[cancer|religion] Talking about God with a faith holding friend

My good friend [info]daveraines, a UMC pastor, has another post in his Jay Lake, Cancer, and God series. I read his post, and saw it as an unfinished interview. I asked Dave if he’d mind me responding. He said, “I would love for you to respond to this!”

So, here we are. I respond to each of his sections below.

Empirical vs. Mythical truth

Dave captured my point of view on this pretty well. I would make a small correction of “Mythical” to “Mythic”, mostly because of Dave himself pointing out to me that “mythical” is a specific kind of dismissive, while “mythic” is descriptive of a certain kind of thought process outside the linear, objective structures of the Apollonian perspective.

How Those Christians Behave

Again, Dave captured my point of view pretty well here. I have a lot more to say on this topic than his encapsulation. I will add one thing now: I have what evangelists call a “pain story” about the enormous hurt and damage that American Christianity caused me and my family back in the 1990s. Mother of the Child was pregnant (this was about 1994). The fetus died at 14 weeks. Her body would not spontaneously miscarry, so our doctor scheduled a D&C (which is normally an abortion procedure) for 18 weeks. Thanks to protests and pressure from Christian protestors, almost all the hospitals in Austin, TX had stopped allowing D&C procedures to be performed in their operating rooms for any reason.

It was Bible-believing Christians who would have forced my wife to carry a nonviable fetus indefinitely. There is not enough of God’s love in the world to justify the misery they wanted to inflict on my family for the sake of their narrow minded beliefs. There is nothing moral or ethical about opposition to abortion when it includes this kind of profound cruelty.

That experience hardened my existing political and cultural opposition to the religious extremism of the public face of American Christianity from a sort of generic liberal-progressive discomfort to a deeply personal hatred which has never guttered out.

God’s Wounds?

This is the section where Dave said the least. I’ll quote him in full:

I must label this as speculation. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of some kind of personal struggle between Jay and God, or perhaps with the church. The first thing he ever said to me (upon finding out I am a pastor) was something like, “Many of my stories work out my struggle with the god I don’t believe in.”

I was raised churched early in life, mostly under the influence of my very strict grandfather. He was a devout member of the Disciples of Christ who slightly after that point in my life earned a Doctorate of Divinity from Texas Christian University and was preacher for the remainder of his working life. (Having previously been a dentist, a colonel in the army, a land developer, a retail store owner, a black market meat smuggler, an armed strike breaker, and quite a few other things.) I was a good little Bible student, earning all kinds of awards.

Then I actually read the story of Passover and the Angel of Death with some care.

4 And Moses said, Thus saith the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt:

5 And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first born of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.

6 And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.

    — Exodus 11:4-6 (KJV)

Even at age five or so, I could not understand how a God who loved his creation could kill all the firstborn children of Egypt. How were they to blame for the misdeeds of Pharaoh? What would they have done. Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents had nothing on what the Lord God Almighty did to those poor children whose only crime was to be sleeping in the wrong house.

That was the beginning of my lifelong dispute with God. My teen aged and adult observations of the behavior of His followers in Christian America have only confirmed that the God of my fathers is a petty, mean spirited tyrant who reduces his followers to cruelty and intellectual dishonesty in the name of faith. The same God who killed thousands of innocent children just to make a political point, something that was obviously immoral even to my five year old self. And yet, we celebrate this as a miracle?

It is Christians like Dave Raines, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, John R. White and Fred Clark who remind me that I am wrong about this. My argument is with God, not His followers. As Dave quoted me, the God I don’t believe in.

There is absolutely no proof of God in the world. The Bible no more proves His existence than comic books prove the existence of Spiderman. I’m an empirical guy (Dave’s first point), and I see no empirical evidence. Nonetheless, God plays a very powerful role in the world precisely because so many people do believe (Dave’s second point), and so it is this God-by-implication that I am really arguing with.

As for cancer, well. I can neither blame God nor Satan, as neither of them exist in any form meaningful enough to have an effect on my health. But my own mythic truths are powerful and deep, and they have been shaped by the Christian narrative.

So I argue as I not so slowly die.

35 thoughts on “[cancer|religion] Talking about God with a faith holding friend

  1. Bellatrix says:

    I just finished re-reading Endurance and it seems that much of what this post talk about is in there too!
    I’m actually glad to hear that evangelists have a term for “pain stories”. I have often been asked by devout xians why pagans (like me) have negative actions when Jesus casually pops up into conversations. I always say that many of us have experienced trauma at the hand of god, whether moving throu our parents, leaders, friends etc and that even the mention of Jesus can trigger these traumas. I’m just heartened to know that some Jesus-loving folks understand that much at least.

  2. Ellen Eades says:

    Linky not worky from here, Jay…

    1. Stevo Darkly says:

      The URL just has some extraneous stuff stuck to the beginning. It should be:


  3. Dan Gollub says:

    There is empirical evidence for God & spirits in one’s consciousness. When one is on the right track mentally the spirit world may try to reinforce that consciousness via enjoyable warmth/nurturing/guidance. One can even learn to identify which spirit is involved, whether it’s Christ, Sonny Liston, Poul Anderson, etc. Also: no matter what folly or evil the person engaged in while alive, as a spirit he or she will come to you for constructive reasons. “God” is an emissary from an advanced alien civilization that developed a form of immortality and then launched spaceships in search of life in other solar systems. One of those spaceships found this planet.

