I’m having surgery.
The surgeon explained that, if my spine was a long row of jelly donuts, the bone would be the donut part and the discs would be the jelly. And the jelly on one of my donuts – discs – is pushing out against a nerve and that is causing me pain. He is actually the first doctor to say, ‘you must be in a lot of pain.’ Yes! Yes, I am. So they are going to go in and cut away the extruded part of the disc, and that has a 93% chance of eliminating my pain.
I like those odds.
I like the doctor.
I’ve been dealing with this injury for going on eight months now. I’ve tried three different medications, chiropractor, massage, physical therapy and acupuncture. Nothing has significantly helped, although I’ve recently discovered Tylenol with codeine and I’m kind of in love.
So anyway. Surgery. They’re being incredibly accommodating and I’m getting a special tour of where it will be happening and a meeting with the anesthesiologist and everything. It’s day surgery and then I’ll go to my mom’s for a few weeks to recover.
I’m very excited and happy about this. I post about it on facebook. One of my friends, a devout Catholic, posts that he will pray for me.
And now I’m having a dilemma. Because I know that it is rude to tell other people to believe or what to do, but……but I really, really, really do not want to be prayed for. Especially by a Catholic.
This makes me sound like a horrible person. I’ve never doubted that I am, but I beg of you to please let me explain.
For an atheist, I have an awful lot of faith, just not faith in supernatural entities. I have faith in human beings, in science, in rationality. I have faith that my bones and tissue will be the same as the bones and tissue in other human beings, even though I cannot see them. I have faith that the surgeon and his assistants have enough training and experience to do this procedure correctly. I have faith that I can follow the limitations set for me after the surgery so that I do not reinjure myself. I have faith that the painkillers and anesthesia will work.
So for me, when I hear someone say, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ when they mean that they will pray to a supernatural deity I know does not exist, what I hear is, ‘I do not have the faith that you have in science and doctors. I think that something will go wrong, and that you can only be saved by divine intervention.’
I know, of course, that this most likely isn’t what they mean. What they mean is that they will ask a deity that they really do believe in to intervene on my behalf, to ensure that things go smoothly. My deist friends would say that god works through surgeons and through medicines too. They would say that praying for me is an act of love, and that what they call god is what I know as love.
This may be true, but I’m realizing as I grow older that love and respect are not the same thing. And I would much prefer to have both.
I believe very strongly that religions overall do more harm than good in the world. People created the ideas of god and religion millennia ago because they lacked ways to explain the universe and the natural world. However, we can now explain the vast majority of witnessed phenomena through science and scientific inquiry. Last time I checked, there were no scholarly journals which affirmed that a deity exists. (If there were, I would honestly be more than open to the idea of one.)
Religion causes wars and bombings and national and local policies that directly harm peoples health. When abortions are outlawed, they do not stop, they just stop being safe. The Catholic church has done an enormous amount of damage to the world by insisting that abortion and birth control are bad things. They and other Christian groups have kicked people out of their groups for having a marginalized identity, like being gay. I believe that religion, and especially religious fundamentalism, is a direct threat to the health and well being of this country. So when someone says, ‘I’ll pray for you’, what comes to my mind is not a smiling Jesus cradling children in his arms. It is the centuries of hate and death and destruction that religions have wrought on people around the world.
I freely admit that I am not that well versed in world religions, and I know by far the most about the traditional Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I have no idea if Buddhists and Sikhs and Hindus and Druids and all the rest have been as harmful as my research indicates other religions to be.
What I do know is that I would rather not be prayed for. I would rather people acknowledge that my own hard work and persistence have been what pays off, not sending wishes upward to a nonexistent being. My surgery will be paid for through government sponsored healthcare, which many religious groups are actively against. If I lived in a state where the religious right has a stranglehold on the government, such as in Mississippi, I would be looking at living in pain for the rest of my life. Instead, through the hard work of others who have come before me, I get a solution. I get surgery.
And I am grateful. I am so grateful to the lawmakers and ordinary citizens who made state healthcare possible. I am grateful for the professors who taught my doctor how to do this procedure and for the high standards of the hospital I will go to. I am grateful for the people who work to sanitize the operating rooms so I will not get an infection. I am grateful I have family I can recuperate with.
I am grateful for people. Not a deity, not a supernatural being. Just ordinary people, working hard in their daily lives to make mine better.
I would like to acknowledge here that I am a bit of a hypocrite, saying that religion is a bad thing, because I myself identify as religious. However, and yes, this is probably even more hypocritical, I do believe that Unitarian Universalists are one of the few exceptions (there may be more – Quakers come to mind, but I don’t know, I’m not a religions expert) to the religion-is-more-harmful-than-good rule. This is because UUism has no creed, has no fixed belief system beyond ‘be kind to the earth and each other’. People are free to believe what they wish. We do not impose our agenda on anyone nor cause direct harm to come to people who do not share our beliefs.
This is where UUism and many other major religions differ. To go back to the example I gave above, the Catholic church has for decades been an instrumental force in forbidding access to safe, legal birth control in many countries. As a result, women have more children than they want, and they are not able to provide for them properly. They and their children may die in childbirth. As another example, some religions do not believe in global warming. They are so firm in their belief that this life is temporary, that we will all be happy in heaven soon enough, that they willfully ignore the real science that tells us our planet is in grave danger. This leads to people losing their homes as sea levels increase, to animals and people dying as the weather grows more extreme, to the extinction of entire species, like polar bears, and, most probably, to the extinction of human life itself before too long. I have not found any examples where UUism has caused direct physical harm to come to entire groups of people or other living things.
I understand that saying a few words to an invisible deity makes many people feel better. But instead of talking to a deity, why don’t you talk to people? Talk to lawmakers and ensure better access to healthcare for all. Talk to your doctor and if they don’t accept Medicaid (as *many* doctors don’t) ask them why and put pressure on them to do so. Talk to your town about fixing the broken sidewalks that make it hard for people with disabilities to get around. Talk to your bus driver about turning on the darn announcements so that blind people can know where to get off. Talk to your family about being more accepting of people of all abilities and diversities. Talk to your friends about making social events more accessible to all. Talk to me about what I should watch on Netflix and amazon while I recuperate from my surgery.
Just, please, don’t talk to your god, or any god, for that matter. Not on my behalf.