Why We Die With Clubs

I was sure clubbed this week. By two strange bedfellows. Atheists and Christians. The catalyst was a comedic piece in The Huffington Post, where a writer took a YouTube snippet out of context and created a cute, funny, mockery of something I said last week on CNN.

The original CNN story was about a mathematical study that predicted that religion is set to become extinct in nine countries studied. When CNN anchor Don Lemon asked me to explain these results I pointed out that as populations become more educated they tend to question some of the magical thinking in ancient scriptures and find that science has more answers. But, not one to ignore possibilities, I did remind viewers that science doesn’t have all the answers and that studies show that in some survivor situations “atheists die first because if they don’t believe in anything supernatural, they can’t imagine that they have supernatural abilities.”

This was live TV shorthand and the survivor studies I alluded to are “medical” survivor studies.  I forgot the word “medical.” For this, I deeply apologize. It was also metaphoric language. I don’t believe in magic, nor do I think that God is this giant cop in the sky or ground control for our lives. But I do believe in having an open mind.

Survival and faith are not distant cousins. Religiosity helps people cope with illness, and may even impede the progression of disease. People recovering from open heart surgery are three times more likely to survive if they have religious faith. Black women with breast cancer have lower survival rates than white women — unless they are religious. Then they are much more likely to outlive their white sisters. In India, doctors scratch their heads as babies born to strict Muslim families in poverty have higher survival rates than upper caste Hindus with less religion. Prayer can help manage anger and lower blood pressure. And meditation (a new age version of prayer) can increase memory, self-esteem and empathy, and even slow the progression of HIV.

But the Huffington Post article came with a gift. Thousands of comments posted online or emailed to me from angry Atheists. Those who perceived me as a Christian called me “ignorant” a “church robot” and my favorite rude email that wove Christian and Sexist stereotypes together: “Your tits aren’t big enough for the ignorant things you say on TV.” I thought that dude deserved a response for his winning shot. “Dude!” I wrote, “I’m a D-cup! What more do you want?”

Reading those angry emails made my heart melt for hard working, patriotic Christian families who are trying to give their children a moral compass. They are so clearly misunderstood by “educated liberals.”

My favorite joke from the Huff Post writer suggested that since I am the author of THE BOYFRIEND TEST and THE GIRLFRIEND TEST then this should qualify me to write THE GOD TEST. Being a seriously good sport and being blessed by nature (or God) with a healthy sense of humor, my first retort was to create a humorous blog where I adapted THE BOYFRIEND TEST and wondered if Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammad might make a good boyfriend.

Then the Christians attacked.

Apparently joking about Jesus is taboo in some circles. That was the morning that my very practical twelve-year-old begged me, “Mom, please don’t piss off the Jews. I have a lot of Barmitzvahs to go to this year.”

Anyway, I was suddenly catapulted into the Atheist empathy camp. And I did some research. Atheists have organizations, ya know. And their websites are positively bubbling with love for humanity. They may not believe in prayer or God but they certainly love the planet and their fellow man and would prefer action to meditation — like they’d rather build a hospital than a church. My heart warmed to them. Sounds very Judeo-Christian without having to do time on your knees.

But what about that anger?

Let me posit this. In my opinion, there is only one human fear. It is the fear of dying. Everything that sends an uncomfortable surge of fear-bile churning in our stomachs can be boiled down to the ultimate fear of dying. Japan earth quake (We’re next!) My boyfriend dumped me (I’m going to die alone!) I lost my job (We’ll all starve to death!) They shamed me on Facebook (I’ll be isolated and eventually die!)

And one of the many roles of all world religions is to assuage our fear of dying. To provide a nice tidy answer, whether it’s an afterlife or reincarnation. That’s why people who follow religions defend their answers so vehemently and sometimes violently. They don’t want that fear of dying to creep back into their bones.

So how do atheists manage that very natural human fear? Many thoughtful people who self-identify as atheists manage quite well. They may use their analytical ability to create strength of character and trust that they are an important cog in the wheel of nature.

But not the ones who hit their keyboards and spewed in my direction. My words on CNN, however inaccurate or taken out of context, rattled the cage of a few thinkers. They hit a nerve. And the words in THE GOD TEST did the same for some Christians.

What I learned is this. Religious people selectively ignore science. Atheists selectively ignore possibilities. And spiritual people selectively ignore practicalities of life. Oh, and any club membership seems to come with discrimination against non-club folks.

Don’t worry people. This Saturday on CNN, Don Lemon and I will be talking about something we all have in common, sex.