  4. Jim Crider says:

    Oddly enough, I was raised in the Disciples of Christ denomination. The first pastor I recall, circa 1973 or so, was a long-haired, hippy-freak, acoustic-guitar-folk-music-playing guy named Jim Hopkins, who just exuded a universal love and welcoming that you couldn’t help but catch, even if you were a staid CEO of the big local electric utility (who was a member of the same church).

    Later ministers may have been more formal, but in late HS and college I met another DoC minister named Pat Baker, who came to the church the hard way — at one point, by his own admission, he’d been on everything BUT heroin. Yet the thing I remember most about Pat, besides the ceramic fantasy-novel dragons he kept in his office, was that same universal love and welcoming.

    I sort of drifted away from it when I moved to Michigan after college. All the science & engineering got me questioning the mythic, as the reality was clearly different. My first wife, a gen-u-wine evangelical “Christian” (quotes deliberate: that church demonstrated a level of general hostility toward the different that was so unlike anything I’d read in the Gospels or understood from Jim and Pat that I couldn’t really call it Christian), and her mother, who willingly turned their brains off for Juh-HEE-zus, pretty much drove me out of church entirely.

    My folks are still heavily involved with their DoC church in Tulsa (a different one than the one we attended when I was a kid). I see the benefit as a social structure: they have friends, Dad does Habitat for Humanity builds with the men’s group, they sing in the choir, Dad’s served as an Elder and a church officer. It’s a touchstone for them. He’s expressed some disappointment that none of his offspring attend church anymore — like that’s some sort of failing on his part. I have suggested that all three of us are productive adults who do our own version of good works for others and try to be good people in general, and that’s ample proof that they didn’t fail as parents one little bit. The moral code we siblings follow didn’t spring from the church, it sprung from the example our parents gave us, and we’ve evolved it from there, as we are individuals. Again, that’s a win by anyone sane’s reckoning.

    Jay, I think it’s plenty safe to say you’ve laid a tremendous foundation for The Child to learn from, and build upon in that respect. From what you’ve shared of her decisions and general attitude, it’s again safe to say the lessons have taken. A religion does not have an exclusive on moral & ethical code. You are but one of many proofs of that.

    That’s a hell of a solid living legacy, beyond all the other works you have done.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It’s funny, I consider myself a fairly religious (Christian) person, yet some of your reasoning rings so true to me. I’ve found that organized religion, at least what I’ve personally experienced, gets off track *very* quickly. What starts as a small group loving God and sharing their experiences, insights, and worship together seems to often warp into extreme behavior, exclusivity, scorn of others, and a general departure from the things that made the original group great. After seeing this enough times, I took my faith inwards.

    I haven’t been to church in ages and my only outward profession of my faith is a small cross I wear. Going off the map like this has actually been a pleasant experience. Those few who I do have contact with regarding religion are those who either asked about my necklace, or it happened to just come up in conversation. I wish the churches could provide the same experience as the conversations I’ve had with fellow Christians (or even those who are not religious but offered fascinating conversation on the topic.)

    I have family who see my form of practicing my faith as weird or lazy, but it seems to work for me. After enough arguments with a preacher friend about having to aggresively pursue converting people, I find my own personal viewpoint to be a better experience and still allows me to be a touch evangical — but only when the opportunity arises.

    I believe that anyone who truly seeks God will find him. They don’t need ceremony, ritual, or an organization. They just need to seek him out and he’ll make sure you find him. At least that is how it worked for me. I’ve had personal experiences that to my mind prove both the existence and the love of God. I was given what I needed in order to believe when the right time came… and that is how I try to practice my faith. Just believe that God will reach those who seek him and be willing to share should I be approached about it.

    Of course, this whole comment I guess goes against my proclaimed philosophy of practicing faith personally and quietly, but I felt like sharing. I figure anyone who cares to read what I have to say can disregard me easily enough if it’s not right for you. =)

  6. Cora says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about what you and Mother of Child had to go through. Sadly, it’s not exactly a unique occurrence.

    A friend of mine who is very religious by German standards had a similar experience. She suffered miscarriage and had to have the same procedure Mother of Child needed. She ended up in a Catholic hospital, because it happened to be the closest to her home, and was badly treated by the nuns working there (e.g. a nun telling her that she might die of the procedure and that she should have considered that beforehand), until a regular nurse snapped at one of the nuns, “The woman lost her baby, so show some respect.” The nuns were a lot nicer afterwards. But she nonetheless never went back to that hospital with any of her other pregnancies (she eventually had four healthy children).

  7. Julianna says:

    I had no idea we were raised in the same denomination (Disciples of Christ). I always found them a mellow group, with very open minded Bible study for kids, etc. Of course, that was in the 1970s – mileage may now vary.

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