Do I deserve the opprobrium? (A blog about insulting the dead)

Was in a discussion about what is spirituality and it's relationship to the supernatural on a thread on a website that includes a fair few Christians and religious sorts and one person related in a public forum this story to the OP:

I cared for a young dying AIDS patient years ago. X. When he died I threw a rose into the ocean back home in Ireland to remember his passing. I said, "IF you are 'up there' - you get your ass in gear and
send it back as a message that things will come my way in time." He had
been very afraid to die, cause he was raised with the fear of hell.
Such a terrible abuse of a human being, especially a dying one. We
chatted a lot and I just said, "You love your partner don't you. How can
love be wrong/sin etc ?!"
Death does make people ask questions very often and some times. Makes you ask questions when it's children who die
under your care. Well our chats lasted weeks, at nights. He would ask
to talk to me.

One day I was walking across the street here at home, and found a lovely packaged rose - still perfect in its wrapping in the
street, like it had been placed there. Honestly. I know - coincidence.
But I am a romantic and X kept his promise. I still have it.

Who knows what life is, or is not, or if there is anything 'after'. Live the now and do no being any harm. That's what I TRY to do though not too well very often. It's what we all do here - try and make suffering
less for each other. What it's all about. We don't need 'religion' when
we have this kind of our own spirituality and camaraderie


Now I thought that story was a fine example of the kind of humanist ethics I endorse, being kind to our fellow humans in their crises not because of any religious edict but because they are suffering. , the very fact that in offering up this gift to the dead soul of the departed patient he then said the wrapped rose - he knew was coincidence (unless Heaven has florists) which to me showed that as entertaining as he was of departed souls and so on that this was still rational behaviour so I said the following:


Honouring the memory of someone who you attended to and who died - what could be more human or grounded in reality than that? That you made
them matter both before and after is admirable, that you remained
cognisant of the nature of the coincidence, shows it in no way implies a

Ritualised ancestor worship is weird. Coping with someone dying is normal, and how you feel is important.
Look, if
that's being spiritual, then a good thing because we all should have
that capacity to feel so connected. And atheism and scepticism don't
touch it because it's not making dubious claims about unprovable

Thanks for sharing XXXX


Now I thought I'd, frankly gone out of my way a little to show respect for the action of praying to the dead and gettign back something in return. I was trying to distinguish that kind of act of rememberence which is still self-aware that the rose didn't and could not have come from the dead from the kind of ancestor or saint worship which obeys the same instinct and is - yes- a little weird.
I even said I though such 'spirituality' (if that's how we are defining it) is admirable and good.

To my surprise I was told my 'analysis' had intruded on a private re-telling (I point out this was on a public forum where anyone can reply to anything) that I had insulted the memory of the dead man and the nurse who cared for him and that should go fuck myself.

So, feeling like the subject of a spot of-over-reaction but not wanting to come of as the victim, I would appreciate some objectivity.

Did I say something which was insulting and deserving of the reaction I got?

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Comment by Richard Healy on June 24, 2010 at 1:23pm
Also in an update: my original interlocutor and I have made up. turns out he'd just broken up from his boyfriend so was feeling especially touchy and strung out.
Comment by Richard Healy on June 23, 2010 at 4:24am
Well he never came back to me after the last go-around.

He started off saying: "my father is on dialysis and a proposal of presumed consent and I quote: "is gross over reaching by the government? If you can't sell your own body parts why should the government have the right to it unless you officially refuse? I wonder how much political pull daddy used to get his daughter a second transplant?"

I put the positive case, that need outstrips supply and xenotransplantation and stem-cells are two alternatives but until then donation is the best way and presumed consent could be made to work , it's full of pitfalls and problems but nothing in principle makes in unworkable. with a bit of prodding this turned into a kind of libertarian/teabag/anti-scientific rant on his part (note the shifts in topic):

If you were rich and needed a kidney, eye or bone marrow and why shouldn't I be able to get say 1 million dollars for my donation and loss? It's my body not the government's. From what I have read on stem cell research fetal stem cells has produced next to nothing. Adult stem cells have produced some treatments but they are not cost effective and doubt they ever will be.I still feel it is wrong using taxpayer money for research in such vague areas. I grew up in the day of polio and the vaccine was not discovered with taxpayer money. It was through contributions and private companies. I have absolutely no trust in government run research look at the global warming farce. At one time the space program brought about a lot of technology that came back to the public. For the last 20 or more years it's been an absolute waste.

