If there is only one God, which is he/she?
As a psychiatrist I studied how people thought and how they developed their beliefs about life – not only religion. In this article, I talk about the veracity of religious beliefs and how hypocrisy weakens beliefs, particularly when that hypocrisy is very meaningful in different circumstances, both personal and in a wider context.
I am not saying that the weakening of beliefs is a bad thing. On the contrary, unless beliefs have a positive effect for a person and are based on facts, then ‘loosening and redrafting’, from a more knowledgeable perspective, is not only good, but, in my view as a psychiatrist, essential.
When I was a young child, I had to go to Sunday school. The hours of attendance gradually expanded through the years, and as I grew older, the church service in the afternoon was added. During my later teens, I played the organ at church, so then, it became not only afternoon but also evening. Every Sunday was taken up in this way. Dad was one of the church wardens, and my mother’s religious faith was very strong. They lived by and with their moral/religious code and so it appeared ‘correct’. Only later, did I realise that Mum’s faith was based on fear of questioning the ‘truth’.
So, I do know and remember quite a lot of the scriptures, and can still sing hymns by heart. I heard, if not listened, to many preachers giving their version of their chosen religion. Methodism, in my family at least, had its rules for Sundays – no knitting, no sewing, no playing out, no going to the ‘pictures’, no cleaning the house or shoes, and such petty restrictions. At least, these restrictions gave Mum a rest, but never made any sense to me. I couldn’t see the ‘Good Lord’, where ever he was (as God was always portrayed as a male), being interested in my ‘cable stitches’. I thought he would have more to do than that.
I had a lot of time to think and suffer when I was young. I was often ill in bed with severe asthma, and, as treatment in those years was virtually non-existent, this was often for weeks at a time. The ‘Good Lord’ didn’t even know about that as far as I knew at the time, as he never helped or made it easier, so sewing on a Sunday? No, it wouldn’t be of any concern to him.
But, what I heard preached in church didn’t match a lot of the behaviour of the people who attended the church. Some – yes, others, no. When I grew older, out of deference to my parents, habit, or lingering possibilities, I attended church, though never regularly. One evening the local Vicar, where we were living at the time, preached about love and peace, and went round the church, hands in the prayer position, with his usual sanctimonious smile. The problem for me was that, out of the church and in private life, it was fairly common knowledge that the vicar was having an ‘affair’. I don’t think that hypocrisy sets a good example for someone designated as God’s messenger.
A few years after my father died, and after living with us for six months during a severe illness, my mother decided to move permanently to be near us. With the help of my husband, we looked after her, willingly, with love, some frustration but with much enjoyment, for eighteen years. During those years she attended the village church every Sunday, gave generously, always answered the ‘begging bowl’ call, and attended prayer meetings and social functions. My lack of ‘attendance at church’ caused Mum to place a thin but tangible ‘barrier’ between us, erected mainly on a Sunday, which my love and care did not pass through. But my beliefs were different from hers and I could not be hypocritical in that way.
In her final 96th year, after a stroke I had to have extra help as I was also very ill at the time. She went into a nursing home, fortunately in the village, but came to our home or that of a dear friend, after lunch, every day, until about 7pm. Only one friend from her Church visited her each week and had her to her home. From others, she received no visits, and, including the vicar and any assistants, she appeared to have disappeared completely from their screen.
After a bout of ‘flu type’ illness, she was too weak to come to our home. So, with my husband, I went to her instead. On this particular day, we were sitting with her in her bedroom. She was in bed and very frail. I was holding Mum’s hand. She was almost too weak to talk. There was a knock on her bedroom door, and a woman, I had never seen before, insisted on entering. I told her my mother was too ill to see anyone. She declared ‘your mother will want to see me. I am ---- from the church.’ I could see that Mum recognised either the voice or the name, and smiled and sort of motioned with her hand. So, I said nothing more.
She came in and pushed between me and Mum, so I had to let go of Mum’s hand. Not wishing to upset Mum, I was quiet and moved away. My husband, who was very angry, had already left the room rather than upset Mum. The woman said to Mum, though ignoring and excluding me completely, ‘Let’s say the Lord’s prayer together’. I watched Mum, her eyes shut tight, trying so hard to oblige and to remember the words of a prayer she had lived her life by. It was unbelievably sad. I just could not watch, and I left and stood outside her door, However, I couldn’t stay away from Mum’s side, so I went in. The woman, her ‘good deed done’, left.
