Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Tragedy

Note: this story is completely true, except for the names, which have all been changed except for mine.

Today I was supposed to drive to Palm Springs to meet up with numerous family members for Thanksgiving. My mom's side of the family was to be there: my grandpa, various aunts and uncles, cousins, and of course my mom, my sister, and myself. However, something terrible happened, and the Palm Springs get together was cancelled.

Early this morning, I was awoken by a call from my mom. She told me, "Aaron, there is a problem. Nobody has heard from your uncle John. His voicemail box is full and nobody has seen him since last Saturday. Your uncle Jimmy is looking for him. The Palm Springs trip has been cancelled, and everyone is very worried. This isn't like him. Come over to my house, your sister is already on her way."

I hurried over to my mom's house, which is a half hour away from mine. When I arrived, everyone looked very sad. I was worried to say the least, and immediately asked what had happened.

My mom, with tears in her eyes, explained to me, "Jimmy found your uncle John. He is dead. It looks like he died a few days ago, and his truck was at the bottom of a ravine. He drove off a cliff. Your uncle Jimmy is hysterical."

This was quite a shock to me, as well as my entire family. We discovered what had happened to him on Thanksgiving Day, and he had died a few days prior. He likely was drunk driving late at night and lost control of his truck, which caused him to fall down a 300-foot ravine. We are going to have a memorial service or a funeral in a couple days (don't know which yet).

Now, dear reader, I want to know what you think of this, whatever your beliefs are.

Do you think that a conscious higher power had anything to do with John's accident, or the timing of it?

Where is my uncle John now?


Anonymous said...

Aaron --

Extremely sorry to hear this, you have my utmost sympathies bro.

As for where... well, he's nowhere, except for in the memories of those who knew him.

Again, my condolences to your family and yourself.


vjack said...

I'm sorry to hear about your loss, but I am glad to hear that you have some time off because of the holiday to be with your family.

My answer to your questions is as follows:

A conscious higher power had nothing to do with this or anything else because such a force does not exist. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the existence of any such being, and thus, the rational individual does not believe in any such being.

As for the present location of your uncle, this is a trick question because your uncle no longer exists. Sure, there is the body, but this is no longer what you would consider your uncle. The part of your uncle that you knew ceased to exist the moment the physical body died.

BlackSun said...

Aaron, really sorry for your loss, especially during the holidays.

As you know, there is no higher power involved, nor anything left of your unfortunate uncle.

Thinking otherwise might make this tragedy easier to bear for some people, but I know you are not in that category. Soldier on and keep him alive in your memories.

All the best, man.

Paulkman said...

Your uncle is wherever you are.

breakerslion said...

My sympathy to you and your family for the loss of your uncle. You sound like a close family. If it was going to happen (and it happens to everyone, just not usually so spectacularly) it had a 1 in 365.25 chance of happening on the day that it did. There is no good time for it to happen.

If the laws of physics are a higher power, then maybe in that respect something more immutable than human will had something to do with the outcome.

Where is you Uncle John? In the memories of everyone who knew him, in a manner of speaking. Depending on the nature of time, he still exists in some way in the time frame in which he lived. What that actually means, no one knows at this time. When you look in the night sky, you see light that was produced at all different times. There is a space-time relationship that is not fully understood. What I'm getting at is String Theory, and I have no idea if that has any relevance to existence as humans perceive it. It's all pretty speculative and not much use when you are missing someone.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Deepest condolences for your loss, Aaron.
This is 1 of the reasons the religious yearn for an afterlife: there is no permanence in this 1. All is ephemeral, & dances away on gossamer wings...
You do not grieve alone, my friend.

Delta said...

I'm terribly sorry to hear about your family's loss AK. There's really no good time for it to happen. Maybe having the Thanksgiving holiday will allow for your family to be there and support each other more than would be possible if everyone didn't have the time off work.

And to avoid repeating the answer to your question, I am in agreement with the views stated above that I know we both share.

heather said...


Anonymous said...

So sorry for your loss, Aaron. It sucks when someone in your family dies. You can be grateful that your uncle didn't hurt anyone else while driving drunk, I suppose. I'm so very sorry...there are some of my family members who have struggled (and still struggle) with alcoholism...that's a whole other hurtful thing, ain't it?

Your uncle will always live in your families' hearts and memories. You have my deepest sympathy.

cay said...

