Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Temptation of the Skeptic

“…the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things will I give you if you fall down and worship me." - Matthew 4:8-9
Unlike as was my case, most other folks awaiting heart valve replacement surgery have gotten off pretty easy. Barbara Walters and Robin Williams, for example: a noticeable shortness of breath or perhaps or a bit of dizziness or fatigue. In otherwise good health, these people had the luxury of popping in and having their surgery and were out of the hospital in less than a week.

I had to do it the hard way. Unlike their experience, the conditions leading up to the emergency replacement of my heart valve were dire indeed. I had a massive infection, the full extent of which I didn’t fully appreciate until after the operation was over. At the time, I only knew I was in the hospital feeling like death warmed-over. Quite frankly, I was more than prepared to accept the “ultimate relief” that such an outcome might have brought..

While hospitalized, I had precious few visitors; mostly family and a few very close friends. One visitor was a woman who believed in “other unseen forces”. She chatted with me briefly before explaining about an amulet she was wearing – a Hebrew Chai symbol which she believed had helped six other of her friends, and herself, survive life-threatening situations. Though she was fully aware of my lack of belief in things paranormal, she hesitantly offered to have me wear the “magic amulet” prior to my going into surgery.

If one thinks about it, likely many of the personal convictions and values we may hold are, in reality, merely “academic”, particularly when viewed within the context of our normal, healthy, everyday existence. I chuckle when I recall back as a teenager in high school I felt strongly that our country should be fighting in Vietnam, keeping the Communist menace at bay. Not surprisingly I held those strong convictions until, whereupon my 18th birthday, I was required to register for the Selective Service (Draft). Harsh reality can sometimes force us to reexamine our beliefs.

So now my visitor had placed before me a dilemma, a challenge to one of my deepest of convictions – what should I do? I could just say “what the hell” and accept the “magic amulet”. I could easily rationalize my choice by simply claiming that it certainly couldn’t do any harm.

I thanked her but politely declined the offer reaffirming both to her, and to myself, that I would not accept, not even under life-threatening conditions, that there are supernatural powers which hold dominion over our lives. She left taking the amulet with her.

I accept that I survived because I just happen to be fortunate to live in a time and place where open-heart surgery is now a routine occurrence, when new technologies and pharmaceuticals are continually evolving, and because I tried to maintain my physical fitness in preparedness knowing I would need this surgery some day. Rather than rely on faith of magic, I placed my TRUST in the people who deal with these issues every day. It was, and is, the right choice for me.
I am only recently able to spend a bit more time in front of the computer. I've missed visiting my followers and leaving comments. I anticipate that will change in the near future. Thanks to all of you for your supportive comments. ~ RTS


adrielleroyale said...

Interesting take on the whole bit. While I do have faith in God, I have my reservations about putting faith in any object whether blessed or not. I can respect your stance to respectfully decline and to be confident in those whose daily job it is to work on hearts and fix them. I almost have more respect for you for not "succumbing to temptation" in that dire time because it shows how strongly you believe the way that you do. It is so easy when times get rough to grasp onto something for assurance. In fact it seems like that is when so many people go against what they believe...
Anyway, I'm glad you are on the mend :)

Robert the Skeptic said...

adrielleroyale Maintaining courage of our convictions at times when they are sorely tested, is the salient point. Often the phrase "There are no Atheists in foxholes" is touted as a challenge to the convictions of non-believers. Such statements are untrue and undeserved.

It is good that you are able segregate your clearly strong faith in god from acceptance of spiritual powers of objects.

Thank you for checking in and for your well wishes, it is very comforting for me to hear.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Skeptic, it is so good to have you back! I am glad to hear that things went well for you and that you are on the mend.
In reading your post, I have to wonder what I would do in the same situation. I am not sure, to be honest. I might have taken it just to be kind to the friend, even though I didn't believe in it. Then she would have had more "proof" of its effectiveness had I survived. If not, well, I guess that would have shown her!!!
Take care, heal slowly, and I look forward to more of your reflections on your ordeal.

Robert the Skeptic said...

BackRow Of course, had I accepted the lucky charm, my friend would always doubt the courage of my convictions. There was really no alternative.

I am glad to be home, every day seems to get a bit easier. Hoping for no setbacks and that I stay on this upward trajectory. Thanks for your well wishes.

billy pilgrim said...

those infections can be nasty. for all of our advances in medicine a good infection can be nothing more than a guessing game at times.

was the trinket made of gold? i have little faith in a higher being watching over me 24/7 but i do have faith in gold.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Billy Yeah it was the infection that damn near killed me.

The trinket for women was gold; I was offered the "male" trinket version: platinum.

Rain said...

I am glad you are feeling better and hope it's soon not only back to normal but better than what normal had been for you.

On superstition, you present a thoughtful take on it. I have my times of feeling it impacts something but mostly think as you do that it does not. I remember though the years of hating to step on a crack or it'd break my mother's back. Amazing that a person would even give such a thing a casual thought let alone worry about it! Now with no mother whose back might break, I don't have to be concerned :)

Nance said...

