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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Dead Man Talking

Ok, so I don't know who the heck Hunter Thompson is (other than the fact that's he's a dead guy now), but I do have some questions after reading about him here.

(Just as a word of warning - some of what I'm going to say is probably going to sound harsh. I would REALLY appreciate it if someone who is sympathetic to the ideas in this article could please attempt to explain how you think about the world, because I really just don't get it. I want to like him, really. Anyone named 'Hunter' has got to have something going for him. But I'm just having a hard time buying it).

So here's the scoop...
  • good 'ol Hunter is 67, married to a wife of 32 (hmm, that's interesting)
  • the article calls him a 'literary champ,' an 'icon' (so he was good enough to actually make money writing... impressive!)
  • the guy had broken a leg and spent a year convalescing (so he's been a bit depressed, but hey, plenty of people have to deal w/ a lot worse)
  • he's so depressed that he'd recently been talking about suicide w/ his family (but no one thinks he's serious)
  • he's so serious that while he's talking with his wife on the phone he shoots himself w/ a .45 (a .45 being a fairly worthless caliber for anything other than suicide)
Now, here's where it gets interesting. Listen to how the family responds:
But a small circle of family and friends gathered around with stories, as he wished, with glasses full of his favored elixir — Chivas Regal on ice.

"It was very loving. It was not a panic, or ugly, or freaky," Thompson's wife, Anita Thompson, said..."It was just like Hunter wanted. He was in control here."

Anita Thompson also echoes the comments that have been made by Hunter Thompson's son and daughter-in-law: That her husband's suicide did not come from the bottom of the well, but was a gesture of strength and ultimate control made as his life was at a high-water mark.

"This is a triumph of his, not a desperate, tragic failure," Anita Thompson said by phone, recounting that she was sitting in her husband's chair he called his catbird seat in the Rockies.

She added: "He lived a beautiful life and he lived it on his own terms, all the way from the very beginning to the very end."

Anita Thompson, like her husband's other close relatives, understood how Hunter Thompson wanted to make his ultimate exit.

Ok, I understand that the family feels terrible about losing their loved one. I am not trying to minimize that one iota. In fact, I feel awful for them. But I simply cannot fathom how anyone can look at this as heroic. How far does someone have to go before we finally say, "This was selfish, self-centered, unloving... IT WAS WRONG!"

Now, I realize we don't like to say bad things about dead people. But at some point someone had to stand up and say 'the emporer has no clothes!'

As I read this article, what strikes me is how self-centered this man was, in both his living and his dying. Hunter spent his life controlling his circumstances and the people around him. And when the reality of life began to catch up with him - when he began to be faced with his own mortality, his own inability to control his destiny - he bailed. Bigtime. And he stuck his family members with the bill. Heartfuls of hurt that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. This is noble???

Dying for others is noble. Dying for yourself just seems selfish.

I know that sounds harsh, but I have known too many people who have had pick up the pieces after their loved ones pulled the plug, and the scars they leave are truly awful.

At the same time, I understand that people are weak, sick, tired, and scared, and people like this sometimes do desperate, evil things.

But I just don't see how we can treat such actions as a virtue. We seem to be losing the capacity to call vice, vice. To call sin, sin. To realize that no action occurs in a vacuum. Everything we do, no matter how small, touches the lives of others.

Is there anyone out there who really thinks this article got it right?


At 8:49 PM, February 26, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

I think that this blog post is a little misguided. I mean, I don’t know how to respond to it. I understand what you are trying to say, but I don’t think that it comes out well at all. I mean non-believers will just think that you are totally insulting the memory of a great artist because he doesn’t believe in God, and believers will just think, hey that was a stupid thing to do and that’s what happens when you don’t put your faith in God. It doesn’t push anyone to think hard, in my opinion.

I guess what I am saying is that we can celebrate art but not the actions of the artists. I mean even Nixon was made out to be a great guy when he died. And the family is celebrating the man, because they loved him. Are they at peace the way they say they are? Probably not, but I don’t know for sure. You may disagree with all of this, and I sure do, but I just don’t think that using this to get your message across is either couth or effective.

At 10:07 PM, February 26, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

I have to agree with Charles here. Hunter Thompson was an unbeliever; what do we expect. In some ways he acted much more consistently with his unbelief than most do. Most unbelievers live implicitly as if there were a God undergirding them and giving their life meaning. If they ever really took a cold stair at who they are without God, they would take the route of Thompson and Howard Hughes.

Instead of tsk tsking at their bad behavior, we should weep at the tragedy of the imago dei shattered by sin, and pray that some unbelievers reading the report of Thompson's death might be shaken from their stupor and turn to Life.

At 10:19 PM, February 26, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Charles, the way I read the article, it sounded to me like they were commerating both the person AND the action. And I am just asking the question - at what point do we actually say "the guy did something wrong?"

I'm not speaking about Hunter as a person here - I don't know anything about him, pro or con. But I am wrestling with us calling his final action noble or good.

In response to foolish sage, I'm not so much taking to task Hunter as I am the people who are responding to the situation.

Where's the sympathy for the people he has hurt?

