It’s the one thing you never want to see on your social media feed — a post letting friends and family know that a young child was battling cancer.
The poor little girl, bald from the chemotherapy treatments used to attack the offending biological cells making her sick, couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. But she was still smiling, even in the videos where she was playing with toys in yet another doctor’s waiting room as the worried parents waited for the results of some new test, blood draw or scan.
And then I saw the cover picture for the girl’s Facebook Page. It is the first image you see before being hit up for money to help the family cover all those medical expenses, travel expenses, missed days of work and sleepless nights worrying about how to keep all the plates of doctor’s appointments, meals, everything spinning.
“Dear God, may every cancer cell be wiped out your by Your powerful hands. Amen!”
And that’s when you realize that burning sensation is because your face has met your palm near the speed of sound and you sigh about how families like this can put so much effort into fighting the battle and then congratulate some invisible friend for supposedly doing all the heavy lifting.
I’m going to riff a lot on the thoughts of atheist activist Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist with this post. You can check out one of his many takes on the subject of cancer, faith and religious attitudes towards science, health and the world here: youtube.com/watch?v=Qht73MF6C84 and here: youtube.com/watch?v=vM5n8jESUEk&t=115s.
According to the American Cancer Society, evidence of this terrible disease has been found far back into the history of our species, with ancient human skeletons pock-marked with the tell-tale signs of having battled cancer. The Greek physician Hippocrates, from whom we get that famous oath, is believed to have coined the word to describe the cancerous tumors he found in his fellow citizens.
Since I am pretty sure the Greeks were praying to the gods back then, followed by the Christians and the Muslims and the other faiths that have followed, one has to wonder how much longer people have to keep screaming at the top of their lungs before God gets off his fat butt and finally starts wiping out those cancer cells?
Or is it the other way around? After the tens of thousands of dollars of radiation, chemotherapy and proton treatments; after the drugs and supplements to help heal the body and keep it going; the dozens if not hundreds of human specialists and experts on your cancer team; not to mention the thousands of people going back to Hippocrates who have studied and struggled and reached for the stars to find new medicines, new treatments, and new ways to better understand this horrifying disease, do these people really think God deserves the credit? Then why not pray for him to take care of your hospital bill too instead of hitting people up on CaringBridge?
I spoke with a cancer survivor who lost her hand to a nasty case of sarcoma. She originally didn’t want anything to do with the healthcare field because of that experience and others in the hospital. But the knowledge, expertise and caring nature of the nurse practitioners she had by her side through all the struggles inspired her to go into that field.
She donates her time a camp for children battling cancer where they can hang out, eat junk and play outside; you know, be kids for a change. People like here will wipe out all of the cancer cells, not God.
The life expectancy in the United States is a tad under 80 years. That is nearly double the 45-year life expectancy an American citizen had around the turn of the 20th century. According to a data map by FiveThirtyEight, the death rates for cancer have gone from 240 deaths per 100,000 people in 1980 to 192 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014.
That data also shows the death rates from cancer are much higher in the evangelical parts of the southern United States, those places where you would expect more people to be praying to God to eradicate all of the cancer cells. Then again, the Methodists have the only true avenue to God, unless of course, you are a Baptist, and all those competing prayers must be canceling each other out.
Part of that is due to the millions and billions of dollars that have been raised and funneled into cancer research, coming up with breakthroughs over the past seven decades.
But according to data from nonprofit Giving USA, the majority of charitable dollars went to religion (32%), education (15%), human services (12%), grantmaking foundations (11%), and health (8%) in 2015, the most recent year data was available. Of the top five categories of giving, four times as much money went to the prayer factory (which we know doesn’t work) than went to the cure factory (which we know does).
If you want to help change that statistic, here are three great organizations to donate to: The American Cancer Society Donation Page, The American Breast Cancer Foundation Donation Page, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Donation Page.
This appeal to a miraculous God who cures cancer doesn’t just insult the doctors and nurses who stood by your family day in and day out. What about the family, friends and entire communities that help out? The good Christian makes sure to thank God and Jesus for the moral support he provided, but then forget the friends who helped cook, clean, bought drinks and offered shoulders to cry on during the bad days, celebrated on the good days, and organized fundraisers to help provide the tens of thousands of dollars the family needed to cover medical, travel and other costs associated with this struggle.
“I thank my God every day. Even though these are challenging times, I know my God would never give me more on my plate than I could handle.”
“Oh, Betty, I don’t want another seven-layer lasagna, it gives me gas. But it’d be great if you could look after the kids while my husband and I are at the hospital.”
And this is why Atheists face-palm.