International Journal of Cultic Studies Vol. 4, 2013, 60-61For the Love of God
By Lawrence W. Gold, MD
Review by Daniel Shaw, LCSW
Charleston, SC: CreateSpace. 2011. ISBN-10: 1468141996; ISBN-13: 978-1468141993 (paperback), $14.99 (Amazon.com). 372 pages.
A woman I worked with in psychotherapy whom I will call Anne told me that she was brought up by Christian Scientist parents. She made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with their religion, and that she thought of her parents as very problematic in all kinds of ways. Her initial descriptions and anecdotes of her parents made them sound eccentric, narcissistic, oddball. But gradually, as Anne became more open and trusting, and more in touch with deeper feelings, she revealed that, before her birth, her mother had a boy, who died when he was 2. Anne was born after his death and knew of his existence only when her mother spoke of him to her for the first time, when she was about 12. What Anne revealed was that she was now horrified and tortured by the thought that her parents may have let her brother die because, as is traditional with many Christian Scientists, they would have refused to provide her brother with medical attention. She would not ask her mother about this because she was convinced her mother would not tell the truth. Anne needed and wanted to grieve for this lost brother; no such opportunity was ever provided her. Her mother’s attitude was simply that God’s will had been done, and therefore there was no cause for grief.
Recalling my work with Anne, I began reading For the Love of God by Lawrence W. Gold, knowing from the book jacket that this would be a story about a religious commune where many children had been allowed to die because they were refused medical help. It is a well-told fictional story, in the crime and courtroom drama genre. It is the kind of story that could easily be adapted to be an episode of Law and Order or any of the other dozen or so CSI shows that are so popular on television. This labeling is not to diminish the effort Dr. Gold makes in this book to expose the horrors of child deaths due to refusal of medical care. In fact, the book covers a great deal of ground: the psychological, religious, legal, and political ramifications of this issue are all given their due, in dramatic form—a notable achievement. Presenting these very real and pressing issues in fictional and highly readable format is one meaningful way of getting the message out: Children are being allowed to suffer agonies and die needlessly at the hands of religious zealots. For many reasons, mainly ideological and political, it is far less easy to hold parents and religious leaders accountable for this form of child abuse than it should be.
Very briefly, the story begins when decomposed, ritually buried bodies of a dozen children are discovered in a field and are soon traced to the people living in a commune led by Daniel. This religious community call themselves The Followers. It is their tradition to refuse all medical care, and instead to pray to God over the sick. This has led to the agonizing, slow deaths of numerous children in the commune, yet they all stand firmly behind Daniel and his insistence that it is a sin against God to seek medical help. Once the children’s bodies are discovered, the novel traces how unity within the commune begins to disintegrate, and how, eventually, further discoveries about the hidden abuses within the commune are revealed. Because there are a good many plot twists and surprising developments, I will not summarize the story further. Suffice it to say there is a good deal of suspense and surprise in the story, which should keep readers alert from start to finish.
The way I can say more about the novel, without spoiling the plot, is to describe the colorful cast of characters Dr. Gold assembles, each one representing a set of issues connected to the problem of religion-based medical neglect. Some examples are
The local sheriff, whose investigative powers are slowed by the requirement to comply with legal restrictions against improper search and entry, and trespassing; and, in addition, by the religious biases of higher-ups in the law-enforcement community;
The reporter, whose coverage of the issue will incite religious fundamentalist groups to put all their political power and money behind attacking the investigation;
The current political atmosphere, as expressed through various characters, in which government intrusion into private life is seen as a looming and disastrous threat to the American way of life;
The prosecutor, a woman who long ago lost a baby because of religious-based medical neglect, and whose professional judgment may be compromised by her emotional investment in the issue;
The particular Follower who cannot bring himself to leave the commune, but who cannot tolerate the denial of medical treatment to the children, especially after losing his own child in that way;
The leader, Daniel, whose passionate conviction and charismatic charm are realistically and well contrasted to other sides of his personality, which the reader only comes to be aware of gradually as the story progresses.
Dr. Gold’s novel is inspired in part, I assume, by his support of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc. (http://childrenshealthcare.org/), an organization he mentions in his afterword, which is specifically devoted to providing education about religious-based medical neglect of children, and to providing resources for those dealing with this issue. I was unable to learn more about Dr. Gold personally, but it seems clear from his telling of this story that he is intimately familiar with the mentality of those whose religious beliefs lead them to embrace the cruelty and horror of infanticide, and who yet believe in their righteousness at the same time. His portrayal of the cult leader and various members of the group, including their beliefs and behaviors, captures well some of the near-universal characteristics in these groups: the insularity; the leader’s use of intimidation, shaming, shunning, and banishing to maintain allegiance among the followers; the sense of devastation when followers move out of denial and face the truth about their leader, and what they have made of themselves.
Dr. Gold makes mention in his preface that he finds it unlikely that those who need to read this book most will do so. Sadly, this is likely to be the case. However, even though Dr. Gold may be preaching to the choir, the book has significant value. As a mental health worker myself, the book serves to make more vivid the horror and immediacy of the problem of religious-based medical neglect. I also believe that, for many who have left a religious group that holds these kinds of views, reading the story would serve to solidify and support their recognition of the irrational cruelty behind the ideological rhetoric they put their faith in.
While I believe it is unfortunate but true that destructive ideological groups will always continue to spring up and do harm, efforts such as Dr. Gold’s novel can only help to raise more awareness of the problem. Dr. Gold has written an entertaining novel that also sheds much-needed light on the horrors inflicted on children because of religious-based medical neglect.
International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 4, 2012