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Best Wishes

Hendel's picture
Posts: 2
Joined: May 2010

By way of introduction, this is something I posted to my personal cancer blog almost a year ago (!) shortly after I first got my cancer diagnosis. I'm not looking to (re?)start any theist v. atheist battles, just curious given the opportunity to ask a group of fellow cancer survivors (some of whom I hope might share my viewpoint) how they've dealt with this.


"So - only a few days after posting my cancer announcement, I've run into my first minor internal conflict. Among the responses I've received have been quite a few assurances that I'm being prayed for, or added to the prayer list at the respondent's church, etc. Every single one of these is from a good person that cares about me, and is trying to express that in a way that fits their particular set of beliefs.

I suppress, of course, the brief impulse to respond by telling them not to waste breath or time on my behalf - if nothing else, that would be incredibly rude. Despite (because of?) having been raised in a moderately religious (Adventist) family, I am a self-described atheist, and have been for years. But the subject mostly hasn't come up in coversation with family - I think I shocked my sister a bit when I did go into a brief rant on the phone with her. If I didn't have anything good to say about a hypothetical omniscient/omnipotent god before, I have even less now as a cancer patient.

So I virtually smile, nod politely, and murmur some kind of fuzzy expression of gratitude for their well-intended prayer offers. But there's going to be that shock coming sooner or later. I've made it very clear to Aereyal that whether it happens in a year or forty, there's to be zero religious bullshit at any post-mortem gathering for me. No priests or preachers, no platitudes about "going to a better place". I want a Dead Man's Party for those who knew me - the sort of event I'd have enjoyed if I wasn't the past-tense Guest of Honor at this one. This is likely to be a bit of culture shock for any friends and (mostly) family that didn't know me quite as well as they thought.

And I can't help wondering if I don't owe them, myself, and atheism in general a bit more truth now, rather than that surprise later. Or not."

PhillieG's picture
Posts: 4839
Joined: May 2005

I hear you. Often I think that people are well intended when they say "I'm praying for you" but they rarely look at you, as a person who has a certain set of beliefs that disagree (often) with the prayer and their beliefs. Sometimes I think that people just say that like they do with the familiar greeting "how are you?" when all they want to really hear is "I'm good". They often don't want to hear that you are having a crappy day, they say it out of reflex I think. Of course, some people are sincere and do mean it.

I had something happen after I was diagnosed with my in-law. My Mother-in-law said to me (after I was fully diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer) that "we are praying that they are wrong". I was a little shocked because it wasn't like I was waiting on some test results. The test were done. I had cancer. I politely said to her that I DO have cancer, if you want to pray then pray I get better. There is some generation gap stuff going on there too. They were raised with the "if we pretend that it isn't there then it isn't there" approach to life instead of dealing with reality.

I would make it perfectly clear in your will and however else you can that you do not want a priest or anything like that when you "go". I would HOPE that they would respect your final wishes.

I'm more of an agnostic myself but if there were God, I do not think he has anything to do with who gets cancer and who doesn't. I would imagine there are more important things going on and if someone does believe that God exists and gives people cancer, then trying to prevent his will by seeking treatment could be looked at as going against His wishes. I did read a post once by someone who stated that belief. They thought it was OK though for others to pray for them but they wouldn't do it themselves because God wanted them to have cancer.

I know, it's a bit hard for me (at least) to understand that way of thinking. My family is more spiritual and not religious at all even though we were raised catholic so I am not faced with your situation. I have heard of others who are and I hope they chime in. I wouldn't pretend to be in agreement with them either but I would not waste time on it. They will either respect your beliefs or they will not. Some people can be persistent because they seem to (think they) know they are right and I wouldn't waste my time on them personally as far as this topic goes. But as far as your comments go, I wouldn't make a big deal out of it now unless you feel that your family can "take YOUR truth" and respect that but I would be crystal clear as to your final wishes.


RE's picture
Posts: 4644
Joined: Feb 2004

Hello Hendel, you post an interesting concern in regards to whether or not you should tell your loved ones about your atheist status now while you are still here with them instead of surprising them once you are gone. To start with let me let you what my beliefs are so we are on an even playing field. I am a born again Christian who holds firm to my faith and beliefs that God died on the cross for my sins and when I leave this world I will reside in Heaven for all eternity. Okay now all my cards are on the table too so let me give you my opinion.

If i were to find out that a loved one be them related or not but someone I cared deeply for and I found that they did not have enough trust in my love for them to take that leap of faith to tell me of their true stance on religion rather than duping me into an erroneous belief that they shared a similar belief as I, to put it bluntly I would be stunned and wounded. This would be a painful realization for me, as a friend or relative I would feel I had failed in my love for them in some way since they felt they could not confide in me. I will admit that the initial conversation would result in my attempt to help you see things my way but I am not a overtly forceful person once I clearly stated my reason's for my faith and you made your reason's for your non-faith clear as well I would hug you and move on with our relationship as loved ones. I would probably tell you occasionally that I am praying for you unless you asked me not too, then I would simply pray for you and not tell you! :-) I have several friends on this site that do not have a religious belief and I respect that and when they need support I simply say I will send positive thoughts your way which makes everyone more comfortable. In reality we all have a right to the send off that we would want to see if we were here to experience it ourselves and those who love you should understand that whether they like it or not.

