On Secular Arguments and Conservative Atheists

As you may have heard, David Silverman, President of American Atheists, made a splash by attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this past week. The publicity was done for Silverman even before he arrived, since the invitation to American Atheists was revoked after outcry by religious conservatives, resulting in the “atheists unwelcome at CPAC” story he was no doubt expecting. Done and done, right?

Not so much, since Silverman apparently went to CPAC anyway, and gave interviews. He seems to think that there’s a hidden enclave of closet atheists in the halls of conservatism, and he’s just the man to draw them out (and also, presumably, to make them dues-paying members of American Atheists).

On one hand, this shouldn’t be a surprise. American Atheists’ outreach under Silverman has been focused not on convincing people of the atheist position, but on convincing people who are atheist-but-closeted to come out and be public with their disbelief. It’s a laudable goal.

Silverman’s also been vocal about making atheism a big tent, and less willing, on that front, to explicitly exclude some of the more hostile wings of the atheist movement. To Dave, as long as we’re all agreed that religion is generally wrong and bad, we’re all working together (or at least, we’re all willing to donate to American Atheists so they can accomplish tasks that we generally agree are important).
Silverman identifies himself as a conservative:

He describes himself as a “fiscally conservative” voter who “owns several guns. I’m a strong supporter of the military. I think fiscal responsibility is very important. I see that as pretty conservative. And I have my serious suspicions about Obama. I don’t like that he’s spying on us. I don’t like we’ve got drones killing people…” In the final analysis, “the Democrats are too liberal for me,” he says.

And he’s got some particular ideas about what conservatism is and means, and how conservatism and atheism can be compatible:

“I came with the message that Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked,” he told me, “and that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives — social conservatism isn’t real conservatism, it’s actually big government, it’s theocracy. I’m talking about gay rights, right to die, abortion rights –”
[…]
“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

And looking at all that really makes me want to donate to American Atheists, so that maybe they’ll have enough money to buy Dave a clue.

Let’s start with the “secular argument[s] against abortion.” When I first saw that quote, my response was incredulity. What are these secular arguments for abortion? The ones I could remember hearing were really just the usual religious pro-lifers’ arguments, but with “human DNA” or some other such nonsense copy-pasted where a Catholic might say “soul.” They were as “secular” as Intelligent Design.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of the arguments I’ve heard from anti-abortion activists have been secular in nature. I was conflating “secular argument against abortion” with “argument against abortion from a secularist.” Sure, there are all the appeals to Mother Teresa and the Pope and that bit of the Bible where God says he knew you before he formed you in the womb, but once you get past that, it’s mostly nonreligious reasons. Those big signs of misleadingly dismembered fetuses aren’t making any kind of religious argument; that “Abortion stops a beating heart” bumper sticker isn’t making a religious argument, “If she wanted to have sex she should accept the consequences” isn’t a religious argument; “just because the father was a rapist is no reason to punish the child” is not only not a religious argument, but it flies in the face of the whole “sins of the father” notion that’s central (in one form or another) to most Christian denominations. Most of the arguments fall into one of those categories: “ewww, icky,” “it’s murder,” “sluts need to learn a lesson,” or “it’s a person!”

The problems there, then, are twofold: one, those arguments are crap, and two, the vast majority of atheists would agree about their crappiness. Now, recruiting some folks from CPAC into American Atheists might skew those numbers a bit, but the movement as it stands now isn’t exactly welcoming to the notion that abortion is some terrible wrong (and for good reason). Saying “there are secular argument[s] against abortion” and then suggesting that those arguments are better than the secular arguments opposing school prayer or supporting right-to-die and gay marriage1, is at best profoundly misleading.

It is, as I argued elsewhere, exactly the same kind of disingenuous misleading that accommodationist skeptics and the NCSE have engaged in with respect to science and religion. They’ll say “skepticism and religion are compatible,” or “you can be a Christian and still believe in evolution,” but both of those statements are misleading to the point of being insulting. The kinds of religion that are compatible with skepticism are either the ones that are so abstracted into deism or pantheism that they hardly resemble “religions” in any sensible use of the term, or the ones that are almost completely compartmentalized from skeptical criticism. The kinds of Christianity that are compatible with evolution are the ones that are so withdrawn into metaphor that they can square a loving and merciful god with a system of biology where progress is primarily driven by death, and that can accept a savior dying to remove a sin committed by people who never existed.

