The Contributions of Freethinkers: Ursula K. LeGuin
Although I've highlighted the lives of some amazing feminists on Daylight Atheism, I don't want to give the impression that the only thing women can be famous for is fighting for the rights of women. Today's post is a reminder that freethinking women have made their mark in other areas of human culture as well.
Science fiction and fantasy have always been heavily male-dominated fields of literature. A 1966 reader poll of sci-fi's greatest novels didn't list a single entry written by a woman, and a similar 1973 poll of readers' all-time favorite authors included only two women - one of whom, Andre Norton, wrote under a masculine-sounding name. But some women have made their mark in spite of this, and it's the other one on that list whom this post is about.
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California in 1929, the daughter of an anthropologist and a writer. She was interested in fiction from a precocious age, writing one of her first short stories at the age of 11, but her career as an author truly took off in her early 30s. Among her first notable novels were the Earthsea books, a fantasy series about a magical world consisting of a vast archipelago of islands.
I read these in high school, long before I knew about any of Le Guin's other works, and while they held my interest enough for me to complete the original trilogy, I wasn't greatly impressed. The books seemed so stodgy and fatalistic; and while I didn't fully realize it until much later, this may have been in part because of the viewpoints their author had absorbed from the cultural milieu. The protagonist, the wizard Ged, is a man, and the books go out of their way to stress that women's magic is despised; one of the proverbs of Earthsea is "Weak as women's magic, wicked as women's magic." (Some of her later short stories set in Earthsea go a long way toward redressing this balance.)
But I went back to Le Guin later in life, and I'm very glad I did. Many of her other novels are outstanding, and some of my particular favorites include:
- The Lathe of Heaven: The story of a man whose dreams change reality, and how his greedy and unscrupulous psychiatrist tries to turn this power to his own benefit - with predictably disastrous results.
- The Left Hand of Darkness: An emissary from Earth visits the planet of Gethen, technologically advanced but currently in the grip of an ice age, to convince its inhabitants to join a galactic federation of worlds called the Ekumen. The people of Gethen are hermaphrodites, androgynous most of the time except for a period of a few days each month when they become either biologically male or female, a state called "kemmer". They're also devoted to their own intricate and labyrinthine politics, suspicious of outsiders and unaware of what's at stake beyond their own planet. (You can read a sample chapter on Le Guin's website, which I can best describe as the Gethenian version of Romeo and Juliet.)
- The Dispossessed: A story of two sister planets. One is Urras, rich in natural resources but torn by war between two authoritarian superpowers similar to the Cold War-era U.S. and USSR. The other, Anarres, is harsh and barren, but supports a people who live in a state of cooperative anarchy, with no central government or any other coercive institutions. (Although I still doubt that true anarchy would be workable, Le Guin paints the most realistic and plausible picture of one that I've ever read.) The protagonist, Shevek, is a brilliant physicist from Anarres who finds his research stymied by prejudice and jealousy, and travels to Urras in the hope of gaining support for his work and bringing about a reconciliation between the two worlds.
Le Guin's noves have attracted widespread acclaim. Both The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, as did a third book, The Word for World is Forest. Le Guin herself was named "Grand Master of Science Fiction" by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, one of only three women to win that honor, in addition to a host of other awards. But most telling of all, perhaps, is the recognition she's received from her fellow authors. One of her novels' hallmarks is a technology called the "ansible", which allows for instantaneous communication across any distance, transcending the light-speed limit. Many other sci-fi authors have used the term in their own books as an homage, implicitly paying respect to her influence.
Le Guin's later works consistently espouse a feminist viewpoint, as well as making it a point in each one to include a person of color as one of the main characters. And best of all, although some SF/F writers are raving religious bigots, this one is a bona fide freethinker. In 2009, she accepted an Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which honors public figures who tell it like it is about religion. In her acceptance speech, she said:
Now, I honestly do not think all the tailors who have made those clothes, that God-costume, so busily, for all these centuries, did it or do it deliberately and knowingly as a con game, to deceive us. Maybe in part, but mostly I think the people who sew the garments of God are busy deceiving themselves. Priests, of course, can make a good living out of it and also gain secular power. But lay believers weave those garments day and night, all over the world, and to some of them it is the most important thing they do, and they love doing it. That’s fine with me, so long as they don’t try to make me do it with them.
