Friday, May 2, 2008

H.P. Doesn't Mean Hewlett-Packard

Yesterday I gave my weekly spirituality lecture to the patients in the substance abuse program. Some listened, some slept - in short, it was an ordinary day. Later, though, one of the guys took issue with my use of the term Higher Power (which I write on the board as "HP") as a generic term for the Divine.

I tried to explain that it was necessary since we serve a diverse community with diverse religious beliefs. He retorted that he was tired of political correctness and since this country is a Christian country founded by Christians on Christian values (whatever that means), I should solely be using God and Jesus terminology. If the other patients feel uncomfortable, tough cookies. They can convert or deal.

Yep, yet another example of Christian compassion and love coming from the religous right. Ironically, this is the exact same thing that we hear from all religious extremists. I'm right, you're wrong, and if you want to see how wrong you are, just take a look at my sacred text right here. See? It says you're wrong, and since God wrote this, you need to convert or burn.

Okay, he didn't go that far, but he wasn't that far afield. The problem is, though, that this belief does not coexist well with the reality of my work and my experience. And for the purposes of spirituality, Higher Power, although very ambiguous, fits well. Specific religious doctrines, when voiced in a pluralistic setting, don't always have the desired effect, especially when one is trying to help a very wounded community which has members who aren't sure if they believe in anything, let alone what they believe.

When I meet with a patient, I meet that person where he or she is, religiously speaking. At least, I do my best to try. If the patient is an atheist, I try to find out how they came to that point in life. If the patient has religious views that differ from my own, I work to find out how I can be a resource and a companion in his or her journey. In the rare case the individual comes from a background similar to my own, I do the same. As one chaplain pointed out, "I'm not in sales. I'm in customer support." I love that line, and use it to reassure patients that I'm not going to hit them over the head with the heavy Bible (though there are a few I wish I could bonk on the head!).

The message I try to convey is that religions are tools, concrete in nature, that we use to get in touch with the Divine. Spirituality is the relationship that is formed through the use of those tools. Both are needed, so the term "spiritual but not religious" is really a fallicy. You might not attend organized religious services for one reason or another, but I guaruntee that the spiriaulity you hold dear is supported by actions (disciplines such as prayer, reading of scriptures, etc.) that you picked up by becoming involved in a religious system.

Wow, that was a rant. And imagine, I said all that without going off on the whole "America is a Christian country founded by Christians on Christian values" thing. It wasn't. Get over it. Read The Jefferson Bible (written by Thomas Jefferson, by the way), if you believe. that he thought the same way that modern evangelical Christians think.

Back to work. More later.

1 comment:

Chris Cottingham said...

You said, And imagine, I said all that without going off on the whole "America is a Christian country founded by Christians on Christian values" thing.

Yes, you did. Allow me to add that, if we'd been founded on Jesus's values, there'd have been none of that pesky slaughtering of the Native Americans (this is sarcasm, not flippancy), followed by lying to them (in writing, in broken treaty after broken treaty) to get them to stop resisting being slaughtered or stolen from...not to mention the practice of locking up Christians who weren't of the *right* sect of Christians (like Baptist preachers being jailed for preaching in Georgia - we needed less of that then, and more of it now! ;) Heh.). And REALLY not to mention that oh-so-Christian practice of ignoring biblical commands to favor and care for the poor and needy, by only allowing privileged, rich, land-owning (and usually people-owning) white men to create the Constitution, or to serve in Congress, the Presidency, or the courts. In those respects, we've become more in line with Christian values, not less.

The fact that most newcomers to America in its early days tended to build or attend churches does *not* mean they were founding a country on Christian values...which are built on love for God and neighbor.

Argh. The whole conversation makes me feel all pirate-y.

I will say, personally, I like the 12-Step program's way of doing it, which is to encourage people to say "God" or "HP" or whatever they feel. I should be able to speak of God ("HP" doesn't do it for me - too impersonal, I'm not a Jedi and don't have the Force - although that would be cool...), while others should be able to speak of a HP, or heck the Force, or Buddha, or whatever. We shouldn't all have to use the same terminology, cuz we mean different things by them...if I'm in a group with a Buddhist, a Hindu, an atheist, a Mooney, etc., we're gonna have differences, so no use pretending...or being scared of the fact that we're different.