09 November 2005

In Memory of Allan Glen

Allan in his favorite hat, earlier this year.

Allen Glen with true love Jess in New York City on February 12, 2005

Richard Allan Glen, who went by the handle of "WinAce" at the Internet Infidels bulletin board, and by Allan, in person, died on November 4, 2005 from cystic fibrosis at age 20. The only medical treatment that could have saved his life was not available to him because he didn't have health insurance and Medicaid wouldn't pay for the treatment. I consider him to have been a friend of mine, having read his posting and shared a community of friends for some time.

He wrote an obituary for himself when it became clear that the end was near. I'll post most of it here and hope that when I go, it will be with as much grace as this.

This post is intended to provide help, guidance and hopefully a bit of closure for individuals suffering from SWDS (Sudden WinAce Death Syndrome). Symptoms may include--but are not necessarily limited to--shock, loss of appetite, anxiety, anger, guilt, grief, crying, etc.

And now, a few words from our sponsor:

Hello, all. If you're reading this, you know that I, Allan L. Glenn, am no longer with you. Being a non-theist, and one painfully familiar with what happens to the mind when the brain is damaged/modified, I am 99.9% certain this is the end of the road. Once mine permanently reverts to grade-A maggot food, as it did by the time you're reading this, the person you knew is gone:

"You will never see me again, Helena. Tell our children that I love them, and that their father died in defense of their future. Au revoir...."
- Admiral DuGalle, StarCraft: Broodwar

But while I feel quite sad as I write this, I am comforted by the fact that life in general goes on. Individuals come and go, but our legacy survives. This may consist of anything from the memories that friends and loved ones will cherish for ages, to our impact on the environment, and finally, and most importantly to me, the overall effect we've had on other people. It remains my sincere hope that I was, on the whole, a good friend to those I've enjoyed the honor of calling such. I won't make any excuses for those times when I was petty, or wronged someone; instead, I will only remain hopeful most weren't noticed and ask for forgiveness on the rest.

With that out of the way, I have a confession to make. During life, I had reservations about sharing this knowledge online with everyone but my closest friends. And even among that cherished inner circle, I carefully picked a select few to entrust based on their maturity and (perceived) ability to cope with such revelations without excessive sadness. However, now that I'm dead, there remains no remotely plausible reason to keep it hidden any longer; and, at any rate, the uncertainty of "Where the hell did that guy I used to know... go?" would likely outweigh any benefits from keeping my fate a secret. Thus, I'm finally revealing it publicly. You may all gaze, wide-eyed, stutter for a moment, and then go on reading, while the fundamentalists among you are additionally welcome to throw out a "Haw haw!" or two ala Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons.

The most probable reason I died was complications resulting from Cystic Fibrosis, an inherited disease affecting tens of thousands of (mainly young) people in Europe and the United States alone. It manifests primarily in the lungs and digestive system, producing emphysema-like symptoms and increasingly serious pulmonary infections. In addition, its side effects (and some medications used to treat it) stunt growth and are known to delay puberty. This may help explain my low height and why the pictures I shared were oddly young-looking. Further, more detailed information on this condition can be found at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website.

The reason I remain ambiguous and write "most probable" is because I might have died in a freak parachuting accident, or been kidnapped by a hot female denizen of Toronto; other possibilities include murder by extraterrestrials, spontaneous human combustion, and losing Internet access for many months on end with no prior warning. However, since those range from the unlikely to the implausible, and I've always been a big fan of Occam's razor, you may safely assume I'm dead. (Although, wouldn't it be great if the second one happened, after all? I would have so much fun paraphrasing Mark Twain if and when I escaped--not that I'd want to...)

While this revelation may be initially disheartening, it should also serve as a (further) reminder to strive and live to the fullest, most meaningful extent possible. From an early age, given life expectancies for those afflicted with CF, I had few illusions about living past 30, at best. It is (rather, was) my sincere hope that my friends will live happy, successful and long lives in my stead.

My little blasphemous corner of the Internet, perhaps euphemistically titled the "Not-so-Wonderful World" of WinAce from now on, shall remain mirrored at http://www.winace.clickhalah.com and http://www.winace.andkon.com thanks to some mighty generous hosting offers from the webmasters of those respective sites. Anyone who wishes is welcome to set up additional mirrors, and I hereby give all documents/posts I've authored to the public domain.

Speaking of which, before continuing, for my religious friends, I think it would help if I explained why I became an atheist. I'm not writing this to offend anyone or bring painful thoughts to the forefront, but hopefully to show that being an atheist isn't the epitomy of total corruption or Satin worshipping. (Although, out of all the fabrics available, I'd understand if you wanted to worship Satin specifically....)

Whether for better or worse, I was a skeptical and somewhat cynical kid from the start. At age 4, I was virtually certain Santa Claus' exploits could best be accounted for by postulating trickery on the part of parents. I took little on authority, and tested almost every claim I encountered. I must have inherited the dreaded "skeptic gene"; it was only a matter of time.

In addition, I became aware of my own mortality much earlier than others. The death of my older brother at 6 (from the same disease as I had) hit me quite hard with the realization there was something different about us. Henceforth, my condition forced me to ponder about the nebulous "afterlife" for many a lonely night. At first, with a child's innocence, I believed that all was well in the world, and while my parents weren't particularly religious, I was brought up in the Christian tradition. But there soon appeared chinks in the armor of dogma.

