December 12, 2014, I wrote a letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News about the death of Brittany Maynard. Here’s what I wrote:
Recently, Brittany Maynard, a brave woman with terminal cancer, took her life. As a resident of Oregon, Maynard could legally choose to commit suicide. Many religious people are incensed over her suicide. A Papal Monsignor called Maynard’s choice reprehensible. Pope Francis called such acts a sin against God. Evangelicals have taken to the internet to denounce Maynard, suggesting her suicide landed her in hell.
Here’s what the religious need to understand: those of us who are not so inclined are not moved by quoted Bible verses and threats of God’s judgment and hell. For us, a God who controls life and death and afflicts people with disease, is a fiction. Everywhere I look, I see suffering and death. I reached a point where I asked, where is God? Eventually, I concluded that the Christian God was a figment of my imagination, an imagination fueled by 50 years of Christian indoctrination.
The Bible encourages people to pray, have faith, and hold on. The faithful are assured that God only wants what’s best for them. Suffering is turned into virtue, some sort of badge of honor. Those who suffer will be rewarded in heaven, the Christian preachers say. Of course, we have to take their word for it because no one has come back from the dead to testify to the veracity of the suffering for God sermons.
I am more inclined to believe what I can see. What I see is suffering and death. I should do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others. Imagine one of my children suffering from a painful disease and I have a cure for the disease. However, I am not willing to give my child the cure because I think his suffering is good for him. What kind of father would people think I am? Yet, the Christian God gets a pass when he does the same. If we consider a human who withholds that which could alleviate suffering reprehensible, surely we should view God the same way.
Theodicy, the problem of suffering and evil, is one of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. Like Baal in I Kings 18, when it comes to suffering, war, famine, disease, pain, and death, the Christian God is AWOL. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God was on vacation, talking with someone, sleeping, or using the toilet. Could not the same thing be said for all gods? It seems quite clear to me, we are on our own.
At the heart of Maynard’s choice is the right to self-determination. As a person who suffers with unrelenting chronic pain and debility, I want the right to say, no more. Unlike many religious people, I see little value in pain and suffering. I endure it for the sake of my wife, children and grandchildren, but my family knows that there might come a day when I am no longer willing to do so. I want that choice to be mine.
In today’s paper, almost 3 months after my letter was published, the Crescent-News published a letter from Diane Hammon of Mark Center. Hammon, a Roman Catholic, had this to say:
This letter is in reference to a letter Bruce Gerenscer had written about suffering.
Mr. Gerenscer stated that no one has come back from the dead to testify to the fruits of suffering, but Jesus did. The Catholic Church, which teaches the fullness of the Truth, teaches that suffering is allowed by God to happen for a greater good. Like Jesus who suffered for mankind, we too, are to offer up our sufferings for others or ourselves. He told us to take up our cross and follow Him.
Our suffering may help someone to have a conversion of heart. It may be for our own good so that we realize God’s love for us which manifests itself in a variety of ways. Or, maybe by the way we endure our sufferings, we inspire others to have hope and courage in their sufferings.
Through suffering, we gain virtues such as faith, hope, charity, humility and fortitude. We all know it’s especially difficult to watch those we love suffer, but we can offer their sufferings up just as Jesus’ mother offered up His sufferings. She chose to silently endure and offer up watching her Son die knowing that it was for a greater good, the salvation of all the world past, present, and future.
Since God is love, we know that He doesn’t enjoy seeing us suffer but He allows it for a greater good. We all can relate to this when we must watch our loved ones experience situations such as painful medical procedures, corrective measures for physical problems, grueling practices, disciplinary measures, etc. but we allow them to go through those difficulties for their good.
In reference to Brittany Maynard who was suffering from a brain tumor and then killed herself, it’s an offense to God because He gave each of us a life with a plan. Who are we to decide when that plan is complete? God alone sees the whole picture.
Hammon objects to my statement about no one coming back from the dead. Silly me, I forgot Jesus came back from the dead. And where is the wonderful death-defying story of Jesus found? The B-i-b-l-e, an ancient text written thousands of years ago by unknown authors. In what other circumstance would we appeal to an ancient text written by unknown authors?Imagine what my response would be if I went to the doctor for a health problem and he said, let me see, where’s Galen’s wonderful little book on the bloodletting? Galen, a 2nd century Greek physician advocated bloodletting as a cure, as did many ancient physicians. So it is with Jesus’s supposed resurrection from the dead. Nothing more than a quaint story from 20 centuries ago.
Hammon, like most Christians, fails to understand that stating THE BIBLE SAYS, THE CHURCH SAYS or THE POPE SAYS is not proof for the assertion that Jesus resurrected from the dead and is in heaven now working with Habitat for Humanity building mansions for his father’s children. Either one believes or they don’t. Either they ignore the lack of evidence and have faith, or they don’t.
While I was writing The Cancer Chronicles, I came to a point, early on, where I wondered how many people had ever been alive in the world. The best answer I could find came from a study by an organization called the Population Reference Bureau: 108 billion.
