Thursday, September 21, 2006

Religion, Faith, and Multiple Sclerosis...

     Not long ago, someone asked me if I was a "Christian".  I gave my "pat" answer of, "It doesn't really matter what I believe.  What is important is what YOU believe."  The question came from a mentally ill woman who believed she was the bride of Christ, so a carefully thought out response wasn't even needed...she delusionally believed everyone BUT her was the "devil", so my response was a moot point...but, it got me thinking.

     Then, earlier this week, I watched news coverage of how Pope Benedict XVI set off a worldwide outcry and violent protest from Muslims because of a quote he made in his speech, "Faith, Reason, and the University--Memories and Reflections", on September 12th.  If you read excerpts of the speech (or if truly bored, the entire translation), it does NOT appear it was the Pope's intention to single out Islam, but instead make a point how there is a tendency to exclude the question of "God" from least that's my take on the now infamous lecture.  This international situation got me thinking even more.

     THEN, I watched the world leaders' reactions play out in response to the Pope's quoted statement in his lecture.  There were outcries by Muslims to kill Christians, Americans, and anyone not a believer of the Muslim faith.  Here's just one excerpt of such a statement: 

Sheikh Abubukar Hassan Malin, a hardline cleric allied with Somalia's Supreme Islamic Court, urged Muslims to "hunt down the Pope" in a speech, saying: "We urge you Muslims wherever you are to hunt down the Pope for his barbaric statements as you have pursued Salman Rushdie, the enemy of Allah who offended our religion. Whoever offends our Prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim. We call on all Islamic Communities across the world to take revenge on the baseless critic called the pope."

     Obviously, THIS got me thinking even more!  I decided it was time to "tackle my take" on the subject of religion, faith, and how these two seemingly innocent words carry such controversy.  But because this journal/blog is ALSO about MS, I thought I'd throw a disease on the pile for good measure and try to tie them all together...wish me luck!

     Because I'm a "Word Ho", I often consult my dear old, falling apart, having survived a flood, dictionary, Merriam-Webster.  After all, words already in print are rather "safe".  So, let me share with you the "accepted" definitions of religion and faith, per M-W:

RELIGION:Pronunciation: ri-'li-j&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Anglo-French religiun, Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back --

1 a : the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious
attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity
: CONSCIOUSNESS 4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

And now, FAITH:  Pronunciation: 'fAth
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural faiths/'fAths, sometimes 'fA[th]z/
Etymology: Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust --

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty   b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>
synonym see Belief- on faith : without question <took everything he said on faith>

     WooEee, Mary!  That's certainly a lot of information to take in all at once!  The most important aspect I find of these two definitions is, they are BOTH considered "nouns" in the general sense...oddly, neither is seen as an "action" word or verb (Suzy in Chicago, eat your heart out with this peculiar English lesson!  She's taking an English course this fall at college, for those of you not in her blog loop!).  Yet we here in Western culture often "think" of these two words as verbs, and on rare occasion, a loose adjective.

     So, how do religion and faith tie in with the topic of Multiple Sclerosis, you might ask?  Well...they do and they DON' all depends on the person!

     I read many MS blogs daily, interact with multi-cultural people in my job, and carry my own belief system.  Several MS bloggers refer to themselves as "Christian", one I know of considers himself "Buddhist", some of the Somali people I deal with in my job tell me they are Muslim, and I've got a few Jewish friends here and there.  And dare I NOT exclude my Wisconsin friends who practice Dianic Wicca!  As you can see, I've pretty much been exposed to all of the major religions of the world.

     Two of the common threads I find with ALL of these religions and their practices is 1)  a belief there is something greater outside of the individual self, and 2) the practice of prayer.  OK, sure my Wiccan friends don't call it "prayer", but spell casting is pretty darned's asking for something one feels they lack and doing so in a way it harms no one...let's not split hairs here!  LOL

     When it comes to dealing with Multiple Sclerosis, I'm quite certain there is no greater demandon ANY Higher Power's time then when someone is first diagnosed with the disease...I don't think it really matters what your religious belief is...we've all "prayed" that same line, "Why me, _____, why?" (Just fill in the blank with whatever and whomever you pray to...God, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, the four elements, etc.)  Those of us with MS have ALL asked this question in some form of outcry/prayer...don't lie to me...I KNOW you have! LOL

     When dealing with MS, we turn to our religions or our spiritual beliefs because SOMETHING GREATER THAN OURSELVES is at work when it comes to Multiple Sclerosis...if it weren't a force greater than ourselves, we'd simply fix it...we'd make it go away...we'd heal ourselves...I'd heal YOU if I could.  But I can't.

