Friday, March 16, 2012

Coping With Pesonal Tragedy: Two Perspectives

Thanks to Classmates.com, I've been able to reconnect with some of my fellow high school alumni. I was pleased to learn several months ago that one of these people, who also happened to be my next door neighbor when we were kids, had achieved a fulfilling life life including a Ph.D, a successful career, and a long andfrom what I  gatherhappy marriage. I remember her as a fine person who deserves her good fortune.

So I was saddened to later learn that she had been stricken with (a non-smoker's form of) lung cancer for which a cause hadn't been detected (as is often the case with cancer anyway) and which appeared to be inoperable.  As it turns out, however,  a regimen of chemotherapy eventually shrank the tumor which was then was fully excised, and her chances of recovery are favorable. 

As a theist and the wife of a rabbi, her initial reaction to the original diagnosis was to question why this dreadful illness had befallen her and that she must be a bad person for God to punish her this way(!).  Although she kept her faith,  she says that she came to understand that's not the way misfortune works.  But her initial reaction of feeling forsaken by a trusted supreme being is not only instructive in its contrast  to an atheist's response to distressing news but is also an indictment of religion to the extent that the latter adds unnecessary feelings of guilt and betrayal to the emotional devastation of the crisis itself.

As an atheist I don't claim that non-believers are any less emotionally affected by bad news, e.g. life threatening illnesses, than are theists.  However, not having a god to blame, fear, question,  or beg for divine intervention, is one less obstacle to the opportunity of dealing and coming to terms with the matter at hand with less clouded judgment. I know this from personal experience simply by comparing my response as an atheist upon learning of my own perilous health situations and of those close to me vs.my reaction when I was still a god-believer  wasting time and energy with the self delusion that prayer might lead to a positive outcome.

In short atheism makes it easier to face reality. This is not to say that non-believers can't hope for happy endings in bad times. After all, life without that state of mind is barren. But for hope to be meaningful, it must be based on an objective and reasonable assessment of the situation.  So although I'm well aware of  the reality that my former schoolmate's cancer may return, based on the circumstances to date I can rationally hope for her to enjoy a long term and perhaps permanent remission.

6 comments:

ReasonBeing said...

Good Post! I agree completely. Religions really do get in the way when it comes to hardships. I know of a local college kid who passed away because he refused a medical treatment. He knew if he prayed hard enough, god would save him. This person was Catholic mind you, and not one from one of the religions that forbids medicine. Of course, god did not save him and he died. His death was completely preventable.

That is one example of many that come to mind. The fact is, when you choose to deal with facts and reality, as atheists do, then as hard as things get, you will be better prepared to deal with them.

Secular Guy said...

RB,
Thanks for your support.

That a Catholic would resort to faith healing is surprising. On the other hand one has to note that the Pope is using rational thinking by choosing to ride in the protective "popemobile" instead looking to God to shield him from harm while in an open vehicle. I guess even His Holiness knows not push his luck, but I'm sure he would never admit that publicly.

ReasonBeing said...

I have always found the idea of the Popemobile interesting for that very reason! It really does not say much for his faith that god will protect him as the human representative for god on earth does it?

Secular Guy said...

ReasonBeing,

Evidently not. I guess wearing a cross protects against vampires, but not assassins.

Dr. Kold_Kadavr_flatliner, M.D. said...

Doesn't matter if you believe in the whorizontally superficial, you're still gonna croak and make the flowers grow; then, while your body's eaten by grubsNworms, your indelible soul rises to be judged on what YOU alone have done with your finite existence. Y'better think summore on where you wanna spend eternity. Here's what I did. I was involved in an severe accident at 15 with my sweetheart, 17 (you can read about it on my profile). Nevertheless, I found what few other human mortals on this swiftly, decaying planet have yet to discover: a Way Home, past this violence and materialism that has so engulfed our populace on this journey to our demise; because you’re ignorant on how to rise above the whorizontal and one-outta-one shall croak sometime, somewhere soon, God has set-up this magnificent feature on the Way either Upstairs or downtown: the Warning. Everyone (me, too) living on this planet will see and feel the Warning lasting about 20ish minutes, showing U.S. a gorgeous picture of Heaven, Purgatory, and dagnasty Hell. Remember, God doesn’t condemn; we condemn ourselves by our sinful lifestyles of unbelief. The Warning’s just a wake-up call. Don’t believe me? You will soon. God bless you with discernment: atheism is cool, isn't it, till you croak...

Secular Guy said...

I think I remember why I became an atheist.