Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Um, no

Reading my emailed online Age this morning I was a bit shocked to see at the top of the Top Stories the headline 'Praying for twins Trishna, Krishna'. The article itself was a perfectly workpersonlike report on the progress of the surgical team in Melbourne working on the separation of the conjoined Bangladeshi twins. No mention was made of prayer, nor was any subject attached to that verb 'praying'.

But be damned if the Adelaide Advertiser, as I found out later in the day, wasn't doing almost the same thing: on the front page, with a large photograph, there appears the headline: 'Nation prays for Trishna and Krishna'.

Now look. I wish those children nothing but well. They're out of surgery and into intensive care, now, after a 27-hour operation. According to the most recent news updates I can find, they are still okay and that is fabulous. Every time I heard an update about the surgery on the news last night and again today, I wished the surgeons and the littlies well, and marvelled, recalling some of the unforgettable 19th century things -- including a number of skeletons of conjoined twins -- that I saw in specimen jars in Vienna's Museum of Pathological Anatomy, at what is now surgically possible.

But I wasn't "praying" for either the surgeons or the children and I'm damn sure most of the rest of the country wasn't either. This kind of thing provokes the same shudder of irritation that passes through me whenever the Prime Minister uses the word "evil" in a public speech. The discourse of Christianity belongs in the churches and the homes of Christians. When you use it in public life you are effectively saying that its concepts are real for everyone, and you are forcing non-Christians into active resistance, which may not be the effect you were trying to achieve.

Australia is, or is supposed to be, a secular country. As one of its citizens, I believe in mindfulness, in suffering, and in the alleviation of suffering. But I don't believe in prayer and I don't believe in evil, and being spoken for by politicians and newspapers as if I did believe in them makes me want to spit in somebody's eye.

33 comments:

lucy tartan said...

Yes, and I dare say the other side of the coin is that people who believe that actual prayer is a sacred thing aren't specially pleased to have the word flung about willy-nilly as a sort of drama-synonym for well wishing.

What would be a better word? I am worn out from the string of twelve hour days and can't think of one, which I'm sure exists.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Oh, good point(s).

Sorry about the twelve hour days. I am externally-examining Honours theses at the moment, so the memory of full-on academic life at this time of year is coming back to me in technicolour.

Anthony said...

Well, some of the people that believe in actual prayer as a sacred thing - and I mean my mother - are quite taken by the Herald-Sun's coverage of the twins, particularly because some priest who is an old family friend seems to be co-ordinating worldwide prayer and even getting that German pope dude on side.

But you're right, what "prayer" means in a secular society is interesting. Or "evil". Come to think of it, what anything means in a secular society is interesting.

Elisabeth said...

A better word might be 'hope' for, or 'wish' them well.

We wish for good things for others, not necessarily do we pray for them.

I had observed this sort of commentary on the radio and someone, the woman responsible for this program of helping ill and disabled children world wide, her name slips my mind, said that people's prayers had helped her enormously and had also clearly guided the surgeons' hands. I wonder would the surgeons agree.

It is a worry. Good will like placebos, like optimism and positive affirmations help a great deal, but prayer is not a universal. As you suggest, along with the word 'evil' it belongs in the black and white world of religion and the church.

Bernice said...

For a crystalising debate on the topic of secular v non-secular ideas in the public domain listen to Tuesday's Law Report on RN re the Vic government's exemptions for religious organisations from the Anti-Discrimination Act.

Suffice to say there was quite a lot of furious muttering going on as I drove along in Kevin the Car.

Michael said...

"I believe in mindfulness, in suffering, and in the alleviation of suffering."

and

"makes me want to spit in somebody's eye."

You seem to be struggling with your practice :)

Pavlov's Cat said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

I notice I've used the word 'damn' twice in the post, too.

Grapple, grapple.

Zoe said...

The Canberra Times not only ran "Fighting Chance: prayers for separated twins" on the front page, it photoshopped images of the two as separated, smiling, with turbans of bandage. I hope like hell the little girls are OK, but however they are right now I image they're not smiling just yet. I am off to complain to the paper.

Zoe said...

Oh, maybe I'm wrong. Inside (see how far I got before I obstreporated)are the full images and it seems it was just a photog moving around the room a bit.

elsewhere said...

Much and all as I subscribe to mindfulness, on the odd occasions when I remember to practise it, Nation Engages in Mindfulness for Krishna and Trishna, doesn't quite have the same ring...yet.

Helen said...