Similarly, the kinds of conservatism that are compatible with atheism are the ones which reject the social conservative platforms (except ones they can support through bad secular arguments), reject the religious right, and are mostly concerned with fiscal responsibility and personal freedoms (except the freedom of women to control their own bodies, because chicks amirite?). In other words, libertarians. Atheism and libertarianism are compatible? Color me shocked.

The thing is, if Dave Silverman wanted to find those fiscally-conservative-but-socially-liberal(ish) conservative atheists, it seems like CPAC isn’t the place to do it. Sure, they’ll put Rand Paul up on stage, but the rest of the time? This year’s program featured presentations like “Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet,” “Inventing Freedom: How English-Speaking Peoples Made the World Modern,” “More Guns, Less Crime,” and “Healthcare After Obamacare: A Practical Guide for Living When No One Has Insurance and America Runs Out of Doctors”2. Speakers included religious ideologues like pro-school prayer Jim DeMint, anti-gay Ben Carson, and creationist-if-the-money-is-right Ann Coulter. And Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz, of course. This isn’t a libertarian convention full of Eisenhower Republicans outlining reasonable positions to maximize personal freedom and minimize government spending. It’s a convention of rich ideologues who want to be richer, even and especially if it means gutting programs that help the poor. And also, let’s go to war with anyone and everyone3.

Dave Silverman thinks that there are lots of closet conservative atheists, but he’s engaging in a bit of equivocation there. Dave Silverman’s definition of “conservative”–fiscal conservatism, gun rights, personal freedom, supporting military–is not the definition being employed by the first “C” in “CPAC.” CPAC skews more toward the social conservative theocracy that Silverman No-True-Scotsman’d as not real conservatism.

Which kind of brings us to that particular brand of Silverman cluelessness: where has he been for the last thirty years? How does he square his belief in “economic conservatism” with a party that started two off-the-books wars, wants to start more with Iran and Russia, and has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare, countless anti-abortion bills, and fighting gay marriage? Where is the economic conservatism there? Where is the military support in opposing bills to prosecute rapists in the ranks, or fighting against benefits for veterans? How much personal freedom does a person have when they’re working two jobs and still living below the povery line? When their food stamps benefits get cut over and over because the social safety net, and not corporate welfare, is a drain on the country’s resources? When their right to vote is eroded by classist, racist regulations designed to keep Republicans in office?

We either have to believe that Silverman is so blinkered in his politics that he’s bought into a series of mostly meaningless, mostly traditional buzzwords that the GOP likes to throw around as their platform because they sound better than “consistently trying to screw over 99% of the country,” or we have to believe that he’s a savvy, selfish asshole who thinks his right to own as many guns as he wants and his distaste for taxes trumps other people’s right to a living wage and personal security.

The more I try to think he’s one or the other, the more unconvinced I am by either option. The latter suggests that maybe he’s decided that going after rich donors in the bush is worth alienating the women and minorities already in the hands of American Atheists, but if that’s the case, then surely he recognizes that those donors aren’t both going to take the PR hit of associating with atheists and relinquish the control mechanism provided by fundamentalist religion. But if he really believes that “real conservatives” would support atheist causes, why make the appeal to anti-abortion arguments, which is a socially conservative issue?

The fact that it came as news to Silverman that there are anti-gay atheists makes me think he’s probably just profoundly out of touch. He doesn’t have clue one about most political issues that don’t directly affect him, and he doesn’t understand that by actively courting a group that promotes racist, misogynist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic policies, he’s going to alienate a lot of people who otherwise agree with him. Unless those racist misogynist homophobes are bringing tons of money to the anti-religion organization, then he’d probably be better served by trying to make the movement more welcoming to the people who are actually in it. Pandering to assholes while ignoring the complaints of members makes it look like your priorities are less in fostering community among atheists and more in gaining donations for your organization.

The organization should serve the members, not the other way around.


1. They’re really not, by the way. There are lots of people who argue that government shouldn’t be in the marriage business anyway, and that government shouldn’t be expanding, but reducing, its participation in private relationships. You could argue for school prayer on free speech grounds, or point to the fact that there’s no sharp line between “prayer” and other moment-of-silence type activities, or that there’s not always a clear distinction between student-led and staff-led activities, and that school prayer should be subject to the same equal-time principle as religious displays on public land, or interfaith ceremonial prayers at the beginning of public meetings. Frankly, I don’t see how you can assert bodily rights to make a pro-right-to-die argument and reject them when it comes to abortion. Are these arguments good? No, but they’re no worse than the secular arguments against abortion–and in the right-to-die case, they’re essentially the same. Except, you know, men get terminal illnesses too.

