(CN: Death with dignity, suicide, religious abuse, and cancer.)
Hi, friends. Today is just a quick post to add my voice to those grieving for Brittany Maynard, a young cancer sufferer who very recently chose to end her life legally and with dignity under Oregon provisions and state law. Not long ago I wrote about how I fully supported her decision, and I still do. Nothing’s changed there. But I wanted to talk briefly about something I’m noticing now that she’s taken this measure.
First, I really should have listened to myself and just not logged into social media today. Though my own feeds are blessedly free of toxic Christians, my friends have been coping with their spewing all day long. It’s nothing less than an after-the-fact lynch mob. Christians accuse Brittany Maynard, you see, of being a coward. They say she is in Hell right now and declare it with great gusto and fervor (and it’s not hard for a non-believer to see why they seem so sure). It’s no surprise to me that Satan is called in Christian mythology “The Accuser,” as Neil’s mentioned recently. Those Christians who’ve proven themselves time and again to be his most ardent followers come by their judgmentalism honestly, at least. And yes: SHOTS FUCKING FIRED. Their utterly inhumane, inhuman responses to her situation have been noted, don’t worry about that, by more folks than just me. I have no words for how disgusted, repelled, and revolted I am by their bonfire dance. They are exactly why their religion is withering away, and they are why it deserves to do so.
But I do have words about something I’m noticing as the overarching objection to Ms. Maynard’s very personal, freely-made decision. I was reading a CNN story about the fallout of the death, and one thing that really sprang out at me was not only how genuinely entitled a lot of Ms. Maynard’s critics sound, but about how their viewpoints are tainted by the simple use of inaccurate, inapplicable analogies.
Religion loves analogy stories. Zealots especially love using them. They might call these stories metaphors or parables or allegories, but whatever they call them they do love using them. I always hated them. Jesus’ metaphors were honed finely by writers who kind of knew what they were doing for the most part, but the Christians creating these stories today don’t usually have the faintest idea what they’re doing, why, or how those stories will be taken by those who are not sitting beside them in the choirloft. I’ve talked before about why these stories tend to suck anyway, but even I was surprised at some of the comparisons being made in that CNN article, namely this one:
[Maggie] Karner compared Maynard to someone standing on a ledge, threatening to jump. Normally, people on the ground urge the person not to jump and remind them of reasons to live, she said. What would happen if our society decided to yell to that ledge jumper, ‘Yeah, you’re right, there isn’t a better way. Go ahead,'” Karner asked.
Except the big problem is that Ms. Maynard was not standing on a ledge threatening to jump, not even in a metaphorical way. She was suffering from a dreadful disease, and she took the measures necessary to handle her pain in the way she thought best. It wasn’t much different from her deciding to ask for more painkillers or whether or not she’d allow chemotherapy. Comparing her studied, careful medical decision to a suicide is demeaning to those suffering depression and anguish, and it’s shocking to hear that someone suffering the same type of cancer would go there–but then we see that this particular cancer sufferer is religious and suddenly we totally understand where the confusion is coming from–though she thoughtfully spells it out for us:
As for my cancer journey, circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me. The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God’s purpose in my life and trying to grab that control myself.
Once again we see that toxic Christianity poisons and shits on everything it touches, so much so that it cannot even let someone suffer from cancer in an unapproved way. Ms. Karner thinks that not only is there a god fitting the description she thinks her god bears, but that she is very sure she knows just what this god wants her to do about her disease–and by extension, Ms. Karner is also very sure she knows what this god wants everybody to do about their diseases. She’s so sure she knows what this unverified, non-credible divine being wants everybody to do that she’s willing to second-guess and dictate a total stranger’s life and intimate decisions. She clearly feels challenged and threatened by that stranger’s decision to handle her disease and pain in a very different way than Ms. Karner thinks is proper–as if what Ms. Maynard chose is some sort of a reflection on what anybody else chooses. Worse, this particular Christian equates making a different choice with losing faith or not trusting enough in her god. One size fits all, and if someone doesn’t fit then that person is clearly the problem, not the constricting, restrictive garment.
Worst of all, Ms. Karner seems to believe that her take on the situation should be the only valid one, and that other ways of looking at it are not only invalid but also un-Christian. Ms. Maynard hadn’t (to my knowledge) made a statement of how she felt about religion, so that’s certainly assuming quite a lot about both the god in question and about Ms. Maynard’s beliefs. That sort of entitlement mentality is certainly rife in Christianity; many of whose members just automatically assume that their opinions’ value outweighs the value of any other opinion in existence (and the value of every one of them, come to that), and that all TRUE CHRISTIANS™ feel the same way about everything that the one Christian does.
Most telling is how clearly Ms. Karner feels threatened by Ms. Maynard taking control of her own life and making her own decisions–that’s the most unacceptable part of her decision, it sounds like. Many Christians feel that it’s okay to go to the ER with a broken arm for professional medical intervention, or to take Nyquil when they have a cold, but they draw an arbitrary line at the big decisions (with “big” having an infinitely varied definition) and say that Christians should “let God” handle those by letting the cards fall where they may past that arbitrary line. Selective hearing, thy name is religion.
