Last night at dinner we raised our glasses (beer in ours, milk in Paisley’s) and said “Cheers!” She loves this and we are a family of toasters so it wasn’t really out of the ordinary. As soon as she had taken a swing of her milk, she put her cup on the table, crossed her arms across her chest, bowed her head and with eyes closed said “Hum-a-na, hum-a-na, hum-a-na “. Me and my husband sat there stunned and trying not to laugh as she said what appeared to be a blessing.“What was that?” I said. “Oh, sometimes Grandpa does that before he eats.” she replied. Continue Reading
We received a frantic phone call on Friday night from my MIL informing us that my little BIL (who is serving his mission in Arizona) “blew out his knee” and might have to be released from his missionary duties in order to come home and recuperate. She was upset for a few reasons; she is a mother and of course, she wasn’t able to speak to her son directly, she was surprised and didn’t have all the information she wanted and above all, she was upset about his mission experience being jeopardized. My BIL is loving his mission experience so far and part of the appeal for missionaries and their families is that it is such a long stretch. Two years is a long time to do anything consistently. It is a long time to not see loved ones, only talk to them on the phone 4 times and to commit yourself as a servant of the Lord. Doing the time is part of what makes it such a huge deal, so cutting it in half would have been very upsetting for everyone involved.
My MIL wasn’t totally sure what had happened but was told by the missionary President’s wife (who apparently is responsible for keeping other Mother’s informed of their kid’s accidents/injuries etc.) that they would call back on Monday with more information. There was much concern and worry and discussion about what this would mean.
We called today only to be referred to an email that she had forwarded to us. Basically, my BIL is the proud recipient of a genuine miracle of God. You can only imagine my frustration upon hearing his version of events. He hurt his knee playing soccer and knew right away it was bad. They took him to a doctor who felt it and told him that he thought he may have torn his MCL and to stay off of it for the next few days until he could get an MRI. The bishop came and did a blessing on BIL’s knee. The pain did not subside and it was still pretty bad. On Monday the Bishop came and did another blessing after which my BIL’s knee started to feel a bit better. At the very least, he felt better. When they got the results back from the MRI it showed a small tear in the MCL but there is no need for surgery and his mission won’t be affected. I could hardly stomach reading the email as he launched into his testimony and assurances that he has re-committed himself with even more fervor into bringing the Gospel to the people and that he knows this and that is true and how blessed he is to have been a witness to the glory and power of God’s miraculous love. Blah, blah, blah.
Here is what I would like to say but will not:
1. Your first doctor? Yeah, he misdiagnosed your knee. Not difficult to do when you’re just feeling around someone’s inflamed joint.
2. If the blessing was so effective, why did it take two of them?
3. Maybe the looseness that you attribute to a torn ligament was just loose ligaments that tightened up after you followed the doctor’s suggestions to ice and rest your knee.
4. And perhaps my biggest complaint with all claims of miraculous healing…who do you think you are?! Let me get this straight. This omnipotent and benevolent God who has the power to heal the sick and dying skips over the truly needy only to fix your knee? While you were receiving a priesthood blessing in Arizona, countless women were cradling dying infants and children in their arms, begging and pleading for their lives. Terminally ill people begged for mercy. Innocent babies lay in the dirt, listless from starvation and dehydration. By morning, thousands of people have died painful, agonizing and wholly undeserved deaths but God fixed your knee. Are you kidding me? This to me is the height of egotism.
I thought about saying something but this boy has
drunk bathed in the kool-aid and is now handing out free samples, so he’s beyond reasonable debate at this point.
I was interested to read some of the comments to my recent post On a Mission. I thought my approach was very tempered and a good way to open a dialogue. Nothing feels less comfortable to me than never addressing a major issue. I know there are times to address it and ways to approach things respectfully and lightly but never? Never, ever? That just feels wrong. So while I appreciate the idea that I should just leave things alone and the sentiment behind it, that ain’t me. I feel too strongly about this to just sit back and watch someone I care about become a morg. :)
The good news is, I got a great response from my BIL. I didn’t really think he would take it badly but I guess you never really know until you try. I won’t repeat verbatim what he wrote because I feel like that would be bad form but basically he agreed with me that credit should be given to doctors, technology, science etc. but that crediting God is also important because for many, it really is their faith that keeps them going. Fair enough I suppose.
He maintains that he has seen prayer at work (and gave me an example of a woman in his mission who has been trying to get pregnant and only a week after receiving a priesthood blessing, found out she was expecting. Oh, and the missionary correctly predicted it would be a girl) and that it is the greatest outward expression of inner faith. He wasn’t the least bit offended and so I am happy that I have started a discussion at the very least.
