A Story of Dogma
People are constantly asking me why I have such severe issues with religion. I very often give intellectually sound reasons. Politicians are legislating based on their personal beliefs. People use religion to justify their preconceived prejudices. Dogma stunts intellectual growth and development. These are all good reasons for my animosity towards so much of the religion in this world. What I don’t always share are some of my personal encounters with religion. Today I’d like to share one of these stories with you. Realize that I know this doesn’t represent the beliefs of all of you, or even most of you. It may not represent the beliefs of any of you, but it does represent the beliefs of some, and you’d best believe that some of you (emphasis on some) hold beliefs closer to this than you care to admit to yourself.
Many years ago, when I was struggling much harder with my neuromuscular disorder, I was on one of my frequent stays in the hospital. I was 17, so I was in the pediatrics ward. On day two of what ended up being a five day stay, I was approached by a nurse to talk to another patient, a 15 year old girl named Jamie. My first impression of Jamie, once I got past the mass of bandages affixed to her scalp, was that she was the very embodiment of depression. Her face was pulled into an expression of misery I normally associated with Pulitzer Prize-winning pictures of grief-stricken genocide victims. The nurse had told me little of what I was getting into, just that she had gotten out of surgery, was extremely sad, and didn’t have much family support. As I found out, this was an understatement on par with calling Genghis Khan “a little bad tempered.”
I spent nearly six hours with Jamie that day. We didn’t do much talking, but I had my wheelchair pulled up right next to her hospital bed as we watched lousy daytime TV or helped each other take those horrible quizzes you only find in trashy magazines. It wasn’t until the next day that she told me what had happened. Jamie had been over at her friend’s house, doing whatever it is that teenage girls do after school (I assume lots of pillow fights in pajamas?), when Jamie collapsed. Not knowing what else to do, her friend called 911. Jamie was rushed into the ER, where they discovered she had a growth on her brain that had begun to bleed. She required immediate surgery to save her life, and the doctors proceeded despite being unable to get a hold of Jamie’s parents. She was rushed into the OR, the doctors removed the growth, stopped the bleed, and saved her life. Happy ending, right?
Jamie then told me that she had come out of surgery four days before, and had yet to see her parents. I assumed this was because they were out of the country and couldn’t make it back yet or something to that extent. But no, her parents were less than 20 miles away. You see, Jamie’s parents were from a very extreme sect of Christianity known as Christian Scientists, and believed that resorting to “secular medicine” only comes from a lack of faith. If Jamie had prayed harder, gone to church more often, had more faith, she wouldn’t have needed a surgery. By “allowing” herself to use traditional medicine (never mind that she was unconscious when she “gave permission” for this) she had effectively renounced her faith, and her parents felt it was best to remove her from the family. After all, her heresy might spread to her siblings, her parents, her church. Or maybe it was just that her parents were ashamed to show her off to the people around her after this failure of faith.
Now I, personally, can’t understand how a parent could disown their own child for something they cannot help. Hell, I don’t understand how a parent could disown their child, period. These seems to be something that can only be made acceptable when you fall into some sort of mindless dogma, be it Christian Scientists shelling off their child for having her life saved, extremist Muslim parents giving up their daughter for being raped, or Christian fundamentalists kicking their kid out of the house for not fitting their idea of the “right” sexual orientation.
Because of the strict fundamentalist religious dogma that Jamie’s parents held, and thus raised her in, Jamie emerged from the most traumatic experience of her life without any family and with absolutely no idea what her situation meant for her faith. The rigid belief structure her parents had raised her in didn’t allow for any leeway, and was thus easily shattered. She found herself questioning all her beliefs, not just the narrow Christian Science ones, but all her Christian values, and even her humanitarian values. If one of her strictly held beliefs was wrong, couldn’t they all be wrong?