Question of the Week: July 15, 2015

Jul 14, 2015

A newsletter reader who works in a hospital in the United Kingdom is asking the RDFRS community for some advice. She says her ward is “ridiculously religious” where groups of religious singers simply show up during patient mealtimes and care. So far, the chaplaincy center seems to have the last word. She asks for ideas of how she can respond and protect patients who do not want this kind of religious intrusion.


Congratulations to Andrew. A copy of Richard Dawkins’ “An Appetite for Wonder” is on the way.

Runners-up: Andy, Indygrl76

42 comments on “Question of the Week: July 15, 2015

  • Have a word with the people who buzz these people into the ward. If they are not relatives or friends, what the hell are they doing there ? As a patient a long time ago, somehow I managed to survive this exact treatment as a kid. They had their sing song and I ignored it.



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  • Is there a way to provide a location for the “religious” such as a meeting room or common area at one end of the hospital for those who want to participate in or listen to the singers. This leaves the rest of the unit relatively quiet. Even here in the US such intrusion doesn’t generally happen unless it is Christmas time and some carol singers show up. Otherwise, it stays pretty quiet.



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  • This might be dangerous, but you could hand out votes to patients to register whether they wanted the singing or wanted quiet. By making the issue silence / noise, you might not get fewer backs up than had you framed it as Christian vs screw the Christians.

    If you were naughty, you could phone the Christians and cancel their visit.



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  • This ought to involve police/legal action, because 2 major things are at play here: disturbance of the peace in general, and violation of privacy in particular for the patient who does not want this type of attention. It might even pose a medical risk for people with a heart condition who happen to be secularist; that would certainly get their blood pressure op to a possible dangerous level.



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  • I used to be religious and a member of a pentecostal / evangelical church in Soho in London, and we used to “minister” to sex workers, homosexuals, homeless people and hospitals in the area.

    I put quotations around the word “minister” not for the sake of irony but to indicate that we genuinely believed that what we were doing were good deeds, and “minister” was the word we used. People used to refer to their “ministry” in these areas.

    I would say that the people who most appreciated our efforts were the homeless people, because these people were malnourished and when we brought them sandwiches and the like from shops like Pret who very kindly donated their unsold wares every day, they were very pleased to see us. But we would usually make comments like “man cannot live by bread alone”, etc. and try to proselytise them as we did this.

    I’d rather not go into the “outreach” that we did in the sex-workers and homosexual community, but I’m sure that the wildest image you have is probably tame compared to what really went on.

    The reason I mention all this is that these people who are coming to your hospital are well-meaning. They believe that they are doing God’s work.

    With all that in mind, I will attempt to tackle this situation and see if I can come up with a novel idea for you.

    The problem as put is enigmatic at best. These religious singers who “just show up during patient mealtimes and care”. People can’t just “show up” in a hospital and start “caring” without some kind of authorisation.

    And where does the singing come in? Do they just burst in, sing religious songs and then bugger off? And all this while you’re trying to feed your sick patients? I think not. I presume that they come in and try to help and as well as their helping they also get to sing a few religious songs at some point. This is similar to our method of feeding the homeless whilst also giving them a mini-sermon.

    The key here must be the “chaplaincy center” (sic). They must be approving these visits. My advice would be to speak to the highest authority within the hospital that you can access and ask them to review these activities. These well-intentioned individuals do not have any formal training in caring for sick people. You didn’t indicate what type of ward you work in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was some form of palliative care.

    But whatever the type of ward and the patients that you have, and hospital under-staffing notwithstanding, especially in London, might I suggest that you tell your superiors that these visits are unwelcome intrusions which belittle the dignity of the patients, whose care you take very seriously?

    And if they come at meal-times, this is especially fraught. Most of the readers of this website probably associate mealtimes with happy occasions. This is not always the case in hospitals. They can be very fraught times, with patients who refuse to eat and related problems.

    I would think that a middle way would be to ask the chaplaincy if they would consider letting these people come at an agreed time, not during mealtimes, at an agreed place, such as a communal space, whereby the patients who wish to be serenaded by angelic voices can be and those who do not wish for it can be excluded.

    Also, please talk openly to your colleagues about your feelings about these visitors. Maybe you will find that other nurses and care-workers there share your misgivings. It can be difficult if you think that you’re the only person who feels a certain way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your colleagues feel the same way.

    I’ve known many professional care-givers, nurses and healthcare assistants in my time. I’m endlessly in debt to their choice of career. It truly is noble to care for the sick. Thank you for doing what you do, and I hope that you can find a way to continue to give your patients the best care without these unwelcome intruders.



