I recently received a message from the husband of an acquaintance. It seems that she has cancer. He wanted my email address to put me on a prayer group list. This is the original message to me: “Its A___________, B__________’s husband. I’m trying to build a prayer group list for her to help her during her treatment for Stage 1 Breast Cancer. Can you please send me your email address. Thanks.”
This was my reply:
“A_________, instead of prayer, I’d rather help. I’m only a few blocks away from you and you can call me on my phone at 123-456-7890.”
Fast forward two weeks and this is what I’m receiving in my email inbox with replies from many mutual friends and acquaintances:
Dear Friends of B_____________,
I am reaching out for your prayers and good wishes for our friend, B__________. This summer, B____________ was diagnosed with breast cancer and started chemotherapy this past week….Thankfully it’s stage one, but it is the fast growing type so a great reminder to us all to self-exam and get yearly mammograms….Her first treatment sent her to the ER in the middle of the night….
Please pray for the following:
1) side effects to be minimal
2) the treatment to completely eradicate this disease from her body,
3) B____________ and her family find peace in knowing this will be behind her in 2017.
B____________ is so blessed to have you to reach out to and appreciates your well wishes and prayers.
With love and gratitude from B__________ ——-
Let me first make something very, very clear to everyone who reads my blog. I do not wish cancer on anyone, no matter who they are, what they do or do not worship, what they think is important in politics, whether cisgendered, LGBTQ, or any form of fluidity on the sexual compendium, where they live, where they are from or where their ancestors are from–we are all members of humanity on this planet.
Yet in many areas of the United States and many other countries, it is considered poor form and rude to question someone concerning their religious beliefs. it is also considered rude and crude to discount or reject the religion, whether in discussion or as a request.
It is not rude, however, to ignore the wishes of someone who has asked–in so many words–to not participate in a religiously-motivated event. In truth, the person who has penned this email and, apparently, taken on the leadership and distribution of said email, is one of my favorite people. My guess is she did not want to leave me out of the mix. I understand this sentiment. I’m even trying to justify my addition to the list, despite my wishes.
But this is what atheists (secret or publicly self-described) face on a regular basis: we are confronted with life events which are often presented to us in terms of religion. Such events are routinely experienced in countries with theocratic governments. It is my understanding that the United States is a republic-form of a democracy. We are not a theocracy. Well, technically, we are not suppose to be a theocracy. The First Amendment states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The first few words of this amendment are known as the separation of church and state. Not only does it guarantee freedom of religion, it guarantees freedom from religion. That freedom from religion does not translate well in our country and especially in specific, southernly directional states, such as TEXAS.
I know this sounds like it’s all about me and not about my friend who is battling the pain, fear and uncertainty of cancer. Her fight is something that I cannot battle for her. But I have sent a message, letting her family know that I am here to help, and, actually very close. But my request to not be put on a prayer list fell on deaf keyboards.
Now, will it hurt that I was placed on a prayer list? No. It is my bet that several of my friends will also not forward the email, because they know, as do I, that prayer will not hurt, either, but will not help. What we know is that competent doctors and a relevant protocol of chemotherapy and, perhaps, radiation, will change the course of her cancer. Prayer has not, nor will it ever, change the course of a medical condition.
I know. Someone as close to me as possible almost died from a rare condition. This person did not die because we lived in a city with major medical facilities and surgeons, doctors and nurses who had been trained in up-to-the-minute procedures. This person was diagnosed fairly quickly, yet went into septic shock before exploratory surgery to determine the problem. Recovery has been long, emotional, and devastating, moving one step forward and five steps back. We have since discovered that when this condition occurs, the mortality rate is 95%. That’s right–the vast majority of people do not live through the condition. This person lived, not because of prayer groups formed throughout Texas on the behalf of this person, and instigated by many of my relatives throughout the state. This person lived because of competent medical treatment, based on the evidence of histories of drug trials, peer-reviewed studies and medical procedures which included weeks in a drug-induced coma, multiple surgeries and big-gun antibiotics. My loved one experienced this event as a scared, small child. In recent years, more people are living through this condition; not because prayer has gotten better or more potent: no, evidence-based science, in the form of medical advancements are keeping people alive. When this condition happened to my loved one, I did not pray. I read all that I could about the situation and tried to prepare myself for the probable prognosis of losing this person. Instead, we advocated for my loved one to the top administrators of the hospital. Proactive strategies, not prayer, will help those suffering from conditions and diseases. My loved one is a member of the 5% who lived.