At first, it started with the small stuff--I couldn't readily accept the idea that anyone could be tortured forever as some militant religious schools propose, and came up with a very universalistic view, partially inspired by Friday's religious musings in Robinson Crusoe (which I had read at 9). In my mind, all 'sinners' would eventually be welcomed back to heaven after realizing the error of their ways, even Satan and his fallen angels. Instead of focusing on vengeance or punishment, I wanted to take to heart the timeless words recorded in, of all places, the Bible:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge... but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
- St. Paul, 1st Letter to the Corinthians 13:1-8,13 (NIV)

Like most others with my condition, I could have remained with whatever religious views comforted me best. But other questions began accumulating at a rather pace, questions that I had trouble finding answers for that didn't somehow seem insincere... or forced.

Why did people in Iran mostly adopt Islam, and people in India do the same with Hinduism? Were they correct, instead? (After some investigation, I decided the answer was most decidedly "No.") Could they really all be insincere? Or could it be that I was only Christian because of innate familiarity, just like they were with their respective religions? And just why were predominant spiritual traditions (of any region) so easily explainable by appeal to natural forces, like conquests and church-sponsored missionary campaigns? Without assuming a priori (that's 'beforehand', for those of you who were home-schooled by fundie parents) the veracity of any of the numerous religions inhabiting our world, I was left with little to fall back on except a generic agnostic theism. As you can guess, I was still a long way to go.

Why did shocking miracles only occur in the distant past? Did God grow weary of the world... were we no longer worthy of a show of power to support our faith? Perhaps, God wasn't immortal at all, and had died sometime in the past--which would also help explain seemingly gratuitous suffering and other observations--? Perhaps our world was a neutral zone where the forces of good and evil had temporarily declared a ban on paranormal confrontations? Wouldn't it be the most ironic and cruel twist of fate if God were simply evil? Or, could it be that the gods never really did interact with people at all, but like modern urban legends, the old stories of their power were grossly exaggerated with the passage of time...?

Why was the Bible, and most other scriptures I had read, filled with apparently vindictive, petty actions that were easily explainable as products of the dog-eat-dog societies they arose in? Why would Artemis demand Agamemnon to brutally sacrifice his own daughter, and why would God order natives of a land destroyed, complete with their children and even livestock? Was I just not getting the obvious, perfectly credible explanation that would have cleared everything up--or did the evidence suggest there was none? And why did these stories all seem so similar in credibility, if not exact details? Was there really more reason to believe they happened than medieval European folklore, for example?

I was quite attracted to science. In addition to being utterly fascinating, I hoped it would help explain some of these questions. Surely, it would show that God must exist and perhaps confirm enough of the other material that it would be prudent to accept the rest. What I found, however, did not bode well for my beliefs. The world was a staggeringly bigger place, both in sheer size and age, than the Bible's genealogies from Adam and ancient cosmology (as state-of-the-art as it was in Babylonian times) suggested. The Noachic global deluge was unanimously rejected by Christian geologists as incompatible with evidence more than a century ago. And apparently, life was no longer as compelling an argument for a designer as it was in William Paley's time.

The last especially intrigued me. These scientists were saying complexity could arise without design (!), merely by virtue of simple patterns slowly culling order from chaos--evolution. I had a hard time believing it at first. So I began looking at the evidence, especially noting creationist "rebuttals."

The data spoke for itself. In every area I looked into in depth, from fossils to genetics, the only reasonable conclusion, one that elegantly accounted for the data in many disparate fields using one coherent explanation, was devastatingly obvious. Opposition arguments were, at best, unparsimonious or speculative compared with the mainstream view, and at worst, with even a little study, easily exposed as outdated and often blatantly dishonest, ideologically motivated nonsense rather than a sincere attempt to find the truth.

What was left? Hold out hope that the advance of science would be stemmed at some undetermined future point, reserving a privileged gap or two for the gods to hide in? Accept that life developed naturally, but nevertheless believe that God built the universe as some sort of humanity breeding ground? While others could no doubt live with these options, to me they seemed almost disingenuous, more an attempt to rationalize away damaging observations inside a particular worldview than adopting the one best supported by evidence in the first place. It seemed that the gods were nowhere to be found, and our ancestors were as wrong in postulating them to account for life as they were postulating them to explain thunderstorms or that blinding white ball in the sky. I officially became an agnostic.

But it wasn't over just yet. I continued voraciously reading everything on related subjects I could get my hands on: Apologetics and counter-apologetics; the social, psychological and historical aspects of religion; science and its relation to vindicating (or rather, contradicting) assorted views on the origin of reality and the afterlife; the epistemology of skepticism towards other things, including alien visitations and cryptozoology (i.e., the Loch Ness monster); and so on. Eventually, after trying to deny it for a while, I could no longer, in good conscience, even give lip service to the concept of theism.

Nowadays, I unambiguously believed, and was strongly confident that, the gods were made in our own image and nothing more. I'm proud to say I was an atheist in a (metaphorical) foxhole. And while lack of oxygen to the brain can impair good judgment, I nevertheless hope I remained true to my ideals to the bitter end. But even if, by some miracle (pun intended), I didn't, I have few regrets about my life as it stands. I particularly enjoyed debating, writing and satirizing, activities that required little physical stress but keen knowledge and a sharp wit.

[Personal statements to particular people omitted.]

Allan Lawrence Glenn,
friend, loved one, webmaster of the "Wonderful" [yeah, right] World of WinAce, LordCo Centre product designer, superstition-basher/sarcastic jackass extraordinaire, henceforth dead guy.

My condolences go out especially to Jess and to Allan's family.


Kyle said...

Wow. Thanks for posting that. I'm sorry I didn't know him alive, but I'm proud he left such an excellent legacy; I'm sure he would be proud too.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Link for more information here.