Thank Who?!? — An Atheist Reacts to Those Praising God for Medical Care

Thank Who?!? — An Atheist Reacts to Those Praising God for Medical Care August 29, 2016

I found out last night that my best man was in the hospital.

Now, my wife and I got married 17 years ago.  And I was in my mid-30s at the time.  And Ed, my best man, is older than I am.  So it’s not hard to figure out that neither of us is young; but we’re not that old, either!

Back when Ed and I met, long before I got married, I was a fundamentalist Christian, and he was not particularly religious, despite having grown up in a Catholic household.  I brought Ed with me to church at some point, and I think he was moved, but it wasn’t until our mutual friend Tim got involved that Ed decided that the Christian worldview made a lot of sense. Tim was a “conservative Christian,” though not quite as much of a fundamentalist as I was. I went off to college, Occidental College, and gradually learned enough to realize that religion wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Ed went off to college, Azusa Pacific University, and chose a different path.

We stayed in touch over the years.  I love this guy. If I believed in souls, I’d say that he’s a “kindred soul.” Since I don’t, I’ll just say that I get him, and I think he gets me.  We have the same sometimes-bleak, sometimes-wondrous view of life.  He understands my interest in music like nobody else. I still remember that Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” was his first album (and it’s one of my favorites), and I think that The Who’s “Blue Red and Grey” is still one of his favorites, as it is mine.  We’ve talked about music at length countless times.  We stayed in touch after college. I was in his wedding, he was in mine.  His wife had just given birth to their second child six weeks before I got married, and they still made the 400-mile trip to be with me on that day.  As often happens, there have been periods where we haven’t spoken much, but the next conversation was always just like we’d seen each other the day before.

We talked about religious themes at length countless times as well.  I don’t remember any specific conversations, but I remember that college was a particularly trying time for me personally, and being able to talk with Ed about the “deep issues” helped.  A lot.  Clearly, we came to different conclusions, but, as is always the case, it was the journey that was important.

So I was shocked and dismayed when I found out he was in the hospital.  It turns out that the problem had been discovered early. He’d been experiencing chest pains under exertion, so he went in for a stress test, which he promptly failed. He was admitted to the hospital right away, and had an angioplasty and a stent put in to correct a coronary artery that was 90% blocked.  That’s a much better course of events than having to have an emergency procedure done because of a heart attack!  So I’m thinking, “How awesome that we have the diagnostic tools and medical expertise available to figure out this problem quickly, and do something about it!”  But I’m apparently an outlier.  Because most of the comments on the Facebook post about the situation looked more like this:

“God bless you both.”

“Praise God!”

“Praying for a speedy recovery!”

(After an explanation of what led to the current situation) “God’s miracle!”

God’s miracle?  A man had worrisome symptoms during exercise, he went in for a test, the test showed a serious problem, and all of the doctors and nurses performed their functions admirably and correctly to see to it that the man will, hopefully, continue to live a long and happy life.  Where’s the divine miracle here?  The researchers who developed the appropriate diagnostic tests deserve credit. The doctors who spent countless hours learning about the cardiovascular system in the human body deserve credit. The nurses that prepped my friend for a procedure that is almost always successful, but which nevertheless carries a risk of death, deserve credit. The doctor that performed the procedure carefully and correctly, who undoubtedly spent countless hours studying and practicing so that he could do just this type of thing, deserves credit.  There is no magic sky wizard that deserves credit. If any magic sky wizard exists, he deserves scorn for putting people in this position to begin with.

“You credit good medical care. I credit a Lord that takes care of us.”

That one just kills me.   Seriously?  This Lord that takes care of you… where was he when the problem was brewing?  Where was he when the genetics were put in place that made this likely?  And what would you be saying if Ed had ignored the symptoms (or, more likely, not been able to get a doctor’s appointment in time) and had had a heart attack and died, as happens to countless people the world over, day in and day out?  Is that also evidence of a god taking care of you?  For every person who beats cancer, or catches a coronary situation early, before a catastrophic event, or survives a traumatic accident, there are a dozen (or a hundred) more who die.  And when that happens, the survivors are offered something along the lines of, “God wanted him to come home,” or the most unhelpful platitude of all time, “God works in mysterious ways.”  Nobody seems to realize that praising a god for sparing someone implies that that same god didn’t spare someone else who was in a similar situation.

“Psalm 116 seems quite appropriate right about now.”

Photo credit: iStock
Photo credit: iStock

Well, let’s see.  Psalm 116 is all about praising god for hearing prayers.  This particular Psalm was probably referenced because of verse 8: “For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.”  That sounds great: he hears your prayers when you’re about to die, and spares you.  Until he doesn’t, and you die.  Because, you know, that mortality thing.  It gets us all in the end.

I’m so glad my friend is still alive.  I thank the cardiology researchers who have provided the medical advances that have taken place in the last 50 or 60 years.  I thank the doctors and nurses who forced him to the hospital as soon as he failed his stress test, and the doctors and nurses who saw to it that the problem was dealt with effectively.  I thank his wife for being with him right now (and for what she’s about to go through while he’s convalescing at home!).  I sure as hell don’t thank some supernatural being for anything, because if he exists, he sure as hell didn’t do anything.


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