Well, this is weird. It seems I have created a blog for my own personal use that I now handle with care. In the beginning, this was a place to write my stories and get out my rants; my assumption was no one would ever read them, so I did not bother to filter. I was wrong, so now I get nervous. A profanity-laced version of this post was published on a secret site, so as not to offend, like the chickenshit that I am.
Some readers here, perhaps most, are showing up for the gossip factor. Even Christians skip to the sex scenes. Some understand the oppression of growing up fundie and appreciate the “me, too” feeling. Some are closeted unbelievers and are struggling with the reality that in order to be their own true fully actualized selves they have to come out to their families. This is terrifying, because, as all of us who have been through it know, you risk losing everything: your family, your community and social life, your identity. Your people will likely turn on you in a multitude of ways (disappointment, anger, fear for your soul, pray for, pity or condemn you) for your self-discovery. Rarely are they accepting or curious about your evolution. Rarely are there no emotional repercussions. All of us who have walked away know this. We have all experienced it in one form or another, the condescension and rejection. There is a network of ex-Christians who have escaped fundamentalism and survived or are trying to escape and hoping to survive. Some keep their non-beliefs secret from their families to avoid dealing with the drama. Many suffer from the aftermath of cognitive dissonance, PTSD and suicidal thoughts; leftover irrational fears that won’t quiet. The beleaguered mental health community is not up to speed on the effects of fundamentalism. My voice is one of many. I thought I could walk away and pretend none of it ever happened, but that’s not how life works. Here I am, decades later, finally speaking up. I can’t say it isn’t still frightening, the risk of offending.
A recent Facebook post pushed me over the edge, as will happen. A sad, sick woman with a debilitating disease wrote to an evangelical TV show asking why her prayers for healing had not been answered. The response was a clip of Pat Robertson blaming demons or some such bullshit. (Nut Job Here) It really flipped my switch, not just because Pat Robertson is a douchebag, but because there was a sick, vulnerable, desperate person in need of help and comfort who was emotionally manipulated in a deeply sadistic way. Not only was she dealing with the reality of her illness, she was also wounded, confused and fearful that the god she loved and depended on was ignoring her pleas. It was a double whammy of pain.
Here’s the thing, I’ve got nothing against prayer. As a matter of fact, sometimes that’s all you can do. When a worry is too big to bear, you have to let it go or be consumed. When life takes a turn, thoughtful folks say “I’m praying for you” or “thoughts and prayers” and post sweet emojis, they are saying they care and hope things get better. It’s nice. This isn’t about that. What follows is a request directed to those who are strident believers in faith healing; an appeal for consideration. Please hear me out.
When a person with an incurable disease is told their condition can be whisked away by a prayer, it disregards their daily reality. Every day contains struggles unknown to the rest of us, both physical and emotional.
To profess to have access to a magical cure insults the sick in a way that faith healing believers do not seem to understand. The underlying emotion might be love for the afflicted and a desire for their wellness, but disregarding the daily reality of living with illness, the limitations of medical science and the personal beliefs of others comes across as an ego-driven, manipulative power trip. Such disregard is rude at best, but also cruel and misinformed and can be emotionally damaging to those not good at critical thinking.
This might seem to be an overreaction to anyone who hasn’t been steamrolled by religiosity, but I have a sick kid who experiences this. She, being a better person than me and not having experienced the steamroller, rolls her eyes and takes the good intentions. Or yells a little bit and lets it go. Not me.
I see, at least a little bit, what she goes through; her fears and symptoms and side effects and endless appointments and medications. The disappointment and discouragement when yet another treatment fails. I see her absolute determination to stay as healthy and fit and positive as she possibly can despite her fatigue. I see her siblings’ worry and fear and unwavering, astounding love. If there is such a thing as a holy spirit, it lives in their support of each other. I know what I go through, not just because I am heartbroken for her and would take the disease myself if it would save her from it, but working multiple jobs to pay the bills, staying in a job I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to for the medical benefits and watching my daughter ask strangers on the internet for money because I have no way of paying the deductible, despite the long hours. I also see the resources and attention that go to this one kid, when I have others who need me, as well. The endless fatigue and stress on us all. If there was a god that could prevent this or take it away, and it doesn’t automatically do so, then it is evil.
