The past few days have seen the deaths of two very different people: one a political icon that pulled her nation from economic disaster by the strength of her iron will, and the other a troubled young man whose battle with severe depression ended when he took his own life. But though they were different in so many ways, the passing of Margaret Thatcher and the twenty-seven-year-old son of Rick Warren have revealed more about the state of our culture than most care to admit.
There was a time when the passing of a public figure was accompanied by certain unspoken rules. “It’s bad to speak evil of the dead” was a maxim observed by all but the most calloused. And to rail against the parents of a victim of his own mental demons before he was even laid to rest was unthinkable to be all but a few. Apparently such days are gone forever.
Martin Bashir of MSNBC couldn’t wait for the “Breaking News” to flash by before unleashing his venom toward Great Britain’s first female prime minister with commentary about her “greed and heartless governing.” Commenting on her economic policies, he said, “The result was a kind of flagrant, excessive, and ostentatious pursuit of cash.” But commentary on the Iron Lady didn’t end with observations about her policies. Bashir added, “The best description I ever heard of her was from French president Francois Mitterand who said she had the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe.”
Things were in much worse form across the pond in supposedly more genteel and cultured England. Just minutes after the death of the eighty-seven-year-old former prime minister, public official Bradford West tweeted “Tramp the dirt down.” Colchester Labor’s Tina Bourne posted a photo of a bottle of Bollinger on Twitter with the accompanying message: “Chin chin everyone.”
After a barrage of complaints for his earlier crass remarks, Bashir defended himself today on his afternoon show by saying commentators in England are more honest about the dead than Americans. This is the same Martin Bashir who gushed endlessly over Hugo Chavez after he lost his battle with cancer. Never mind that, like her or not, Thatcher left her country far better off than before she took office, and Chavez leaves his bound to suffer the rot of his hero Fidel Castro.
Just a day before Margaret Thatcher’s death, it was revealed that the twenty-seven-year-old son of Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, had committed suicide. Again, itchy hands couldn’t wait to spew venom across cyberspace via tweets. Here is just a small sampling of the messages sent out by the peace-loving, tolerant, and un-hypocritical among us:
- @anotheraka – police report says this happened at 10:00 am and this tweet seems to precede that. Did you kill your gay son!!?
- @boymv18 – Hate killed his son..his Gay son was tormented by his hateful speech…Rick Your the worst dad ever..
- @anotheraka – gays commit suicide every day and Rick warren rubs it into the families faces every day.
- @BarberaLaPeters – well after all the dead gay kids Rick Warren is responsible for, I guess one of his is a small price to pay.
Facts did not matter, just hateful ignorance. Not that he needs any defense, but Rick Warren’s son had a lifelong history of mental illness and severe depression. That son was not, nor had he ever claimed to be, gay. But people with their own agenda saw no problem with casting dispersion from their 140 characters of anonymity.
Both incidents, so close together, serve only to accentuate the fractures and flaws in our culture many don’t want to admit exist. Like many in the late ‘70s, I listened to and admired Cal Thomas. And now, like him, I confess my starry-eyed foolishness in believing there ever was any such thing as a moral majority.
Once a central figure in that movement, Thomas sees things far differently now. Looking back on that era, he writes: “We were going through organizing like-minded people to ‘return’ American to a time of greater morality. Of course, this was to be done through politicians who had a difficult time imposing morality on themselves.” Thomas then notes what I and too many others failed to embrace at that time. “No country can be truly Christian. Only people can.”
I would expand that to say, “No culture can be civil; only people can.” We can blame education, government, and host of other things all we want, but the ugly truth is that something is wrong with us. Until individuals take responsibility for the way they act, nothing will change about our culture. The past two days have revealed more than something about our culture; they have revealed something about us. Something that must be fixed before nothing is left to fix.
And by the way to all you loving tweeters out there, Rick and Kay Warren’s son was named Matthew. That is how he should be remembered: the son of two parents who loved him dearly.