Eulogy by the Medium Lobster

It takes a true master of bullshit to out-do the quote in the previous post for sheer ridiculousness, so naturally it would be a reverend at the Ken Lay funeral who pulls it off:

The Reverend Dr. Bill Lawson compared Lay with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ, and said his name would eventually be cleared.

Words fail me. (Via Pharyngula.)
UPDATE: Via Lawyers, Guns, and Money I find that there’s more:

Lawson likened Lay to James Byrd, a black man who was dragged to death in a racially motivated murder near Jasper eight years ago.
“Ken Lay was neither black nor poor, as James Byrd was, but I’m angry because Ken was the victim of a lynching,” said Lawson, who predicted that history will vindicate Lay.

As far as I can tell, the only thing Lay had in common with the other three is that they all died.

28 thoughts on “Eulogy by the Medium Lobster

  1. Josh

    On the one hand, the language is way over the top and should have been toned down, since it’s completely ridiculous. But on the other hand, what does one expect at a man’s funeral?
    “Ken Lay was a liar and a cheat. Let us all piss on his coffin now.”
    Probably not gonna happen…
    Plus Reverends are like black-belts in bullshit. You’d think he’d have been able to pull it off with a little more… panache.

  2. Mason

    It is true that faults seem to be forgotten at funerals, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. I don’t propose slamming somebody at their own funeral, but disingenuous compliments are horribly lame.
    If somebody says something like this at my funeral, I swear I’m going to reach out of my coffin and eat their brain right then and there!
    And yes, that quote was certainly memorably ridiculous.
    Also, to let you know how out of touch I am at the moment (even more than usual!), I hadn’t realized that Ken Lay had died until I read your blog just now.

  3. Arcane Gazebo

    Well, it’s definitely possible to have a respectful eulogy that recognizes that the deceased was a flawed person. Now, in this particular case there are enough rich and powerful people at the service that one is going to expect some whitewashing. However, to take this guy who is widely known to be a criminal scumbag and elevate him to sainthood is just so silly that I almost have to wonder if the reverend was trying for satire. (I’m guessing not, though.)

  4. Justin

    Josh: I think you meant “piss _in_ his coffin”. 😀
    Although comparing Lay to Jesus is certainly bizarre, it kinda makes sense if he was referring to Republican Jesus. And anyone who’d speak at Ken Lay’s funeral probably does have those kinds of beliefs… What MLK has to do with this is a mystery, though.

  5. Josh

    Well, since the eulogy and funeral is a rite of passage for those who have lost the deceased, I think that most of them would rather not spend the day thinking about any of his flaws or admitting to any of them, but remembering the person for what made him special to them. So I understand the tact involved in not bringing up the flaws for those in grief, but I do think that overcompensating with gross hyperbole and outrageous claims is the sort of thing that would rather draw unwanted attention to the reality of those flaws rather than focusing on whatever good impact a person had on anyone else’s life.
    Of course, many of us are reasonable enough to say “yes, I’m a flawed person and let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that I’m not,” but on the other hand there are a lot of people who would get fiery over the implication that their deceased loved one is not, in fact, a saint. Plus the Christian faith is all about being pure and good enough to deserve to go to heaven after you die rather than burning in hell for all eternity, so I can certainly see why a Christian service wouldn’t bring up any flaws that implied the latter fate rather than the former.

  6. Mason

    I’ve been to funerals for relatives that exaggerated things way too much for my comfort. I find the whole thing to be disingenuous and disgusting. Remembering the good stuff is not the same as pretending the bad stuff never happened by rephrasing it as if it were examples of something good. I WILL be eating brains if someone does that to me. :)

  7. Josh

    I’m certainly not condoning the lengths to which people may lie about a certain idea, but I feel like if that happens, maybe the best thing to do is to shrug your shoulders and not get angry or disgusted about it. I don’t have any control over anyone’s actions, but I do have control over my own reaction to it. I certainly don’t get why people pray so much to Jesus and thank him for all he gives us at a funeral. “Thanks, Jesus, for killing this guy off. We really appreciate it. Let’s kiss your ass some more.” On the other hand, it brings the other people around me some comfort, so what do I care? I’m not going to start trying to censor what people say at funerals, no matter what my opinion. The day isn’t about me and what I think of a given situation at all.