...Let the tailors of the garments of God sit in their tailor shops and stitch away, but let them stay there in their temples, out of government, out of the schools. And we who live among real people — real, badly dressed people, people wearing rags, people wearing army uniforms, people sleeping on our streets without a blanket to cover them —let us have true charity: Let us look to our people, and work to clothe them better.
Other posts in this series:
Exclusive: See God's Actual Handwriting!
While I was in San Francisco this January, I happened to notice this pamphlet in a newspaper kiosk outside my hotel:
Intrigued, I picked up a copy and read more. It turns out that this is the newsletter of one Vassula Ryden, a Greek housewife who, for over twenty years now, has been receiving regular messages from her guardian angel, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, and many more august theological personages. Naturally, she's made it her mission to tell the world - because, really, who wouldn't?
And yea, verily, great loquacity hath poured forth from the pen of the Lord. Since 1986, Ms. Ryden has received over 1,550 pages (!) of divine revelation, which are all available for download on her website in convenient PDF form. This comes out to about 645,000 words - or to put it another way, several times the length of the New Testament and about four-fifths as long as the entire King James Bible.
But possibly my very favorite part of the whole collection of messages is this part, right at the beginning:
Copyright © Vassula Rydén... If you wish to view, print or download this material for commercial purposes, you must first obtain written authorisation from the Foundation for True Life in God. You are not permitted under any circumstances to remove or amend any trademark, copyright or other proprietary notice on this material.
Say what you will about the woman, but it takes serious stones for a mere human to claim copyright on God's actual words!
Now, I bet you skeptics are already scoffing, saying, "Anyone can claim to be receiving messages from God and make up some theological gibberish that sounds like the way they think God would talk. There's no proof that these 'messages' are anything other than her own imagination." But scoff at this, skeptics: Ms. Ryden isn't just receiving these messages in the privacy of her own head. No, she sets them down on paper for the whole world to see - in God's actual handwriting! Just take a look at this excerpt or the scan below, and see for yourself how the penmanship clearly changes from one line to the next:
Although I do have to say, there's a definite fifth-grader-practicing-cursive feel to this. I always kind of thought God's handwriting would be more, you know, Gothic. And have echo-reverb.
I suppose it would be unkind of me to ask if anyone has considered a basic test such as oh, I don't know, writing a message on a chalkboard in a room while Vassula isn't present, then erasing it and bringing her into the room so that God, who is all-knowing, can dictate what it said through her hand. But really, who'd bother with a boring test like that, when we have images of Jesus appearing in a tree behind Vassula, or even Vassula's own persuasive testimony of how her prayers saved the earth from a meteor impact:
This is in the prayer He gave us on the 28th November 2009! Otherwise who says that the meteor was not intended to hit the earth and cover us with ashes if it did? He had put in our mouths the words: "lash not on us Your wrath" twice, otherwise if His wrath was lashed out, "the waters will run dry and nature will wither." Yes, if that meteor hit the earth that night it would have done this sort of damage.
Unfortunately, God hasn't been speaking much to Vassula lately - he's only communicated with her six times since February 2003, and not at all since December 2009. You know how it is; blogging is such a time-consuming hobby, he was probably feeling a little burnt out. (I hear he spends more time on Twitter these days.) Or could it be that he's moved on to greener pastures? Now, if another contender turned up claiming to communicate with God and writing out messages in the exact same handwriting, that would be something to see. Any bookmakers want to offer odds on that proposition?
Will the Real Deity Please Retweet This?
My friends, I have to confess: I'm having a crisis of faith.
