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[cancer|religion] Cancer and religion and you and me - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2013-05-10 05:41
Subject: [cancer|religion] Cancer and religion and you and me
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, health, personal, religion
Not unexpectedly, my terminal diagnosis has brought out the religion in some of my friends and acquaintances. I know this is sincere, and very well meant, but it's also annoying as hell. People who hold faith sincerely take it very seriously. This I respect. Some people who take their faith very seriously desperate want to share it with me as a way to help me. This I respect.

But I really don't need to hear it.

First of all, I've heard the Good News. As an atheist, I take a great interest in religion. Whatever variety of it you happen to subscribe to, there's a good chance I know something about it. I'm aware of the truth of the word of God. I'm also aware that there are about 30,000 versions of it (the rough count of Christian denominations in the world), which right there tells any thoughtful person everything they need to know about the obviousness and inviolability of God's word. Come on, you can't grow up in American culture without being saturated with the Christian message.

More to the point, I have been thoroughly churched. My grandfather was a pastor in the Disciples of Christ, with a divinity degree from Texas Christian University. I won all kinds of awards in Sunday school as a child. I was baptized at thirteen. I have a whole shelf of Bibles and concordances here at Nuevo Rancho Lake. I've read the King James Bible from cover to cover. I know the word of God from the inside.

My atheism is a conscious, confident choice. Not an error, not simple ignorance of some better way. A considered position based on a lifetime spent grappling with both faith and reason. While I am pathologically cynical about religion in the public square and in politics, I am absolutely respectful of religion as a private choice and a personal behavior.

My private choice and personal behavior is to be an atheist.

I wouldn't dream of approaching a religious friend who is mortally ill and attempting to convince them how much better their life, and death, would be if they rejected God and turned to the comfort of rational, empirical humanism. Yet I have religious friends who feel compelled to do this very same thing to me. I've been told in so many desperate words that a friend cannot understand how I can face such trials without Jesus in my life.

I know this is motivated out of love and concern. I know that for many Christians (and a number of other religious) proselytization is both a duty and an act of faith. But I'm extremely comfortable with my spiritual stance. What kind of hypocrite would I be to turn away from my intellectual bedrock now, in the face of troubled times?

Besides which, cancer is the Problem of Evil on the hoof. If I came to once again accept belief in God, the first thing I'd do is get into a knock-down, drag-out argument with Him over why He is treating me this way.

So I recognize that you love me when you reach out to me about faith. But really, truly, I've heard it before, and I know what's important to me. Your spiritual truths are not mine. And with a life full of cancer and all its discontents, I don't need that distraction now.

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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-05-10 13:01 (UTC)
Subject:
Oh, believe me, I've had some unkind thoughts on this matter. ;)
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Autopope
User: autopope
Date: 2013-05-10 13:58 (UTC)
Subject: Re:
I don't have friends who'd do that. Because if they'd do that, they're not friends.

(I feel a tiny fraction of your angst, but it's enough to make me cringe.)
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mevennen
User: mevennen
Date: 2013-05-10 14:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Agree with C.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2013-05-10 15:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's harder to get away from here without cutting yourself off from a lot of well meaning but misguided (IMO) people.

My wife had a co-worker start trying to help her with advice and bible passages. She had to be gently put off.
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W. Lotus
User: wlotusopenid
Date: 2013-05-10 13:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
All of what you say resonates with me, especially the getting into a knock-down, drag-out over why circumstances are what they are.
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Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2013-05-10 13:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's the height of hubris to evangelize to a dying person. I understand and respect faith too -- I even envy it sometimes -- but it does not fit in my brain, and I've given it long and considered thought too.

I think what it comes down to is a combination of anxiety and self-involvement on the part of the evangelist.

Strangely, I see the same thing coming from people who are Believers in diet fads. Back in the days when 4 people close to me were dealing with cancer in a 5-year period, I can't tell you how many times someone pulled me aside to deliver the Word of Raw Food, Macrobiotics, Organics, and Veganism. Yea verily, they would save our souls and heal our bodies.

And also the people telling me that the doctors were just out for a buck and didn't want to actually heal anyone. People say the weirdest things to you when you're dealing with major illnesses.

People live in their own insular worlds. I like to think that my resistance to that pushiness makes their worlds just a little wider, but belief systems are remarkably resilient.

I hope you've had your last evangelism, Jay. Because, honestly, in this context, not only is it selfish, it's cruel.
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SerMelT: fucking for peace
User: sermelt
Date: 2013-05-10 15:42 (UTC)
Subject: just a fly by from a n00b friend ( from London with extra Englishness )
Keyword:fucking for peace

When I got sick, I remember a feeling of reaching out with my intellect and emotion. When one of my cosmic aunties was sick I felt it again, one step removed as it were. I considered whether I was reaching for godhead - it felt like I was. Then I realised it was just the connections I had with people - that's who/what I was reaching for. I saw in the clearest fashion the value I assign to being. Er, that sounds so cosmic and tripped out but they are the words for it.

