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

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.

 


30 thoughts on “Thank Who?!? — An Atheist Reacts to Those Praising God for Medical Care

  1. Dang, I am SOOO glad my parents never bothered me about religion. I’ve never even slightly thought there were any gods around. And I’m grateful for people who invest their time and energy in learning and practicing modern medicine!

  2. A lot of people believe that a god plays an indirect role in this cases. Not to mention that doctors are not gods. Sometimes, no matter what a doctor may try to do, things go wrong. Clearly those who believe in an intervening god might believe that one of the reasons why things didn’t go wrong, is because of that god.

    This is not offensive to the “atheist.” It is only offensive to those who believe that there are no gods. It is a statement which contradicts that world view.

    1. A lot of people believe that a god plays an indirect role in this
      cases.

      A lot of people are stupid.

      Not to mention that doctors are not gods.

      Who claimed otherwise?

      Sometimes, no matter what a doctor may try to do, things go wrong.

      Captain Obvious saves the day!

      Clearly those who believe in an intervening god might believe that one of the reasons why things didn’t go wrong, is because of that god.

      As with the first verse you sang, those people are stupid.

      This is not offensive to the “atheist.”

      This is a straw man.

      All the same, who elected you supreme arbiter of what does and does not offend an atheist, little boy?

    2. But Kir, this is no better than believing that a god was responsible for the successful outcome to begin with. There is no real difference in believing that a god caused things to go right through the actions of doctors, etc., and believing that a god prevented things from going wrong because of the actions of doctors, etc. It makes much more sense to simply see things as they are: doctors, etc., worked, and the patient survived because of their efforts, or the patient died despite their efforts. There is no god that did the saving regardless of the actions of the doctors, or that did the killing through them, or that intervened in any way.

      I’m afraid your last paragraph is, at best, unclear. An atheist is one who disbelieves in supernatural gods. I don’t see what distinction you’re trying to make between an atheist and one who believes that there are no gods. And the things that atheists get offended by are as different as the atheists themselves.

      1. > It makes much more sense to simply see things as they are: doctors, etc., worked, and the patient survived because of their efforts, or the patient died despite their efforts.

        (1) What makes sense to you may not make sense to someone else.
        (2) Your statement presupposes that you are correct and that the believer is wrong. While there is no evidence that the believer is correct, there is no evidence that the believer is wrong either. Therefore you are making a statement without evidence: you are making a statement about your on faith.

        Of course, you reaffirm your belief by stating that “there is no god that did the saving regardless of the actions of the doctors, or that did the killing through them, or that intervened in any way.”

        And I am sorry that you do not see a difference between lacking a belief that something is true and believing that it is false. But the two are quite different. For instance, do you believe that, given a topological space A, A and A^i are ubermorphic? Do you believe that they aren’t? Or is the answer that you simply do not know? I’ll guess that it’s the third.

        Now look; you can have your faith. That’s fine. I won’t bash you or any other religious person for believing without evidence. But you need to at least realize that you are indeed taking your position about gods, on faith.

        1. > Therefore you are making a statement without evidence: you are making a statement about your on faith.

          No. I am making a statement based on the observation of real, actual things: doctors (et. al.) acted, and there was an outcome. The actions can be analyzed, measured against standards, and evaluated. It can be determined if care was appropriate, or if it was lacking. This is all evidence. Whether any one person finds the evidence credible and sufficient will vary based on any number of things, but it is all evidence. A believer says, “God saved him!” There is zero observable evidence for this.

          > And I am sorry that you do not see a difference between lacking a belief that something is true and believing that it is false.

          That’s not what I said. I was merely pointing out that your initial final paragraph was unclear, because you seemed to be drawing a distinction between “atheist(s)” and “those who believe that there are no gods.” There is no distinction between the two, as far as I’m concerned. This is a point on which we may not ever agree, as different people interpret and use the word “atheist” differently. I am comfortable in my usage of the term, as I believe that it is widely understood with this meaning. Even if you are using it with the very broad meaning of, “lacking a belief,” rather than “disbelieving,” the point you were trying to make with the distinction (who may or may not be offended by belief in an intervening god) is questionable, at best, as I believe it would be just as likely that one who lacks belief could be offended as one who disbelieves.

          I’ll leave it at that. Thank you for reading the article.

          1. > No. I am making a statement based on the observation of real, actual things: doctors (et. al.) acted, and there was an outcome.

            Yes yes. We have evidence that these things exist. And it’s true that we do not have evidence that gods exist. However, you are doing something which is very typical: conflating absence of evidence with evidence of absence.

            > I was merely pointing out that your initial final paragraph was unclear, because you seemed to be drawing a distinction between “atheist(s)” and “those who believe that there are no gods.”

            Well no sh*t. I am an atheist. Why? Because I do not believe in gods. However, that does not mean that I believe that there are no gods. If you want to use “atheist” to mean “a person who believes that there are no gods” then how would you label someone who simply lacks a belief in gods?

          2. > However, you are doing something which is very typical: conflating absence of evidence with evidence of absence.

            No. I am reaching a conclusion based on evidence, and refusing to consider a conclusion where there is a lack of evidence. That’s all I’m doing.