In other news: If God needs Joe Hockey to defend him, he's definitely in a bad way.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

I'm trying to get drunk enough to lash out a write about what a waste of resources this has been. Cost - I'd estimate more than $1m, other surgery delayed - possibly around six or seven 4 hour sessions, how many kids died from lack of food in Bangladesh in the last week ??? thousands? how many lives in Bangladesh would the cost of surgery have saved?

Cons

Royal Childrens plays the shroud waving and cute baby again - a weeks worth of front page on Sun and Age, headlines on TV news, interviews on AM and PM, feature articles in Sun and Age. Pictures of heroic medicos etc etc - all priceless. the PR team at the Children's will be working harder than the surgeons.

I'll go before I say something silly about rational allocation of resources.

Whens the next RCH Fund raising appeal again?

Tatyana Larina said...

Today UoM apologised for using orphans in medical research in the 1970s. Am I being cynical and really unkind to suggest that there's a bit of experimentation going on here, plus the usual media frenzy?

While I too wish these children all the best, of course, and I hope it all works out OK, I tend to agree with some of the commentators here, that I don't really want to be continuously bombarded by this story.

As for prayer. Well, it's all been covered very nicely.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I have excised a couple of troll comments there. As you were.

FXH, I take your point, but personally think that one person's waste of resources is another person's not-waste of resources. I'm feeling a bit overexposed to the twins myself, and I'm quite sure that the combination of the words 'surgery' 'baby', 'twins' and 'deformity' is indeed a money-spinner for the press which is why they are going on and on about it (I don't blame the hospital, I blame newspapers on their knees), but I'd rather see the money spent on that surgery than on sending the Navy to rescue some rich French yachtie from the Southern Ocean or having some Emergency Services person risk her/his own life to haul some gormless bushwalker up off a ledge below a cliff he should never have gone near in the first place, much less by himself. But other people froth at the mouth about public funding for opera, of which I totally approve (which will get me into trouble with both ideological sides, I'm sure). Horses for courses.

Pavlov's Cat said...

If any other outraged Christians want to turn up and hurl opprobrious epithets (I'm quite looking forward to being a daft old woman, actually, but so far I'm only one of those three things -- I'm guessing that for Alan, who called me that in the comments that have been deleted, as threatened above, all three of those words are insults) could you PLEASE, PLEASE read the post properly first. I am not knocking either prayer or Christians. I am knocking politicians and the media.

Alan said...

There are crimes so extreme evil is the best word to use. Or would you prefer Unacceptable? That's what I said.
As for prayer, in desperation we'll all do that, religious or not.
But why do you assume I'm Christian? Prayer isn't exclusively Christian, I happen to be Muslim thanks very much.

Michael said...

"As for prayer, in desperation we'll all do that, religious or not."

This is a typical comment from a religious person who cannot concieve of there being no god. It is also the same conceit that caused the wording of the original article.

I don't address any of the 1000's of deities people worship even in desperation and I think a significant portion of the population would feel offended that they would be assumed to.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Michael, thanks, it always helps to have someone else reinforce the point.

Alan, you again. But since you are halfway civil this time, I will answer you. Your question reveals that you don't actually understand the point that's being made in the post, which is about language, discourse, belief systems (of any kind) and politics. The answer to your question is that the word I would use to describe the 'evil' crime you cited in your original comment, the torture of animals, is 'psychopathic'. But that word is not from the discourse of the sacred. It refers to the dark place where neuroscience meets socialisation, not some mystical evil force in opposition to a god.

You don't seem to quite understand that this is my personal blog, not some public site where total strangers are encouraged leave anonymous foam-flecked personal abuse. Comments are welcome, but not from hostile drive-bys who don't understand the posts.

Fine said...

I find what has been irritating me enormously about this is how the twins' parents are completely absent from the story. They're not literally orphans. Rather they were left at the orphanage by parents who couldn't care for them. I haven't heard one word about whether their parents have been contacted, what they think about it, whether they'd like to spend some time with their kids, or even get them back eventually etc. It's great that they're being helped, but at the same time I have the same queasy feeling I get whenever I read about middle-class white people adopting Third World babies, who are only available for adoption because of the parlous state of their parents' lives.

Fine said...

I find what has been irritating me enormously about this is how the twins' parents are completely absent from the story. They're not literally orphans. Rather they were left at the orphanage by parents who couldn't care for them. I haven't heard one word about whether their parents have been contacted, what they think about it, whether they'd like to spend some time with their kids, or even get them back eventually etc. It's great that they're being helped, but at the same time I have the same queasy feeling I get whenever I read about middle-class white people adopting Third World babies, who are only available for adoption because of the parlous state of their parents' lives.

Fine said...

Oops. apologies for the double post.