We are all made of stars.

I think that at least once every day, sometimes I could burst with it. All across the spectrum - from spec of stardust to being one with everything, ( I just smiled a massive smile ), it makes me feel happy, secure and I see continua. Also - we get Professor Brian Cox as the sexy British empiricist poster boy.

But that's just me, a little athiest sunbeam. If everyone else gets what they need from their chosen belief system we can all dovetail, surely ?

Toodle Pip
\o/
xxx

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SerMelT
User: sermelt
Date: 2013-05-10 15:44 (UTC)
Subject: Re: just a fly by from a n00b friend ( from London with extra Englishness )
oops - I hit the wrong reply button.

I didn't mean to post as a direct reply to this comment.
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Matthew S. Rotundo: Radioactive
User: matthewsrotundo
Date: 2013-05-10 13:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Radioactive
I wouldn't dream of approaching a religious friend who is mortally ill and attempting to convince them how much better their life, and death, would be if they rejected God and turned to the comfort of rational, empirical humanism.

This.

It seems such a simple concept, but one that completely eludes some people--all of whom, in my experience, call themselves Christian.

There's no nice way to say this, so I won't bother: this behavior is unforgivably rude.

Well intentioned, maybe. But who gives a shit? You know what they say about the road to hell.

Sorry you have to go through this, on top of everything else.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-10 19:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The concept is "do unto others as ye would have them do unto you." I find its violation to be an issue that eludes Christians -- and everybody else, frankly.
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David Greybeard
User: David Greybeard
Date: 2013-05-10 13:57 (UTC)
Subject: Your health...
I'm so saddened to hear the your horrible news. You truly are a amazing man. The very definition of a Gentleman. A wonderful writer. A brilliant mind. I hope your remaining time on Earth is filled with pleasure, joy and love. I wish you all the best from the bottom of my heart.
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joycemocha
User: joycemocha
Date: 2013-05-10 14:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sigh. I've never quite grokked the passionate desire to evangelize everyone, even when I was a part of that particular Protestant denomination you were churched within. Talk about faith with someone sincerely interested--yes. Engage in dialogue when both parties are interested in examining the concept (without pushing toward that conversion moment)--yeah. But cold-call evangelizing? Pfui. Never liked it. Never felt pushed toward doing it.

But evangelizing someone in your position? First of all, usually the pitches suck. They never get them right. There's always a false note or two. Secondly, I think it speaks more to the evangelizer's insecurity about their own salvation than it does anything else. Yeah, the folks doing it are usually thinking that they're doing the right thing.

However, it's not the right thing, and it's not soothing for everyone. It's more a means to help those left behind feel better because by definition they believe they'll then see you after death.

(Not everyone is driven to faith by a fear of what happens after death, and too many evangelizing pitches beat the fear of afterlife into a raging puddle of stupidity. Not every person who is a believer believes because of fear of death...but evangelizers sure seem to think they do).

Edited at 2013-05-10 02:37 pm (UTC)
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Kate Schaefer: First Icon
User: kate_schaefer
Date: 2013-05-10 15:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:First Icon
Yup. Nope. Love ya.
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Tim Lieder
User: marlowe1
Date: 2013-05-10 15:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Have you considered Scientology?
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rekre8
User: rekre8
Date: 2013-05-10 17:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
On that note, I saw a building being completely being re-outfitted with a Rose City Scientology facade yesterday, downtown near..uh, 4th & Washington? I'm hoping like hell it's for a move prop.
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Tim Lieder
User: marlowe1
Date: 2013-05-10 17:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
well they got the money for it. And Xemu must be fought always.
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User: Jeff P
Date: 2013-05-10 20:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Marlowe1, for the win.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-10 15:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hard to know how to respond to this without violating the terms of the argument :)

First, I have been authorized by God Almighty to apologize for some of Her followers.

Second, you once told me that much of your writing was an argument with the God you don't believe in. A "knock-down, drag-out fight" would be fine. As you know, the Psalms are full of people having knock-down, drag-out (verbal) fights with God. (And Jacob made it a fistfight!)

Third, for someone to say "I myself couldn't handle this without Jesus" may be appropriate in context - if it's a deeply trustful conversation that you have invited someone into, for instance. But that contrasts to "you" language: "I can't understand how you can face such trials without Jesus in your life." Even then, seems like it's the next step that would be really painful: "therefore, YOU need Jesus. (Luckily for you, I've got him!)"

