Dec. 20th – Tough Questions

“ I burnt the candle at both ends and it gave a brilliant light.”

–       Christopher Hitches


The brilliantly witty Christopher Hitchens died recently. He had known he was on his way out for some time, as he was diagnosed with Esophageal cancer about a year ago. As he was famous for his brusque atheism, reporters could not help but ask if he had any plans to renounce his disbelief and ask to be saved. “Not while I’m vivid,” he responded in one interview. In another he expressed his view on life and death.  He said that it is a matter of realizing that you have been shot out of your mother’s womb and towards a barn door studded with rusty nails and hooks. “It’s a matter of how you use the intermittent time in an intelligent and ironic way…” he said. And yet again in a public forum he said that everyone has to get that tap on the shoulder at some point but the only tragedy was that you are told “not just that the party is over, but slightly worse, that the party is still going on and you have to leave.”


This is the general outlook of atheists. I would poach from Mark Twain and add that death should be feared as much as one fears the non-existence of pre conception. Anyway, this attitude can make one, namely me, perhaps poorly adept to speak with young children (But maybe not – I do think the truth is important). So as such I was somewhat taken aback when my 5-year old niece asked me what caused a 4-week old baby to die in its sleep (friend of the family). What does cause a 4-week old baby to die in its sleep, with no discernable cause of death? The phenomenon is termed Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Such a general term suggests ignorance. Whenever I hear of something like this I always think how the devout praise God when something good happens. If a mother gives birth prematurely and it looks as if the infant is going to die but then pulls through the local pastors, friends, family, etc. are all praising the Lord for such a miracle the next day (You know I’m right). Why then is this same God not scorned when a baby, born healthy dies after 4-weeks of generous care? There are only two explanations for a lack of intervention in this case. Either God was unable or unwilling – neither of which would be any less disturbing in my mind, were I a believer. The best answer I could muster was my way of keeping honest but also indeed a cop out, was to say the cliché “sometimes these things happen.”


The next question I was asked was (in regards to her one year old brother) “But my brother is too old to die now, right?” I for sure wasn’t touching that one. She then told me that the Santa in her video e-mail did not look the same as the Santa at the mall. Wasn’t touching that one either but good on ya kid!


I can only imagine what the next conversation could have sounded like.


Niece: “Where did we all come from?”

Uncle: “The Big Bang. The Universe arose from a really tightly packed suitcase.”

Niece: But what created the suitcase that went Bang?

Uncle (If Atheist): I don’t know

Uncle (If Christian): Jesus

Niece: But what Banged Jesus?


This same inadequacy is what also causes me to be quite mute around the sick and suffering. I do not wish to fake enlightenment and tell someone that “everything is going to be ok” when I can’t possibly know that. Nor do I think it is proper to give someone you care about a false sense of security (At least that’s not what I would want anyway and I do try to follow the Golden Rule).


I actually wouldn’t mind hearing how other people would answer these questions of death, existence, Santa, and suffering. Feel free to dive in weird people who follow my blog.



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2 Responses to Dec. 20th – Tough Questions

  1. JWalsh says:

    Super Jesus.

    I think honesty is important but it, when possible should be replaced with equally powerful thoughts. When someone is sick, saying things like “everything is going to be okay” may give them the optimism to pull through. Similarly when someone goes to jail but learns to change their ways through religion, religion is that powerful thought to pull them through.

    So if you want to be honest, rather than avoiding saying anything I think you should try to present the truth as optimistically as possible.

  2. dirty says:

    I often find that thinkers like Hitchens, Twain and Jillette leave more unsaid when they use short ‘radio snippets’ to describe life and death. Such topics are best described with a couple of coffees over the course of an evening. Reducing them down to 10-15 words may be useful as a summary for those already primed on such discussions, but I find they lose significant meaning otherwise.

    Unless someone asks for my explicit opinion on such matters, I try to reflect the question back and see whether or not they can develop an answer for themselves – I find this strangely fitting because there is no certainty in any of the answers that I can give.

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