1/21/2010

In Retrospect...

I said in my last post that "god" cannot hurt me in my disbelief. That is true. God can no more hurt me than a 5 year old's imaginary friend can. But, people who believe in that god can.

I'm not speaking here of physical violence which is all too real. We need only look at Jihad, Clinic bombings, or  gay bashings to understand that. No, what I mean is that the well wishes of believers can hurt people at times.

When I received my transplant three years ago next week it was an amazing event. It happened quickly after I was listed and the recovery process really is something of a medical miracle (in the sense only that it is an awe inducing feat of technical skill). You are very sick and within a few weeks are healthy and active after a long illness.

Being in the south during that process almost everyone I met said something along the lines of: "It's a miracle and God was looking out for you He has great plans for you!" It sounds innocuous enough on the surface but it assumes quite a lot and puts a lot on the shoulders of someone who has been through a terribly traumatic experience.


Within a month or two of transplant and hearing this almost daily from people I began to become very depressed. I didn't believe with my rational mind that any of this was true but I was dealing with a very real fact of solid organ transplantation: I was alive because someone else was dead. There is a great amount of guilt that comes with that. It's hard enough to grasp in any situation but having to live up to some "divine" purpose makes it worse.

I ended up seeing a therapist for awhile to work through some of the guilt and depression and it was immensely helpful. How much easier would it have been had I not been assaulted with this religious superstition on top of it that required me somehow to do something miraculous myself?

Religious people mean well, I'm sure. However, they rarely stop to consider that their superstitions can harm. They tend to inject their religion at moments when people are too weak to defend themselves. Many times when I worked in hospitals nurses and even doctors would interject their own religious beliefs on families or patients. "I'd like to pray with you now that I've emptied the bedpan." If told the prayer is not welcome they often became offended and provided substandard care to the "godless" patient. We won't even mention the gossip and whispering about patients who expressed a desire to be free from religious rites!

When I had just begun working at Newberry County Memorial Hospital in the early 90's a new nurse interviewed for a job in surgery. He was a very nice and highly qualified individual. I liked him a great deal. At the time they were trying out this "shared governance" plan so the small staff were called together to render judgment on his employment.

As we discussed his qualifications the nurse manager mentioned that he was an atheist. I am not sure how she came into possession of this fact unless she directly violated the law and asked. The room grew quiet. Finally, one of the more religious nurses spoke up and said she objected to having to work with an atheist. The nurse manager agreed that atheists had no place in this hospital so she tossed his stellar application and resume into the trashcan.

To my discredit I did not object. I was afraid to speak up in defense for fear I would lose my job as well. Several months later with my conscious bothering me and not knowing how to contact this nurse, I spoke to a reporter for our local paper. I told her that a highly qualified applicant had been rejected strictly on religious grounds. I expected she would be interested in learning more. Instead, she told me that she was glad to know that "our" hospital wasn't employing atheists or non-Christians!

That's just one of the non-violent ways that believers harm others with their beliefs. All too often they use supposedly kindly acts as weapons. In the south a preferred tactic is to pray publicly for "non-believers" or people of different religions. This is not a kindly act. It is meant to ostracize and publicize the fact that someone should be treated as "other." And the results of those acts are things like losing a job, friendships, or even receiving a lower quality health care.

So, believers, even the moderate ones who aid and abet the Fundamentalists do harm with their religion. After all, most of the ones "helping" me after my transplant were of the moderate variety.

When I was hospitalized before my transplant and suffering from encephalopathy I had a period of about a week that I still do not remember. I reverted to an almost childlike state I am told. During that time I later found out that believers from various relatives' congregations descended upon me in my hospital room to pray. I was induced to pray with them, to sing hymns, and to partake in other religious activities that normally I would have been firm in opposing. They took advantage of my mental status due to illness to foist religion upon me. Upon regaining my senses I was shocked and dismayed. What had I done? What had I agreed to? It was unconscionable. Yet, they truly believed they were "helping" even against my well known wishes. And these, for the most part, were all "moderate" Christians!

Is that not scary? It is frightening to know that in this country today your own beliefs are necessarily put behind those of theists if they are given half a chance to get to you when you are unable to defend yourself against their wishes and their religions. That is one of the dangers of any type of religious belief because it by definition requires you to think your beliefs trump the wishes of others.

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