I will confess that I've had to restrain myself from saying "you ever want to talk Jesus, I'm here for you, dude" -- not for concern about your eternal salvation, but to offer the only healing resource I'm competent to give, really. I was pretty sure you would react as you did above, however! (That's a confession, I'm asking for forgiveness, hope it didn't step over the line.)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-05-10 16:39 (UTC)
Subject:
No forgiveness needed, dude. This is the use/mention distinction in full operation here. And rest assured, if I ever feel the need to talk about Jesus, you are almost certainly the first person I would ask. (I mean that quite seriously, btw.)
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-10 23:10 (UTC)
Subject: Re:
That's a high compliment. And I mean that quite seriously, too.
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Karen
User: klwilliams
Date: 2013-05-10 17:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I once heard the Psalms described as "God journaling". I think that's accurate.
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Tim Lieder
User: marlowe1
Date: 2013-05-10 18:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Really? The Tehillim are poetry for various situations. They have very clear rules and tropes - particularly the doubling of clauses. Journaling is very reductive.
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Kristen Fife
User: employeeze
Date: 2013-05-10 15:51 (UTC)
Subject: Privacy
Jay, I will pray for you in my own way, but I hope it suffices to say that I wish you the very best quality of life and as easy a journey as may be as you walk the last miles of this road.
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Deborah J. Ross: crone with wreath
User: deborahjross
Date: 2013-05-10 16:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:crone with wreath
I call myself a practicing Jew (because I haven't gotten it right by a long shot) who worships in the Quaker manner and shares much with Buddhist and pagan friends. I truly don't think it matters what I believe, only whether I act with compassion and integrity. For me, that integrity is based on my own direct experience, which I would never presume is valid for anyone else. It seems to me the height of arrogance to insist that your own relationship with spirit/divinity/cosmos/reality is better than someone else's.
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saveswhat
User: saveswhat
Date: 2013-05-10 17:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am a fellow "non-believer".

I think what some religious people can't understand is that if I could believe, then I would because then I'd have all the answers. Unfortunately, it isn't as simple as willing oneself to believe in something.

I also envy religious people because when they are confronted with another religious person who is dealing with a health situation like yours, then they can always say, "I'm praying for you." How simple.

I haven't said anything to you since you've announced your most recent diagnosis because I can't think of a simple way to express how I feel about it. It's unfair. I'm angry on your behalf. I am thinking about you. I'd help if I could. I feel helpless. I guess I could exclaim, "Fuck cancer!", but that seems flippant, plus I worry that cancer is just the sort of sick bastard who might enjoy it.

Isn't it nice that religious people can pray and believe that this is helping? Of course, they probably shouldn't tell you about it.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-10 19:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A response from a believer: For me, believing raises more questions than it answers. It's just that the questions are so interesting.

Re: "I'm praying for you." Yes, one time we pray is when there's nothing else to do, nowhere else to go. But no, it's not simple; it's hard work. Praying for your enemies, for instance, is agonizing sometimes. And meditating? For twenty minutes at a time? Oh my. Taking on imaginatively the health burdens of those you love? Simple, but not easy. That said, it is too often tempting to say "I'm praying for you," and then mentally add "Lord, hear our prayer," and call it good. At least I'm certainly guilty of that kind of flippant prayer.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-05-10 20:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I like flippant prayer a whole lot more than I like imprecatory prayer!
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-10 20:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ha! You know, my prayer professor didn't include imprecatory prayer in the curriculum. An oversight, obviously. - Didn't include flippant prayer either. Clearly there are holes in my education.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-05-10 20:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Did you actually have a 'prayer professor'?

Wow, the holes in *my* education...
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martianmooncrab
User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2013-05-10 18:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Immersionist Baptist.. and that left me with an overwhelming desire to learn how to swim, because they hold you down in that tank til the bubbles stop.
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User: Jeff P
Date: 2013-05-10 20:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ha!
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-10 20:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Re: don't understand why religion would be a comfort

Honestly, sometimes I don't understand it either; and I'm a believer! It's just that empirically, I have seen it happen.
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Thom Marrion
User: xnbach
Date: 2013-05-10 18:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The whole Problem of Evil is one of the many comforting things I have gotten out of being Buddhist, because for us the answer to that is Bad things happen to Good People because the causes and conditions for such things to happen exist and it is all part of being human. No judgement from a cranky sky father, it's just one of those things that is part of human existence, like gravity or having thumbs

Pretty much the same answer you get from Atheism, but we get to wear pretty robes sometimes:)

Of course the other things to consider is that there are 80,000 completely different (but still valid) paths to enlightenment and one of the last things the Buddha ever said was don't believe something just because some else said it (even if that person was an angel or a flying saucer pilot), because you have to weigh it rationally in your head and decide for yourself.

To make a long post less long- your spiritual beliefs are perfectly valid, especially when you consider that from outward appearances at least, you tend to make the world a better place. So rock on with your bad self.