I do not believe there is a being with the power to allow or disallow sickness; to cure or not cure based on variable criteria. I understand that others do.
My problem lies with the manipulation of false hope. On the receiving end, it seems arrogant and selfish to tell a sick person that if they say the right words, they MIGHT be healed. It feels like a head trip, a game. Also ignorant. If there were a kind and loving god with these capabilities, there would be no sickness. The fact of sickness remains; therefore god is either not loving or kind, perhaps does not have those powers or simply does not exist. I assume believers have another explanation, but nothing else makes sense to me.
I prefer to rest my hopes in science; like that crazy kid from up the street who grew up to be a medical research scientist, spending his days conducting meticulous experiments in order to find another treatment or even a cure. Do I believe my daughter’s life is worth more than those of the countless rodents under his knife? Yes. Yes, I do. The mice might disagree.
When my daughter was diagnosed, an acquaintance remarked that perhaps god allowed it to happen in order to get my attention. I felt it was a remarkably unkind thing to say. Were it true, then a nasty manipulation from a petty creature with too much power. Since I don’t believe it to be true, I’ll go with the former, which brings me to my point. Fervid beliefs allow outrageously offensive things to be said under the guise of caring. If I had indisputable proof that a god had made my daughter sick in order to turn me into a follower, then I would kill that creature, if possible. It most certainly would not be the recipient of my devotion but of the wrath of Mama Bear, complete with skin-ripping claws, saliva dripped fangs and a bladder evacuating roar.
My quest here is to ask those of you who read this blog and are believers in faith healing to consider another perspective. Consider that your beliefs are not factual. You are absolutely entitled to them. No one can stop you from sharing them, either, but please consider how it feels to be on the receiving end. The idea that a person or their family member is somehow responsible for, or can effect their illness, either by disbelief or lack of proper prayer or by any other measure, is indefensible. In response to a much more vitriolic version of this post, I heard stories from others: someone who, when their own healing didn’t come, was told they were not right with God (they’re still sick because they’re SICK, goddammit); an elderly parent on their death bed was told to pray for healing (they died clinging to misplaced hope instead of spending their final moments in peace); another was told chronic illness plagued them because they had changed their address and cut loose toxic friends. Another, when offered prayer for sickness, requested family members donate to stem cell research, instead and got blank looks all around. For a person struggling with incurable illness and pain or facing death to be told they need to fix it themselves is cruel. Those words coming from a loved one twist the knife.
I realize there is likely nothing I can say, no matter how careful or loving or angry or direct or clear, to throw a faith-healing believer off the scent or knock them off their high horse. Zealotry does that to people, however, if you are interested in not alienating loved ones who do not share your beliefs, please consider the following suggestions:
Recognize the difference between FACT and BELIEF. Words have meanings and these things are not the same. Fact is truth. Facts are true whether you believe them or not. Beliefs are yours, they belong to you. Facts belong to us all. We all have “personal truths,” based on our desires, perspectives, and experiences. These are something less than factual and should be wielded with great care and understanding that what is true for you may not be true for others.