2. In case it’s not clear, let me outline briefly the problems that the generally science- and fact-friendly atheist community might have with these presentations. 1) Not according to all climate science; 2) Historians are likely to disagree, and even if true, it happened on the back of slavery and genocide; 3) Not according to all the evidence from the rest of the world; 4) How will an insurance mandate result in fewer people having insurance, and where are doctors going to go to find a more conservative healthcare system?

3. The one exception to all this seems to be that the attendance at CPAC leans more personal-freedom-libertarian than the leadership and speakership, based on the polling results that CPAC has on their main page. But given the stark contrast between what those people cite as priorities (drug decriminalization, isolationism) and what the party’s actual priorities are (attacking abortion, starting wars wherever possible), they look an awful lot like useful idiots, prized by party establishment for their votes and their unwillingness to take said votes to any particular third party, despite not being served by this one. But then, getting people to vote against their own interests has been the GOP platform for decades.

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If you wrote me off, I’d understand it, ’cause I’ve been on some other planet.

Sure is quiet around here.

Okay, so real life has intervened. Big time, actually. When I’m not working (which is becoming a smaller and smaller slice of the pie chart of my time), I’m filling out applications or driving to work or interviews for more work. When I’m not doing all that, I’m reading through Miller & Levine’s Biology textbook, studying for a standardized test I’m taking in a few weeks (and I’ve only barely cracked the Chemistry textbook I also want to read for the same day of testing). My time for blogging has been almost nonexistent…I’ve got half-written posts in the wings that have sat dormant for a month or more, and I’ve got topical posts that won’t be topical anymore by the time I decide to actually write them. That, and I’m trying to finish a review or three for the other blogs before I get to any other posts.

Oh, and this blog got flagged as spam by Blogger’s robots, which kept me from editing or posting anything for the last couple of days. Fun fun. I was going to do an “eat my ass out with a spork” post to whoever flagged me, but apparently it was automatic, so I guess I can just aim my ire at whoever designed the automated system so that it doesn’t send an e-mail out to tell you when you can start posting again.

All of which has led to me not only failing to keep up with this blog, but also failing to keep up with the rest of the skeptical blogohedron. I read most of Pharyngula’s output, but after that, it’s kind of a crap shoot. I haven’t done anything for the skeptics’ panel, even though I’ve got ideas and I’ve gotten Akusai’s recent request for assistance. My schedule will be opening up considerably (I think) after July 11th (a day which I have quadruple-booked), so I hope to be on like Khan around that time.

One thing I’d like to mention briefly before I go dormant for a week or so again–the recent spate of celebrity deaths have brought up the “these things happen in threes” canard into the public discourse again. It’s a trivial bit of irrationality, and it probably doesn’t do any harm, but it bugs me because it’s a symptom of a lot of other forms of fallacious thinking. First, the idea is ill-defined: what constitutes a “celebrity death” or “tragedy” (depending on which statement is used) is completely arbitrary, and there’s no time limit on the grouping. This is predictions 101: if you don’t attach a time limit, it’s much more likely to come true.

You know, I thought this string of deaths would be enough to dispel that myth altogether–as far as newsworthy celebrity deaths, Michael Jackson was the fourth in a relatively short time, following David Carradine, Ed McMahon, and Farrah Fawcett. Billy Mays followed a day or three later. I was reminded of Monty Python’s King Arthur–“These things come in fives–” “Three, sir!” “–threes!”

But I must remember never to underestimate the power of people to select and justify the patterns they find in random noise. Which is all this is, when you get right down to it. I mean, take a look at Wikipedia’s list of recent deaths, and tell me exactly what pattern of threes you can find there. It’s just a sort of pareidolia, tracing out familiar patterns where none really exist. It imposes a sort of control over the world, a sense that the believer understands the secret rules that govern traumatic events. It’s compelling–I know I bought into it at one point–because it’s ultimately comforting. As bad as it is to lose three beloved celebrities, if you know how many to expect, then you know when to stop worrying, stop mourning (inasmuch as anyone mourns celebrities). After the third one dies, you can breathe that little sigh of relief, knowing that no other famous people are going to die for awhile–and being utterly wrong.

So, that’s it for now. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the next post.

Oh, and while I’m thinking about it, I want to give a hearty welcome back to Rockstar Ryan. You should do the same. It’ll remind you that my occasional absences are, by comparison, quite brief.

Some recent searches

I haven’t been keeping close track, but this bunch from the last couple of weeks seemed pretty postworthy.

