[cancer|religion] Cancer and religion and you and me

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.

130 thoughts on “[cancer|religion] Cancer and religion and you and me

  1. Danielle Gembala says:

    Beautiful, as usual. Do you think that they feel that if only you had religion they might feel better about losing you? It’s like the panacea ‘it’s gonna be ok’ or ‘it could be worse’ – the things people say because of how badly THEY feel.

  2. Dandru says:

    Those people are NOT friends. If they were, they’d respect your beliefs more.

  3. Erica says:

    Well said, Jay.

  4. Patrick McMurray says:

    Sorrow, support, etc.

    I know from personal experience that even when ringing death’s doorbell, knowing there is nothing at all beyond that doorway is ok. There _are_ atheists in foxholes and ICUs.

  5. Mike McLaren says:

    God wants you to keep writing… so does Buddha, Allah, Krishna, that little speck of frequency near Alpha Centauri… oh yeah, and so do I. Haven’t had enough of you, yet.

    1. Claudia says:

      Jay, you said so very well what I have thought so very often. I feel the same way about gods and religion – and have known since I was six years old that absolutely none of it made sense to me, and that I’d never be among those who believe in such things – I think I’d sooner believe there are faeries in the grass and elves in the woodlands, kindly creatures who do no harm to any man.

      I continue to read every word you write, regardless of how many tears flow freely as I read. You truly are a remarkable man, and in my mind have already managed to achieve no small degree of immortality by way of the words you’ve written here, and elsewhere.

      My heart aches for you, and those who love you. We are legion, I suspect.

Comments are closed.