Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pointing At The Moon

A friend called the other day and mentioned the "pointing at the moon" example that often comes up in Buddhist thought. I googled a bit (is "google" an accepted verb yet? Well, it should be.) and told him that I'd found the phrase to be a Buddhist example of confusing the lesson for the object of the lesson, or mistaking the Buddha for the object of reverence instead of his teachings.
Tonight my friend Carl drives me home. Carl is a very nice guy. He works in the kitchen and is putting himself through Bible college. His niece Tanya is often working at the Stop-and-Rob where I frequently buy cigarettes and Yoo-Hoos after work. Tonight Carl is driving Tanya's car, a Toyota Matrix without a rear bumper. His usual car is a Mazda and the passenger door is the only one that works, because Carl swears that the first thing that wears out on Mazdas is the cheap plastic door-opening device. None of that has anything to do with what I'm talking about, I'm just setting the scene. (Do people actually edit their blogs?) Carl mentions that he's working on a paper for school; the topic is "euthanasia". Interesting. I think, well, I know how the Bible college version of this paper is supposed to work out: euthanasia is bad, m'kay?
I tell Carl about my father's death. Not because it has anything to do with euthanasia, but it did have something to do with living will DNR orders and a family's grief and I'd worked thirteen hours and felt like talking about something other than, "Whaddya have, sir?" My point to Carl is that even though my father specifically said in his living will that even though he did not want his life to be continued by artificial means after natural death it was still a wrenching decision to pull the plug, because my mom and I, both unchurched, did not want to give up that last shred of hope. We wanted him to come back, to ask for a Jack and water, to see the Falcons beat Minnesota in the NFC Championship game, to tell me to get a real job, to ask Mom to make gravy after she'd made bacon and biscuits. We knew it was false hope. But it was the only hope available, and we clung to it for hours, until we tearfully requested that he be removed from artificial ventilation. It felt like I killed him. Intellectually, I know I didn't. He had no brain activity, he was only breathing via mechanical intervention. But it still felt like I killed him. I tell Carl that the problem that I, Mr. Atheist, have with euthanasia is that it denies the rest of us whatever contributions could have been made by the person who decided to end their own life. What if Stephen Hawking had just given up and blown his brains out? We'd never know that black holes emit radiation (OK, maybe not, but we wouldn't have known it in such a timely fashion). What if...I ran out of examples.
"I think if you're ready to die and your family is ready for you to die then euthanasia is a viable option," I tell him, not sure if I actually believe that. I'd like to say that he began quoting Scripture at that point, but in fact he did not. What he really said was more along the lines of "there's a big grey area and it's hard to draw those lines."
Damn. I hate reasonable Christians. You're supposed to be thumping Bibles and telling me I'm going to hell, not acknowledging my pain and sympathiszing with me. The conversion eventually moved to Prime Directives, as every religious conversation does. So I pointed at the moon.

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