This also begs another issue: when people live after undergoing life-altering circumstances, the standard religious answer in this part o’ the country is that Jesus and/or God cured them. I have actually heard this from members of my family. Then, if the afflicted person does not live, it’s because God moves in mysterious ways, or Jesus needed that person in heaven more than we needed that person on earth. If the known atheist, or liberal New Yorker or Californian dies, it’s because God/Jesus/Allah/Pat Robertson is punishing them for their wicked ways.
B__________ will not be cured by this prayer chain. Her recovery will be as a result of the best practices prescribed by some of the most competent oncologists in the Southwest. We live in a city with the number-one rated cancer research hospital in the world. Her medical cohort will cure her, not Jesus, God, Allah, Yahweh, an angel, a bodhisattva, or an intermediary.
I know my friends think they are helping her by praying for her recovery. It’s the least they can do.
Actually, it truly is the least anyone can do.
I will continue to delete the prayer chain emails as they come into my inbox and contact the family to find out what I can do when B__________ is sick in the middle of the night.
Getting around in the fourth largest city in the United States can be a “challenge.” Oil reigns supreme, so true mass transit really does not exist. Sometimes, you have to make due with what you’ve got. Apparently, this person, who does not appear ambulatory, and may not have had immediate access to a vehicle, did the only thing she could do at the time: get out on San Felipe Street–a major thoroughfare–and drive her motorized wheelchair to–well, wherever. In truth, drivers were conciliatory to her plight as traffic slowed to a crawl while she puttered down the street. The driver of this Suburban even put on his hazard lights and drove extremely slowly, appearing to protect her. As I pulled up, the local River Oaks patrol pulled up behind her to offer additional protection. The destination was unknown, but the Target was less than a quarter of a mile away.
In working through the split-up of my marriage, I found that the best way to remove the pain was to simply stop feeling. Feelings: none. Play a stupid video game. Read endless posts on FaceBook. Tweet about the state of American politics or lament about the hypocrisy of the love for mankind in evangelical Christianity. The world can keep our minds busy and reeling from the everyday overload of too much information, too much, anger, too much pain. Be brave, chin up, barrel through it all, stop sniveling.
Then the wisdom of those who study, those who think big, comes through. Dr. Brené Brown teaches us that those who live lives of completeness and love have one thing in common: they are vulnerable. Brown writes in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We live, Love, Parent and Lead that “Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives us purpose and meaning in life.”
Brown’s words are so often packed with emotional punches that I can only read a sentence as day. Often, one sentence has more meaning for me than years and years of religious dogma.
But at the end of the day, none does not cut it. None is the box that we check when we check out. It’s time to move to vulnerability, the pathway from none to full.
Maybe Peter Beinart’s article in the April 2017 edition of The Atlantic has finally answered my BIG question. What is my BIG question? It has to do with Donald Trump and the fundamentalist/evangelical tie-in.
I’ve never seen the rise of such a demagogue in connection with the tenets of Christianity in my life. In reality, many Christians end up following all manner of so-called Christian leaders. Televangelists would not exist without their ardent followers. Pat Robertson, James Hagee, Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen are just a few who come to mind. Yet, the rise of Donald Trump as a stand-in for a Christian leader has my brain literally hurting.
Now Beinart gives us a perspective on this political/religious phenomenon and it’s the only idea that even begins to make sense to me. In his article, Breaking Faith, Beinart introduces us to the non-church-going Christian.
Although he notes that the nation’s growing “Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization,” it is also leaving behind those more extreme conservatives in our country, “making America’s partisan clashes more brutal.”
These partisan clashes, notes Beinart, have, “contributed to the rise of both Donald Trump and the so-called alt-right movement, whose members see themselves as proponents of white nationalism.”
Need more proof? According to the Pew Research Center poll in March 2016, “Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.”
Beinart cites The University of Notre Dame American History professor Geoffrey C. Layman as noting, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.”
So Ted Cruz represented those institutionalized Christians whom you would normally see in church pews every Sunday. Apparently, Donald Trump represents a more disenfranchised Christian, who appears to have a more darker, much bleaker life.
Beinart suggests that “culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful.”
Another trend could be responsible for this outcome, as Beinart notes:
Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”
In my opinion, this disengaged group of white, lower to middle class Americans are the danger to a progressive, liberal, tolerant and inclusive society. As Beinart writes, “when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift.”
So this explains the rise of nationalism in our country. It explains why so many of our former highly-paid factory workers blame the loss of manufacturing jobs on the growth of multinational corporations and the immigrant population. It explains why it seems more important for the executive branch to build a wall and fund the military, keeping out those who do not conform to the 1950s ideal household–white, traditional, male/female, married, Christian. But what leads the white, working man and woman to want to “Make America Great Again” by wanting to set the clock back by decades? Beinart notes that, “When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.”