13 thoughts on “Why We Die With Clubs

  1. I think there are bigger fish to fry than athiests v. christians. People, in the droves, are taking issue with your professed credentials. The graduate institution to issue your doctorate is one that publicly claims to confer only Psy.D. degrees in psychology, yet you claim to have earned a PhD; two STARKLY different degrees. What is more, the CA board of psychology currently lists Wendy L. Walsh as someone not licensed to practice in the state without supervision from a duly licensed practitioner. Aside from some fairly unscientific views and thinking expressed in the most public way possible, the issue now is one of impropriety and intellectual horsepower.

  2. dear dr(??)
    i was wondering what kind of a “medical” survival situation you would refer to. I cant seem to find any information on any kind of “survival” studies
    taken anywhere on this planet. Would you elaborate on that, perhaps?

    to my knowledge, as a survivalist, as a nature lovin individual, as a member of the armed forces and a former survival trainer, i have yet to encounter an instance of a single survivor on sny kind of a survival situation who was saved by laying back and praying to the god of his choice. As far as my experience shows, NOBODY made it out via belief in anything else but his own Will To Survive. It is the lack of that morale boosting factor(which can be translated in many minor daily thingies) that keeps a person in a survival state of mind.

    I would be cancelling my own experience if i were to point out that survival can be a very difficult task for individuals that have had the proper training and possess a certain way of dealing with the unexpected, as many factors have to be taken into account(such as but not limited to environmental factors, psychology factors, number of survivors, preparations made before hand, weather and climatic conditions, provisions and equipment salvaged, protection from the elements, food acquisition abilities, water and salt acquisition abilities, improvisation, and so many more to list them here.

    Misinformation on serious matters such as this, can lead people to serious accidents and cause even death. Misinformation coming from a “dr”(of what kind?) should definately NOT be spread, regarding areas of non-expertise on behalf of the individual, in this case you.

    And yet, despite all the buzz around your silly and childish allegations and remarks, despite the fact hat you portray yourself as a person who “often finds herself to ask why” you went on to say more, without never ever asking the right “why”. As in “why is all that buzz around this piece of information i gave out, could i be wrong about it?” or maybe “why not researching a bit more about it” or maybe even “why not asking someone who maybe has more on the survival issue than i do”
    you came back to try to make it sound even sillier, if that would be possible.

    “medical survival” is a term that really does not exist anywhere but our office and this blog. Survival is the “art of staying alive” as one acknowledged expert on the subject brilliantly described it(John “Lofty” Wiseman, of the British SAS). You may pray at the end of the day all you want, but if you really dont do much during the daytime, the search and rescue crews looking for you, will not have much luck.

    i wish to you that you will never have to face a survival situation, or if you have the tough luck and do get involved, that you have cosmic amounts of belief to make the elements of nature turn in favor of you.

    with respect, a survivalist
    iolaos rogiros

  3. And your credentials Ms. Walsh? This is your chance to set the record straight and enlighten all of as to how you earned a PhD from an intitution conferring only PsyD degrees, that only recently became accredited. Were I going through this, the first order of business would be sorting that out before CNN pulled the plug and I was caught flat footed.

    Again, you have bigger fish to fry than Christians v. Athiests. At this point people are labeling you a fraud.

  4. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/story?id=7105959&page=1

    How about this study — our end of life medical costs accounts for a huge proportion of annual medical costs in this country. Yet the religious are the most afraid to die …

    “While patients who sought positive religious coping requested aggressive end-of-life care 13.6 percent of the time, those who were not as religious sought it out just 4.2 percent of the time.”

    If the religious are so sure of their “afterlife”, why do this? Why put such a great burden on the rest of us?

    I call bullshit on you “Dr” Wendy. Your own fear of death has colored your ability to be rational. Time to give up “magical thinking” “Dr”.
    Give being a grown up a try. You might like it.

  5. The way you’re using the Muslim/Hindu cross cultural study is incorrect, the study indicated that parental education is the most likely signifier of infant survival. You might want to take a few minutes and actually read it.

    But it sounds like that is the least of your worries. Then again, it doesn’t take a real PhD to be a fluff talker on local news, now does it?

  6. Wow! I’m rather amused by some of the commentary here in this blog. Why the bitterness? Why bash credentials? Who cares, at the end of the day? PhD, PsyD? Anyone who cares enough to further their education and makes rather astute claims, along with musing on the subject of religion, possible answers to human religiosity is very interesting to me. Ironically, I am an agnostic and a cancer survivor. I never really once prayed to God, because mainly I never found my comfort using that method. I ended up researching cancer and finding comfort and power with knowledge. I can appreciate other like-minded people, and don’t really understand the purpose of ad-hominem attacks? Maybe a couple of people have way too much time on their hands.

