One bright summer day in the late 80s, teenage-me was faced with a dilemma: how best to get home. I stood there, at the top of the hill leading to the swimming pool, weighing my options. There were a fair amount of trees along the hill, but not so many that I couldn’t safely navigate. Besides, if things got hairy, I could simply apply the brakes on my bicycle and slow myself down. There was another route (one that didn’t involve hills or trees) I could have taken to leave the pool, but this one was shorter. Which made it the better choice, of course (at least to my then-teenage mind). As I hopped on my bicycle and began the downhill journey, I began to question if I was being wise or foolish (definitely foolish). Shortly after beginning my descent, I realized I was going faster than I wanted. No problem I thought. Bike brakes, remember? Of course to function properly, bike brakes need brake pads that are not worn. Mine were very, very worn. Panic set in. My speed was increasing, and I couldn’t think of a way to stop that didn’t involve some pain and suffering. My panic diminished when I saw a ditch at the base of the hill. A ditch with a bridge spanning it. If I could make it to the bridge safely, I’d be in the clear. So I aimed for the bridge. Unfortunately, I missed and my bike (with me still on it) careened into the ditch. When my bike fell, I fell with it. As my bike skidded across the concrete ditch, so did my body. I still have the scars on the left side of my body from that accident. I remember that the experience was painful.
Despite what I had just experienced, I was able to pick myself up and drag myself home. I don’t recall the look on the faces of my parents, but I imagine it was that panicked look most parents get when they learn that their child has been injured. Let me be clear though: those injuries…the pain I was in…the suffering I experienced? It was all minor. No limbs were lost. There was no significant blood loss. I had no life-threatening injuries. Nonetheless, it still qualifies as an experience involving pain and suffering. According to the late, not-so-great Catholic icon Mother Theresa, experiences such as mine-while awful-are ultimately a good thing:
One day I met a lady who was dying of cancer in a most terrible condition. And I told her, I say, “You know, this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.” And she joined her hands together and said, “Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.”
The message is clear: pain and suffering are the path to Jesus. Uh-huh. At the time of my accident, I was still a believer (it took nearly a decade before I came to recognize the error of my ways and rejected religious nonsense). Nevertheless, I think my teenage-self would have preferred to avoid that kiss, thank you very much.
The idea that human suffering should be passively accepted or held up as a glorious part of the human experience (and thus, nothing we should try to alleviate) is a repulsive idea to me. I don’t like pain. I’d venture to say that the majority of people living on this planet don’t like pain. If it can be avoided, we humans often do. Because pain hurts. As for suffering, who the hell wants to be deprived of food, air, water, or shelter? Who wants to lead a solitary life with no interaction with other human beings? Who wants to be subjected to malnutrition, starvation, or disease? While the odd human here or there might say they like to suffer, I think it’s safe to say that the overwhelming majority of human beings don’t like to suffer. Sadly, the Catholic Church-that self-proclaimed bastion of morality that claims to have the best interests of humanity at heart-continues to disagree:
Jesus Sahagun, from Valladolid, has been charged with several offences including gender violence and causing injury and mistreatment.
The events began in 2012 when the girl’s parents asked for Sahaguns help because they believed Satan had possessed their daughter.
She was then subject to 13 exorcisms, in which she was repeatedly tied up and had crucifixes held over her head.
The girl’s aunts and uncles complained to police after the teenager tried to commit suicide.
In a statement in court, the girl’s parents said the Priest was aware their daughter was suffering from anorexia but that he told them the exorcisms would not interfere with her treatment.
In an interview with El Mundo newspaper in 2014, Sahagun said the exorcisms were necessary because the girl was “possessed by the devil.”
“The young woman’s suicide attempt was not a result of the exorcisms practiced on her,” he said.
Sahagun also defended exorcisms as “a religious practice maintained as part of the Church’s tradition, as a right available to all the faithful.”
While the causes of anorexia nervosa are not known, I think it’s reasonable to reject any supernatural hypothesis, bc hey, there’s no evidence for the existence of any supernatural beings (whether godlike or demonic). Before one more exorcism is performed, the Catholic Church should be made to prove the existence of their particular flavor of deity, as well as the existence of demons. They should also have to prove that demons can and do possess humans, and how they know this to be true. Finally, they ought to be required to demonstrate the efficacy of exorcisms. Until they do so, they should be forbidden from engaging in exorcisms, on penalty of prosecution. They should not get a free pass to engage in practices that contribute to human suffering simply because they are a religious organization.
That’s how things ought to be. Pity that’s not the way things are. They get to continue engaging in exorcisms and other actions that, rather than ameliorating human suffering, exacerbate it. Actions like installing a watering system to keep homeless people from sleeping in cathedral doorways:
The cathedral, at Geary and Gough, is the home church of the Archbishop. There are four tall side doors, with sheltered alcoves, that attract homeless people at night.
“They actually have signs in there that say, ‘No Trespassing,’” said a homeless man named Robert.
But there are no signs warning the homeless about what happens in these doorways, at various times, all through the night. Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it.
The shower ran for about 75 seconds, every 30 to 60 minutes while we were there, starting before sunset, simultaneously in all four doorways. KCBS witnessed it soak homeless people, and their belongings.
“We’re going to be wet there all night, so hypothermia, cold, all that other stuff could set in. Keeping the church clean, but it could make people sick,” Robert said.
The water doesn’t really clean the area. There are syringes, cigarette butts, soggy clothing and cardboard. There is no drainage system. The water pools on the steps and sidewalks.
A neighbor who witnessed the drenching told KCBS, “I was just shocked, one because it’s inhumane to treat people that way. The second thing is that we are in this terrible drought.
Yes, that is an inhumane way to treat other humans (and hey, what about those alleged teachings of Jesus that Catholics claim to follow) but if you put on your Think Like Mother Theresa Hat, it makes sense. Homeless people being drenched in water? Facing hypothermia? Kicked out of one of the few areas that provides some shelter? Yeah, that’s suffering, but what are you complaining about? You just got kissed by god!