One of the things that inevitably happens when an atheist gets sick, especially if they face possible death, is that they are inundated with religious messages. Lots of people in the last few days have offered to pray for me, with a few people adding something like “I know it doesn’t mean anything to you, but I’m going to do it anyway.” You know what? That’s fine with me. I don’t mind a bit.
No, I obviously don’t think that prayer does anything at all. My stepmother told me that my being alive was a “miracle,” but it’s not. I’m alive not because I managed to find favor with this or that deity, but because of large numbers of hard-working doctors, nurses, technicians and research scientists who are dedicated to keeping others alive and healthy. Not only were they brilliant, they have shown great humanity, concern and support for me and my family. They went out of their way to keep my loved ones updated on my condition and make them comfortable so they could help make me comfortable. I can’t possibly express my gratitude to them strongly enough.
But make no mistake about it, they are the ones who deserve the praise, not imaginary deities sitting on clouds and deciding that this person gets hit by a bus, dies of malnutrition or wins the lottery. The idea of some cosmic deity making such decisions is not comforting to me, it’s frightening. If we depend on such arbitrary judgment, we are at the mercy of a madman’s whims. Am I really to be comforted that God decided this week to intervene to save my life but let 20 children be killed in Newtown, Connecticut? That provokes disgust, not comfort.
My oldest brother, who is Mormon, asked my dad if he thought I’d be okay with him sending in the local elders here to pray over me. Dad told him he didn’t think that would be such a good idea, that I wouldn’t be rude to them but that I wouldn’t find that at all helpful, only annoying. And he’s right. I think there’s a difference between someone casually saying “I’ll pray for you” and sending actual strangers here to lay their hands on me and pray. I wouldn’t be rude to them, but I would have told them that they’re not welcome. I was surrounded by my family and friends and that is who I should be surrounded by, not by strangers unknown even to them, with whom they share only a religious belief.
At the same time, though, I’m not offended by it. When someone says they will pray for me, or even makes a suggestion like Jack made, I take it in the manner in which it is intended. They are only meaning to wish me well and I gratefully accept it in that spirit. I may tell them that I don’t think it does any good, but they already knew I thought that. So who really cares? Wish me well and I will thank you for it, even if the form isn’t what I would prefer.
So thank you, all that have sent their good wishes, in any form at all. My family and friends were amazing, but I am also part of a larger community at this blog and in the secular community in general. Everyone has been unfailingly kind and I thank you for it.