  8. Mason

    I have a BIG problem with whitewashing in all its forms. Also, it is NOT respectful to the deceased to whitewash on his/her behalf. (In fact, it is extremely disrespectful. Anybody worth their salt is well aware that they have faults, so being a posthumous spindoctor is hardly what I would consider a posture of respect. Mindless adoration maybe, but not respect.
    I see no reason why I should shrug my shoulders and suffer insincerity and/or whitewashing. I hate that in all its forms–even in situations that others might view as trivial or even justified. I do not apologize for it and I see no reason why I should suffer it. Reality forces me to deal with it, but it is NEVER acceptable, I tend not to respect people who engage in such practices, and I could never forgive myself for simply shrugging my shoulders at it. It doesn’t matter who a given day is about—some things are always unacceptable. (Yes, I have chosen honesty over compassion. That’s who I am.)
    Oh, and I didn’t say anything at any of these services (which by no means makes it tolerable), but that doesn’t mean I can’t think daggers at people.

  9. Josh

    You’re absolutely entitled to your opinion. I’m not saying you aren’t, or that you shouldn’t think a certain way. I just don’t see how “thinking daggers at people” accomplishes anything. In my experience, it never hurts them and it gets me riled up. If it comes to enjoying my day and getting pissed off at someone, I’d rather just go on about my day and realize that maybe some people deal with things in ways that I define as shitty. A lot of people judge me for the way I look at things and in what ways I emote or communicate. I’d rather not become part of that vicious circle and get myself angry over a situation that is not important to me in particular.
    Of course, this is from my point of view, and in my point of view I apparently have very different ideas on what “respect for the dead” is than you do. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing. The dead can’t hear what I’m saying or see what I’m doing – they’re gone. There’s only respect for how people around me choose to emote and communicate and my decision to treat them fairly because of my understanding that maybe they don’t mean to say something in order to piss me off particularly.
    As for honesty over compassion, that’s your value to have, but I still don’t think anyone’s gonna raise their hand at a funeral and say “Um, excuse me… can we all talk about some things we didn’t like about this guy?”

  10. Mason

    Well, I certainly agree that someone dead has no idea what the people left are doing, but if one is trying to honor that person, one can still have some idea of what that person might have preferred if still alive and it’s doesn’t matter whether or not they’re currently aware of what’s going on.
    The point of thinking daggers at people isn’t to accomplish anything. These are thoughts I naturally have when somebody pisses me off a great detail. I don’t go and say ‘I’m going to feel this way.’ I just do. An automatic reaction to something is not a matter of what will accomplishing something—these are feelings rather than premeditated actions. I don’t believe I am capable of premeditated feelings. The thing is that I find whitewashing in and of itself to be offensive. It is a very important quality in people that they not do such things.
    And again, I am not proposing people start saying bad things. I am proposing that people not whitewash and instead be honest about someone. Pretending someone is perfect is a horrible lie and is not something I am willing to consider acceptable under any circumstance. I don’t care if it makes the living feel better.

  11. Josh

    But what if the way the dead prefers to be honored go in direct conflict with your own values on honesty?
    And if the dead have expressed no wishes on how to be honored, who is to say in what manner they wish to be honored than those close to the deceased? I, for one, would not be approaching the reverend and telling him how I think Ken Lay would have wanted it. I would expect the family would have covered that beforehand. So, assuming that the service has gone within the bounds of how those who knew Ken Lay would think he would have wanted it, who are we to judge? Our values might have been different, but it is the way he preferred, which is, in fact, a posture of respect, even if we disagree with the inherent dishonesty.
    As for premeditated emotions, you’re right. One can’t just not feel a certain way at a certain time. But one can recognize that it is one’s beliefs about a certain situation that triggers certain emotions, and adjust to that. I have noticed, in congruence with Ellis’s work on Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, that my anger is generally triggered by my having irrational demands of situations. If I simply prefer that the world conforms to my values in all areas, that’s fine and I can let things roll off my back a lot easier than if I believe (as I often catch myself doing) that the world must conform to my values. Clearly that leads to no good place, because the world obviously must not do so, since it clearly doesn’t do so. Anyway, the gist of it is that when I make such demands, I get angry and make bad decisions and waste a lot of time hating people for simply preferring to do something different than I do. And if one man’s spindoctor is another man’s reverent eulogy, well, I guess I have to accept that.