At 10:54 PM, February 26, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

Where's the sympathy for the people he has hurt? Who has he hurt? The article was strictly from the perspective of his family. If there is celebration of this, it is by the very people who you say that he has hurt. So which is it? Is it bad that he hurt those that he loved, or is it bad that he committed suicide and the family is celebrating it?

What is the family supposed to do? Talk about how Hunter was a sinner when his body was still warm and condemn the act that they believe was in line with Hunter's wishes? Are you mad at the family, or the Author?

At 10:55 PM, February 26, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

One more thing, while I'm thinking of it. I just got done watching East/West, and great French flick from a couple of years back that is one of the saddest movies I have ever seen (thanks a lot, Molly!)

The movie is set in Stalinist Russia, and a man re-emigrates back with his French wife. Of course, once they get there they find out its not what they expected, and she spends the next 15 years trying to get out of the country. People regularly get offed all around them.

And all the while, her husband is rising in rank, sleeping around etc. He's an absolute creep, and only at the very end do you discover that this whole time he was doing it to protect her, to buy her one chance at freedom.

When her opportunity finally comes, she literally has 3 minutes to decide whether to leave her husband in order to save herself and her son. She escapes. The husband goes to prison camp for 30 freaking years before he finally gets out to France in 1987.

What strikes me through the course of this movie is that you see what it means to really love someone else. There were numerous points where I found myself saying "Oh my gosh, I really don't know what I'd do in this situation."

I could understand why someone in this type of situation might commit suicide. But none of them did. Why? Because they loved the other person more than they loved themselves...

Now compare that w/ Hunter's situation. To praise his action as something noble - that just seems to cheapen our whole definition of real sacrificial love.

I'll stop digging my hole any deeper for a while...

At 2:20 AM, February 27, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

See, I see what you are trying to say, and while I don’t agree fully, I fully understand where you are coming from. With that being said, I still don’t think that what you are trying to say is served by the post, because, at best, this post is confusing and has logical holes. You are begging the question, putting a square peg in a round hole, if you will. There is nothing wrong with slaughtering sacred cows, but you have to be very good at doing it. This will turn off a lot of unbelievers that would have actually respected this site otherwise. I am not offended by it as much as I think that it is just misguided, and I can understand why some would be offended by it.

Now, your point is valid, but let’s switch it around. Would the people around Hunter be loving Hunter more than themselves if they selfishly kept him around past HIS wishes? Can they praise his actions specifically for Hunter, but not in general? Meaning, can they praise the actions as something that is in line with the “true Hunter”, the man that they loved?

See your post is kind of weaving between a post that I would expect from you and a post that I wouldn’t. The post that I would expect from you is about faith in God or lack there of and the consequences. The post that I wouldn’t expect from you is a post about what is “the wrong thing to do is”, except if it were a murky area biblically, where you could show the progression of the acceptance/un-acceptance of a behavior from a Biblical perspective.

At 5:33 AM, February 27, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Hey Charles:

I want to ask a Q about "the wrong thing to do" part of what you said. You are correct about me usually focusing on the positive side - need for faith in God, etc.

At the same time, I still want to be able to say - this was a very wrong, non-commendable action. Yes, that is more negative, but at the same time Scripture/Jesus really DO say negative things about our actions. They call things 'sin'. The call people 'hypocrites'.

I'd just like to hear from you any suggestions on how to say that better. How would you affirm Hunter the man, with all his God given talents, and yet at the same repudiate his manner of going as something 'wrong'?

How would you call something 'sin'?

(apologies for any continued lack of coherence...I was dreadfully tired last night and I am still dragging bigtime this morning)

At 8:23 AM, February 27, 2005, Blogger Michael Moore-on said...

I liked the way you called it. I would add another adjective, cowardly.

At 1:19 PM, February 27, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

I just think that you totally missed the point of the article, which was to say what the family felt. They felt that what Hunter did was in celebration of Hunter's spirit. Who am I to say that he/they are wrong? And even if they didn't celebrate it, do you really think that they should talk bad about him so close to his death? What I am saying is, who should have said that this was bad, and how should they have fit it in?

I don't disagree with what you are saying from your perspective. From my perspective, he and his family made a choice, and they have to live and, in his case, die with that decision. I wouldn't do it. I think that it is stupid, but they made a differant choice.

I understand what you are trying to say with the post, but I just don't agree with using a man who just died as an example. I think that it takes away from what you are trying to say.

From what I understand, you want to talk to nonbelievers and make believers think differantly. How does this post serve that goal? It doesn't. The only comments by other Christians on this post on here were "yeah, he was stupid and it was a bad thing to do". Where is the challenge?

At 5:35 AM, February 28, 2005, Blogger rs said...

I guess I'm not really sure what I think about this particular situation. On the one hand, my heart goes out to this guy who no longer saw life worth living. His family was not reason enough for him to keep going and I have a hard time relating to this kind of pain and suffering, despite what Rachel and I are going through now. We are suffering, but there is so much to live for.

It seems to me that Charles agrees with your point-of-view on this guy, but disagrees that you are posting it here. I definitely agree with your 2nd post, Charles. We can't really make judgments on the family's perspective in this situation as they are just trying to find comfort in their loss and see a deeper meaning behind what he did.

