Many Christians live this reality. I know one. She is a breast cancer survivor. The other day she attended a Christian education class through her church and came away with the knowledge that she’d had breast cancer because she was bitter and unforgiving.
One day she was living in the 21st century, more or less. The next, she had stepped back three thousand years to the Bronze Age. And she was outraged. Not at the idiocy of it all, not because her church expected her to believe such nonsense, but because there had been no warning labels: if she had been told 10-15 years earlier that bitterness and an unforgiving nature could lead to breast cancer, she would have changed her ways.
Her goal now, she says, is to spare at least one other person the suffering she went through. As it turns out, unforgiveness is spiritual poison. As GreatBibleStudy.com informs us,
Unforgiveness is the single most popular poison that the enemy uses against God’s people, and it is one of the deadliest poisons a person can take spiritually. It causes everything from mental depression, to health problems such as cancer and arthritis.
She’s far from alone, of course. While more mainstream Christians might speak of a metaphorical “cancer of the soul” or of the heart these fundamentalists literally believe that sinning can make you sick.
These fundamentalists believe you can’t be possessed by Satan if you’re a Christian because you’re already possessed – by the Holy Spirit. But you can be oppressed because your actions and decisions can give him access to you.
I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t sound to me like Jesus dying did a lot to save his followers. You’re better off being an atheist or a Pagan like me. Seriously. We’re not afflicted by demons and devils. My own heart problems were genetic, not Satanic. Of course, I saw cardiologists and surgeons who subscribe to the germ theory of medicine, rather than relying on Bronze Age hocus-pocus to cure their patients.
And this thinking really is Bronze Age. For example, GreatBibleStudy.com goes on to say
Cancer comes from the devil, scientist can’t explain it, doctors don’t understand where it comes from; it’s the symptoms of a curse.
But science can explain cancer. As the American Cancer Society says,
Certain changes in DNA can cause normal breast cells to become cancer. DNA is the chemical in each of our cells that makes up our genes — the instructions for how our cells work. Some inherited DNA changes (mutations) can increase the risk for developing cancer and cause the cancers that run in some families. For instance, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes — they keep cancer tumors from forming. When they are changed (mutated), they no longer cause cells to die at the right time, and cancer is more likely to develop.
You won’t find the American Cancer Society talking about Satan. Of course, to be fair, nobody knew anything like DNA existed way back in the Bronze Age, where these people are living.
Now as most of you may know, I’m a Pagan, a polytheist. My own ancestors – your own ancestors – all believed these mythologies as well. I pray and I sacrifice to my gods and I may not seem like one to talk, but the truth is the Bronze Age mythologies have been displaced by modern science and most modern Pagans recognize this. Modern science can determine that diseases have actual causes science – not religion – can identify. We don’t have to blame the plague, for example, on a god. We know now where the plague comes from just as we known where earthquakes comes from.
I’ll give you an example out of history.
“The Hittite corpus,” writes scholar David P. Wright, “contains a large number of rituals performed as occasion required” and those treated began with the king and queen and proceeded downward to the lowest elements of society. All were dependent upon the same level of care.
Some of these rites were performed at the main transitions in life: birth, puberty, and death. Others sought to remove evils of various sorts, including uncleanness, sorcery, curse, oath, blood/murder, evil tongue, sin, various sicknesses and infirmities, and also malevolent supernatural beings (including the ghosts of the dead).
Perhaps the most remarkable ritual dealt with the treatment of plague. In one case when the plague broke out after a battle, a foreign prisoner is dressed in the Hittite king’s wardrobe and sent back to the enemy country as an offering” to the attacking deity, “to divert wrath from the Hittite country.” The king says,
“You, male god, be appeased with this decorated man. But to the king, the leaders, the army, and the land of Hatti, turn yourself faithfully….Let this prisoner bear the plague and carry it back into the land of the enemy.”
As Wright observes, this case “provides interesting parallels to the Jewish scapegoat ritual (Lev. 16).
The Hittites are gone, but Christian Scientists still believe in rituals rather than medicine, in prayers over science. It’s fine with me if people don’t want to believe in the efficacy of modern science and medicine. Their loss. But where the problem comes in is in their legislating their preferences over ours. Fundamentalists have no vested interest in understanding or finding a cure for cancer if they think it’s “Satanic wiles” rather than mutated DNA. They have no real interest in understanding biology if they think disease comes not from germs but from the soul or through spiritual warfare.
Americans deserve better than this. We deserve the best care modern medicine can offer. We deserve doctors, not witch doctors. We deserve proven medical treatments, not prayers. And we deserve the right to choose what we will believe and not believe, and not have one particular god and its devotees shoved down our throats in violation of the United States Constitution.
We can’t protect these people from themselves without making ourselves like them, and it’s a pity, because somewhere right now somebody’s mother is coming home from church having found herself trapped in the Bronze Age with no way out, to tell her family why she really got breast cancer.
Photo from Seattle Weekly Blogs
 David P. Wright, “Anatolia: Hittites” in Ancient Religions, ed. By Sarah Iles Johnston (Belknap, 2007), 189-196.