You see, as an atheist, I've always maintained that if God were real, he would communicate with us clearly and directly and wouldn't leave human beings to guess blindly at his wishes. Well, honesty leaves me no choice but to admit it: my prayers have been answered. Just the other day on Facebook, I saw a link to this Twitter account, The Tweet of God. Perusing it, it was inescapable that God Himself was reaching down to humanity, in the form of 140-character text messages, to make his almighty will plain. My eyes have seen the light! Amen and hallelujah!
But as I read on, basking in the glorious divine wisdom revealed therein, I felt a horrible worm of doubt insinuate itself into my heart. It was probably some lingering remnant of my fast-fading skepticism, but I couldn't help feeling it was just remotely possible that this wasn't the Twitter account of the true Lord and Savior. Blasphemous though my doubt was, I had to have proof.
I did a Google search, hoping to turn up some evidence, and got a horrible shock. On the very first page of my search results was not one, not two, but three other Twitter accounts, all claiming to be the sacred tweets of the Creator - just like the one I'd initially found!
My head awhirl in confusion, I sought desperately for an anchor in the chaos, something solid and dependable that I could believe in. Then it hit me: Jesus! As we atheists all secretly know (though we deny it in public), Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, the risen messiah and the one true light of the world. It was so simple - I could put my faith in Jesus! Surely he wouldn't lead me astray.
But what happened next, I'm afraid you can already guess. Confidently, like the pilgrims of old, I set out to search for Jesus' Twitter account - and once again, I found a a myriad of contenders, each one claiming to be the way, the truth and the light. (I also found the Twitter account of Odin, but I suspect that one might be a hoax.) I was hopelessly confused.
And here I am still, spiritually adrift without an anchor. I've got to say, telling the one true deity apart from his Twittering imitators is a nightmarishly difficult, near-impossible task. I'm certainly glad we don't have to face any such dilemmas in the real world!
Compiling the Apologist's Handbook
Last summer, I had a long e-mail conversation, spanning several months and thousands of words, with a thoughtful, intelligent, but strongly committed conservative Christian named Daniel who came across my site. There was one exchange we had that I found illuminating and that stuck in my mind, and I want to talk about it today.
I wrote that when atheists commit a misdeed, we can't just ask God for forgiveness; we have to seek out the people we've harmed and try to make things right. Daniel contended that this was the Christian view as well:
That's the way God originally set it up. You treat people the way you want to be treated. When you mess up, you tell them, ask them to forgive you, and then make reparations as a sign of true humility and repentance. Admittedly, to our shame, this is not how Christians portray forgiveness.
I followed up on this by asking what would happen to a person who repented on his deathbed and died without any opportunity to make restitution. Daniel answered as follows:
Would I say he is going to heaven? I wouldn't say at all. I would say that God will deal with him justly, and whatever God decides is what is right. As Paul says in Romans, it is not based on works, but on God who shows mercy.
These answers are, of course, completely inconsistent with each other. Either you believe that God requires people to make restitution, or you believe that you don't know God's criteria for judgment, but you can't believe both.
What this exchange highlighted for me is this: Apologists through the ages have put enormous amounts of thought into resolving some of the moral and philosophical difficulties that arise from belief in Christianity. By now, their answers have been distilled into bumper-sticker-length talking points that most lay Christians can automatically quote in response to common challenges. But what's more debatable is whether all those individual responses cohere with each other, as opposed to just serving the apologetic needs of the moment. As in the example with Daniel, I've observed that you can ask a question and get the usual well-rehearsed answer, then ask another question and get a different stock answer that contradicts the first one. In other cases, there are two equally common answers to the same question that contradict each other.
If Christianity was a coherent belief system that flowed from a consistent set of starting principles, this wouldn't happen. On the other hand, if it's the religious belief that comes first and then reasons justifying the belief are invented later, you'd expect that these inconsistencies would arise. I think that in the majority of cases, it's the latter: even intelligent, well-read Christians are mainly coming up with ways to rationalize a belief they adopted for non-rational reasons.
To that end, I want to catalogue other contradictions like this. I want to highlight the inconsistencies in the apologist's handbook of replies to common objections. I've already thought of a few others, like these:
"God is good and always wants the best for us."
