Update, 2009: the Cancer Baby blog has now been taken down, and people searching for it often end up here. What follows is wrote I wrote at the time of her death, and was a reaction to what I felt was mistaken rhetoric adopted by her virtual well-wishers which implied that they hadn't understood her stance.
I have written before about Cancer, baby who faced the dark prospects of infertility, cancer and death with wit and honesty. For several months now she had been ominously silent, and has now died. And the world is poorer for it: we need sensible people who can write.
I have no great belief in the power of wishful thinking or blind optimism, but a lot of people do. If you read the Comments to her more harrowing posts you will see that there were many readers out there praying to God for her to recover (she knew her odds were bad). I guess they just didn't pray hard enough, or weren't good enough, or she had been too evil in some way (and more evil than all the other evil people who somehow wander around prospering and flagrantly unsmitten making everyone else's life worse), or (and this is the most revolting option), she died because He wanted her to, reducing her to some minion that can be sacrificed in pursuit of some greater aim. I do not believe that any ends can justify such means. "If you're suffering, it's because God wants you to" isn't really very comforting.
When people explain why prayers are not answered, they usually say something like "If people were given everything they asked for they would never learn responsibility for themselves". Oddly, they assume that people would automatically ask for things that benefit them directly. I saw on one blog someone tell the story of a discussion in the run-up to Christmas when a four-year-old was asked what they wanted as a present: the reply "that all the children in the world have clothes and enough to eat" put something of a damper on the consumer binge in the ensuing theological contortions. I know you could argue that such requests are in the end selfish because they would make the praying person feel better, but that is surely stetching it: you might as well say that God shouldn't make sunsets beautiful because people enjoy them.
None of this is news, of course. But it is so easy to respond to tragedy with formulations that seek some greater meaning or deny the reality of loss ("they're still out there somewhere", "they're smiling in Heaven": they are DEAD, they are GONE).
No. Shit happens, and happens all the time. It just does, not "Because..." or even "In spite of...". All you can do is hope that it doesn't happen to you for as long as possible, and accept, with whatever grace you can muster, that it eventually will.
And if Cancer Baby's sad and cruel end has helped hundreds of people realise this then she she did not suffer in vain. So that's all right then. No, it's not. The undertaking business really picked up after all the stockbrokers committed suicide in the Wall Street Crash, but even the undertakers would rather it hadn't.
It is hard for those who are suffering, and even harder for those who care for them, to cope with the idea that the suffering serves no purpose, that is is just stuff, that a night of pain was just a night of pain; it didn't purify or clarify or sanctify, it was just a bad experience that one would be better off not having had. But just because it's hard, that doesn't mean it's wrong. This isn't just what I believe- she did too. I'll miss her.
As you can see below, my comment on Cancer Baby's blog has been criticised as insensitive. It wasn't my intention to cause any additional anguish to her family and friends, but rather to remind the large number of blog readers without any direct involvement of Cancer Baby's doctrine that one should face reality as it is rather than more comfortable illusion, in which she explicitly (and courageously) renounced heroism and victimhood. Perhaps the only thing that we can salvage from the trials of life is the determination to learn from them; it is a good thing to re-examine our core beliefs from time to time and to think hard about what they imply.
Having said that, I also recognise that there is a time and place for such debates, and there should be a choice about how one reacts, and that this was an error. I tried shortly after posting it, and again just now, to delete or edit my comment, but it appears to be indelible. Post in haste, repent at leisure.