Today I had an interesting interaction with my nursing preceptor, Grace, for Community Health Nursing. She happens to live near me, so she was giving me a lift home at the end of the day. Now that the guise of work had lifted, we stopped talking about the vitals of others, and shifted to those of our own lives. We spoke of our significant others and various other things. I felt somewhat honored because I know that Grace doesn’t reveal much to anybody at the office. It was then I realized that I probably spend more concentrated time with Grace than I do with anyone else, including my wife!
Somehow, we came to the subject of religion, and she asked me what I believed. I explained my very grey version of agnosticism, which includes both my version of God as well as evolution. She nodded enthusiastically as I elaborated how my version of god allowed me to explain the unexplainable, miracles, and also allows me to show no prejudice towards other religions that fundamentally want to do the right thing (How can 837 million Hindus be wrong?). When I touched on evolution, she stopped nodding. Grace was clearly distraught, “So you believe we came from monkeys?”
I affirmed that I did. Not only that, I thought we came from much simpler organisms that appeared anywhere from 3.5 billion to 500 million years ago. She asked me how I could believe this. I then went on to explain meiosis and mitosis, the very real possibility of gene mutation, natural selection, and the cumulative “effort” of such selected mutations that allow us to evolve from single-celled organisms to monkeys to me. How can bacteria and humans have similar assemblies of DNA? If we’re so different, how is it that we can slip in a genetic code for a drug, such as an antimilarial, into a yeast genome, and suddenly that yeast is creating pharmaceuticals that are consumable by humans? We have got to be connected! I explained that I thought that the similarities are just too great to ignore.
Grace did not seem amused. I was thoroughly confused. Surely, I thought, this woman, who has a background in science and clearly seems knowledgeable about pathophysiology and pharmacology, could appreciate that I believed in such things. I did not think that I was questioning her faith, merely explaining mine. Somehow, in explaining my faith, however, I had questioned hers. Of course, I did not realize this until later, and since I was on a roll, I then went on to explain how, the miracle, and where I believe this greater force that some folks call God comes in (which I’m willing to accept has a different name and a form inconceivable to us at this moment in time), is in the smallest elements of our understanding. How did the atom come to be? How did the neutron, proton, and electron find each other and form elements? How did quarks and leptons create these three parts of the atom? And the force! What about the force? How does an invisible force orchestrate this fantastic dance between such small parts that create everything that we live and breathe? Inconceivable! And, in my mind, wonderful at the same time. That is the miracle. That is what blows my mind. That’s what God is to me. Wow. Right?
Almost as miraculous was that I explained all this in between the Ashby Ave. Exit and my exit—about 7 miles (albeit there was heavy traffic).
Grace had to drop me off before she could have a chance to respond. She was still friendly, but somehow “within herself”. I’m sure that she will be polite to me when I see her again, but I wonder if she will treat me any different because she know that what I believe is different than what she believes. Once we start talking shop again, I bet we’ll be back to our old selves.
This experience got me thinking about how I should deal with patients that believe such radically different things from me.