Saturday, July 21, 2012

Did James Holmes Do His Victims a Favor?

No sane person would think that the massacre that James Holmes perpetrated was a *good* thing.  However, when you listen to the consolation that pastors, priests, and other religious leaders will invariably offer, they will tell the families of the victims, "Your loved one is in a BETTER place" or even "God loved your family member SOOO much that he decided to take him to Heaven right away".  But, aside from these people pretending that they can read the mind of God, is this *really* a consolation.  They are almost making it sound like Mr. Holmes DID THEM A FAVOR by killing them, if you take their claims seriously.  After all, he helped them get to Heaven sooner.  Who wouldn't be in favor of that sweet deal, right?

Yet, somehow, I don't think that anyone really believes that Holmes did his victims a favor.  Even the preachers who are feeding you this baloney know that they wouldn't want someone to pull out a gun and "send them to Heaven".  Yet it's the only card they have to play, in their religious worldview.

Similarly, when religious fanatics say, "God decided to take so-and-so, because he was TOO good for this Earth", they are making it sound like James Holmes was acting on God's behalf and doing God's will.  Yet, I somehow don't think that an all-powerful being like God really needs a whacked out nerd like Holmes to carry out his plans.  So this is another type of apologetic that religious people really shouldn't use to try to console grieving families.

There are, of course, other ways of looking at it.  Epitectus, the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, made a purely rational argument for why we shouldn't fear death, even if there is no afterlife.  He simply pointed out that death is not a place or a condition.  It is the lack of life.  We will not experience it, because experiencing it would imply that we were somehow alive to interact with it.  Rather, it is just a cessation.  All your burdens and your pains are over.  Of course, you can no longer experience the good stuff either, because there is no "you" any longer.  But either way, you won't have to worry about it.  It is the anticipation of death that seems to create the most agony.

But I certainly still don't think that this means that Holmes did any of his victims any favors.  I just don't think that attempting to sugar-coat it with lies about the loved ones going to a Magic Candy Land in the sky actually help the situation.  We often believe that we can invent certain kinds of lies that make people feel better, as Ricky Gervais examined in his comedy _The Invention of Lying_.  But the problem with these lies about the afterlife, and lies in general, is that you can't tell just one lie.  One lie invariably leads to another, as now the pastor has to explain why he doesn't want to go join his parishioners in Magic Candy Land.

Pat Roberson, for example, despite claiming to fervently believe in Heaven and the ability of Jesus to heal infirmities, immediately runs to the hospital whenever he has the slightest malady, because he is afraid of dying.  Why would that be, if Heaven is such a great place?  Why wouldn't he want to hang around and kick it with Jesus and the Saints all day?  It makes you wonder if he really believes his own rhetoric, doesn't it.

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