God as Mid-wife

I just caught a glimpse of the grotesque reality show (a redundancy, I know) “17 Kids and Counting,” which chronicles the “family values” of Arkansas evangelicals Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 17 children.  The segment I saw was shot during the final weeks of Michelle’s 18th pregnancy and included discussions of the medical precautions being taken to meet the obstetric challenge presented by a 40+ woman with 17 previous births.  The hospital and medical sequence concluded with Jim Bob announcing unctuously: “Ultimately, we’re just putting our faith in God,” or something to that effect. 

The heck he is.   I would love for once to see someone really put his faith in God and forego the fruits of centuries of patient scientific work based on empirical proof, not faith.  Jim Bob cloaks himself in the superior virtue of the pious, and yet his actions in seeking out the best medical advice and care are indistinguishable from a heathen secularist. 

One might say, “Well, what’s wrong with a belt-and-suspenders approach?  Take advantage of medical science, but it can’t hurt to throw in a little prayer as an extra insurance policy.”    What’s wrong is the implication when announcing your prayer policy that you are morally superior to those of us without such a policy, even as you behave (rationally and understandably) just like everyone else. 

The baby was delivered safely on December 18.  I can guess who will get the ultimate thanks.  It’s unlikely to be the unsung generations of empiricists who have triumphed over the childbirth mortality of mothers and infants, a condition that has been the human race’s God-given fate for most of history.

And another guess: in those countries still plagued by high rates of childbirth mortality, parents pray with as much fervor as any Arkansas congregation.

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23 Responses to God as Mid-wife

  1. Diogenes says:

    Wasn’t Bristol Palin due on that same day? Here’s hoping she avails herself of the same 1st-class medical know-how that delivered Duggar #18 without a hitch.

  2. Odie says:

    OMG. Yeah when my friend underwent emergency surgery the other day those damn Baptists at that “damn Baptist hospital” should have just effing prayed over her. Oh and that silly girl praying next to the CAT scan should have just skipped the scanner and prophesied the diagnosis.

    I mean its not as if any religiously funded institutions ever contributed to science!

    Wait a minute, never mind.

  3. A-Bax says:

    I almost respect Christian Scientists (what an ironic name!) for their refusal of blood transfusions and the like. Almost.

    At least they put their money where their mouth is vis a vis their supernatural commitments. They say “No, don’t need your fancy medicine, I’ll just do some praying and let the Lord’s will be done”. If it wasn’t for the fact that they put their children at risk, I’d look at them as a sort of natural experiment on the efficacy of faith and faith alone.

    Most other believers hedge their bets when they take advantage of *godless* scientific advances in medicine, as Heather points out. That they do not see this is sort of comical, if they weren’t so deadly serious in their attempts to thwart further scientific advancement. (And sanctimonious in asserting the moral high-ground with their supernatural stance, when it is the purely “natural” world-view that is pulling their bacon from the fire, so to speak).

  4. Jack Ely says:

    “The baby was delivered safely on December 18. I can guess who will get the ultimate thanks. It’s unlikely to be the unsung generations of empiricists…”

    I suspect Jim Bob and his wife will thank all the doctors from the bottom of their hearts. As for “ultimate thanks”, I suspect you are right in your implication that this will go to God because, in Jim’s view of things, God made the doctors and everything there is.

    As for the “unsung generations of empiricists”, if you would care to list them and send them to Jim Bob and his wife I suspect they’ll give thanks for them too.

  5. Kevembuangga says:

    While I am as a die hard atheist as one can be I regret that so many posts are “poking the beast” to no avail.
    It’s hopeless and since the most nutty opponents have been thrown into “moderation hell” it’s not even fun.
    I have no doubt that plenty of opportunities to bring the contradiction to the nutcases will show up during the debates about more centered topics, no need to fuel the fire on purpose.

  6. ◄Dave► says:


    …since the most nutty opponents have been thrown into “moderation hell” it’s not even fun.

    That is a really good point! Lilly is so sweet and articulate, I’d be more inclined to invite her to dinner than call BS on her assertions or try to disabuse her of her beliefs. I’d rather delve into political strategy for disempowering them; but if we are going to do straight up fundie bashing, give us a few that are a hoot to tie into knots.

    Hints are starting to be dropped on several threads. Perhaps when the “Contributors” return from celebrating Christmas… 🙂 they will post at least an occasional political thread to chew on. Then we can vote with our participation on which we prefer. ◄Dave►

  7. Cass Rice says:

    I understand Heather’s frustration with the seeming hypocrisy of religious people who condemn science yet demand the fruits of it when they need it..

    It’s frustrating to say the least. Like after a tornado when people thank God for sparing their homes (and destroying others??)