"God's ways are not our ways and he is infinitely beyond our ability to judge." (Then how do you know he's good?)
"God doesn't want to give us convincing evidence of his existence because it would take away our free will to believe."
"God's existence is clearly seen and those who disbelieve are without excuse." (So we don't have free will, then?)
"The Bible is God's word and is infallible."
"The Bible is infallible only in its original manuscripts, which no longer exist." (Then the Bible we have, the one that Christians rely on as a source of guidance, is not infallible.)
But I bet there are others that I haven't thought of. What can you suggest? I'm not looking for Bible verses that contradict each other - we have plenty of those - but for commonly heard apologetic arguments, whether found in the Bible or not, that are mutually exclusive.
Doubting the Bible on a Christian Forum
A helpful Daylight Atheism reader (thanks, Rowan!) pointed me to this thread on Christian Forums, about a believer who's losing his faith after reading the Bible. From past experience, these threads tend to have the same lifespan as posts on Chinese web forums criticizing the government (and for the same reason), so I advise checking it out while you can. I've also saved a snapshot in case the site's administrators flush it down the memory hole.
The user who started the thread claimed to be a lifelong Christian, but when he sat down and actually read the Bible for himself, he came across some passages that he'd never heard of and that shocked him badly:
like where god hardened the heart of the pharoah, there by obstructing his free will. so that god could show everyone how powerfull he was by killing the first born sons. now i dont understand why god didnt just lighten his heart so that he wouldnt have had to murder children. now i know they had them in slavery, but why would god mess with his free will then still punish him by murdering children , who had no part in the conflict, for a decision god made him make.
now the other issue in there that surpasses everything else is the one of slavery. there was one passage in exodus that completely disgusted me , on how to sell your own daughter as what is basicaly a sex slave... these slaves could be bought and sold as chattel... they could be beaten so badly, that so long as they didnt die within 2 days everything was fine... the other thing i have heard said is that this wasnt gods will but he had to put up with it as its how society was back then. but in many other instances god doesnt put up with things he doesnt like. not even remotely. why was slavery different since slavery is so obviously evil? i cant make myself see how it is right to own another person as property to do with as you will in any age. yes it might have been common back then but that didnt make it right did it?
As you'd expect on a Christian forum, many other commenters jumped in to respond with the usual tortured apologetics about how it was okay for God to harden Pharaoh's heart because that's what Pharaoh wanted (sidestepping the original poster's question about how it could be just to kill all the Egyptian children for a decision they had no part in), or how the laws about slavery were "an expression of thinking in a sinful world" (again, sidestepping the OP's question about why God would choose to tolerate and even encourage it when he clearly outlawed other common practices of the time).
A few apologist responses were especially notable - like this one, which castigates the OP for not shutting his mind off and believing without asking any annoying questions:
So you said that you trust your own intelligence (Tree of Knowledge) more than God (Word of God), as prophecied? So be it.
God hardened your heart sometimes which God allows you (your free will) to decide to walk in the darness, He won't choose to wake you up when you made up your mind to betray Him.
Then there were these chillingly evil remarks about how God is above our puny moral standards (the classic excuse of career criminals and supervillains everywhere).
Basically, first you can't subject God to rules of morality as God is the source of all morality and you are not the judge of God (sorry).
Maybe we can't understand how the killing of the first born sons was compassionate but having learned from the example of Christ we can trust that in actuality it was even if we don't see how this is so.
And finally, there's this brilliant piece of apologist reasoning:
I do believe God ordained slavery. After all, if slavery did not exist, how could we understand being slaves to sin, and now being slaves to righteousness?
See? All those sons and daughters who were sold into bondage, all those foreign prisoners who were enslaved for lives of hard labor, all those slaves who were beaten to death as the Bible allows - that was all so God could make a theological point to people who would live several thousand years later. Now don't you feel silly, atheists, for ever having doubted the inspiration of those words?
