I was just listening to an atheist podcast. A man called in saying that his sister convinced him to stop talking about atheism because of her Make a Wish Foundation-like ministry. She basically guilted him into stopping by pointing out that children on their death bed shouldn’t have their beliefs taken away from them; they need nothing but comfort.
I believe this: terminally ill patients should have as much comfort as is humanly possible, and that includes the dopiest drugs that have ever been outlawed and tut-tutted by Those Who Know Best.
But here’s the question: is Christian Ministry always comforting? Is Christian Ministry what these children want?
Maybe some do; I don’t really know. The immediate reaction is, “of course, they need to know they are going to heaven.”
This, to me, ignores the humanity and individuality of a person. A child, lest you forget, is an individual. A terminally ill person is also an individual.
When I talk to people who ask me, “why do you try and take away someone’s deeply held beliefs,” I first of all remind them that a belief is not something I can force from or on a person. But the real answer is I respect them as a human. I don’t automatically assume a believer is a weak-willed, fragile person who will crumple with nothing but a feather’s touch.
You know what? Neither is every person who faces death. A small child, of course, would be more likely, you would think, to be more fragile. Or not. Maybe that child has no idea what death is. Or maybe that child is like I was–I wanted the truth.
I am admittedly very bitter about my Christian upbringing. The thought of it is an automatic trigger for me, and I don’t know if I will ever come to terms with it. An adult ministering to me did not bring me comfort, ever, as much as I can remember. An adult ministering to me only brought me the thought of obligation and obedience. I had to obey, and I had to please that adult, no matter who she or he was. I had to say what they wanted to hear, because I needed his or her approval. This is how I was trained, and this is how I guess most children are trained. Hierarchy and obedience is always imposed on children from the moment they might be able to understand what it is.
Who is this sick child who is being ministered to? Does she believe in the words the minister says? Was she raised even in a similar religion, or any religion at all? Does the idea of heaven really comfort her, or does she worry that she just might not get into heaven at all? (I worried about this.) Does she feel comforted, or does she feel obligated to please the adult talking in her ear?
This kind of scenario brings to mind the children in the early 90’s who were “counciled” by therapists to say what they wanted to hear–that they were being abused by Satanic cultists. Children are trained to please adults. Why else were they conceived, if that conception was planned? I believe it was always to meet the needs of the adults who wanted them.
I will say that if I were standing by the bedside of a dying child, I just might say they will see their family again in heaven. But when am I going to be in a hospital room with a child I don’t actually know very well? When would anyone? I’ll tell you: when they are a clergyperson. Are these words going to send them to heaven in bliss, will they hold in a fear that they might burn forever, or will they hold onto the obligation to please the adult until the very end?
Yes, I have thought about death and faced the possibility in my own hospital bed. I wondered: they asked me if I would like clergy. (“No, No, No, absolutely not, I’d argue with them!”) Now I wonder, do they ask the child, or do they ask the parents what their religion is? Aren’t they really thinking their first obligation is to the parents, just as it is in school? I can’t help but think that the kids always get screwed in the end.
I guess I’m not going to stop mentioning my atheism, as a rule. It’s also a good rule to treat others as you honestly think they would like to be treated, based on as much knowledge that you have on that person at the time. It’s more complicated, it wouldn’t go on a bumper sticker, but it sure makes a hell of a lot more sense.