  • Lots of people searching for variants on “rick warren colbert” and “atheist fundamentalist”. In short: Rick’s the doofus, and he keeps using that word, but I do not think it means what he thinks it means.
  • “Anything Involving harps” requests a reader from Finland. I prefer anything involving harp seals.
  • “how can human eye be redesigned to get rid of blind spot” Put the retina up front, don’t run vessels through it.
  • “fear of vacuum cleaners” Ah, Hooverphobia. Bane of dogs everywhere.
  • A Romanian reader wants “video fred zugibe”. Ask, and it is given:
  • An Iowa reader needs a “great bible verse for grandpa’s funeral”. The cynic in me wants to recommend something like Malachi 2:3, but hey, I know how hard it is listening to shitty eulogies for people you love. Stay away from Psalm 23, and if you’re going to use Ecclesiastes, do it sparingly, and don’t fall into the usual “a time to live, a time to die” stuff. There’s more to the book than the first ten verses of chapter 3, for instance:

    1:4-7 “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever
    The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
    The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
    All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”
    8:15 “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.”
    9:11-12 “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
    For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.”

    There’s some decent stuff in Proberbs 13, and here:

    31:6-7 “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
    Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

    And I’ve always liked this bit from the Sermon on the Mount. It’s terrible advice for the real world, but it’s a nice metaphor if you believe in a pleasant afterlife.

    Matthew 6:28-34 “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
    And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
    Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
    Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
    (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
    But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
    Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

    My condolences.

  • “sex education position movie” It will be a fantastic day when sex education includes instruction on positions.
  • I’ve gotten a few searches for variations on “a person is a person no matter how small t shirts” and even an “Augustana Right to Life” from my alma mater. To the former: Dr. Seuss was pro-abortion rights, and anti-abortion folks really ought to stop using his words to support a position he disagreed vehemently with. “Horton Hears a Who” was about the atomic bomb–you know, a threat to actual factual full-grown people, as opposed to your precious “potential humans.” To the person searching about ARTL: they’re a sad group of people with no debate skills and even less science knowledge. If you’re affiliated with them, I pity you.
  • “martin luther king go forth and multiply” Um, I’m afraid he can neither hear your request nor follow through with it.
  • “do not mourn for me” The first thing I thought of when I saw that was the Shakespeare Sonnet it’s loosely quoting. The second was this:
    http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-7935763140816467759&hl=en

Also, much as I like Debbyo, I’m a little disappointed at the response to my meme post. Once the weekend’s over, I might be forced to start tagging people…

No longer mourn for me when I am dead

My grandma died. Two weeks ago, on Tuesday.

That’s part, though certainly not all, of why I haven’t been posting lately. But it’s also what inspired me to write this, so it’s a trade-off, I suppose. See, over the last several years especially, I’ve grown pretty close to her. She was doing well the last time I spoke to her, and I was actually going to visit her later that week. So, it came as something of a shock when my dad called before my class Tuesday night (needless to say, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention in class).

I’m funny about death, and not ha-ha funny. Maybe it’s because I never really had to deal with it until recently. As a kid, my only real brushes with it were pets (one of our dogs when I was five or six, and my cat when I was somewhere between eight and eleven). In the last two years, though, my dad’s side of the family has been hit pretty hard. First two of my cousins, then my grandpa, and now Grandma (and in fact, a great-uncle since then). But it doesn’t hit me all that hard. Like, I get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach for a little bit, and with Grandma, I’d just wished I’d gotten to see her more recently before it happened, but I’ve not had the real despair, the crying, any of that standard sort of thing (with one exception that I can recall). For some reason, death just doesn’t affect me much.

So, while I miss Grandma, I wasn’t in a real fragile state at the funeral. Like Grandpa, she didn’t look quite right, lying in the casket. People say “oh, X looks so natural,” but she didn’t, not at all.

Anyway, the pastor (I think? Any Presbyterians here want to correct me on the termiology here?) brought the immediate family back to the private chapel area, and talked to us. She was new to the church, so she hadn’t really known Grandma at all. And between that, the public eulogy, and my grandpa’s funeral (also with a pastor who didn’t know him, though I don’t remember it being quite as bad), I’ve decided that no one who didn’t know me will be allowed to speak with any sort of prestige at my funeral.

I’ve also decided that my funeral will be kind of New Orleans-style, where it’s a big party rather than some morose sob-fest. I’ll even pick out the music. You can’t cry over “Baby Got Back.”

