Five Ways Atheism Helped Me Deal With Chronic Illness

When I got sick, my church expected me to respond like a living saint. No complaining, no questioning, joyful and reverent… I spent three years trying to live up to their expectations. I went to chapel services and was anointed with oil for healing. As if rubbing salad dressing on my forehead was going to cure muscular dystrophy. The words of comfort they offered were empty. God knows what you are going through. God understands. God cares. Trust in God. Lean not on your own understanding.

Stop. Just stop. I dreaded going to church. Being called Job grated on my nerves. Something had to change. After three years, I decided to stop going to church. I still wanted to hold on to my faith, so I did the one thing no Christian should ever do: I read the entire Bible.  When I started reading, I was a Christian. When I finished reading the Bible, I was an Atheist with a capital A. People assume I am an atheist because I am angry with God for not healing me. That’s isn’t why I am not a Christian. I’m not a Christian because of the verses pastors leave out during their sermons. I read about a talking snake, a magical boat, a talking donkey, giants and unicorns. Many people have written extensively about the craziness that is in the Bible and done a better job than I could ever do. My point is, I read the entire Bible and I was amazed anyone believes this baloney is real. The Bible is wrong about science, and math, and reality. It reads like a book written by desert nomads who were guessing about how the universe worked. It was written by ancient people, for an ancient civilization. It is hard enough for me to imagine life during the American Civil War, let alone comprehend the social and moral rules of a civilization 2000 years gone. Reading the entire Bible cemented my decision to stop going to church.

I stopped praying and started dealing with my new reality face on. Do you know what? It was a relief. Once I embraced atheism, my life improved in these five ways.

1. My emotions belong to me   

By walking away from religion, I freed myself from the pressure to be a Christianus Sickus. Having to be a living saint added a level of pain to my life that I no longer carry with me. When I am sad because my body doesn’t move like it should, I get to feel sad. I get to feel angry and frustrated. I have a progressive, incurable, sometimes fatal, neuromuscular disease. I also have insulin dependent diabetes. Know what? That sucks. I don’t have to pretend I’m OK. I don’t have to put on a happy smile and go to church, nod and smile and laugh when people call me Job. I just get to be me.

2. There isn’t a deeper meaning to chronic illness

I don’t have to search for a metaphysical reason why I have chronic illnesses. I don’t have to figure out what a deity expects me to do with it, either. Not everything that happens to me has a higher purpose. Chronic illness has no higher meaning for me than falling on ice. Why did I get sick? Because I live on a planet where sometimes the lion catches the gazelle. There is no reason why this happened to me. I just know I didn’t cause it.

3. This is not part of a deity’s good plan for my life

If someone deliberately gave a person muscular dystrophy and diabetes as part of a master plan, they would be evil. Progressive, incurable illness, where you get to helplessly watch your body fall apart and then die, is a cruel fate. I don’t have to pretend it isn’t cruel. What is happening to me is tragic, but it isn’t anyone’s fault. A deity didn’t cause this any more than I did. Disease is not part of a master design, but a battle we human beings have been fighting and winning with science. When I inject insulin, I don’t thank a deity. I thank Dr. Banning and Dr. Best. I thank science I have insulin. It is because of science that I am alive.

4. I don’t have to pretend this is a blessing in disguise.

If a mass murder was given my illness as a punishment for just one week, it would be cruel and unusual punishment. Chronic illness is ugly. It makes no sense. Making sense of nonsense and accepting the unacceptable is a way of life for me. This is not a good thing pretending to be a bad thing. It is a bad thing. I don’t have to paint chronic illness with pretty rainbows. I can face reality with courage and truth.

5. I’m responsible for how I respond to my chronic illness

This is a huge gift to me. I’m free to respond to how my illness impacts my body, cognitive abilities, and emotions. I don’t have to wait for rescue from on high. I can rescue myself right now. My life is not over. It’s different from what I expected, but still worth living. I’m happier now than when I was a Christian. The enjoyment I get out of life is simpler and more pure. It’s not hemmed in by platitudes. Life is messy and doesn’t always make sense. That doesn’t mean life isn’t good.

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