     There also seems to be an unspoken phenomenon or little dealt with idea among MSers which really has nothing at all to do with religion(s), and that is the aspect of "faith".  Now some of you may say "faith" is nothing more than believing in good luck, i.e., "I have faith this drug or that treatment will help me"...we don't know for CERTAIN anything will help us, but we still role the dice  and we still base our decisions about our health in the ol' "crap shoot" principle...maybe it will, maybe it won't, but we're placing our money on the table in the "faith" area...M-W calls it, "a firm belief in something for which there is no proof".  Sure there's the science part of MS, but what does any scientist REALLY know about how each of these treatments work on the individual?  I can answer that:  They don't.  No one does.  Enter dear lady, FAITH.

     When I see the world around me freaking out and even killing each other over their RELIGIONS, I just want to cry...and, after I do that, I get mad.  Too often the ancient texts that religions use to guide their followers gets twisted into self-serving interests that SERVE NO ONE, but those who skillfully do the "twisting".

     Then, after the tears and anger subside, I turn to my FAITH...not a religion, but pure faith...a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.  My firm belief that there IS something/a force out there greater than firm belief that prayer is a universal language, which we ALL speak.  I turn to my FAITH that leads me to understanding I may NEVER have proof of anything...I may NEVER have or know the answers to my difficult life questions.

     If MS has taught me anything, it HAS taught me the necessity of prayer and intention in my life.  It HASN'T brought me religiously close to anything, but it HAS strengthened my faith.  I BELIEVE my development of Multiple Sclerosis was no accident...I have to believe that or risk losing my value that there is a force greater than myself out there calling the shots.  I have to BELIEVE there is Order in Chaos (speaking directly to Mdmhvonpa now! LOL), and likewise, Chaos in Order.

     I BELIEVE that how I intend my life and how I pray my life set the course for how I LIVE my life...and if there's any "proof" of this phenomenon, read a few quantum physics books and you might also jump over to the "dark side"...Moohahaha...just kidding!  It's actually a pretty HOPEFUL discovery in science...Quantum Physics, that is...and it's NOT new.

     So, for those of you firmly tied to your religions out there...good for you.  I think it's also important to have some type of spiritual practice in life and I hope your religion brings this for you.

     And for those of you who are NOT religious, but practice faith, good for you, too.  "Religion" should just be the noun in any spiritual practice and not a shield to hide behind or shoot from, such as we are seeing religion being used quite frequently in the world today.

     And still, for those of you with MS who have one or both of these things, religion and/or faith, I hope you find comfort in your beliefs and practices...I hope you are able to live your life with Multiple Sclerosis with intention and purpose...


rogersamm said...

Hey, L.

I signed on to AOL just so I could tell you how much I enjoyed your discussion of faith. I'm right there with you. Having faith without making God an object is the key to tolerance.

I'm thinking along the same lines as you about my mom's suffering right now, that there must be a purpose even though it's very hard to see.

Although I can't say that I'm a Christian, the best thing about Christianity is the idea that God isn't up there just watching all the pain, s/he's right down here in the mud and blood with us.

Loved your quotes in the earlier blog. Talk to you soon. Roger.

baitulos said...

HEY, ROJOO:  Glad to know you're bad among us here in Western Washington...I know your trip "home" to visit your mother must have been a difficult one.  Purpose aside, I'm pretty sure her development of CA wasn't accidental, but certainly not her "fault" either.  I'm kind of more a believer that disease and death are lessons for the living...lessons in intention...I hope your intention with your mother's disease will be to utilize the emotion in your creative process.  You ARE a wonderful writer and friend...


baitulos said...

SUZY:  Thanks for your comments...this blog wasn't written to criticize ANYONE's beliefs or values...and most certainly not yours!  One of the things I find most endearing about you especially is your FAITH...that's really the heart of the matter as I see it.  Oh yeah, that and your sense of humor...your "wit" is also quite endearing!!! LOL