Anyway, part of the eulogy was made up of stories that the family had given the pastor to tell. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that she kept getting little things, like pronouns, wrong. It was like watching an outsider tell an in-joke, it simply doesn’t work. If we’re going to have funny little anecdotes, let the family tell them; I’m sure someone would have retained composure (like my fairly stoic dad). Part of the eulogy was boilerplate pap that could be used to describe anyone. Honestly, I was reminded of cold reading; when you tell a bunch of grieving family members that their loved one “lived life to the fullest” and “took the hand life dealt her” and “never gave up, never backed down,” you could be talking about absolutely anyone. The deceased could be a horrible bastard who everyone hated, but you say that they were “kind and caring” and “brought joy to everyone [they] knew,” and they’ll buy it.

But the really egregious part was the scripture. The pastor talked specifically and in a fairly detailed fashion about how she always tries to pick out special passages, to personalize the sermon, and how certain ones stuck out to her as she was preparing for this funeral. She read four passages; one from Romans, one from 1 Thessalonians, and then the two which she specifically talked about “sticking out to her,” the two which were specifically prefaced with the little story about personalizing the sermon, Psalm 23 and Ecclesiastes 3:1-9. Just to refresh your memory (because you know these verses, even if you don’t recognize the notation), here they are:

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain has the worker from his toil?

Now, I don’t know about you, but this hit me like the pastor at a wedding saying “the couple has prepared their own vows,” and then hearing “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honour, and cherish, ’til death do us part.” It’s like, why not throw John 3:16 in there? That’s the trifecta of “Bible verses that can be used at any Christian ceremony.” It’s boilerplate, it’s standard, and it’s anything but personalized. And to me, it was just a little disgusting; you go on about how you tailor each eulogy to the person you’re eulogizing, and then you don’t even look past the ‘standard toolkit’ of Bible verses? My grandma’s name was Ruth, there’s a whole book in the Bible with her name. You’d think they could find something a little more personal than the Bible verses that I can recite off the top of my head.

I was going to indict the translation that the pastor used (apparently the English Standard Version, if BibleGateway is to be believed), for the unnecessarily complicated phrasing of “a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what has been planted,” but apparently it’s the same in the good ol’ KJV. I guess Pete Seeger‘s the one I should credit with the more succinct and poetic “a time to plant, a time to reap.” And I guess the Biblical authors needed access to a thesaurus. The way it’s phrased in the actual text sounds like “the Bible for people with meager vocabularies.” I mean, if reaping’s not your thing, what about “harvest”? Simplify, simplify, simplify!

I found it odd that a Christian sermon, about a Christian person, heading off to the Christian afterlife after a life of Christian faith and Christian service didn’t actually use anything that was said by Christ. Two passages from Paul, two passages from the Hebrew scriptures, and nothing from the man who is the reason for the church. This is nothing new. Conservative Christians tend to back up most of their detestable positions with statements made by Paul (who only met Jesus in a vision, rendering him about as reliable as Joseph Smith) or laws out of the Old Testament. I used to say that the Religious Right’s Bible skipped over everything between Deuteronomy and Revelation, but it really just skips over everything that’s not by Paul or Luke, and not Jewish. Before you guys go putting the “Christ” back in “Christmas,” try putting it back in “Christianity” first.
I can’t say that this sermon is really a sign of that; I don’t know the pastor’s politics, and it’s Baptists rather than Presbyterians who usually make the political waves, but it bugs me that even mainstream Christians will take more from the Old Testament and the letters of Paul than from the Gospels. Didn’t Jesus say anything about Heaven? About faithful servitude? About God’s love? I daresay he probably did; couldn’t something from that be used in a eulogy? It wouldn’t necessarily be more personally relevant, but at least it would recognize the genesis of the faith.

There’s not an overarching point to this post, I don’t think. I guess what it really comes down to is that the only thing which marked my grandma’s funeral as distinctly different from any other, were the family memories shared at the beginning. In religious terms, I guess she was just another Christian, just another soul, just another body, generic and homogenous to the point that her eulogy was basically a form letter, a template. The pastor started typing in Microsoft Word, and the paperclip popped up to say “it looks like you’re writing a eulogy. Want some help?” The only thing unique; hell, the only thing even distinct was what the family had given to the pastor. So why involve the pastor at all? If she’s going to make generic, basic, universal comments and use a couple of the Bible’s greatest hits, then why even involve her? If after 87 years in the church, my grandma wasn’t worth enough to them to actually do something original, to do something beyond the bare minimum requirement of effort, then what’s the point?

They say that everyone’s the same in God’s eyes. I didn’t think they meant it so literally.