It would be unfair to paint all of religion and its followers on the actions of an individual. It is also unfair for religion to wash their hands of every religious person as soon as they do something illegal and/or immoral by claiming they were "not really a Christian". At the very least, the type of gullibility that religion needs to thrive and actively encourages by claiming faith a virtue and doubt an evil leads to people like Alan Bushey and Tammy Lewis committing heinous acts in the name of faith.

The leader of a Washington state religous sect believed god would bring a dead follower back to life if he left the rotting body on the toilet long enough.

It didn't work.

Now a judge has sentenced Alan Bushey, 59, of Necedahof, to two years in prison for hiding Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth's corpse on the toilet of another follower, Tammy Lewis, for two months last spring. Middlesworth, 90, moved to Necedah from Washington state in 2005 to join Bushey's sect, the Order of the Divine Will.


Of course the story cites a possible ulterior motive for Bushey to conceal the corpse for 65 days before being discovered by investigators sent by a concerned family member.

Middlesworth became involved with the sect after reading a mailing about it, Steinman said. She ended up moving in with Lewis, now 36. Prosecutors said Middlesworth and Lewis shared a bank account in which Middlesworth received her Social Security payouts and stipends.

Bushey claims he did not take money from her even when she was alive and she offered, but it seems implausible that Lewis didn't given that they shared a bank account. Assuming she died of natural causes since she was of advanced age, we could then say that the biggest crime committed was against the children of Lewis that were living in the house where the body sat decomposing.

Roemer, who called the case “horrific,” said living with a rotting corpse devastated Lewis' daughter, now 16, and son, now 14. District Attorney Scott Southworth said they had to use a bucket in a closet for a toilet. Bushey told them that a demon was making the body decay and that they weren't praying hard enough to bring Middlesworth back to life, Southworth added.

Most, if not all, religious folks would dismiss this as the result of a random nut job or two and I would agree. But their religion encourages this type of behavior in nut jobs and their gullible followers. Believing in the dead being resurrected, the miracles by prayer, or the emphasis on faith that suppresses the voice inside that questions the actions and teachings of not just God, but of the people who profess to speak for God and reveal their interpretations of their Holy Book. These are all qualities that are at least tacitly approved by the more sane of the religious flock.

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Comment by Leo on July 31, 2009 at 2:00pm
So if we get rid of religion, we get rid of con men/women ("warped" or otherwise) taking advantage of "gullible" people? Does that mean we get rid of "gullible" people as well? Or are they the cause of religion and not the result?
Comment by Dave G on July 31, 2009 at 2:27pm
No, Leo, religion is just one of the many methods that con men use to take advantage of people. Spiritualists, psychics, ponzi schemes, Nigerian 411 emails, and Amway are also used. By promoting belief without evidence as a virtue, religion makes it easier for people to be suckered by those who take advantage of this trait.

To decrease the number of 'gullible' people will take education. Teach people to think critically, to weigh and evaluate claims instead of just believing them, not to take as truth whatever they are told.

As it happens, I believe that increased education and rational thinking would also decrease the influence and prevalence of religion, but that is a secondary effect.
Comment by Leo on July 31, 2009 at 3:00pm
@Dave And where does this "education" come from? Adults are typically too lazy to think critically and the schools certainly aren't teaching the kids to do so.
Comment by Reggie on July 31, 2009 at 3:09pm
@Leo - Dave G pretty much answered for me, but I wanted to add a bit. I have said before on this site that I don't feel that religion is the cause of con men (or women) or that it is the reason people become gullible. It is one symptom (and Dave G lists a few more) of a lack of critical thinking skills. My point is that religion thrives on ignorance and unquestioning faith. So do con men (and women). Look at Genesis, where the root of all human suffering is blamed on the attainment of knowledge through a magical apple. I'm don't think religion can be eradicated, I don't necessarily think that it should, and I know that if it were to disappear, that the gullible and the con men (and women!) would not go with it.

And just for the record, I am not claiming that all theists lack critical thinking skills. That, however, is a different subject altogether. :)
Comment by Reggie on July 31, 2009 at 3:16pm
And where does this "education" come from? Adults are typically too lazy to think critically and the schools certainly aren't teaching the kids to do so.

Because education and critically thinking skills are not valued in society at large today (in the U.S., at least), does not mean that it has to remain that way. I don't know how best to go about changing that culture, but I know that religion suppresses questions and debate and expects adherence to dogmatic rules and rituals. Keeping religion out of schools would be a first step that unfortunately we are still fighting to complete to this day.
Comment by Dave G on July 31, 2009 at 3:38pm
Reggie pretty much summed it up for me. Education is not a priority in our country, and it needs to be. I have several family members and friends who are teachers, and the tales they tell on how difficult it can be to actually teach students to think, rather than 'teach the test' are harrowing. They have to fight not only the 'system', which promotes rote learning of facts over actual education, but also some of the parents, and even other teachers.
Comment by SabreNation on July 31, 2009 at 4:04pm
Actually, I'd take that one step further Reggie and Dave - Education is ACTIVELY opposed by a great many people in the United States at this point. And I'm not just talking about the never-ending attempts by the religious right to undermine science at every turn. I mean education overall. It's been around for a while but it really took root during the Bush administration and came out full force leading up to Obama's election when Republicans and Conservatives tried to make the term "intellectual" synonymous with "Elitist." That irritated me more than anything during the presidential campaign last year - how the fuck do you attack someone for being smart?! The fact that the campaign against Obama as an "intellectual elitist" actually worked, particularly in the south, said a lot. When did it become cool to be a mental midget? How does a presidential candidate gain support by, basically, trying to say that stupidity is a great American value?

Education is under attack in this country from a great many fronts, the last election was undeniable proof of that fact.
Comment by Dave G on July 31, 2009 at 4:14pm
Very true, Sabre. When you have people (heads of school boards at that) claiming that people need to 'stand up to the experts', you know things are bad. America has had a growing anti-science, anti-education and anti-intelligence movement for some time, and I am afraid it will get worse before it gets better. In fact, if it gets too bad, it might never get better.
Comment by Reggie on July 31, 2009 at 5:35pm
I'd take that step with you, Sabre. There have been several high profile (in the atheist/scientific world) instances of home schooling parents who are vocal advocates against public education gaining spots on school boards for public schools. Some have compared it to putting the fox in charge of the hen house security. and I find that analogy very apt.


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