The night before brain surgery, I thought about death. I searched out my larger values, and I asked myself, if I was going to die, did I want to do it fighting and clawing or in peaceful surrender? What sort of character did I hope to show? Was I content with myself and what I had done with my life so far? I decided that I was essentially a good person, although I could have been better–but at the same time I understood that the cancer didn’t care.
I asked myself what I believed. I had never prayed a lot. I hoped hard, I wished hard, but I didn’t pray. I had developed a certain distrust of organized religion growing up, but I felt I had the capacity to be a spiritual person, and to hold some fervent beliefs. Quite simply, I believed I had a responsiblity to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn’t a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough. At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I’d been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn’t say, “But you were never a Christian, so you’re going the other way from heaven.” If so, I was going to reply, “You know what? You’re right. Fine.”
I believed, too, in the doctors and the medicine and the surgeries–I believed in that. I believed in them. A person like Dr. Einhorn [his oncologist], that’s someone to believe in, I thought, a person with the mind to develop an experimental treatment 20 years ago that now could save my life. I believed in the hard currency of his intelligence and his research.
Beyond that, I had no idea where to draw the line between spiritual belief and science. But I knew this much: I believed in belief, for its own shining sake. To believe in the face of utter hopelessness, every article of evidence to the contrary, to ignore apparent catastrophe–what other choice was there? We do it every day, I realized. We are so much stronger than we imagine, and belief is one of the most valiant and long-lived human characteristics. To believe, when all along we humans know that nothing can cure the briefness of this life, that there is no remedy for our basic mortality, that is a form of bravery.
To continue believing in yourself, believing in the doctors, believing in the treatment, believing in whatever I chose to believe in, that was the most important thing, I decided. It had to be.
Without belief, we would be left with nothing but an overwhelming doom, every single day. And it will beat you. I didn’t fully see, until the cancer, how we fight every day gainst the creeping negatives of the world, how we struggle daily against the slow lapping of cynicism. Dispiritedness and disappointment, these were the real perils of life, not some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday. I knew now why people fear cancer: because it is a slow and inevitable death, it is the very definition of cynicism and loss of spirit.
So, I believed.
28-Jul-02 – From Lance Armstrong’s book It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, published by G.P Putnam’s Sons 2000. pp. 116-118
This interview excerpt from page 8 of the current TIME magazine dated Sept 29, 2003, “10 Questions for Lance Armstrong,” seems to put him in the agnostic, if not atheist camp:
Interviewer: “For a miracleman, you’re not very religious.”
Armstrong: “I don’t have anything against organized religion per se. We all need something in our lives. I personally just have not accepted that belief. But I’m one of the few.”
And back to the atheist category:
An article http://www.lancearmstrongfanclub.com/uktimesonline.html in the UK Times Online by Alastair Campbell, printed Saturday Feb 28, 2004, says:
He lives, close to several of his US Postal Service team colleagues, in a first-floor, four-bedroom apartment at the heart of Girona’s old town. Although a confirmed atheist, he takes me almost immediately to the tiny chapel, lovingly describes its features, and, above all, the 15th-century painting of the Crucifixion that takes pride of place.
Despite the chapel, despite the crucifix around his neck (a link with a fellow cancer patient), Armstrong is deeply suspicious of organised religion. He never knew his “so-called father”, and he says that in all his 32 years, he has never asked his Mum, Linda, a single question about him. He was born with the name Gunderson, then his mother married the man who gave him his name. Terry Armstrong talked religion but used to beat Lance with a paddle and he was relieved when he walked out. “He was like me in that he got his name from someone else,” Armstrong says. “His biological name was Love. But his Mom married a man named Raymond Armstrong, a preacher. It’s weird, I’ve got his name, my kids have his name but I have never met him and I never want to meet him.”
His stance on religion is in marked contrast to his wife’s ever more fervent Catholicism and the difference may have been one of the factors that led to their marriage breaking up. Armstrong believes it is possible to be a good person while not believing. “I think we all have obligations to be good, honest, hard-working, caring and compassionate,” he says. “You have to try and it won’t always be easy but you try your best. I do not believe that because you are not prepared to submit yourself to a god or a higher being, that when you get to the end of the road, you will be sent down. I’m not prepared to believe that.”
— Lance Armstrong was quoted by ET Magazine as saying “If there was a god, I’d still have both nuts.”