Beinart also discusses the rise of Bernie Sanders among the most liberal non-religious group, as well as the rise of the new civil rights movement among African-Americans, known collectively as Black Lives Matter. and how that movement is upending the traditional Black church culture.
We are in the middle of a major ideological upheaval in which the dominant culture from 50-70 years ago is dissolving–white, working class, Christian, industrial. In its place, is the post-industrial, secular, scientific, global, multi-cultural world. But the old order will not go down without a fight.
Donald Trump has risen as the leader of the disenfranchised, middle American, caught up in a protectionist, nationalistic, anti-intellectual movement, looking inward away from progress, multiculturalism and secularism. Christianity is a mask the Luddite wears, which hides intolerance, anti-Semitism and racism. The pendulum swings…
I live a vivid life–a life of culture, travel and experience. Vivid does not have to be simply visual. A vivid life is one where you participate fully and accept the here and now–a mantra that I’m trying on a daily basis to understand and accept.
A vivid life necessitates moving out of one’s comfort zone. It necessitates a tolerance and an understanding of our world’s vast differences.
I was recently in Bhutan, a country of mystery and Gross National Happiness (GNH), and an infrastructure unprepared for the inevitable tourist onslaught. Our group descended one day into the village of Lobesa in the Punakha District of northwestern Bhutan. Pilgrims take a short trek to the Chimi Lhakhang or the Monastery of the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529). This monk’s MO was absolutely out of the ordinary, even for his 16th century land-locked, mountain-locked followers. He espoused the greatest Tibetan Buddhist’s traditions, but he also might have been the earliest hippy, talking of free love–most specifically with him. Over the centuries, worship of the Divine Madman has evolved into a fertility cult. People, now from all around the world, come to pray at the Chimi Lhakhang for children–a pilgrimage to pray and meditate for the awarding of children in their lives. Our guide excitedly displayed a typical cheap, plastic notebook in the temple, showing us page after page of couples proudly posing with their newborns after visiting the monastery. This notebook is guarded by a large statue of a generic version of the Madman himself, while behind him sits the requisite giant statue of the Buddha, surrounded by many bodhisattvas–those humans who choose to not enter enlightenment, but decide to help their fellow human to reach the all enlightenment.
I have been in different places all around the world that celebrate fertility. We, as westerners, are used to depictions of female fertility, perhaps driven by the cults of Mother Earth to the Virgin Mary, all the while embracing and yet abhorring the phallus, which can impregnate with force and without our feminine consent. Society can then, socially and religiously, relegate the “promiscuous” woman to the status of adulterers and whores, while Donald Trump, the President of the United States, gets away with “locker room talk.”
This is what makes us comfortable. This is what makes abstinence-only sex education in the United States celebrated, yet ineffectual at curbing sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage.
But in Bhutan, sex is celebrated in its masculine form. Instead of seeing the very western-style paintings of beautiful, objectified and stylized nude women with their rounded, fecund stomachs and hairless genitalia, the Bhutanese present to us the fertile penis–the other part of the “it takes two to tango” catchphrase.
This is what I would call a vivid projection of the male anatomy (no pun intended). So many homes had this happy penis painted on the sunbaked adobe. Still, I felt very uncomfortable. As I walked through the village to the monastery, we were greeted with kindness and gentleness. What is keeping me from embracing the happy penis without this feeling of impending doom?
Upon reflection, I can only conclude that my anxiety stems from a deeply rooted cultural belief within me. The source of this feeling might originate from my western, Puritanical background, which has set me up for the great joy as well as the great emotional pain of sex, within and without marriage. But for the Bhutanese people, even the children see that sex is natural, expected and celebrated. These images do not invite rape or unwanted sexual advances. Rather, they embrace the male and female together, the ying and the yang, the dual source of fertility…the vivid life of love and the vivid love of life.
I am amazed at the lengths to which some people will go to justify their pomposity and entitlement as so-called “christian” leaders who exploit their congregants to service their self-aggrandizing egos.
Self-professed evangelical minister Jesse Duplantis carried on a conversation with Kenneth Copeland on the Believer’s Voice of Victory Network back in December 2015 about hearing voices–of Jesus (of course)–while flying on their private planes. They have so many places to be…so many people to convert all over the country, that Delta Airlines could not possibly get them to the needy people longing to hear the word of the lord. Yes, god gave Jesse a private airplane to criss-cross the country and bring you heathens to JEEEEEsus.
Besides, who wants to sit in coach in that “long tube with a bunch of demons?”
