By Sara Knutson
I’m not an alarmist. I think that cries of a War On Religion are overblown, and I don’t hunt for prejudice.
But the prejudicial bias in one of Slate’s recent op-eds, “In Medicine We Trust,” was impossible to overlook.
Author Brian Palmer’s argument was twofold. First, given that missionary clinics in Africa are typically small and unregulated, he worries that their medical practices are not on par with those of large, secular health organizations.
Second, he is deeply uncomfortable with any intertwining of medicine and faith, convinced that proselytizing and coerced conversions are the unavoidable consequences.
If those objections were based in fact, it would be compelling reading. But facts are scarce.
Palmer fails to present any evidence that small religiously-based clinics are less organized or regulated than small secular ones. He fails to demonstrate that proselytizing occurs even occasionally. And the only people he quotes who explicitly fault missionary medicine are Donald Trump and Ann Coulter, celebrities who Palmer himself points out are hardly bastions of objective reasoning.
Palmer and I would agree on a number of things. We both want missionary medicine to be regulated and excellent. We agree that coerced conversions are reprehensible.
The problem is that Palmer’s utter lack of factual evidence and credible witnesses leaves him with only his own suspicions about medical missionaries, suspicions deeply intertwined with his own professed atheism.
As he puts it:
“And yet, truth be told, these valid critiques don’t fully explain my discomfort with missionary medicine. If we had thousands of secular doctors doing exactly the same work, I would probably excuse most of these flaws. ‘They’re doing work no one else will,’ I would say. ‘You can’t expect perfection.’
I’m not altogether proud of this bias—I’m just trying to be honest.”
That admission, combined with his paltry arguments, indicates that Palmer’s op-ed is simply prejudice masquerading as reason. Christians are doing dangerous and difficult medical work in Africa in noticeably high numbers, and they are doing it because they are taking seriously the demands of the Gospel.
That such desperately needed humanitarian work has for centuries been taken on by committed Christians presents a problem for those who believe religion is an antiquated illusion that the modern world has outgrown. When you don’t believe in God, it is disconcerting to see people of faith bettering the world because of that faith. Palmer’s attempt to discredit their work falls flat and only serves to reveal his anti-religious bias.
People can have whatever opinion they want, of course. But I find it troubling—offensive, actually—that Slate, an established online presence under the auspices of the Washington Post, would publish and thereby legitimize a viewpoint that is so clearly prejudiced against religion (and, frankly, aimed at Christians).
I’m tired enough of the common perception of Christians as fundamentalist crazies who believe in a 6,000 year-old earth and shaming gay people. I don’t need typically reputable news organizations feeding that perception by undermining some of the best work Christians are doing.
So I’ll be writing the editors at Slate this week and reading future pieces with this one in mind—if I bother reading at all.