Hi all! I'm new here, this is my first post.

So, a problem I've been dealing with is that fairly often I find myself unable to stop thinking about how I can't understand how so many people around me are religious. It's very distracting and bothersome. I'm a medical student and I had some apparently naive idea that people in medicine would tend to be the rational type. Not true. My school is full of very nice but extremely religious people, and I simply can't fathom how they do it. How can you study evidence-based medicine one minute, then the next minute gather with your friends and hold hands as you pray that you all got a good grade on the exam? I'm like, hello, the Assessment Office has already known what your grade was for the last week. It's not gonna change now. 

My roommate is also very religious. She's a wonderful person, but having her around can get me into these private mental rants... Thankfully she does not really ever say anything and is not pushy, but when she goes off to bible study every week and literally spends all of Sunday at Church, I'm like, what's wrong with you? 

I'm seriously thinking about getting some counseling to help me deal with this. But then I'm afraid that my therapist would be religious too! Argh! Help me! 

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Diane,

My time in medical school was profoundly isolating. The experience changed me, and changed how I looked at life. It changed who I was.

That was a different era. I hope it's different today. I'm sure it is. I was different from the majority of medical students in many ways. I hope you are not as different as I was. Being different in such an intense, grueling, and competitive environment, adds to the struggle. I describe my experience here, briefly, and you can take or leave what I say.

This is how I was different. I was older than most other students. I had worked my way through undergrad and graduate school (PhD), after serving in military. Most of my fellow students had a BS and were children of privilege. This was the height of the AIDS epidemic. Being gay, my experiences with most doctors were, they were jerks. Worse than jerks. Obnoxious self-rightous, discriminatory, judgmental with minimal communication skills. So I was not out in medical school, about being gay, justifiably fearing discrimination. When my partner died, I kept it to myself and grieved in silence. While I was never especially at risk for HIV myself, and never contracted it, my fear was others would assume I was positive, because I was gay. Which, on occasion, they did. I worried that could end my career, so when I had myself tested, that was also alone.

I determined to get through medical school without any delays, and I did. I worked part time throughout medical school. I studied on my own. I grieved on my own. As for being atheist, that was so minor compared to the other issues, I don't recall ever bringing it up.

Through-out it all, this was my feeling. I don't care what someone's religion is. I don't care what their gender is. I don't care about their race or nationality. I don't care about their sexual orientation. My job, and the calling of the doctor, was/is to work with then, help them, learn from them, take professional care of them. No one should fear discrimination based on any characteristic, or any experience. We should be explicit that our difference will not result in less professional or less attentive, less human, care.

This will be a good time for you to test your limits of tolerance. Even if you are the only nonreligious person in your class, swimming in sea of piety, you deserve equal treatment. And, you have to be able to work with all of the others in your class, faculty, and your patients. Especially with your patients, you will have to embrace their totality, as the individual who they are, including their religiosity, while maintaining your sense of who you are. You will need to find your own strategies for dealing with patients who want you to pray with them.

There were plenty of Christians in my medical school class. And a couple of Mormons, and a few Muslims, and a couple of Hindus. In each case, they pretty much stuck together in their own cliques, and tolerated me. But that's as far as it went. For that matter, people also segregated themselves in other ways. Marrieds, stuck together. Black people stuck together. Latinos stuck together. East Asians stuck together, South Asians stuck together. None of that was absolute, but as for sense of community, that's how it seemed. Since then, residency and beyond, that's how many other people have been too. It reflects the rest of society.

I hope this isn't too preachy. Probably is. Sorry. The point is, if anyone discriminates against you because you don't share their religious views, they are being unprofessional. And the reverse is true too, that you will have to keep your feelings about religious belief in a place where you can be true to yourself, while honoring their humanity, and always being a professional.

I hope that helps. Good luck with your studies and beyond.

Thanks everyone for the encouragement. Some days I wish I were living in the UK and had more neighbors like Richard Dawkins. For those who were wondering, I'm in Florida. I'm from Cape Cod and I went to liberal New England college, so it was a bit of a culture shock to move here. (But I do like the sunshine!)

I'm going to hold off on trying to pursue therapy at the moment... just looking at photos of famous atheists helps give me strength. Like this: 

http://deathbytrolley.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/famousatheists.jpg

Sentinent Biped, I am so happy I got a response from a physician. I wish I knew someone at my school I could talk to, but I'm afraid to even ask. There's my research mentor who is very liberal (you kind of have to be if you're a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist and you're actually looking out for the health of your young patients!). I could ask her. And there's another gyn who is very passionate about Planned Parenthood and that kind of thing...

I've tried several times to do a search for some sort of atheist physician group, but no luck. And some of the groups that were started on this site seemed to not generate much interest. So we remain rather alone? I'm thinking if I end up doing my residency in the Boston area I might find some good company. 

Daniel, you have always been a very special man to me as I came to A/N with great pain and confusion. I don't want to remember how I must have sounded those many months ago, but I wanted to claw out the eyes and hearts of any man that got within my sight or hearing or reading. 

You were so gentle and kind, you were compassionate and stayed with me as I processed through the memories and wreckage. You continue to be a wise and trusted person to whom I turn when I am confused or afraid. 

Diane, this man is worthy of your trust!

Hi Diane, and welcome!

When I was a teenager, and going through some awful family turmoil, I became depressed enough to start seeing a psychiatrist.

The first question she asked me was, "How do you feel about coming here?" I told her I was afraid people would think I'm crazy.

