Thursday, October 9, 2014


I've broken one of the cardinal rules of online article-reading: never read the comments.

The story itself—about Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman who has terminal brain cancer, and who has decided to end her own life on a day of her own choosing, surrounded by her loved ones—is one that I find fascinating, tragic, and comforting all at once.  Fascinating, because of the moral issues that it raises.  Tragic, because this woman is so young and it's reasonable to think that she might have wanted to do so much more in her life before this cancer happened to her.  Comforting, because it's good to know that some people, at least, do get to leave the world on their own terms. Frankly, I'm not sure that I would have her courage under similar circumstances.

 Of the commenters on the story, I've noticed that most of them seem to be supportive of Ms. Maynard's decision.  One or two of them seem intent on hawking cannabis oil as a cure-all even for terminal brain cancer, but otherwise it seems that most of the comments so far are from people who respect her decision and hope that her passing is what she wants it to be.  But I also noticed that a lot of them are placing the blame for the fact that she had to move to Oregon to do this on Christianity and on priests' insistence that people have to suffer before they die.

I've written about this myself before.  I still strongly believe that the prolonging of suffering just to say that someone is still alive is neither respectful of their life nor a legitimate means of bringing them closer to God (especially as so many invoke this particular god as a god of compassion, love, and peace, even if other voices tend to publically drown them out).  But a lot of those commenters also seem inclined to paint all Christians with the same brush: thirsty for world domination, determined to eradicate all real choice from people's lives, an unceasingly evil and oppressive force which is dragging the world back into the dark ages.

 And maybe they—we—deserve it.  Christian privilege is definitely A Thing, after all, and privilege has a way of making otherwise decent people into assholes from time to time.  Furthermore, a lot of these life-at-any-cost-even-if-it's-torturously-painful policies do seem to have their roots in various sorts of Christian dogma dealing with the sanctity of life.  (Mind, I'm sure that there's a financial motivation in there, too—but I'm a bit cynical that way.)  And there's no denying that a lot of people have done a lot of very horrible things in the name of Christianity.

 But maybe not.  After all, it's not usually right to apply the same awful stereotype to all members of any given group.  I'd hate to think, for example, that just because part of my spiritual life involves a triune God who is YHWH, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, that makes me every bit as awful as the Westboro Baptist Church. Or, perhaps a bit closer to my own background, like I'm as bad as the Catholic hierarchy that still all too frequently allows certain priests to get away with victimizing children.

I'm not sure precisely why it bothers me that so many of these comments have arisen on the discussion thread for this article, though. Privilege, maybe? After all, even though most Christians really aren't like that, enough really are that it's a fairly understandable view. And goodness knows that a lot of commentary I've seen about people with privilege indicates that when you're privileged in some way and someone says something about your type of privilege that hurts your feelings, you're supposed to just shut up and take it because examining privilege is supposed to be painful—and anyway, that pain is insignificant when compared to the pain of oppression. It's not a point of view that I hold—I actually think that these things can and should be discussed honestly, but not with the intent of any party to wound anyone else, because causing personal hurt won't do anything to change institutional oppression. (But then, what do I know? I've got white privilege and a fair amount of straight-passing and Christian-passing privilege. It may well be that I have a personal investment in seeing things this way because it means that my delicate little white woman fee-fees are less likely to get hurt and result in the phenomenon known as "white woman's tears.")

Or maybe it's the way that I despise stereotypes. I've never met anyone who was accurately described by the stereotypes that exist about any group of which they are members, and I've found the various stereotypes to which I'm subject as a fat woman to be extremely harmful and incredibly inaccurate. Stereotyping may be a convenient shortcut, but it's also a way of saying, "You don't matter. People like you are all alike."

Whatever the case, the comments of that sort did distress me a bit. But of Ms. Maynard herself: I hope that she remains content with her choice regardless of whatever disapproval she may face, and that when she dies, it is what she wants her death to be—surrounded by love, and in comfort and peace.