Mik aged 6 weeks, during first session of Chemotherapy for Neuroblastoma
Most people who are sick or disabled will have experienced being told that if they had faith they would be cured. Whether it is faith in a higher power to fix our imperfections or in our own ability to will ourselves back to health, when these platitudes are thrown our way almost all of us are overwhelmed with deep offense. Let me explain why.
While an inability to think or pray myself better has always been a part of my life, as I was born disabled, when I was a teenager an event occurred that showed the darker side of this belief around sickness and disability. At the age of fifteen I was taken ill and rushed to hospital. At first I was placed in a terminal ward as my surgical team believed I was dying. Luckily it transpired this was incorrect, but I spent several months in that ward watching everyone around me die, some in very unpleasant ways. This made me grow up fast. After this harrowing period I was moved to a children's ward. The ward was populated with children between the ages of eight and sixteen with all manner of Orthopedic illnesses and all manner of religious faiths.
One Sunday one of our merry band was having his regular bedside Mass with his priest and his Mum, when the priest asked us all to join with them. When we all refused the way the priest replied to us has stuck with me throughout my life. "Well if you don't believe then you deserve to be sick. God is punishing you all for your lack of faith". Please remember that this was not some person in the street who had misunderstood some scripture but was instead someone who claimed to speak for God, and that many of my ward mates did have a faith, just not a Catholic one. So in this man's faith, a room of very sick children deserved to be there because they fancied watching TV rather than praying to his God. Suffer the children eh? Also did all the people I had previously watched die do so due to a lack of faith?
Another time, while window shopping in Carnaby Street, I was accosted by a young man who asked me the old chestnut "What happened to you?". As I had a bit of time to kill I regaled him of my story. Born with cancer, spinal collapse as a teenager, nearly died, became wheelchair user. Then he exclaimed that if I prayed to God I would be able to walk again. I challenged him that wasn't it God who made all things so maybe God wanted me to be a wheelchair user in the first place. This annoyed him greatly. As I wheeled away he was still shouting about how I deserved to be disabled and God was punishing me.
But it's not just religious people who have this obsession about faith and cure. Throughout my forty eight years I have been told many times I survived all of my illnesses and obstacles thanks to my own strength of will. While that might sound great and be a massive ego boost, I know the real truth is I owe more to luck, genetics and wonderful medical treatment. I was lucky as my illnesses were diagnosed in time to be treated, especially my cancer, genetics as I come from a strong working class stock who mostly lived to a ripe old age and I have had some of the most advanced medical treatment in the world during my lifetime. However much it might be nice to take the credit for my longevity, I feel at most I can say I didn't want to die so I let surgeons do whatever they liked in case it worked and that I am physically very robust.
The idea of faith leading to health invalidates the existence of many chronically sick and disabled people. While everyone who is ill wants to get better, for some this is impossible and so they live with impairments and conditions that will either stay the same or deteriorate over time. They are no less capable of wanting to be healthy, or deserve to be ill due to something that is lacking in their make up. Do people really believe that all of these sick and disabled people just don't want to be well? I know that most wish it more than anything, but there are also a large number of people feel as I do.
You see I view my disability as a positive thing. Without it I would not be the happy and rounded person I am today. While I have no religious belief I am always shocked that religious people have never told me that God made me disabled to give me the wonderful life I have had, which might at least sell the religion in a positive light, and instead state I was punished at birth for my future lack of belief. This would be especially cruel as who knows if I wouldn't have had a faith if I hadn't been born disabled? My Mother was a devout Christian until my birth, so by making me disabled God lost two sheep at least.
So I ask you all, next time you feel yourself about to say something about willing yourself better or how God will cure you if you believe to someone who is sick or disabled, please don't. Sick and disabled people are just like any other minority, they deserve understanding and support not judgement and blame. Don't forget, one day you might become sick or disabled and if it does happen you will find that the one thing you will have is a desire to get well. But you will need a lot more than faith if you have a hope of making it through.