I asked him for the medical journal reference on how stem cells were a dead end for research and made the pro-science case for science nd physics research that isn't all about bottom line but advances our knowledge or for some other reason like human charity, as in the case for organ donation.

He then played the age card, some more anti-science and finally argument by anecdote:

Well I'm over twice your age and watched our country head steadily downward as the government took over more and more control of people's lives. You only have to look at our academic standing decline with the rapid increase on spending for education. I added the global warming bit because of the huge government push on spending billions on a fraudulent premiss they were trying to sell and all of the junk science they helped and continue to sponsor. I've already heard people in medical field talk about the situation in ER where it is discussed that it would be better to use somebody as an organ donor than trying to save their life. Some of these victims have actually made a full recovery.

I've happily corrected him on how organ donation actually works purely to correct his misapprehension and at the consistent prodding, I've opened up a second flank on whether or not CO2 is or is not capable of absorbing Infra-red radiation.

And that's it so far...
Comment by Richard Healy on June 20, 2010 at 11:25pm
Well I'm currently engaged in the same forum (different thread) with someone who fiercely opposed to organ donation and thinks climate change is a conspiracy of overbearing governance.

Any tips for those - don't hold back now! ;^ )
Comment by Richard Healy on June 20, 2010 at 11:47am
Thanks Dan, I've had a run in with this chap in the past (I openly mocked Christ on Easter Sunday - not terrible wise - irreverent and funny, but not wise) he got pissed off with me then too, informed me of how important faith is to people coping with death - I apologised for the upset (since I was the cause) be he admitted going over the top then an being a bit fragile about it.

Bearing that in mind I've been very careful thereafter to not to bash the atheism drum too loudly and everything seemed to be going swimmingly in this conversation, (one guy is admitting to no longer being an atheist but feeling spiritual, so we were trying to nail down what is and isn't spiritual and I basically was saying that so long as it isn't supernatural we can define spiritual in all sorts of ways: some good some bad. We'd also agreed that feeling 'spiritual' whatever it was wasn't necessarily irrational, if for example someone feels subjectively they have experienced something but doesn't then go on to say because of this I *know* god exists, Christ is is son etc, I shall be redeemed if I repent and so on but rather makes a more modest claim and sticks within the domain of "and it was weird an' all and because it was only a personal subjective experience I cannot be 100% certain what it means, I'm still working that out and I may be wrong" - that would still be being rational.

He then tells his story of the dying patient, and I took that as a point of agreement, since it seemed the part about offering up a prayer or whatever to the memory of the dead man wasn't explicitly endorsing life after death (which is silly and absurd) but could be taken as celebrating the memory of the person since it is only as a memory that they now persist at all.

So my basic point as I set out in my original blog post was if that is what spirituality is, fine, it doesn't imply anything supernatural and if that helps you (the living) to cope with the passing of the dead, fine and if you can find solace in that whilst accepting that it's a series of coincidences and delusions (which he did when he said he knew the rose was only coincidence) then also fine.

I was trying to be supportive of the idea that atheism as a minimal denial of gods and scepticism of extraordinary claims , needn't harm a spiritual feeling (howsoever defined) provided it isn't make claims about gods and afterlives or supernatural and extraordinary phenomena - which brings up Hume's famous maxim and also the doctrine of naturalism.

I'm not sure - though cannot say about the psychology of the guy involved, it strikes me that he's had a bad run with the church in the past - maybe knew some who were abused kind of deal so is receptive to religious scepticism on that front, but not on the metaphysical which props up his apparent belief regarding the unquiet dead.

Thanks for the advice. I had however already replied. So here's what I did. I said I was sorry if he took what I wrote as an insult but tried to reassure him it was not intended as such. I pointed out the inconsistency of saying I couldn't or shouldn't have replied to his post, which in a public fora is basically a given saying if he wanted to keep it private he should have sent it as a private message. and that was it.

I really am sorry if I upset him but for my own transgressions which feel minor, this seems like an over-reaction.



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