Children’s Lit, Euthanasia, and Atheism

April 3, 2011

Two articles in the Guardian this morning. Both thoughtful and thought-provoking.

The first is an interview with the author / Martin Amis /. Apparently he likes to stir controversy, and is fond of the phrase  “if I lost half my brain, then I’d do… whatever the questioner had asked”. This time, he was asked if he’d ever write children’s books.

Well, of course that got a furious response from children’s authors. Rightly so – you need a very good mind to write children’s books, but it is a particular type of writing. And Amis is, in his provocative way, indicating that he hasn’t that type of mind. For him and his style, it would be a hardship. So why the fury?

I would be angry, too, I’m sure. But the fury displayed in the comments? Equal arrogance, far more vitriol.I don’t write kid’s books, but even so, if he said he couldn’t write in my style, even implying my style is a lesser style only shows his ignorance and ego. Or, more accurately, his love of stirring up wasp’s nests.

He also mentions that the fast-accelerating population shift to far greater percentage of elderly people will cause social upheaval. Again, a valid point. Again, he chooses to express it in a provocative way: euthanasia booths on every corner with a martini and a medal for those who use them.

Predictably, people react as if he’s saying “round ’em up and shoot ’em where they stand.”

He is not.

Think of the words. He’s a writer. Words matter.

A martini. A celebration. A drink associated with conviviality. So – a wake, a celebration of a life.

A medal. Why do we give medals? To acknowledge courage or achievement far beyond the ordinary. He is saying that he recognizes the extraordinary courage it would take to commit suicide, even if one is in pain and without hope of cure.

Yes, he is deliberately riling people. But underneath that irritating manner, he is stating truths. He is a writer who delights in complexity and style that children are not capable of appreciating. He would, truly, have to deny much of his way of writing to tone down the vocabulary, the plot lines, the themes to a children’s level. He’s not claiming he’s better than those who can write for children. It’s as challenging in its own way as his style is for him. But it’s not his style. So ignore him. Be glad of good writing wherever you find it – and don’t judge other styles by your own.

And don’t force other people to live when they no longer wish to. Give them the ultimate respect and dignity of allowing them to choose their time, and to die peacefully, without pain. If your religion forbids suicide, then don’t do it. But don’t you dare force others to live by your beliefs. Just don’t. That is evil.

And with all that in mind, the / second article /  is about a man who has devoted decades to compiling a ‘Good Book’ – how people can live ethically and wisely. No religion to stir hatred and violence against others, just thinking compassionately and caring about each other. Sounds good to me. He is an advocate that everyone can and should be able to study philosophy – a conclusion I have also reached. Learning to think, and to think clearly, is crucial to our being able to survive in this crowded and rapidly altering world.

Asked about religious people being offended by plain-speaking atheists, he replies,  “My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake. All we’re doing is speaking very frankly and bluntly and they don’t like it.”  Absolutely true. The religious response of killing those who disagree is still around, and even in the US deliberate, malicious, vindictive actions towards non-believers are far too common – and endorsed by the government all too often.

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