Deepak Chopra: Murder by Faith? A Tale of Two Worldviews

What should be done when parents rely on religion instead of medicine to heal sick children?I doubt that any sensible person would sanction withholding medical treatment for a sick child because of his parents’ religious beliefs, especially when it’s a case of life and death. So far as I know, courts have always sided for treatment. America is a secular society based on the rule of law. Priests who abuse children are not immune to civil law because they have taken vows (even though the Catholic Church for decades acted as if the clergy was immune, treating abuse cases as an “internal matter”). Christian Science is the most prominent denomination that believes in healing through faith, but they have come to terms with medicine as a practical matter in modern life.

Since the issue seems cut and dried, what is there to discuss? — the uncomfortable shadow zone between two world views. Secular society gives special privileges to churches, and politicians cannot succeed without at least paying lip service to a belief in God. Yet as we all know, everything that God once took care of has been usurped over time. Just as we don’t expect God to provide supernatural medical care, so we don’t expect the deity to prevent accidents, divert natural disasters, conquer enemies, or impose divine retribution on wrongdoers. Such expectations were the norm, however, in an age of faith.

For some believers, adapting to a purely secular worldview is abhorrent, and here it is easy to sympathize. Human beings crave meaning, and that often includes a higher meaning. To spend one’s life grinding away at work and accumulating possessions isn’t an adequate substitute. Even a loving family and success isn’t adequate. We are wired to look beyond the material world. It’s been said that all the things denied or unknown to science — beauty, truth, service, morals, compassion, empathy, justice, aesthetics, philosophy, and spirituality — are the very things that make life worth living.

Sadly for believers who take their religion too literally, being dragged into court is backlash from wanting more meaning in their lives. They have been blinded by promises made in the name of God. The priesthood in every society has prospered on such promises, and now that religion wanes every decade, the priesthood needs miracles and Providence and divine love simply to survive. I think the trap of two worldviews won’t end until we arrive at a form of secular spirituality, based on the evolution of consciousness. If someone can experience grace and divine love in their own lives, or if not those things then expanded consciousness, with or without a traditional God, the foundation for such experiences must be their own awareness. Accepting second-hand dogma, however uplifting, always leads to the kind of contradiction these unhappy medical cases exemplify.

Originally published in the Washington Post

photo by: deflam


  1. faith on God is a beautiful feeling but if it is crossing the boundary of common sense then they should be convinced that they are wrong.

    living in a country like india where every year people die because their famillies took them to a ojha instead of doctor after being bitten by snake, i can very clearly understand the futility of such faith.

    Wish you love, peace and happiness.


  2. "This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy"

    GB Shaw

    Unfortunately in this country no one has the right any longer to define their family,live a life as they choose,make decisions for their children on anything from school to braces to hair or weight with out being dragged through the court system. Truly I declare here nothing you thought about American family life is real. This mother and the YFZ mothers in TX 2yrs ago have been threatened and will endure long separations from their children with threats of never seeing them again.

    I wonder what type of spirituality helped the Jews through the Nazi era,What spirituality was it that allowed the Aryans to enable the holocaust?

    Those same dynamics are in play right now in the US right now,when you see it on television it will be too late for you.

    In struggle with evil beyond comprehension


  3. If we can include in such discussions the fact of levels of development in the context of the evolution of consciousness, then we can take one step in a direction that may help us, not only understand such behaviors, but towards preventing such decisions in the future.

    My life work is based on these topic which have been expounded at length by American philosopher Ken Wilber since his first (of 25) book in 1977.

    The solutions exist, so the question becomes: why do we want to ignore them.

  4. Hello Deepak,

    Murder by faith, isn't that a bit harsh.

    I know a young boy whose parents decided to do everything the medical establishment advised in the hope of curing their son's brain cancer. They did get extra time, a couple of extra years, but the treatments and operations, the side-effects and medical emergencies they went through on a daily basis were nothing short of torture, mentally, physically and emotionally, on this family. They would have it no other way, they had more time with their boy. Some folks would look at this child's experience and see death by brain cancer and torture by the medicine prescribed to heal him and truly wonder, was the time worth the torture, most would say, of course, but some might say, no, an individual perspective.

