How sure are you that you’re get­ting the right infor­ma­tion from your physi­cian? How cer­tain are you that you’re get­ting all the infor­ma­tion you might need from a per­son who is sup­posed to be respon­si­ble for help­ing you look after your well-​​being?

If you’re part of an 18% minor­ity, you may not be get­ting your money’s worth. Seems that’s the per­cent­age of physi­cians who won’t tell a patient about treat­ments that the physi­cian finds “morally objec­tion­able”; appar­ently many doc­tors have a com­punc­tion about — for instance — abor­tion after failed con­tra­cep­tion, or pro­vid­ing con­tra­cep­tion to teens with­out parental con­sent. Many physi­cians aren’t in favor of assisted sui­cide either.

On the one hand the argu­ment goes like this: Physicians, as all other Americans, have a right to make per­sonal and pro­fes­sional choices, includ­ing choos­ing not to do some­thing they find offen­sive. This is sen­si­ble. If I were a physi­cian and had a patient who insisted that the only way I could exam­ine him/​her was if I took my pants off, I think I’d refuse treat­ment — and sug­gest a psych workup.*

And I thnk it’s okay for some physi­cians to steer patients away from some treat­ments. If I’m an oncol­o­gist and a patient of mine says he’s going to get psy­chic surgery per­formed to remove his tumors — or that a home­o­pathic prepa­ra­tion has purged him of can­cer — I’m prob­a­bly going to do my utmost to dis­suade him. On either front there sim­ply isn’t any med­ical value; both types of “treat­ment” are effec­tive, at best, on the placebo level, and they cer­tainly don’t take the place of legit­i­mate med­ical intervention.

So while I can accept the valid­ity of a physi­cian advis­ing a patient on sound med­ical and science-​​backed prac­tices, the dis­trub­ing side of it is the way reli­gious sen­ti­ment has crept into — one could even say cor­rupted — med­ical advice.

I under­stand that many reli­gions actively teach against con­cep­tion con­trol of any kind, whether by con­dom, pill or abor­tion. I under­stand that many reli­gions teach against sui­cide, even if it’s closer to euthana­sia than delib­er­ate self-​​murder by a more or less healthy, func­tion­ing indi­vid­ual. But while the sen­ti­ments might be gen­uine, the fact is that the premises are not.

There is sim­ply no evi­dence to sup­port the idea of a god, gods, devil, demons, angels or even souls. There isn’t a shred of ver­i­fi­able, repro­ducible find­ings any­where to sup­port the claims of even the most non­mys­ti­cal reli­gions.** And when you ana­lyze the claims made by the big con­tenders, things just get silly.

For instance, all Abrahamic tra­di­tions teach that God (JHVH, Allah) is anthro­po­mor­phic, pre­sum­ably to the point of hav­ing a penis and tes­ti­cles. This raises some imme­di­ate and inter­est­ing ques­tions, such as how big is God’s sch­long, and is God cir­cum­cised or not?

Some peo­ple are prob­a­bly recoil­ing in hor­ror right about now — assum­ing they made it this far — but these are fair ques­tions. If, as the Abrahamic texts have it, Man was made in God’s image, it’s only rea­son­able to assume that God’s got pre­cisely the same plumb­ing as Adam, Steve and so forth.

Seriously. If this is what the Mosaica actu­ally assert — and they do — these are per­fectly sen­si­ble ques­tions, but it’s amaz­ing how effec­tively they make peo­ple squirm. Not because they’re blas­phe­mous, but because they illus­trate how damned silly the entire thing is. That an infinitely-​​powerful, immor­tal being would take the form of an ape descen­dant is sim­ply a ridicu­lous notion. At least the Egyptians and Babylonians had some imag­i­na­tion — they cast their gods as chimeras rather than hum­drum, bor­ing old men who hap­pened to look just like themselves.

Further silli­ness can be found in Christianity in two pri­mary areas: The appear­ance of “Jesus”*** and the vir­gin conception.

Virgin con­cep­tion is impos­si­ble, plain and sim­ple. It’s also a com­mon claim. Many reli­gions have used it over the mil­len­nia to place divine attrib­utes on some favored deity or demigod. Strictly speak­ing, many of the Greek and Roman pan­theon were birthed from non­sex­ual means. Without resort­ing to magic (“mir­a­cles”), vir­gin birth is sim­ply out of the question.

And yet, it would seem that some phys­i­cans — med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers! — believe this is not only pos­si­ble, but per­fectly sensible.

The other silly side of Christianity is the lily-​​white “Jesus”. Here’s what some­one from Palestine looks like today:


Here’s what we’re sup­posed to think “Jesus” looked like.

Jesus Christ!

Umm … am I the only one who’s hav­ing dif­fi­culty see­ing the kin­ship here?

Nonetheless, despite the obvi­ous eth­nic issues, mil­lions of peo­ple believe the lower image is some­how an accu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what this “Jesus” per­son was sup­posed to look like. And it’s a one-​​in-​​five chance that your physi­cian is one of those peo­ple, apparently.

I don’t know about you, but if my doc­tor can’t even tell the dif­fer­ence between a Caucasian and a Palestinian, I don’t know that I’d trust him to dif­fer­en­ti­ate a mole from melanoma — or even aller­gies from full-​​blown viral pneu­mo­nia. And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to count on the sound­ness of his advice regard­ing things such as con­tra­cep­tion or meth­ods to guard against STDs (absti­nence isn’t an option and not a sug­ges­tion to be taken seri­ously by anyone).

The ques­tion then becomes one of how much trust you think you can extend to your doc­tor, and should under­score the value of a sec­ond opin­ion. While you might not want to grill your physi­cian — you may not want to look him in the eye and say, “Listen, you don’t buy into all this bull­shit, do you?” — if your doc­tor advises you to do some­thing that doesn’t make sense to you per­son­ally, you have the right to refuse or to say you want to seek fur­ther advice, pos­si­bly from a spe­cial­ist. (That’s a polite way of telling him you think he might be full of crap.)

Since there’s no way to screen for silli­ness on the med-​​school entrance level, unfor­tu­nately there’s no way to keep reli­gious ideation from affect­ing (afflict­ing, per­haps) the med­ical field. This means, unfor­tu­nately, that the Hippocratic oath must trans­form itself into caveat emp­tor.

Keep that in mind the next time you go in for a checkup.


* Provided, of course, one of my many trouser­less psy­chi­a­trist friends had an open­ing in his schedule.

** Buddhism, a fairly well-​​grounded reli­gion (at least in its Western fla­vors), still dab­bles in mys­ti­cisms such as “rebirth”, but at least it’s specif­i­cally non­the­is­tic and actively denies the exis­tence of a “soul”.

*** Put in quotes because the his­tor­i­cal exis­tence of such a per­son is actu­ally far from cer­tain; in other words he may never have existed at all.


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