It is too easy for myths and stereotypes about atheists to persist when we fail to identify ourselves as such. So, in my reply to his email, I thanked him for his response and told him I thought it was well-considered and respectful (which it was) and that as an atheist, prayer is likely not something we will ever agree on but that there is always value in trying to understand the people you love. Baby steps.
The example of “prayer in action” that he gave me is so typical and so pervasive. To be able to see the example for what it is requires a lot; an acceptance of true coincidence, an understanding of basic statistics and probability, an appreciation for the human brain to create what it wants (“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” – Mark Twain) and the maturity to recognize that a lot of stories, are just down right lies. How do you effectively deconstruct this example in a way someone of faith can grasp where you are coming from? I mean, I know that there is only one way to end a drought (whether it be of the moisture or the baby variety) and so a prediction like that will almost always be true with time. I know that there are only two options for a baby and that predicting it’s a girl is not statistically relevant – not even close. I know that people tend to count the hits and ignore the misses and that it’s just as likely that the missionary told her she was going to get pregnant several times before she actually did, or that the story was revised to be even more faith-promoting with each repetition. I know that by no means does this example prove that prayer works and yet, for some, it does.
I feel lucky to have a strong background in science and I credit that largely for my atheism. I studied neuroscience with some very impressive people with wicked minds and an almost universal lack of belief in God. I learned how to think, deconstruct, spot the faulty assumption or premise and apply the scientific method to the world around me. It is not realistic to think that everyone could (or would want to) have that kind of experience. So, how do you teach basic critical thinking to young people in a way that isn’t threatening?
This could be a whole other post, but I’m a big believer that this should be taught to every student in the world. At least it would be a start.
Will keep you updated on BIL.
Here is an excerpt from a recent email I wrote to my little brother-in-law who is serving his mission in Mesa, Arizona:
I saw the video of the LDS woman who was in a plane crash and survived. It was a very moving story and that woman was very brave and obviously very strong. It did raise a question however that I have had for some time. I hope you are okay with me asking you a religious question – I figured now that you are a missionary you probably get asked difficult questions all the time. You are an intelligent person and someone who I know thinks about things very deeply so I am hoping you can give me some insight. My question doesn’t pertain to the Mormon religion per se, but to faith in general. In the video, I was disturbed by the part where the woman credited her survival to God and prayer. I watched the video only a few days after my experience in hospital and had been thinking about this already. In fact, it has always bugged me. I remember when 12 miners were rescued years ago in Pennsylvania, people crying and saying they were saved by prayer and by God. While rescue workers who had risked life and limb stood by. I think of all the doctors who worked on that poor lady in the video, and all the amazing science and technology that went into saving her life. The nurses, the physiotherapists, not to mention her own inner strength and perseverance. I find it so frustrating and difficult to understand.
Many people say that faith is not something that can be measured or tested. That is true. However, certain things can be measured. One of those things is prayer. It’s a simple thing really; pray for 100 people, don’t pray for the other 100 and see what happens. You can have control groups and measurable outcomes. It’s been studied and tested hundreds of times over, by those of faith and those without, in many different countries and there has never been a measurable difference. While prayers certainly brings peace to those offering them, it doesn’t actually increase the odds of the sick or injured getting better. Now, what has been proven to work is medicine. Time and time again people are saved by medicine and technology and doctors, and yet, many people of faith insist of crediting prayer when things go well (and God’s will when they don’t, but that is a whole other story) rather than thanking the people who actually deserve it.
Anyway – I don’t mean to go off on a tangent. I saw that video, and it was fresh in my mind and I know you are religious and also smart and so I naturally thought to ask you. I truly hope that you don’t feel offended or put off in any way and if you don’t feel comfortable addressing my question, than by all means just ignore me. :) Having said that, I would really like to know what you think about this. I guess, to summarize, the question would be: why insist on crediting God, when there are so many more obvious and tangible people who deserve recognition?
Now for those of you who are seasoned rational thinkers or atheists this email might seem very mild. There were a million other points I could make – I could tear his world asunder if I wanted to. The thing is, he’s an awesome kid and we have never talked about religion. Ever. Nobody in my husband’s family discusses it at all. We all just tip toe around the fact that they are Mormon and we are not. I hate it but it’s hard to engage people in a conversation when they are unwilling. So, I decided that this topic was safe. It isn’t specific to Mormons, it hopefully won’t be perceived as a personal attack, and it might just get him to think a little. Since this is my first attempt at a religious conversation, I have no idea what to expect.