The non-replies of all these Christian commentors show that, even after all this time, the apologists really have no satisfying explanation for the cruelties of the Bible - that is, besides the obvious one that the book was the creation of cruel and fallible men without godly involvement. Impugning the sincerity of those who ask or insisting that God isn't bound by standards of morality is really all they have, regardless of how blunt or how flowery the language. Small wonder that so many believers who read the Bible for themselves are shocked into questioning their faith.
The Bottomless Hole of Prayer Requests
Lately, I've been spending some time reading Unequally Yoked - a blog about a Catholic/atheist interfaith relationship from the atheist perspective, which is a great concept, and tends to attract interesting commenters from both sides of the theological aisle. There was one recent post, Reading and Praying... One of those I can do, which I left a comment on that I'd like to expand into a post.
The author, Leah, wrote a post about trying prayer at her boyfriend's suggestion, which didn't sway her. A multitude of religious readers suggested she try again in slightly different ways, like the following:
But all of this uneasiness is one great reason the Catholic and Orthodox Churches emphasize the saints and prayer to them as intercessors for us. It is naturally easier to identify their human experiences and individual stories, and perhaps easier to talk with them so that they can talk to God on your behalf.
I grew up strictly recitating prayers, which I find comforting in the sense that those prayers were given to us in the Bible. Then I found the Fr. Hardon prayer book in my house, which is this little red book packed full of more (written down!) prayers: http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Prayer.htm
Twice a week, every week, for several months - it's up to you to decide how long, but I would not give up before six months have passed - visit a local Adoration Chapel. Just bring yourself - no books, no Rosary, no cell phone, nothing - and pass the half hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. You don't have to pray - though you can, if you feel so moved. You don't have to pay attention - though you can, if you feel so inclined. You don't have to do anything except stay put for one half hour. If you spend the half hour there and find the whole arrangement laughably absurd, so be it. But please stay there for the half hour. Then come again next week.
There's something I realized early on in my journey to atheism, and these comments show it: the biggest problem with requests to try prayer is that they're a bottomless hole. No matter what you do - say the sinner's prayer, pray the Rosary a hundred times, go to Mass every week for a year, pray to a particular saint, spend half an hour per day sitting silently in front of a box of wafers, or even perform an exorcism on yourself - if it doesn't convert you, there will always be theists who'll tell you, in the most polite way and with the best of intentions, that you're doing it wrong, and that you should try something else if you really want to experience God.
When does this stop? When are you entitled to give up and conclude that the reason you didn't get an answer is because there's no god to give one? Obviously, if you listen to religious apologists, the answer is "never". There'll always be something else to try, some other ceremony to perform, some different wording to choose - and if you truly exhausted every possibility, there would still be the all-purpose excuses, like "hardness of the heart".
To all the religious evangelists who urge atheists to pray, I ask in all sincerity - when will we have done enough? If we had limitless patience, free time, and energy to carry out your requests, would there ever come a time when you'd agree that we'd tried everything reasonable to communicate with God and counsel us that it was OK to stop? I very much doubt that any theist would say so, although anyone who disagrees is welcome to prove me wrong.
You could spend your whole life, and a thousand lifetimes more if you had them, trying every last ritual and every last prayer that every member of every religion claims will open a channel between you and God. You could spend six months in silent contemplation at a Zen monastery, take ritual baths at every sacred well in India, ingest peyote or ayahuasca with Native American shamans, handle poisonous snakes at an Appalachian backwoods church, make a pilgrimage to Mecca and bow before the Ka'aba... the list goes on and on and on, with new items being added all the time, as human beings in the realm of religion exercise their limitless creativity untrammeled by fact. It's impossible for any one human being to try everything that every theist has ever conceived of.
With that in mind, I ask this question of every religious evangelist who wants me to try his ritual: Why should I believe that this will work? What evidence can you present to convince me that this particular exercise is more worthwhile than any of the other rituals invented by any of the other thousands of faiths on this planet? I'm willing to try anything reasonable suggested by anyone who has a good answer to this question - but so far, it's a question that no one has been able to satisfactorily answer.
