"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
This story originally had another title. It was "One Week with a Preacher-Nephrologist" and I meant it to be a humorous account of my short stint in the Nephrology Department working under the tutelage of an unlikely mentor: a skeletal, bespectacled Christian gentleman who is the picture of frugality and modesty. For the purpose of this piece, I shall refer to him as Dr K. Before this, I have known him as a deeply religious Christian man who runs a cell group that meets every Friday down at the OB/GYN clinic and prays with Christian patients by their bedsides. I spent a week this man, and what I learnt about him thoroughly rearranged my impression of him, and this story turned out darker and more disturbing than I expected.
Day one. I met him at the Haemodialysis Unit where he was looking at a patient's case note and then remarking to a nearby Medical Assistant, "This patient's name is Musa. Did you know that the Nabi Musa of the Qur'an is the same person as Moses in the Bible?"
When I introduced myself as the House Officer who would be tagging along with him for the week, his first question to me was, "Have you come to know the Lord, Jesus?"
Mental note: this is a man so immured in his faith for Jesus that he filters the entire world through it, every second of the day.
"I have been to church when I was in med school. And I've read the Bible," I said guardedly. I imagined that if I sprung the 'A' word on him, I would probably be on the receiving end of yet another sales pitch of the Good News (for the bajillionth time). That is thoroughly unacceptable, especially on a Monday morning.
"So which denomination do you belong to?" he pressed on cheerily. Crap.
"None," I admitted. "I have not accepted Jesus. I went to church and read the Bible because I was seeking for truth in religion in my younger days - I investigated Buddhism, Christianity and Islam - but decided that none of it is really suitable for me."
There was a beat, possibly imagined, before he said, "Praise the Lord! A young man in search of the Truth! Did you know that in the Qur'an, in Surat An-Nisā' verse 171, Jesus was referred to as 'kalimatullah', the Word of God, in agreement with the Bible?" I recognised that this is an opening strategy often used by missionaries in attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity by elevating Jesus from prophethood to some suggestion of divinity - so I don't know why he brought it up to me. Anyhow, I know the counterargument by Muslims but I fact-checked it on the web through my phone just to be sure. The Arabic interpretation of the An-Nisā' verse is that Nabi Isa or Jesus is a word (or message) from Allah, rather than The Word of Allah or God, and that John the Baptist is also known as a word from Allah (Surat 'Āli `Imrān verse 39), so there was really nothing special about the reference. What I find even more ridiculous about this is that the verse in An-Nisā' is actually a very specific caution to Muslims against thinking that Jesus is the son of God: "Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son."
|"Oh, I see your problem there. It's lodged in your frontal cortex."|
Addendum to mental note: the Christian lens by which he filters reality also distorts it to fit his worldview.
By the time I looked it up, he had moved on to some other point. He was telling me an anecdote thirteen years ago about how he, back when he was just a Medical Officer, had a teenage patient who tried to commit suicide by drinking Paraquat (a herbicide) due to relationship woes.
"She had a very severe case of ARDS on top of other organ failures, and she could not possibly have survived it," he said. "If you have read the literature on Paraquat poisoning, you'd know that no one recovers from this level of morbidity. She was struggling with every breath and I went to her and told her she had three choices: she could give her life for her boyfriend for whom she had attempted suicide, her grieving parents, or Jesus Christ. She nodded 'yes' for Jesus and I prayed with her. The next day, her lungs miraculously cleared up and she could breath freely without oxygen support! And this is not the only time this had happened."
"Wow," I said, avoiding from questioning his then-clinical impression of the case. "If this sort of recovery was never recorded to happen, did you write it up as a case study and publish it so it can be discussed?"
"No, I never thought of doing that."
Addendum #2 to mental note: He is unaware of confirmation bias. He accepts the answers he likes, and automatically rejects all other possibilities.
This is going to be a very long week.
The Daily Routine
"Puji Tuhan" or "Praise the Lord" is a phrase which he punctuates almost every one of his sentences with. Every morning, I would meet him at the Haemodialysis Unit (or the HDU as it is facetiously called, because our hospital doesn't actually own a High Dependency Unit) where he would give me some Young Earth Creationist material to read. This started after he discovered that I subscribe to the theory of evolution alongside the overwhelming majority of the scientific community (more on that later).
"You must have a personal relationship with Jesus," he repeatedly told me. He would say it randomly during conversations, sometimes as an orphaned remark to break lulls in our conversations while we are walking along some corridor or riding the elevator. Another thing he liked to say was, "I am not going to be able to teach you much about Nephrology - you can learn that from anyone or any book. I feel I can teach you more about Jesus."
He also told me on many occasions - usually when I question an assertion he makes or raise contrary evidence to his Young Earth Creatinism worldview - that I would "make a very good Christian," presumably because he had misappropriated interest in science and scepticism as descriptors for the sheeps of Christendom. This had happened to me multiple times before and it always annoyed me. There was one time when he discussed about early church history with a Christian patient and was telling her that their religion rose to prominence under the patronage of a Roman emperor whose name he had trouble remembering.