  8. Neuroskeptic says:

    “I suspect Jim Bob and his wife will thank all the doctors from the bottom of their hearts. As for “ultimate thanks”, I suspect you are right in your implication that this will go to God because, in Jim’s view of things, God made the doctors and everything there is.”

    A Calvinist is he?

  9. I am from the Ozarks and I grew up with Jim Bob and Michelle. Michelle used to “trust” God and have all of her children at home with a midwife. However, state law in Arkansas mandates that after 8 childbirths women must give birth in a Hospital. Were it not for that law I have no doubt that Michelle would be dead.

    Jim Bob and Michelle are not smart enough to know it, but their whole lifestyle wouldn’t be possible were it not for the marvels of modern medicine. Michelle doesn’t go into labor anymore and the delivery of her babies are all done by C-section now. The fact that she is alive is a testament to science and the wonderful bounty that knowledge gives us, but don’t expect those two to ever understand that.

  10. Ploni Almoni says:

    First of all, “we’re putting our faith in God” is not necessarily an implication of moral superiority. Some Christians believe that faith in God is always a result of an act of divine grace, remember?

    Second, the reason the couple doesn’t explicitly thank all the scientists and researchers of the last centuries is that the medical state of the art is a given. The scientists and medical researchers can be thanked just as well before the start of labor as after the delivery. What’s not a given is the survival of the mother and baby. That’s why the couple’s putting their faith in God and thanking him after a successful birth is appropriate.

  11. Ploni Almoni says:

    One thing I’ve noticed in the secular right is a sort of horror at uncontrolled, swarming fertility, especially when it’s the wrong class of people. This may be largely a European and, I vaguely remember reading, especially a French right phenomenon. I’m thinking of Jean Raspail, The Camp of the Saints for example. He was writing about immigration of course, but his horrific picture of the wretched, swarming mass of people on board the ship copulating and giving birth was almost primordial.

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  13. Susan says:

    Setting aside the matter of faith, what does Michelle’s ob/gyn have to say about this out-of-control spawning? Don’t most doctors advise that a woman shut down the factory after a certain point for health reasons? Suppose she gets pregant a nineteenth time and becomes seriously ill, or dies? How will JimBob rationalize that?

  14. markm says:

    Susan: I suspect that he’d decide that God wanted him to get a new wife. 20-some years younger.

  15. Roger Hallman says:

    When people ask me why I don’t watch television, this is the kind of example that I give…

    While we’re on the topic of religious fundies, could we talk about some other religions? What about the clashes between Jewish fundamentalists and Islamic fundamentalists in Israel/Palestine, clashes that a group of Christian fundies believe are necessary to bring about the rapture. What about the clashes of Hindu fundies and Islamic fundies in India and Pakistan? (Two nuclear armed nations, at least one with questionable safeguards…)

    I love making fun of our homegrown pious as much as the next guy, but can’t we look at some of the worlds’ other religions? We don’t exist in a vacuum.

  16. Ted says:

    A parable, to illustrate why Heather’s point is not as powerful as she thinks:

    Every morning for decades, the devout Isaac prayed to God: “God, please let me win the lottery. I’ll use the money for good deeds.” To no avail. Isaac died without winning the lottery. And when he saw God at the Pearly Gates, he let him have it: “God! I lived a good life. And all I wanted was to win the lottery. I prayed to you every day. Why couldn’t you do that for me?”

    And God responded, “Nu? You couldn’t buy a ticket first?”

  17. mnuez says:

    Let’s be clear. The only excuse that God can possibly have for the awesome fuckup that is the regular existence of masses of humanity would be his non-existence. I know of no empirical evidence whatsoever for the efficacy of prayer or of being a “good jew” or “good christian” or “good hindu” or whatever. (I’m speaking here obviously of supernatural assistance, not the simple happiness that comes from being a part of a believing community and non-promiscuous family.)

    Rational thought and rational methods have (to the best of our knowledge) given us all that we have in terms of the strides that we’ve taken toward greater health, longevity and technological coolness. God has no claim on any of that – which, again, speaks either to his non-existence or to his callous disregard for the suffering of billions of human beings throughout history.

    If the anthropomorphic sort of God about whom the major monotheistic religions speak (he needn’t be jesus to be anthropomorphic, he simply needs to “care about you” and be able to “answer your prayers”, etc) – if that anthropomorphic God actually exists then he’s an evil God who’s deservant of every scorn and bitter hatred.

    Lucky for Him, he’s only a figment of our desperately hopeful imaginations.


