This is something I've wanted to get off my chest for nearly nine years now, and I've never had a place to vent about it until I found this place. In an odd bit of synchronicity, I was reminded about it twice in the last week to boot. About a week ago, I saw a video again of Bill Maher saying that whatever else we want to say about the 9/11 hijackers, we can't call men who willingly flew planes into the sides of buildings cowards. Then just today, I was listening to Sam Harris's The End of Faith on tape while I was working out, and Harris made the same point.
Bullshit, says I.
Imagine you see a little runt of a fellow go up to a big bruiser of a guy in a bar and start a loud argument in which he derides and degrades the big guy, his wife, his mom and his dog. He stands his ground even though it looks like he could get his head popped like an overripe whitehead at any moment, and when the bartender comes over and cools things down by offering free rounds, you breathe a sigh of relief and think "that guy sure was brave."
Now what if you knew he had a pistol in his back pocket, and what if you found out that he fully intended to pull it out and put a bullet between the big man's eyes the minute he stood up in anger? See, for me, that changes the scenario completely. He's no longer risking his own safety; he's got an out, an "equalizer" of a type that the other guy can't possibly prevail against.
Since I've obviously built what I consider an appropriate analogy here to the hijackers, what then, did they have that was comparable to the gun? The box-cutters they had on board? The planes themselves?
Nope. It was their belief in their own martyrdom.
See, they were so convinced of the advent of their own soon-to-be enhanced cosmic status that they weren’t risking anything. The plane explodes...poof...they’re eating grapes with a passel of nubile sex slaves for all eternity. The definition of bravery, to me anyways, is being willing to risk everything for something important. What were they risking here? By their own belief systems, they had everything to gain and nothing to lose,
But since we’re all atheists here, don’t we all realize how deluded they were? They didn’t get their black eyed virgins. In all likelihood they only achieved premature non-existence. I don’t think that matters. If the scrawny guy in the bar’s gun wasn’t loaded, but he didn’t know it, he would still be acting from a sense of security in knowing he was not in any personal jeopardy.
So I’m sorry Mr. Maher, Mr. Harris...I believe those guys were cowards. The worst kind of cowards to boot...those that harm others purposefully while secure in the notion they themselves cannot be harmed. If you want examples of unbelievable heroism, look to the firefighters who ran into the towers to save people. Some of them were doubtlessly atheists or theists with serious doubts about god and an afterlife, but they risked...and lost...everything to help their fellow man.