  12. Mason

    Josh: It is not equally easy for every person to adjust. Perhaps you can adjust, but not everybody’s abilities are comparable. In fact, some people notoriously can’t, but in general it seems there is a continuum here.
    As for the first paragraph, I think it’s pretty obvious what I think of a person who would rather have flaws whitewashed than be judged on actual merits (flaws included).
    Also, sometimes the world needs people to angry about something they don’t like rather than accepting that others just prefer things differently. I certainly agree that can lead to a lot of bad, but there are also situations where that can lead to a lot of good. Letting things roll of your back can also be very dangerous.
    The fact is that there are certain things that I cannot feel it in my heart to let simply roll off my back. If you want to consider that one of my flaws, that’s fine. I don’t consider this one of my numerous flaws, even this leads to my pissing people off now and then (which it, and various correlated stuff, does reasonably often).

  13. Josh

    Forgive my bluntness, but that seems like a double standard there. If it’s more respectful to the dead to be honest about them, but disrespectful to the dead to dishonor their wishes, then how can you possibly respect the dead who wish to have hyperbole told about them?
    Back to the Ken Lay issue specifically, though, here are the quotes of the good Reverend:
    “Ken Lay was neither black nor poor, but I’m angry because Ken Lay was a victim of a lynching.”
    “The folks who don’t like him have had their say. I’d like to have mine … (Like Jesus Christ) he was crucified by a government that mistreated him.”
    Now, from my perspective, this is hardly worth getting riled up over. For one, much like his family, this man was very close to Ken Lay, hence his speaking out at the funeral. I’ll get back to this for a moment, but first here’s a little exerpt from Ken’s stepson:
    “I am angry because of the way that he was treated in the last five years of his life … and I’m feeling a lot of joy … He had a lot of loving friends … He did have a strong faith in God, and I know he’s in heaven. And I’m glad he’s not in a position any more to be whipped by his enemy.”
    Sounds very similar, doesn’t it? Also notice his use of the word “angry”. Now, whoever a person did or whatever kind of man he was, after he dies there’s going to be a lot of emotion from those, if any around him, who loved and cared for him. I think it’d be silly to deny that the public opinion and government went to town on good old Ken, and more or less rightly so for what he did, but for his friends and family who watched him suffer through that instead of living out the end of his years in peace and contentment, you can hardly expect them to get up to the podium with a degree of rationality and say, “Well, he had to pay a high price for what he did, and let’s hope he had peace.” No matter how much you might expect that, I for one know that if any of my family or friends were exposed to scandal and tossed into the court of public opinion and went through an experience like that just before they died, I’d be incensed. I wouldn’t have any degree of rationality when I got up there and spoke. It’s easy for us to say that objectively speaking, things should have worked out better, and been more carefully worded, and more honest factually. But I’m not sure I’d rush to judge those who were honestly exclaiming emotionally how much it hurt them to watch an old friend or family member suffer through the last years of his life before dying. And I would forgive them for being flagrantly emotional and over-the-top about it. That’s really what funerals are for in some people’s minds – a cathartic venting of all the conflicting, bottled up emotions one has about a person that he never got to say.
    And yes, anger has been used for social change, but I think it’s by far the most effective or best form. If you think it is, I suggest you join in the next riot you hear about in the news. It seems to me that Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech accomplished a lot more socially than the Rodney King riots or the New Orleans looting ever will. I’m not saying that by getting rid of anger you just take everything and be complacent with it. Little things, like the extremely emotional words of people at a funeral for a guy you never knew or had any personal connection with whatsoever, should roll off your back. On the other hand, if true injustice is being done, the force for change will be borne out of something other than mindless, irrational, teeth-grinding anger. Frustration may be a part of it. Indignation, certainly. But MLK’s speech was not about anger and hate.
    Damn, this is getting long. I have to wrap this up. Anyway, I certainly have been working very hard to adjust my beliefs to the point that anxiety and anger don’t cause me as much trouble as they did, but I’m far from totally without fault in that area. Still, I was given good guidance on how to handle that, and with the tools that I had, I’m pretty sure that most people can learn to have a lot less of those stressful emotions in their lives. Especially you, whom I know to be very dedicated and brilliant. On the other hand, I’m not saying that you should necessarily follow my advice. If you believe that your anger helps, or at least doesn’t hinder you in your daily routine, than I’m impressed, since I don’t have that capability. This is all purely for the sake of what I find to be a fascinating discussion.

