Saturday, June 11, 2011

The End

I just realized that I never followed up on the post about my friend. He died. That was given considering the state of his cancer, but what wasn't a given was the manner of his death. He spent the extra time he got after they fixed his cut carotid to reach out. It was amazing to watch, even through the tiny window of his Facebook wall. The real reconciliation, forgiveness even I hope, happened beyond public sight but the initial contacts often happened where we could all see it. He didn't die alone and he from the posts of those who were there with him at the end it seems he found some measure of peace.

But I will point out one thing that annoyed me. My friend was an atheist just as I am, he went as far as to described himself as a militant atheist. As his condition worsened and he could no longer respond directly more and more people put blatantly religious messages on his wall. I'm not talking about things like "We're praying for you." sentiments that are fully understandable and well meant. No, there were a bunch of posts that started with things like "Dear being of peace and light..." one of which was written by some kind of spiritual leader of one of his friends. That's going too far, way too far. If my friend had been healthy he would have expressed his displeasure at those sentiments in a way that would have been brutal, profane and very, very funny.

This is the oblivion of religious privilege, the inability to understand that while sincere best wishes are usually welcome by atheists even when religiously couched, proselytising is inappropriate. The deathbed conversion is a myth that religious folks repeat because facing death without a belief in an afterlife of some sort is incomprehensible to them.

I didn't take any of these folks to task for two reasons. First because I recognise that everyone grieves in their own way and despite the inappropriate nature of those posts no harm was intended. Second and most importantly, I couldn't speak for my friend in this matter. There is no atheist big book of multiple choice for me to consult. No dogma, no tradition, no religious formula to inform me. It would have been as inappropriate for me to speak for my friend without knowing his exact thoughts on the matter as it was for people to use his affliction to spread their dogma. Sometimes free thought is limiting and I wouldn't have it any other way.

As final thought I want to point out just how important Facebook was in all of this. He died at least in part in the pubic space of Facebook. A temporary community formed, and together we were stronger than we could have been alone. This is the true strength of humanity, our ability to reach out and help each other. Facebook gets a lot of criticism for its triviality, and perhaps that criticism is deserved. But in the end it's simply a means of communication and what is communicated is up to those who use it.


I just watched the Dr. Who episode "When a Good Man Goes to War". There's something about that phrase that moves me.

A good man, I like to think of myself as such. To be good is something I aspire to in all of my life. I work alone and I own the business, there's no oversight bar my wife who isn't there most days. I could easily tell folks that their bike requires repairs that they don't in fact need. I could even supply used parts from previous repairs to back up such claims. There is little chance I could get caught. I won't ever do that. I don't fear being caught, I don't fear punishment. I fear not being a good man. I fear it because the only thing that has stopped evil in all of history is the willingness of folks to be good.

I've never been in a war. I will never be in a war, not at my age, not as a combatant anyway. But I have been in mortal danger a time or two. I once worked a job where on multiple occasions I was robbed at knife point. The last time it happened I hit the guy and chased him out of the store. It was a dumb thing to do, I was very lucky I didn't get hurt, didn't get killed. I didn't do it because I was good, or because I wanted to do good. I did it because I suddenly realised he couldn't reach me. In that instant my fear turned to anger and I acted.

I make no claims that my experience is equivalent to going to war. But it was a taste of fear and danger that goes beyond the bounds of most daily life in the privileged western world in which I live. That act, hitting someone, lashing out, even though it was justified, it changed me. I knew then that I was capable of unthinking violence. I'd been in fights before as a teenager and during all of them all I wanted was for it to stop. No wonder I never won any of them. This was different.

When a good man goes to war, if he is indeed a good man, then he must believe that that war is justified. Even if that belief is correct that man can not help but to be changed. This is why we must go to war only with the greatest of reluctance and in full knowledge of the consequences. This too is why it is so important to be good, to strive to be good, because the veneer of civilization is so thin. We all have the capacity for all the possible actions people are capable of. To be anything less is to be less than human.

When a good man goes to war. That phrase touches me. So sad, so complicated, so human.