Here, have a listen, courtesy of YouTube:
If I had not heard and seen this clip with my own eyes and ears I don’t know that I would have believed it.
Look, believe your mythology if you want. It’s no skin off my nose. But if you are going to give your social security check to these clowns, just know that they are laughing all the way to the pulpit–and to the Fixed Base Operation (FBO) at the private airport where Jesus’ Falcon 50 is kept in a private hanger out of the sun and rain on your nickel.
Unfortunately, his words still ring true and continue to resonate in the face of intractable opinion, masked in modern culture, rooted in religion, dogma and delusional thoughts of superiority.
In the company of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Paul Graham gives us a roadmap on how to effectively argue your point. It does not mean that you will always win. In fact, it guarantees that if you do not have your facts and examples lined up to present, you can be outclassed with as little as name calling and ad hominem retorts.
Most of what I hear today in religion, civil war and politics rarely moves above the point of Contradiction on Graham’s scale. The art of disagreement comes with intelligence, empathy and knowledge.
Secularism, and, shall we say, REALITY continues to rear it’s rationally religious-rebuking ugly head more and more in the United States. Across the board, the fire-and-brimstone teachings of the past no longer resonate with people. Religion’s ability to scare individuals into believing has simply lost its strangle-hold on our conscience.
No organization knows this better than PRRI, the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-profit group of highly-regarded researchers who’ve been reporting on the state of religion in America since 2009. For those god-loving peeps, the news is not good. The latest research paper from PRRI, published two days ago, is Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back. It seems that many of us are sick of hearing that our fellow LGBTQ friends and family are going to hell for their “lifestyles.” That we need to “love the sinner; hate the sin.” That we need to believe in miracles that are simply impossible on this earth: stigmata, virgin birth, raising from the dead, coming back to life…the same old diatribe designed to win you over emotionally, but asks you to surrender reality.
That being said, let’s get back to Reverend Billy and his Christian friend/Atheist friend scenario as brought to us by Kevin Davis. Growing up in the 1970s in Texas I was constantly told that I was going to hell because I was not a Southern Baptist. Never mind whether I had gone through the same giving up my life to Christ as a Methodist–that made no difference. It had to be done on the terms of the Southern Baptist Convention: you know, Billy’s group. So when I realized that we were suppose to believe in the same thing–that we were playing on the same team, but that my team was not good enough, well, that’s when I started questioning the whole situation. That’s right. Billy Graham’s team, the Southern Baptists, help me to decide that religion was really just a mythological scare tactic to keep me invested, and investing, in their cause.
Now we see that Billy is going soft on the atheists. Rather than attempting to pound us into submission, they can use the passive-aggressive move to pray for us and, perhaps occasionally interject that we will have no life after death and that no one can help us when things get bad, except praying to Jeeeeeesus. Number one: we Atheists don’t believe in heaven or the pearly gates or Dante’s nine circles of hell. There’s no proof. You either believe it or you don’t. I don’t. Number two: things will get bad and they do get bad. If you think that turning to religion is the only way to turn your life around, then you don’t get out enough. For those of us who are highly educated, travel extensively and know people from many different cultures, the narrow dogma of “you have to do what we say or all is lost”–well, that just doesn’t hold water. It never did and it never will.
So this was the original question on Billy Graham’s website:
My best friend and I enjoy each other’s company, but I’m a Christian and he says he’s an atheist. I’ve tried to argue with him, but he just laughs and says I ought to grow up and forget about God. How can I win him over?
The Reverend’s initial answer to the question is:
You can point him in the right direction—but to be honest, you can’t win him over by yourself (as you’ve discovered). He’s convinced that he is right—and even if he has secret doubts, his pride probably gets in the way.
The atheist is convinced that he is right because all evidence points him to the actual reality of life: not giving in to impossible, mythological beliefs inherent in all religion. What if you are wrong, Billy? Your pride must be equally great to not be able to see the ridiculous dogma of your beliefs.
I like Kevin’s answer to all of this pray-the-atheism-away: he suggests, “focus on enjoying the friendship and camaraderie you have with your atheist friend. Most of my friends and family are believers and don’t try to convince me to believe their dogma, just as I don’t try to burst their Bronze Age ideological bubble. It’s called respect. Once you stop showing that, you can say goodbye to your friendship altogether.”
Might I add to the Christian who wants to convert his/her friend: accept your Atheist friend as he/she is. As for your continued attempt at evangelizing to an Atheist, you might be safer just to stay in your religious bubble. Reality has its way of rearing it’s head around secularists. That might be too dangerous for a believer.
Read the original post on Answers, from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.