Agnostic Humanist In The South

Faith and Guilt

I love the Humans of New York instagram account. His photos are always so simple, but so poignant. And the stories have such a range. I loved his refugee series he did desperately. Recently he’s doing a fundraiser series for a charity (DONATE HERE) that supports children with rare cancers. And while the photos are too heartbreaking for fragile sensibilities, I do want to discuss one trait of a few of them.


And a little bit of Faith.

The first I know a lot about. The second? I’m kinda redefining in typical Zoot Style.


This is one of the surgeons who works with these kids with rare pediatric cancers. In case you can’t see the embedded file on the page, the photo isn’t what’s truly important. It’s his quote/caption:

““The absolute best thing in the world that can happen to me is telling a parent that their child’s tumor is benign. I live for those moments. And the worst thing that can happen to me is telling a parent that I’ve lost their kid. It’s only happened to me five times in thirty years. And I’ve wanted to kill myself every single time. Those parents trusted me with their child. It’s a sacred trust and the ultimate responsibility is always mine. I lose sleep for days. I second-guess every decision I made. And every time I lose a child, I tell the parents: ‘I’d rather be dead than her.’ And I mean it. But I go to church every single day. And I think that I’m going to see those kids in a better place. And I’m going to tell them that I’m sorry. And hopefully they’ll say, ‘Forget it. Come on in.’”

His declaration of going to church every day and his preparation for an apology at the gates of heaven, it is something I can’t stop thinking about. I think maybe he believes he’ll get into heaven but is worried the kids will be there and he’ll need to apologize on more time? Either way. There is doubt about his reception in heaven. I read it two (three?) days ago and it’s been haunting me. I talk a lot about the parts of my past religious life that I miss, but this is the part that I am so glad I left behind. The guilt. The self-doubt. I have had to teach myself so much about forgiveness of myself for my failures and my sins, I do not think I could live a happy life if I had to also deal with the guilt imposed on me by my religion.

LUCKILY – I know many Christian friends who don’t have the view of a Punishing/Judgemental God. Their God loves without impunity and forgives and they have no doubt that they’re going to have a peaceful afterlife (some don’t define it as a biblical heaven, per se) because they strived to live good lives and the rest is moot. Many believe the Hell of afterlife is an extension of an evil life. They would never EVER believe a man like this would end up denied any sort of peace in his afterlife. NEVER. And I wanted to contact all of them and beg them to pray for this Man. Pray that he be delivered from his guilt. It just breaks my heart that someone doing such good is concerned about his soul.

And then yesterday there was this photo of a Father of a patient who has had a rough go of it the last two years.


His quote/caption was as follows:

“Mark is such a good man. He’s the most dedicated father and husband you can imagine. He never spends money on himself. He never thinks of himself. He only cares about what the family needs. He helped start an organization that raises money for widows. He worked so hard on it. He went from synagogue to synagogue, asking for money. Yet he still thinks that all of this is his fault. He thinks that I’m pretty much perfect, and Avi is pretty much perfect, so it must be his fault. He couldn’t sleep for months after the diagnosis. He would be up for all hours. He spoke to so many rabbis and mental health professionals. He gave away all his possessions. He’d always tell me: ‘I know I’ve done something wrong. We’re being punished for something I did. And I don’t know what it is. But I’m so, so sorry.’”

This man is CONVINCED his son’s struggles are his fault. Even sadder, one of the earlier pictures of this family indicated the son thought it was punishment for something he did. But this man, who has been through hell and back, is trying to make things “right” so his son will stop being punished. He’s apologizing for something he doesn’t even know what it is. AND MY HEART IS BROKEN AGAIN.

This will be the part of religion I never can understand. How you can have Faith (because Faith takes serious dedication, it’s not for the faint of heart) in a God who would do anything but love two good men like the ones mentioned above. I have no idea the religious affiliation of these men, although I think the presence of the yarmulke denotes that the Father is Jewish. Whatever their religion, there is obviously intense Faith in some sort of righteous God who handles all decisions of justice and I just…I just can’t. I have this incredible urge to find these men and give them hugs and hold them and tell them they’re beautiful.

I mean, I’m not going to do that. That’s weird.

But my heart just breaks for them. I want to wrap them up in love and healing and let them see the world through my eyes for a moment. A world where shitty things happen but not because we do shitty things. But a world where love like theirs (for their job or their family) lightens the world around them. They are not darkness in the lives of others, their failures or mistakes don’t warrant epic punishments. They are sources of light and love as humans who strive to be the best they can be. I wish they wouldn’t waste another second on guilt and would just take that energy and convert it to love and direct it inward.