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  • These religious singers who “just show up during patient mealtimes and
    care”. People can’t just “show up” in a hospital and start “caring”
    without some kind of authorisation.

    I suspect that the author means that the singers show up during patients’ mealtimes and during patients’ care. that is, when both patients and medical staff are busy and would prefer not to have them underfoot.

    I would propose that the nurse in this case takes the matter up with her line manager and union rep, placing emphasis on how the god-bothers are interfering with the running of the ward and that at least some of the patients do not want them there.

    It’s quite possible that the reason they believe they are entitled to do this is because someone in the management hierarchy is also a god-bother and has given them informal permission. So, don’t take the risk of going directly to the Chaplaincy or to higher management. Do it by the numbers, as a patient care issue, and make sure you’ve got union back up isf you need it.



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  • As a nurse of 25 years I the UK, I’m glad to say that I’ve never experienced this type of unsolicited attention from a religious group in a ward setting. I’m sure that the policies that the hospital in question will include harassment policies which can be invoked.

    Sadly, if it’s anything like the NHS in the UK, the nurses come second and a complaint made under the harassment rules would have more impact if a patient makes it. The nurse can certainly try this approach as the employer must ensure that their staff are not harassed in the workplace, but I suspect the success of this approach may be somewhat diminished. The other approach would be the equality route. If the unsolicited mealtime choral congregation belongs to a certain faith then other faith groups are arguably excluded.

    This may inadvertently lead to Jihad at tea time so I’d advise caution before implementing this course of action lest you are inundated with a dozen different faith choirs chanting, singing, or wailing their way through dinner, which can be an intimidating and depressing experience in hospital at the best of times.

    Good luck and I hope this helps.



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  • I have experienced this. An elderly relative on his death bed in hospital is suddenly surrounded by religious strangers who try to insist that he should repent etc before its too late. An absolutely unbelievable intrusion on the privacy of someone on the verge of death and with total disregard to the family members who were present! Hospital staff seem to think that they cannot turn such people away. I was caught by surprise as it was so presumptious. As soon as I realised what was going on I told them to get out before I called security.

    Unfortunately it is another example of where religion seems to entitle people to tramp on the rights of others with impunity. In the UK the problem should be addressed directly to the minister in charge of the NHS and the equivalent in USA.



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  • 10
    Douglas says:

    Here’s my advise if I was a patient! Tell ’em to F$%K OFF! You’re making me sicker! Presumably I’d be older so I can say what I want to the god botherers



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  • It’s pretty obvious, you just need to face those religious people and be clear to them, saying that their singing isn’t helping anyone at all, patients are very annoyed with their noise, it’s not a church, either they get out of here, or stay silent!!! That’s what I would actually do in your place!



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  • The best way to handle this situation is to let it handle itself. Someone simply needs to write up a legal-sounding letter soliciting signatures for a legal challenge. A few copies of the letter could be left around the ward on the day these singers next visit. No legal action need be taken, just the impression that legal action could be taken. Whether such a legal challenge would be successful or not if actually pursued is irrelevant to the outcome.



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  • Each patient’s chart should be flagged as to whether or not they mind unauthorized visitors. If that is not possible, then there should be signs on each patient’s door stating that each visitor must check with Staff before entering. Or even a general sign as they get off the elevator, perhaps.



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  • Jill
    Jul 15, 2015 at 2:06 pm
    .
    Each patient’s chart should be flagged as to whether or not they mind unauthorized visitors.

    In UK NHS hospitals there are usually rules and guidance to protect patients’ interests.
    I do not think choirs would be allowed into wards where people are seriously ill, although my mother used to run an entertainment group which visited the lounges in care-homes for the elderly.

    http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/AboutNHSservices/NHShospitals/Pages/visitors.aspx
    Visiting someone in hospital

    The information in this section is a general guide to visiting someone in hospital. Details will vary depending on which hospital you are visiting. Check on the website of the hospital you want to visit for more information.

    Most hospitals have times at which you can visit your friend or relative. Check with the relevant hospital for information about when you can visit. Bear in mind that different wards often have different visiting times.

    If you are unable to attend during visiting hours, talk to the member of staff in charge of the ward to arrange an alternative time to visit.

    Hospitals encourage relatives and friends to visit patients. However, patients can get tired very quickly. For this reason, the number of visitors each patient is allowed is usually restricted and it might be necessary to stagger the visitors so they come at different times.

    Children can be restricted from visiting a patient in the same way that adults are. In some wards, you need to ask permission for children to visit you, and some wards insist that children under 12 are accompanied by an adult.