"Constantine," I volunteered. He beamed at me and praised my knowledge.
"Are you a Christian too?" the woman asked.
"No," I said.
Anyway, after the daily morning meeting in the "HDU", we would head for our morning clinical rounds in the wards where we would review patients and plan their treatment course. He would ask new patients referred to us if they know Jesus, and if they say yes, he would always spend a minute by their bedside holding their hands and praying for them while I stood silently by, watching, fact-checking some creationist claim he lobbed at me that morning, or texting my fiancée in Singapore. There was this one patient in particular who was admitted because of a leg infection causing a state of shock and that had injured his kidneys. The patient was well on the road to recovery. Even though he still needed to be hooked up to a respirator, his kidney functions were improving day by day and every morning, when I read to Dr K the latest lab results, he would remarked joyously: "Praise the Lord!" and pray with that patient some more.
One morning, we found another patient in his bed, and learned that he had expired overnight from respiratory failure. I suspect that this is one patient that Dr K will not remember, alongside the countless others for whom his prayers have failed.
His Young Earth Creationism
"Did you know the Earth is only 6000 years old?" he told me when he discovered my love for science, referencing the Ussher chronology which calculated the age of the Earth based on Biblical genealogy because he is a Biblical literalist who holds the book as a completely factual document, talking snakes and all. He believes that True Science™ agrees with the Bible and like many creationists, he would try to overwhelm me with a continuous stream of claims contradicting the modern scientific view that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old, dinosaurs roamed the Earth more than 200 million years ago, and that evolution theory is well-supported by multiple lines of evidence. He was a full course dinner of pseudoscience: the catastrophic flood causing the apparent fossilisation of prehistoric creatures, an inconsistent atmospheric composition caused by Noah's flood rendering radiometric dating unreliable, evolution violating the third law of thermodynamics, et ceteras.
My strategy is to firmly stop him after he had presented one claim and tell him that I need to investigate and read up on it first before he throws me another claim to deal with. I have a healthy respect for the limitations of my knowledge and I always look shit up, particularly if it involves a field I am not trained in.
One of the things he brought up was that dinosaur DNA had been retrieved from fossils as evidence that dinos couldn't possibly have lived millions of years ago because DNA would have broken down over that period of time and the retrieval of ancient DNA (or aDNA) is only feasible up to an upper limit of 1 million years ago. He also mentioned an experiment where an ancient bacteria, supposedly hundreds of million years old, was resurrected. His argument is that if the Earth is young, there couldn't possibly be enough time for significant evolution to happen.
So, I went home, trawled the internet for everything I can find on aDNA and discovered that Dr K's claim that dinosaur DNA had been recovered from fossils is a lie. The closest science papers I can find relating to the subject is Schweitzer et al's discovery of soft tissue preservation in a fossilised bit of a T. rex, supposedly gender-specific tissue that supports the relatedness of dinosaurs to birds, and sequenced proteins from mammoth and T. rex fossils - but no DNA. Previous claims of dinosaur DNA retrieval could not be replicated and were most likely contaminations. When researching Dr K's ancient bacteria resurrection claim, I got an even better insight into his mental processes. The original paper by Kaçar and Gaucher described how they spliced a 500 million year old gene (Elongation Factor Tu, or EF Tu) into a modern E. coli's genome, and the ancient gene was actually was actually reconstructed via phylogenetic analysis, rather than something they found in a glacier somewhere. Dr K likely got his information from second hand sources with a creationist bias, probab'y misinterpreted by overzealous non-scientists and mangled by hearsay. This is why one should always read science, and not read about science.
I confronted him the next day with all these references loaded up into my phone, and after showing him how he got this wrong, he simply shrugged, conceded dismissively that the dinosaur DNA he read about could really just be modern contamination, and immediately tried to unload another wagon-ful of creationist claims on me. The fact that something he told me the day before with so much conviction was shown to be wrong did not faze him one bit. Being in error did nothing to make him question his sources of information, or re-examine the veracity of his other strongly held convictions because - it's obvious, isn't it? - he only wanted to turn me to his worldview. I would go on to refute several other claims of his (each time after diligent research) but to no avail.
Addendum #3 to my mental picture of this man: He refuses to question his own beliefs, even in the face of disconfirming evidence.
His intellectual dishonesty eventually got to a point of laughable obviousness. There was an instant where I told him that I had looked up a point he made and said that what he claimed was inaccurate - his immediate reaction was to explain how I had gotten it wrong instead and by reflex, I whipped out my phone from my pocket to check for bullshit. That simple action was enough to instantly make him change his tune; admitting that I was correct before I could even prove him wrong.
On the last day of I worked with Dr K, finally having enough, I decided to go on the offensive for the first time. I asked him if dinosaur fossils are created by rapid sedimentation due to the Flood, why are the different species organised neatly by geological layers e.g. you won't find human remains in a deeper strata than a velociraptor's bones? How can you explain the genetic diversity within individual species in modern times when only seven of every clean animal and two of every unclean animals were rescued on board the ark? How did plant life survived 40 days and 40 nights submerged under water, and what did the herbivores ate when they left the ark? Why are kangaroos and koalas only found in Australia, and how did they even crossed the sea to get there? I just dumped an avalanche of blatant logical inconsistencies evident within the Flood myth onto him, and he could not address any of them satisfactorily.
