Pharyngula

The dying grandma gambit

The dying grandma gambit is a scenario familiar to most atheists; it’s been played out a few times in this thread. I’m sure you know it.

Here’s how it works. An atheist says something assertive about religion; religious sympathizer retorts, “Would you say that to your dying grandmother? You atheists can’t give any consolation to the dying or grieving, and all you can do is flip a finger at believers.” There is usually a tone of high moral indignation, as well, and a smug expression of superiority that the faithful have over the godless.

Does this sound familiar to you yet?

I’ve heard it a thousand times if I’ve heard it once, and I have to marvel at the ability of the pious to pretend to be on the moral high road while they clout you about the head with the carcass of your dying grandma. And they also have this superior air about them, as if they’ve bested you in logic as well as human kindness. It’s clear that they can only imagine two outcomes when you kneel at the deathbed:

  1. You must pray together. Talk about Jesus and the Lord and meeting Grandpa again in Heaven. This will reassure Grandma that dying is alright.

  2. Curse granny’s religion; slap her hands if she tries to pray. Let her know that all she can expect is the peace of oblivion.

Item A is common enough, and happens all the time. I presume that beginning with that foundation of accuracy, no matter how obnoxious the behavior, adds verisimilitude to their belief that atheists must do the exact opposite in all things, and therefore Pat Condell, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, and any other outspoken atheist must walk into a hospice like Clint Eastwood entering a seedy saloon (B).

I shall tell you a deep secret, however. Here’s what atheists do when confronted with a dying loved one.

  1. Hold her hand. Talk. Weep. Reminisce. Tell her about your day, how the kids are doing in school, what the weather is like. Browse the family photo album together. Tell her how much you care. Beg her to hang on longer—there’s so much more to do and see. Sit quietly by her side. Wait.

You know, the important, human stuff.

You might be surprised…even Christians can do item C, and they often do. Yet there’s nothing religious at all about it, and it’s probably more reassuring, more consoling, and more considerate than droning on about imminent nothingness (which atheists don’t do anyway) or lying to her about Jesus.

So put away the dying grandma gambit, apologists for religion. It just makes you look stupid and sanctimonious, and denies the fact that the important matters in facing death are families and love and support and togetherness, all virtues that have nothing to do with your delusions.

Comments

  1. #1 CrypticLife
    November 29, 2007

    I predict that this will lead to an insignificant lessening in the number of occasions on which the Grandma gambit is applied.

  2. #2 Michael G.R.
    November 29, 2007

    Well said. I hate these false choices.

  3. #3 Ric
    November 29, 2007

    Well said.

  4. #4 Marcus Ranum
    November 29, 2007

    Last time I someone I cared about was dying, I told them “Thanks for being my friend. I remember that every time I came to visit you always had a supply of ham laid in for me. It wasn’t a big deal but it always showed you cared and were thinking about me and it was really sweet of you. I love you and I’ll miss you and I’m sorry you’re in pain. Goodbye.”

    No need to argue about god. When you’re dying of cancer, you usually haven’t got the energy to argue about religion with the people who’ve come to say goodbye.

    I’ll tell you one thing, though – watching a dying person’s struggle like mad to stay alive for a few seconds more – is objective proof to me that they don’t believe they’re going to a nicer place any more than I do!! Because if I believed I was going to the beer fountain and the stripper factory I’d be telling my friends, “hey hit the morphine a couple times more and roll me over so my face is in this pillow, OK?”

    Although, I gotta admit there’s some people I wouldn’t mind perching on the corner of their death-bed and asking them chipperly, “Do you believe in hell? Because your eternity’s really gonna suck, a!*##hole!”

  5. #5 DSK Samways
    November 29, 2007

    It’s like the old adage, “No atheists in fox holes”; as if appealing to human behaviour under the severest and most emotionally disturbing circumstances is somehow supposed to lend support to theism. And it isn’t even true anyway.

  6. #6 Sastra, OM
    November 29, 2007

    I always find it a bit odd when theists play the Dying Grandma Gambit — same with the No Atheist in Foxholes Shtick. They both seem to be tacit admissions that the real purpose of religion is comfort. Screw the actual facts of the matter, just do whatever it takes to make yourself feel better. To me, there doesn’t seem to be any real respect for religion itself in this approach — no thoughtful analysis or objective consideration of the issue. It isn’t about actually believing something is true: it’s about NEEDING to believe it’s true.

    In fact, sometimes it seems more about the belief than it is about the truth.

  7. #7 Sven DiMilo
    November 29, 2007

    You forgot D: use as excuse to blow off midterm exam.

    Sorry, too cynical? It’s that time of the semester…

  8. #8 J Daley
    November 29, 2007

    What do you do when a loved, respected friend or family member, who is either facing death or grieving a spouse’s death, and is a true believer but not an asshole, is constantly talking to you about their supernatural beliefs?

    This is currently happening to me, and it makes me uncomfortable. I want on the one hand to validate their feelings and not be hurtful, but on the other hand really can’t bring myself to acknowledge that her dead spouse is actually answering prayers to find lost objects.

    [It obviously goes without saying that if some not-loved, not-repected asshat is trying to interfere with your ability to forward emails about Barbara Forrest, or freedom to make love to your hot same-sex partner, or telling you about the LDS, what you do is tell them to go know themselves in the biblical sense. The above question refers to atheist etiquette, which is clearly not extended to Death Eaters.]

  9. #9 tim quick
    November 29, 2007

    If I wanted to comfort my dying Grandma by lying, I’d just tell her she was going to live.

  10. #10 neodavenet
    November 29, 2007

    Nice smack down, PZ. It was unfortunate that the Condell thread became invested with concern trolls and these context acrobatics.

    It means we don’t get to discuss what we do when our grandmothers aren’t on their deathbeds. Which is, like, most of the time.

    And, honestly, why would anyone want to force-feed a person Bible chat in their last hours? If they’re going to heaven, they’ll understand it all pretty soon anyway, and better than their loved ones do.

    Personally, I’d want my loved ones to get on MySpace and send petty insults to old bosses and people I knew from high school. Oh, and go through photo albums and stuff.

  11. #11 Brendan S
    November 29, 2007

    If asked? I’d just say ‘Of course I would, my Grandmother is Atheist too.’ What are they going to do, check?

  12. #12 thalarctos
    November 29, 2007

    even Christians can do item C, and they often do

    Actually, there’s one thing Christians have to offer that atheists can’t–my cousin (from Pensacola, FL, natch!) told my mother on her deathbed that she was going to Hell for all the Sundays she was the only doc rounding in the hospital, instead of going to church.

    Reason 36,457 that I no longer have anything to do with the Pensacola branch of my family.

    I wonder whether Mr. Concern Troll hectors non-atheists over non-hypotheticals like that; somehow, I doubt it.

  13. #13 Evan
    November 29, 2007

    Because at the deathbed, one should respect the beliefs of the dying and not use the fear of their imminent demise as an attempt to change their beliefs, right xians?

    They both seem to be tacit admissions that the real purpose of religion is comfort. Screw the actual facts of the matter, just do whatever it takes to make yourself feel better.

    Hehe. The “If it feels good do it” argument for religion. I like it. Let’s get grandma high!

  14. #14 Kseniya
    November 29, 2007

    You forgot D: use as excuse to blow off midterm exam. Sorry, too cynical? It’s that time of the semester…

    Sven, have you ever seen this?

  15. #15 Kevin Murphy
    November 29, 2007

    The question is, if your dying grandma asked you if there was a heaven, would you lie?

    I certainly would.

    I don’t see what good can be done by making her feel even more miserable on her deathbed.

  16. #16 clheiny
    November 29, 2007

    You forgot

    D. Tell her she is doomed to eternal painful torment at the hands of sadistic supernatural entities because she violated some silly rule or another, or didn’t worship in the way she should. Too late to change your ways now, granny.

    My experience isn’t very extensive, but I’ve seen (D) far more than (A) or (B) combined.

  17. #17 Christianjb
    November 29, 2007

    Oh dear…

    I know it’s an old question- but I still think that the original questioner didn’t pose it in a way that would lead me to think he was a ‘concern’ or any other type of troll. People unwittingly come up with tired old questions quite often. That’s the reason websites have FAQs.

    It may indeed be the case that the questioner was a creationist looking to cause trouble- but until more evidence comes in I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

    For the record- the questioner got several great responses in the thread by people calmly explaining their answers.

  18. #18 clheiny
    November 29, 2007

    You forgot

    D. Tell her she is doomed to eternal painful torment at the hands of sadistic supernatural entities because she violated some silly rule or another, or didn’t worship in the way she should. Too late to change your ways now, granny.

    My experience isn’t very extensive, but I’ve seen (D) far more than (A) or (B) combined.

  19. #19 Matt Penfold
    November 29, 2007

    PZ,

    Just so we can be totally clear for those of us who have trouble thinking (Stand up Steve99, I am talking about you), can you confirm that you would not do this:

    PZ: Granny, I know you are dying but I just need to make sure you understand there is no god and that you are deluded to think there is.

    I know it is silly to think you would even think about saying something like that, but then the likes of Steve99 are silly. After all Steve99 did say in the Condell thread that only the actual words you use matter. I suspect your eloquence above is likely to only further confuse him. Actually maybe not, there must be an upper limit to how confused someone can be, and Steve99 must be near it.

  20. #20 roger
    November 29, 2007

    Samways:

    I always point out that there are no atheist suicide bombers either…

  21. #21 pholidote
    November 29, 2007

    But even if you prayed with grandma, what would that prove?

    It wouldn’t prove her beliefs were right, because people have wrong beliefs.

    It wouldn’t prove that you had to honestly admit them true, because you’d be faking it.

    It wouldn’t even prove that those beliefs had the benefit of being more consoling than true beliefs (which would be a questionable rationale for believing a falsehood anyway), because other beliefs might have been just as consoling — your grandma just happens to believe this set of wrong beliefs, and it would be a waste of time to try changing her mind.

    It would not in fact even prove that the wrong beliefs your grandma thinks she will find consoling are even going to be minimally effective in consoling her, because many people with the same beliefs obsess about those beliefs and still do not find themselves consoled.

    I wasn’t with either of my grandmas when they died, and neither asked me to pray, but I did get confirmed in the faith of one of them for her sake. The upside was it made her happy. The downside was that I was briefly a liar about something that made no difference anyway.

  22. #22 Marcus Ranum
    November 29, 2007

    Hey, here’s a new gambit:
    Nobody’s an atheist when they’re having an orgasm

    I mean how many times have you screamed out “oh… standard model physics!! uh! aaaaaaah!!!! Wow! Quantum electrodynamics, baby, that was GOOD!

    I’m just sayin’

  23. #23 Blake Stacey
    November 29, 2007

    My mother is as godless as I am. If the sad day came that I were to be standing beside her deathbed, and she asked me if dead people went to Heaven, and I said “Yes,” she’d probably be pissed off that she raised a liar of a son.

  24. #24 Blake Stacey
    November 29, 2007

    Marcus Ranum:

    Ever slept with a physicist?

  25. #25 Jessa
    November 29, 2007

    Well put, as always.

    It never ceases to amaze me that a lot of people genuinely think that belief in a supernatural deity is a prerequisite for being a kind, loving, caring, and generous person. It’s a completely absurd but widespread belief. And it’s one of the reasons that I choose not to hide my non-belief – I’m trying to show (in the small way that I can) that their thinking is faulty.

  26. #26 PZ Myers
    November 29, 2007

    Matt: I would not say that.