Okay there you have it, my thoughts on your concerns. My best to you!


dianetavegia's picture
Posts: 1953
Joined: Mar 2009

I'm also a Christian and very involved in my local church. Sunday School, Sunday morning service, Wednesday nights I work with the teens and Tuesday morning Bible study during the school year. If I met you in the grocery store and found out you were new to the community, I'd invite you to church! Yep, I'm one of 'those'. :-D

Here's my take on this. Since you are a non-believer I think a celebration of life party would be nice. I also think this could be made known to your family when death is imminent as a 'my last wishes are for 'no formal services' but a celebration of my life party and I've asked my poker buddy, Charles, to get some guys together later this year'.

I don't think there's a need to alert your family to your non belief at this point. It might cause hard feelings or start an argument.

Here's the thing. Someone once asked me why I didn't have a debate with Phil. My answer was that Phil might say 'Science says and I think, based on XYZ knowledge or studies (etc)' but I don't care what science says or Phil thinks based on studies. I would say 'Scripture says and the Holy Spirit led me to believe' but Phil doesn't think the Bible is God's inerrant Word or believe the Holy Spirit is part of a triune God who speaks to His children. It would be like Phil arguing while speaking French and me answering back in Russian. How can a believer understand what a non believer feels and how can a non believer understand me? We just have to agree to disagree and do our best to always react in love.

My Christian husband wants his ashes sprinkled on 3rd base, Wrigley Field. If I'm 100 years old, I will do my best to make sure that his wishes are honored. If I die first, I want my ashes sprinkled into a can of white paint which is applied to our bedroom ceiling so my memory will always be there (and he won't be tempted to marry again and bring another woman into MY bedroom LOLOL)

So, I've had several tell me they did not want my prayers. That's hard to do when that's how a Christian deals with good, bad and ugly news! One woman (now deceased from CC) said it made her angry when someone said they are praying for her... so angry that it made her want to inflict bodily harm. For the last 7 months, I've 'wished her well' and 'thinking of you' but I have done my best to never whisper her name in prayer. Can I tell you that it hurt me not to pray for her?

So, Hendel, Hope things are going well and have a great day. I wish you only good things!


Marcia527's picture
Posts: 2749
Joined: Jul 2006

I am from a very religious far right family (for the most part). I grew up with it so understand completely where they are coming from. I left the church when I was a teenager because I saw discrepancies in their rhetoric. I tried the Methodist church for a while when in my thirties but that didn't work out either. I do believe there is a God. I don't feel the need to go to church or read the Bible or go to Bible study.

I guess I'm in a more obvious position because it was clear for many years I did not agree with the family. I think I understand their position better than they understand mine. We don't talk about it.

In answer to 'should you tell them you are an atheist', it depends. It will shock them. They might want to argue the points (are you strong enough?). They will pray for you. Some might try to convert you whenever they see you. Some might exclude you as you might be a bad influence. If you end up attending their church for some reason, you might find yourself the object of the sermon/or being publicly prayed for.

On the good side, maybe time will soften the blow and you can understand each other better and have a closer relationship. It will take time tho.

So it depends on the other person and you. If you don't like confrontations then I wouldn't tell. Altho sometimes you have to hoe the hard row. I don't know. Do you only have growth out of pain or sweat? Maybe that is the meaning of life.

Hendel's picture
Posts: 2
Joined: May 2010

I appreciate all of your responses, especially since most of you (at least responding so far) aren't atheists. Maybe, at least in this setting, what we have in common (cancer) is a bigger factor than what might otherwise separate us. I hadn't consciously recognized this before - in the past it took me a while to begin thinking of myself in new terms as first "husband", and later "father". This new label that I'll likewise be wearing for the rest of my life, "cancer survivor", may take a little breaking-in too.

I originally put that message up on my cancer blog a year ago. At the time, a friend pointed out that whatever form of ceremony takes place after I die, it's essentially for the benefit of the living and should focus on their needs - an excellent observation. Fortunately, while my "cancer journey" isn't over yet, my initial volleyball-sized tumor is down to a mere kiwi, and it looks like the whole post-mortem matter can be safely put off for a while.

As for the here and now, well... That post, along with others that occasionally make reference to my atheist status, remains on the public blog that I point everyone looking for updates on my progress at. I continue to mostly just make polite noises in response to religious well-wishers, which is the easy thing to do. Still not completely convinced it's the right thing. I'm officially out of the closet, just not more than a few steps when it comes to family. With friends, and the public in general, I'm very open about it.

I may turn up the volume a bit in the near future with a bit of humor. The idea amuses *me* anyway - part of why I was looking for fellow atheist/geek survivors was to see if it was *only* funny to me. Even with the insurance I count myself extremely fortunate to have, this cancer stuff gets expensive. I've been thinking about printing up t-shirts that say "Praycebo Effect Control Subject" and hawking them through a website.

PhillieG's picture
Posts: 4839
Joined: May 2005

You owe it to yourself to be true to you, that's all.
People should respect that not everyone believes the same thing.
I've found that there are some agnostics on here. I've also found that there are some of Jewish, Hindu's, Buddhist's, and some Muslims but often they remain quiet because of the strong Christian posts that are at times prevalent in the cancer forums. They will sometimes chime in over here. That's going by several emails I've gotten from them.

Paula G.'s picture
Paula G.
Posts: 596
Joined: Apr 2009

I just read this post. I do hope that your wishes will be respected. I myself believe in God but I respect all others no matter what they believe. My husband believes in God but says he really doesn't know. He hopes there is something after life. He doesn't want anything but a gathing of close family and friends when he dies. Eat and talk and just remember him. That's all....I will respect his wishes I want this for myself too.
I don't believe God gives us cancer or any other awful thing. IT IS LIFE!!! Paula

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