The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Good Man With a Bad Job

Over at his blog, Hemant Mehta put up a post about this podcast, which tells the story of an atheist family who bring in a Baptist minister to perform a funeral for their atheist grandmother. Perhaps not unpredictably, the service featured a fire-and-brimstone "you're all going to Hell if you don't accept Jesus" sermon. the hosts of the show called up the minister to talk with him about it, and I recommend listening to the entire show.

In the comments for the post, most readers wrote that they thought it was absurd of the family to bring in a Baptist minister to perform a funeral for an atheist. I agree. However, a few of the commentors stated that the minister was a horrible person for A) holding his beliefs, and B) for giving a sermon intended to convert the family rather than comfort them.

Bullshit. The minister is not a horrible person. He may have weird inconsistent beliefs (God loves you deeply, but will punish you for eternity for not believing in his son...heh?), but he's hardly alone in that. He may have chosen a bad time to try to convert the family, setting them even farther against his beliefs rather than bringing them towards those beliefs. But he is not a horrible person. Quite the contrary, he seems to be a very good person who is doing the best he can based on the beliefs he holds and some rather limited ability to persuade people.

Yes, there are horrible people who are Christians, I have known many of them. You can find them at any church - they're the people who are describing with glee the torments that they believe await everyone but them. They're the ones who get excited when talking about the torments of the Tribulation that wait for those who are "left behind" after the Rapture. Hell, go to Youtube and look up videos of the Phelps family at one of their "protests" - these people clearly get off on the notion that everyone but them is going to burn for eternity. These types of sadistic bastards are horrible people.

The minister, on the other hand, is frightened and worried for the well-being of others. He flubbed his attempt to bring these people over, using the funeral as a soapbox for these beliefs only resulted in pushing them even farther away, but that doesn't change the fact that, as far as can be told, he was acting out of concern and not out of sadism.

You can call his beliefs horrible, you can call his approach incompetent, but I don't think you can fairly say that the minister is anything but a good person.


me said...

The minister may not be horrible as a human being, but from your brief description, it sounds like he is effed up pretty badly--to speak ill of the deceased & disrespect those who were there to pay their respects. Far be it from me to judge, but based on this, I wouldn't classify the guy as "good."

Jeff R.

Anthroslug said...

Oh, I agree that he screwed up, and that his sermon had the exact opposite of his intended effect. I still think that he was acting on good impulses that got routed and filtered through a very poorly thought out and disturbing image of the world.

me said...

Well, to take that a step or two further, you can say that a demented mass murderer acts on "good impulses" because he thinks he's doing God's will by cleansing the Earth of evil. Screwing someone over because you think it's the right thing to do (based on religion or whatever) isn't "good."


Anthroslug said...

Point taken. I think I would be inclined to agree if the minister had been forced on the family, or if he had mis-represented what he intended to speak about at the funeral. However, they knowingly chose a Baptist minister to perform the ceremony, which I think changes things, as he did what Baptist ministers are known for doing - delivering hellfire and brimstone sermons. That's quite different from intentionally screwing the family over.

There's also a difference of degree. Don't misunderstand me, I absolutely feel for the family on this one and am sympathetic to them, and they chose the minister because of a lack of clear thinking at a time of grief. I also think that the minister's beliefs are abhorrent, the notion fo Hell makes the Judeo-Christian god into a villian by any reasonable standard. I would have been angry had I been a family member. But delivering an inappropriate speech is still quite a distance from comitting murder, the difference may be one of degree rather than type, but it is a diffrence nonetheless.

Anthroslug said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthroslug said...

As I think about it, there is another difference. The minister appears to have been acting out of concern for the family, while the murderer in your example would have been acting without concern for, or even with contempt for, his vicitms.

We could, fo course, come up with examples where someone would commit a reprehensible act with concern for those affected, and then we would have to argue about whether the actor was evil or merely his acts. This is, I think, a messy area where our language (good/evil) tends to be difficult.

I wish we had a better vocabulary for this sort of thing.

JakeR said...

Like you, I don't think the minister was a terrible person but terribly inappropriate. As the saw has it, "A gentleman never unintentionally gives offense."

Anthroslug said...

The more that I think about this, the more complex it seems to get. I think that Jeff makes a good point that the minister seemed to know that his sermon would not be well received and would not do what a speech at such a time is supposed to do: comfort the grieving. What's more, he clearly did harm, whether or not it was his intention. So, that's bad.

On the other hand, he does appear ot have been acting otu of concern for the family, so his impulses were motivated by altruism. So, that's good.

At the same time, it could be argued that there may have been an element of self-protection involved - he wanted to "stand up" for his beliefs by lecturing to atheists as a way of reinforcing the beliefs. But that's purely speculation on my part. If true, it's bad, if not, then it's me talking out of my ass.

The minister's beliefs seem to me to be rather horrible. So, does holding those beliefs make him horrible? Does it simply make him a victim of indoctrination? Does it make him simply confused? I don't know.

At any rate, this seems ot me to fall into a weird grey area. I think that, based on what can be gleaned from the radio show, it seems like he is, at his core, an altruistic person. However, that core is surrounded by a set of beliefs that cause his altruistic impulses to turn into harmful action.

So, is he a good or a bad person?