    If a dying person wanted to have an intellectual conversation about deities, I’d be willing to talk about it, but I would neither hide my opinions nor would I force them on the person uninvited. They have other things to think about.

  27. #27 AlanWCan
    November 29, 2007

    Sastra: tacit admissions that the real purpose of religion is comfort

    Worse than that, it’s an admission that the real purpose of religion is to serve the godbotherer’s selfish desire to not have to deal with the discomfort, pain and fear of someone close to them. Placate them with fairy stories so they’ll just slip off without making the godbotherer uncomfortable. Despicable ghouls the lot of them. I’m with Stephen Daedalus on this one, despite what Buck Mulligan might say.

  28. #28 Orac
    November 29, 2007

    The question is, if your dying grandma asked you if there was a heaven, would you lie?

    I certainly would.

    Actually, you don’t have to “lie.” Just say, “I don’t know.” For me, at least, that would be an honest answer. I highly doubt that there is, of course, but I don’t know with 100% certainty that there isn’t.

    Disingenuous? Perhaps a little, but I don’ think so. Even if it is, I wouldn’t care.

  29. #29 steve99
    November 29, 2007

    PZ

    I have a lot of respect for your blog, and I posted that ‘gambit’ as a debating position yesterday. My point was that Pat Condell had posted a video that was just a bit over the top, that made him look like (to be blunt) an insensitive ass. OK, so I may have missed that his posts are supposed to be comic and self-promoting as some have mentioned.

    However, I am in no way a religious apologist or sympathizer. I am a proselytizing atheist (as my poor suffering christian friends will certainly agree).

    You need not tell me how to deal with those who are dying. Having lost my father, and two very dear friends in the past two years, I know the experience of dealing with believers and atheists in this sad process.

    All I am after is simple respect for others. For following the Golden Rule – treat others as you would want them to treat you. I believe that this was lacking from Condell’s approach.

    Don’t take easy positions, PZ. Just because I disagree with the words on one video by Condell, does not mean I fall into any simple category.

    If you want to discuss this by e-mail, or openly, I am happy to do that, in fact, I would welcome it.

  30. #30 Winnebago
    November 29, 2007

    ..and here I thought this was going to be a thread about the increased mortality rate of grandparents at the end of semesters πŸ™‚

  31. #31 Kseniya
    November 29, 2007

    my cousin (from Pensacola, FL, natch!) told my mother on her deathbed that she was going to Hell for all the Sundays she was the only doc rounding in the hospital, instead of going to church.

    [struck speechless]

    Reason 36,457

    Oooh. We’re talking 16-bit disgust here! That’s high-rez!

    Marcus, I think a simple “Oh Science!” is the proper irreligious exclamation. πŸ˜‰

  32. #32 MAJeff
    November 29, 2007

    I’ve got a couple links up in that other thread about the dying grandma bit, seeing as how mine was put in the ground a week ago today.

    Not only do people who use the dying grandma bit look like fools, they are assholes.

  33. #33 Marcus Ranum
    November 29, 2007

    Blake Stacey writes:
    Ever slept with a physicist?

    No, as a matter of fact. I’d love to do some empirical evidence-gathering if anyone knows any hot young physics babes who are willing to help me gather data. πŸ˜‰

  34. #34 Warren
    November 29, 2007

    Although, I gotta admit there’s some people I wouldn’t mind perching on the corner of their death-bed and asking them chipperly, “Do you believe in hell? Because your eternity’s really gonna suck, a!*##hole!”

    Posted by: Marcus Ranum

    — and —

    Actually, there’s one thing Christians have to offer that atheists can’t–my cousin (from Pensacola, FL, natch!) told my mother on her deathbed that she was going to Hell for all the Sundays she was the only doc rounding in the hospital, instead of going to church.

    Posted by: thalarctos

    Yes. For all the natter about the “comfort value” of religion it’s astonishing and inhuman how often the practitioners prey on fear to swell their ranks.

    Such behavior is beyond reprehensible; it borders on the unforgivable.

  35. #35 everettattebury
    November 29, 2007

    When my mother was dying of lung cancer, unconscious and unable to eat or drink anything, one of our “loving” Christian neighbors came over to our house and said a prayer. It was one of the most disgusting things I have heard in my life. She basically attempted a “faith healing” of my mother, shouting at her to get up out of bed “in the name of JEEESSSUSSS!!!”

    At least my mother was too far gone to have to actually hear the bitch.

  36. #36 Chuck
    November 29, 2007

    Of course, I am a materialist with no belief in a spiritual afterlife. Therefore, it is only rational to work towards prolonging human life. Can we agree that death is horrible? Some righteous people actually believe that death is a grand thing. I say assure the believer that only in science and reason is there hope of something like immortality.

  37. #37 Woodwose
    November 29, 2007

    Been there … done C with brand spankin’ new widows and grieving parents too.

    It’s not fun, but generally folks just want the community of another human being with them in their scariest and lowest moments. It’s even better than “A” because you’re saying “I care. I’m with you and I’m really here.” not “Lets leave a message your invisible man’s answering machine.”

  38. #38 Mark P
    November 29, 2007

    I think #6 hit an important point: comfort is indeed one of the main reasons people try to believe in god and an afterlife. It’s too hard for them to contemplate the reality of an end to their lives. Personally, I find it much easier to contemplate my own end than the end of those I love, but I also wish gravity didn’t pull quite so hard on me.

  39. #39 Stevie_C
    November 29, 2007

    Kevin. The proper answer, to a dying grandmother asking you, if there’s a heaven…

    “I don’t know.” Because obviously she doesn’t know either.

  40. #40 Eric MacDonald
    November 29, 2007

    I have one complaint. Why would you ask grandma to hold on longer, especially if it was obvious she had nothing to hold on with or for? Leave that out and the answer to the grandma gambit is unassailable.

    But let me add another point. Not only is the grandma gambit a lost cause, atheists, non-theists, naturalists, whatever you like to call us, have something else to offer — the possibility of an assisted death, without the common pain, physical distress and indignity of so many deaths. Grandma might even want such assistance. Going to keep telling her to hold on?

  41. #41 Sven DiMilo
    November 29, 2007

    Sven, have you ever seen this?

    I have not.
    This is pretty funny. though.

  42. #42 steve99
    November 29, 2007

    Just to show goodwill, PZ, I am not going to hide behind any
    pseudonym.

    My name is Steve Zara. I am a middle-aged (a few years younger than you, though far greyer) sort of general scientist, with a Ph.D. in biology, post-doc experience in chemistry and who has ended doing something in IT (as so many do), but still managing to keep links with research.

    I have considerable reason to dislike monotheism, as I am gay, and even in the relatively moderate country I live in (Britain), we have not managed to remove that poisonous influence from politics.

    So, when I post, I am not positing from an easily categorised viewpoint, that can be labelled as ‘religious apologist’. I am just someone who has a different view.

  43. #43 Anon
    November 29, 2007

    If I thought that I could comfort someone in such a situation by lying to them I would probably do it.

    I would rank their comfort higher than my integrity.

  44. #44 Cuttlefish, OM
    November 29, 2007

    #22–not my own, but I thought I’d share it anyway:

    An atheist woman I know
    Had eight orgasms, all in a row
    And although it seems odd
    She did not scream “Oh, God!”
    but “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!”

  45. #45 Matt Penfold
    November 29, 2007

    “Matt: I would not say that.

    If a dying person wanted to have an intellectual conversation about deities, I’d be willing to talk about it, but I would neither hide my opinions nor would I force them on the person uninvited. They have other things to think about.”

    Thanks PZ, I knew that was what would say but I am glad you said it as it may just get through to Steve99.

  46. #46 Matt Penfold
    November 29, 2007

    “I have one complaint. Why would you ask grandma to hold on longer, especially if it was obvious she had nothing to hold on with or for? Leave that out and the answer to the grandma gambit is unassailable.

    But let me add another point. Not only is the grandma gambit a lost cause, atheists, non-theists, naturalists, whatever you like to call us, have something else to offer — the possibility of an assisted death, without the common pain, physical distress and indignity of so many deaths. Grandma might even want such assistance. Going to keep telling her to hold on?”

    I take your point but the way I read PZ’s comment was that he was asking granny to hang on so that others might have the chance to say their goodbyes to her. Granny might well welcome assistance in helping her die but I think she would only want that help when surrounded by her loved ones. In this day and age, with families spread all over the place it sometimes takes time for everyone to get to the hospital.

  47. #47 Stevie_C
    November 29, 2007

    Nah. Seems more hung up on being an apologist.
    He answered your grandma gambit. 99 seems to have framing issues too.

  48. #48 Peter Ashby
    November 29, 2007

    “All I am after is simple respect for others. For following the Golden Rule – treat others as you would want them to treat you. I believe that this was lacking from Condell’s approach.”

    Yet you fail to notice and appreciate that failure to take into a account that a loved one is atheist and expect them to mouth platitudes is them breaking your golden rule.

    If you are truly a ‘proselytising atheist’ then you are one who seems painfully unaware of the double standards around belief/non belief. THEY are allowed to say and expect what they want and we are not allowed to be ourselves in response. Unless and until you get this then you are off message mate.

    You might also show some empathy for our brethren over the pond who have to put up with batshit crazy religious people far more than any sane person should have to stomach even while on holiday. Here we have very nice, urbane pseudo deist CofE bishops in comparison. So it is a bit much for you to sit in your comfortable English armchair and tell these embattled folk they have lost their perspective. I suggest you have not yet gained yours.

    I hereby sentence you to exile in Northern Ireland, in the Rev Dr Ian Paisley’s constituency no less. I would sentence you to live in Stornoway, but the place has gone all wishy washy liberal now you can get a drink on a Sunday.

  49. #49 Matt Penfold
    November 29, 2007

    “If I thought that I could comfort someone in such a situation by lying to them I would probably do it.

    I would rank their comfort higher than my integrity.”

    I think for me it might depend on how well the person knew me. My family are all pretty well aware of my religious views and so for me to lie about them would be dishonest on my part as well as showing a total lack of respect to them.

    Should I come across a stranger in the street dying who was asking for his god, I would might well say it would not be long before he stood before him. Thankfully I have never been put in such a position. I might also try to find words that did not commit me either way about god, indeed not involve him at all. To be honest until I am in such a situation I do not know how I would respond, but can only hope I would ease the suffering of the person.

  50. #50 j.t.delaney
    November 29, 2007

    What do you do when a loved, respected friend or family member, who is either facing death or grieving a spouse’s death, and is a true believer but not an asshole, is constantly talking to you about their supernatural beliefs?

    Hoo, that’s a good one. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about winning petty arguements with inevitable religious nuts, but I am interested in how to act around dying/bereaved religous nuts — especially of the elderly, related variety.

    If you haven’t been to an Irish wake, these things aren’t exactly dignified, cerebral, detached memorials to the departed: there is lots of melodrama, and lots of catharsis. A lot of the grieving is very intense, and I have to admit out of desperation to comfort some religious relatives, I’ve told them what I thought they wanted to hear; I’m not exactly proud of it, but then again, I’m not ashamed either. Holding a trembling, unravelled parent or aunt or uncle in your arms, it’s awfully hard to see how this would be the time for level-headed honest debate on metaphysics, even if that’s the topic they want to discuss. So my question for the gang is: how would you deal with such a situation? I’ve deal with it already once or twice as best as I could, but maybe some folks have better ideas.