Also, I've said it before, but even though you are meat-devouring Atheist, I still say you make a good Buddhist. It's not like any of those things are technically contradictory anyway :)
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-10 20:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
> get to wear pretty robes

Ha! I do, too, as pastor. Although actually mine has pretty significant armpit stains. I really should get a new robe.
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russ: zen
User: goulo
Date: 2013-05-10 19:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:zen
Very well said, reasonably and graciously. Yet another example of why you are high on my Most Excellent People list! :)


(The whole "Good News" thing is bizarre to me. Do the proselytizers ever actually find anyone who (sincerely and non-sarcastically) says "Wow, amazing! I had never heard about this 'Jesus' guy or this 'Bible' book before. Thanks very much for telling me about it! Why didn't anyone tell me before?" It seems like the sort of conversation which only happens in Jack Chick tracts.)
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-10 20:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
> I never heard about this 'Jesus' guy

Actually, you'd be surprised. Most folks obviously have heard the name, but you can ask "so tell me what you know about Jesus" and get plenty of blank looks. It doesn't help that some of us have turned "good news" into "we hate gays."

- Dave, who's pretty pitiful as a proselytizer and had to Google Jack Chick
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it's a great life, if you don't weaken: drive train _ netcurmudgeon
User: matociquala
Date: 2013-05-10 20:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:drive train _ netcurmudgeon
You are a better and more giving person than I would be.
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kellymccullough
User: kellymccullough
Date: 2013-05-10 22:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Seconded.
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willyumtx
User: willyumtx
Date: 2013-05-10 23:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Amen!
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Amy Sisson
User: amysisson
Date: 2013-05-10 23:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My private choice and personal behavior is to be an atheist.

I'm also an atheist, and your post made me pause because I don't think it's a choice for me. I could choose to try to believe, but I know it wouldn't work. I like to think that I would still be an atheist even if I'd been brought up steeped in religion, although of course I have no way of knowing that.

Oddly, in many ways I behave according to Christian tenets -- I'm a big believer in tolerance and charity. I try to do unto others and all that good stuff. And I'm in a monogamous heterosexual marriage.

But definitely an atheist.

Thanks for making me think.
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Rick Moen
User: rinolj
Date: 2013-05-11 01:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay, you are welcome to borrow my own rejoinder, which I must warn works well only if you can be utterly deadpan, and stick to it: 'Friend, I appreciate your concern, but I'm already a firm and devoted Frisbeetarian, and will hear of no heresies such as yours.'

(Frisbeetarianism is, of course, defined canonically by the Unix /usr/games/fortune program as 'The doctrine that, when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.')

And yes, theodicy is so very much the low-hanging fruit of philosophy. (But then, check out yr. humble servant being quoted on
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Quotes/RageAgainstTheHeavens -- for an offhand comment I made on Usenet in 1997, yet.)

Best Regards,
Rick Moen
rick@linuxmafia.com

Edited at 2013-05-11 02:01 am (UTC)
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Jay Lake: religion-belief_rev2
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-05-11 02:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:religion-belief_rev2
I love that quote...
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Rick Moen
User: rinolj
Date: 2013-05-11 06:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yr. welcome.

It was the damnedest thing: I was motivated to say that during a witnessing by a flying squadron of Mormons.
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amphigori: bfly
User: amphigori
Date: 2013-05-11 02:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:bfly
Loving that quote as well!

Jay, this entry of yours has made me think that atheists (of which I am one) may face an extra burden in the complicated unpleasantry of a terminal decline.

It also makes me aware (as many issues you've discussed) of how the person that needs caring/supporting the most is often the one doing caring and supporting of so many people, even if that's just by giving a polite response to something when you'd really rather not be.
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auriaephiala
User: auriaephiala
Date: 2013-05-11 03:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay, I'm so sorry to hear of your latest diagnosis. If there's anything I can get you from Canada (or research/ideas you need) let me know.

AS others have already said, proselytizing someone who's seriously ill is just disgusting. It's like taking advantage of their illness to try to make them break down. Quite immoral.
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Bob
User: yourbob
Date: 2013-05-11 06:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh Ghu! I'm not as polite.

I hate that some people are so insecure and afraid that they can't live life without crutches and assume everyone else needs those (exact) same crutches.</p>

Frankly, if someone needs to believe some anthropomorphic force is running things I feel sorry for them, but fine. But like someone with a broken leg, they should not assume those of us who can stand on our own two feet need them.

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Lethran: Angel
User: gwyd
Date: 2013-05-12 12:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Angel
I'm sorry people are doing this to you. I know they mean well, just as they meant well when they decended on me when I was grieving my mother. It's still incredibly cruel and rude. You have all this stuff to deal with, and they are making you waste energy dealing with their stuff. It is selfish, even though they think it is not.

I really am sorry.
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