Friday, October 08, 2010

How not to comfort people (by Suzie)

In “Grilled Cheesus,” this week’s episode of “Glee,” the father of a high-school glee club member goes into a coma after a heart attack. The son feels anger, guilt, grief. His friends hope to comfort him by changing his worldview to theirs.

"Although Kurt has announced he’s an atheist, three friends sing him a spiritual song. Three sing and pray at his father’s bedside until he kicks them out. TVGuide:
Later that day, [best friend] Mercedes approaches Kurt, saying that she doesn't know how to be around him during this time because of his inability to connect to the spiritual world. He apologizes for pushing his friends away. She hopes that he'll come with her to church, where they will be dedicating their worship to Burt.
Sue, the glee club’s nemesis, wants to stop all the singing about God. But guidance counselor Emma says:
What is wrong with you? … There is a boy in that glee club that might lose his father. How could you get in the way when the only thing anybody is trying to do is give that poor child just a little bit of comfort?
Co-creator Ryan Murphy says: "Sue's an atheist, but I love that she doesn't want to be. She and [Kurt] are both saying to the world, 'Prove us wrong: If God is kindness and love, make me believe in God.' "

Please do not try this in the real world. If you believe in God, don't assume your atheist friends are secretly longing to be converted.

Kurt ends up understanding that his friends mean well and sings “[What if God Was] One of Us” with them. (In an earlier solo, he sang the "Across the Universe" version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." I’ve embedded a film clip of T.V. Carpio singing it to another cheerleader.) Thus, the person who needs comfort must reassure others. The person who is in the minority among his friends and in the larger society, must learn to respect and tolerate their views, even though they make little attempt to understand his.

Many critics have praised the show as being well-balanced in its depiction of religion. Some atheists were pleased to be mentioned at all. Others were outraged, as I was. My outrage stems, in part, from my experiences as a cancer patient, when some Christians are convinced that they will console me through conversion.

Sunday and yesterday, I went into the small, sort-of ER at the cancer center. The Sunday RN did his job and nothing else. I was the only patient in the place. I was vomiting and crying in pain in my cubicle while he regaled the staff with humorous stories. Yesterday's RN treated me like a person, not just an inconvenience, joking with me, while she headed off the pain and nausea. This reminded me that caring can be shown in many small ways -- it doesn't require a full gospel choir.