Atheists talk about depression and Robin Williams, while some get it all wrong

Atheists talk about depression and Robin Williams, while some get it all wrong August 12, 2014
Chad J. McNeeley, Navy
Photo Credit: Chad J. McNeeley, Navy

I am not one to get wrapped up in celebrity deaths, mostly because I find people mourning someone they never knew to be really weird, but sometimes you find a celebrity that seems to have touched so many and their death brings a lot of sadness to the world.

Robin Williams is one of those people. His acting, his charity work, and his public life (that he let people see) was simply fantastic, a talented comedian and dramatic actor, an avid cyclist and a passionate philanthropist, I think many childhoods were touched by his life.

Now there are a few ways to remember someone like Williams, as shows in here by Richard Dawkins in a heartwarming piece in TIME Magazine by remembering a chance encounter with the star that will remain with him forever.

Others like biologist Jerry Coyne remembered him by discussing what we can learn from such a tragic death and Williams’ bout with depression:

“Williams’ passing thus gave us some moments of humanity that provided respite, however brief, from the troubles and brutality besetting our world right now. We can mourn Williams not only as a purveyor of joy and laughter, but also for the knowledge that he died from an affliction far commoner than we think, and perhaps we can learn to help those so afflicted.”

Yet Coyne points out exactly how you don’t remember someone who battled with severe depression and eventually succumbed to it, by referencing biologist and contrarian-to-everything PZ Myers, who said:

I’m sorry to report that comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide, an event of great import and grief to his family. But his sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people.

. . . Boy, I hate to say it, but it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction. No one wants to think the police might be untrustworthy. [This refers to the police shooting of black teenager Mike Brown in St. Louis.]

And think of the politicians! Midterm elections are coming up. Those are important! So people like Barack Obama need to be able to show their human side and connect with the real concerns of the American people by immediately issuing a safe, kind statement about Robin Williams, while navigating the dangerous shoals of police brutality and black oppression by avoiding them. Wouldn’t want to antagonize those lovely law-and-order folks before an election, you see.

Boy he hates to say it? Then why say it at all? Is anything added by attempting to trivialize someone’s death to a mere distraction? Should Williams have planned his suicide in a time that fit his agenda?

Coyne responded to this nonsense beautifully by saying:

Wealthy white man? Really? This is one of the most contemptible and inhumane things I’ve ever seen posted by a well-known atheist. It reeks of arrogance, of condescension, and especially of a lack of empathy for those who loved and admired Williams not because they knew him, but because he brought them happiness and made them think.

Yes, we can care about the oppressed, but we can also care about the loss of someone who did a lot of good in this world. Let’s face it: few of us atheists will make the difference that Robin Williams did. In a time of immense brutality, it does no good to ride roughshod over the feelings of those of us who really did admire and respect Robin Williams. What is gained by that.

What are we doing complaining about Richard Dawkins being a liability to atheism when we have someone like PZ Myers likening the suicide of a depressed man to nothing but a mere distraction from other issues?

As though we cannot feel sad that someone who seemingly had everything was actually depressed to the point that suicide was the only option, and not also feel outrage for other atrocities happening around the globe. I would say I am shocked Myers would share such a sentiment, but this is exactly the kind of ignorance I have come to expect from the perpetually offended curmudgeon.


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