“We talked about this before,” Keith told the hospital chaplain. “Stephanie is an atheist, and you said you wouldn’t bother her.”
“Sorry, I didn’t know,” said the cleric.
“Isn’t there something in the bible about lying?” Keith shot back.
This was their second meeting. During their first encounter, Keith informed him that I was an atheist, though he should’ve known that from my records.
You’d think that would’ve stuck in his mind, especially considering what transpired next. And here’s where the minister revealed himself as being far from an impartial councilor.
“What do you believe?” he asked Keith.
“Good,” he replied, “there’s still hope for you.”
He wasn’t kidding.
But Keith isn’t an agnostic because he can’t make up his mind. Unlike many believers, he’s actually read the bible. That’s one of the main reasons he lost his faith.
Now, Keith is not generally a confrontational person, but he was not in a good emotional place just then. After I contracted Legionnaires’ disease on our vacation in Sicily, Keith rushed me to the ER only a few days after we returned home. I soon fell into a deep coma, hovering near death. He was surviving on little sleep and irregular meals, as he shuttled from work to hospital to home and back again in a despairing stupor.
And then this hospital chaplain keeps pestering the dying, atheistic, long-time girlfriend he loves and lying about it to boot.
Of course, you would think that having your religion listed as atheism would hang a giant No Solicitations sign over your bed. (I know, I know—lack of religion is not a religion.) Well, not so much, as I learned more than once during my recovery. I detailed the first time in part one of this series: “God is Good,” But for What?
But, you may say, surely the point of listing religious preferences would be for the patient’s desires to be respected. Keith even told them when he was filling out my forms that I didn’t want any visits from clergy. Would the chaplain have prayed to Jesus over a Jew or spoken of Heaven to a dying Hindu, perhaps offering a bit of beef jerky to the patient’s family for good measure?Is respect for religious beliefs only accorded to people of faith, not the faithless? And what goes on in the minds of such clergy when they know they’re dealing with unbelievers? I have some theories, which I’ll get into in the next installment of this series. But for now, I’ll simply recount the tale of the Prevaricating Preacher—PP for short (oh, grow up).
This was not PP’s only instance of lying. Perhaps in his mind he thought he was fibbing for the greater good, but he was a serial barer of false witness.
After Keith called him on that, PP again promised that he would stop coming around. Yet that was a lie, too.
My atheist mother encountered him twice after that vow.
This was not my mom’s first meeting with PP, either. That time, she had also told him I was an atheist. The second time, my mom tried to wave him away by repeating to him, “She’s an atheist.”
“Keith told me that,” he replied (but left out that he had promised Keith he wouldn’t return).
What part of atheist didn’t he understand?
That first time, he had asked if he could pray for me. You have to understand that besides being an atheist, my mom is also Jewish. Like me, she feels awkward around Christian clerics. She reluctantly acquiesced.
While Keith, the former Christian, had a Just Say No to Prayer policy regarding me, the chaplain had better luck with my Jewish-atheist mom. So, he decided to try again.
What could it hurt? she thought. “Okay,” she said with resignation.
“May you take the Lord’s light into your heart and be healed,” he prayed.
My mom saw red instead of light. How dare he suggest that her daughter would be cured if only she believed in God!
So much for giving comfort to loved ones. Indeed, if consolation is the purpose of hospital chaplains, my secular loved ones received the very opposite.
But he should’ve saved his breath. As I’ve said before, it would’ve taken the brain damage my doctors thought I had for me to believe.
The next time PP walked into my room during her shift—remember, he had promised Keith more than once that he would stop visiting me—my mom refused his request to pray.
Yet that was not the last encounter with this mendacious minister. And this time, I was alone with him…and awake.