New Atheist Quote of the Day
I don't usually write posts that are just quotes, but sometimes it's nice to take a stroll down memory lane. Back in the day, this guy used to be one of the sharpest pro-science writers around, and I used to really love reading his stuff. I wonder whatever became of him.
"At its most basic level, the modern Right's tension with science springs from conservatism, a political philosophy that generally resists change. The dynamism of science - its constant onslaught on old orthodoxies, its rapid generation of new technological possibilities - presents an obvious challenge to more static worldviews. From Galileo to Darwin and beyond, this conflict has played out repeatedly over the course of history."
—Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science, p.5. Perseus Books Group, 2005.
Using Purchasing Power for Good
Since 'tis the season for commercialism, shopping sprees and big-ticket purchases, I thought I'd write a post that I've had in mind for a long time. It's less about atheism per se, more about rationalism and being aware of the ways our choices shape the world around us.
We may scoff, and rightfully so, when the Supreme Court uses free speech as an excuse to lift campaign-finance restrictions on huge multinational corporations. But it's true, nevertheless: Money is a form of speech - and not just in the sense that it lets you rent billboards or buy ads on buses. Every purchase you make, every person or business to which you send your dollars, sends a signal about what you value - and, in essence, is a vote for what kind of world you want to live in.
If you send money to companies that cut down old-growth forests to make tissue paper or clear rainforest to plant oil palms, you're voting for those practices to continue. The same applies if you shop at businesses that fire workers for trying to organize, that use child labor, that pollute the atmosphere with carbon, or that have a record of supporting fundamentalist and conservative religious causes.
Adam Smith imagined market forces as an invisible hand, but that metaphor makes it seem as if there's a single, invisible agency consciously deciding how the economy will go. A better one might be that the market is like the planchette on a Ouija board, and the motion of the "hand" is determined by the sum of billions of small pushes from each of us. When our buying decisions collectively indicate that we only care about price, we should expect businesses to respond accordingly - to focus on reducing the price of their product at the expense of all else - even if it means acting unethically or unsustainably.
But the opposite side of this is that our buying decisions can support good causes as well as bad ones. If we buy from companies that practice business with an eye to sustainability, companies that treat their workers well and pay them fairly, companies that support progressive and liberal causes, then we're signaling that we support those practices and that will naturally encourage more businesses to follow suit to claim their share of that market.
Granted, it's hard not to be complicit in bad business practices. For most people in developed countries, except a fortunate few who live in dense urban areas with readily available mass transit, it's impossible to make a living without owning a car - and that means we have no choice but to enrich corporations that lobby for destructive drilling in environmentally sensitive regions, that cause disastrous spills and pollution, and that enrich repressive theocracies and corrupt dictatorships. Still, even if every buying decision can't be virtuous, there are a lot of things the average person can do. This includes, wherever possible, buying products that are:
Fair trade: Fair trade certification ensures that products are produced by workers who are paid a living wage, work in safe conditions and have the right to organize and bargain collectively. The best known fair-trade product is coffee, but certification is expanding into other markets, including fresh flowers, cotton, chocolate, wine and tea, even ice cream.
Certified sustainable: Many of Earth's natural resources are in danger of being destroyed by voracious harvester companies that use them up faster than they can replenish themselves - for instance, most sought-after wild fish species are being fished into extinction. Groups like the Forest Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council certify that paper products, timber and seafood are being harvested at a sustainable rate (but beware of "greenwashing", where corporate-owned front groups sell their own, virtually meaningless "certifications" to companies that want the cachet of a green reputation without the work).
Organic, local and humane: Modern agriculture is driven by vast quantities of fossil fuels, fertilizers and antibiotics, often ending up by shipping food halfway around the world from where it's produced. This approach has its advantages, particularly efficiency and economy of scale, but it also has unintended costs. Much of the meat and poultry you can buy in the supermarket comes from CAFOs - massive industrial complexes where animals are raised, often in cramped and filthy conditions - and even aside from humanitarian considerations, the constant dosing with antibiotics to keep the animals healthy encourages the evolution of resistance in dangerous human pathogens. Meanwhile, the carbon pollution caused by fossil-fuel-intensive farming and shipping contributes to climate change.
