Thursday, September 12, 2013

Painful Religion

Three hours in a dentist’s chair with a jaw full of pain killers and a mouthful of various drills, saws, probes, cotton balls, mirrors, and fingers gave me plenty of time to entertain a few thoughts. The primary one was how I might gracefully get out of there. I couldn't come up with an honorable way to flee,  so I concentrated on contemplating how I got there.

I concluded that religion got me there.

So there is no misunderstanding, my mother was a wonderful woman I dearly loved. She served her family and community as conscientiously as anyone I've known.  A big part of her service was some 20 years as First Reader for the Christian Science Society in my hometown (A First Reader, elected by the congregation, is a lay person  considered by many to be the leader of the local church organization).

My mother never once directly hurt me. But I believe her faith caused me considerable pain over many years.

Like most mainstream Christian Scientists, Mom did not reject seeking “skilled hands” to help with physical problems. According to her philosophy, it was OK to get checkups by dentists and medical doctors and to use their services to deal with some problems. It was not all right, however, to accept treatments that injected “foreign substances” into ones body unless that was absolutely necessary.

Thus, for most of the first 16 years of my life in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, I visited Archie Houns, DDS, regularly for dental checkups and any necessary repairs. Mom instructed Dr. Houns never to use any pain-deadening chemicals, even when drilling deeply to remove decay. Dr. Houns was not gentle.  I had quite a few cavities. I experienced a world of hurt.

During my earliest visits to Dr. Houns, Mom stayed by my side and held my hand to help me endure the waves of pain caused by his work. When motherly hand-holding became taboo as I developed into a macho male, I built up my forearm strength considerably by clutching the arms of the dentist’s chair in a stranglehold when probing or drilling struck a nerve, which was most of the time.

I developed a lifelong terror of visiting dentists. So after I left home and Mom’s complete control at age 17, I discontinued regular dental checkups and requested every pain killer in the arsenal when advanced tooth decay demanded I get extractions or fillings. Avoiding regular checkups resulted in a high number of serious dental problems. My finances suffered mightily also, as I doled out big bucks for root canals, crowns, and bridges.

Today, my tooth line features many empty spaces. Others areas are populated by artificial structures, with only a few often-filled natural teeth holding things more-or-less together. What once might have been  routine visits to the dentist now can blossom into surgery, as my most recent experiences did.

Many people who use their faith to guide them to right living do a great deal of good in our world. However, many others seem dedicated to perverting the best religious values, and great evil can result.

Students of history have no problem describing instances when people killed, maimed, and tortured fellow humans in the name of religion. We need only tune into the daily news to learn of new atrocities committed by religious fanatics.

In comparison, the pain a religious belief brought to me directly and as collateral damage was minor. But it has been very real, and like other damage caused by adherence to questionable religious dogma there was no good reason for the suffering.


Kay said...

I agree with you 1000%, Dick. I'm feeling a chill and trembling just thinking about you in that dentist's chair. How absolutely, totally awful! There was some quote about faith and religion that I wish I could remember; something along the lines of faith bolstering you and religion often destroying. Thank goodness you can have Novocaine now.

Carole said...

When I left high school, I attended a "religious college" for a couple of years. At that point in my life I was starting to question some of the very strong beliefs and rigid rules created in this setting. They were very extreme, in my opinion. No dancing, no pop music, no jewelry etc. The final straw was the suggestion that we should be able to control our thinking and prevent any "evil" thoughts from ever entering our stream of consciousness. I decided that this did not fit with who I was as a person. I left school, and eventually enrolled in a state school where I completed my education.

Religion provides a great deal of hope and solace for many people in this world. I draw the line when harm, physical or emotional, is done in the name of a religion.

I recently discovered your blog and am thoroughly enjoying it! Thanks for a thoughtful post!

Dick Klade said...

Welcome, and come to visit often, Carole. said...

One of my oldest and dearest friends is Christian Scientist. Very nice person. Don't know if she uses the dentist or not.

As for pain with dental procedures, they were painful even with the novocaine or whatever they gave us back then. Modern denistry seems vastly improved. However, I still HATE going to the dentist which I do every six months. I know I am deteriorating and I don't like it. Dianne

Mike said...

Last week, I had my regular six month cleaning and checkup. Like usual, she asked if I wanted "gas." I sort of hesitated and she told me there would be any charge because I was a "frequent flyer."

Yes, she really did say that.

After painful dental experiences administered by Navy dentists, I long had an aversion to dental work and often, after getting "everything" fixed, lapsed for long periods of not going to the dentist. Finally, after another period of pain due to neglect, I started going to a dentist that advertises, "We cater to cowards." Now, before a visit that entails repairs, I have a Xanax the night before (for anxiety) and another before heading into town for the appointment -- my wife drives me. Then I get the nitrous oxide before the local anesthetic injection. All's cool after that. ;)