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Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine Hardcover – March 10, 2015

3.7 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews



One of Library Journal’s “Best Core Nonfiction” books of 2015

“Gripping.... With Bad Faith, perhaps even more than with his previous books, Dr. Offit is probably preaching only to the choir. That doesn’t make his message any less important.”
New York Times, Science Times

“Offit must be commended for the detachment and gentleness with which he treats his subjects, who comprise both the faith healers and the parents of children who have died because they failed to receive life-saving medical procedures...He treads a careful path through exposing the wretchedness caused by religion, while not simply applauding secularism as the remedy.”
Times Higher Education Supplement

“But even allowing for the positive role of religion in aiding the afflicted, one can only hope that...books like Bad Faith will eventually bring about legislation that eliminates religious exemption for medical neglect of a child.”
New York Times Book Review

“Offit nobly endeavours to make peace with religion as concept, while simultaneously lambasting its more blinkered, potentially dangerous practitioners.
Globe & Mail

“Honest and fair, Bad Faith fails to leave any stone unturned—whether it be why faith-healing groups continue to promote these practices or roots of the religious theories against modern science. Regardless of your faith, this is a fabulous book that's well worth the read.”
Philadelphia Inquirer

“Using actual case histories to illustrate the needless suffering and deaths that occur as a result of these methods, Offit masterfully points out that the denial of medicine in the name of religion actually rejects the basic teaching of religious faith: relieving suffering, providing hope, and treating others as one would wish to be treated. An excellent book with an important message that belongs in all library collections.
Library Journal (starred review)

“A clear-eyed, sometimes terrifying look at how religious belief has been used, both historically and in contemporary contexts, to undermine modern medicine.”
Kirkus Reviews (feature interview)

“A must read for anyone who seeks to understand the tangled relationship between religion and medicine in America.”
Shot of Prevention

“This book should be read by anyone who deals with children, parents, medicine, or religion…Read the book. Make up your own mind about the religious aspect of it. But get the kids to the doctor.”
Skeptic Ink

“Paul Offit…is one of the most courageous and sober voices arguing to protect children from exemptions made by their parents.”
New York Review of Books

“Offit is unflinching in his examination of the lethal costs of belief taken to irrational extremes.”
Publishers Weekly

“A thought-provoking discussion of the conflict between society’s right to protect all children and the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Offit makes a convincing case that these actions are contrary to the very best aspects inherent in religious beliefs.”
Muses & Visionaries

“This is a brave examination of the unhappy borderlands where religious beliefs battle—often tragically—against the imperatives of medical care and public health; packed with fascinating stories of the most tortured meetings of medical practice and religious practice, but also allowing glimpses of good faith and medical hope.”
—Perri Klass, M.D., Director, Arthur L. Carter Institute of Journalism, New York University and author of Treatment Kind and Fair

“No physician today writes with more passion and courage about the impact of quackery, zealotry, hucksterism, and bad science upon the health of our children than Paul Offit. Bad Faith is another superb example, exposing the dangers of religious extremism in denying basic and life-saving medical care to the most vulnerable among us. This is no screed against religion, far from it. Deeply moving, elegantly written, Bad Faith brilliantly exposes the harm done by belief systems gone awry.”
—David Oshinsky, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Polio: An American Story and Director, Division of Medical Humanities, New York University Medical School

“The medical system may function, in many ways, like an organized religion, but Paul Offit is not asking us to abandon God for doctors. Nor is he arguing that faith is bad. His premise here is that both medicine and religion, at their best, hold human life sacred.”
—Eula Biss, author of On Immunity: An Inoculation

“An important and fascinating book. For more than a decade, Paul Offit has been relentless in his exposure of forces that can undermine the life-saving advances of modern medicine. His latest effort, Bad Faith, combines gripping storytelling with an insider’s knowledge. Offit offers a compassionate and clear-headed take on religion that puts children’s well-being where it should be: at the center of the discussion. A must-read for anyone interested in the challenges of public health in the twenty-first century.”
—Seth Mnookin, Associate Director of The Graduate Program in Science Writing, MIT, and author of The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy

Bad Faith is a haunting account of how and why people use faith to ignore medical science, even when doing so kills children and spreads disease. It completes what is Paul Offit’s trilogy of books (along with Do You Believe in Magic? and Autism’s False Prophets) that examines how the human desire to believe in or defend something greater is expressed in an attack on science and reason. It is hard to read this book and not conclude that the most virulent threat to human existence is that part of our imagination that equates rejection of medical progress with achieving Heaven on Earth. It is Offit’s best book yet.”
—Robert M. Goldberg, Ph.D., Vice President, Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and author of Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used to Hijack Medical Science for Fear and Profit

About the Author

Paul A. Offit, MD, is a Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The author of several books, he lives in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (March 10, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465082963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465082964
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #335,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dorit Rubinstein on August 25, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: I read a draft before the book came out. I thought it was very good then; I think the final book is better.

