By Request: The Reset Button

This week’s fan fiction, posted yesterday afternoon, was a story in which Fox and Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson hung herself in her office, such was her excitement to get to the heaven that she believed was real based on the ludicrous description of a genuinely sick child and his bizarrely encouraging father. (Incidentally, that is a weird part of the whole Colton Burpo thing, right? How his near death was obviously one of the most traumatic experiences everyone in his entire family will ever face, and his dad decided to perpetuate that trauma by having him write a book about it and do publicity? It’s a weird choice is all I am saying. There are some other weird things that Todd Burpo says that we could talk about, but that is old news now.) Anyway, the following comment was posted on that story by user Brosworth:

Just to clarify, I’m an atheist, and I think the whole thing with the kid and his parents using his drug-addled hallucinations, lies, or whatever bullshit his parents decided to feed him is disgusting, and the way it was “reported” equally as disgusting.

But writing in detail about anyone hanging him/herself I think crosses the line, even if that is secretly what some of us might desire. And then the diatribe in the epilogue, while in line with what I believe, is insensitive to what some otherwise perfectly rational and fine people (some of whom might actually download this blog) believe. While we might disagree with them, callously putting down their beliefs like that is the kind of thing that gives atheists in general a bad name. I think we’re better than that.

Basically what I’m saying is you might want to pull out that reset button again, Gabe.

Fair enough. REQUEST GRANTED! Let’s hit the Reset Button! But the first rule of Reset Button Club is that you HAVE TO TALK about Reset Button Club. So, let’s talk:

I’m not going to mount a very strong defense of the Gretchen Carlson story. Why bother? It’s certainly not my favorite thing that I have ever written (although it’s not my least favorite either) and on the scale of disgustingly tasteless to HIGH ART, I think we can all agree that it falls somewhere on the lower half of the (very wide) spectrum. Where it falls on that spectrum, of course, is subjective. Personally, I don’t find jokes about suicide to be offensive, the same way that I do not find jokes about the Holocaust to be offensive. (QUICK NOTE: it obviously depends on the joke. But I do think you can understand my point.) The reason for this is because the ACTUAL HUMAN HORROR of those IMPOSSIBLY REAL THINGS is of such DEPTH and OVERWHELMING INCOMPREHENSIBILITY such that making sense of either is so beyond our ability to synthesize information & emotion that a joke about it just glances off the side like a b.b. gun pellet. The relationship between someone making a joke about suicide and actual suicide is like the relationship between a child’s drawing of an airplane crash and 9/11. They just aren’t playing on the same fucking field. One could argue that this ignores the sensitivity to those subjects felt by people who have actually encountered suicide, or lost loved ones in a genocide/terrorist attack, and I suppose that’s true, but I guess the only thing I can say to that is that it is a tough world out there (as those people DEFINITELY UNDERSTAND in a way that most of us DO NOT) and I’m not sure that not making a joke (even a tasteless joke) is really going to fix the hole in their hearts and the unshakable feeling that life is absurd and without meaning.

As to what Brosworth was saying about the brusque dismissal of the afterlife and how that may insult “otherwise” reasonable and intelligent people who believe in such things, I will point out that calling those people “otherwise reasonable and intelligent” is probably more offensive than just publicly disagreeing with them in a way that is unequivocal, because the word “otherwise” is pretty loaded. Also, as someone in that same comment thread pointed out, there’s the whole Hell thing, where anyone who does not “believe” is going to be damned for eternity, which is definitely something I am NOT ON BOARD with and a moral concept that I think is, if nothing else, very rude. But mostly, I just don’t know why anyone who believes in and is excited by the concept of a wonderful afterlife would give a shit that I definitely don’t think they are right at all. And if their faith in that belief system is so shaky that their feelings are genuinely hurt by the pointed three-sentence epilogue I wrote in A PIECE OF FAN FICTION ABOUT GRETCHEN CARLSON HANGING HERSELF, then they might have some serious issues to work through and should probably schedule a meeting with their religious counselor. Oh, and as far as giving atheists a bad name is concerned: a) I’m not atheist, I’m agnostic, and b) I don’t care what kind of name any faceless anonymous group of millions of different people with different thoughts has, that is not my problem.

So, I don’t take it back. But I am thinking a lot about it. While I disagree with some of his/her points, I do understand what Brosworth was trying to say, and if I am not sensitive to jokes about aggressively self-serving, obnoxiously pro-ignorance cable news anchors hanging themselves from figment rafters in straw man office buildings, or the hair-trigger anger and disillusionment of people who believe in the afterlife, I am sensitive to the coarsening of the culture, and in particular, to the ways in which the Internet has sped up the coarsening process and my/our own role in all of that. It is not necessarily something (it is definitely NOT something) we are going to be able to fix, but we can always think about it. That seems like an important thing to do.

It’s the holidays, you guys, if you can even believe it. It is such a cliche to talk about how they sneak up on you, and yet every year it is so surprising how they sneak up on you! Since the next few weeks are all about giving thanks for the things that we have (and we all have way too many things, if you think about it) and for reflection and tallying up the year’s balance sheets before we wipe the Big Board clean and start all over again (although never for real, you always bring it with you, but it’s nice to feel fresh for a minute) it does seem an appropriate time to do this. If we’re going to look back (and forward) we might as well do it with some idea of how we got to where we are and where we want to go. If we’re going to give thanks, let’s know just exactly what we’re giving thanks for. And then, you know, let’s keep going. Why not?