I recently went to tea with two people--one of the young girls who just lost her mother and the girl's aunt. The aunt went on and on about how cancer is a choice, which I thought was a particularly inappropriate thing to do in front of someone whose mother had just died from that disease. I've heard this sort of thing from so-called "New Age" types before and whenever I do, I wonder if these people have ever KNOWN anyone who has died from--or survived--cancer.
This is the basic idea, as far as I can tell, behind the recent book called The Secret, which is described as advocating the idea that positive thoughts are powerful magnets that attract wealth, health, happiness and wealth, and that even fleeting negative thoughts are powerful enough to create terminal illness, poverty and widespread disasters.
This type of thinking can be seen in the Old Testament, where the Jews, when they experienced famines and plagues, decided that it must be THEIR fault, because they were not worshipping God in the right away. During the Inquisition, which began in the 16th century, Christians tortured and burned heretics who were messing things up for everybody else, in hopes that their societies could heal. The ancient Aztecs and Mayans did the same sort of thing, and the early American colonists in New England killed witches for the same reason.
You'd think we would finally have learned that this doesn't work, but it's still happening today: 3 days after 911, Jerry Falwell said, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America?--point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"
Blame is something we should approach very carefully. We don't like to blame ourselves, so we find a way to blame others. If we DO blame ourselves, we want to hold out the hope that, with just a little more effort, we can get it right next time. The trouble is, a terminal disease rarely offers us this option.
As Bishop John Shelby Spong wisely says, "So often the language of our inner life is literalized into becoming the language of our outer lives. That is when it loses its meaning and becomes a burden to our souls."
The aunt says, "You get what you wish for--illness is my choice--I like the idea because I feel empowered by it." This is a basic misapprehension of the powerful idea from quantum physics that we "create our own reality," which refers more to a GROUP mental dynamic than an individual one. While doctors know that the "placebo" effect is a powerful force in healing, they don't yet know how to use it effectively, and every doctor has treated many patients who desperately wanted to live, but did not.
The aunt admits her fear of being "at the mercy of something out there that I do not control." If we have learned anything from fascist and Communist societies, most of which are now (thankfully) defunct, it's that we humans are NOT up to taking control of everything in a major way.
I often hear the same sort of people who advocate the aunt's point of view say, "There are no accidents." If this was true, life would be a lot less adventurous and there certainly wouldn't be any reason to write fiction or make films, since there would be no surprise endings. But there are PLENTY of accidents: Whitley and I have been married for 36 years and we met by accident. We've lived a long life together, filled with accidents, both good and bad, and we wake up each morning eager to discover what adventures the day will bring. While we will do our best to cope with what comes up, we have no illusion that we are in control.
NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.