I was stunned by the magnitude of the number. It is still common to hear that more people are alive today than have ever lived. Or an even more extreme claim: that 75 percent of everyone who ever walked the earth is living today. But that is not even close to being correct. By the Population Reference Bureau’s reckoning, the proportion of living to dead is only about 6 percent.
The author of the study, Carl Haub, describes the assumptions that went into his calculations. Modern homo sapiens is widely believed to have made its appearance around 50,000 B.C., so that was year zero for his count.
As more people began to move from a nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers to a more sedentary life as farmers, the world population grew at an increasing pace. There is actually a specialty called paleodemography, and Haub drew on various estimates to come up with a population of around 5 million in 8,000 B.C.
By 1 A.D. experts estimate that there were at least 45 million people in the Roman Empire. Extrapolating upward, Haub put the world population back then at roughly 300 million. Based on various assumptions about birth rate and the impact of infant mortality, infanticide, and the Black Death, it took until 1650 for the number to reach half a billion, surpassing 1 billion only in the 19th century. Today the population is 7.1 billion and rising, but the total accumulation of people, living and dead, has reached 108 billion…
Since Jesus is purportedly the only human to die, be buried, and come back to life, this means that only 1 out of 108 billion people have resurrected from the dead. (and technically Jesus was not human, he was God in a human body) Looking rationally and objectively at the ratio of resurrected to stay dead, I think I can safely say that when any of us die, we stay dead. But, what about Jesus? Well, all we have is a legend, a myth, a story. Again, either one believes or they don’t. Either they ignore the lack of evidence and have faith, or they don’t.
Hammon states that God is love and that he uses suffering to teach us and inspire others. While I would most certainly agree that pain and suffering have taught me many things, the very notion that there is “loving” God that uses pain, suffering, and death to advance his perfect plan, makes God into a psychopath; a deranged person who uses the pain and suffering of others to meet some need in his life.This God, the Christian God, should be the featured psychopath on Criminal Minds.
As a Christian, I used similar arguments to defend God and his actions. His ways are not our ways, the Bible says. Who can understand God and his ways? In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul gives a lengthy defense of election and predestination. He rebukes those who would dare question God’s actions:
Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
In other words, Paul tells those who dare to question God’s actions to shut the hell up. God can do what he wants! Why? Because he’s G-O-D. God is the parent, when questioned by a child, who says, because I said so!
At the end of her letter, Hammon addresses the point of my letter, the death of Brittany Maynard. Maynard, a beautiful, full of life, young woman, had an aggressive, stage 4, zero chance of survival, brain tumor. Maynard decided to control the decision of when and how she would die. On November 1, 2014, surrounded by her loved ones, Maynard ended her life. Prior to her death, Maynard wrote on Facebook:
Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more.
What people like Hammon want to do is rob people of a dignified death. God, and whatever perverse plan he might have for your life, is all that matters. No matter how sick you are, no matter how severe the pain is, no matter how much the cancer is eating away at your organs, you must let God do whatever he is going to do for/to you.
Hammon wants us to believe that only God sees the “whole” picture. Granted, none of us can see the whole picture, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make responsible life and death decisions based on the evidence at hand. Earlier this week, I asked my doctor, do you think I have cancer? He told me no. Based on a CT scan,MRI, endoscopic ultrasound, and biopsies, it is unlikely that I have cancer. Can my doctor be certain? Of course not. But, based on the available evidence, it is unlikely that I have it. Based on a 30 minutes talk with my doctor, I have decided to stop any further testing. My symptoms remain the same as they were before I started the testing 4 months ago. $25,000 later, I am still sick. Am I making the right decision? I don’t know. If I start coughing up or shitting blood six months from now, I guess I’ll know the answer.
Life is a roll of the dice. We don’t know will happen a minute from now, let alone an hour, day, week, or year from now. The Bible is right, yes I really did say that, when it says, Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. All we can do is life each and every day to its fullest. I continue to plan, hope, and dream. I want to live, but there might come a day when I no longer wish to. Maybe I will reach a point where my health is so poor and the pain is so severe that Polly, kids, and grandchildren no longer are enough for me to remain among the living. When and if that day comes, I want the right to say, no more. Better to face the cruel, heartless world head on than to think there is a divine puppeteer in heaven pulling strings to manipulate and control my life.
As a father, husband, grandfather, and friend, I want to do what I can to ease the suffering of those I love. Whatever life lessons might be gained through suffering, I don’t want my loved ones to suffer. Everywhere I look, I see pain, suffering, and heartache. I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave over people and make them whole. But, I have no such magic and all I can do is give them my love and support.
What are we to make of a God who does not do the same, a God who supposedly has the power to alleviate pain and suffering but doesn’t do so because of some wonderful plan he has for everyone? As I have mentioned many times, the existence of evil and suffering and God’s part in it, remains an insurmountable hurdle for me. The God of Christianity, the God of the Bible, is a mean, egotistical sadist who gets off on the suffering of others. Such a God is worthy of ridicule and scorn. He is certainly does not deserve my praise, worship and devotion.
That is, if he exists.