I Need Some Advice…

For an upcoming funeral. The deceased was a Christmas-and-Easter churchgoer; most (a slim majority) of the extended family are atheist, with a mix of religions (mostly various Protestant Christian) a strong minority. And one daughter, Catholic, who wants to sing The Lord’s Prayer at the memorial.

The question I was asked, and which I am passing along to you… can you think of a compromise song? Something that won’t have either the religious or the atheist half of the attendees rolling their eyes?

Hmmm.. the lord’s prayer? Last time I was at a family gathering of a substantial number of people, just saying the lord’s prayer was hilarious, with a handful of us just looking around for the other atheists in the crowd, and two strange moments when different versions of the prayer collided–“debts” versus “trespasses”, and “for thine is the kingdom…” which only half the people said. When even the prayer named for your religion’s savior divides rather than unites the various Christian sects, there has got to be something better to sing to a diverse group.

Texas Judge Rules: Pull The Plug

The mother died back in November, remember?
She’d made clear her wishes (as all of us ought)
But, sadly, this happened in Texas, the nexus
Of Christian intrusion in government thought
Her will was denied, for a baby that maybe
Would live for an hour, with help from machines;
The state says “we’ve got to complete us a fetus”—
To rescue the baby, whatever the means.

The judge, as the calm voice of reason, who sees, in
This case there are people, not robots instead,
With that, saw some facts had eluded–concluded
Essentially, mother and fetus are dead.
The statute, though not found unlawful, is awful;
A woman’s autonomy, Texas denies
The one thing that no one’s denying is… crying.
That’s kinda what happens when somebody dies

Without ruling on the constitutionality of the law (I am of two minds here–I wish it had been slapped down [can’t imagine it would be upheld], but this family has been through too much already, and I suspect this is a quicker and quieter end), a Texas Judge has found that Marlise Munoz is dead, and that her fetus is not viable, and has ordered that she be removed from the machines that turned her body into the state’s incubator. Which is what Ms. Munoz had expressed, what her husband and extended family had wanted, but which Texas law, as interpreted by the hospital, had seemingly denied.

My sympathies go out to the family. I know this is not an end, because these things never actually end… but at least it is the close of a particularly horrible chapter. And much as I would want to see the law overturned, holding your family hostage over that is every bit as bad as what the state just did, so that will have to wait.

After all this time… only now will the family be able to begin actual funeral plans. Texas should be ashamed, but I think the politicians there are immune.

Edited to add… perhaps the saddest thing I have read in years, the testimony of the husband, as reported by the NY Times:

“When I bend down to kiss her forehead, her usual scent is gone, replaced instead with what I can only describe as the smell of death. As a paramedic, I am very familiar with this smell, and I now recognize it when I kiss my wife. In addition, Marlise’s hands no longer naturally grip mine for an embrace. Her limbs have become so stiff and rigid due to her deteriorating condition that now, when I move her hands, her bones crack, and her legs are nothing more than dead weight.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I am a very smell-oriented person. I know exactly what he is saying, and it breaks my hearts.

The *Real* “End Of The End Of The World”

Though “the end of the world!” grabs the headlines
(“Armageddon!” is easily said)
There are false, and some all-too-real deadlines…
And now “Wrong-Again Harold” is dead.

Via Sharon Hill’s wonderful “Doubtful News”, word that Harold Camping is dead. You may remember him from such doomsday predictions as May 21, 2011 or October 21, 2011, both of which (spoilers!) were wrong.

For a failed prophet, Camping generated a lot of press. And yes, I confess to having written my share:

Wrong-again Harold.

Headlines and deadlines. (and yes, I am aware of the irony.)

Harold Camping’s success

Apocalypse When?

But somehow, today, it seems the right one to re-post is “The End Of ‘The End Of The World’“:

They’ve scrubbed all the dirt from their website
The predictions that somehow went wrong
If a visitor didn’t know better
You’d think they’d been sane all along

They still believe Jesus is coming
They’re no longer predicting a date
They’re confused that they’re still here to wonder
But they’re putting it all down to fate

Somewhere, a lunatic’s howling
His freak-flag is proudly unfurled
But Harold has given up doomsdays
It’s the end of “the end of the world”

They used to say “Jesus is coming!”
They’d done so for fifty-odd years
“So send us your prayers and donations!”
There’s money in preying on fears

But they went to the well once too often
With a guaranteed rapture. Then two.
When the end didn’t come as predicted
Well, what’s an old con-man to do?

Somewhere, a lunatic’s howling
His banner is proudly unfurled
But Harold has given up doomsdays
It’s the end of “the end of the world”

“Why Don’t Atheists Just Kill Themselves?”

I’d constructed the ultimate sandwich
Perfection in bread, cheese, and meat
But there’s something I don’t understand, which
Has been making it harder to eat

See, although it is surely delightful
There’s a truth that I cannot suspend
That at some point, I’ll reach the last bite full
And the pleasure will come to an end

And my life, too, is not everlasting
And the Reaper will pay me a call
It’s the same, whether gorging or fasting
So why am I eating at all?

Since nothing in life lasts forever
There’s one life, all too brief, here on earth
The argument’s not even clever
That a transient joy has no worth

There are joys in this life to be tasted
There are days filled with utter delight
There is too little time to be wasted
There’s a sandwich—enjoy every bite!

I’m sure you’ve seen it–I only had to type “why don’t ath” when google filled in “eists kill themselves?”, and suggested over 2 million hits for the phrase. Some are pretty horrendous, and are good, moral religious believers suggesting that atheists ought to kill themselves, but it’s the others that I am interested in. Those that suggest that life is meaningless if it is not followed by an eternal afterlife. That life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (to use Hobbes’s delightful phrasing), and that ending it early would be preferred, were it not forbidden by God. Hell, perhaps the most famous writing in all of literature, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, explores the question:
… Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

But atheists have no dread of that undiscovered country, so why don’t we just kill ourselves?