In Bad Faith, Dr. Offit speaks at three levels: descriptive, analytical, and prescriptive.

At the descriptive level, he brings attention to the phenomenon of faith healing of children, with a series of heart-rending, powerful stories about children (and one adult) who suffered and died because faith prevented proper medical care (either through action or through inaction). The stories are tragic, hard to read, and important to know of. Bringing attention to this phenomenon, telling the victims' tale, is by itself an important, valuable contribution. But the book doesn't stop there.

Analytically, Dr. Offit asks why loving, caring parents would be willing to go that route, to use faith healing while their children suffered and died before their eyes, and provides a series of explanations, drawing on several literatures. He also provides historical context and tracks changing attitudes to children's welfare, from a cruel, indifferent past to a somewhat better - though still needing improvement - present.

Prescriptively, Dr. Offit calls for removal of exemptions for faith healing to manslaughter, murder and child abuse laws, calling on the legal system to step up to the plate and do a better job protecting the most vulnerable, the children.

The book is - as usual with Dr. Offit's books - extremely well written, sends a strong message, and speaks up for children who cannot speak up for themselves. It's does a real service to a very important topic.

Hopefully, people will listen and act to improve protection of children.
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Any reviews accusing this author of bashing religion are unfounded. What this author does criticize is the dangerous behavior of fanatics who choose willful ignorance and blind allegiance to dangerous ideas. The fact that other reviewers try to promote anti-science charlatans or defend cults that hide under the cover of religion actually proves his point - people who believe these non-sensical ideas are manipulative and will stop at nothing to defend their warped sense of reality. If anything, my only criticism of the author is that he tries too hard to defend more mainstream religions by mentioning the Catholic hospital and educational systems, and the benefits of spiritual life for people that find comfort in faith. Religion already has plenty of defenders.

As to the claims that this book is poorly sourced because it references a list of cult-like organizations previously identified, some of whom are not still in operation? That is a ridiculous attempt to find any way to discredit this otherwise damning examination of the problems of uncritical adherence to naive and dogmatic world views. I understand that people would rather attack the author than acknowledge that what he is saying is true, but the attacks are baseless.

One point that the author makes that I found particularly interesting: cults demand purity. I see this as evidenced by the anti-science extremists on both ends of the political spectrum. For the religious right, "purity" means obsession with sexual purity of women and purity of thought (ignorance / obedience to authority). For the liberal left, "purity" means obsession with naturalness, even if that means fear of evidence-based medicine and scientific advancement.
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Dr. Offit has written yet another well researched, scientific book that both criticizes and uses faith to create a dialogue. The stories he tells are quite haunting, such as the case of 11-year-old Wesley Parker, whose parents founded their own ideas about faith and believed he no longer needed insulin for his diabetes. His father even went to the extent of throwing away his needles. However, Wesley was not healed, and he died a most horrible death. In this case, and many others, Dr. Offit makes the clear case that faith over science is just not an acceptable decision.

There is some complex storytelling about the history of child abuse, the New Testament and Jesus, faith healing and court battles that pit the parents of unvaccinated and dying children into the legal system. He even writes about women's rights to their own bodies against the "religious" hospitals and employers who want control over when and if they can prevent a conception...and if the woman's life can be saved over a fetus.

I found the book to be respectful of religion, but making the distinction that religion is one thing and health care is quite another. If faith is preventing someone from receiving health care, then it has no place.

I found it a great book, and my husband devoured it in one sitting. If you are a person who enjoys science and sociology, you will like this book.
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Quick Review:
This is an excellent book that illustrates the problem and consequences of refusing medical care especially for children who are the most vulnerable. Dr Offit is not harsh on people of faith but does point out things like contradictions and irrational thought processes. I would strongly recommend this book to healthcare providers, members of the clergy and parents that want to further understand religious exemption to care. Members of legislature should consider this required reading.

More Detail:
I need to preface my comments with some background. I am Christian and an active member of a Bible based church. Furthermore, I am a practicing pediatrician that strongly supports non-refusing of lifesaving healthcare for children and vaccines. We do not take patients that refuse to vaccinate or wish to delay. I pray with our patients. I do believe that I have seen miracles.

I am an admirer of Dr Offit. I frequently direct our families to the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia website. I have met Dr Offit when he did grand rounds at our hospital and really enjoy his books.

Generally the titles of his books are inflammatory and he does not sugar coat things. I was worried that this book would be unfair or take a negative slant on legitimate Christianity. In fact, I read the book with an intent to find something taken out of context, generalizations or a condescending tone. That is not the case at all.

The first half of the book focuses on specific problems with religions. Cults, christian science, and faith healers for example. He does point out inconsistencies within some individual religions like Jahova's Witnesses that deny blood but will take their blood products.
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