    Anyhow, Dr. Walsh, I viewed you for the first time on CNN.com tonight. It was the story about the 8 year old who was peppered spray. You made my day stating that “it takes a village to raise a child, and it’s not just the parents”. Truly appreciated hearing that. Great advice, so I sought you out. Thank you 🙂

  7. Oops, I used hyperlink symbols rather than direct quotes: “The Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree is a professional doctorate earned through one of two established training models for clinical psychology. An individual who earns a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in clinical psychology or counseling psychology from an accredited program may become licensed to diagnose and treat mental disorders, conduct psychological testing and complete psychological evaluations, and provide psychotherapy.”

  8. Perhaps you ignored my posting, Kristin? Wendy Walsh used multiple studies incorrectly. In particular, the Muslim/Hindu cross-cultural study wasn’t about religiosity levels, but more about cultural practices which encouraged infant survival, it had a lot more to do with economical situations. Instead of acknowledging that, Ms. Walsh has used it as a major portion of her claim that religion increases disaster survival.

    The bitterness also occurs because Ms. Walsh has never published a thing in a peer reviewed journal, but has suddenly announced to the world that disaster survival is dependent upon religiosity, which has never shown up in any peer-reviewed studies prior to her claims. Perhaps she has some research that she is about to give to the rest of the world?

    Would you like for me to post the majority of the most recent studies that show that the major predictor of disaster survival has been and always will be readiness/preparedness? I don’t even think that religiosity would measure in the top 5 reasons people survive disasters.

  9. Dear Wendy,

    I think a lot of the “anger” you encountered is actually just an eruption from frustration that atheists often feel when ostensibly educated people express, as scientific, such outlandish conclusions as “atheists die first”. With so many people self-identifying as theists, you might imagine there is a great deal with which to be frustrated. It’s like a non-smoker walking into an office building through a gauntlet of smokers and feigning a hacking cough and exaggeratedly waving their hands. Like the atheist, the momentary frustration is real but the anger is not their normal state of existence.

    I for one read a lot from your body language and facial expressions. As someone who has studied psychology, you might appreciate a frame-by-frame review of yourself. Observe the snicker and sneer as you talk about education reducing religious adherence and science disproving the supernatural aspects of religious writings. Then observe the smirky grin and glowing joy in your eyes as you say “atheists die first”. THAT is what atheists observe frequently when irrational people defend their irrational beliefs.

    Now, if you could justify your position with strong, meaningful studies instead of citing religious writers commenting on THEIR interpretation of small, questionable studies, I could overlook your exuberance. But you seemed to cherry-pick headlines and in the absence of obviously contradictory headlines you concluded on your own that “most studies” say “medical survival” is enhanced by religious belief and therefor “atheists die first”.

    I think you can see why such comments on a national news channel would garner negative attention. I’m a little disappointed that more religious people didn’t point out the error in your comments and in fact seemed to support your conclusions.

  10. Disgruntled repliers: did you read her entire post above??

    I am a sorta atheist (Im a question mark), and disagree with her original atheists die comment, but this post has more content than that.

    News and media is about shock and awe. The more shock, the more attention. Wendy has to make a living you know – so I kind of get her angle.

    A lot of “news” these days is entertainment as much as facts about our world – and this is OK, as long as there are outlets and people that can show the truths behind the curtain. And as long as more and more people become more and more educated to know how to look behind that curtain.

    I read a few bashers and disprovers blogs that show the falsity of Wendy’s references above. I am glad someone dissected her references! However, her post here is more than this and I respect and liked her follow up. She showed a respect and admiration for all religions (or lack thereof).

    Like myself, I think she is choosing to be somewhat agnostic – in viewpoint, if not in practice. In my opinion, this is an optimal way to look at these debates. Even if you are of a certain belief, it is crucial that you stay open to possibilities and even more importantly, respectful of others beliefs.

    I personally try to listen to others beliefs and then convert them into something similar that I believe or strive for. I understand morals and the fear of death – I think much of religion boils down to handling these basic things. Equate someone else’s beliefs to your own language, and you can identify and understand them better.

  11. Wendy,

    You are intellectually dishonest and the sad thing is that I think you know it. I recently saw the CNN snippet you were on and followed up on you to do some research. I landed on this sit and clicked a link to check your resources. I only clicked one. It was blatantly wrong!!!! You are dishonest because you use a report from the NY times. It has already been shown…you know what. I am not even going to go on. Here is a real study. Good luck.


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