While I'm here...on the subject I'm praying, i'm reminded about a documentary called 'Touching the Void', in which a mountaineer is in a position in which he's certain he's going to die. He searches his emotions and is very pleased to find he has absolutely no desire to pray to any God and is still an aetheist to the end. Of course, he survived.

Alan said...

Do you know if there's a God? No.

Do I? No.

When someone you'll miss is in danger of dying, pray for them.
Why not?

"The discourse of the sacred"?
What's that, I only know words.

Why did you assume I'm Christian?

Michael said...

"Do you know if there's a God? No.
Do I? No.
When someone you'll miss is in danger of dying, pray for them.
Why not?"

Replace your 'god' with a ancient god like Thor. Then it sounds completely farcical

"Do you know if Thor exists? No.
Do I? No.
When someone you'll miss is in danger of dying, pray to Thor for them.
Why not?"

Why Not? Well because it would be completely the inappropriate thing to do in the face of death.

Pavlov's Cat said...

As a matter of fact, someone I would miss terribly is indeed in danger of dying. The time that I might have spent praying for her is actually being spent keeping her company while she has chemo and making her her favourite curries so she can defrost them for dinner when she's feeling too tired to cook. To my way of seeing, that is far more useful.

'"The discourse of the sacred"?
What's that, I only know words.'

Might I suggest ever so gently, then, that perhaps you are not properly equipped to have the conversation.

I assumed you were Christian because the people who occasionally turn up here spitting foam at my posts about the encroachment of Christianity on public life usually are. Apologies if you are offended by being called Christian. And now, I really do think you should quit while you're behind. Any further comments from you will be deleted.

Elisabeth said...

Why do these certain people bother to read your blog, Pav?

I find it disturbing. I don't think it's simply that I want everyone to be of like minds, it's just that there's something awful and ugly about people,'shitting in other people's nests'.

Sorry to put it so crudely but reading these offerings from these two naysayers feels like this to me. Although I hesitate in wading in on the furor with the thought that I should not offer them even a hint of recognition, I also feel the need to offer you some support in the face of these ugly attempts at hijacking the discussion, particularly when it's clear they don't even understand the vaguest gist of it.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Elisabeth, it's all the same one person. I deduce from the details available to me that he has spent quite a lot of time reading my blog, including in the small hours of this morning, which frankly I find a bit sinister. Michael has tried to engage with his points so I haven't just wanted to delete every one of his comments, but enough is enough, I think.

Michael said...

My apologies for feeding the pests :)

Pavlov's Cat said...

Heh. I know the temptation well.

David Irving (no relation) said...

The concept of evil is actually quite useful, PC, even for an atheist. (I agree there's a fair overlap with "psychopathic", though.)

I'm sure I don't attach quite the same meaning to it as the religious folk do, though.

Ariane said...

This is a topic that gets rehashed periodically at the pub with friends - both the political and personal aspects of it.

From a personal point of view, I really struggle with how to convey the same idea of "I'm thinking of you and hoping for the best for you and genuinely care how it all turns out" in a simple fashion. "Praying to the Almighty Stephen" removes any hint of religion, but doesn't address the political aspect so well.

feral sparrowhawk said...

All though I generally classify myself as an atheist I do use the term "evil" a bit, and not only with irony.

I think it conveys a sense of monstrous sadistic behavior that simply passes our understanding in a way that "psychopathic" doesn't. I try to reserve it for rare occasions of things I find truly inexplicable, rather than examples of ordinary greed and selfishness.

litrates - how long has verification been waiting to put *that* on your blog.

Michael said...

"I do use the term "evil" a bit ... I reserve it for rare occasions of things I find truly inexplicable"

This is the main reason why I cannot use the term 'evil' anymore. Evil is used to denote acts motivated by occult forces (I use occult here in the non-religious manner).

As human understanding has progressed over the last couple of centuries less is occult and more is known. As such 'evil' is being used less and less.

This combined with the clash and deconstruction of ethical systems over the last centrury has in my mind made the concept of 'evil' an archaic term.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I may not have made myself entirely clear, or Our Alan may have instigated a bit of thread drift, but I think I need to say again that my quarrel is with the encroachment of organised religion in general and Christianity in particular (in the instance of the Australian politicians and press; I know it happens with other religions and I know it happens elsewhere, but in the case of Australia I am personally implicated) into public life, as though it were the official norm, and with that encroachment being made via language.

I've got a fairly strong sense of the sacred and of the discourse of the sacred myself (and both 'evil' and 'prayer' belong to it, with their built-in assumptions of spiritual/occult forces, as per Michael's comment above), and can find plenty of uses for its vocabulary. I just think that it's both misleading and coercive, in a particularly creepy way, to use it in an ostensibly secular country's public life.