"People who come to therapy are normal people trying to deal with a crazy world," she told me, and I left that first appointment feeling like a 50lb weight was off my shoulders.

So YOU may not need therapy the way the crazies do, but that's the problem- crazy people don't realize they're crazy! Hence, the normal people going to therapy.

You might find the solace you need in here, venting and unloading, comparing notes, and at least *knowing* there's no judgment.

I listen to tons of lectures at work on YouTube. Dawkins does a great lecture at a college, with a cool Q&A at the end; anything by Hitchens is very entertaining if you're in an angrier mood; Harris is a bit on the dry side, but still refreshingly rational. There's even a video of the three of them and a fourth sitting around, having drinks, shooting the sh!t about what they do- truly awesome.

Also, the recent "debate" (ugh) b/w Bill Nye and Kevin Ham, at the creation museum in Kentucky. My blood pressure goes up listening to Ham, but Nye does an incredible job keeping his cool and getting his point across. To the credit of both, it's a very calm and fair discussion, no mud-slinging.

Keep us posted if/when you decide on a therapist!

Hm-mm, finding an atheism-positive MD might be more difficult than finding a sex-positive MD.

The latter was our problem at San Francisco Sex Information (www.sfsi.org), especially early during the AIDS crisis.

People who phoned wanted non-judgmental medical help with their sexual issues, and even in the SF Bay Area our referral file was not overflowing.

I've been away from SFSI for almost twenty years; I hope they have a larger file now.

BTW, the training to work at SFSI required about eight times as many classroom hours in human sexuality as medical schools were requiring of students.

My girlfriend's son is a 4.0 mechanical engineering student, at Catholic University in DC. I don't get it either.

No, THEY are the crazy ones.

I wish I could tell you what to do. I'm also surrounded by religious people and some of them have power over me. That's hella scary. I've had a LOT of counseling and it wasn't terribly effective. I am skeptical about psychiatrists and psychologists (and psych meds) after 20+ years of no real results.

Counselors are hit and miss whether or not they are religious. During the past 20+ years, I've found very, very few that helped even a little bit. Counseling isn't terribly beneficial unless you luck out and get someone fabulous. I've had one or two good counselors, a few halfway decent counselors, a ton of mediocre ones and a few really bad ones. Unfortunately, I never had a "fabulous" counselor.

So I had to learn how to deal with the religious on my own for the most part. And I'm still learning. First of all, I had to get the anger out of my system. This takes time and it's an ongoing process. It's probably different for everyone.

Next I had to establish boundaries with the religious. Doing that in day-to-day life isn't easy. :( It was necessary to cut off contact from my mother twice for extended periods. She simply WOULD NOT respect my boundaries. The only way to teach her was pretty harsh.

Thirdly, I have to maintain those boundaries. When I relax my guard, the faithful are there, picking at the edges. Sometimes you have to lay down the law again. Sometimes I have to own up to being the one who didn't respect boundaries. No matter who fucked up, if the boundaries are breached, I have to shore up the walls again.

Setting up boundaries and agreeing not to talk about religion = the only thing that has worked for me at all. Is it lonely? Yes. But I really have nothing in common with most of the religious people around me, anyway.

A in FL, stay strong with your boundaries. I've become somewhat aloof from my family (dysfunctional on several levels) and it helps tremendously. Although, I do find that staying aloof from most of humanity is necessary for good mental health!

It helps to live an exemplary life, where your good deeds and responsible nature are apparent, before revealing your non-belief. It throws believers off. "Gee, he/she seemed like SUCH a good Christian...." Then they're forced to re-learn what an "atheist" really is.

My religious co-workers asked me once about my beliefs, and they don't act any differently toward me, which is great, but in the NYC area it's expected that people be open-minded. You couldn't get through daily life if you insisted on being around only people just like you!

If we ever have to move someplace conservative, I imagine my first order of business would have to be the establishment of some gathering for like-minded, desperate people who crave rational conversation. Easier said than done.

Interesting, and I have marveled at the same irony, that men and women of science are believers, too. It might be that they were brought up to believe and simply accept some things on faith alone. Somehow, they reconcile science and religion, which to me are irreconcilable. Either Darwin was right or The Priesthood is. Those who accept evolution and know that the earth is millions of years old shouldn't also believe that it is only five or six thousand years old, as most theologians insist. We now know that we are hard-wired to believe in a deity. Even the founding fathers who insisted on church-state separation and in some cases, e.g. Madison, railed against organized religion, were deists in the main. Then, there is the social aspect of religion. One suspects that many who go to church do so to fraternize and to advance an economic agenda. Surely there is no scarcity of agnostics among these. Therapy might not hurt; after all, Scientology, a bogus religion if ever there was one, disses psychoanalytic theory for suspect reasons: your counselor might tell you you're involved in a cult that is, basically, a Ponzi scheme. (Equally obviously a pyramid scheme is Mormonism, since a small number of men run the show, and the only way you can get there is by enriching the church.) I sympathize. Do what your heart (head) suggests.

Great post. 

First, it is perfectly rational for everyone outside the bubble of delusion to become frustrated, and even, despair at the sheer amount of attention and energy devoted to something so obviously nonexistent. All of us have likely felt the same at some point and time, granted we might not be in a situation where we are around people who SHOULD know better all freaking day. Truthfully, all a therapist will do is have you try some different coping techniques, your time would be better spent elsewhere. If all else fails, remember: While alcohol might not make those around you any less ignorant, it can make their ignorance less painful for awhile...

Though do try not to overdo it, Alcoholism is a real illness, just not as bad as religion.

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