    I can understand this mother's fear of chemotherapy, anyone's, for that matter, but I have heard enough to know that her son's cancer responds to chemo and that he could live a long and healthy life. It is times like this when parents need a bit of direction from a court of law. Sure, it is sad, but it is not the end of the world either.

  5. I joined this site I saw a link to this post and its provocative title … and, having read it, I am more than dismayed. But I have been, and will continue to be, an admirer of your books.

    The problem is not with God, the problem is with all-to-human followers of religion. Maybe this is why I have considered myself spiritual, while not religious, for many years.

    My mother is a Christian Scientist and I was raised in that religion. I was happy until at the age of 12, my Sunday School teacher screamed at me in the meeting room because I would not repeat back the dogmatic "Seven Synonyms for God" in response to his question "What/Who is God".

    When I was expecting my first child, I went to the doctor for pre-natal care. That was my choice. To this day I believe it was a good one, due to pregnancy-induced hypertension, gallstones and gestational diabetes. My mother took me to one of my ob visits, and sat in the waiting room, praying for me that I would see that I really didn't need "all this medical stuff". I believe she held it against me, because my MIL made it to Utah from California and to the hospital when DS1 was born /before/ my mother and brother came to see her first grandchild…on her way home from church.

    What troubles me about this post (and some of the comments) is the presupposition that the writer(s) are more educated or intelligent than the people about whom they are writing and that they "know better".

    I am a patient aide in a residential/training facility for adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. We have over 1200 employees serving a facility population of around 200 residents. There are medical, mental health and occupational/therapeutic therapist 'professionals'. They have training and diplomas. They read case files. They may actually come a take a look at the resident…but very, very few of them actually take time to get to know the individual. About half of the 'experts', the ones making decisions about the residents' lives (because the residents themselves are deemed ill-equipped to do so for themselves) … are afraid of them. One occupation/speech therapist once told me that one of 'my ladies' could not express her desire for a certain snack in the coffee shop because she was non-verbal. What??? "Since when," I asked the professional, since this resident and I spend hours (sometimes too much time) talking. The point is, in this case it was the professional that did not know what she was talking about.

    Here's to making sure we have our own houses in order before we start telling other people how to live their lives, and when we find it necessary to put in our two cents' worth, that we do it with respect for the other person's well-being and rights.


    Takin' care of business, everyday. 😉

  6. Fact:

    Modern Western medicine is all about economic profits with full governmental support. Two huge and immoral bureaucracies suppressing and outlawing most superior alternatives. Then how do we love our sickly neighbor? We tell our sickly neighbor there are superior alternatives and offer to help find them. Beyond that we can send love and prayer and healing from our own health. Then we will have truly loved our neighbor.

    (To multiply the following blessing, read aloud.)

    Let us daily increase in: wisdom, love, gratitude, reverence, healing, peace, joy, happiness, laughter and prosperity.

    Blessings X 10,


  7. i am a practitioner of la'au lapa'au (hawaiian herbal medicine) and to say the least, we are not orthodox (by western standards) and therefore often considered unacceptable. also, there is an important spiritual element to our practices that is part of healing the whole person, not just curing the disease. i have helped people with various illnesses, including cancer (breast/pancreas), and i know that if i or a family member were to be diagnosed with a similar serious illness, i would absolutely refuse western treatment in favor of la'au lapa'au.

    i find it strange that dr. chopra, himself an advocate of mind-body healing and non-western medicines, would write this article…but perhaps i am misreading it. it just doesn't jive. i'm not a "religious" person, but i am certainly a person of deep faith. i'm not sure if it could be considered "secular" faith, but perhaps my lack of understanding is what is leading to my misgivings about this article. however, bottom line for me is that i would hope under all circumstances that i would be able to choose la'au lapa'au for myself and my family, even when western medicine disagreed (which is per usual in my practice).

  8. We must always remember that we must do everything we can from our level of awareness even when we believe in higher law. Belief in God does not mean that we can passively await miracles to happen, we must do everything in our power to enable divine providence.

    I agree with Deepak that the ways of religion of selling miracles and holy ammulettes is not the way to go.I believe it is Spirituality as a path of awarenss and evolution which does not contradict the material world but enriches it with meaning and purpose.

    It is once again a both/and choice. Both science and Spirit, both faith and active labouring to acheive our dreams and aspirations.