  51. #51 buck
    November 29, 2007

    there is a more disgusting version of the option D described in comment #16 and it takes place mostly in poor and developing countries with a large missionary presence…these well-funded soul-harvesting vultures descend down on the homes of the poor and the illiterate whenever there’s a family member on the deathbed and start hounding the distraught family to convert the dying one with stories of eternal hell…

  52. #52 Snark7
    November 29, 2007

    It’s not a valid argument at all. It’s not even a valid argument.
    I had this situation more than once and what I normally just answer something like this:
    “Well yes. But what’s good in an emergency is not good in normal life. If grandma has terminal bowel cancer and has horrible pain, it is good to give her morphines, even heroin. This isn’t considered good in normal live at all. Same with relgion.”

    Which very nicely associates religion with something very harmful and socially banned, which it is and should be πŸ˜‰

  53. #53 Steve Zara
    November 29, 2007

    So it is a bit much for you to sit in your comfortable English armchair and tell these embattled folk they have lost their perspective. I suggest you have not yet gained yours.

    What is the ‘comfortable English armchair’ that you mention? I often live and work in London. Gay men have been beaten and killed in London in recent years.

    You are the one who needs to gain perspective. A slightly different interpretation of the video of a self-promoting atheist comic is not the issue here.

  54. #54 Mark
    November 29, 2007

    Religion promises two things, the existence of a creator and life after death. Of the two, you can make a case that life after death is more important–if most people had to make a choice between

    * There’s no god, but there is life after death, and
    * There is a god, but no life after death, dead is dead

    I think the first choice is by far the more attractive one. In fact, people want life after death so much that they’re willing to believe–or pretend to believe–all the other crazy dogma that religions throw at you claiming that it adds up to a coherent whole. Which it doesn’t.

    If you don’t agree, just imagine that Jesus came back tomorrow. Assume that we were all in agreement that he was for real and that he brought with him the genuine word of god. And then imagine that Jesus said, “Okay, everybody, God told me to tell you that he’s having second thoughts about life after death, he thinks that the immortal soul turns out not to be such a great idea, and starting immediately the afterlife is canceled. So make the most of your time on earth, because it’s all you’re going to get.”

    My guess is that Jesus stock would go way down.

  55. #55 Phoenix Woman
    November 29, 2007

    Actually, there’s one thing Christians have to offer that atheists can’t–my cousin (from Pensacola, FL, natch!) told my mother on her deathbed that she was going to Hell for all the Sundays she was the only doc rounding in the hospital, instead of going to church.

    And after that your cousin went out to go stalk a Planned Parenthood clinic, right?

    I admire your self-restraint. If I’d been in the same room when someone tried doing that to MY mother, there’s a good chance they may have assumed room temperature well before she did.

  56. #56 Sastra
    November 29, 2007

    I’m not sure why there is confusion over what atheists say to someone with other beliefs who is dying — isn’t pretty much everyone open to being put in that position? Beliefs about God, an afterlife, and The Point of It All run the gamut. Even if you’re a theist, sooner or later someone you love will be in dire distress and say something you consider “theologically incorrect.” Now what?

    My guess is that people with sensitivity and tact probably all follow the same basic rules on religion and death beds. Now is not the time to convert. When asked a specific question where your real answer is ‘no’ — but the other person wants it to be ‘yes’ — say “I don’t know.” Or “maybe.” Or “could be — what do you think?” And, if you can, change the subject to something you do have in common, something positive or meaningful or helpful having to do with life and love. As PZ suggests.

    “Will I see my puppy when I’m in heaven?” Plenty of Christians who don’t believe animals have souls will choke pride and tell the dying child that well, they just might. That’s not a sign they don’t really believe what they believe — and atheists who sidestep specific questions from a dying grandmother or otherwise make kindly compromises are in the same position. (Of course, this excludes fine folks like thalarctos’ cousin — who usually aren’t insisting that people playact for deathbed scenes anyway.)

    Trouble is some people think the Dying Grandma Gambit is indicative of how atheists should always act — as if they are constantly confronting the newly bereaved — and yet wouldn’t think of applying the same rule to themselves.

  57. #57 Peter Ashby
    November 29, 2007

    Yet Steve they live in a country that is trying to constitutionally ban what we refer to as Civil Partnerships. So even here you have no perspective. And FWIW I know, have worked with and am related by marriage to gay people and none of them has been beaten up for it. Said relative and his partner have rented a flat and stayed in hotels here and on the continent with absolutely no problems at all. Mind you they are not the blatant sort either.

    Just because you have problems does not mean that the other guy’s problems are not worse than yours. I suggest you get down off your moral high horse and deal with the large chip that seems to have dug itself into your shoulder. Because unless you do those you will not do well in discussions in here.

  58. #58 Matt Penfold
    November 29, 2007

    “You are the one who needs to gain perspective. A slightly different interpretation of the video of a self-promoting atheist comic is not the issue here.”

    Slightly different ? Nothing slight about it, you totally distorted what Condell had to say to suit your own agenda. That is not honest.

  59. #59 robbrown
    November 29, 2007

    Chuck said:

    Of course, I am a materialist with no belief in a spiritual afterlife. Therefore, it is only rational to work towards prolonging human life. Can we agree that death is horrible?

    That makes no sense to me. Does “horrible” (or “good”, “bad”, “happy”, or “sad”) have any meaning whatsoever in a materialist worldview?

    I can see it from a Darwinian point of view, that we have certain things we strive for (food, sex, etc) or attempt to avoid (injury, premature death), but I can’t necessarily see that death of an elderly person is a bad thing from a Darwinian point of view. Only maybe as a side effect of a general “avoid death” rule, even though there isn’t a strong reason for it in an elderly person.

    I find it odd that a materialist would make such a leap of logic that “death = bad” and present it with no justification. I’m no more willing to “agree that death is horrible” than I will agree that God exists….both seem to be based on nothing more than “this is what my mind initially intuits, therefore it must be true”

  60. #60 Scrofulum
    November 29, 2007

    In my (sadly) considerable experience of conversations with dying people (and no, I’m not a serial killer), I’ve never had a problem discussing death and it’s impending implications. No-one’s ever been offended when they ask what I believe and I tell them, and I’ve never skirted the issue. I get the impression people are just grateful for a decent conversation rather than embarrassed silence or abject denial (“You’ll be fine Mildred, look at you, healthy as an Ox with all those tubes sticking out!”).

    My reply to the “What would you tell your dying Grandma?” is usually “No fucking lies.”

    Unless I found out I’d been left out of her will . . .

  61. #61 rpsms
    November 29, 2007

    I have an alternate narrative:

    Imagine my mother on her deathbed. A few days prior, she converts to a “looser” religion than the one she had been raised in.

    Her mother comes in, discovers this fact, and they have a huge fight about how she failed god in raising my mother and she is going to hell for a certainty. Next day, my mother dies.

  62. #62 woozy
    November 29, 2007

    Any “Buffy” fans out there? Remember the last episode of Angel. Wesley is mortally wounded and goes to the demon who has taken over his girlfriend’s body. The demon says “You are dying”. Wesley says “I know”. The demon asks “In your last minute alive do you want the truth or lies” Wesley says, “Lies, please.” And the demon takes on the form of his gone girlfriend and says things like everythings going to be all right and she’ll always be here and love him as so on, and Wesley dies … in relative but not complete comfort.

    I rather like the admission that while dying one might intellectually choose lies, know they are choosing lies, but also know that it’s the best option for the moment.

    One could easily turn the dying grandmother argument into one of politics:

    If your grandmother was dying would you tell her you still resent her for voting for Nadar in 2000?

  63. #63 Don
    November 29, 2007

    If somebody is dying, the moment is about them, not you. That is one time you leave the agenda at home and make a serious effort to do whatever makes it easier. If I thought it would help, I’d testify in tongues and find no conflict at all. I mean, who’s going to call me on it?

    A few years ago my best friend died of cancer. He was wonderfully tended by his ex-wife (they’d stayed on good terms and shared the kids’ upbringing). She is a good hearted person who managed to combine residual catholicism with new age woo and towards the end tried to introduce both priests and crystal healers to his room. He declined both and when she asked ‘What have you got to lose?’ he had what was probably his last burst of energy and replied ‘The last shreds of my fucking dignity.’

    Technically those were not his last words, but that’s how I think of them.

  64. #64 mothworm
    November 29, 2007

    By an odd coincidence, the Cure’s Funeral Party is playing on my computer as I read this.

    My grandmother died a few months ago. I’ve written and erased three posts becuase I can’t seem to put anything together that adequately expresses how much she meant to me, and how incredible I thought she was. She died quickly and unexpectedly, and I wasn’t with her when it happened. I still feel crushed and destroyed. She was religious, although she never bothered me about what I did or didn’t believe. She was always just there for me. If I’d been there while she was dying, and she’d wanted me to read the Bible to her, I certainly would have.

    My mother, on the other hand, is pretty hard core christian. Dealing with her (and my sister) after my grandmother’s death has been much harder than it would otherwise have to be. There seems to be an underlying, almost unspoken accusation that by not believeing in a god or an afterlife, I am somehow killing my grandmother a second time. That if I really loved her, I would just believe so I could see her again. Apparently for my mother, just wanting something to be true makes it true.

    Ironically, even my mother has said she’s gotten really sick of people telling her to be happy because this is only a temporary separation, and she’ll see my grandmother again in heaven. So it would seem that, even if Christianity’s best selling point is comfort, it does a really piss poor job on that front.

    On a lighter note:

    Ever slept with a physicist?

    Yes. Although she’s now a biochemist/molecular biologist. And a gold-star atheist. Never called out to god, or science for that matter. Although, she sounds a lot like Cuttlefish’s poem when I’m showing the proper appreciation for the study of her anatomy.

  65. #65 Jsn
    November 29, 2007

    Steve Z.
    It can be difficult to interpret a posting, as you well know. Your question may have been well intentioned but it fell within the type of question usually framed by trolls.

    Question: Are you out as a gay man? I’m not asking this out of rudeness but to get to the crux of the matter. If you are still closeted to many people then that is telling.

    The effects of persecution in an intolerant society as well as parental disapproval can drive many people to remain closeted about atheism, sexuality, and a variety of stigmatizing traits, but at a huge psychic cost. Living an authentic life is damned near impossible if what is authentic to you seems to make you a pariah to family or society at large.
    There is a difference between withholding information and misleading someone by actively engaging in behaviors that are not authentic to you. Deceiving someone by praying with them when you don’t believe in their god or pretending to be something/someone else is exactly that – deceit no matter how comforting it may feel. Actually, going through certain religious rites when your not a believer is pretty damn unethical. Remaining true to your own creed (do atheists have creeds?) is important. We don’t have to be confrontational when no one has confronted us but we don’t have to just lie down and take it when someone abuses us (unless we’ve paid top money for it, but that’s something else altogether).
    Sometimes it is necessary to remain closeted to keep a job or for safety sake, but a friendship based on deceit is a false relationship. Not that we must divulge all our private issues to the public or even friends and family, but going “Whoah, get a load of that chick, I’d like to do her” for the benefit of homophobic friends if you’re a gay man is atrocious. Nor is it necessary to volunteer to a hostile audience, “Hey, that dude makes me turgid”. I’m sure that this example will spark a spirited debate substituting gay concerns for atheist concerns and vice versa (thrown in concerns for those with Mental disorders such as BiPolar and see what happens).
    Several have already pointed out the folly of false choices, the “you’re either for us or against us” mentality. There are many choices of action in-between. I suspect your post is begging a deeper question, but hell, what do I know. Thank you for your candor.

