The story of thirteen year old Jahi McMath, who was declared brain-dead after complications of a tonsillectomy is becoming more and more heartbreaking by the hour. The family has the child's corpse hooked to a ventilator more than a month after Jahi was declared clinically deceased. They and their supporters engage in prayer rituals believing that the child will wake up. While they may direct their supplications to God, this is not Christianity. It is rather a modern-day version of a cargo cult.
The term is used to describe:
". . .a religious movement usually emerging in tribal or isolated societies after they have had an encounter with an external and technologically advanced society. Usually cargo cults focus on magical thinking and a variety of intricate rituals designed to obtain the material wealth of the advanced culture they encountered."
The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, had as early as 1988 adopted a resolution that supported organ and tissue donation as an act of Christian charity. It thus accepted the concept of "brain death," allowing for the donation of organs while still viable. Other Protestant denominations had followed suit by encouraging physicians to request organ donation from the families of brain-dead patients and likewise reassuring members of the Church that such acts represented “ the spirit of stewardship, compassion for the needs of others and alleviating suffering.” In a year 2000 speech, Pope John Paul elucidated the Catholic position, declaring:
“The criterion. . . for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”
It is impossible to read the hearts of Jahi McMath's family members and thus understand their true motives for praying before their child's decomposing body. But it is almost certain that the supporters who have already contributed $55,000 to keeping the ventilator turned on are motivated by science illiteracy rather than any tenets of mainstream Christianity. This modern-day cargo cult like its more traditional counterparts is struggling to grapple with an advanced technology it has not been given the educational tools to understand. Might the explosive growth of home schooling account for this disturbing deficiency?