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  • The employee could first check if indeed the chaplaincy center has the last word. Perhaps management is completely unaware of the religious activities going on inside the hospital. She could find out if management is supporting the chaplaincy center. If management is unaware I guess the employee could file a complaint through her direct manager. If management in fact supports the chaplaincy, the employee in questions might be risking coming in disrepute if she starts to make a stir. In that case a complaint to the local ombusdman might be wiser. In the mean time she could point out to patients that they have the possibility to file a complaint if they are bothered by the religious activity.



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  • Maybe an agreement could be made that they are only welcome in certain areas at certain times. Like Monday, Wednesday, Friday during the second half of meal times so people can come during those times. Also, patients should be asked if they would like these visitors. It should be made clear that these intrusions are uncomfortable to some of the patients and their needs should be considered.



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  • “We don’t go into your church and perform unnecessary brain surgery on your parishioners, so please don’t come into our hospitals and try to brainwash our patients. Thank you.”



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  • @Steven,
    Just as your take, but mine is a little more naughty. I suggest you bring in a Native American folkloric group and let them dance around the ward with their shakes and colorful costumes (I hope you can find one in the UK).
    My experience is that the more entitled the (Christian) group feels, the less tolerant they will be to a competing faith. This will bring the situation to a policy resolution. Obviously no one should be coming in at a hospital ward in a group – for any reason! These patients are there to get better and do not need extra germs to intrude in their recovery.



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  • Tough one. She could get fired, or transferred. I don’t know what a chaplaincy center is, but I would go straight to the top, not to the patients (yet), and discuss this with those who are in a position of authority. What she is describing is horribly intrusive and inappropriate.

    (I remember when my late step mother, a cancer patient, was in the ICU here in New York. There was something similar there – but only remotely similar. They sent a religious guy to all the rooms. Is this an ICU unit where people are facing the possibility of imminent death, from an affection, or their illness? The patients there had the freedom to say “no thanks.” Is this a hospice type situation? There is a paucity of information from this hospital worker.)

    If these people in authority are not receptive, then she should then approach the patients (which might be awkward) and get at least one of them to complain. That would carry some weight.

    If she is unsuccessful, she has the option to resign.—That might be good for her sense of self, although the problem itself would remain.

    Those are some thoughts. There are many other things she could do. (Maybe Dawkins can pay these clowns a visit with a TV crew!) Why doesn’t she figure it out for herself? use her noodle? Then again, she’s reaching out and asking for help; that’s good.



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  • I am sure there are rules/guidelines literally written in the hospital’s operation manuals. Now, I’m going out on a limb here, because the post didn’t say if it was a religious hospital or not, but I’d say that any groups of people wandering hospital ward halls and rooms singing anything is a violation of established policies for the health, safety and security of patients and staff. There is no reason, no excuse, no justification whatsoever in allowing that kind of disruptive behavior in a professional medical setting!



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  • 22
    Pinball1970 says:

    There must be security issues with this surely?

    Can anyone off the street get a guitar, wander into a children’s ward and just start singing about Jesus?

    My suggestion is note the security risk, added infection risk and then canvass the ward to see if how many of the patients object to these visits.

    If there are enough (over half should do it- the UK is still a democracy) take these concerns and findings to management and see if they can put a stop to it.

    If more than half want these visits, then ask the remainder if they would like a visit from a group like the BHA.

    I am sure the BHA could contact and mobilize members in the area, turn up to the ward (with permission) with copies of “god is not great,” wearing “militant atheist” t-shirts and talk about secular issues.

    If the health authority is Manchester, I am available week day evenings and weekends if you give me enough notice.



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  • 23
    Donovan says:

    As a third generation atheist living in the UK, I’m continually appalled at the influence and power given to the church here. I’m usually encouraged to “keep my beliefs to myself” while others are openly encouraged to shove their faith down my throat. I would, as a nurse or patient, object strenuously to any authority present against this kind of harassment but, as stated above, the people I would be complaining to are likely the well intending Christians who gave the permission in the first place. The complaint would only be the first step. I would then go to the media. The NHS has had a ton of negative press and hits to their requests for additional funding. A general press story on the conduct in the wards would be most unwelcome. Sadly, you may need to get out of the hospital to find a sympathetic ear.
    I watch educational programs such as Big Brother over here (educational because when my wife turns it on, I read a book) and see things that tell me I wouldn’t last long there. When they are confined to the house and restricted to no reading material, then to have to watch one person be given a book daily just because of their religious beliefs is an act I would tolerate for about a nano-second. I’d go into the diary room and ask Big Brother for my book. If the Christians get a book and I don’t it is the purest form of religious discrimination. Do the Jews get a Torah? Do the Muslims get a Koran? Do the Scientologists get a comic book? If the Christians get a bible, I would demand a copy of “On The Origin of Species” or perhaps “The God Delusion”.
    Overall, the UK is a very tough place to fight religious persecution as the church has legal power. Asking, insisting and threatening will fall on deaf ears but these are the steps you need to take before alerting the media. You can’t make them stop, but you can make them want to.



