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Physician Moved to Tears by Jesus' Advocacy for Children

In her recent book, Rebecca McLaughlin writes:

Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania, had good reason to think religion hindered morality. In 1991, a measles epidemic had swept through Philadelphia. Hundreds of children got sick. Nine died. Offit was an attending physician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. What differentiated these measles-stricken patients from other sick kids was how unnecessary their suffering was. Two Philadelphia churches, whose schools educated hundreds of children, had refused vaccination and medical care. Thus, the disease took hold and spread.

This incident was one among many that prompted Offit to write a book entitled Bad Faith: How Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine. Being nonreligious, he assumed he would “sound the same themes that have been sounded by militant atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris: that religion is illogical and potentially harmful.”

But as Offit read the Bible and explored the history of medicine, he changed his mind. Jesus' advocacy for children moved him to tears. He concluded:

Independent of whether you believe in the existence of God . . . you have to be impressed with the man described as Jesus of Nazareth. At the time of Jesus’ life, one historian said that child abuse was “the crying vice of the Roman Empire.” Infanticide was common. Abandonment was common. That's because children were property, no different than slaves. But Jesus stood up for children, cared about them, when those around him typically didn't.

Offit now calls Christianity “the single greatest breakthrough against child abuse” in history. He notes that the first Christian emperor of Rome outlawed infanticide in 315 and provided a nascent form of welfare in 321 so poor families would not have to sell their kids. Ultimately, Offit changed the subtitle of his book from How Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine to When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine, acknowledging the massive impact Christianity has had on medicine and ethics.

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