Monday, August 18, 2008

A Question of Faith

The AP has a story out with the headline "Many think God’s intervention can revive the dying" which says a survey found that 57% of adults felt that divine intervention could revive a dying loved one. I read this after I read the letter to the editor of the Missoulian from Jack Fleming in which he describeda fertilized egg as nothing more than "spermed ovum." Never mind that a fertilized egg has its own DNA separate from that of either the mother or the father. In Mr. Fleming's letter, he goes on and says
I do not believe that human beings are sacred, that we have souls, that we serve any purpose or that there is an afterlife or a place to live it. I think that we have no notion of what eternity is, what it would mean to live that lengthlessly long, or even why such an endurance would be thought a good.

We are formed, as all life is, to reproduce ourselves. If there is a purpose within that purpose, that is the purpose. For us, the urge to do so runs from never to ever. Any disciplining of the urge is arbitrary, but not therefore wrong. It becomes wrong when a discipline turns an artificiality into a reality in order to subordinate one half of a species to the willful ignorance of the other half. For to say that a spermed ovum is a person is to say that the R at the beginning of my letter is the letter.

While I am not one to get into any kind of theological discussion, especially with such a firm believer in atheism, I do wonder if Mr. Fleming has ever had to face the kind of situation that the survey above was reporting?
My first wife was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1987 while I was finishing up a tour in Germany at the time. She had gone to Virginia to await my return, and she was studying to become a special education teacher at the time. She fought the battle bravely, but in the end, due to the progression of the disease, and the lack of similar progress in a cure, her body was self destructing.
I remember sitting with her every hour after work until they kicked me out every night. We would talk, but we both knew that there was no talk of the future. Even so, I prayed as hard as I could for a miracle. I read everything that I could on colon cancer, and no doubt annoyed the bejeebers out of the doctors and nurses at St. Patrick's with questions. Grasping for any tidbit of hope that might come my way. The last three days of her life, she was in a coma. At the end, having not spoken for some time, she suddenly started talking to her brother. Her brother killed himself before I met her. Now, I know that it could have been just the remnants of a brain shutting down, but it was startling nonetheless.
After 10 weeks in the hospital, the end came at 4:12 p.m. on the 16th of February, 1989. Even as the beeping machinery that monitored her earthly shell started the long continuous high pitch, I still was reaching for the nurses alert button, hoping that it was just something wrong with the monitors, even while knowing at the same time, that they were functioning properly.
During that entire period, I prayed almost continuously for a miracle that never happened. Some might have turned in anger against God for betraying their faith in that way. I may have made the mistake of slipping in another direction.
I believe in God, I believe in a hereafter, I believe that good and moral and decent people will go there, and I believe that my wife is there. But I also believe that God doesn't intervene. Having set the universe in motion, God simply observes. I know that is heresy to some. My brother, whom I love like a brother, is more fundamentalist, and believes that I just wasn't doing something right. Maybe I wasn't, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't trying.
I pity Mr. Fleming for his view. In some ways, they are similar, in that I too don't believe that there is a rope that will be thrown to us by God. But, we differ in he sees nothing, and I still believe that for all the troubles and travails of life, there is something better, and when we get there, we will wonder why we waited so long.


Anonymous said...

In order to understand atheism, you have to break down the word - a-theists - that is, non-theists. That's all. They (I say "they" - I'm agnostic) don't buy in to any of the god systems, be they Allah or Jesus or Minverva or Zeus. But atheists love life and one another, hurt when a loved one dies, and look at the stars and universe with awe and wonder as much as any religious person - maybe more so. For an atheist or agnostic, this is all there is - we have to make the most of it. There's no second chances.

Life is beautiful and painful for all of us. I'm sorry you lost your wife. That is really sad and you told the story beautifully. As with so much of your writing, you are in your own head and don't much attempt to get in anyone else's. Atheists are like liberals - quite normal people really. That's not what you want to hear, right? We're just like you. We just don't dance to your tune.

Steve said...

Mark, I appreciate your comments, but why does this nagging thought keep coming to my mind - Why is it always about you?
Look, I may not understand you, or Fleming for that matter, it's not that I think that you are immoral or evil. Instead, I come from a different point of view, no less rational than yours, but still, different.
But it puzzles me, as I am sure that I puzzle you, why the differences? It could be based on education, experience, history, whatever, but it does make it interesting.
Understand that just because I disagree with you, doesn't mean that I think less of you. Heck, I have never even met you.
As to getting into someone else's head, I don't know that I need to do that. To thine own self be true.
Besides, it's easier than trying to be anyone else.

Anonymous said...

You need to get into the heads of others to have a useful debate. I would hardly waste my breath debating health care with you, for example, if I did not want to expose your attitude that decent care belongs to the well-heeled. Exposing that is important, understanding it as your main thrust, even though to never openly say so, is part of the debating process. First I come to understand you, then I expose you.

You're not evil. Never said you were. But this whole neocon/neoliberal movement needs to be taken on and defeated. Your well-intentioned ideas are very dangerous.

Anonymous said...

What baloney.

Anonymous said...

I'd recommend, "the problem of pain" by cs lewis.

Lewis doesn't convince me with his arguments, but many Christians would find his discussion helpful.

However, it's a worthwhile read. If he plays a little too much with semantics for a classic philosopher, at least he's easily understandable.

He wrote another book after the death of his wife from some form of the modern horror, after experiencing first hand what you talk about. I don't know the title, but it should be easy to find on Amazon.

As for me, I'm a theist myself, of the "wind up" variety. I cannot accept an interventionist Creator picking and choosing based on the Westboro Baptist Church model, a cariacature, but an accurate one, of the theology.

And we see constantly, even from your brother? the ancient and irrational idea that pain comes from sin, that sick people brought it on themselves, and the corollary to that is that the rich and healthy, blessed by the Deity, must be somehow more holy.

At it's most basic, the idea of sin as cause for sickness, or even that God causes sickness and it's against his will to cure it, is as ancient as any superstition. It challenges science and medicine and enlightened western civilization at our most basic level. "Fundamentalist science" if you will, is that the physical universe is explainable and that it's up to us to understand how we protect ourselves against it. That's not an argument for a totally beneficent deity.

Steve said...

"Dangerous ideas." I kinda like it.
And here I thought you didn't have a sense of humor, since you missed the point of having a "theological argument" with an atheist.
But your most recent comment shows that you are a fan of George Orwell and his book 1984. Although you missed the "doubleplusungood," to finish the thought.