Religious bloggers would say that it was no accident that God "chose" Thanksgiving to punish you by killing your uncle, but here we can understand that it was an accident, caused by a bad decision of one human. Simple. Your uncle was lucky to be one of billions to live on the Earth, and now he is gone. I'm sorry, Aaron. But I think you would have rather known him than not, and that's all we have.

Anonymous said...

I will pray for you and your family. Yes, I do believe in God, Jesus the whole bit (I am conservative presbyterian). I have to disagree with Cay. I am a "religious blogger" but your uncles death is not a punishment on you. If your uncle was drunk, then the accident was the natural result of the choice he made. I am not the greatest Biblical scholar, but I don't think that any reasonable theologian would say that this was intendeed to punish you.

As to where your uncle is, he will certainly be in the memories of his friends and family. Where his eternal destiny is, I have no way of knowing. In fact no one other than him and God. Having not known your uncle, it is not my place to guess.

The often misinterpreted book of Revalation says that salvation is of God, therefore I will leave it to the mercy of God. My hope is that he is in heaven, as is my hope for all who pass away.

Again, I am saddened to hear of your loss, espicially on a day that family is so important.

Paul C. Quillman

Aaron Kinney said...

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate your sympathies, and I hope that all of you had a better Thanksgiving holiday than I did.

Like the atheists and naturalists here, I too believe that my uncle is no more as a conscious being. He only exists now by proxy: in the thoughts of those who knew him.

I was hoping for more theistic responses, but since my blog is so hard-core atheist, I guess its no surprise that I mostly got atheistic answers to my questions.

To Paul:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter. My uncle was a Christian (as is my entire family), so if there is a Christian God, he is likely in Heaven with Him.

I will likely post more on this soon.

Anonymous said...

hi again, Aaron.

I'm very sorry to hear about your uncle. No one deserves to have to deal with that sort of thing. I will be praying for strength for you and your family - as cheesy as that may sound, in the event of the death of a loved one (or even someone you know) it would be hard to deny that strength would be helpful.

here are my answers to your questions:

I refuse to believe that God would kill your uncle around Thanksgiving in order to bring something to your attention. In short, I don't think you should be looking for some higher meaning to any of it - the timing, the intent, or the manner in which he died (except for the fact that drunk driving is dangerous - but you probably knew that already). Yes, I believe that God is in control, but some things happen that are the result of our actions as well. The balance of God's control and our free will is unclear to me, but I do believe that both had a part in your uncle's tragic accident. (There can be found comfort and sorrow in that explanation, depending on how you want to take it right now. I choose to take at least some comfort in the existence of God's plan.)

Uncle "John" is, in my belief, either in heaven or in hell. Blunt, to be sure. But that is my belief: if your uncle chose to accept Jesus Christ as his Saviour, then he is in heaven. If not, he is in hell. Both destinations will be permanent.

I don't mean to end this post on a bit of a harsh note - I am very sorry about your uncle. Please accept my condolences, and I hope that you, your family, and your uncle's friends can support each other in a surprising time of trouble. I also hope that perhaps you will consider accepting God's support as well.


Jim Jordan said...

He only exists now by proxy: in the thoughts of those who knew him.

Amen to that, Aaron. But what are thoughts but things? We see a beautiful sunset and the eye processes these things into...thoughts. A recent study showed that all sensory data is processed into corresponding thoughts and stored in the brain. Thoughts are memories, they are stored. They are things. We talk of storing memories in our minds but we don't consider what that would mean if it were true. I believe it means that your uncle exists not by proxy, but that he still exists. If thoughts and ideas are real and causal, could they not survive the death of the body? Just a thought.

The Christian God is far more bountiful and loving than Christians give him credit for. I believe your uncle is in God's presence, whether he is a believer or not.

That said, hearing such news sickens me - what a terrible Thanksgiving! You should write a book about it [you are a very good and energetic writer]. I can't begin to imagine what that must have been like. I will be praying to my God for you and your family. Keep in mind I'm only wishing you well. Thanks for sharing this.
PS - Wade - If this were your uncle who died, would you have posted the same comments?

Anonymous said...

jim - while I probably wouldn't have posted all that I did here, my thoughts on the matter would be the same.

I'm curious as to what part you are referring to specifically, but yeah, even with my own uncle in mind, my post reflects my thoughts.

Aaron Kinney said...


No offense taken. I understand why you posted that.