Theree isn't a perfect solution to this - it's best to buy locally grown produce if possible, but few people live in places where it's available year-round. And while organic food does have advantages, realistically, its benefits are modest, especially if it's a large corporate-run operation (and be aware that "natural", unlike "organic", is a fluff term that has no legal meaning). But again, buying these products sends a signal about what consumers want, and that helps to steer the market in the right direction. There are also programs like the American Humane Society's certified humane standard for livestock.
Low-carbon or zero-carbon: The greatest threat facing humanity is climate change caused by CO2 emissions from fossil fuel. And yet, surprisingly, there's no international standard for certifying a business as low-carbon or zero-carbon. However, many utilities give consumers the option to buy their power from alternative energy programs that rely on environmentally friendly sources like solar, hydroelectric, wind, biomass and geothermal. If your utility offers a program like this, consider taking advantage of it. The more of a market we create for alternative energy, the more we speed the decarbonization of the world economy - and that will pay dividends beyond just the environmental ones.
On Religious Right Grave-Robbers
I realize this is the season for Christmas trees, candy canes and presents, not for jack-o'-lanterns, black cats and witches, but I can't help pointing out that a rotting ghoul has crawled out of its grave and is sitting around leering at us. Unfortunately this isn't the kind of creature that goes away if you politely ignore it, so a little house-cleaning is, I think, in order.
You may have heard that Elizabeth Edwards died recently after deciding to forego further treatment for metastatic breast cancer. By all accounts, she came to terms with her illness and departed life peacefully, surrounded by family and friends. She's not the ghoul I was referring to, of course. No, that dubious honor belongs to a right-wing blogger who took issue with Edwards' final statement on Facebook just a day before her passing:
You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces – my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human.
But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn't possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know.
Who could take issue with that simple, beautiful statement? Well, apparently, this guy could. His objection? Well, it's obvious, isn't it - Elizabeth Edwards didn't spend her last days crying out to an imaginary god to save her life!
Clearly Elizabeth Edwards wants to put her faith in something, be it hope or strength or anything. But not God. I wonder if it's just bitterness... Still, at her death bed and giving what most folks are calling a final goodbye, Elizabeth Edwards couldn't find it somewhere down deep to ask for His blessings as she prepares for the hereafter? I guess that nihilism I've been discussing reaches up higher into the hard-left precincts than I thought.
Elizabeth Edwards herself, though she claimed membership in the Methodist church, was more of a deist - as in this 2007 interview where she explained that she did believe in a god, just not one who answers prayers. But this wasn't enough for this shambling, decaying right-wing zombie, who demands that everyone groan their assent to the same dead creed he himself subscribes to. His tactic of preying at others' funerals reminds me of nothing so much as his fellow bloodsucking undead, Fred Phelps - who, for the record, also attempted to protest Edwards' death, although he attracted only a handful of the like-minded and they never got closer than a few blocks away.
Hearing right-wing ghouls sneer about how we freethinkers will come to Jesus at the end of our lives is nothing new. But what is new is that they're now getting upset at people who refuse to conform to their stereotypes, going so far as to petulantly lash out at the dead and dying. Christopher Hitchens, for another example, despite having advanced and likely incurable cancer, is behaving with equanimity and is even continuing to publicly debate religious apologists - something that must enrage them no end, as they were probably rubbing their hands with anticipation for a last-minute conversion. And in our media-oversaturated era, fabricating a deathbed conversion story is no longer as easy as it once was.
Like the ghouls and revenants of myth, these people feed on suffering and death for their own sustenance. To see atheists and other nonbelievers dying peacefully and without fear denies them the food they've grown accustomed to, so it's no wonder they're upset. Worse, from their perspective, is the thought that this trend of courage might catch on! One day, perhaps sometime in the not-so-distant future, we might have a whole society of humanists who face death without the need for religious consolation - and what would these circling carrion-eaters do then?
Out of the Mouths of Babes
From the Win section of Failblog, this was too good not to share: