Saturday, November 24, 2007

Postscript to "Separation of Religion and Medical Care"

On the same day I posted it up (i.e. 22/11/2007), I emailed the first half of my previous post as a letter to the Straits Times Forum. I then received a call yesterday from the Straits Times enquiring whether I have any personal experience of being ministered to in local hospitals and/or personally know anyone who have such experience (I am still wondering about the relevance of this question. Was the Straits Times perhaps trying to fish for a news story? I however didn't sound out my query to the caller as she called me on my mobile phone when I was in a noisy MRT station and about to exit through the gantry gates; not really the best place to have a mobile phone conversation, I think you all would agree).

Well, having only third-hand knowledge (i.e. I only know people who heard about people being ministered to in local hospitals) about the issue, I answered: "No, not really" and left it at that (I rather not be a rumour-mongerer, if you all get what I mean).

That aside, my letter was published today in the ST Online Forum with some minor edits made to it.

A comment by "Unewolke"

And in response to my letter, a person with the username of "unewolke" wrote the following comment:

"Can I ask, what is so deplorable about sharing what you sincerely believe to be helpful, regardless of whether the recipient at the end of the day accepts it for him/herself?

Of course, we should also accept that none of us are an island, and none of us are entirely objective.

If I were a patient, and my doctor, or someone whom I could reaasonably trust, comes along but refuses to share wtih me something s/he knows to be good (for me), or at least sincerely believes in, for whatever reason, how would I feel? Cheated? Appalled?

I find it almost hypocritical say, for me to be checked into a particular community hospital or what-not, know that it is religiously inspired, and not bear a single moment of preaching...who doesn't ever preach?!

Of course, I know we're all extrapolating...

I guess some people are just more open to/tolerant of anything than others, without necessarily having to accept whatever comes, and I think it funny that the very people who are supposedly open (agnostics/atheists maybe?) are usu the first to say, well, I don't believe in that/anything, please don't preach to me! On the other hand, speaking for myself, while firmly entrenched in my own Christian beliefs, am not unhappy to learn more about others', esp if I know they truly meant well.

Then again, I'm not that ill, so..."

My reply

I initially considered replying to this comment on the ST Forum discussion board but not really wanting to go through the process of registering for an account just for the sake of replying, I decided I will just provide a short reply here and hope that unewolke, whoever he or she is, may stumble across this blog & read my reply (though, I must admit that this is rather unlikely, haa).

Firstly, allow me to say that I do not really have a problem with people promoting their religious faith to others. I, in fact, have been on the receiving end of several attempts by others trying to promote their religious beliefs to me.

However, what I do find problematic, if not deplorable, is the how, where, by whom & to whom such promoting is done.

The "how"

By how, I refer to the methods which people try to "sell" (no offence) their religion beliefs to others. I mean, I don't mind having my Christian friends (again, allow me to clarify that my comments are not targeted at any particular religion; it is just that based on my personal experience, I know more about Christians' attempts to promote their religion to others) inviting me to church or discussing with me the merits of their beliefs, I however do mind if people resort to high-pressure tactics (e.g. "You will go to Hell if you don't..."), disingenuous methods or denigrate other religions when trying to promote their own religious beliefs.

Continuing from above, allow me to explain what I mean by "disingenous methods". To use a personal experience as example, I once encountered years ago, at a bus interchange, someone who wanted me to help him to do a survey. I agreed to do the survey but at the end of the survey, the guy whipped out a small booklet and started to talk to me about the Four Spiritual Laws (hmm... wasn't I just supposed to help him do a survey?). I patiently listened to him but when I realised that he was going to continue on despite my expressed scepticism at what he was saying, I told him I was in a rush to meet someone (ok, I confess: I lied but what else was I supposed to do?; anyway, I only agreed to do a survey for him and not to listen to him talk about how one should live a God-directed life & not a Self-directed life). Thus, my opinion is that if you want to promote your religion to others, be upfront & honest about it; don't use "Can you help me to do a survey?" as a means to promote your religion.

As for "denigrating other religions", allow me to again use a personal experience to explain what I mean. Once, as I was browsing through a book about Buddhism at the Kinokuniya bookstore at Orchard, a small booklet dropped out of the book. The booklet turned out to be a comic booklet about a Buddhist being judged by the Christian God after his death and trust me on this, Buddhism & its followers were not portrayed in a very positive light in the comic narrative. Hence, I would say to all religious believers: go ahead and promote your beliefs, just don't knock down others' beliefs as a means of doing so.

The "where"

Moving on, I must say that I also think that it is important as to where people are promoting their religion. Specifically, I find it rather deplorable for people to promote their religion in hospitals & schools (to patients & schoolchildren respectively). I mean, I suppose those on the receiving end of religion-promotion in these 2 sort of places can be seen as a "captive audience" in that they can't really choose to avoid religion-promoters (one can't really go anywhere else when one is lying on a hospital bed and/or sitting in a classroom) and that they would most likely be more susceptible/vulnerable, considering how they are either sick or young & impressionable.

Thus, while I have nothing against people promoting their religion beliefs to others, I am of the opinion that certain places should be, if possible, off-limits to such activities.

The "who"

Furthermore, as I have already mentioned in my previous post, it would be a gross abuse of position if medical caregivers choose to promote a particular religious faith to their patients. The same goes for religion-promoting teachers.

Of course, I suppose there is nothing inherently wrong in medical caregivers & teaching staff sharing with their patients & students respectively what they sincerely think is beneficial to the latter, though I personally think this problematic. Yet, it would be better that they refrain from doing so in their official capacity as doctors, nurses and/or teachers. They can do all the religion-promoting they like outside of the hospital & classroom; they shouldn't do it when they are wearing the uniform of a doctor, nurse or teacher (I know teachers don't wear uniforms but you all know what I mean).

Also, I am of the opinion that, for obvious reasons which have been discussed above, patients & students (if not young children in general) should not be the audience of religion-promotion.

By checking in/enrolling into this hospital/school, you have agreed to be preached to?

Last but not least, I think I will just give a quick rebuttal to Unewolke's point about "I find it almost hypocritical say, for me to be checked into a particular community hospital or what-not, know that it is religiously inspired, and not bear a single moment of preaching".

Well, while I acknowledge the sentiments behind his/her point, I must ask this question: is this religiously-inspired community hospital (or school) meant to be place where sick people (or students) can receive proper medical treatment (or a proper education) or a place of religion-promotion?

Of course, it is entirely possible that the 2 functions mentioned above are not antithetical to one another but I am of the opinion that regardless of whether a hospital or school is religiously-inspired or not, its primary function should be to provide proper medical care & a proper education to those patients & students respectively in it.

Anyway, I find it rather assuming to assert that if one should check in or enrol oneself into a religiously-inspired hospital or school, one have somehow consented to being preached to. I mean, one may be aware that preaching may occur but it can hardly be said that one have consented to being preached to. Also, in the case of emergency patients who are sent to a hospital by ambulance, they can't really choose whether it is a religiously-inspired community hospital that they get sent to, can they?


Okay, said enough for now I have; my initial plan to keep this a "short reply" seem to have not succeed, apologise if the sheer length of this "short reply" bored any of you all...

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