by Mike Haubrich
We’ve been through ups and downs. There have been arguments over politics and religion. I am a liberal and an atheist, he is conservative and a Christian. I don’t mind so much that he is a Christian, in the sense that he has never been one to judge me for being an atheist. He has never been one to threaten me with Hell. He doesn’t go to church and he doesn’t make a show in public of his religion. I asked him once why he believes in God and he told me that his life was so shitty as a child growing up in the foster system, that he started believing in God because then there would at least be someone, somewhere, who cared for him. There would be someone watching after him.
I restrained myself from stating that God was doing a really shitty job of watching after him.
Three years ago he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He’s an independent business owner doing web design, and when he shopped for insurance he had trouble finding policies. He went to the emergency room at a catholic hospital in Las Vegas. They cleaned out the polyps that he had, told him he had cancer, and when they found out that he had no insurance they discharged him. Because of the premiums for a cancer patient being very high, he had difficulty maintaining coverage and being able to obtain treatment. Cancer has taken a serious toll on his body as well as his mental state.
He often talks about how he feels guilty and worthless and writes posts on Facebook, apologizing for not being a good Christian because his faith is weak and hard to maintain as his body fails him. He apologizes for not being able to show the strength he thinks that he should project to the world as a Christian. He writes that he realizes he is letting people down and letting God down.
The selling point of Christianity is that Jesus loved his people so much that he was willing to die a brutal death, nailed to a cross with his legs broken so that he couldn’t lift himself up to ease the agony of not being able to breathe. And he had been whipped and mocked and generally treated badly for a few days before he was crucified. It’s an uplifting story for some, that they have been redeemed by this sacrifice made willingly by their God so that they might avoid eternal hell. Somehow, and in some way, some of the poor and downtrodden look to this story and feel comforted that they are not worthy of being saved or healed of their natural inborn sinning nature, but God did this for them anyway.
I’ve never understood what they are healed from, and what they are being saved from is a mystery to me, but for those who believe, their faith in the healing and salvation are intended to bring aid and comfort. In their time of need and sorrow, they look to their faith to give them strength when they need it most, when they are at their weakest.
What happens, then, when their faith and their hope and their prayers leave them weakened and the hope for grace and comfort don’t come? Is it God’s failing, or theirs? Rather than blame God for failing them and for not living up to his promises, they blame themselves for not having enough faith to earn relief from their agony.
The story of Christianity is that humanity did not live up to God’s expectations of us, the aspirations he had for us to be satisfied in the Garden of Eden with all of our earthly needs met. No, Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation. They spoiled his Plan by eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. One wonders why that stupid tree was in the Garden in the first place. Were Adam and Eve, those guileless and innocent child-like souls, set up for failure? I suspect they were. They were led to sin and temptation in the Garden of Eden. They trusted God, God failed them, and all mankind had to be punished as death and menstruation and the pain of childbirth entered the world.
And also cancer.
Now Christians look at the Salvation of the Cross and they clutch this Salvation to their chest and the look up at God, like Sally Field holding her Oscar, and say “You like me, you really like me!” Then they pray for the comfort that rarely comes and they blame themselves for not having enough faith to deserve respite from the pain.
When my friend posts his doubt, his circle of Christian friends tell him he is in their thoughts and prayers. They tell him to have hope and strength and not give up because “With God, all things are possible!” When God, the Almighty, doesn’t bestow grace on one of us, but does on others, what effect does it have on the confidence of the less fortunate that the god, who could do anything, doesn’t favor them?
The Catholics say at Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be held.” The Lord remains silent, I am not healed. It’s my fault.
Christianity is a dehumanizing belief system. Humans are lowly, God and the angels are perfect. They could fix things, but they don’t. We beg and pray and hope and debase ourselves. We admit our wrongs and confess our weaknesses. We acknowledge our sins and take our punishment for the imagined wrongs against the Creator, the tyrant who demands so much and delivers so little.
My friend’s circle of Christians provide him with so little empathy, instead offering reproofs to pray harder, to believe harder and things will get better for him. He tells me that what he needs most of the time are love and sympathy and understanding, but he gets so little of it. I provide what I can, but when the pain of cancer and the reflection of a life of loneliness and his own feeling of inadequacy hammer at his heart, I can only give him so much relief.
He wants comfort from the god he has believed in all his life and he doesn’t get it, and he takes it as another one of his failings for not leading a blameless life.
Christianity doesn’t help people, it hurts them. It doesn’t give people dignity, it strips them of it. Faith isn’t a tool, it’s a measuring stick and it always reads that people come up short.
This is why I am so dismissive of religion. Okay, to be honest, it is one of the many reasons I am dismissive of religion.
Mike Haubrich is a co-host of Ikonokast, a science podcast. He survived several Minnesota winters, but is cagey on exactly how many, and is now happily hiking trails in Arizona. He contributed an essay to the collection Atheist Voices of Minnesota.