After yesterday’s brief post featuring the video of Anderson Cooper‘s interview with the ever erudite and refreshingly honest Christopher Hitchens, I’ve noticed a couple of things.
- My page hits have increased substantially.
- I can’t help wondering how I myself, as an atheist and in many respects, to use Hitch’s preferred noun, anti-theist, will deal with what I’m sure we can safely assume is for each and every one of us an inevitability.
Last year – in fact it’s coming up to the anniversary – I had what ultimately turned out to be a not too serious sudden-onset medical problem that resulted in my being hospitalised at five o’clock in the morning. As many of my regular readers know, I have Type II (more or less) spinal muscular atrophy. In my case it’s categorised as a “severe” physical disability. Nonetheless, I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy remarkably good health for many years. I’m disabled, not ill. Consequently, finding myself vomiting blood at five in the morning was something of a shock to the system.
Once at the hospital, however, it seemed that there wasn’t all that much to be concerned about. It looked like a fairly minor stomach bleed – most likely caused by the pinprick ulcers they eventually found. However, just as I was getting close to being discharged my Hb levels plummeted. We later found out that this was likely to have been a false reading, but at the time we didn’t know this – and given that they were having considerable problems getting a new, viable line into me… I was scared.
Of course, this was nothing like Hitch’s situation. But it’s as close as I’ve come recently. Ever, for that matter.
I was ill. Not as ill as any of us thought at that time – but I was weak, I hadn’t been eating and I think I was probably in shock. At one point, I can’t recall when, exactly, I seemed to click onto autopilot. I stopped thinking the way I normally would and simply focused on what was happening at that particular time. Things like writing novels, getting published, they became irrelevant. I sensed on that primitive level that death was a possibility – that it’s always a possibility.
So did I pray? Hitchens has talked about this extensively since his diagnosis. The religious among us – some, at least – trot out the tried and tested (and failed) “there are no atheists in foxholes“, sometimes just a little too smugly, and even dyed in the wool atheists like me find ourselves wondering what we’d do, even as we acknowledge that it’s something we haven’t as yet even contemplated resorting to in any real or meaningful way.
What many seem to completely miss when they refer to their foxholes is that for some of us, religion, the concept of gods, isn’t something from which we’ve escaped. It’s never really been there. Granted, we may have during our schooling gone through the predicated motions, but as adults it’s never been a question of rejecting god – he, she or it was never there to begin with. Certainly not in the way that people of faith experience. (I stress: for some of us.) And, so, the impulse to return to something in which we once found comfort just isn’t there.
And this is how it was for me. I’ve never depended upon gods. Even as a child, I never seriously asked expecting to receive. If I wanted love, if I wanted support – it was there, always, in the form of my parents. I didn’t have to ask.
So, no, I didn’t pray. I acquiesced to the knowledge of those around me – the doctors and nurses (although I wasn’t all that passive; I did constantly question) – and found the emotional support I needed in my parents. Had the prognosis been graver, would this have been the case? I’m pretty sure it would have been.
But just in case, let me quote Hitch on this:
As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be ‘me.’
Two sample chapters of If I Never can be read here.
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© 2010 Gary William Murning