Sunday, February 24, 2008
[Another weekend non-medical rant. Warning: may be offensive to some, but not all, believers, in that it is generally anti-religious. It does represent how I feel; questions I've asked myself and answered over the years. In the same way that my religious views never affected my practice, or devotion to my patients (except in those rare instances when people said they thought God was working through me and I responded, "I'll do my very best" or something similar) I hope readers will be able to separate this sort of post from my writings about surgery and medicine. Or will bail now before going further.]
I offer a comment on a TV show I didn't watch: having seen a preview is quite enough. The show "In God's Name" presents interviews with several heavy-hitting religious leaders, including the Pope, The Dali Lama (maybe it's unfair to lump him in, since Buddhism is about spirituality and not about deity), the Chief Rabbi of Somewhere, an Ayatollah, and a few others who aimed to address the problem of god and violence, and murder, and hatred. All were men, of course, and they spoke with the confident certitude that comes from being in direct contact with God, while likely ignoring the fact that the others were just as confident of their connection. In the preview I heard a quote from one of them which exploded inside my head and made my ears bleed.
"God must have a wonderful sense of humor," the guy said, grinning beatifically. It was in the context of someone becoming a religious spokesperson who'd formerly been a nay-sayer, or a bad person, or something. That a cleric -- or anyone, for that matter -- could look at the world and conclude that god is a jokester is what fried my brain. On the other hand, much religious thought -- especially the brands that we see becoming more and more a part of the political process -- is about seeing the world as it is not.
The mind reels. It's like walking into a crime scene, wading through body parts, and, because the perpetrator wrote "Hah hah" in blood on the wall, saying he must have a humorous streak.
God talked to George Bush and told him to invade Iraq, which has, among other hilarious things, led to the murder or displacement of most of the Christians there. Good one! He (God, not George) grants some prayers, which by definition means he chooses not to grant others. Because of him -- in his omnipotence he surely could have chosen otherwise -- children starve, or are maimed, or orphaned, by the thousands, every day, all over the world. (Stop me if you've heard this one.) He pits people against one another; he makes floods and tsunamis and earthquakes and wipes out innocents by the tens of thousands. Or, if they're not innocents, as we hear from the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (may peace be upon him), it can only be god the omni-powerful that made them that way, only to wipe them out. Then, we are told with certainty, he burns them in hell for a trillion billion gazillion years. Because, in addition to being a laugh-riot, nothing happen but that he wishes it so. (There is no logical middle ground: he chooses everything, or nothing.) Oh: but he loves us. That's the good news.
What a comedian! He makes mankind imperfect, sets up some rules to follow, knowing (by definition) that billions of people will be unable to follow them, and then sees to it that in their failure they suffer eternal punishment. Eternal. To infinity and beyond, hallelujah. (Although according to those who build the churches and collect the cash, you can live a life of sin and crime and have a deathbed conversion; or drop a dollar in a dish; or, like Jimmy Swaggart, weep and declaim, and be fine, poof, it goes away. On planet Earth some killers get off after a couple of decades. But god's "vengeance is mine" jones doesn't get satisfied after a million years or two? Pretty harsh.) And for what? Well, murder, I suppose, except when it's in his name; whacking off, I'm pretty sure; but for most, just not accepting him as their savior. Even if you live an exemplary life by all other measures, if you don't kiss his... ring, you boil and blister forever. FOREVER. Life is short, eternity is quite a bit longer. It's like giving a first-grader the SAT and jailing her for the rest of her life if she fails. This particular picture of god, which seems to place many beside themselves with self-satisfied delight -- by any reasonable criteria is one of a child abuser. If you heard of a guy who had a bunch of kids, starved them, and then threw them in a hole when they reached for food (god made rules he knows we'll break, gave us hungers he knows most can't resist), you'd call the cops for sure. Good for you, by the way. And even if you found cartoons on his hard drive, I'm thinking you wouldn't say with a chuckle (did I mention the chuckle in the preview?) what a funny guy he is.
Remember this post about a beautiful girl dying of cancer? Many honest and heartfelt and absolutely sincere comments indicated how god-loved and humbled people felt in her presence. But consider this scenario: A man tells his youngest child, "In your pain, the others will know my love. In your suffering, they will feel enriched. This honor I give to you." And then he breaks her leg. She screams in pain, but says "I know you love me, Daddy, and I know you'll stop." Then he breaks another. "I love you, Daddy," the girl shouts. "Your love is boundless, I must try to understand." And he cracks her arm. "Daddy," the girl cries, "I'll be better, your love is great, I'll always love you." The other arm goes. If you were to witness such a thing, what else would you call it but despicable and inexcusable? Wouldn't the girl's professed love pain you to your soul; make your heart break? Would you not rush in to rescue the her? Dial 911? Shoot the guy, lodge an axe in the back of his head? Surely you'd not feel privileged to have stumbled upon it; or blessed. You'd have nightmares for years. But isn't the situation exactly the same as with Gloria? Yet in the one, people are filled with love of God, and in the other -- quite properly -- they'd be enraged and sickened. Now there's a punchline!
No, whatever is true about the god of those men of god, a kidder he ain't, contumelious he is, if his hands are on the levers. Either that, or he's incompetent. Intelligent designer? Gimme a break! Cancer, diabetes, Crohn's disease, asthma. The heartbreak of psoriasis, cold sores. My mom's Alzheimer's. It would seem we're under the thumb of a pretty nasty and capricious guy, and I hope I'd have the moral fortitude to tell him so if I ever saw him. But if he's not calling those shots, then either he's disengaged, or a blunderer; in which case what are we doing worshiping him? "God works in mysterious ways," those scions say. But wait: wouldn't they agree he gave us brains? When some things are plainly nonsensical, ought we not feel empowered to say so? To find meaning and joy based on concepts that aren't contradictory and impossible on their face?
As I've said in other posts, I've witnessed as a physician the ability of belief to give comfort. (For the reasons above, it's hard to understand how the prevalent -- or at least most publicly preached -- view of god provides comfort, but belief is rarely about consistency.) In the privacy of one's thoughts, when religion assuages that "sickness unto death," I don't doubt it's a good thing. But for too many, in order to protect those impossible beliefs from being shaken, there's a need to demonize -- not to mention murder and maim -- those who don't share them. Sadly, it's the religious of that sort who are on the world stage, here and abroad.
If religion has value, I'd think it ought to be central that it maintains some connection to reality. Allows one to deal with life as it is, to give flight to our spirituality without the need simply to make stuff up and ignore the contradictions. If it gets you to look at the world and chortle at what a wiseacre god is, it's leading you too far into unreality. Religion requires one to believe in things that are disbelieved by billions of other-believers (and not to find that fact at all disquieting.) But why must it also require one to reject that which is known to be true? Like, oh, the age of the earth. Carbon dating. Science, evolution. Stuff like that.