Friday, May 9, 2008


I have heard, as you have, the term "freedom of religion" turned into "freedom from religion", and used with equal passion on both sides of the argument. I understand what it means -- the idea that if we are free to worship in our nation, we must also be free not to worship.

But in conversations about the personal application of religion or unreligion, this idea of freedom drifts down from its lofty place in our rhetoric and bobs alongside us, a little balloon of ill-defined hope matching our steps through the humdrum of daily life. That giant freedom we wax eloquent about in religious and political discussions becomes something smaller and trickier when viewed up close and personal in the fretful silence of a doctor's office.

My Christian friends claim that religion sets them free, that they are "free indeed" through Christ. And I understand this. I understand the belief that we can be set free from worry and fear since God has it all under control and means it all for our good. The practical outworking of that always seemed to be beyond me, but the principle makes a certain amount of sense.

My non-religious friends claim that their lack of religion sets them free, too, free from the mythology and self-flagellation that seems to accompany organized religion in nearly every form. I understand this, too. The concept makes sense, although I admit that the practical application of this philosophy also seemed a little difficult to me, since it often felt like perhaps a little too much freedom -- too much, in the way that a wide open plain can be frightening for its sheer vastness.

This week, though, I understood the second viewpoint a little better. I had a migraine a couple of weeks ago that was frightening enough in its secondary symptoms that my doctor sent me to the emergency room, and later ordered an MRI, "just to be sure." When she got the results of the MRI, she left a message on my cell phone saying that she wasn't worried -- but to please call her right back before the end of the day. What she wasn't worried about turned out to be a few small spots on each side of my brain, hardened areas that would be typical of smokers, diabetics, the elderly, people with high blood pressure -- none of which applies to an otherwise healthy 34-year-old, and now I am scheduled for a complete neurological workup, "just to be sure." This time, though, she told me what it was we were making sure I didn't have, and I finally had to force myself to stop googling the diseases that are connected with this symptom.

Five years ago, my first reaction would have been to throw myself wholeheartedly into prayer. I would put this news on the church prayer bulletin, call my family and ask them to pray, post on my online forums and ask them to pray (or send good vibes, as the case may be), and launch into a personal prayer assault on the gates of Heaven. I would have prayed for healing, prayed for peace, prayed for wisdom, prayed for the neurologist, prayed for anything and everything I could think of that would be even slightly relevant.

But beneath this whitewater rapid of prayer would run a smooth undercurrent of doubt, cold and familiar and dark. I would wonder if I was praying enough. I would wonder if I was praying for the right things. I would wonder if I had enough faith to be healed. I would wonder if some unknown sin had caused it. I would wonder if God was "trying to get my attention," a root cause of disaster and sickness that Christians are all too prone to diagnose for each other. I would wonder if I was going to die, and if so, if it would sort of be my fault.

This time, I understood a little better how "freedom from religion" looks in the day to day. I got my news, and I will be the first to admit that a healthy shot of whiskey in one's cola isn't the most holy approach to bad news, but so it goes. The next day, my mind immediately went into the familiar track of prayer, and it occurred to me that I really didn't want to do this, not this time. I didn't want to pray and wonder if I would be heard, or if all of the prayers would drift into the atmosphere and I would end up in the same hospital bed at the same time as if I'd never prayed at all. I was surprised to find that there was a certain peace in not wondering if it was my fault, and in not trying to guess what God might want from me in order to make it go away (or not go away, according to His will, of course). There was a certain freedom in knowing that whatever was going on in my brain was going to continue to go on with or without my anguish and hope and soul-searching.

It is an uncomfortable freedom. It is also a welcome and unexpected freedom, and it is one I am not quite prepared to give up for the sake of tradition and habit.

1 comment:

Steven said...

Hi Bee,

I followed your link from Skepchick. Just wanted to let you know that I understand your dilemma about religion, as I struggle with that myself. It is, to say the least, an interesting journey.

I fervently hope that the news you have gotten by now about the "spots" is good. I will not pray for you, as I think you wouldn't want me to, but I will continue to keep you in my thoughts, and hope for a 100% clean bill of health!