Archive for March 2012

The power of prayer or the power of football?   Leave a comment

I am glad to see Fabrice Muamba is making a remarkable recovery from his cardiac episode.  It was fascinating to hear the medical practitioners given such a matter of fact account of their efforts to keep him alive without a heartbeat for well over an hour.   One can only hope that Fabrice’s progress continues even if a return to elite sports participation is a long way off.

Of course I wouldn’t call Muamba’s survival a miracle, certainly not in the theological sense.  I don’t believe in any external intervention in the medical process.  What is significant is scientific and medical progress and the fact that sportsmen at this level have doctors and paramedics to hand.  In the case of White Hart Lane there was even a consultant cardiologist in the crowd.

What I find interesting about the incident is the reaction within the football community and the #PrayforMuamba hash-tag.  There is a culture of inclusion via social-networking to any newsworthy event where everyman can clamber aboard a particular bandwagon and express support or opposition to any issue.  The fact that this often seems more a fashion rather than carefully considered opinion doesn’t necessarily devalue the impact of the groundswell.

In the case of tragedy on the football field I can see that there is a vast number of supporters of various teams that empathise with a footballer, particularly a young, popular one being struck down.  Many of us who follow teams know or feel we know the players and such a public striking down of a hero hits hard.  Current footballers are of an age that social networking is the norm and so add an “official” side to the outpouring of electronic emotion.

Any news event tends to generate a hash-tag.  In the case of Muamba’s struggle for life it was #PrayforMuamba.  A large number of those using twitter to support the footballer incorporated this tag in their tweets.  This included the official tweets from several football clubs.  I don’t think that my Club put out a tweet but, while I would support this as part of the “football family”, I would be uncomfortable endorsing that tag.

I understand that Fabrice and his fiancé are Christians.  I am led to believe that his fiancé derived comfort from the theist messages and has praised her God as Fabrice has made progress.  With Muamba being sedated I realise that this prayer would not have even a placebo effect.  The credit belongs to the medical staff and the remarkable human body, particularly one at the peak of physical fitness with dilated blood vessels full of muscle boosting enzymes.

Where Fabrice and his fiancé seem to be practicing Christians I wonder how many of those using the hash-tag were.  I certainly saw one tweet that started, “I am not religious but…” and ended with the tag.  It is possible that many subscribing to the hash-tag were not believers in any deity but just wanted to show their support of Fabrice.  Where there might be those genuinely praying for the stricken player I guess many if not most went no further in their devotions than tweeting.

Muamba isn’t the first player to be struck down on the pitch. Foe, Jarque and O’Donnell have died recently.  Equally significant are the likes of Daniel Yorath who represents the many who are not yet elite sportsmen who die before any condition is suspected.  Those within the pro game are now usually screened repeatedly although this doesn’t cover every potential condition.  What I hope is that the routine screening is extended even wider into the Academies and Centres of Excellence.  I also hope that defibrillators are made more available in public places to save lives whether of footballers or any person who suffers an arrest.

The Fabrice Muamba case has shown the public reaction that football and footballers can generate.  The positive power of football can be used to champion health issues that don’t always find public support.  In particular football can reach the male population that don’t usually react to health campaigns.  I hope Fabrice gets well soon and that the legacy of his episode is that more people at risk are helped by the influence of the Beautiful Game.


Posted March 24, 2012 by dalekpete in atheism

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Just another Saturday   Leave a comment

This morning I walked with my wife and our dogs to look at my wife’s new allotment.  It will take a lot of hard work to get things growing there!  We will have to do all the digging, planting and watering (there is no nearby tap for dry spells so we will have to be creative or lug vast amounts water there.)  There will be sun and some rain but I am not relying on anything supernatural to help me.

I then sorted out a few things for my kids.  Having children was a lifestyle choice and I don’t regret and love them.  At present they are less trouble day-to-day than the dogs but considerably more expensive.  Having a family is a social expectation and physiological means of prolonging your memory but it is not a gift from god.