Ms. Karner is welcome to handle her cancer in the way she thinks best. It’d be really nice if she also recognized that other people may choose to handle their cancers in the way they think best, and maybe also that their choices might not look like her choices and that they might not see the situation in the same quirky way she does. And if she stops comparing a calculated, carefully-made medical choice made in response to a pressing physical need to a sudden, impulsive, explosive burst of self-destructiveness made–usually–on the spur of the moment by someone suffering serious emotional disturbances, then maybe it will be easier for her to understand why Ms. Maynard did what she did, and why that choice is just as valid as the one she has made or that any other cancer sufferer is making right now.
But that’d threaten her entire paradigm. She needs cancer to be part of some divine plan. She needs her suffering to have some purpose. I get that. My mom died of cancer. I know very well what that struggle looks like.
The worst part about diseases like cancer is that they really don’t have any purpose. There’s no reason to suspect they do, at least. It might be easier for some folks to imagine that there’s some grand purpose to cancer, but the idea presupposes quite a few other assumptions that simply have no basis in fact. Nobody divine or demonic is doing something terrible to a cancer sufferer; cancer, like evolution and gravity, doesn’t need anybody to reach for divine explanations to be understood and addressed. But that idea runs very counter to the narrative I’ve talked about regarding cancer. I suffer chronic pain myself and can tell you that one of the worst aspects of it is knowing that it’s not anything I did or deserved or are being subjected to for some grand reason or to fulfill some ineffable or divine master plan; it’s just one of those things that human bodies encounter sometimes. It’s not just or unjust, fair or unfair. It just is.
The result is that their god comes out sounding like a temper-tantrum-throwing, control-freak toddler who isn’t loving enough to have a plan that doesn’t require someone to endure unspeakable pain–or one powerful enough to work around someone choosing not to do so. The other result is that we can tell that his followers are forced to try to control other people because their god certainly isn’t doing the job. (And another still is that a great number of non-believers get so disgusted with their chest-thumping displays that they resolve themselves to never, ever, ever do anything that would even possibly or potentially send them into an afterlife filled with these “loving” children of the Prince of Peace and God of Love.)
Indeed, I noticed a few stories of Christians who were praying that she’d reconsider her choice. So much for free will and their god being “a gentleman,” huh? Another cherished myth of Christian apologetics falls apart right here. But I guess she was driving an iron chariot, though, because even as mean-spirited and controlling as those prayers sounded, they didn’t work any more than prayers to cure cancer work. On that note, I wonder why they weren’t praying for her cancer to vanish without a trace? Or for a cure for all cancer everywhere? Instead they were praying that Ms. Maynard would change her mind. Isn’t that strange? Could it be they realize deep down that prayers don’t do jack shit? Could they be presuppositional atheists themselves? I wonder if they’ll even wonder why their god, the author of the universe, the maker of quarks and quasars, didn’t strong-arm one puny mortal into changing her mind like they asked? Because this whole “free will” thing is bullshit anyway. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart and is mentioned as changing all sorts of people’s minds in the Bible, but this god couldn’t do that to one cancer patient in the modern day?
Brittany Maynard was brave not because she ended her life (I’m not sure it’s a good idea to assign a moral value to this sort of medical decision, because that would imply that a different medical decision was immoral and that those who do not make her choice are cowardly) but because she made a choice that she knew was going to be mightily unpopular with the Cool Kids’ Club and because she spoke very publicly about her decision knowing she’d be attacked and criticized for it at her most vulnerable hour. And the Cool Kids’ Club jumped on her with both feet, all right. It’s like she was the only person in the world to make that decision, rather than one of hundreds or even thousands every year around the world who do so quietly and without fanfare. She was just the one who put a name and face to the decision, so she was the one they attacked. It’s not brave to attack another person for making a different choice. It’s definitely not loving. But not much about Christianity is brave or loving anymore, if it ever was.
Creating inaccurate, misleading, and false analogies is a big part of the religion’s problem. It would have been very easy for Ms. Karner to have figured out that her comparison of Ms. Maynard’s decision to a ledge-jumper’s impulse was quite flawed. I figured it out in just a few seconds–because I’ve actually read what Ms. Maynard had to say. She sounded to me to be about the least suicidal person I’ve ever run into. The last thing she wanted to do was die. She wanted to live. But living in extreme terror and pain wasn’t how she wanted to live, and nobody has the authority or right or power to force another human being to live under circumstances that that other human being considers degrading and dehumanizing. Nobody has to suffer just so someone else’s sense of propriety and narrative is preserved, and nobody gets to tell another human being what that person should feel about anything.
That said, only the person affected can decide how much suffering is too much. One person’s dehumanizing degradation is another person’s noble sacrifice. And that’s okay. I fully support Ms. Karner’s decision to struggle through till the bitter end with her disease even though I might privately think her reasons for doing so are demonstrably absurd. It’s her body and her choice. When someone is in terror of their life and in great pain, they do all kinds of things that maybe don’t make sense to try to cope, and my opinion really shouldn’t matter to her any more than hers mattered to Brittany Maynard. It’s just sad that Ms. Karner looks at this stranger’s decision the way she does. If she looked at it a different way–the way Ms. Maynard herself did, say–then maybe she’d have a little more compassion for a human being who made a different decision, and maybe she’d let other people make different choices than she’s made.
My deepest condolences go out today to Ms. Maynard’s family, and my most sincere thanks as well for how they allowed the world to journey with their beloved daughter and wife as she navigated her final days.
And I know she can’t hear me, but I still want to say to her:
Rest in peace. Go with love.