            > I do not believe in gods. However, that does not mean that I believe that there are no gods.

            I think that you’re making a distinction without a difference. That’s your prerogative, of course. While I understand the point you’re trying to make, I believe that, in the real world, it is of minimal importance. I’m perfectly comfortable using a more narrow definition for the word, and perfectly comfortable with you (or anyone else) using a more broad definition (see the Wikipedia article on “atheism” for more on the various uses of the word). I’m sure that if we sat down over cocktails, we could have an enjoyable discussion about why it may or may not be in the best interest of the godfree community to employ the word this way or that way. But in practical terms, I think that the subtle differences will only matter to pedants.

          3. > No. I am reaching a conclusion based on evidence, and refusing to consider a conclusion where there is a lack of evidence. That’s all I’m doing.

            No. That is not all you are doing. You are making a statement beyond that which is evidenced. There is no evidence either way as to whether or not a god is involved.

            > I think that you’re making a distinction without a difference.

            I already explained the difference. The actual cognitive state of the brain differs.

            You like to speak, but you refuse to answer a single question. Once again, I will ask you how you would label someone who lacks a belief in gods, if you want to use “atheist” to mean “one who believes that there are no gods.”

            > I think that the subtle differences will only matter to pedants.

            Do you have any background in anthropology, sociology, or psychology?

          4. Your contention that I am making a statement beyond that which is evidenced is absurd. The statement, “There is no evidence either way as to whether or not a god is involved” should simply be stated, “There is no evidence.” There is also no evidence that alien beings smaller than electrons got into the patient’s cells and caused his recovery or demise; should I nevertheless consider that possibility? I do not believe that that happened; if you show me evidence that it did, I will consider it, and perhaps come to believe it. I do not believe that any supernatural being had a hand in it; if you show me evidence that one did, I will consider it, and perhaps come to believe it. The burden of proof is on the one making the claim, it is reasonable to reject the claim without evidence to back it up. How you can possibly think that this basic stance, familiar to all skeptics, implies that I am making a statement beyond that which is evidenced is beyond me.

            In all of this discourse, you have asked me exactly three questions prior to this last retort, the first two of which were essentially one question. I did not answer that first one for a reason that I thought was obvious, but it apparently eluded you. So here it is: my answer to that question (which is, surprise surprise, that I don’t know) was not germane to the discussion at hand. The answer to your second question is: whatever they would like me to call them. Atheist, agnostic, nonbeliever, skeptic, whatever term seems most fitting to them. I will not answer your most recent question because it is clearly meant derogatorily.

            You are clearly spoiling for a fight, and will hold onto your bone to the end. I think that you are misunderstanding some key points about belief and non-belief, and I don’t think that any further comments from me will change that, so… You win!

          5. > Your contention that I am making a statement beyond that which is evidenced is absurd. The statement, “There is no evidence either way as to whether or not a god is involved” should simply be stated, “There is no evidence.”

            But that is not what you claimed. You did not claim that there was a lack of evidence for involvement. You claimed that there was no involvement. If you cannot even stand by your assertions, or at least admit that you are retracting them, rather than pretending that you never made them, then there really is no point in continuing with you.

            If you somehow forgot that you made such a claim, let me remind you.

            There is no god that did the saving regardless of the actions of the doctors, or that did the killing through them, or that intervened in any way.

          6. Agnostic is a general term. You can be agnostic about a lot of things, such as gods, afterlives, economic systems, whether Chinese food or Italian food is better, etc.

            So agnostic what?

          1. I shouldn’t really even waste my time with a reply to more than one of your comments, but let me clear something up with you. I am an atheist. In addition, I am nonreligious. I do not claim that there are any gods, because I do not believe in any.

            So pull your head out of your ass, fucking religiophobe.

          2. You should clear something else with him and other people too:
            By your own definition, not believing in a god does not make someone nonreligious. So not believing in a god would only make you an atheist, not nonreligious. By some definitions you are religious, having beliefs without sound reasons and defending them against all reason.

            And you are also religiophobe, having deep prejudices and contempt for people that you call religious.

          3. I am calling you a fucking liar because all you do is champion reliogion no matter what bitch boy. You have religion dick all the way down your throat. So quit with your bullshit religitard

    3. This is not offensive to the “atheist.”

      v.

      https://disqus.com/home/discussion/friendlyatheist1/kevin_sorbo8217s_next_project_a_film_about_the_8220world8217s_greatest_atheist8221_converting_to_chr/#comment-2867463008

      Isn’t that an issue with treating “atheists” as a solid group with a shared philosophy? [“This is not offensive to the atheist.”] It’s a meaningless statement, unless we assign atheism a cultural identity which does not actually exist.

    4. No it is offensive to the Drs and nurses who provide the actual care, but that maybe antithecal to the religitards. You know it might be to bigoted to the delusional fucks.

  3. Thanking a god that according to their its mythology not only created humans mortal but also punished all of humanity for the transgression of a pair of people said god had purposely kept moral infants and who he kicked out before they could use their new knowledge to eat the fruit of eternal life because he didn’t want them to become his equals? Why ever for should we thank that kind of evil tyrant!?

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