  66. #66 Inoculated Mind
    November 29, 2007

    Quantum electrodynamics, baby, that was GOOD!

    Does dirty talk involving geology count?

  67. #67 jdb
    November 29, 2007

    Am I right that Judaism is a little fuzzy, bordering on agnostic, about the existence of an afterlife? If so, what is an observant Jew supposed to say to a dying Christian loved one who wants reassurance that she’s going to heaven? Is the Jewish person supposed to lie about his beliefs and say the “comforting” thing, or does that only apply to atheists?

  68. #68 Haydin
    November 29, 2007

    One of the atheist friends told me a story about how he comforted a christian friend upon the death of the christian’s mother. He said “She’s in heaven now”. The christian friend replied “But you don’t beleive in heaven!”. And my athiest friend replied “No, but you do”.

  69. #69 FrumiousBandersnark
    November 29, 2007

    Wow. A blog entry on which I actually have some useful information.

    I’m an atheist. I visited my dying grandmother two years ago. Her first words to the family when we arrived at the nursing home were, “Is my grandson out there?” We hugged, we caught up on events going on in my life, and as I recall, we got some McDonald’s takeout and took her outside to enjoy one of the last nice days of autumn in upstate New York. For a very brief time, the misery of her grim hanging-on-for-dear-life was made immeasurably brighter simply by having her family around and carrying on with everyday life stuff.

    Never once did the subject of Gawud, his only son Jeebus besotted from the vermin Mary or whatever (yes, I just called the xtian god a drunken rat-bastard), or any other religious crap come up. She never tried to get us to pray for her. She was a typical Yankee, in that she felt that religion, like most things, was a private affair and best kept that way.

    Similarly, it was not necessary for me to challenge or mock her religious beliefs. It wasn’t important. It wasn’t relevant. Whatever comfort she took from religion came from someone else. We were there simply to brighten one of her few remaining days.

    She died a very short time later (within a month, I believe), secure in the knowledge that her grandson (whom she adored) was happy, healthy, and secure in his life out west, and that the rest of her family was similarly well-situated.

    So, to the Xtards who resort to the dying grandmother argument, I offer two very defiant flipped birds and a stark Yankee admonishment from the Southwest to tend to your own knitting and let me worry about my own.

  70. #70 Kseniya
    November 29, 2007

    FWIW, I have to chime in here with Christianjb in defense of Steve Zara aka Steve99.

    Steve’s initial comment contained a few rhetorical questions asked in response to what seemed (to him) to be an untempered call to arms made by Mr. Condell, and I read the comment thus:

    “Do we atheists resort to ridicule and mockery when confronted with the religious beliefs or needs of the dying, the bereaved, the caregivers? No, we are not, and refusing to do so is not a concession to ‘moderation’.”

    Which is a far cry from:

    “You atheists only want to give the finger to your own dying grandmothers!”

    With that said, I don’t think Mr. Condell was advocating that we do anything of the sort. Even if he was, it appears that everyone posting here knows better than to jump on that particular bandwagon.

    We’re all entitled to our own reactions and are responsible for our own responses. Well, those are mine.

  71. #71 charley
    November 29, 2007

    The dying grandma might be a believers’ ploy, but you would be wrong to ignore the pain this kind of thing can cause in a family. Informing my aged devout parents that I’m an atheist has been a very tough process.

    There’s no gentle way to say I don’t believe. You can tell them you respect them, and act accordingly, but I don’t think it helps much. After all, you have just dismissed the belief which is the foundation of their life, which they worked so hard to instill in you. The distinction between this dismissal and disrespect is so subtle, I’m not even sure it exists. All the hand holding and kind words in the world won’t relieve them from the prospect of eternal hell for their child. They are wonderful people, and I have laid a burden on them they will take to their graves in a few years.

    It sucks for everyone now, but I hope it lays the groundwork for a future for my kids and theirs in which they are free to think as they like without religious pressure from the family.

    None of which is meant to criticize Pat’s video, which has its place.

  72. #72 Alex
    November 29, 2007

    “There is usually a tone of high moral indignation, as well, and a smug expression of superiority that the faithful have over the godless.”

    I’ve noticed that much more from atheists than from theists.

  73. #73 Crikey
    November 29, 2007

    The Christian thing to do would be to have the doctor dope her to the gills on morphine while the family fights over her belongings and their lawyers try breaking the will before she kicks off.

  74. #74 Matt Penfold
    November 29, 2007

    One thing I think the religious miss when criticising atheists is what the atheist is giving up. It would be wonderful to think that there really is an afterlife where you will get to meet you loved ones again, as well as be able to go and find the likes of Charles Darwin and have a conversation with him. However there is no evidence at all to support the idea such an afterlife exists and so atheists reject the idea it does. That strikes me as being something of a sacrifice.

  75. #75 Steve Zara
    November 29, 2007

    Thank you so much Kseniya. That was exactly the position I was trying to put forward. You have expressed it so well, and far better that I could manage. It is like you have read my mind.

    Of course, Condell was not advocating that we do anything of the sort. What I was so troubled by was, as you express so well, his apparent ‘untempered call to arms’

  76. #76 Jsn
    November 29, 2007

    /Does “horrible” (or “good”, “bad”, “happy”, or “sad”) have any meaning whatsoever in a materialist worldview?/
    Robbie,
    Let’s us presume that I have a truncheon, a billy club, if you will and I begain to hit you with it at the rate of 30 times a minute. You cannot move and must endure my blows. Do you want me to stop , slow down or continue? I presume stopping would be your answer. If I continued, would you be angry? Sad? (In PAIN obviously). If I slowed down would you be relieved? Confused?
    If I stopped, would you be happier than when I started? Now, suppose now that my beating left you permanently physically disfigured. Would you feel sadness, humiliation, regret, anger or all the above?
    We, as humans have emotions, whether or not there is a god/gods, heaven/hell or a celestial whorehouse in the netherworld. The psychology of humans deals with these concepts of happiness, sadness, etc. ad nauseum. We materialsts are capable of contrast and comparison and the use of many adjectives.

    Materialists can determine good/bad, happy/sad because that is HOW we quantify/qualify experiences of our existance unless else we’re comatose.
    BTW, schizophrenia is marked by the absence of emotion.

    We recognise horror (horrible!), terror (terrible!) and joy (fanfuckingTASTIC!), however “EVIL”, as defined by demonic or supernatural causation, does not jibe with a materialistic world view, nor does “divine”; neither does “sublime” unless your talking about the physical reaction of converting from a solid to a gas.

  77. #77 Sparrowhawk
    November 29, 2007

    @Sven in #7

    That was the FIRST THING I thought when I saw the header of this post. I’ve already had two funeral excuses this week–the last midterm is on Monday.

  78. #78 Matt Penfold
    November 29, 2007

    “The dying grandma might be a believers’ ploy, but you would be wrong to ignore the pain this kind of thing can cause in a family. Informing my aged devout parents that I’m an atheist has been a very tough process.

    There’s no gentle way to say I don’t believe. You can tell them you respect them, and act accordingly, but I don’t think it helps much. After all, you have just dismissed the belief which is the foundation of their life, which they worked so hard to instill in you. The distinction between this dismissal and disrespect is so subtle, I’m not even sure it exists. All the hand holding and kind words in the world won’t relieve them from the prospect of eternal hell for their child. They are wonderful people, and I have laid a burden on them they will take to their graves in a few years.

    It sucks for everyone now, but I hope it lays the groundwork for a future for my kids and theirs in which they are free to think as they like without religious pressure from the family.

    None of which is meant to criticize Pat’s video, which has its place.”

    Maybe it is the circle I mix with, or the fact I am British and not American, but whilst I can understand that being put in such a position must be agonising the idea that such a situation can exist strikes me as very strange indeed. I can honestly say that no one I know personally has ever faced such a situation. I have friends and family who both religious and atheist and not one of them has even indicated that having a family member holding religious views that do not accord with theirs (or lack thereof of course) has caused the slightest trouble. I do know of one atheist who visits her parents at Christmas. Her parents go to midnight mass but she has now chosen not to. Her parents do not make an issue of this,they accept her and she accepts they do belief and respects the fact they consider belief to be a personal matter and thus not something for them to pressure her over. Whilst they are in church she bakes some mince pies, mulls wine etc for them all to have when the parents return. Sounds rather civilised to me.

  79. #79 dangerblond
    November 29, 2007

    I just can’t even pretend to indulge supernatural thinking any more, and I find myself surrounded by it in most situations here in the south. Not just Christian beliefs, but all kinds of irrational beliefs, including astrology, psychics and whatnot. Some people I know think I’m Cruella de Ville because I won’t play along. I have also had people tell me, “Oh, I’m so happy to meet another non-believer, it seems like everyone else is going crazy.”

    When it comes to elderly people and those who have suffered something dreadful, however, I’m a softie. I’ll minimally play along, and if it gets ridiculous, I’ll leave. Like the commenter above, their comfort is more important than my beliefs, because, hey, I don’t have any beliefs to push (at least, not in that situation).

    To the person who asked about bereaved people talking incessantly about religion, I usually just suck it up until they start talking about me personally (and “where I am with the Lord”) or hating on others such as gays or people of different religions. When someone is suffering, it’s not the best time to try to talk sense to them. If a friend or relative is a true believer, I likely wouldn’t be spending very much time with them had it not been for their loss, so I figure I’ve let myself in for it.

    BTW, I graduated from the university where Barbara Forrest teaches, SLU. I knew her a little, and I bet she is horrified at the Texas fiasco. I learned about Judgment Day from reading this blog. After seeing it, I made my first-ever contribution to the alumni fund, in recognition of Dr. Forrest. Ironically, the parish where SLU is located is the scene of perennial battles between the school board and the ACLU over Christian prayer in the public schools. They have only recently started complying with the law after losing in federal court for the second or third time.

  80. #80 Steve Zara
    November 29, 2007

    Question: Are you out as a gay man? I’m not asking this out of rudeness but to get to the crux of the matter. If you are still closeted to many people then that is telling.

    I don’t mind the question. I am totally out. To family, friends, work colleagues, everyone.

    I think PZ has really misread things here. There was a great post #70 that explains precisely how I feel.

  81. #81 djt
    November 29, 2007

    To commentors numbers 5 and 6 re: “no atheists in foxholes”. It’s not because someone suddenly finds faith in a god when they are in a foxhole, it’s because when that term was coined, a soldier was not allowed to put the word atheist on their dogtag. I don’t know whether they are allowed today – I believe they say “no religious preference”.

  82. #82 Patricia Shannon
    November 29, 2007

    When my grandmother was on her deathbed, I read to her from the Bible (23rd psalm, for one thing). I didn’t tell her I believed, but I read to her something that would probably be of comfort to her, not to me.
    When she found out she had cancer, she told me she thought God must be punishing her for something. So where was the comfort then?

  83. #83 Mandolin
    November 29, 2007

    My grandmother’s an atheist…

  84. #84 Steve Zara
    November 29, 2007

    Jsn: Just to give more information – I have also posted frequently to Richard Dawkins’s site. I am out there too – I post there as steve99 as well.

  85. #85 Anonymous
    November 29, 2007

    On the subject of exclamations during intimate moments, I don’t think my girlfriend or I have ever cried anything out, but it’s not uncommon as a prelude to intimacy, during the foreplay teasing to refer to physics concepts.

    Two bodies in thermal equilibrium, anyone?