  14. Mason

    Excuse me, but no double standard was mentioned at all. My exact quote was “As for the first paragraph, I think it’s pretty obvious what I think of a person who would rather have flaws whitewashed than be judged on actual merits (flaws included).” This statement included absolutely nothing about the people who were doing the eulogizing. I stated my opinion of the now-deceased person who wants whitewashing (whether Ken Lay in particular if he truly wanted that or some theoretical person who does want that). The people who are honoring a deceased person’s wishes by whitewashing are a different story entirely, as they are obviously faced with a big dilemma in terms of honoring somebody’s wishes but having to do something that perhaps many of them would view as morally reprehensible in doing so. The water obviously becomes murkier here, but I am against whitewashing in all forms, so I know what my choice would be. (I hope that I have chosen all the people about whom I care well enough that they would all want to be judged based on their own merits, which they should consider good enough that they don’t need whitewashing.)
    No, I really don’t think I should let things like that roll off my back. To do that would be to lower my already low expectations of people and it would hurt my own morale to do that. I feel like that would be yet another step on my giving up on the worth of the most of the rest of the world. It is far, far better to be angry and to expect better from them.

  15. Arcane Gazebo

    Well, obviously Lay’s aristocratic friends and family were angry and upset that he got caught, brought to trial, and sentenced to jail like a commoner. This may explain the fact that they are making grotesquely inappropriate comparisons, but it doesn’t excuse it. The James Byrd reference in particular is so offensive that it betrays either a total lack of class/race consciousness on the part of the reverend, or a deliberate attempt to stir shit up along those lines. I’m inclined to think it’s the former; these people are obviously totally clueless about just how different Lay’s case is from Byrd’s (or MLK’s), and that kind of mindset has implications beyond what kind of eulogies one should deliver at funerals. I can’t speak for the others in this thread, but that’s what’s really driving my outrage.
    Let me also say that I don’t find the anger of Lay’s friends and family very compelling, compared to the anger of all the people who were financially ruined by his fraud. Nor am I impressed by Lay’s “suffering” in wealth and comfort in his final years, compared to those people who, say, couldn’t afford basic medical care after losing their livelihoods thanks to Lay. If one of my friends or family had committed such massive crimes, I would be very sad, but I can’t imagine that I would be angry that justice was served.

  16. Josh

    Sorry, AG, but I have to find the claim that you would be rational and not angry at the deserved suffering of your family members completely ridiculous and holier-than-thou, in this case. Almost everyone, whether they know it or not, comes emotionally to the defense of their friends and family when their feet are put to the fire, and you and I have not had such an experience that we can possibly claim to be on better behavior in the same situation.
    Thankfully, we can rest securely knowing that our father would never perform such atrocities, but at least I’m willing to admit that I’d probably pissed as hell to see people spitting in his face if he had done so. And the rousing round of “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” public mentality over Ken Lay’s Death would make me break things if it were our father. And, believe it or not, if he was brought to trial on crimes of this nature, I would probably be irrationally denying his guilt at every turn.
    Thankfully, of course, we don’t have to worry about that. But not all children are so lucky.
    And at least, in this discussion about the importance of honesty, I don’t put my own virtues on a pedestal and am honest enough with myself to admit that I might have irrational flaws and outbursts in the same situation. If you two feel such strong indignation, do something constructive with it. Mason is claiming that great changes can be made with anger, so don’t just sit around talking to me about it if you’re angry about what a grieving man said.

  17. Josh

    Mason, you can not shrug things off and be angry all you like. But if you just passively decide to judge people and look down your nose at them rather than actively trying to change things around you, those moral standards don’t mean anything. It’s nice to write about how stupid and dishonest people when you’re around a lot of people who agree with you, but if you expect better of people and don’t go out there and try to get the world to conform to your standards, you will simply be disappointed with everyone, because other people going through life simply do not share the values of common good and welfare and integrity that you might, and even if they do, they go about it differently in ways that people with moral absolutes will disagree with. It is, actually, valid conclusion to come to these days that the meaning of life is “every man for himself”, so when people come to that conclusion, act on it, and be dishonest and selfish and you just decide to get mad and blog about it with your friends, you’ll be surprised how quickly nothing comes from that anger. All it’s ever done for me is give me a feeling of self-righteousness.