Mum died ten minutes later.
In all my years of work as a doctor/ psychiatrist, I had never seen anyone so unfeeling or so rude or so lacking in the skills needed at such a time. I have no doubt that this woman, because of her beliefs and her ‘job’ as vicar’s assistant, would compliment herself that she ‘had come just in time’. That would be the view of many; such is the power of religious beliefs.
But I never wish to see her again to ask her.
I am not a 'perfect' person by any stretch of the imagination, I have many faults, but I do try to practice what I believe. I went to say farewell at Mum’s funeral, which was many miles away as she wanted to be buried with my father. But, I neither organised nor attended Mum’s memorial service. I had accompanied her through the last 18 years of her life, but I had not accompanied her to church. But I heard that the church was full and that a lovely tea was provided for the mourners. Had I done so, I may well have said what was better left unsaid.
At the time of writing this article, the Pope was to visit Spain, and the whole trip was estimated by some to cost at least 100 million Euros. After I read about this, I turned over the page of the newspaper, and, there was a big advertisement for funds for East Africa famine relief. For a couple of Euros a child can have food, or a life saving drip.
Which way would a loving God want that money spent?
There is nothing wrong with people having wealth created by hard work and endeavour. Ordinary men and women decide how they spend or give their money, and that is an individual choice and each one must stand by their decision.
However, how can those actually ‘in charge’ of a church’s religion, who are not just ‘ordinary’ as they wield vast power over people’s minds, believe that it is acceptable to spend so much money for something so transitory and unnecessary in the face of such a crisis where many young lives are being lost? This contradicts the meaning of any religious teaching I ever heard. Yet hundreds of thousands of people turned out to see the Pope, believing that in some way, the sight of this man will give hope, or reconciliation with God or a way to salvation or ‘whatever’.
The more authority, whether by religious beliefs or power, then the greater is the responsibility and the more obvious the hypocrisy. There has been much written about the paedophilic priests, their behaviour and their lack of retribution – at least on this plane of existence.
I worked with very many people over many years, who had suffered sexual abuse as children. My sympathies are with these people, and my only ‘comfort’ is that the perpetrators will face the pain and fear they gave out in the next plane of existence, if not in this, and no one’s religious beliefs will save them. None will escape, as if there is any behaviour more contrary to the values preached by the church or more damaging to the healthy development of children, then I have yet to learn about it.
No ideals on earth are perceived as higher than those of the religious churches, as Faith is the highest of the logical levels of thinking of mankind.
Other people have walked almost the same path as I have, yet they do not see or feel what I see and feel. They still attend church and no doubt, if they were Catholics, they would be in the queues and among the masses to see the Pope. Many will disagree with what I have written.
But, I too have a right to my beliefs. I am becoming old. Many people turn to religion in their last years, after rejecting religion earlier in life.
I can say I have no fear of God. Only humans can hurt other humans and cause fear, whether through physical hurt or through the beliefs of religious teachings and doctrine.
I gained my beliefs through travelling my path in life, with an open, questioning mind, much training and endless hours spent working with patients who had dissociated i.e. when the connection between the conscious mind and the body was broken for a time during severe traumas. This can happen, particularly in children whose suffering is too great for them to feel – whether physically or emotionally. I have had a lot of physical suffering during my life, but in the past ten years, this was so severe and dire that for many hours, after one of my lungs burst, I hovered, in resuscitation and intensive care, between life and death. During that time, I was taken to the spirit world before being sent back to life. I was told, ‘Write what you now know.’
I believe in a God of love.
Humans have choice in life, but each and every one of us will ‘reap what they sow’. So, everyone chooses their own eternal destiny by the way they live their earthly life.
What is important after death is the behaviour during life, not the beliefs.
However, even from these few examples, the god who I know is obviously not the same God that the Pope knows, nor many priests, nor is he the God of the woman I mentioned - ‘from the church with the dog collar’. She had not seen my mother since her dementia happened suddenly many months before, but she wilfully and against my request, interrupted my time with my mother, who was obviously very weak and very frail. These last few minutes that a daughter had with her beloved mother were stolen, to share almost forgotten and now meaningless words to a frail and broken mind.
Would God ask her to do that?
My god wouldn’t.
But, I ask the question. ‘If there is one God, which is he/ or she?’
Author of 'thoughts' of a retired psychiatrist, - BOOK 1 and BOOK 2 by Audrey Coatesworth - available as an ebook from Amazon ebook collection