  86. #86 Matt Penfold
    November 29, 2007

    The 23rd Psalm is nice poetry if nothing else. At least in the King James Version it is. I am not sure how well it would come across in more modern translations.

    Of course even that arch-atheist Richard Dawkins considers parts of the bible, including some of the Psalms to have literary merit.

  87. #87 Chris
    November 29, 2007

    No time to read the entire thread today, but I just thought I’d mention that I’ve frequently encountered, and am somewhat persuaded by a different version of the grandmother gambit. That is, there comes an age at which people ought to be left alone to believe what they believe. This is mostly due to the fact that its not worth the effort to try to make them think differently. Its hard to de-convert a thoroughly brainwashed 18 year old, and its damn near impossible for an 80 year old. And then, why bother? They dont have any real power at that age. So my proposal would be avoid pestering old people unless they fire the first shot. Even then though, its better to just laugh and smile and appreciate them for the reminders of (the sometimes small amount of) progress has been made.

  88. #88 Steve Zara
    November 29, 2007

    Ihe dying grandma might be a believers’ ploy, but you would be wrong to ignore the pain this kind of thing can cause in a family. Informing my aged devout parents that I’m an atheist has been a very tough process.

    I do understand and sympathise with what you are going through. I had to reveal that I was gay to aged parents (before my father died). It was not easy, but once you make the decision to talk about such things, it can often go much better than you think.

    I wish you good luck with these discussions.

  89. #89 dWhisper
    November 29, 2007

    Hmmm. Interesting, but totally wrong. My grandmother died three weeks ago, and the whole religion thing never came up. I said goodbye, did my greiving, and celebrated the fact that she lived a full and rich life.

  90. #90 Bride of Shrek
    November 29, 2007

    One of my grandmothers is a bigger atheist than me. She would no more ask for religious comfort on her deathbed than do a pole dance. She’s a highly educated RN who ran nursing homes for years so has seen more death than the average person.

    The other grandmother is a smug, sanctimonious, far far holier than thou Catholic who left school at 10 because in her family girls only needed basic education to become the doormats they wished to be. She wouldn’t bring the subject up either but only because she’s of the smug certainty her world is the perfect one and she’s the only one going to “Heaven” anyhow. I never forgave her after, living with my non-religious grandfather for 60 years, she finally got her fucking claws into him( post massive stroke with resultant senility) to talk him into converting to Catholicism. A grown man who fought in World War 2 undergoing a baptism like a friggin baby is not a pretty sight. Opportunistic bitch.

  91. #91 Chris
    November 29, 2007

    to clarify my last: Nevermind impending death, old age is reason enough not to fights with folks about their bizarre beliefs.

  92. #92 Christianjb
    November 29, 2007

    I think Steve99 has pretty much proved that his question was genuine and he wasn’t trolling.

    Personally- I think some people should apologize.

    I think PZ’s post was well written- but I could have done without him implying that anyone who asks the question is ‘stupid and sanctimonious’.

    Well- I guess PZ can be like a squid sometimes- he has a propensity for squirting ink in others’ faces.

    ———————————————————
    I thought the rest of PZ’s reply was excellent. Still- I have to admit that in practice, I don’t really mind paying lip service when invited to a wedding/funeral etc or when confronted with a frail old person who has lived their entire life believing in religion. I personally feel that it’s OK to respect someone’s culture- but I won’t go so far as agreeing with their specific beliefs.

    I think we all draw the line at different places. There’s obviously a point where culture blends into authoritarian religious doctrine. Similarly- though slightly off-topic, there’s also a point where harmless patriotism blends into flag-waving xenophobia.

  93. #93 Heather
    November 29, 2007

    I’ve had my own “dying grandmother” scenarios, only it tends to be at the other end of the spectrum – the “dying infant” scenario.

    I do volunteer work for an organization that does infant bereavement photography. I have yet to do one of these sessions where the family has been atheist – or at least openly atheist. Since every one of them has mentioned a faith in heaven, I would venture to say they aren’t hidden atheists.

    I would never presume to tell them my beliefs or thoughts on the matter, but I know it is comforting to them to think that their little one is an angel in heaven. I know that when I lost an infant son at 11 days, that’s the only thing that got me through the whole ordeal – the idea that SOMEDAY I would see him again.

    I really would love to be able to know without a doubt that there is an afterlife, but it’s not something I can just force myself to believe. After losing a second baby (during the second trimester) I came to the conclusion that sometimes bad shit happens, and there really is no plan. When you die – maybe there is a heaven. But if there isn’t, well – I’m not really going to care about it. I won’t be able to grieve the loss of an afterlife, so in any case it’s a moot point.

  94. #94 Steve Zara
    November 29, 2007

    Well- I guess PZ can be like a squid sometimes- he has a propensity for squirting ink in others’ faces.

    That is no bad thing! Squid ink should be squirted freely, where available.

    And, one of the attractions of PZ’s site for me was that I also work with squid… the wonderful and mysterious Illex genus.

    If the fact that I am a left-winger, an atheist, and also a squid researcher will not tempt PZ to correspond, I can’t imagine what will!

  95. #95 Christianjb
    November 29, 2007

    Steve: My squid pun was just too good to pass up. If you’re going to insult PZ then you have to do it properly!

  96. #96 arensb
    November 29, 2007

    First, if I may repeat something of Matt Dillahunty’s that bears repeating, “I actually care whether my beliefs are true.”

    Secondly, if I may restate the granny gambit in a blunter (or perhaps more offensive) form:

    “Look at that sweet old granny there who, like millions of other people, can’t walk normally because from the time she was a child, she was told she had to use a crutch. Why do you mean acrutchists want to kick her crutch out from under her, just as she needs it the most?”

    May I suggest that a better solution is to teach children the truth, and how to think for themselves, so that future generations won’t have to decide whether to tell comforting lies to grandma?

  97. #97 Kseniya
    November 29, 2007

    I came to the conclusion that sometimes bad shit happens, and there really is no plan.

    I’m right there withya. 😐

  98. #98 Azkyroth
    November 29, 2007

    There’s no gentle way to say I don’t believe. You can tell them you respect them, and act accordingly, but I don’t think it helps much. After all, you have just dismissed the belief which is the foundation of their life, which they worked so hard to instill in you. The distinction between this dismissal and disrespect is so subtle, I’m not even sure it exists. All the hand holding and kind words in the world won’t relieve them from the prospect of eternal hell for their child. They are wonderful people, and I have laid a burden on them they will take to their graves in a few years.

    As far as I’m concerned, people with that perspective created their own burden and laid it in themselves. There’s no reason you should have to carry it.

  99. #99 Brownian, OM
    November 29, 2007

    It seems to me everything anyone needs to know about how an atheist might talk to a dying grandmother is right here, on this thread:

    A bunch of individuals sharing their experiences of grief with each other and commiserating.

    Athiest or theist, it seems like a pretty decently human thing to do.

  100. #100 danley
    November 29, 2007

    I told my grandmother to prepare for the wrath of satan. She was a drug addict, mean as hell and a bitch. Unfortunately, satan doesn’t exist.

  101. #101 Peter Ashby
    November 29, 2007

    The concept of something being sublime has moved in the general language so far away from any religious definition as to make your point moot on that one Jsn. I am occasionally moved to describe something as sublime, often a particularly fine malt whisky with just the right mix of sweetness, peat, smoke, seaweed, fire and even a hint of malt. Or the way Dave Gilmour makes his guitar sing on Comfortably Numb. Sublime is a perfectly good word and I refuse to consign it only to the chemists (they can have deliquescent) or the arcane religious.

    And yes, I am as hard assed a materialist as you are ever likely to meet.

    But still I feel.

  102. #102 RamblinDude
    November 29, 2007

    My grandmother died last year. For her entire life she was bright and energetic and forward looking, always a positive influence in my life. She went to church and believed in God (most of my relatives do), but never, not once did she ever get preachy about it or try to convert anyone. I think she suspected my views on religion but we never talked about it. I would never have thought about trying to get her to disbelieve, and it never came up.

    She had a very traditional Indiana funeral. We were subjected to the endless droning of a young preacher who recited bible verses, and emphasized repeatedly the purpose and importance of Jesus Christ in our lives. Sermonizing at my grandmother’s funeral, and using it as platform to plead for our souls was tedious and inappropriate, and for some of us, disgusting; her funeral had little to do with the way she lived her life.

  103. #103 Christianjb
    November 29, 2007

    Steve: PZ is probably too busy to enter into a long email exchange on the niceties of this topic- though he regularly gives up an hour or so for radio interviews and the like. Your best bet is to say your piece here.

    There are actually an inordinate number of atheists with squid fetishes (judging by the people on this site)- so you may not be unique.

  104. #104 Jsn
    November 29, 2007

    Well Peter, just go on with your bad self. You can use “sublime” anytime you want to, big guy, especially when describing a single malt scotch. (Glennfidich, Glennlivit, Glennmorangie?)
    I was simply pointing out that qualitative terms such as good or bad are universal whereas “evil” and “divine” are conceptually bound to mysticism and the supernatural, and the believers thereof.
    I use the word evil (misuse actually) to describe a lot of things but I don’t buy the Beelzebub/Lucifer/Satan causation crap. And “sacredness” escapes me which is perhaps why I am considered so profane.

  105. #105 neutron
    November 29, 2007

    …just something which occurred to me through all this; my father was a “lapsed Catholic” who had developed a healthy sceptical outlook on life and religion (thanks dad, by the way). During his final years fighting against his cancer he was in and out of hospital quite often and he would always say when they took him in, “keep the bloody priest away from me, he’ll be trying to reconvert me all the time!” So what about that as a question back to the Grandma questioner: if your sceptical, near-enough atheist father/grandma/etc is dying, is it ok for some priest/rabbi/imam to try and convert them?

  106. #106 Sastra, OM
    November 29, 2007

    robbrown #59 wrote:

    Does “horrible” (or “good”, “bad”, “happy”, or “sad”) have any meaning whatsoever in a materialist worldview?

    I think you misunderstand materialism/atheism a bit. Materialists generally don’t deny that minds, thoughts, feelings, values, and judgments exist (because they’re not physical). Instead, we see them as real but subjective, related only to how people and other animals react and behave. We deal with phenomenom at various levels of description, and so it’s perfectly reasonable to talk about what motivates human beings — and we usually don’t like to die. It’s “horrible” to us.

    The supernatural/theistic alternative is to believe that values and consciousness are transcendent and cosmic, and somehow objectively imbedded into (or acting upon) the entire universe. It seems to be a way of reifying abstractions. Death is “horrible” as a general fact, regardless of whether there is anything alive that cares one way or the other. Reality itself cares.

    djt #81 wrote:

    To commentors numbers 5 and 6 re: “no atheists in foxholes”. It’s not because someone suddenly finds faith in a god when they are in a foxhole, it’s because when that term was coined, a soldier was not allowed to put the word atheist on their dogtag.

    That may be true, but from what I can tell that’s not what most theists mean when they use the phrase. They seem to think that deep down we all need God, fear brings it out, and so the atheist is now forced to admit it.

    That’s one reason I’d really hesitate to tell an unknown doctor or car mechanic that I’m an atheist. Too many theists think a sudden attack of panicky terror is God’s loving way of removing your pride and showing you what you’ve known all along — you do need Him after all. I’d rather not have someone who sincerely believes that operating on me or my brakes.