I guess the bottom line for me here is what Sage said, he lived consistently. He spent his whole life looking out for his own pleasure and that's what led him to suicide. Once he no longer felt pleasure, he ended it. I don't know about you, but I don't want to end up that way. That's why I have to find meaning in life outside of my own pursuits. I have to find meaning in relationships and especially in relationship to God. It won't even work to simply believe in a has to be a personal God. I have to know God intimately, that he is faithful to what he says and that he is in control of all my circumstances (good or bad) ultimately using them for my good. Moreover, we have to realize that suicide isn't wrong because it makes God mad and somehow breaks his Law. It is wrong because it breaks his heart. Jesus came so that men like Hunter could have a reason to live. So they could live for something more than just themselves. Jesus died for men like Hunter. Men like you and me. Without faith in Him, what stops you or me from doing the same when our chips are down.

I think that is the question. Not was Hunter right or wrong or justified in his actions. The question is what separates you and me from him? What separates us from Sadam Hussein or others we have no problem calling "sinners"? Given the same life circumstances as them, would we act the same?

At 7:48 AM, February 28, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

I think Ryan said it a lot better than I did (so much for late night cogency).

We need to remember that God does not love us more because we DON'T commit suicide, or LESS because we do. If that's what we think, we don't understand the gospel.

God loves us solely because we put our faith in Christ. Period.

At the same time, Jesus still says there are things which are right and wrong. Christ tells us that the two greatest commandments are these: "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" and then "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lk 10). Paul says something similar - "what really matters is faith expressing itself through love."

So did Hunter do that? It doesn't look that way to me. In many cases, suicide stems from selfishness (focus on me) and despair (lack of faith in God). With all the talk about 'control' in this article, it just really struck me as odd that we have a difficult calling anything 'sin' these days. We may say its stupid, selfish, hurtful, whatever - but people get upset when we say things are WRONG. And that says something about us, I think.

So what about Hunter? Look, only God knows his heart. But all of us would do well to take a good hard look into our own hearts in times like these.

You see, if I am honest with myself, much of what I do is also based on selfishness and distrust of God. I am more like Hunter than I am like God. I am a sinner. Even in my strongest belief, I still have much unbelief in my heart.

What it means to be a Christian is to continually see both myself and Christ better. To repent of my own sin and unbelief whereever I find it, to trust and believe that God will forgive me solely because I am putting my faith in Christ.

That's what Christ constantly calls us to do. Me. And you.

Repent and believe. That's the heart of the gospel. But you can't have one without the other. Good news can't be good if there is nothing bad, nothing wrong, nothing to be saved from.

So Christ calls to all of us - and he often uses suffering as the way to get our attention. Christ also says there are things which are right and wrong. He says things that are harsh, like "let the dead bury their own dead" and "no one who loves their family more than me is fit for the kingdom of heaven."

But Christ also identifies with us. He makes it clear that he won't turn away any who come to him in faith. But its insists that its a faith defined on his terms, not ours.

How we respond to suffering, to wrongs, to injustice, etc. often reveals how we are responding in our hearts to Christ's call for faith and love.

So at the end of the day, its not really about Hunter - its about you and me and how each of us individually will respond to Christ.

That's tremendously good, hopeful news, but it also involves admitting that there's a right and a wrong (and I'm in the wrong, in need of saving).

Time to go study...

At 3:56 PM, February 28, 2005, Blogger Justin Dombrowski said...

To give Christian the proper credit: He does make a point to preface his comments by recognizing that death is a horrible thing and when it's someone close to you can cause a lot of grief. Perhaps what follows could have been more tactful. Perhaps. Nevertheless I think he has a great point that's worth not missing, and we shouldn't miss the forest in the trees:

Whatever feelings and conclusions we reckon to the man's family, and however much grief they're undergoing, the majority of them agree that a significant motivating factor in his decision for suicide was
(a) to have ultimate control over his life, and that
(b) that was a good, honorable thing worth celebrating.

That is a bit disturbing to me--probably the latter more than the former.

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At 11:19 AM, June 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hunter Stockton Thompson was a man more courageous than anyone I've ever met or ever will meet. I find it very hard to, I do not believe, he committed suicide.

Mike Cleverly, a longtime close friend and neighbor, had spent the previous Friday night watching basketball with Thompson and was quoted as saying, “He’s the last person in the world I would have expected to kill himself. I would have been less surprised if he had shot me.”

On Saturday night, February 19th, the night before his "suicide," Thompson had telephoned another friend Paul William Roberts. Roberts shares his conversation with Thompson in an article written for the Toronto Globe. The article reads, “It wasn't always easy to understand what he said, particularly over the phone, he mumbled, yet when there was something he really wanted you to understand, you did. He'd been working on a story about the World Trade Center attacks and had stumbled across what he felt was hard evidence showing the towers had been brought down not by the airplanes that flew into them but by explosive charges set off in their foundations. Now he thought someone was out to stop him publishing it: ‘They're gonna make it look like suicide,’ he said. ‘I know how these bastards think.’”


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