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  • Donovan
    Jul 16, 2015 at 3:44 am

    I would, as a nurse or patient, object strenuously to any authority present against this kind of harassment but, as stated above, the people I would be complaining to are likely the well intending Christians who gave the permission in the first place.

    You have identified the root cause which is the paid inclusion of religion in the service provided.

    http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2014/10/call-to-secularise-nhs-chaplaincy-services

    However, in a joint submission to an NHS England consultation, the National Secular Society and the Secular Medical Forum criticised the guidelines for being too focussed on religious care rather than providing an inclusive service that benefits all patients and NHS staff.

    .Chaplaincy services are funded from NHS budgets. Despite purporting to provide ‘spiritual care’ to all, the role is only open to individuals who can obtain satisfactory recommendation and authorisation by their faith community.

    Antony Lempert, Chair of the Secular Medical Forum, said: “We think it’s essential that chaplaincy moves from a religious service to one fit for – and equally welcoming to – all members of the public.

    “Whilst chaplaincy remains a paid job exclusively for religious applicants, then any mention of the inclusion of the needs of non-religious patients remains a lip-service, and the justification for public funding is seriously undermined.”



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  • In my local area in the UK (Hertfordshire), the NHS hospitals operate a ‘protected mealtimes’ policy, during the designated times only medical staff are allowed on the wards, no visitors of any type are permitted.

    The staff are able to concentrate on making sure all patients receive adequate nutrition, without distraction.



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  • bhaji
    Jul 17, 2015 at 4:41 am

    In my local area in the UK (Hertfordshire), the NHS hospitals operate a ‘protected mealtimes’ policy, during the designated times only medical staff are allowed on the wards, no visitors of any type are permitted.

    I have seen this in elsewhere operation too!

    The OP example looks like a one-off, but could be repeated in other places as hospitals have individual policies.

    There is also the factor, that ideologists and faith-heads, are also notorious for not reading, or not correctly “interpreting” regulatory documents. – After all! – when they have “divine moral guidance” from a god-delusion, backing whatever personal views they choose to believe, who needs to actually read policies or legal requirements?



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  • BlockquoteThere is also the factor, that ideologists and faith-heads, are also notorious for not reading, or not correctly “interpreting” regulatory documents. – After all! – when they have “divine moral guidance” from a god-delusion, backing whatever personal views they choose to believe, who needs to actually read policies or legal requirements?

    Good point Alan. Despite my saying on admittance that I am an atheist and I do not want to anyone from the hospital chaplaincy or religious visitors I regularly have to fend off unwanted religionists, including hospital chaplains who choose to ignore my requests with gems such as this: “People change when they are ill and alone, I was concerned for you.”
    Some are more blunt or don’t even bother with excuses, other than “just doing god’s work.”

    As for the OP, try brining the subject up conversationally with the patients, you may find they do not like it and then you have a reason to report the situation as it is for the good of the patients.

    Things have improved in UK hospitals but unwanted religious intrusion is still a problem as too many religionists do not respect patients’ rights and privacy and too few senior hospital staff will do anything about the intrusions. I still think one of the most callous sermons I have heard was back in the 1970s, when we had a Sunday service forced on us. In an orthopaedic ward where 75% of the patients were in plaster casts and bed-ridden the local preacher chose “take up thy bed and walk” as his theme. There were complaints but they went unanswered and the preacher was unrepentant.

    We have a bigger problem than people think with religion in hospitals, whether it is intrusions such as in the OP or with staff trying to push their views, I have even been questioned by a nurse about my atheism, when I told her to put atheist on my admittance form she asked me if I wanted to talk about it and reconsider.

    I realise all this is anecdotal but I am a 55-year-old haemophiliac and it would not be an exaggeration to say I have spent five of those 55 years in a hospital, I do know what patients have to deal with.



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  • Stephen Mynett
    Jul 17, 2015 at 8:22 am >

    Good point Alan. Despite my saying on admittance that I am an atheist and I do not want to anyone from the hospital chaplaincy or religious visitors I regularly have to fend off unwanted religionists, including hospital chaplains who choose to ignore my requests with gems such as this: “People change when they are ill and alone, I was concerned for you.”

