Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Re: Pat Tillman

More than 3 years ago, I posted the following blog entry about NFL standout turned military casualty Pat Tillman. Then recently, ESPN tweeted a reminder of his death, and I re-tweeted without directing the post to anyone and without including a hashtag or any @ symbol whatsoever. I added a comment in somber mourning, meant to remind myself of the fleeting glory of this life. I simply wrote, "Too bad he was an atheist."

Now I immediately acknowledge that those words can be taken as an insult, as if Pat Tillman's distinguished NFL career or his courage to leave that behind and pay the ultimate sacrifice by serving our country in the name of freedom was somehow lacking in merit or value because of his lack of Christian faith. But it was actually meant quite literally: "Too bad" = "exceedingly and painfully unacceptable." I wonder if it's like this:

When I was a teenager, there was this really nice girl who was very pretty. She was popular and I admired her. But then I found out she was a smoker. "Too bad." And one of my customers is a very likable guy. He's loyal, conducts his business in an ethical and organized manner, and if it wasn't for his gross profanity, I'd like to hang out with him in public. "Too bad." Or Carson Palmer leads the Arizona Cardinals to the best record in the NFL only to go down with a knee injury. "Too bad." These aren't insults; they aren't said with mocking sarcasm. They are literal remarks, meant literally.

You see, I liked Pat Tillman and I cheered for him in this life. I admired his football skill and his courage to leave it behind out of love for his country. I would have been honored to meet him and form a friendship with him. And therefore, when I say it's too bad that he was an atheist, I'm simply - and with genuine sadness - saying that I don't believe there will be an opportunity to share a relationship with him in the future. I know I have a future in the presence of the Lord for eternity. I believe that Pat's future is also eternal, a real, ongoing present even now after his earthly, bodily demise; but the Bible tells me that his future is not one that we share. That makes me sad, sad to see a successful and courageous man live only for this life, sad to see him - and perhaps even more so his family - lack a hope for eternity.

So had I directed this re-tweet to Tillman's family, or "all you atheists out there," or had I even left the "@ESPN" in the re-tweet, I certainly would feel ashamed about the comment. But I meant it for me, as I truly am sad that Tillman was an atheist. And let me say one more thing: I am certain that there are plenty of "too bad" statements about me that others may consider. "Too bad" for my wife that my flatulence is odorific. "Too bad" for party-goers (and all those liquor stores out there, since they won't be getting my money) that I'm a teetotaler. "Too bad" for democrats that I vote republican. "Too bad" for my kids - from their perspective - that I discipline them; I care about their character. "Too bad" is not necessarily mockery or insult. It's a statement, an opinion. And it wasn't addressed to you. So let it go. See the original post below:


I watched this documentary / movie last night, because I appreciated Pat Tillman's successful football career and subsequent surprising departure from the NFL in order to enlist with the military following the events of September 11, 2001. I really did not know what to expect out of the film, but what I saw and heard was certainly unexpected. I'm still trying to process the motive for the production.

The movie primarily served to accuse the military and US government of a massive cover-up, attempting to honor Tillman and prevent the public from learning of his death by friendly fire. And I think most people are unsuprised if/when that sort of thing happens. How many films have been made about such activity? I think of Courage Under Fire and The General's Daughter, and the lines, "You can't handle the truth!" without much consideration. It's certainly not "right" to conspire or cover-up the truth, especially when it pertains to representing facts to the family and loved ones of a slain soldier. And it's all the more wrong to engage in such activity in an effort to promote military action in foreign lands when the purpose is questionable to begin with. And so for the efforts to make such activity public, I suppose I appreciate the film.

However, there were plenty of additional motives for this film, more subtly portrayed. First, there was a sort of subjective political message in addition to what is depicted objectively, and I can't quite put my finger on it. But I was skeptical, and saddened by the efforts to state that claim. Second, or of more interest to me, was the religious message implied in the film. Messages of hope from well-wishers were squashed by family members with an undoubtedly atheistic worldview. Tillman's younger brother spoke at his memorial service, cursing and declaring that Pat is not with God, because he was not religious. He is simply dead. The anger that was continually present from his family is understandable given their humanity, but illogical, given their atheism. Pat's mother continually replied to the military's and government's immoral behavior, but she had no basis for her views of morality to begin with.

In one clip, a radio conversation between military personnel is played, and the gist is that the family can't get over it because of their atheistic thinking. I think it was meant to glorify atheism in some sense, to honor their perseverance, as if to say that theists are weak and give up easily at the will of the system, while atheists are strong and never yield to the system. In another series of clips, one of Tillman's group members, a "religious" mormon, was shown to be (1) small and puny and weak (in comparison to Tillman), (2) in the best care under Tillman's "practical" leadership, rather than in the hands of his impractical "god" - Tillman even encouraged him not to pray in the midst of gunfire, and this was shown to be a good move for the soldier - and (3) better off when he let go of his wimpiness, his "faith," and instead toughened up and "acted like a man." I can't believe that this subtlty was included unintentionally. I just wonder why.

In the end, Tillman was shown to be much more intellectual and open-minded than you might have expected him to be as a jock. He was portrayed as a risk-taker who lived life to the full, a faithful husband to his high-school sweetheart, and a family-loving son and brother. He was called a hero, and anyone who voluntarily gives up their game-playing multi-million dollar career to fight for their country's freedom, risking their life in foreign lands for minimal (if any) pay, I suppose ought to be given such a title - at least on earth. But I am afraid Pat Tillman has received his reward, if only honor and joy in this life. For the atheist, as his brother clearly stated, is dead. He understands death to be merely the end of this life. He has no concept, as his dead brother now does, of the second death, eternal separation from God. The Tillman Story protrays that family to be ever-in-pain, hardened by the loss of Pat, and in hostility toward God. Only God can take away that pain, and He has to do it by softening their hearts of stone, and reconciling them to Himself. I pray that He would, for their good, and for His glory.

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