So very glad to have you back with us! And chuckling approvingly over your eleventh hour non-conversion. Now, there's integrity, dammit!

One of the maddest moments I've ever had was prior to an exploratory surgery that had potential to uncover something pretty scary. My husband's boss (this is military, mind you, but why do I think that makes a difference?) suggested that he and his wife and "some friends" could come over before the surgery and perform a "laying on of hands." This took place about 25 years ago, but it seemed just as wrong then. I thought of it as religious harassment. T'ell wid 'em.

Welcome back, buddy!

DJan said...

Well, I am not one to leave any superstition unturned, and I would have taken it just in case! But then that's me, and I do believe in the power of spirits and all that unseen jazz.

I applaud the courage of your convictions, and I think you are a stronger person for even being tempted, and then realizing who you are. And boy am I glad to see you back even part way!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rain We probably share similar upbringings. My mother was very superstitious, she would freak if someone put a hat on the bed or spilled salt. I picked up a lot of these ideas from her (and I remember the fear of stepping on the crack!). She even bought the monthly horoscope books from the Safeway check-out counter. I remember thinking at the time that they must print thousands of those little books, a thought that didn't cross hers, obviously.

Anyway, I am heartened by your well wishes, Rain - it means a lot to me.

Nance My daugher Kara delightfully informed me that that her friend's mother's Meathodist Prayer Circle took me on as their cause celeb. I found great fun in that but I also accept that these things are serious to people and gives them a way to try to "help" in a way that is meaningful to them.

In any event, I'm glad to be back home. I am receiving excellent and loving care.

DJan The common thread, regardless if one believes in unseen jazz or not, is that in both cases those feelings represent genuine compassion for the well being of another. I may dismiss the mechanism, but I fully appreciate the compasion from which they are motivated. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Orhan Kahn said...

Proud that you stuck to your guns even in the face of death itself. Thats highly respectable!

TechnoBabe said...

An object is just that in my opinion but I respect the views of other who place something higher on an object. Who am I to say what works for the next person. By the same token I want other people to respect my belief too. Just as you did in this instance, you made your choice and it did not tear down the friendship. I hope you are doing well.

Paul said...

One must follow one's path or else be a hypocrite. I believe in Jesus' love and mercy. That is my theology. I hope that you feel better with each new day Robert...:-)

Antares Cryptos said...

Apple? ;)

Placebo or faith, that is the question.
Good to have you back and continued wishes for a speedy recovery.
Any urges to root out truffles?

Robert the Skeptic said...

Orhan It was odd to have been put in that position at that particular time.

TechnoBabe I am doing much better, a bit stronger every day.

Paul Indeed, among those most of us have little respect for, the hypocrite must be among the worst. Indeed one day at a time.

Cryptos There you go, how many of us find it easy to choose the placebo! Haven't felt like rooting out truffles however I did order the pulled pork sandwich off the hospital menu after I got out of the ICU.

The Mother said...

We see patients every day who put faith before common sense--when they should be looking at hospice or writing their wills, they're praying and refusing dnr orders, because their god will save them.


It's hard to watch, especially when the family is torturing a dying family member who can't make their own decisions.

I, also, am grateful that you lived in a time and place when you could get a valve replacement and move on, in health and happiness.

Antares Cryptos said...

Hope it wasn't a relative.

You were missed.

KleinsteMotte said...

So glad the infection was dealt with and surgery a success. Yes a belief system is a personal thing. Trust is relative to the situation you are in. I believe that you knew that you were in a place where the outcome would be positive. Trust works only if you're in a place that has what you mentioned. Glad you are back. Already my mind is challenged.

secret agent woman said...

I think for me, I'd probably take it as a symbol of their concern. Like the nun who asked if she could pray over me before my surgery. I didn't put any stock in it, but if it made her feel good to pray for me, that was fine by me. I also had a patient who gave me a worry doll. Again, a symbol of her caring for me. Ultimately, of course, you have to decide whichever way is best for you. I'm glad you are on the mend.

GutsyWriter said...

I can tell your feisty nature is still here and strong which is probably what got you through the surgery and back to your strong self again. I'm so happy to hear you're back and blogging. Keep healthy and don't scare us any more please.

Robert the Skeptic said...

KleinsteMotte I'm glad to be back as well. I am fortunate to live in a place with excellent medical facilities - it statistically gave me an edge.

SecretAgent As mentioned before, I too accept "prayers" as the heart-felt well wishes from those who are believers.

Accepting the "lucky charm", however, would have completely undermined my principals regarding paranormal beliefs. To me it would have been akin to accepting a bribe.

Gutsy In my case, I have known I would need this valve replaced for years, so I remained physically active and in good shape, if for no other reason, to increase my survival chances.

I'm hoping for no more scares either; but this shows how none of us are immune from randomly occurring disasters.