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Job was a pious man who was the object of a bet between Satan and God. Satan bet that if God took away all the earthly rewards of Job’s piety, that Job would no longer believe in him. God disagreed. So God killed his family and servants, made his wealth disappear and gave him the worst case of acne ever recorded. And while Job came close to renouncing God, God basically bullied him into believing again and they all lived happily ever after. The end.
It sounds too good to be true. A person who has lost everything maintains his faith despite the capricious bet made between God and Satan. I can relate to Job on a personal level, because I too have nearly lost everything. Only, the conclusions I drew were that God didn’t exist and furthermore, and that faith was a misplaced propositional attitude.
In late 2004, I was preparing for graduate work in philosophy by completing my bachelors. I had just lost my father to cancer and my mood felt flat pretty much all of the time. I was taking a metaphysics class and decided to write my exam on time, a subject that my professor wrote on ad nauseam. I had taken the professor’s paper, analyzed it and wrote, what I thought, was a brilliant critique of the material. I was confident I aced this exam when I handed in the paper.
The next week I received the paper back, with a big fat F on it. I read through the paper that I submitted. This was not the paper I remember submitting. It was full of logical errors, misspellings and really bad writing. I did deserve the grade on that paper. Now, to me there were any number of explanations for the disconnect between how I perceived the paper to be and the actual quality of the paper. However, given my recent loss and my depressed mood, I decided to seek counsel.
I went to the Student Health Center at my school and spoke with a counselor. We agreed that a psychiatric assessment was in my best interest. I met with the Campus Psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I began to improve slightly only to have my depression return with its new friend anxiety. I kept my appointments and completed the term, but my mood just worsened. Eventually, I felt suicidal and checked myself into Providence Hospital for inpatient treatment.
The psychiatrists at the hospital upgraded my diagnosis to schizoaffective disorder and changed my medication. I was released to a partial hospital program which gave me many skills to manage my mental illness. I went on to graduate with my bachelors and went to work.
One day, I woke up with a fever of about 100. My joints were swollen and I could barely move my legs. I went to the doctor. I had received my flu shot that year, so he ruled out the flu. Other than that, he was stumped. He referred me to an infectious disease specialist. I took a battery of blood tests, and it turned out that I tested positive for syphilis.
I think I would have noticed if I had syphilis at any point in my life. The confirmation tests came back negative. While it might have been cool to be in the ranks of Nietzsche and Toulouse-Lautrec, I didn’t want hug a horse in the middle of the street in delirious camaraderie.
The infectious disease specialist was stumped, as was the oncologist, the cardiologist, the pulmonologist, the gastroenterologist, the nephrologist, and the otolaryngologist (ears nose and throat specialist). They all had found some interesting clues. My heart was swollen, my lungs were working too hard and my nose had tiny lesions in it that were bleeding ever so slightly. But nobody had found anything to explain all my conditions.
I had then hooked up with a really good psychiatrist. She told me that she disagreed with the previous doctors’ psychiatric diagnoses and wanted me to talk to her husband, a rheumatologist. Within a day of meeting with the rheumatologist, I had an answer which explained my mood, my anxiety and the physical symptoms. I had lupus.
Not a lot of men get lupus, in fact 90 percent of lupus patients are women (Smith). But when men get lupus, the symptoms are sometimes worse (Braverman, Persad and Erkan). I didn’t get my first malar rash until I moved to Arizona and stayed out in the sun too long. Lupus changes everything. There is no cure, it can only be managed.
I didn’t get the peaceful resolution of Job. Not all suffering can be tidied up in discrete bundles for the sake of a plot. I have to live with my condition every day. Prostrating myself before the lord will not make my prognosis better. Eventually, this disease will kill me.
The writers of Job didn’t have a concept of chronic disease. The knowledge of the universe and morality were cards that God kept close to his chest and only revealed when he felt the time was right. In essence, the whole metaphysics that Job lays out is God gambling with our future, which is absurd. An omniscient being doesn’t gamble, because an omniscient being already knows which outcome will be realized.
The really meaningful and impactful truths aren’t spoonfed to us by a benign deity. They are hard earned and solid, squeezed from the universe through the ringer of science and intellectual investigation. I was checked for different types of cancers, different types of infectious diseases, different heart, lung, nose, and kidney diseases. None of these were the explanation for my illness. I understand why people want to paste God’s face over the wholes in our understanding. An incomplete patchwork vision of the world doesn’t set well to someone who could die due to our lack of knowledge.
It is my opinion that the truth is out in the universe waiting to be squeezed from every pore of it. The truth is passive, hiding in the crevasses of the universe hoping to elude us forever. It is not, as the religious posit, something that is sent from on high and ordained to us by a god.
My struggle with lupus illustrates this point. The truth is that we don’t know a whole lot about what causes lupus. (Lupus Foundation of America) It’s a relatively rare disease with only 1.5 million people in the United States being diagnosed with it. (WebMD) There are varying degrees to which you can have lupus and it’s often mistaken for other diseases because the symptoms mimic other diseases (Lupus Foundation of America). Lupus is a mysterious truth that wants to hide in the ether and only comes out when cornered.
And this is the point at which people blame lupus for my atheism. It is a disease I wouldn’t wish on anyone, because it is often times debilitating for months on end. That such a disease exists calls into question the very existence of good from my own subjective view. Furthermore, it seems that of all the possible worlds in Leibniz’s view, any world where lupus exists is not the best of all of them (Murray and Greenberg). The very existence of lupus precludes that any deity could be all-powerful and at the same time all-good. Religion wasn’t going to get me on the right track with regard to managing my lupus.
If anything, atheism saved my life. It disconnected me from the superstition and obsequiousness of religiosity. Praying like a sycophant to an invisible deity only made my condition worse. My connection to the explanatory tools of science and healing tools of medicine armed me with a plan of attack to treat my lupus. I would love to say that a cure for lupus is on the horizon, but science happens in fits and starts. But at least it’s manageable now. And this is what life is about, not challenging you in order to instill faith, but offering you the opportunity to manage the worst aspects of it. That’s really all we can hope for.
Braverman, Genna, Pretima MPH Persad and Doruk, MD, MPH Erkan. Hospital for Special Surgery: Top 10 Series: Lupus and Gender. 22 September 2011. Document. 6 August 2015. http://www.hss.edu/conditions_ten-differences-male-female-lupus-patients.asp.
Lupus Foundation of America. Understanding Lupus. 2015. Document. 6 August 2015. http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/what-causes-lupus.
Murray, Michael and Sean Greenberg. Leibniz on the Problem of Evil. 2013. 6 August 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/leibniz-evil/.
Smith, Howard MD. Cleveland Clinic, healthessentials, 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Lupus. 29 May 2013. Document. August 8 2015. http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/05/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-lupus/.
WebMD. Lupus Health Center: Lupus Overview. 17 January 2015. 6 August 2015. http://www.webmd.com/lupus/arthritis-lupus.