While browsing ThinkAtheist, I encountered a blog post that called my attention; it was this one
, called "Billy Mays... Dead. Four "Celebrities" in a week WTF". While the post itself had nothing wrong in it, the comments seemed more controversial, including jokes about Billy Mays that I considered to be bad tasted. Reggie Hammond replied: "Respect the dead? Why? Will they haunt me? No, I'd rather respect the living, unless they are undeserving."
I concede that my point is not an easy one to make. It seems like nothing happens when we die - we can't be sure though, since nobody has came back from the dead and told us about it (I'm not taking seriously Out of Body Experiences). So, it looks like there should be nothing wrong about what we might say about a deceased person - they don't care, because they don't exist anymore.
So, why should we abstain from making such comments? While it's true that that person is not alive anymore, a common argument I use against the typical wishful-thinking theist complaint that goes along the lines "life cannot be that boring and meaningless! it cannot end with our physical death, there has to be something else!" is that we don't just die when our body dies, but that we live on, in the memories and the footprint we left in everybody that got the chance to know us. Of course that's rethorical, because we're actually dead, for good, and nothing can change that; but that sort of footprint, the only thing left from us, IMHO, deserves respect, since it's a kind of feeling shared by an indeterminable amount of people. When insulting Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett or even Billy Mays, I feel your comment is disrespectful to their legacy, and through it, to the many people you don't even know that cherish it as something of great value to their lives. I realize this argument can be used to justify the criticism that religion gets, since worshipping Jesus or Muhammed can be understood as a legacy left by dead people that deserve respect. But the point is, I'm not making an argument in favor of an eternal untouchable legacy, but for respect while these people are being mourned, which should not last long.
Comments like "One down, now there's about 10 more of these annoying jerkoffs I'd like to see gone" make me wonder about what is our level, as atheists, of respect for life (I'm keeping abortion out of this question). While it's true that ideas have to earn the respect they claim, I think we people deserve respect and dignity no matter what we do or think, as a basic human right. I think our attitude towards senseless sets of ideas, like religions, might make us disrespectful to people that adhere to them, in some kind of intelectual snobbery. And that's dangerous, I think.