The Deconversion Guide: Illness and Death

Part four of the series. Click here for part three.

Today’s topic: chronic illness and death.

As I don’t have a chronic illness I’ve asked a few blogging friends for advice.  A little later on in this post I’ll talk about my experiences as a family member of someone with longterm health problems.

Chronic Illness

I asked Daphne Purpus, Bruce Gerencser and Trey Smith three questions. This is what they had to say:

Would you be willing to share your experiences with this [how Christians respond to your illness]?


I was having cataract surgery (2 different times with 2 eyes since they won’t do both at once) and the place my eye doctor wanted me to go to is first rate, but run by Seventh Day Adventists… As I am sitting in the chair and the surgery is about to proceed, the surgeon asks if I mind if he prays for this surgery.

Ok, now you have me over a barrel. Can I say no? If I do will that affect his abilities, consciously or not? I felt forced into saying it was ok, and in each case they put their hands on my head and went through a fairly lengthy audible prayer.


The last church I attended was a local church in Ney. My family and I attended this church for many months before we stopped in November in 2008.  I considered the pastor a friend and the church was very friendly towards me. (of course I was not a declared atheist at the time) From November 2008 til today I have not spoken to one person from the church besides the pastor and I have not talked to him since March of 2009. No care. No concern. If I wasn’t willing to attend their church there was no need to bother with me. (even though I had and continue to have great physical needs).


Surprisingly, I don’t run into the issue very often.  Most members of my family are agnostic or atheist, so we rarely get into religious discussions at all!

What do you say when Christians offer to pray for you or say that their god can heal you?


 One doesn’t need a personal deity to subscribe to the idea that sending positive energies out into the world will have a positive effect…That being said, if someone says something like I know my god will heal you, then I start to baulk. The whole idea of prayer healing is a philosophical quagmire and even in my orthodox Lutheran days, I had problems with that. Why does god heal one person but not another. Is one more deserving?


Generally, if a Christian offers to pray for me I thank them and say nothing. I know they mean well and little is gained by entering into a debate with them about God or the efficacy of prayer. If a Christian asks to pray for me right at the moment were are talking I ask them them not to. It is one thing if they want to pray for me privately but I find people praying for me in my preserve to be offensive.


From time to time, evangelists come knocking on my front door.  If it is in one of those periods in which I’m using my cane, I have been asked why and I tell them about my condition.  That’s when I get the “I’ll/We’ll pray from you” gambit.  My typical response is “If it makes YOU feel better, go for it.  It won’t make me any better, but at least you’ll feel better and isn’t that what praying for others is all about anyway?

What do you wish they would say or do instead?


I understand that many Christians feel a need to pray for the sick and I certainly don’t want them to stop doing so. That said, I would prefer that Christians try and help me rather than pray for me. The easiest words to say as a Christian is “I will pray for you.” It is much harder to enter into a person’s life and embrace them as a fellow human being…What I need is help when life is overwhelming or when I face difficult physical obstacles.


Maybe, “gosh, that’s too bad” or “Hope you get to feeling a tad bit better in the coming days.”  I mean, there really isn’t too much a person can say.  It is what it is.

Trey, Bruce, Daphne – thank you so much for participating!

My Family’s Story

My sister-in-law has a neurological disorder that has yet to be officially diagnosed along with a few other health problems. Last year she suddenly became extremely ill, was hospitalized for a few weeks and didn’t fully recover for months.

It was terrifying. What is even scarier is not knowing what the future holds – will her health continue to slowly deteriorate? Will her symptoms eventually stabilize? Will she continue to be able to attend school and work? We just don’t know.

These are things I rarely discuss for a few reasons: it feels weird and invasive to talk about someone else’s health problems in such detail, there are so many unknowns in her future, I only recently learned more information about her and it’s hard enough to have a loved one suffer as is. The last thing I need is for this to be used as a witnessing opportunity.

A final link before I end this very long post: Grief Beyond Belief is an online support group for non-theists who have recently lost a loved one. It’s a truly excellent resource! I haven’t lost any friends or family members since deconverting but I’ll often read what Grief Beyond Belief has to say in order to prepare for that inevitable day.

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0 Responses to The Deconversion Guide: Illness and Death

  1. Heather Robb

    I wonder, Lydia, why you do not ask any currently professing Christians with chronic health conditions to also participate in this…? It seems this is only representing one side of things.

  2. Pingback: The Deconversion Guide: Holidays | On The Other Hand

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