Of course, these two men could be serial killers and that’s why they’re feeling guilty, but let’s just assume they are what they seem to be for the sake of argument.

Religious guilt is so strong, but I’ve learned I can be just as hard on myself without a God to loom over me. And I imagine this God that my friends believe in (I don’t think about the God I used to believe in, it’s a bad trigger) -I image that, that God that loves and embraces and wants nothing but light for his people. And I think he would have the same reaction to these men’s guilt as I do. This God my friends believe in, that they talk about, he would just want to wrap these men up in light and warmth and apologize that this has to happen to them but I believe that he would assure them that he loved them no matter what.

I have a lot of faith in a God I don’t believe in. I have NO faith in other Gods I don’t believe in.

I believe in NO Gods, but I have faith in ONE of them.

You know, because I like to keep it simple and completely logical.

8 thoughts on “Faith and Guilt”

  1. I read the top example myself the other day and my impression was different. I didn’t read it in terms of him thinking he may not make it to heaven, I felt like he had guilt to the five children he lost and he wanted to make it up to them. I believe in a loving forgiving God. I think you have to be pretty awful not to to go to heaven, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could “make things right” with people I’ve lost. Wishing I had visited more, said I love you more, or even say I’m sorry I was young and stupid aans didn’t understand, etc. I dont associate that guilt with religious guilt. I kind of think people are preprogramed to care about others and we feel bad when we don’t think we’ve done it well and can no longer fix it (if that rambling makes sense).

    The second is heartbreaking. My daughter was born with a hemangioma (benign vascular strawberry birthmark) on her forehead. My husband jokingly said “I wonder if this happened when you fell that one time while pregnant?” He said it without accusation, just was ligitimately curious what caused it. He had no idea the guilt I would start to feel, like on my what did I do during my pregnancy to cause this? Later I would learn that no, a fall doesn’t cause them, its simply a birth defect (a temporary one at that) but not before I did a lot of wondering if I had somehow caused it. I realize that is very different than the father who is feeling like his childs struggles are his punishment. That makes me very sad.

  2. I guess it was also his “I go to church every day” declaration felt like it was a penance of sort. Of course, the catholic guilt probably runs too deep in my blood so I may add a level of guilt to everything.

    I carried a lot of guilt for all of my pregnancy failures. I know that pain, I think I carry a lot of it still.

  3. One of the most maddening things I ever heard was a news report aired not long after I moved to Alabama. Fire ants had gotten into a nursing home and they were all over an elderly resident’s room. She was getting bit for hours and never said a word. When it was discovered, she was asked why she never called out, never asked for help?

    Her answer: She believed that God was “punishing her for her sins.”

    Here’s an elderly woman, in a nursing home, believing in a God that would inflict this kind of torment on a helpless person. And that she deserved it, that she had no right to object.

    What is it about a person, or a faith, that facilitates such a twisted notion about a “God of Love”?


  4. This right here is one of the problems I have with organized religion. I am sure it brings many people comfort, but it makes just as many other people feel like shit. People who have done nothing wrong, but are convinced that they must have done something to “deserve” torment, because that’s what they were taught. That is truly sick.

  5. If some of us Christians that believe in the grace filled God invited you to go to church with us, would you go once? Many are like mine. Band, loving and accepting and come in your jeans and t-shirt- or your dress, whatever you chose

  6. I read the first one, about the surgeon, completely differently as well. I think he finds comfort and solace in going to church every day. And he knows he’s going to see those kids in Heaven again, and he’s going to tell them he’s sorry–not because he’s actually guilty of anything, but because he feels so bad that he couldn’t save them. But once he’s there, he will not feel that sadness anymore. I think it’s beautiful. I do not go to church, I don’t believe in God or Heaven, but reading this makes me glad that people do believe in God, and that their belief gives them strength and courage and comfort and purpose. His faith is what helps him do the amazing work that he does every day. That’s a beautiful thing. I find strength and courage and comfort and purpose in the amazing things that people do in this world, so maybe in the end, it’s all the same thing. You are a deep thinker, Zoot, a philosopher, and that’s an amazing thing. So glad you’re here!

  7. Raised Catholic, still Catholic. Learned in my 40s that guilt is denile. Example, I feel guilty that I don’t call my mom or make my teenagers breakfast… If you feel guilt” you think I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t call their mom or make their children bfast, so feel guilty.” If you don’t do these things, you are that kind of person, so accept it, own it and no guilt- no denile

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