  107. #107 Jsn
    November 29, 2007

    Oh, and Bill…check out Jeff Beck’s solos on Roger Waters’ “Amused to Death” for sublime. This a fantastic album for atheists. Check out “What God Wants…(God Gets)”

  108. #108 Steve Zara
    November 29, 2007

    Christianjb:

    I am sure you are right. I was not after a long e-mail exchange. Nothing more that an mutual ‘hi’, considering he seems to have posted a blog entry based on a misunderstanding of what I has written.

    I would have hoped that PZ could at least have done the decent thing, and replied to me. I would have thought it was nothing more than expected politeness and good manners.

    I don’t hold up much hope of posting any view here having any consequence, as on previous threads I have been subject to primarily rants, some of which even resorted labelling me as mentally ill. I have been using the internet since the 80s, so I am used to this kind of thing, but I was pretty astonished; I have not seen such ranting abuse since my use of usenet news in the mid 90s. I had hoped that I would not find such tactics employed on the site of a respected scientist, but I guess that is what you get if you have open forums these days.

  109. #109 Steve Zara
    November 29, 2007

    Bother…. I wish they had an edit facility:

    I am sure you are right. I was not after a long e-mail exchange. Nothing more that an mutual ‘hi’, considering he seems to have posted a blog entry based on a misunderstanding of what I have written.”

    (change to second-to-last word)

  110. #110 woozbug
    November 29, 2007

    I read the comment thus:

    “Do we atheists resort to ridicule and mockery when confronted with the religious beliefs or needs of the dying, the bereaved, the caregivers? No, we are not, and refusing to do so is not a concession to ‘moderation’.”

    Which is a far cry from:

    “You atheists only want to give the finger to your own dying grandmothers!”

    With that said, I don’t think Mr. Condell was advocating that we do anything of the sort.

    Perhaps, but then I don’t read PZ’s post as a “Fuck yes, I’d give my finger to your dying grandmother and fuck you for asking” but rather more as:

    “Look, I’m an athiest and I think religion is a poison and as such I think we must actively confront and renounce it when we can. [I’m paraphrasing what I believe PZ’s view-point to be, I’m not sure I agree but it sure is refreshing to hear folks like PZ express it.] And one problem is there are too many wishy-washy soft atheists who concede way too much to and apologize to much. Every time an atheist speaks his/her mind someone will give the ‘dying grandmother’ argument to tone it down. The ‘dying grandmother’ argument is nothing but a strawman argument of the most extreme and contrived sort. That it is even brought of is suspect as though we athiest have to begin apologizing from the get-go just in case there is member of the audience with a dying grandmother who’ll take my ‘speak it, brother’ as a personal attack. We can’t get anywhere if we start by pre-empting our-selves for what some may conclude will be bad bedside manner in a hypothetical situation which rarely arises and when it does is irrelevent as we will treat our dying loved one’s with *humanity* and not anti-theist dogma.”

    I don’t see PZ’s response as directed at Steve or anyone who *is* concerned about a dying loved one. I see it more addressed at the need to presume a most extreme and not that real example to paint atheists as rude jerks who need to have limits constantly pointed out to them.

  111. #111 Ichthyic
    November 29, 2007

    I would have hoped that PZ could at least have done the decent thing, and replied to me. I would have thought it was nothing more than expected politeness and good manners.

    um, no inflated ego or anything on your part, I’m sure…

    but PZ was addressing a general issue, hardly the first time it has been raised.

    put a pin in that head of yours, quick.

  112. #112 Peter
    November 29, 2007

    Re #7: My own view is that multi-fold increase in the number of dying-grandparent appeals/excuses around mid-term time is actually due to an sharp upswing in death rates of the grandparents of undergraduate students at that time … and my assignments are to blame.

  113. #113 Sastra, OM
    November 29, 2007

    I’ve seen something similar to the Dying Grandmother Gambit used on war protesters:

    “There are grieving mothers and widows who have lost a soldier in Iraq: when you speak out or march or write a letter to the editor saying the war was a bad idea in the first place, that’s like telling them their loved one died for nothing. Would you say that to their face, at the funeral? No? Well then, think about that, and shut up about the war.”

    (Btw, I didn’t get around to reading the Condell thread, and it appears Steve99 was misunderstood, but I don’t think it matters that much, since even if he wasn’t really pulling the Dying Grandma Gambit as such, others do it all the time. But in the spirit of our tactful response to the Dying Grandma situation, I will apologize to Steve. I didn’t do anything, but what the hell, be polite anway. πŸ˜‰

  114. #114 djt
    November 29, 2007

    Sastra:

    Here is my source regarding atheist/foxholes:
    http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/oneal_22_1.htm

  115. #115 Marcus Ranum
    November 29, 2007

    On a related issue; I have a friend who’s an ex-priest. He quit because of a crisis of faith brought on by (among other things) paying a deathbed call to a very wealthy lady. Apparently, it’s big business to drum up those last-minute donations and to make sure the parish is in the decedent’s will. Richard finally got disgusted with the full-court press he was expected to do, and became a technology consultant instead!

  116. #116 Crudely Wrott
    November 29, 2007

    I’m quiet for a moment, remembering. I only notice the tear when it reaches my beard. And I quietly thank you, PZ.

    Would that we all could die amid love and treasured memory. Even better in the presence of those whose care for the moment ignore eternity for the sake of finality. Aah, rest.

  117. #117 Hank Fox
    November 29, 2007

    If somebody posed that question “If your grandmother was on her deathbed, would you look her in the eye and tell her there was no Heaven?” it COULD be funny to glare at them in horror and say:

    “How could you say such a terrible thing?? My grandmother was MURDERED!!” … and then stalk away in teary-eyed fury.

    Hey, it would be bullshit, but then so is the original question.

  118. #118 inkadu
    November 29, 2007

    Steve Zara

    I have been using the internet since the 80s, so I am used to this kind of thing, but I was pretty astonished; I have not seen such ranting abuse since my use of usenet news in the mid 90s. I had hoped that I would not find such tactics employed on the site of a respected scientist, but I guess that is what you get if
    you have open forums these days.

    I have been using the internet since before it was the Internet — back when it was Fidonet. I’m just reverse-scrolling through these posts, and I have no idea what, exactly, you are talking about, but your paragraph here has all the hallmarks of a first class wanker.

    I’m not much in the mood to elevate the debate today.

  119. #119 Nix
    November 29, 2007

    Cuttlefish @#44, the metre on that works better if you remove one `oh’ (just assume she was silent for one of them).

  120. #120 Janine
    November 29, 2007

    Sreve Zara, I am not going to apologize to you. Here is why.
    You say you have been online since the eighties. You must know what happens when you show up at a rather polarized site.

    I have never seen you post here before, I have no idea where you are coming from. I read a statement that ends with a typical troll ending, you atheists are a bunch of meanies. You claim to be an atheists, you must know this routine. (I think all of us have stories about concerned people trying to save our souls.) And I will admit, I reacted in a way I normally do not. (I usually make jokes.) The reason being, this gambit, while trying to sound reasonable, was insulting. Just in my own case, all four of mine grandparents are dead. I got to see three of them shortly before they died. Never at any point did I feel the need to debate religion with them. So, yeah, your theoretical question hit home.

    Then when you entered back into the fray, you tried to act as if you did not use the question. You continued acting like a troll. For me, the final act that convinced me of your troll nature was replying to an other act of my name calling while ignoring what I thought was wrong with your statement.

    You want an other prove of you acting like a troll? That anti-semitic idiot, Gerald, was cheering you on. That should be an insult to any half sane person.

    I will refrain from name calling unless you stop playing nice. But I offer no apology.

  121. #121 efrique
    November 29, 2007

    Gee, when my grandma was dying and wanted me to pray, I would just gently and lovingly stab her in the eye with a shrimp fork and say “Nay, beloved Grandmother, for I am teh evil strawman athiest! Hahaha!”.

    A mere 5 or 6 times and she caught on. Isn’t that how atheists are supposed to behave?

    (To tell you the truth, my grandmother was a very smart lady, and didn’t even need the shrimp fork once.)

  122. #122 booger
    November 29, 2007

    Actually, I was drawn into this post because I thought it said something about “the dying Grandma Rabbit.” And I thought that sounded, you know, so sad and all. Oh well.

  123. #123 rrt
    November 29, 2007

    Well, I meant to leave off, but…

    Look, Steve. I’d like us to be chums and cheerfully debate the finer points of atheistic belligerence at the pub. Yeah, that sounds fun. So how do we get there? Seems to me we need to make a deal. On my end, I’ll agree you’re not a troll and were trying to argue in good faith. On your end, you’ll agree that you were mistaken about Condell’s “untempered call to arms.”

    In both threads, including this one created as a direct response to our specific bone of contention (the Grandma Gambit,) I’m not aware of a single one of us who thought that an “untempered call to arms” as effected by the Gambit was a good idea. And nearly all of us agreed the call to arms was implicitly tempered.

    Even allowing for a few I may have overlooked or who haven’t spoken up (there’s always someone…), I take that to mean that you were demonstrably wrong to conclude that Condell’s video would lead, or could be reasonably interpreted by atheists as calling for, us to “say to them ‘I give your religion the finger’, when they are in desperate need of care and consolation.” Can you accept that conclusion in the light of the evidence here?

    I’m not asking you to say you didn’t mean well, or that you generally support decreased atheist “politeness.” I can accept that you were feeling defensive and genuinely thought you were right about that specific point. Can you accept that you weren’t?

  124. #124 Hank Fox
    November 29, 2007

    I wonder if there are foxes in atheist roles?

  125. #125 RamblinDude
    November 29, 2007

    Angelina Jolie?

  126. #126 Jennie
    November 29, 2007

    Peter @ #112:
    Perhaps you should stop setting the question, “Write a reflective essay, based on your own experience, about what it is like to have recently lost a grandparent.”

    I don’t tend to get so many grandparent-deaths, actually, although I do get a lot of students who go through relationship crises (bad breakups, stalking ex’s, etc.) around exam time. Might be early signs of a changing trend in excuse content. Someone should do a study.

  127. #127 Interrobang
    November 29, 2007

    The first person to use the Dying Grandmother Gambit on me is going to get the response, “No, but call me back when you’ve turned into my dying grandmother.” Frankly, I respect my (very much alive and kicking) grandmother far more than I’d respect any asshat who’d ask me a question like that, and I think she knows it. The subject of whether or not I believe in any divine beings has just never come up, probably because she respects me enough not to mention it. The grandfolks are always glad to hear from me, though.

  128. #128 Ichthyic
    November 29, 2007

    Angelina Jolie?

    *clap clap*

    good answer.

    I wonder how many well wishers said they would pray for her after the tabloids reported she had a miscarriage.

  129. #129 Christianjb
    November 29, 2007

    Janine: So in your frankly bizarre world- if an anonymous poster who you consider to be antisemitic makes a post in support of a second anonymous poster- then the second anonymous poster is proven to be a troll.

    Your initial response to Steve was ‘go f*** yourself’ as far as I can recall. You’re then upset that he didn’t give a detailed answer to your other points?

    Finally- you’re claiming special knowledge, because you- like roughly 50% of the planet have had all four grandparents die off? (Actually- you should feel sorrier for me, because I’ve had all 8 great-grandparents tragically die.)

    Way to go! It’s great to see a fellow atheist with such command of logic.

    ————————–
    BTW- I haven’t had time to check if Gerald’s remarks were antisemitic. They may well be, but it’s not the point I’m making.

  130. #130 a person
    November 29, 2007

    No one will probably read this post since it’s so far at the end, but usually, when I have sex with someone, if I call out anything, it’s that person’s name.

