Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Your Inner Strength - of Divine Origin or Completely and Magnificently Human?

Today, I read a very interesting post at FreeThought Blogs, entitled, Jesus, the First Responder? I Don’t Think So!, which made the point that:
Throughout history, it is not imaginary beings who respond to human suffering, rather it is and it always has been the actual presence of freedom fighters, real, live human beings, who have taught us what means to be human and thus humane.  Jesus, or any other spiritual deity does not deserve this credit!  The credit goes to those of us who are willing and able to struggle for justice and human dignity in the face of cold-blooded killers.  It is we, not Jesus, who are the first responders!
While I agree completely with this sentiment, that isn’t exactly the point of my post today.  I want to take that a bit further and approach it from another direction.

One of the hardest things for many christians (and thus, I’d guess, the adherents to other religions as well) to give up is the comfort and security of knowing that there is this all powerful, loving god who, basically, has your back.  Someone you can turn to for strength and comfort when things get a bit rough.  After all, one of the most reliable predictions you can make about the people of this country is that when disaster strikes, especially something like the Newtown massacre, the churches fill up fast.

One of the biggest beefs I have with modern American idioms is the one where someone says, “Thank God!” whenever they hear that a family member or someone famous recovers from an illness or has a successful surgery - or is rescued from a burning building or sinking boat.

I want to shake them and say, “No!  It wasn’t god, it was that great doctor and his surgical team that did it!” or tell them that they should be thanking the Firemen/women or the Coastguard for rescuing their friends or family.

Which is the point of the old joke.  You know, the one where the guy trapped in his house during a flood and refuses rescue from an SUV, a boat and a helicopter, telling the rescuers that “god will save me”, but drowns anyway.  Upon confronting god in heaven, he is told that of course, god provided - an SUV, a boat and a helicopter!

God doesn’t do rescues.  He doesn’t do surgery.  He doesn’t magically put the answers to that tough test in your head after you failed to study last night.  If those answers are there, it is because YOU studied and remembered them!

People do these things.  Doctors go to school for almost a decade, including working extremely tough schedules in residencies and incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of loans to learn how to perform surgery on that cancer that got removed from Aunt Sally’s throat.  God didn’t do that, the doctor did, supported by an entire team of highly trained, professional and very dedicated specialists without whom no doctor could succeed.  Firefighters go through a tough training school which takes a very special very tough person to succeed in.  Not everybody has the guts to enter a burning house to rescue a dog or a child or an old person unable to exit themselves.  But they do it every day - let’s start giving them the credit, instead of this invisible guy that, if he’s even there, stays pretty invisible.

How do these remarkable people do what they do?  Is it the hand of god which guides their footsteps or their hands?  No.  It is hours and hours of training, practice and experience which allow these remarkable people to save your life.  It is an internal fortitude and strength that keeps them going and helps them to do things the rest of us marvel over.

Is that strength rare?  In some cases, perhaps.  But in most of us, that strength is always there, and we can tap it at will if we but try.

You can do it too.  Have you ever prayed before an especially tough experience, like a board examination or a test or perhaps before running a marathon for the strength to make it across the finish line? To get through without cracking up under pressure?

Somehow, you made it, didn’t you?  And at the end, you said, “Thank god!”, right?

Did it never occur to you that the strength you tapped that time was always there, you just needed a way to tap into it?  That prayer did it.  God didn’t give it to you, you looked way down deep inside of yourself and tapped an inner wellspring of strength and came through in the end, because somehow, you knew you could.  The prayer was just a way of expressing yourself and your determination.

One of the most terrible and demeaning ways that christianity harms people is its dogmatic teaching that human beings are all sinners.  That we are weak, susceptible to temptation, with no will power to resist wrongdoing.  That we need the strength that god or Jesus can give us, if only we ask.  I am always with you, the bible says he tells us.

It is a classic method of, believe it or not, the abuser making their victim dependent on him/her.  One of the telltale signs of an abusive relationship is that the abuser tells his victim, constantly, how weak they are.  How they are stupid, weak and helpless.   He/she then constantly berates their attempts to prove themselves, putting them down, rejecting their overtures unless the victim accepts their abuse and characterization of them.

Sound familiar?  “None shall reach the kingdom of heaven except through me”  “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”.

If you experience this training through out childhood, its no wonder you turn to someone else for strength!

The toughest thing about becoming an atheist is realizing that, in reality, there’s nobody home when you send out that prayer.  That there’s nobody “with you” when you are asking for strength.  (Except, of course, friends and family)

But, slowly, you also realize that, on the other hand, in spite of there being nobody there, somehow, you got through anyway.  You passed that test, you were accepted by the board, you made the finish line.  You begin to see that the strength to persevere, to keep going, to win, was there all along.  Inside you.  Just waiting to be tapped, to be used and recognized.

Just like those brave firefighters, cops and Coastguardsmen/women, you too, have the strength which you can tap and call upon in times of need.  That intestinal fortitude, the guts, it’s there, it’s all yours!

Everybody has it, but not everybody knows how to tap into it and call upon it at need.  That takes effort.  That takes the confident knowledge that the strength is there and requires the ability to reach down and call upon it.  That strength is there and is demonstrated every day.

Remember that young teacher who concealed her class in closets and cabinets, then sat down to wait for the shooter?  The courage that young woman displayed was equal to, even superior to, that displayed by even the bravest Medal of Honor winner.  Usually, they are armed, she was not.  But sit she did, to ensure that she could fool the shooter into thinking her class was somewhere else and she was alone.  Knowing that she would most likely be shot herself.

That took tremendous courage!  The strength she showed was remarkable.  But utterly, entirely human.  Magnificently human!  God didn't stop the shooter from killing her children, she did.  She reached deep down inside and drew out the strength she needed to sit there and wait for certain death.  She had a purpose, and she knew how to succeed at that purpose.

People do that every day.  Unremarkable people, perfectly normal people save friends and neighbors from burning buildings, auto accidents, sinking ships, and just about any other dangerous situation you might imagine.  Every day, perfectly average people pass tests, sit through board examinations, endure imaginable hardships - and do it purely on their own, without the slightest help from invisible beings.  They do it by tapping on that internal strength, and often through knowing that they are supported by family, or friends or a professional network of associates and coworkers.

It’s called being human.  Magnificently human!

No comments: