandhi's fasts had a significant impact on the British Raj and the Indian population generally."

Via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting

It really does seem like the practice just went wrong. Not sure how much religion is to blame in the way you're trying to do. Lots of people fast for religious reasons without suffering any negative consequences.

We also shouldn't forget the anorexic women that "fast" because of the negative effect of images of women in the media. I would argue that that's a far greater problem than people dying from fasting for religious reasons.

Edward Clint said...

As a matter of self-survival all religions require measure that emotionally indebt its followers. Christianity is great at this because it features thought-crime. You offend god just by wanting something or thinking about something you can't not want/think. Thus, you have then offended god and need to seek forgiveness/atonement/compensation or whatever guilt-based contrition act applies. Some of these are fasting, self-beating (flagellants), giving money, confession, etc..,

Edward Clint said...

@jason

First I think it's great you posted about fasting next to a picture of you stuffing yourself with sugar. Nice. Anyway..

Not sure how much religion is to blame in the way you're trying to do.

When the sole reason is religious, I'd say religion is 100% to blame (barring the presence of mental illness such).

We also shouldn't forget the anorexic women that "fast" because of the negative effect of images of women in the media.

What has this to do with anything though? Anorexia is a behavioral disorder no one agrees is normal or healthy. Religion which turns out to be just as lethal sometimes is viewed as sane and normal. If we wiped out anorexia today we'd still have people killing themselves or their kids in the name of god. The problems are separate.

Debbie R. said...

There is partial fasting, and in my past Christian experience, it was the most common, but Christians get a special pat on the back for punishing themselves as much as possible to prove their faith. You might go "what a good Christian!" to someone who gave up soda for lent, but someone who fasted for forty days to prove their love for Jesus Christ? Everyone in the church knows how Godly that person is.

Some lovely quotes from Campus Crusade for Christ International's website:

"Fasting is the most powerful spiritual discipline of all the Christian disciplines. Through fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit can transform your life."

"So, I strongly advice you to drink plenty of liquids. Obviously, if God leads you to undertake an absolute fast [no solids or liquids], you should obey. If so, be certain, without doubt, that God is leading you."

"When it comes to making your final decision about what type of fast is right for you, the best advise I can give you is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. He will guide your heart and mind as to what is best for you."

The website is pretty careful about not making it seem as though they're recommending "starving" yourself, and gives helpful safety tips, but they clearly believe that 'absolute fasting' would be the height of a practice that will allow God to "transform your life". And people are afraid of the media telling girls to starve themselves just so boys will like them? This website tells girls that GOD will like them if they starve themselves. Oooh, but as long as you're talking to your imaginary friend the whole time, you'll be safe!

Edward Clint said...

@Debbie

Well it's no big deal if you do die because the Holy Spirit was guiding you because that just means God was calling you home. Exactly like a factory recall for a faulty accelerator. We can all agree such a person clearly had defective parts from the factory.

Glock21 said...

Ah... religion. Where listening to the voices in your head isn't crazy. Where starving yourself to death isn't interrupted by people who care about you because they want to respect your beliefs. Where all this can happen and people will consider you "mentally sound."

I haven't heard about a starvation case where it wasn't the result of someone else forcing it (parental neglect of babies, weirdos locking up victims in a cellar, etc). Add religion and suddenly in the most food abundant place on earth (where we even have problems with poor people suffering from obesity) there are people starving to death with food available right down the hall.

I'm sure it really helped her with her magic prayer wishes she took to her grave though.

Mentally sound.

Riiiiight.

Debbie R. said...

@ed

win-win scenario! social acceptance on earth if you live, and jebus for all eternity if you die! w00t! why don't us atheists get in on this deal...

Franklin said...

@Jason-

Just to be clear, not all fasting consists of "starving" yourself. There is also partial fasting. Maybe that's why you see it as such a pernicious practice.

I'm well aware that there are different types of fasting. I'm specifically talking about fasting within a religious context, and the reasons it is done. I thought that would be apparent.

It seems most religions incorporate fasting, not just Christianity.

While I don't disagree with this, I'm not sure how that's relevant.

And there are also contexts other than religion for fasting...

I'm aware of that there are other reasons to fast as well. But regardless of my opinion on those types of fasting, I still think that fasting to appease the Judeo-Christian God is dangerous and a useless practice. In political instances people are purposely harming themselves to take a stand and prove a point- here it is purely personal and accomplishes no greater good.

It really does seem like the practice just went wrong. Not sure how much religion is to blame in the way you're trying to do. Lots of people fast for religious reasons without suffering any negative consequences.

We also shouldn't forget the anorexic women that "fast" because of the negative effect of images of women in the media. I would argue that that's a far greater problem than people dying from fasting for religious reasons.


See what Ed said.

Jason said...

@Ed & Franklin:

"What has this to do with anything though? Anorexia is a behavioral disorder no one agrees is normal or healthy."

My point is that death through starvation happens in other non-Christian and non-religious contexts. I thought Franklin's focus on religion/Christianity was not very nuanced, and I think we should urge atheists to think more robustly and systemically.

As for anorexia, you're just not thinking clearly enough and are forgetting that it is the negative images of women in the media, which not enough people feel is not "normal or healthy," that compels women to develop this eating disorder, among others. We've also seen eating disorders spread to other countries as they've become industrialized and Western advertising has spread to them. Just like you claim to be the case for religion, these images are regarded as "normal or healthy," yet cause great harm.

But whatever.

Edward Clint said...