  131. #131 MAJeff
    November 29, 2007

    No one will probably read this post since it’s so far at the end, but usually, when I have sex with someone, if I call out anything, it’s that person’s name.

    I just hope I can remember their name by the time it’s time to call out something.

  132. #132 Jsn
    November 29, 2007

    MAJeff
    /I just hope I can remember their name by the time it’s time to call out something/
    Surely you can remember a name for two minutes…
    (heh, heh)

  133. #133 MAJeff
    November 29, 2007

    MAJeff
    /I just hope I can remember their name by the time it’s time to call out something/

    Surely you can remember a name for two minutes…
    (heh, heh)

    I feel sorry for your lovers.

  134. #134 Gerry L
    November 29, 2007

    A few months ago I traveled cross country and visited my 93-year-old aunt (“if you don’t come visit me soon…”) and learned the background about why my dad’s side of the family was not religious. My aunt, it turns out, was sort of the black sheep of the family and went to church.

    When I called her the other day, she asked me if I thought when you die you see people who went before you. I figure she was thinking about my dad and her husband, among others. Since we’d already had “the talk” I felt comfortable telling her that it wasn’t something I worried about. I feel it is more important what impact someone has had on those who are left behind.

    It’s been interesting having these talks with my aunt. No preaching. Just talking.

  135. #135 Robert
    November 30, 2007

    D. Tell your dying grandparent how much they’ve inspired you and shaped your life and how you’ll carry on the values they instilled in you.

  136. #136 Janine
    November 30, 2007

    Christianjb, what do you mean “in my bizarre world”. Steve acted like a troll on his own accord. If you read what I wrote, I made the point that an insane troll (Gelald) was cheering him on. Does mean that they know each other or anything like that.

    If you doubt that Gerald is anti-semitic, he was calling Pat’s video Zionist propaganda. He also kept calling out PZ on this. Maybe if you paid attention to what was going on instead of trying to figure out “my bizarre world”.

    Also, if you paid attention to what I said earlier, I said that Steve’s “hypothetical” question was offline for the simple reason, most people do not act in this way. Nothing special about having four grandparents. That’s the point.

    Steve, after making a trollish entrance, seems to want to make peace. You, on the other hand…

  137. #137 DLC
    November 30, 2007

    Regarding dealing with dying theists:
    If you’re making that visit to someone who’s dying, and who knows they’re on the last mile, and is a theist, I would suggest that simply keeping the conversation on things similar to what PZ Myers suggests is far better than harping on god/not-god/cthulhlu/FSMism . If they bring the topic up, then you may find yourself needing to change the subject. Of course, there’s always the chance that Grandma is a cantankerous argument-lover, and denying her that would be a shame.

    For the Atheist lovers:
    An Agnostic in mid-orgasm: “Oh! Maybe! ”
    An Atheist in mid-orgasm: “Oh! Nothing!”

  138. #138 Christianjb
    November 30, 2007

    Janine: I just had a quick look at Gerald’s postings. (I went to bed before he made them yesterday).

    Yeah- they did seem to be antisemitic- though I still haven’t read them carefully enough. (It’s a long thread!)

    I did look at the Pat Condell video Gerald was complaining about. Gerald claimed it was racist anti-Muslim, but I don’t agree. Even so, I do have some sympathy for the general view that Muslims are genuinely discriminated against in Western countries. I violently disagreed with Gerald’s thesis that Pat’s video must have been funded by the evil Jews and found that pretty antisemitic.

    Anyway- unless I missed something- there was no connection between Steve and Gerald except that Gerald wrote one post in support of Steve’s comments. I may have overlooked other comments that were made.

    —————————
    OK-can we now get along? It seems that you softened an iota on Steve and maybe he’s not the antichrist after all. I’ve got no gripe with you except that I found your language to be over the top given the context. Other than that- all three of us probably agree on quite a lot and we shouldn’t spend any more time arguing over this.

  139. #139 kevin
    November 30, 2007

    I got 2 annoyances at the grandma gambit.

    1- I have personally witnessed a hell of a lot more religious people make the dying and their family feel worse, than better. Lets start with my relatives who refused to see or speak to my (gay) uncle on his deathbed, and repeatedly let it be known that he was disowned, thus hurting him immensely. And then how about my other relatives who told a dying (protestant) family member that they would be going to hell for not being catholic. And lets end with the insult to my parents and family when, at the funeral of my grandmother who lived a long and accomplished life as, essentially, an atheist in all but name, the preacher and others droned on and on about how all that really matters is her belief in and devotion to jesus and how she isn’t really dead at all, she’s alive in the sky, and on and on, lying through their teeth the whole time because she probably didn’t think about jesus her entire adult life.

    2 – Atheists as a group have a pretty long tradition of keeping silent, and just letting the religious go spouting their religion everywhere, even when not wanted (as above). When the rare atheist finally does have the gall to speak up, it is incredibly annoying to hear complaints saying “atheists don’t know how to play along with a dying grandma’s delusion about jesus”. Christ. What do you think the rest of the atheists have been doing every day of their lives?

  140. #140 Russell Blackford
    November 30, 2007

    This has been a bit of a trainwreck.

    Steve99 has posted here before without problem, and is very well-known at RichardDawkins.net. He’s one of the most “militant” atheists there, and spends a lot of time doggedly and ably defending atheism against some of the most stubborn theist attackers. He has a lot more patience for that task than I do. In short, he’s a valuable ally with a viewpoint worth considering.

    I realise that he may not be known to a lot of people who comment here, and perhaps he didn’t realise until how little overlap there is between the two sites, but I don’t blame him if he assumed his comments would be read charitably. This ought to be a lesson in not jumping to conclusions about people and not posting in anger or in a way that is meant to hurt (things that I am still guilty of all too often, myself, despite being slightly older even than PZ and Wilkins).

    I can’t imagine what he said on the other thread that has caused assumptions that he is some kind of troll. When I left my cursory reading that thread yesterday, he seemed to be engaged in a reasonable discussion.

    For what it’s worth, I also thought the Condell video was a bit over the top, but not the extent that I felt any need to comment at the time. I’m used to “reading down” broad, yet extreme-sounding, statements. I take it that Condell was not, for example, meaning to decry the value of a book like The God Delusion or God is Not Great, even though if you take some of what he said literally he is attacking any and all attempts to defend atheism with reason. I felt a bit “Meh!” about the video, but that’s all.

  141. #141 Christianjb
    November 30, 2007

    Thank-you Russell. It seems that some of the posters here are a little prone to righteous indignation when the mood suits them. There wasn’t anything in Steve’s original post that looked trollish to me and I think a few people were to quick to make assumptions about Steve’s intent, rather than his actual words.

    Someone who asks a question about a possible ethical dilemma with atheism could be a troll- but I’d rather give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Personally- I still think an apology is owed. Steve99 has written 100’s of posts to Dawkins’ site and didn’t deserve the lambasting he got here.

    Steve’s posts on Dawkins’ site:
    http://richarddawkins.net/userComments,page1,8096

  142. #142 Janine
    November 30, 2007

    There is peace but no apology from me. I gave my reasons earlier.

    I find myself rather amazed about the whole deal here. I am not an important person here. But in my defence, I was not the only person who thought he was acting like a troll.

  143. #143 Ichthyic
    November 30, 2007

    fucking *YAWN* already.

    Steve doesn’t need people to defend him; if he can’t make his meaning clear, that’s his problem. Steve is a big boy and appears more than capable of dealing with any miscommunication on his own, ego aside, that is.

    the internet is a wonderful place to hone your ability to ask clear questions, rhetorical or not.

    personally, I view asking for an apology for somebody else on an internet forum as an insult to the person who made the original post.

    give it up already, your making yourself look silly, and steve as well in the process.

  144. #144 forsen
    November 30, 2007

    I don’t neccessarily agree with Steve on this issue, but we’re heading into dangerous territory if people who express dissenting views automatically are branded as concern trolls. We don’t want to end up with the Atheist Inquisition (which no one expects, anyway) here.

  145. #145 Denis Loubet
    November 30, 2007

    My response to the situation would have to be “Grandma! You’re ALIVE again!”

  146. #146 jdb
    November 30, 2007

    Oh, for crying out loud, calling someone a concern troll is hardly a terrible epithet for which abject apologies and recriminations and character references are required.

    For what it’s worth, I never thought Steve was a concern troll. I had him pegged as an Atheist Butter Better: “I’m an atheist, but [blah blah blah] which is why I’m a better person than you.” He DID invoke the Grandma Gambit, and PZ is right to call that tactic out for what it is. Steve has clarified his remarks, and people can accept that (I do) or not. But let’s not start wringing our hands about how the commenters here are such meanies for arguing with him, no matter how many Atheist Merit Badges he’s earned at another site. The fact that we argue with “our own kind” is something to be proud of, not ashamed of.

  147. #147 Ray
    November 30, 2007

    I haven’t read the whole thread through yet, but I agree with Brendan S #11 but I would say about my grandma: ‘Who do you think I learned about atheism from?’ Are they going to dig her up and question her?

    Cheers,
    Ray

  148. #148 Steve Zara
    November 30, 2007

    Russell:

    I appreciate your post. I am really still not sure why such ire was raised. I was trying to start what I thought would be a healthy debate about how far Pat went in that video, and whether he was pushing the limits of “decency”, and does that matter? No matter what the context of Pat Condell’s words (him being a comedian, possibly wanting to promote himself with some interesting controversy) I think that could have been a useful discussion. My view, which I am sure is clear, is that he did push things just a bit too far, encouraging a yobbish attitude that I don’t approve of.

    How attempting to have such a discussion has ended up with a thread about “the dying grandma gambit, as used by religious apologists” is a bit of a puzzle….

  149. #149 steve99
    November 30, 2007

    Personally- I still think an apology is owed.

    I appreciate the thought, but I can’t expect an apology. In fact, to do so would be hypocritical – I can’t challenge what Pat Condell says based on the contents of one isolated video, and then expect people to try and find some kind of context to my posts.

    If people react a certain way to something I have posted, I have to deal with it.

  150. #150 Peter Ashby
    November 30, 2007

    “Well Peter, just go on with your bad self. You can use “sublime” anytime you want to, big guy, especially when describing a single malt scotch. (Glennfidich, Glennlivit, Glennmorangie?)”

    You are kidding right? peat, smoke, fire and reeking of seaweed in those three excuses for a dram? That’s what milksops drink. Real men (kin to one true Scotsmen) drink drams like Talisker, Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Caol Ila.

  151. #151 Peter Ashby
    November 30, 2007

    “Oh, and Bill…check out Jeff Beck’s solos on Roger Waters’ “Amused to Death” for sublime. This a fantastic album for atheists. Check out “What God Wants…(God Gets)””

    While I like Amused better as a whole album, I think that god’s playing on the Pros and Cons of Hitchiking is better.

  152. #152 Russell Blackford
    November 30, 2007

    I’m a big fan of Laphroaig myself.

  153. #153 negentropyeater
    November 30, 2007

    I was wondering, where does the belief that something happens after one dies come from ? Do other animals have similar beliefs ? Primates ? Probably not, so, humans started having this kind of belief at some stage in their history, why ? Was it beneficial ? Was it necessary ? I mean there is no evidence at all for such belief, so why is it so profoundly entrenched in some peoples’ minds ?

  154. #154 Matt Penfold
    November 30, 2007

    ChristianJb,

    I agree an apology is in order. However Steve99 seems unwilling to offer one. That is up to him of course, but in light of the calls he keeps making for people to be ploite is does rather make him a hypocrit. It seems he sees no need to be polite to us, but we must be polite to him. Talk about someone being arrogant!

