Sunday, March 25, 2012


I played one year of Division III college football in the Midwestern Brainiac Conference, consisting of private colleges with high academic standards from Louisiana to Michigan. One of our perennial favorite games was against Principia, a college for Christian Scientists in Illinois. We always traveled there because the food was delicious. Christian Scientists were considered some of the more "out there" evangelical Christians in those days*, most notably because of their rejection of conventional medicine, and reliance on spiritual healing. Before the trip, one of my teammates told me, "It's the weirdest thing. If one of them gets hurt, everyone just sort of moves away from him, and people on the sidelines kneel down and start praying."

Years later, I chanced to meet someone who played football there, though at a different time, and we reminisced at bit. He explained that people of his faith are generally quite pragmatic about medicine, and most will not attempt to pray away a compound fracture. They wear glasses and have their teeth cleaned, though most do not get vaccinations. It's not what I would call mainstream, but like I said, it's pragmatic.

I often think of that conversation when I hear politicians -- or anyone else, really -- trivialize medical issues, or demonize those who think differently, in the name of faith. I know about having beliefs, and I am completely okay with making life-altering decisions based on them, but don't pretend that this crap is simple. I don't understand those who think they know God's heart any more than I get how some of my physicist friends believe that we are on the brink of knowing everything meaningful there is to know about the Universe.

I cannot imagine a more difficult situation than being told by a doctor that a delivery has gone horribly wrong, and that either one's partner or her baby will have to be sacrificed. And I understand that if we are at the Catholic hospital near my house, that decision will be made for me**.  What I can't understand is demagogues who can call people murderers who have been in this situation, like it's the same as walking into your estranged wife's office and gunning down everyone there.

My college football career ended the day before Thanksgiving that year, standing in the quad among the swirling flurries that would become the season's first snowfall. That's when I learned that my friend and teammate Daryl had died from an embolism after routine knee surgery at one of the world's best sports medicine centers. Somehow, it just wasn't fun anymore. It was one of a double handful of times during my life that I have been reminded that nothing is as simple as it seems.

* My, how things have changed. Christian Scientists don't even stick out of the crowd anymore.

** Perhaps it is not a coincidence that our heavily Catholic city has private secular hospital that specializes in women's health, and delivers most of the babies in town, at least for those with health insurance.