Cults are bad for your health

Cults kill. It’s really that simple. But different cults kill in different ways. It’s not just Jonestown and Killer Kool Aid (OK, Flav-r-Aid). The so-called mainstream cults that are particularly dangerous, because we tolerate them.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own brand of craziness. It’s not bad enough that they come to your door to annoy you in person, but they forbid their members life-saving medical interventions—for no good reason.

Christian Scientists decline medical care because some lady 150 years ago got better despite the interventions of 19th century quacks.

Then there’s Scientology. This is a particularly pernicious cult. It preys the most vulnerable—those least able to make rational decisions, and often denied access to health care—the mentally ill. Instead of offering real mental health care to those in need, they inculcate them into their cult, convincing them to avoid modern psychiatry, often with tragic results.

Look, I’ve got nothing against religion. I’m not religious, but I know it’s possible to be a rational thinker and still be a believer. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to be religious and avoid rational thought completely.

We often hear that “religious education belongs in the home”, a sentiment with which I’d agree. What’s less often said, but needs to be, is that critical thinking belongs in the classroom, even if it insults a family’s religions sensibilities. Kids need to learn to evaluate evidence and make good decisions. If this means they learn about evolution against their parents wishes, good. If it means they learn to doubt their parents beliefs on transfusions, that’s good too.

Religion can be comforting, uniting. But in the marketplace of scientific ideas, religion is bankrupt.