April 11, 2005


Oh, what a difference belief makes
by Rhiannon Ross

Spring has long been said to bring showers and flowers. It also marks Easter and the Passover. But I will remember this particular season as one where Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul II died.

It's difficult not to think about religion when I ponder their lives and deaths, as the role of God was significant in each.

Consider how the religious beliefs of Schiavo's parents impacted the question of whether she should live or die. Being Roman Catholic, they believed the feeding tube shouldn't be removed; however, had they been Jehovah Witnesses, they never would have approved of their daughter's feeding tube to begin with.

The pope upheld institutionalized beliefs that caused harm to some of his followers. Beliefs only he was in a position to change.

I cannot help but wonder how many altar boys might have been spared sexual abuse at the hands of priests compelled to follow the unnatural state of lifelong celibacy.

Or how many babies have been born only to suffer serious birth defects.

Or how many gays and lesbians have bore crosses of shame they never had to carry.

Or how many women called to the ministry could not serve as priests in the Catholic Church because of their gender.

Oh, what a difference belief makes.

In one of Tom Robbins' novels – Jitterbug Perfume – the protagonist, who is destined to live forever, carries on conversations with the pagan god Pan over a span of centuries. In the beginning, he can see, smell and hear Pan. However, as time goes on Pan disappears. He can only smell and hear him. Pan tells him that's because very few people continue to believe in him.

When applied to religion and other subjective beliefs, what we believe in exists and what we do not, ceases to exist. Just like once upon a time, I believed in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.

I still take comfort in praying to "the little white-haired man in the sky," a sort of George Burns look-a-like alive and well in my imagination. But I don't really believe this little man exists. For me, I've accepted that I don't necessarily have to grasp God to believe in God.

And the truth is, God largely exists for me because I find life much easier to deal with than when I have not believed in God.

For many of us, religious doctrine was spoon-fed to us as children like jars of strained peas. It was not necessarily beliefs of our choosing and certainly not ones of our making.

As adults, however, we can choose to embrace beliefs that satisfy our individual spiritual needs and breathe existence into acts of compassion.

So maybe someday, our children will live in a world where religious beliefs are not reasons for human rights violations.

Rhiannon Ross lives in Kansas. She can be contacted at or






























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