Just to be clear, no, my uncles death didnt shake my atheism. I posted these questions here mostly for the theists so that I could see what they thought of the matter and compare it to my own thoughts.

My uncle was a Christian (like all my family except for me) so he would be in heaven I suppose, if it existed.

But I tell you this Wade: I woldnt want to be in a state of permanent ANYTHING. Both would be a hell to me. The only thing that makes anything precious or valuable is its temporality. In my archives I have a post entitled "the aburdity of eternity" or something like that. You should check it out.


Sure my uncle exists in certain fashions; in the thoughts that his friends and family have of him, etc. But my uncle as a singular conscious agent is no more. He is no longer thinking thoughts or committing actions. Or do you disagree with that?

He was a Christian, btw. So I imagine that if YHWH existed, he'd be hanging out with him somewhere.

Thanks for the compliments about my writing! I tend to be too verbose IMO, but I am definitely an energetic writer. Im an aspie in fact, so Im energetic EVERYTHING LOL!

Jim Jordan said...

But my uncle as a singular conscious agent is no more.
That would certainly be my first impression as well.

He is no longer thinking thoughts or committing actions.
Here's my thoughts - I'm still working on this - thoughts are stored in our minds just as memories of sense data are stored. Memories of the dead are archives of what we saw and heard of them, and what we thought of them as well. If our memories are representations of actual things, then our thoughts for or against someone must then be actual things. Similarly a thought in favor of someone, love to be specific, can cause the effect of depression or tears, just as a rock hitting one's head causes pain.

This begs the question. Where did these "immaterial thoughts" come from and why are they stored alongside sense data of material things? We could also ask will these things cease to exist, or do they go somewhere? Is there another archive, kind of like a back-up system or do they continue to exist though disembodied?

Or do you disagree with that?

Long story short, of course I would disagree that your uncle has ceased to exist [disclosure:I'm a theist]. If the nature of spirit is not immaterial but supermaterial, we may be looking at death the way people looked at germs before they were discovered. Doctors saw an effect and assumed the cause came from something else. They came to learn that the cause was a germ and that it could be removed. Again, this line of thinking is a work in progress.

I'm reading a book on the debate between Elizabeth Anscombe and C.S. Lewis regarding his argument from reason. People seem to overlook the fact that they did reach a consensus. Take care.

Aaron Kinney said...

Hi Jim,

Thanks for letting me know you are a theist... that clears up some confusion on my part :)

Thoughts are indeed material. They are electro-chemical information stored within the brain. In my opinion, thoughts are analogous to bits of data stored on a hard drive.

What we know as thoughts of our uncle, or even software programs on our computer, are the meta-data of the material electro-chemical (brain) or magnetic (computer) data physically found in our data banks, like in brains and hard drives.

My thoughts of my uncle are meta-data representations of him. They are not my uncle himself. Do you agree with this?

Also, do you think that ones soul or consciousness or thoughts can continue their existence and function after the physical death?

Do you perhaps think that a software program on a computer will continue to run after the computer is destroyed?

Anonymous said...


You have my sympathies. I have yet to deal with a close family member dying, but I can imagine the pain. It may even be more intense for those of us who do not believe in a deity, since we have no illusions of a future reunion. However, knowing we have but one life to live, we have good reason to live it to the fullest.

cay said...

Aaron said: Do you perhaps think that a software program on a computer will continue to run after the computer is destroyed?

If only they'd read my James Joyce post about eternity! I'm so proud of you, Aaron--we need to have a beer one of these days to toast the life we have right now.

Jim Jordan said...

Do you perhaps think that a software program on a computer will continue to run after the computer is destroyed?

This is a gray area because we don't know where black ends and white begins. That said I do believe that the programmer, the original catalyst for the idea, remains even though his creation has been destroyed. This means that while we can do nothing but vanish into nothingness when we die, our Programmer lives on, and us in Him. If God exists, it is only logical that all things are possible with Him, even if we have no faith in ourselves.

I hope your mother and family are taking this well. Take care.

James Pyrich said...

My condolences to you and your family for your recent loss.

It's my understanding (according to the reading I've done thus far) that memories are something like a ring of resonant neurons or resonant layers of neurons. So it's almost a cross between software and data... it's really nifty.

However, impressions of your uncle and the material that made up his body are all that remain.

I personally wouldn't mind having my consciousness persist after my body breaks down, but we don't yet have the technology to transfer the substrate of consciousness from my head to, say, a computer.