Friday, November 7, 2014

Relatively speaking, we have a problem here

As everyone on the planet with an internet connection or cable service now knows, Brittany Maynard took her own life last weekend, on the feast of All Saints.

Everybody has read the story by now, and the web is teeming with predictable banter from all sides.

How very brave

How very sad

She did a noble thing

What a waste

Brittany is no longer here to defend herself, and so her real motives lie with her in her grave, unknown to everyone save for her Creator and His creature. We who hope in a resurrection must commend her to the arms of her Father, seeking His mercy for her life and the choices she made.

But those of us left behind have some explaining to do.

Namely, how can a culture so uniformly horrified and saddened by another very public suicide only a dozen weeks earlier have pivoted so efficiently and entirely 180 degrees?

Simply put, this is the tyranny of relativism, the reality of living in an age where intentions and feelings rule the day, and where my version of reality can be entirely different from - and largely irrelevant to - yours.

Except that's not how it really works. Defy gravity without a parachute and you're still going to fall. Even if you call it liberated plummeting, or something like that.

Swallow some prescribed lethal medication, you're still going to end your own life, even if you're calling it by another name.

When we create our own reality, we write our own rules to live by. And to die by. But rules without the authority of reality behind them are just empty words. I can shout "I am the president of the United States" while standing in my kitchen all day long, but my children are not going to morph into members of Congress.

Since the day Brittany's story broke, the media fell all over themselves christening her as brave and noble, lauding her vulnerability and her heroism. Why? Because she followed her heart.

And in her heart, she believed that a life lived in suffering and diminished by disease was not a life worth living. 

Thus, the media had their new darling of the moment, their temporary "it girl" repping the culture of death. It's always a temp position, because the turnover is so frightfully high. In fact, even now, less than a week after her death, it already feels passé to reference her.

Next drama, please.

That's the problem with a culture so caught up in ensuring everyone has their own interpretation of right and doesn't leave any room for reality.

Ironically, the case du jour is another young, pretty girl with brain cancer. But this girl is fighting and living with her disease, spreading a message of joy and raising awareness for particularly underfunded pediatric cancers. Her name, of course, is Lauren Hill. And once again, the media is calling her brave and showering her with praise and interviews.

But wait...Brittany was also brave. But for ending her life. Now Lauren is brave, but for choosing to live hers to the what gives?

That this stunning contradiction disturbs virtually no one covering the news is a telling sign of how far gone we are as a civilization, that we can wholeheartedly (and in all earnestness) give a standing ovation to a woman who kills herself because she has brain cancer and then turn around, not even a week later, and give a standing ovation to a woman who doesn't kill herself because she has brain's mind boggling.

But, was her personal choice, they say. And it was her freedom to end her life, to end her suffering. And Lauren has that same freedom, and is choosing to exercise it differently, to live her life to the end, enduring her suffering. This is true, of course. But the critically important distinction is that they can't both be right.

It can't be brave to kill yourself and to choose to live in the face of unimaginable suffering. That's not how the universe operates.

Those are what's known as opposing realities. And if we had the collective capacity to think logically and reasonably, the difficulty would be obvious. But because we are, all of us to some degree, enslaved to that spirit of the age, relativism, we are somehow capable of entertaining wildly opposing realities in our addled brains.


It is not unloving to speak of good and evil, of wrong and right.

What is unloving is to pretend that all options are equally weighted, that all choices are equally valid. Do you know what the consequences of that are? School shootings. Child pornography. Domestic abuse. Sex trafficking. Cutting.

But we can't speak of that. We can't speak of the reality that some things are right and some things are wrong, for fear of offending or alienating someone. But then tragedy strikes, and we sputter and struggle to make sense of it, to demand consequences for the perpetrator and compensation for the victims, all the while realizing that we don't really have a leg to stand on, because we're the ones spouting nonsensical buzzwords like tolerance and non-judgement.

We ought to be intolerant of evil. We out to make swift, sure judgments on actions and behaviors which are fundamentally anti-human and therefore, utterly wrong.

To do any less is to reject the fundamental call of Christianity, to love thy neighbor as thyself.

Let's practice authentic, life-giving love. Love that is willing to suffer, to be mocked and scorned, and to be rejected by a society utterly captivated by death.

The ruins of Auschwitz.
(photo credit Katy Senour)


  1. My inclination is to say that we should pray for her soul, but bury her body in consecrated soil with a stake through her heart, as the tradition was in some places for suicides. We must not despair for her soul, but for the sake of those tempted by suicide, we should uphold traditions that eliminate the veneer of dignity and respectability from suicide.

    1. Sorry, that was supposed to be "UNconsecrated soil". Likewise, although we should offer Masses for the repose of the souls of suicides, we should not give them Funeral Masses.

    2. I agree, Howard. A stake through the heart seems entirely appropriate. Good plan.

  2. I suspect that today's secularists do indeed believe that both women 'can be right' ... because that view embraces a pro-choice mentality. Of course, that's an morally incongruent position and is not what is meant by the best definition of freedom, certainly not what our faith would inform us of.

  3. So, so good. Your blog posts have been much appreciated, your ability to clearly and concisely address hot button cultural topics has been refreshing. Thank you for all your posts.

  4. One thought that disturbs me is, did she feel obligated to go through with her suicide because of all the public anticipation and media exposure? The media was basically just sitting around waiting for her to kill herself so they could have the big finale to their story. With all of the encouragement she was getting, I would imagine it would be hard to disappoint all of her "supporters" and change her mind at the last minute.

    1. Good point. The media were just like a crowd calling out "Jump! Jump! Jump!" to someone on a high ledge.

    2. I've been wondering the same thing. And not only because of the media attention, but because of the changes her family made for her to be able to take advantage of Oregon's law. They moved to another state, took leaves of absence from work, etc. She had to have felt that she had so much invested in that decision, which she made months ago, to take her own life.

  5. We should never expect people to behave in a rational or logical manner. Especially not now when emotions are everything. Whom gods want to destroy, they make them mad first.

  6. "Even if you call it liberated plummeting." Bravo indeed. Another great post... thanks.

  7. This is a terrific post. Wonderful - you speak truth and you speak it so well.

  8. You, my dear, have just risen to the top of my Catholic blogger list. I was intrigued with your entire October series, and this is just incredible. Thank you.

  9. I second Sarah's comment! So grateful to have another favorite added to my regular to-read list of blogs! Brava on this topic - you nailed it.

  10. No. You, my dear, clearly have not experienced or witnessed true suffering. And I see that you only like to keep the posts that agree with your beliefs and opinions, and delete the rest. Interesting.

    1. Nope, I only delete offensive, hateful or irrelevant posts. Yours can stay, though you do seem to be confused about death being the greatest suffering.

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  13. Great points. I'm sharing it with the confirmation class I teach as part of a discussion on the fifth commandment. I'm planning for them to read the letter from Brittany Maynard, the letter from seminarian Philip Johnson (who is also dying of brain cancer and is a seminarian at our church) and this and another response. Thanks!


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