I asked my husband how he thought my BIL would take it and he said he didn’t have a clue. When my husband told T (my BIL who was 16 at the time) that he was never coming back to the church, T cried like a little kid. Full on bawling for an hour. This kid is not a crier and actually pretty reasonable, level-headed and unemotional. Ever since then, my husband feels like he has little insight into his younger brother which leaves me out on my own. So, I sent him the email and I guess I’ll wait and see what he says. I’ll keep you posted.
Oh, and please check out the video. Sad story of course but another example of how incredibly awesome the church is at marketing, communications and spin. I’m in awe.
We have been trying to get pregnant for some time now and it is taking a bit longer than we anticipated. Then, a couple of days ago, I started experiencing awful pain in my lower abdomen and happened to take a pregnancy test. It was positive. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy and after an emergency ultrasound and a rush of phone calls, concerned doctors and a particularly embarrassing tour through my doctor’s waiting room on a stretcher, I found myself in hospital awaiting surgery. My husband called the necessary people and informed them of what was happening and the reaction from the MIL was of course, that she would keep me in her prayers. I always appreciate the sentiment behind those kinds of things and I realize that they are often said out of habit and the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what else to say. The point was, that she was concerned,thinking of me and hoping for the best.
I had a lot of time to think in the hospital and since that’s what I tend to do anyway, the extra time wasn’t really necessary (or healthy! I was treated by the nicest people and every nurse or doctor who I encountered was kind, friendly, professional and obviously very capable. I watched the machinery around me – from the ultrasound machine that first diagnosed the ectopic pregnancy, the heart monitors, the thermometers that took my temperature with a quick swipe over my forehead, to the little pads on my fingers that read my pulse and oxygen levels. Amazing. Eventually, when I was brought in to the operating room, I was put under with anaesthetic, had my blood sugar monitored continuously and the surgeons were able to inflate my abdominal cavity and perform laparoscopic surgery through three small incisions. That is incredible.
We take so much for granted these days but as a diabetic I am keenly aware of how much we rely on modern-day advances to keep us healthy. I’m glad my MIL prayed for me but I’ll put my money (and my life) on the side of science and technology any day.
Last night, we were getting our little girl ready for bed when hubby turned to me and said, “If I was still in the church, she would be learning to pray right about now.” WTF? She’s not even two yet!
The idea of teaching P to get down on her knees and recite some silly poem to the heavens, all in an effort to ingratiate herself to a brutal and inconsistent father in heaven (when she has a wonderful father right here on earth) is infuriating to me.
I have heard the argument made that teaching your kids to be atheist is no different than teaching them to have faith. You are indoctrinating them, either way. This is something I have struggled with because while I want P to think critically and rationally, I don’t want to force her to be a non-believer. I can say though, that I have never sat her down and told her anything about religion. Do you know why? Because she’s a baby! The idea that you would intentionally set out to introduce a supernatural being into a child’s reality before they have the skills or development to question it is sick and twisted. It’s taking advantage of a primed and vulnerable mind and it’s no wonder it is so difficult and painful for adults to leave the church when their faith is so deeply rooted in their infant brain.
I remember reading my hubby’s baby book not too long ago and feeling physically ill when I read this message from my MIL: “Brian received a gift of one dollar today and when I asked him what he was going to spend it on he told me he was going to save it for his mission, – Age 2”
I have written before about prayer and how egotistical and irrational it really is. While I understand the emotional need to feel like you are “doing something” in a time of crisis, I think prayer is a perfect example of what can happen when you don’t actually stop and think about what you are doing.
Yesterday, a family friend was in a car accident and my MIL immediately started calling for prayers on Facebook. I have seen this a lot. I have been invited to prayer groups and been called to “pray for so-and-so because he/she needs your faith”. My response is to politely ignore the invitation, privately fume and move on. The thing I noticed yesterday however, was how many of these groups use the first name and last name of the people needing prayers. In the cases I’ve seen this is intended for those who don’t know the person personally but wish to add them to their prayers.
So, I can assume that God needs surnames? Should people perhaps include birth dates or addresses when praying on their behalf? Is there a risk of identity theft in heaven? What if there were two Steve Smith’s battling cancer and God was having bad day? Would one man live and the other die? If I just prayed for “Bob” would some guy in Utah sit up from his hospital bed while my friend remained in a coma?