I’d answer, but I have pets to play with, food to eat, kids to call, reading to enjoy, poetry (well, verse) to write, music to listen to, football (and football) to watch (Man City is, as I write, up 2-0 over Man United), lesson plans to make, cider to drink, (ok, now it’s 3-0), a book to put together, and much much more. Nasty life indeed.

(FWIW, I do think that suicide can absolutely be rational, and should be an individual’s choice. If a religious prohibition on suicide means someone lives years of misery and pain, wishing they could end it, I don’t count that as a case in religion’s favor.)

(ok, 4-0; I may have to try writing a post during my Browns game…)

Narendra Dabholkar

His name’s not familiar—not here in the states—
And we don’t know the things he’s said
But his work made him someone a fraud really hates
He was good; he was right; now he’s dead.

Although the interwebs make it possible for us to peer in on the entire world (or nearly), we generally don’t. It’s strange; we are in an information age, where we could stream the news from virtually anywhere, we so often do not take advantage of that. We are still creatures of our local communities (sometimes literal and geographically defined, sometimes virtual and defined by shared interests), and when something seismically huge happens just outside of our (real or virtual) field of vision, a world that waits at our fingertips might just as well be on the other side of the world. Which, in a pre-internet world… it is.

Narendra Dabholkar has been assassinated. In a technological age where I could know who he is… I mostly don’t. I remember hearing about his death, thinking it tragic… and, yeah, moving on. But the thing is, Dabholkar was a giant. He was known by millions… just not in the US. His assassination, for saying things I take for granted I can write any day, would be on par with the killing of any of the top tier names in atheism here… but he’s not here.

Anyway. Go read Greta’s piece on his life and his death. Please. Because you live in a world where it is possible to be moved by great people anywhere. And because all the good we can glean from a world of information at our fingertips is tempered by the knowledge that someone who thinks as we do… was killed for what he thought, and was bold enough to act on.

I just wish I had heard of him long before… and I have to wonder, who am I missing out on right now, that our technology gives me access to, and that bigotry, hatred and ignorance will steal from me before I have the opportunity to read?


Go read Greta’s piece.

Mortality, And Blue Glowing Worms

Observing dying worms, we see
A glowing blue mortality
Beginning in the head—
It spreads, still glowing, gradually,
And with the light, eventually,
C elegans is dead.

The genes that moderate this show
Are widely shared, and so we know
That people have them too
And when it’s time to let life go
The worms that eat us, soon must glow
Thus dying leaves us blue

A nice story on NPR, on research on the process of dying. A naturally occurring fluorescence marks the biological process of death in C elegans, and studying the process is leading to a new understanding of aging and death. And in truth, the process is beautiful. (You may remember, I’ve written a bit on death and worms before.)

Oddly enough, the discussion at NPR’s story is actually thoughtful and respectful. (Mostly. It is, after all, still the internet.)

Responsible Ownership–99.9999% Of The Time

He’s a best-case scenario, doing it right;
He knows it’s a gun, not a toy
The most dangerous thing in his bedroom that night
Was a visiting 4-year-old boy

You mustn’t be tempted to regulate arms
Which the second amendment forbids
It can’t shoot itself, so a gun never harms
But it’s clear—we must regulate kids.

Whenever the news tells us of an incident where a kid shoots someone, the comment sections are reliably filled with people noting the idiocy of whoever allowed that kid access to firearms. Such irresponsible people make responsible gun owners look bad–and the vast majority of gun owners are responsible.

Mind you, we don’t actually know some of the numbers it would take to make that claim–you might recall, the CDC is expressly forbidden from gathering and analyzing gun death information. Seems the NRA got to write the legislation. But in those comment threads, gun accidents happen only to irresponsible idiots, and normal, responsible gun ownership makes your family safer.

But this time, the gun owner is a well-trained Sheriff’s Deputy. And he wants to set things straight:

“I would like the viewers to know that officers of Wilson County do not make a habit of leaving loaded guns simply lying around,” he wrote.
“The door to the room the accident happened in stays locked unless we were sleeping or we were in it,” Fanning wrote. “This was the only loaded gun in the house other than my duty weapon, which was locked away.”
Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan said Fanning had been showing “another person that was there at the house some of his weapons he had locked in a secure gun safe,” reported CNN affiliate WTVF.
No one saw the boy enter the room, WTVF quoted Bryan as saying.
“Split second,” Bryan said. “We’re talking about seconds for that kid to walk in that room unbeknownst to them, grab that gun and it goes off.”
“He took all the precautions, he’s a trained law enforcement officer, trains with weapons all the time.”

This guy did everything right. And his wife is dead.

I can guarantee you one thing. His claims of gun safety and training will amount to utterly nothing in the comment threads; guns are safe in responsible hands, ergo he was irresponsible.

On Coping With Tragedy

Just pointing you to another in NPR’s series “Losing Our Religion”–today’s story centers on dealing with tragedy, without religion.

The series–and this story–focuses on just a handful of individuals’ stories, which is both nice (in that it allows for a richness of detail) and frustrating (in that a small sample will necessarily not represent the views of a great many in a varied population). And as always, the comments are worth diving into, both for touching stories and for knee-jerk tribalism. It being NPR, the level of comments is significantly more intelligent than, say, CNN or Fox. Actually, the comments there add quite a few more perspectives, fleshing out the small sample size of the story itself. If you have your own stories, feel free to post them here as well as there.

For myself, I linked to this one, which some folk have already requested for use at their own funerals.