    Now it may be he really did think that Condell was saying that we should tell dying granies there is no god. The point is that he had no grounds for thinking that. It is his willful refusal to accept his grounds for thinking what he did were false that is the problem. There is a reponsibilty incumbant on people taking part in a debate to ensure that their position is a tenable one. It is for this reason we dismiss creationists who cite the second law of thermodynamics canard as being dishonest. They may or may not actually know the physics, but that matters not. THe fact is if they use that canard they SHOULD know the physics, and their failure to do so makes them dishonest. In the same way Steve99’s misreading of what Condell was saying was not a mistake that could have been made by someone acting in a resonable manner. Thus I think it is fair to call Steve dishonest.

  155. #155 Peter Ashby
    November 30, 2007

    “I’m a big fan of Laphroaig myself.”

    This is why I originally talked about the right balance, I don’t think the Frog or the Laddie get even close to that. I agree with the whisky writers that Ardbeg is the best balance of the Islays. I was given a bottle of Ardbeg Uigeadail for my birthday and if you haven’t tasted it I recommend you try it. It has the advantage of being cask strength and non chill filtered as well so look at the price and think you are buying a litre of drinking spirit. Having said that, it needs very little water.

  156. #156 Russell Blackford
    November 30, 2007

    Oh, Matt, now you’re just being ridiculous. Having gone back and reviewed the entire original thread I can say that the last person who should apologise about anything is steve, who was not only perfectly courteous but raising a perfectly reasonable point for discussion, whether or not you or anyone else actually agreed with his worry.

    Sometimes I just have to shake my head in wonder at the things that get said here.

  157. #157 bad Jim
    November 30, 2007

    Real men (kin to one true Scotsmen) drink drams like Talisker, Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Caol Ila.

    Puff, puff (and such a snob as to use a clay pipe). Why, when I have four bottles of absinthe in the cabinet do I find myself with yet another glass of soft, fat, red Californian Tuscan instead?

  158. #158 Peter Ashby
    November 30, 2007

    What on earth is a Californian Tuscan? i have visions of a mustachioed middle aged Italian male on a surfboard.

  159. #159 Loren Petrich
    November 30, 2007

    This is about two relatives whom I shall call Rufus and Gaby. When Rufus died, Gaby showed up at his funeral and she declared that Rufus will be going to Hell because he did not believe in Gaby’s sort of church. Gaby is a Pentecostalist, I think; she believes that she will get Raptured rather than dying in the usual way.

    What kind of “consolation” is that?

    So I would turn it around. Let’s say that you had a dying grandmother who has believed in and practiced a false religion all her life. Will you tell her that you look forward to her being horribly tortured in Hell forever and ever and ever and that you look forward to going to Heaven and watching her suffer?

  160. #160 rmp
    November 30, 2007

    All I know is that if I don’t say a quickie prayer before the meal, my mother won’t be letting any of us eat and that would suck.

  161. #161 Kristine
    November 30, 2007

    When people try to nail me about eternal life, I tell them that I doubt it, but if it does exist, it will happen, like evolution, whether we believe it or not, so I’ll just wait and see.

    And if that bothers them, I’ll ask them why. But I haven’t had to ask that yet, because usually I’ve given my answer after they’ve spent a long time telling me how loving God is, and now they don’t want to admit that this Loving God can’t tolerate dissent or truth or a real reaction from his supposed creatures, even from a good person. So they don’t say anything then.

  162. #162 Atheist in a Kilt
    November 30, 2007

    “Hold her hand. Talk. Weep. Reminisce. Tell her about your day, how the kids are doing in school, what the weather is like. Browse the family photo album together. Tell her how much you care. Beg her to hang on longer–there’s so much more to do and see. Sit quietly by her side. Wait.”

    Those are well said and beautiful words PZ.
    My best friend died last December. It was sudden and I wish I could have said goodbye, his widow and I sat, cryed, and reminisced about him. It works, and the best part is there is no B.S. involved.

  163. #163 cm
    November 30, 2007

    Steve99, perhaps witty, smarmy vitriol like Condell’s will win the day in the quest for a saner world by mocking irrationality into the margins of life. Some think so; I don’t know. But your reaction was understandable, I have sympathy for your position which I think you put forth earnestly. But in response to this:

    I had hoped that I would not find such tactics employed on the site of a respected scientist, but I guess that is what you get if you have open forums these days.

    For calibration on the tenor if not the tactics here, one set by the respected scientist himself, read this post about calling Christians “DEMENTED FUCKWITS”.

    It aint exactly E.O. Wilson’s blog here.

  164. #164 MAJeff
    November 30, 2007

    and they are, cm, they are demented fuckwits.

  165. #165 stogoe
    November 30, 2007

    He DID invoke the Grandma Gambit, and PZ is right to call that tactic out for what it is

    He’s got you there. Remember kids, don’t use the Grandma Gambit – it makes you look like an asshole.

    Personally, I think the fact that he made one comment and then disappeared for a hundred posts to be the main reason he and his fucking Grandma Gambit were labeled in many minds as a hit-and-run concern trolling*.

    *Never mind the fact that the hours of his absence were probably the hours where ‘normal’ people sleep in his country of residence.

  166. #166 CanadaGoose
    November 30, 2007

    I’m an atheist. I’m a grandma. At 65, I’m not ready to kick off yet but when I do, don’t spout any religious inanities at me.
    I’ve also been a hospice volunteer and was able to offer comfort to believers and non-believers alike. You’d be amazed — or maybe not — at how few people want to talk about heaven/hell when they’re dying. They want to talk about their lives, their families. I can’t recall anyone wanting to blather on about an afterlife. I worked with one person who wanted to gossip about celebrities and their hairstyles. The more silly the subject matter, the more she liked it. Dying people are entitled to die the way they choose.

    There are LOTS of people who enter hospice reluctantly because they fear some nutjob will want to pray over them. They’re profoundly relieved to not have to deal with that.

  167. #167 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 30, 2007

    I always point out that there are no atheist suicide bombers either…

    The PKK has had several. (Often women.)

    Which, of course, actually fits the argument: (Φcalan’s derivative of) Stalinism works like a religion.

  168. #168 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 30, 2007

    I always point out that there are no atheist suicide bombers either…

    The PKK has had several. (Often women.)

    Which, of course, actually fits the argument: (Φcalan’s derivative of) Stalinism works like a religion.

  169. #169 Brian W.
    November 30, 2007

    I didn’t read all the comments so this might have been brought up already. But this question could easily be turned around and used against the theists. “If your grandmother was an atheist and she was dying would you patronize her with constant praying?”

  170. #170 John Mruzik
    November 30, 2007

    As a doctor I am the patient’s advocate. I lie because I must. It comforts them and hurts me. Will I lie for my mother? Yes. But it makes no difference. My family knows that I am lying. This gives them pause. And Yes I have given too much morphine at times.

  171. #171 Ichthyic
    November 30, 2007

    It aint exactly E.O. Wilson’s blog here.

    oh, i rather think that shortly after Wilson published Sociobiology, he ended up calling a lot of his more silly detractors something similar.

    so the recollections of those who were publishing at the time tell me, anyway.

  172. #172 Ichthyic
    November 30, 2007

    who was not only perfectly courteous but raising a perfectly reasonable point for discussion, whether or not you or anyone else actually agreed with his worry.

    …and then exposing his own sense of ego when accusing PZ of “not responding to him directly” in posting this thread.

    It was an overly simplistic argument, one made literally millions of times over hundreds of years, that should be called out regardless of who made it or why.

    PZ did NOT ever attack Steve, but rather was very specific to attack the argument itself, and only referred to the previous thread so people could see how the argument inevitably plays out.

    enough already.

  173. #173 MB
    December 1, 2007

    Wow, hand-wringers picking on Janine in multiple posts.

    1) PZ says speak it brother, posts the Condell clip…
    2) 5 comments basically saying great clip
    3) Casey S then says “My god, that video has over 1,300 comments! Good to know that this whole atheism business is stirring things up.”
    4) Steve99, then posts his dying grandma gambit comment in response to Casey – at least that’s apparently what PZ thought and why you’re all commenting on this post…

    The dying grandma gambit is a bad thing, no?

    So Janine’s an asshole for jumping on what appears to be a troll posting that gambit? Gosh, let’s be nice to first time trolls, let them muck things up until they end up in the dungeon.

    So it turns out that maybe Steve99 isn’t a troll. But looking at that thread his first post sure made him look like one.

    When you hear someone say “Well, I’m a christian and…” you know you have to keep a hand on your wallet and hide the kids, sheep, silverware and porn.

    When you have to even think about protesting, “but I’m a dues-paying athiest,” you should know you’re in trouble – really, don’t look at whay I’m saying, look at who I am and what I call myself and what I said over there.

    You’d think she was a an Iranian lesbian athiest living in Oakland – no wait, wrong post…

    And get a thicker skin – when someone says “I’m shocked at the obscenities and the insults” etc. they also sound like trolls. Read more than a couple of posts and you’re going to see someone called a fucktard or fuckwit – and other obscenities I hadn’t seen until this site…

  174. #174 autumn
    December 1, 2007

    As a much less terminal example of familial relations, I was asked several years ago, while “back home” with my family in late December, if I would give the pre-dinner blessing. I responded by saying that my lack of belief would cheapen the blessing, and that it should be given by my theist brother, as his blessing would be meaningful and sincere.
    I’ve not been asked to say a prayer at a family gathering since.
    I do bow my head and stay respectful during the blessing, but once the chow is on the plate, dissent about religion is the least of my mother’s worries. My father once encouraged my older brother to recreate the “how does the piggy eat” scene from “The Christmas Story” at the table. My brother was in his late twenties, and the scene was, in all of its silliness, accurately replayed.

    My family now (I am not kidding about this) uses a boy-girl method of seating us, as my two brothers and I are men, and the assumption of my mother (correct in every way) is that our better halves may be able to curb some of our idiocy.
    Wow, that got off topic in a hurry. Sorry.

  175. #175 Mytho
    December 1, 2007

    Good thing my parents know that I’m an atheist, and given that I grew them tired of arguing with me about god an religion, hell’s gonna freeze over before they try and talk to me about religion again. πŸ˜‰

  176. #176 Matt Penfold
    December 1, 2007

    “Oh, Matt, now you’re just being ridiculous. Having gone back and reviewed the entire original thread I can say that the last person who should apologise about anything is steve, who was not only perfectly courteous but raising a perfectly reasonable point for discussion, whether or not you or anyone else actually agreed with his worry.

    Sometimes I just have to shake my head in wonder at the things that get said here.”

    All I can hope is that I never get to meet you as I doubt I could tolerate your sancimonious arse-licking bullshit. It would seem that your concept of polite behaviour allows people to spout totally crap. It is not mine.

  177. #177 Older
    December 1, 2007

    We have a friend who is dying. She’s an atheist, we’re atheists. What we say is “You’ve had a good life. People will miss you.” and “Maybe you will have a miraculous recovery.” Which is pretty much what we’d say to a religious person.

  178. #178 Ichthyic
    December 2, 2007

    It would seem that your concept of polite behaviour allows people to spout totally crap.

    sad to say, but that IS the moderation policy over on Dawkins.net, which is why I gave up on that forum ages ago.

    The nightmare Dave Hawkins created over there, and how the moderators reacted to it, was more than instructive.

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