Besides that, there were parts of the post that bothered me. First, it seemed to not only take a pro-Christianity slant, but neglected relevant information. Take this statement, for example (emphasis mine): "Helping the sick was one way to ensure a trip to Heaven, so risking death from a disease's spread was encouraged." If you read the New Testament, it seems quite obvious the early Christians believed that disease was caused by demon possession. One can also reasonably conclude that they didn't think demon possession was necessarily contagious. The problem with that statement, particularly the emphasized part, is that those early Christians didn't even realize they were putting themselves at risk! The article really seems to push a "look at those noble Christians risking their lives!" slant, but the truth is that their "nobility" was derived out of ignorance! These people would be like Don Quixote's -- absolutely clueless!
The article continues to discuss this influence in present-day Malawi, Africa.
...About 30% of the Christians regularly visit the sick, whereas only 7% of the Muslims do, Hughes reported. The survey also revealed that the prospect of getting help was enticing. In the past 5 years, about 400 of those responding have shifted religions, many of them moving to Pentecostal or the African Independent Churches, places where the promise of receiving care is greater and the stigma of having AIDS is less, Hughes noted.I do not know a lot about the African Independent Churches, but I can tell you the Pentecostals are big on demon possession. Even here in the USA, many Pentecostal groups ban watching TV or listening to non-church-approved music because demons may use those as media (plural of "medium") to enter a body. I wish I were kidding! (I don't know where in this podcast the discussion is, but I'm quite sure this is the correct one. The whole thing is worth checking out, though.)
Austin Cline, who seems to write most, if not all, of the atheist related articles on about.com, says this about Pentecostalism in Africa: "The adoption of superstitions in Africa is also not harmless. Belief in witches has led to violent witch hunts in which women and children have been brutally slaughtered. Belief in demons causing illnesses will prevent people form seeking real medicine that might actually help them."
With that in mind, I find there is a valid point made in the subject article that religious belief may help the spread of disease, as people will not seek proper treatment, as pointed out in the about.com article. However, where the subject article goes wrong (and where it really annoyed me) is that it states that Christian beliefs encourage "extreme altruism," which is then implied to be the cause of the additional spread of disease. But I do not see how that word, altruism, which is the opposite of selfishness, can be used. I understand how these acts of helping the sick can be perceived as altruistic, but the fact is that these acts are derived out of ignorant beliefs. When Don Quixote goes about attacking windmills, is this altruistic? Likewise, when Christians go about fighting off demons, is this altruistic? Much like I would not call Don Quixote altruistic, neither will I apply that adjective to these religious bafoons fighting off demons that don't exist.
The other issue I have is that my view of altruism involves doing something good without reward, but the Christians are doing this for reward! I've already pointed this out with the quote about ensuring a trip to heaven above. So, even if Christians do realize they are putting themselves at risk, that risk evaluation is going to be different from the perspective of someone who believes in an afterlife than from someone who does not. If you are someone who honestly believes in an afterlife, then death isn't much more than a minor inconvenience. It should go without saying that the perspective becomes different if you don't or are hightly doubtful. If I haven't made it clear, let me state it dirrectly: If persons A and B are doing the same good deed, but person A thinks they will be rewarded and person B does not, person B is the altruist and person A is not. This is independent of whether or not a reward exists. In conclusion, we cannot call these Christians altruistic when they think they are working for a reward, even though that reward does not actually exist.