  18. J. says:

    The neo-atheists claim that non-believers may be as virtuous, honest, moral as believers, though I am not so sure that issue has been settled, and the claim would be rather difficult to verify as the philo-wanks say. Fear of spiritual punishment could conceivably figure in some peoples’ minds, and prevent them from joining the mafia, or worshipping Hitler, indulging in serial murder, etc. Some of the more optimistic neo-atheists (Dawkins, Harris. etc) seem to think that when humans cast off the monotheistic chains, society will be transformed into some pleasant secular utopia–a rather unlikely scenario. That’s not to question the force of the non-believers’ arguments; Dawkins does have his facts correct (at least the Darwinian facts), and it’s difficult to disagree with mnuez ‘s point that any anthropomorphic God would be a incredibly sinister being, “deservant of every scorn and bitter hatred.”

  19. Polichinello says:

    Well, we all know how to get Heather McDonald’s goat now.

    Heather’s deeper point about the role of science overcoming previous non-empirical beliefs is valid. It doesn’t really register with most Christians, though, because physicians have been a part of the tradition since St. Luke (allegedly a physician). One of the chief acts of Christian charity is caring for the sick. Medieval universities had medical education as a specialty, and religious groups have long funded hospitals and research.

    On the bright side, our fecund friends are helping with our social security problem, so they can believe in the infamous Flying Spaghetti Monster for all I care. Just keep cranking out middle-class taxpayers.

  20. McNease says:

    This is an odd post. The fact that the Duggars seek out medical advice does not mean they do not have faith in God. Similarly, the fact that the infant mortality rate is above 0% does not disprove the value of science.

  21. lisa says:

    Guys, I don’t get it…why cant science and God just be friends? I am getting so tired of reading posst after post (maybe I should just give up on reddit) about Science vs. God. No, I do not believe in the whole 7 day creation, I think that’s more along the lines of a parable…a story to explain how things came about to people whose minds, a few thousand years ago, were not sophisticated to understand evolution. But what is SO WRONG with the idea that whatever it is that made all the rules of science could be Divine?
    My mother has been bed bound with multiple sclerosis for 14 years now. Don’t ask me why a loving God would allow that to happen, I cannot answer that. But what I do know is that my mother’s faith is what has helped her to hold on all these years, and to live her life with meaning. Instead of cursing God for allowing her to be sick, she instead counts her blessings. She can speak, she can eat, she can see, she can love.
    And every time she has been in the hospital, I pray fervently that the Lord will give her another chance. Instead of giving up on it all, I at least want to make what little effort I can to help, and if that is some positive thoughts that a miracle is possible, so be it. And I trust that the doctors who are caring for her will make the right decisions. My father and I always talk about what a miracle it is that man has created, through science, things like antibiotics and drugs of all kinds, ventilators, even hospital beds. Of course we give man the credit for discovering and creating these things that allow my mother to live. But then we also give God the glory for making man’s mind brilliant enough to have figured all these things out.
    That’s just my two cents. I am just so tired of all these atheists seeming to think that all believers are so hokey and closed minded. Get off your fucking high horse. Its a small handful of so called Christians (think Jerry Falwell and the ilk–and I believe there is a VERY special corner of hell for people that commit such evil in God’s name) that are giving believers who live their faith quietly a bad name. I NEVER try to change anyone’s mind, that is not my place.
    I;m just saying, its not all so black and white. People read and interpret the Bible in different ways. And if Christian beliefs are giving someone with great pains in his or her life some peace of mind, who the hell are you all to judge it. Go and fight a fight that matters and stop thinking you are so much better than those who believe in God.

  22. Grant Canyon says:

    “I am just so tired of all these atheists seeming to think that all believers are so hokey and closed minded. Get off your fucking high horse.”

    I’ll tell you what I’m sick and tired of: religious people in this country imposing their religion into every nook and cranny of this country: from the military to schools to government buildings to the pledge of allegiance to the money and on and on and on. Everywhere you look, there isn’t one thing in this country that these people are satisfied with, if it can’t be defaced with religious symbols, language or other such indicia of religion. I would say to them, “We get it, you believe in your religion. Please keep it to yourself and leave us and our secular government alone.”

    We live in a society where the majority of the public wouldn’t vote for someone for president who was an atheist; and we have an ex-president who not only had the temerity to say that he didn’t believe that atheists should be citizens, but he then wasn’t castigated and shunned by the press and public for that statement.

    And after having the entire society smothered with religion, you tell me to get off my “fucking high horse”?!?!

  23. Kevembuangga says:

    But then we also give God the glory for making man’s mind brilliant enough to have figured all these things out.

    Oh! Yeah?
    So anything good must be the “work of god”?
    Where did you fetch this strange idea?
    P.S. I am really wondering, believers delusions are truly puzzling to me!

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