Sometimes, nonbelievers feel content to leave the believing public to themselves, to accommodate their faith. They are only hurting themselves, right?
We can provide countless examples of faith hurting lives – the lives of the people having faith, and the lives of the people affected by people with faith.
One of the most benign-sounding yet infuriating things I hear from believers is something to the effect of, “well, god will heal me”.
As a clinical occupational therapist (and researcher) I hear this every week. Most of the time I just shrug it off.
A client of mine, who I will call John, fell pray to exactly the type of thought process I speak of.
John, an older gentleman, became a person with quadriplegia much later in his life than most, in his 8th decade of life.
When I first evaluated him six months after his injury when he had returned home, he lay in a hospital bed, in a room with a door and hallway so small, he could barely scrape his power chair in and out. I could barely scrape his powerchair in and out, and I’ve been driving powerchairs for over a decade. He relied on his wife and caregivers for nearly every need.
I saw a man with such potential. He could be doing nearly whatever he wanted, provided his environment were set up to facilitate him and meet his needs.
The problem: his family firmly believed his condition temporary, and believed god would heal him.
They prayed daily. They told me, “it’s okay, his condition is temporary. We’re praying every day and he will be walking again soon.”
I saw a man trapped. In his bedroom, he had nothing. He couldn’t even change the television channel. He couldn’t move around the house in his powerchair, because his family did not want him to scrape the walls or have him chance breaking the glass table in the dining room. They didn’t want to build him a ramp so he could go out of the house. He didn’t need one, they told me, because god was going to heal him.
God does not heal people with quadriplegia. He has massive pressure sores on his coxxyx, and when he has a bowel movement, they get soiled with stool, which prevents healing. His body is spastic and atrophied. His muscles wasted.
I can say with near-certainty that he will not walk again. Nobody completely recovers from a spinal cord injury, so much so that Pat Rummerfield, often hailed as the “the world’s only fully recovered quadriplegic”, still has functional limitations. I told them. Multiple times. “I’m sorry, but it probably won’t happen. you need to plan for the future. I know that’s what you expect, but you need to work on what’s happening now. If you move your muscles, it will trigger your brain to help him heal” Other people told them. But they still “hoped and prayed”. They hoped and prayed while he lay in bed, essentially imprisoned.
Hope and pray all you want, fine. But while you’re doing it, let’s let your husband learn how to use this powerchair. Let’s build a ramp. Let’s show him how to use the bus, because you can use it in a powerchair. At least let me modify his remote so he can watch what he wants on TV. Let him have some semblence of normal life, not sit in a pile of his own feces in bed while you pray.
I gave he and his caregivers resources for Paraquad, a local independent living center started by a man with John’s same level of injury and functional capacity. His caregivers didn’t want it, they said, “we don’t need that, he’ll be walking soon”.
Now, I don’t mean to pin the denial of John’s very real condition squarely on the head of faith alone. But if they stopped having faith that their god would heal him while they stood idly by, if they considered that he might be like this for the rest of his life and should do all they can to improve the quality of his life right here, right now, then he might get somewhere.
So what can I do? I can only try to convince people so much before I call the Department of Health and Senior Services and report them for neglect. I can only come over and hoist him into his wheelchair so many times a week. I can’t put a ramp on their house if they don’t want one. I could not penetrate the wall of faith they put up.
I just wanted to yell at them: look at him! Look at his legs! Look at his wounds! Wake up before he dies of sepsis! Rehabilitation is hard! It takes insane amounts of effort!
So that’s my day job.
This is post 18/24 by Christina for the SSA blogathon in support of the Secular Student Alliance! Go donate to them!