As many readers know, I’ve been absent for many months. Much of my time away has been due to a series of medical issues, high-blood pressure and heart problems. Then something new, cervical spondylosis, commonly called arthritis of the neck. Although many people with cervical spondylosis experience no noticeable symptoms that was not true the case for me.
So I read Kate Bowler’s column in the New York Time’s SundayReview with great interest. Writing of her struggles, she wrote of her Stage 4 stomach cancer diagnosis, heart and back and forth issues of religion, specifically prosperity gospel.
As many know, prosperity gospel belief’s center upon God providing material prosperity for those he favors. The idea goes both ways: materially successful people achieve such success because they’re favored by God and, at the same time, people who are favored by God will eventually be materially successful. In other words, godliness causes material prosperity.
Just to get this out of the way, to me, buying into the prosperity gospel message is like eating a week old banana – we all say we love it, but in reality, it’s shit. If the message of prosperity gospel were true, every single person of faith would bathe in material wealth. Additionally, it implies a nonsensical quid pro quo. The entire idea of a prosperity gospel is based on direct reciprocity – meaning if you believe in God, you will be given wealth.
So my question is as follows: how many prosperity gospel minded believers succumbed to cancer? More than likely, a whole lot. To phrase it another way, the late radio show host Bob Collins (WGN 720) once said, “In the end, something’s going to get you.” Prosperity gospel nor regular gospel will prevent one from cancer, car accidents, or any other malady. Death happens. That’s life.
So I can relate to Ms. Bowler’s comments:
It is the reason a neighbor knocked on our door to tell my husband that everything happens for a reason.
“I’d love to hear it,” my husband said.
“Pardon?” she said, startled.
“I’d love to hear the reason my wife is dying,” he said, in that sweet and sour way he has.
While keeping Ms. Bowler’s comments in the forefront, technically speaking, I understand my problems are no where near the breath of difficulty others have. But I cannot tell you the number of people who’ve offered me simplistic medical advice:
- A new bed:
- Eat a plant-based diet;
- Quit my job and enjoy life;
- Move to the southwest;
- Natural medicine;
- Participate in Reiki healing; and
- Align my spine.
I’ve received many comments from the well intentioned, some are bizarre, others rude.
- “It’ll be okay, I just know it.” (Really? That’s great. Tell me how you know?)
- “Someday this will all be behind you.”
- “Don’t worry, things will get better.” (Disk compression from cervical spondylosis does not get better. I can get spinal fusion, but the condition does not get better).
- “So when will you be all better?” (Disk compression from cervical spondylosis does not get better.)
- “When will your conditions be gone?” (When I die or until all the Southern Comfort in the bottle to my right is consumed … whichever occurs first.)
- “Live in the moment.” “Be strong.” “Fight hard.” “Keep your chin up.” “Don’t give up.” “Attitude is everything.” (I will remember this when I can barely move in the morning.)
- “We’ll pray for a miracle.” (Is spinal fusion considered a miracle?)
- “What’s your prognosis?” (Pretty fucked.)
- “Could be worse.” (Just did. Listening to you say that confirms it just got worse.)
And the coup de gras of all statements:
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “It’s all part of a larger plan.”
To this, I remind myself of Rabbi Brad Hirschfield’s comments from “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero:”
You want plan? Then tell me about plan. But if you’re going to tell me about how the plan saved you, you better also be able to explain how the plan killed them. And the test of that has nothing to do with saying it in your synagogue or your church. The test of that has to do with going and saying it to the person who just buried someone and look in their eyes and tell them God’s plan was to blow your loved one apart. Look at them and tell them that God’s plan was that their children should go to bed every night for the rest of their lives without a parent. And if you can say that, well, at least you’re honest. I don’t worship the same God, but that at least has integrity.
It’s just it’s too easy. That’s my problem with the answer. Not that I think they’re being inauthentic when people say it or being dishonest, it’s just too damn easy. It’s easy because it gets God off the hook. And it’s easy because it gets their religious beliefs off the hook. And right now, everything is on the hook.
In many ways I sympathize with Kate Bowler and for the seriously injured. For them everything’s on the hook.