Sun Sep 9, 2012, 11:14 AM
rug (56,750 posts)
Multiple sclerosis and cancer? I still don't believe in God's thunderbolts
My wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It is a slow-moving and tragic coincidence, but no more than that
Sunday 9 September 2012 06.00 EDT
So, what was I saying about how an atheist faces up to death? About the time that my article on being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) was published we found out that my partner has breast cancer. My clever, strong, beautiful wife (we married for pragmatic reasons three weeks ago but it turned out that we quite enjoyed it anyway), the Oxford professor who has never smoked nor drunk to excess; who eats fruit and vegetables and does all the things you're supposed to do to look after yourself, has cancer.
By the time you read this her thick red hair will have completely fallen out and she will be getting ready for a mastectomy in a few weeks time. I argued last time that the fact that I have MS is neither here nor there in the great scheme of things; that it is a pure contingent event predicated on a strange mismatch of genes which nobody really can explain and certainly nobody can fix – yet. I also argued that there was no sense of anger or rage at the universe for having dealt me these cards. Since the diagnosis of my partner's breast cancer however, many people have asked me if I feel that "somebody up there" indeed has it in for me. It seems that for many people I have become the anti-Job. God is testing my atheism by throwing pretty hefty thunderbolts my way to see how many it will take before I start to believe in him. And yet, of course, nothing changes. Like lightning, bad luck can indeed strike twice in the same place and that two of us are now in a position where we are thrown back on our own resources as well as those of the NHS means no more than if we had both been killed in a fluke car accident. It is a slow-moving and tragic coincidence, but no more than that.
Now, I know of course that God apparently moves in mysterious and unfathomable ways that are beyond our comprehension. But I am constantly reminded of Stendahl's comment that "God's only excuse is that he doesn't exist". This latest diagnosis actually reinforces my belief that the universe has no plan for us; that we are here by pure accident and while we are here the things we do have to be dedicated to improving conditions on this tiny and insignificant planet by building the future even if that future doesn't include us. The people who laid the first stones of the great cathedrals knew that they would not live to see them completed and the daily struggle to improve our lives both individually and collectively continues regardless of the individual tragedies befalling us along the way. The ways in which our basic material needs have, over the span of evolution, given rise to our basic non-material desires and in turn created a non-material invariant of hope is the root of all faith in the future and it is one which I will continue to maintain.
My partner is facing this with the stoicism and the strength that I would have expected from her and the prognosis is good, as long as she survives all the things that medical science is imposing on her. And I have to repeat, once more with feeling, that although science is not my God it may well be her salvation.
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Response to rug (Original post)
Sun Sep 9, 2012, 01:02 PM
mr blur (5,508 posts)
1. I knew you'd post this. All part of your plan
to keep linking to things atheists are saying or doing in the hope, I imagine, that you will one day find a story about something done by a vile creep who happens to be a non-believer and thus far worse than any of the paedophile rapist officials in your own church. You know, the ones you always avoid addressing.
Check out the loony in the comments pointing out that this is God's way of teaching him life lessons, or some such drivel.
Still, keep trying. It's very amusing.