Jason

Franklin didn't need any "nuance". I never for a moment thought that Franklin was somehow blaming religion for any and all cases of fasting. You seem to think we all need to be told that. We don't. We aren't ignorant or mentally handicapped. You are implying we are, without any reason. It seems as if your reading comprehension is more limited than ours, as you are unable to correctly grasp the writer's meaning while others do.

re: anorexia. Let's say I agree with you 1000% the media is horrible and is causing this problem. Maybe it should be stopped and we should all be appalled etc etc but that has nothing whatsoever to do with religious fasting. These are separate problems and even if both need to be addressed, they are still both terrible problems. One caused by religion, one by the media but both problems.

Jason said...

@Ed:

I think you missed the last part of my last comment. I'll repeat it for you.

"But whatever."

Rachel Storm said...

I think that the correlation Jason was eluding to in this referencing anorexia is how, in these instances, images (read: religious images and negative body image propaganda that normalizes anorexic body-types), beliefs (read: those rooted in religious propaganda and those rooted in what Naomi Wolf would call the "beauty myth"), and lifestyle (religious practice as well as things like thinspo or ana-culture) all work to promote irrational behavior for proposed individual benefit (read: to obtain entrance into heaven or to obtain entrance into acceptable and praiseworthy standards of beauty--through which in a sexist culture women obtain their value).

I think, and Jason correct me if I'm wrong, that what he's trying to get at is that reducing the complexities of these issues to mere religion is limiting. I do agree that religion--in this instance--encouraged a woman to experiment with something extremely harmful that ultimately led to her end, but I also agree with religious folks that argue that fasting--if done properly--can be healthy.

In Islam and Buddhism, "fasting" means simply not eating when the sun is out. When the sun goes down, fast is broken. My ex-partner did his monk practice for three week and was only encouraged to eat figs and chocolate until a certain time of day. Rough, huh?

A friend of mine fasts every Tuesday as a meditation on self-control. She only drinks tea during daylight.

If you are menstruating, you are not expected to fast in Islam and can "make up" those days after Ramadan ends if you wish, but it's not required. If you are pregnant, you do not fast. If you are young or elderly, you do not fast.

I think these are wonderful examples of fasting that is mindful and a religious practice that examines health for health's sake. No where in these practices do I see a reason to starve yourself to death.

I read this woman's experience as pretty abhorrent. Though definitely a wonderful place to begin a discussion, I would not use this example myself to make any claims about religion as a whole, as a lifestyle, etc.

Franklin said...

Rachel-

It is becoming more and more apparent that you and Jason are misunderstanding what we are saying and thinking we are making claims we are not. Let's start here:

...reducing the complexities of these issues to mere religion is limiting.

We never claimed that Christianity, or even religion in general, is the only cause of these issues. But that doesn't mean that religion-related fasting suddenly isn't a practice that can cause harm and is problematic.

On the same note, none of us are arguing that people only fast for religious purposes, or that fasting is necessarily harmful, or that this example of fasting is the only kind of harmful fasting. I think both you and Jason tend to assume that we are making these broad generalizations when we are in fact not.

There is nothing you just said that I disagree with. We never made claims about religion as a whole- we're just saying that religion, in this case, caused an otherwise rational woman to kill herself. Not that religion always calls rational women to kill themselves, or that there aren't other ways women can kill themselves, or even that killing yourself is always necessarily a bad thing.

Whenever I post an article, I shouldn't have to pretend I'm talking to a three year old and say, "Just in case you didn't know, many other religions fast too! And sometimes people fast and don't die! And that there are other bad kinds of fasting too that are bad, like for people who have anorexia!"

Read the first sentence of my post, which stated the purpose of me posting the article. Then read your criticisms (and Jason's). All of your criticisms are based on claims that were never made.

Jason said...

@Franklin: Sorry. This is a result of my academic training, and likely Rachel's too, where we read much more critically and structurally than the average person, in addition to presenting things in a careful nuanced manner. The response we gave is pretty common in our circles, but I'll just hold my nose and leave you to your own standards, especially since you're not trained in this sort of thing anyway.

Franklin said...

that's fine- just realize in the future it's not necessary, as 99.99% of people won't read it the same way you guys are, and if you want to make criticisms make sure you can cite exactly what the basis for the criticisms are.

In short, these aren't academic papers. They're blogs.

Franklin said...

and in other news, it's my birthday!

Jason said...

Haha happy birthday. I'm still one of your fans. :)

Bob said...

Sorry to be late to the party,

This madness needs to stop and I am assigning myself as the arbiter who must find a wishy-washy middle ground of compromise and contradiction.

I think Jason's first point about religious fasting being so commonly practiced without health concerns is valid. It lends credibility to the idea that something may have been going on with this lady besides lent.

Debbie's Cru quote, however, is sort of golden in showing that there doesn't need to be any other factor to drive a person to hungry-hungry suicide.

The issue of death by fasting in general seems irrelevant. If cigarettes cause more cancer than tanning beds, that tells us nothing about tanning beds.

Jason, you may have posted the most condescending comment in blogosphere history - not very nuanced. Feel shame.

FrEDklint - (that name combo worked better than I would have imagined) The next post on the blog is just a passive aggressive personal attack. Feel Shame.

Finally for a nuanced argument: If we keep attacking each other personally, we are going to lose friends, become depressed and self-loathing, inevitably resulting in anorexia and death by fasting. What do we blame for these certain deaths, rational argument and constructive discourse?

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