    Many years ago after a car accident I spent some weeks in an orthopaedic ward, but quickly recognised times priests and preachers visited their followers – and any one else they could.

    My afternoon naps were precisely timed to coincide with such visits!



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  • If I found myself on the receiving end of this, I’d be prompted to acquire an RDF tee shirt to wear on their visits. “Science It works Bitches” would certainly fit the bill, but it occurs to me that the “Religion, together we can find the cure’ shirt, would offer the opportunity to engage with them as though they were patients from a neighbouring psychiatric ward. “You have my sympathy it must be terrible for you” “Presumably you find it difficult to get a proper job?” “I had an Aunt with similar delusions – turned out alright in the end though – she discovered whisky and sex. “What drugs are you on” etc.



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  • Perhaps you could complement the singers on their compassion towards the ill. Try to convince them that it would be more important and effective for them to sign up to be volunteers at the hospital. As volunteers they would be separated and put to useful work and be held under the guidelines of the hospital. If you’re lucky they may not come and sing as often.



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  • This comment is bizarre, to put it mildly: Britain is one of the most secular countries in the world; nearly everybody is indifferent to or only nominally a member (‘parade occasions only’) virtually no-one goes to church.

    This indifference breeds tolerance, which a committed ‘third generation atheist’ (what on earth does that mean? we are all atheists now in the UK) may find irritating. But the assertion that atheists are ‘persecuted’ is nonsense; why, we had an atheist Deputy Prime Minister (Nick Clegg) until May and no-one remarked on it. His successor, Tim Farron, is committed evangelical christian, which is regarded as distinctly odd.

    It’s quite possible that these singsongs are welcomed by bored elderly patients, reminding them of their church going (probably just Sunday School) in their childhood. Nurses who are busy, busy all shift underestimate just how boring it is being a patient patient for days on end.

    I agree they shouldn’t come at mealtimes, when they are in the way of a very busy time for the carers.

    kamel’s comment is amusing and valid: British muslims exceed American christians in their religiosity – it remains to be seen how successfully it will be transmitted to a successive generations growing up in an indifferent secular society.



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  • This being an issue is a bit odd, as overt displays of religious symbols has been big in the news in recent years: generally they have been banned with much protestation from believers and religious leaders about persecution and complaints of ‘agressive atheism’.
    As a worker, the enquirer should just go to her manager and say quietly and simply that she finds the presence of these visitors objectionably and feels that some patients may be equally offended or uncomfortable (as non-believers or people of different faiths) but afraid to raise the issue formally. It may be much easier to stop than everyone fears. Aggressive or derisory comments should not be used (or be necessary). Just play it down, make a reasonable case and ask for the practice to be halted or transferred to a more fitting venue (e.g. the chapel or quiet room).



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  • 35
    Eugenia says:

    Paul, you are absolutely right. When I was in hospital with labour complications, the religious intrusion made me so upset that I am sure this contributed to the further complications I experienced. You feel so vulnerable when you are in hospital, and many people don’t want to say anything because you don’t want to offend the medical staff that you are relying on. People should not be made to feel even more vulnerable when in a publicly funded hospital.



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  • 37
    Eugenia says:

    I would highly recommend you contact the National Secular Society and inform them of the problem. Furthermore, anyone reading this should consider joining them as they fight daily for our secular rights and rely on our support.



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  • In a state run institution there should be no religious ceremonies that blanket cover patients in a ward. That’s a violation of someone’s privacy even if one or more people there are of that religion and even if someone there has asked them to be there to sing to them – they are not singing privately to that person, they are violating the privacy of all. You should have a procedure to follow here. The Ward Sister or Charge Nurse is in charge of the ward. You need to speak to her as she has the power to say who stays and who goes. If she’s not available then the next person up is the Matron.



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  • If the Christians get a bible, I would demand a copy of “On The Origin
    of Species” or perhaps “The God Delusion”.

    Funny story: I was on a 5-hour flight, and just settled in to read a book my brother gave me, Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” when the lady sitting next to me asked me about it. Since I hadn’t yet read it, I told her my understanding was it questioned the accepted legitimacy of Christianity in society. I noticed she had a Sunday school type of textbook and was making notes ( I guess for her next class). I tried to be discreet, but dang it, Dawkins was funny as hell, and I have to admit to the occasional stifled laugh.



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  • Allow for a patient or two “accidently over here” your self and another member of the staff talking about a couple of the gezus singers problem with v.d. ect,,,,,Rog.



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