  18. Mason

    When I said that positive change can come from anger, I am including positive peaceful change, many of whose champions have been spurred at least in part by anger and indignation. (Although, yes, it can and has certainly lead to numerous deplorable things if not used the right way.) You write as if I am not, and as in a couple other specific cases in this thread, I feel that my actual words have been twisted a bit and I would rather not engage in conversations in which that happens. I am withdrawing.
    As for what I personally accomplished in any of these matters, you are 100 % correct about that. I am very good at being a theorist and my own thoughts have been confined to expressions thereof rather than stuff that positively influenced anybody’s actions.

  19. Arcane Gazebo

    I don’t think I’m claiming a huge amount of virtue for myself here. Multiply a tiny amount of empathy by the huge amount of damage caused by Ken Lay, and I’d be ashamed to show my face in public if I were his friend. It doesn’t take much.

  20. Josh

    AG: Emotions aren’t an equation, nor do these things ever pass logically. If they did, society would be a much better place, I’m sure. All I’m saying is that we are both really damn sheltered. I think I can safely say that nothing really bad has ever happened to us. So who are we to say how nobly we’d react in a situation like that? To assume that we’d do the right think in an experience that we have no concept of seems to me to be a very easy way to fool yourself. I know I’ve acted in ways that I’m ashamed of many times throughout my life, and from that knowledge I know I’m entirely capable of saying or doing things that are unbelievable to others. Can you say truthfully for yourself that you have never acted poorly or said something outrageous in an outburst of emotion?
    Mason: It wasn’t my intention to misuse your words. The whole while this weekend has been going on I’ve been uber-stressed and working really hard, and I think I’ve been venting a lot throughout this thread, and with my time as thin as it is I’ve been writing fast and not reviewing the thoughts to the degree that I should have, especially in the last two comments I wrote out. So to the degree I certainly apologize.

  21. Arcane Gazebo

    I’m not actually making any kind of argument about what I personally would do, but I made a rhetorical error by speaking in the first person. I’m trying to say that people in general have some measure of loyalty to their friends, and some measure of empathy for the victims of crimes, and if the crimes are serious enough the latter is going to outweigh the former. (I’m obviously using mathematics metaphorically here, not saying that an actual calculation is involved.) Now imagine that Lay’s crime was to kill a bunch of people in cold blood. Would anyone dare to get up at his funeral and compare him to Jesus or MLK or James Byrd? Of course not, and his family and friends would be expressing shock and horror at his deeds rather than trying to cast him as a martyred saint. But his actual crimes were arguably as bad, with all the thousands of ruined lives in his wake. That’s why this eulogy is inexcusable, and reflects a total lack of understanding of what Lay actually did.

  22. Josh

    Ah, I understand. Thanks for clarifying. On the other hand, I wonder if anyone compared Tookie Williams to Jesus or MLK. I don’t see it as implausible in the least, and he killed two people and started one of the most infamous gangs in America.

  23. Josh

    I was right:
    Farrakhan compared Williams to Jesus, saying both had been betrayed by false witnesses and sent to their death after politicians failed to intervene. He called Williams, “the patron saint for all those struggling in the gang life.”
    And, from the Volokh Conspiracy:
    “Perhaps the most provocative irony, however, that occupied my mind while I thought of the execution of Williams was the similarities he shared with Martin Luther King Jr.”
    Granted, Tookie’s a different case than Lay by far. But it does answer your question on people who murdered in cold blood being compared to these people, in an underhanded sort of way. Anything’s possible.

  24. Arcane Gazebo

    Good point. Of course, Farrakhan’s exactly the sort of assclown to make such an inappropriate comparison.
    Now I’m going to move this thread down the page by posting about cats.

  25. Mason

    By the way, before I make any other comments, I want to point out that I avoided a possible AOO by withdrawing.
    Josh: I understand about the stress, but there were multiple times that you went beyond (IMO, far beyond in a couple cases) what I wrote in attacking my perspective. You were inferring things that just weren’t there, and I very strongly dislike being criticized for things that I did not do/say/write/etc—especially given the strong degree to which you were criticizing me.
    I have no issue with healthy disagreement, but next time we discuss something, I would appreciate the criticisms only come from claims that I make. I’d like to think that people think I have enough integrity not to support certain nasty actions that were mentioned.
    Now, just to make sure this thread is finished: nazis, nazis, nazis. (Am I allowed to do that or do I have to make a real comparison?)

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