Thursday, September 4, 2008
You know that I do not believe in gods and that I believe that god-talk is a betrayal of our common humanity. In this political season, I wanted to share with you the following teaching tale (that is, it is fiction) from the collection of atheist teaching tales that I’m developing. If you would like to share it with others, by all means do so.
So as to get elected and stay elected, a certain politician, who believed in nothing but pleasure, announced his belief in God at every opportunity and religiously attended a neighborhood church each Sunday.
As much as it pained him to do so, he would leave the bed of his mistress by Sunday noon and trudge home to his wife and family, who by the time he arrived would be dressed for church. Changing to a somber suit, he would set his face into its grave Sunday afternoon expression, an expression so pious and serious that undecided voters had been known to throw him their vote just because of it.
One day he came home to find his wife wearing the oddest expression, an expression at once grave and serene.
“What is it?” the politician said worriedly.
“Emily hasn’t been feeling well. I took her to the doctor last week and they ran some tests. The tests just came back. She has a rare cancer—I can’t remember its name.”
The politician slumped into a chair. “No,” he whispered. After a moment he said, “Can they treat it?”
His wife shrugged. “That’s neither here nor there. I went to church today and prayed with the minister. God spoke directly to me. He said that Emily must not be treated—that she was in His hands.”
The politician leaped to feet. “That’s crazy!” he cried. “Of course she must be treated. We’ll get her the best--”
“No,” his wife said, staring serenely at her husband. “God will take care of her.”
The politician thought quickly. “But didn’t God make the treatments and the medicines that the doctors use? Who else could have made them? So of course we should use them!”
“Of course He made them,” his wife said mildly. “But He sent me a clear message that Emily doesn’t need them. Not just that—He was very clear. He does not want Emily to see any doctors. He only wants her to pray. If she prays, He will take care of her.”
The politician took a menacing step toward his wife. “That’s lunacy! You and that minister! All those crazy churchwomen! We will not go down this road.”
His wife cocked her head thoughtfully. “You don’t trust God?” she said. “Or—maybe you don’t even believe in God?”
“I don’t believe in you, you crazy woman!” the politician shouted. “God isn’t talking to you! You are the last person He would talk to!”
“Of course He talks to me. He talks to all sorts of ordinary people. What sort of God do you take Him to be?”
The politician fought not to strangle her. “I won’t play along on this one,” he said after a long moment. “I won’t!”
“No?” the politician’s wife said, her smile still serene but her voice ominous. “Well, if you won’t abide by God’s wishes, then I will have to make it clear that you do not believe in God and that you are nothing but a lying hypocrite.”
“If you don’t think that God comes before my husband, you are the crazy one!”
Later that day the politician called a meeting of his advisors. He explained that Emily had cancer, that his wife, trusting in God to cure Emily, would not let Emily be treated, and that if he lifted a finger to get Emily medical treatment his wife would go to the media and let it be known that he did not believe in God.
Hearing this last bit of news his first lieutenant jumped up and exclaimed, “Christ! She gives a terrific interview! She’s been great in every campaign. We can’t have her on television proclaiming that you don’t believe in God!”
“We could spin it that you believe in God but that you also believe in medical treatment, just as most religious people do,” his second lieutenant offered. “You could say, ‘God makes the medicine that can cure Emily.” You could, you know, say that you just disagree with your wife. You could say, ‘Believing in medical treatment doesn’t make me an atheist.’”
“God, no!” the first lieutenant cried. “Don’t use the ‘a’ word! We could say, ‘Millions of religious people seek out medical treatment every day and medical treatment is what Emily needs.’ That should work!”
“Maybe you could say, ‘It’s not a God question, it’s a health question,’” the second lieutenant added.
After a long silence, the politician said, “She’s not a stupid woman. She’s dug her heels in. If I fight her, she’ll bring out the heavy artillery. I think she’ll name all the Commandments that I’ve broken as proof that I don’t believe in God.”
“But everybody breaks those Commandments!” his first lieutenant cried. “Breaking them has nothing to do with believing or not believing in God. It just has to do with not listening to God!”
“I’m not sure about that,” his second lieutenant said thoughtfully. “An argument could be made that if you actually believed in the wrath of God you wouldn’t sleep with your neighbor’s wife or whatever.”
“People believe in the power of the IRS and still cheat on their taxes!” the first lieutenant countered.
“There’s that,” the other agreed.
“All right!” the politician exclaimed irritably. “What’s the bottom line here?”
They debated the matter for some time. Finally they agreed, unanimously and without reservation, that a television blitz by the politician’s wife would do too much damage. That couldn’t be allowed to happen. They would capitulate, give in to the politician’s wife’s agenda, and pray for the best.
“What if the public hears that Emily isn’t getting treatment?” the first lieutenant wondered suddenly. “Isn’t that going to look—I don’t know—cruel? Maybe even abusive?”
The politician nodded. “Good point. We’ll have to keep Emily’s condition a secret. That at least we are good at, keeping secrets!”
The meeting finally ended. The politician found that he couldn’t stomach going home. Instead, he went to the apartment of his mistress. She took one look at him and poured him a tall Scotch.
“What is it?” she said.
He explained Emily’s situation and his wife’s position.
On the verge of tears, his mistress said, “And what did you decide?”
“To trust in God. God will protect her.”
His mistress stated at him. “You can’t mean that!” she exclaimed. “That’s … that’s terrible! That’s awful. It’s … you can’t mean that.”
“What I can’t do is let my wife get on television,” the politician said coldly. “Pour me another Scotch.”
Emily lasted a year. Much of that time she spent in great pain, as her mother would not countenance painkillers. In deep seclusion, cut off from her friends and family, guarded by hired help masquerading as caregivers, and visited only by her mother and occasionally her father, Emily grew gaunt and pious, sometimes screaming and sometimes singing God’s praises.
Naturally the politician could not miss his daughter’s funeral. But as it took place during the campaign season, he could spare only a few hours, flying in, giving a lovely eulogy (which the cynical among the mourners thought sounded awfully like his regular stump speech), and flying right out again. All the pundits agreed that Emily’s death would produce a bump of at least ten percentage points—points that the politician did not actually need, so popular was he with his God-fearing constituency.
Have an excellent Sunday!
P.S. “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.” – Albert Camus
Posted by Eric Maisel at 12:43 PM