I listened to the commentary on my football team and hated the fact that “we” lost.  I didn’t impeach any invisible friend to help them in the match; win or lose it is down to the eleven on the pitch and the management.  I will give credit to the twelfth man, the fans at games, because their input can influence the dynamics of the game unlike any deities.

As it’s Saturday there was no work.  However my job involves a forensic analysis to solve crime.  That crime is against society and not any religious teaching.  If I am called to give evidence I affirm rather than swear on any of the works of fiction offered as an alternative.

Later I did do some work around the community project I volunteer for.  As a trustee of a charity I cannot be paid for this work.  I do it to help my local community and because I feel it is the right thing to do.  However I do get pleasure when projects work or I see individuals helped by the work we do.  I don’t do it because I expect any reward after I die; when I am gone that is it!

I am an atheist; I don’t think my lack of belief in any supernatural interventions affected anything I did today.  It did give me a lot more freedom and a total absence of guilt.

But I am a husband, father, government investigator, football fan and community volunteer before I am an atheist.  There are some who preface all they do with “Christian”, “Muslim”, or (I suspect) “alien-abductee-ist.”  I pity them.

Alternative medicine- a piss take   1 comment

I despair when people chose alternative treatments over conventional ones.  As Tim Minchin rightly pointed out  alternative medicine that’s been proved to work is called “medicine”.

My wife was diagnosed cancer a few years ago.  This was after a life threatening but unrelated episode that left her in a high dependency unit for a couple of weeks.  She was referred to the Professor who was world renowned for his speciality in what was a rare field of oncology.  He over saw the surgery and follow up treatment that has effectively “cured” her of what was a not particularly aggressive form of cancer.

Despite going through a particularly nasty illness and then two years of treatment for cancer my wife was lucky!  Firstly her cancer was spotted at a stage where it was treatable; ironically as a result of the tests on her original illness. Secondly she was able to call on a high level of expertise and support within the National Health Service.  Thirdly, and this wasn’t really luck, she put her trust in that expertise and didn’t rely on alternatives suggested by those outside of the conventional fields of medicine.

I will say my parents’ church regularly prayed for my wife.  My wife hoped this made them feel better as it had no effect  on her or her condition.  Despite some evidence that suggests that those  who know they are being prayed for fare slightly worse than a control group I feel that the theists might be the least of any problems.  It is the well-meaning but vacuous individuals who see magic potions and incantations as a real alternative to centuries of science that are a threat.  These can be backed by dishonest people who see wealth or fame from championing snake-oil.

There is significant evidence that Steve Jobs delayed recognised treatment for his cancer to undergo alternative medicine; some suggest this prevented a possible cure and shortened his life.  That case far away from the religious who abuse children by relying on prayer over medical interventions with close to 100% success rates but in my mind both are part of the same fraud.

Of course there are cases that no modern medicine can expect to cure, where all that matters is the quality of life and of death.  Any condition has an outside chance of remission just because we don’t know everything about diseases and have to recognise that the human body is sometimes a mysterious thing.  There were at one time tens of thousands of people in the UK receiving a benefit for six-month terminal illness where payments had gone on for more than five years!

Most reprehensible are those who seek out those with little or no chance of any effective treatment and use false hope to sell quackery at a huge price.  My wife’s consultant has a whole host of papers to his name and works and lectures in teaching hospitals throughout the world.  I have no doubt he makes a reasonable living through his medical and academic work but that is based on years of expertise and peer-reviewed works.  Through the NHS our access to him and the two surgeons who operated is free.

I understand there are charlatans who have the odd, poor paper to their name who chase patients with their bogus potions while taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from those who are suffering.  Real doctors have proof of their abilities and actually help scientific understanding to move forward.  Those demanding money to take the piss and inject it back into swindled patients are not part of science and should be regarded as frauds.

Cancer treatment is not usually nice.  It often involves cutting up sufferers, burning them with radiation and filling them full of poison.  As bad as this is there is a long established and recognised method to the unpleasant but hopefully effective treatment.  We all hope there is a miracle cure out there for at least some cancers but it will come from teaching hospitals not Texan snake-oil salesmen!