The Hidden Dangers of Fundamentalism

A connection exists between disease outbreaks and extreme religious practice

Jack Woodall
Feb 1, 2006

Religious fundamentalism is bad for your health. There are, of course, the ill effects suffered by suicide bombers and their innocent victims. Consider also the sarin gas attacks by the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) sect, which killed 12 people in the Tokyo subway in 1995, and sickened 1,000 more. (Yes, I know the media reported 5,000 casualties, but 80% of them were the "worried well" who sought hospital emergency departments because of contact with victims, or consequent anxiety attacks).

What concerns me, however, is infectious disease. Consider these case histories:

» The last outbreak of polio in Canada and the United States, in 1978?1979, was the result of travel from the Netherlands, where an outbreak was ongoing, to Canada by members of the Reformed Netherlands Congregation, a religious group that refused vaccinations.

» In the fall of 1984 followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who had purchased the small town...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?