Thank you for your blog. I am one of those closeted believers you speak of, afraid to be open out of fear of the consequences not only to me but to my husband and child and extended family who are all believers. I escaped Pentecostalism for more traditional forms of Christianity after college but somehow find myself back in a charismatic version of an Anglican Church where belief in spiritual manifestation like tongues and healing and prophesy are rampant. They want to “take back the city, take back the generation”, a chilling cry that hearkens back to the “throw out the lifeline” songs of my youth. Without much warning and with no crisis, my faith left me in 2014. Yet I still attend church and give offerings and play music. It used to rip me apart. Then I felt like I was dying and cold. Now I sit in services and wait for the revealed yet nonexistent accusations of my apostasy and listen to the sermon with an analytical ear and make skeptical notes about every scripture as I see it without the filter God glasses. I know many good people who are sincere believers. I know many good people who are not. I finally know I am still one of the “good” people even though I don’t believe. I still donate to charity and do good works. I might not pray for the ill, but I will take them a meal or visit them or clean their house or feed their dog. Which is so much more important. And I no longer quote scripture like Romans 8:28 or Jeremiah 29:11. My daughter has started this weird habit of saying “Thank the Lord!” whenever anything good happens. She’s a believer in “god” of some kind but not necessarily Christian so it’s just a teenage affectation. But I’m quick to say “I’m the one who made dinner/found your homework/drove safely/gave you the medicine/etc, not god….” She laughs and says thanks Mom. But it raises my hackles and reminds me of all the idiotic things otherwise rational and kind people say because of religion. “Fervid beliefs allow outrageously offensive things to be said under the guise of caring” – you are spot on. I don’t know what my future holds. But I have more genuine peace now than I ever had in my prior 50+ years. And no more or fewer life issues. Like you said, if your God needs to make my child sick to “get my attention” then it’s a bad ploy because why would I turn to a sick, selfish fucked up god like that?!? So here’s to more caring and clarity, and fewer careless, useless words. Keep sharing – blogs like yours are a real “lifeline” for people like me!
Hey there SOAV! Are you interested in writing an anonymous guest blog post? I am opening my blog to other writers with similar stories to tell. Also, I need help with content as I am up to my neck in book revisions and am having a hard time keeping up with posting. I am always very impressed with your writing voice and think your situation is important. What do you think?
Hey Ronna, so sorry I didn’t see this until now! I took my blog private for personal reasons, but came here to change the settings and saw your message. If you would still like me to write a post, let me know and I would be happy to 🙂
Thank you for sharing your story, for speaking up. I’m glad you have caring and clarity and peace…
Your encouragement means a lot me. It’s still hard to say the words sometimes and knowing that it’s helpful keeps me going.
I would love that! You have important things to say and express yourself well. I am in final revisions for my book and am struggling to keep up with blog posting. I could use some help! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you please contact me directly?
This is it. This is the meat. I’m proud of you.
Thank you, Mal. Not sure I could do this without you… for sure don’t want to!
Well said my friend! I agree whole heartedly with everything you wrote and might I add very eloquently!!❤❤❤Always here for you. We need to be there for our friends! Love you!
Sent from my iPhone
I love you, too, Jamie.
Thank you for this heartfelt blog post. I’m sorry that you are going through this. And I’m sorry for the insensitive things people have said. Years ago, when I was really sick someone told me it was because I must have unrepentant sin in my life. Other people said I didn’t have enough faith. To say it pissed me off would be an understatement, so I can’t even imagine how you feel as Mama Bear. 🙂 Love your blog and glad you keep writing! You’re very good!
Thank you!❤❤ I hope you’re feeling well. To equate wellness or the lack thereof with morality is dumb and mean. The really sad thing is that the worst damage is done to those who are emotionally vulnerable.
Ronna, my eloquent sister, dumb people are just dumb. I have seen people get healed and I have seen people not get healed. My belief is there is no formula. If I could choose one to be healed – either by medicine or a miracle- it would be your daughter, my niece. I am still always puzzled at the thoughts that people deserve illness or it was God’s plan. Yikes. I love you to pieces. Thanks for writing.
I love you, too, Sister. She would be my pick, too.:)
I was very moved by this post. If there is anyway I can contribute to the cause– reach out to me
If you’re referrring to my daughter and her journey, feel free to follow her occasional blogs about living with MS on Facebook or Instagram (@emilyrussruss).