February 8, 2011

Why This Life Matters

If you haven't seen The Tillman Story, the documentary about how Pat Tillman's family struggled to get at the truth of what happened to him in Afghanistan, I highly recommend it. It's a fairly straight forward doc, but the story it tells is very powerful. Spoiler alert - just about everybody in the chain of command lied through their teeth to make Tillman's death a pro-war PR event, even though it was much more complicated than that.

One of the themes that runs through the film is that Tillman did not fit into any neat descriptive boxes, particularly those our society likes to ascribe to a brave soldier. He signed up after 9/11, but during a tour of duty in Iraq called that war "fucking illegal." His played football with flair out outsized confidence, but was quick to deflect attention from himself off the field.

There was something else, too. It came out during the nationally televised memorial service for Tillman, after several notables dished out the usual "he's with Jesus" pablum, his brother took the lectern (beer in hand) and said:
'He's not with God, he's fucking dead,' asserted Mr Tillman. 'Thanks for your thoughts but he's fucking dead.' Mr Tillman, who has a low tolerance for lies was clearly offended by the sentiments, stating that his deceased brother 'was not religious.'
The fact that Tillman was an atheist should be a footnote in this whole matter, as it had nothing to do with the investigation into his death and cover up. But it did:
In an interview with ESPN's Mike Fish, the Army officer who directed the first inquiry, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, admitted officials knew which shooter killed Tillman but he saw no value in going there.

'I don't think it really matters,' Kauzlarich said.

* * *

'[Tillman's family] have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs.'
He went on to say:  'When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more -- that is pretty hard to get your head around that.'
This is a sentiment I see a lot from religious folks when talking to we of no faith. "If this life is all there is, how do you get out of bed in the morning?"

I get out of bed this morning precisely because this is all there is. I've got one life, and that's it. Once my time on Earth is done, there is no more. Why would I not want to make the most of it? Why would I not want to improve my own lot in life and the lots of those around me?

It seems perfectly straightforward to me. I know it doesn't for others. And I don't begrudge folks who rely on the comfort of knowing about the "next life" to get them through the day and deal with all the shit this world can throw at them. As Bruce Hornsby wrote, "well, whatever works for you."

Is it too much to ask, though, that folks who are certain there is something beyond this life to realize that those of us who disagree don't see that as a problem? That this is all there is does give us meaning, even if it seems odd to you. At the very least, don't let your inability to recognize that serve as a cheap excuse to ignore the truth. Note that it was the believer, not the atheist, who said of the truth of the Tillman saga, "I don't think it really matters."

And, for the record, I hereby give permission, once I am dead and (hopefully) being fondly remembered, to anyone who wishes to remind anyone who gets too religious about the whole thing to blurt out, "he's not with God, he's fucking dead." I approve beforehand, 'cause I sure won't be able to afterward.

Take it away, cousin David . . .

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