One of the most hilarious claims he made was based on Genesis 1:6-7 which described water above and water below, separated by the "firmament", as an explanation for why the lifespans of human beings before Flood would last for many hundreds of years - because the water in the sky is blocking more of the deadly radiation from space compared to modern times.
"As in, there were more clouds back then?" I asked.
"No, there was a layer of water in the sky," he answered.
"You mean there was a sea of liquid water suspended in mid air? Defying gravity?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"Yes," he said, without any trace of irony whatsoever. "The Bible is truth. Creation science is bound by what the Bible says. We simply cannot have explanations which contradict it."
Finally, I wearily explained to him how unacceptable that is to me - how it flies in the face of scientific integrity to simply assume that the Bible is accurate and truthful, and decide that you would only accept evidence which fits the Biblical stories. That is a clear bias. "Supposing," I say, "that Muslims decide that scientific evidence should only be researched and interpreted through the verses in the Qur'an, which they consider to be absolutely true, what do you say to that then?"
He thought about it and sheepishly admitted that Creation science "is a matter of faith."
I took that as a victory.
The Subtle Evil of Faith
In the afternoons, he would be working in the HDU, doing paperwork, seeing patients or downloading more creationist material to drown me with. I walked in one day and found him speaking earnestly to a Chinese man, an end stage renal failure patient on dialysis, while illustrating the content of his speech on a piece of notepaper. I listened in on their Mandarin conversation as I helped Dr K with data collation for his Paraquat poisoning study. When they concluded the consultation, Dr K gave the patient the piece of paper he had been doodling on. I excused myself and exited the room right after the patient left, finding him in the waiting area. Quietly, I asked to take a photograph of the note Dr K gave him.
|I have totally seen that diagram before back when door-to-door|
Christians visited me in my hostel room in college.
On the paper was that popular diagram which Christian proselytisers like to use to illustrate their religion: the image of a river of sin separating man from God, with Jesus on the Cross as the only way bridging the divorce. The sentences below the diagram can be translated as such,
"Jesus: I am the way.Jesus, ah! I admit my sins. Thank you for your holy blood which cleanses my sins. Please bless me. Amen."
He had told the patient to recite it (and the patient, in typical Malaysian Chinaman fashion, asked how many times he should chant the lines). Dr K was attempting to convert his patients to his religion - people who typically live on the lifeline of regular dialysis, when nothing short of a kidney transplant gives them any chance of recovery. Is it not unethical to target patients who are suffering and perhaps, grasping at straws? Isn't it no better than deathbed conversions? I asked for the opinion of a Christian colleague of mine: he believes that it is not wrong for Dr K to offer spiritual comfort to his patients.
During Wednesday clinic, I noticed that he would ask some of the patients who see him there if they had given any thought about what he told them about Jesus in previous consultations - and most of them would just awkwardly laugh it off before asking him actually pertinent questions about their conditions. I learnt then that he was not just offering an option of spiritual comfort to his patient; he was actively badgering them about converting! Even when they are fine with whatever religious beliefs they hold and wasn't looking for an alternative! This revelation soured my impression of him completely, and stripped whatever modicum of respect he still commanded in my eyes. But it gets worse.
On Friday, I accompanied him to the Intensive Care Unit where he was seeing a young Muslim teenage boy who was very ill from yes, Paraquat poisoning.
"I asked him if he would give himself freely into the arms Jesus," he told me. "The boy nodded yes, and I prayed with him."
This is a despicable act and it breaches any standard of professionalism and ethics that medical practitioners are expected to uphold. He had, without the consent or knowledge of the boy's Muslim parents, opportunistically approached a dying child and converted him to Christianity. This is when the final realisation hit me: his conviction that he is right, that his faith is the only "true" faith and that he is performing God's bidding was what made him feel righteous even when he acted so disgracefully and ignominiously - for what is mundane, mortal morality when compared to the will of the divine? Isn't he, a servant of God, above it all?
I saw it and recognised that it's the same mad certitude in the smile of a Muslim terrorist when he flew a passenger plane full of innocent men, women and children into a skyscraper filled with even more innocent men, women and children, believing in his dying breath that he did what his deity wanted him to do. The true face of evil does not look into a mirror and see evil reflected within, but see instead the face of a saint, a martyr, the proverbial man of God. Dr K had succeeded in convincing me that I would never ever want anything to do with faith or his Jesus Motherfucking Christ.
Last Wednesday, on the 12th of September, 2012, the boy died.
The Nephrologist will tell future House Officers apprenticed to him the story about a young person dying from Paraquat poisoning and how his faith and prayers miraculously saved that one girl, thirteen years ago.
Saw the pavement stones on the road to hell,
k0k s3n w4i