Could any man be less relevant to the politics and culture of our time than an old Kentucky poet-farmer who is so out of step with the times that he refuses to use a computer and still tills his earth using draft horses? And yet, given the converging crises of this extraordinary moment in American history, it just might be that in the winter of a long and honorable career, Wendell Berry’s moment has arrived.
False Apology Syndrome: It’s always easier to be sorry for the sins of others…
Of course, we may take pride in the culture and achievements of our biological or political ancestors–indeed such pride is necessary for the preservation and development of any civilization–in which case it is only right and proper that we should also face up squarely to the less glorious aspects of our heritage. But this is a matter for genuine historical scholarship and moral reflection of the kind that leads to a determination never to repeat the crimes, not for sound-bite sloganeering. The world would be a better place if academics in the Islamic world faced up to the fact (and were free to face up to the fact) that their religion does not have a peaceful historical record, just as the world has become a better place because the Germans have acknowledged the recent historical record of their country. If large numbers of Germans, including their leaders, started to say that Germany is what it has always been, namely a land of peace, the rest of the world would have good cause to tremble.
But official apologies for distant events, however important or pregnant with consequences those events may have been, are another matter entirely. They have bad effects on both those who give them and those who receive them.
The effect on the givers is the creation of a state of spiritual pride. Insofar as the person offering the apology is doing what no one has done before him, he is likely to consider himself the moral superior of his predecessors. He alone has had the moral insight and courage to apologize.
On the other hand, he knows full well that he has absolutely no personal moral responsibility for whatever it is that he is apologizing for. In other words, his apology brings him all kudos and no pain.
As if the world of medical ethics were not convoluted and strained enough, our technology allows us to continue pushing boundaries while raising moral questions that were not even on the radar screen 100, 50 or even 25 years ago. Thankfully there are those who still ask the questions begged by various procedures–but such voices seem to be crying alone in the wilderness at times.
For example, I checking my RSS feeds today and came across this piece via Touchstone’s “Mere Comments” blog.Â It seems that California courts have determined that it is illegal for doctors who perform in vitro fertilization procedures to refuse their services to homosexuals.Â Don’t import your (private) ethics into your (public) work, the message goes.Â Of course, the real question is, as James Kushiner rightly notes, why these Christian doctors (and evidently those protesting universal access to fertility and conception services are Christians of some variety or other) are performing such procedures in the first place, “Artificial insemination should never been accepted by Christians doctors in the first place,” he says “so the moral issue here lies further downstream.Â On the face of it, the court decision might force Christian doctors to reeducate their consciences by learning what real Christian medical practice is.” (read his complete comment here)
But this wasn’t the only ethical quandary lurking in my blog-reader today and the second issue hits somewhat closer to home.Â It seems that some doctors up in Denver have just released the findings of their government funded research in which they experimented with removing the hearts of severely brain-damaged babies shortly after their hearts stopped beating, but before total brain-death was pronounced.Â As the article puts it:
Surgeons in Denver are publishing their first account of a procedure in which they remove the hearts of severely brain-damaged newborns less than two minutes after the babies are disconnected from life support, and their hearts stop beating, so the organs can be transplanted into infants who would otherwise die.
It just so happens that a family with close ties to St. Francis Church has a child who is in the hospital as we speak awaiting a viable heart transplant match.Â What is one to say to this family, hoping against hope that prayer and modern medicine work together to bring their child a long and happy life.Â The task to even think about this topic almost becomes too heavy a burden when one has not been in their situation, praying for one’s own child.Â But is it their hope that puts this situation into a moral gray area, or is it the eagerness of doctors who, in their desire to save some may be depriving others of their lives (and it is murder to take life, even a life that would otherwise have ended minutes or seconds later without interference).Â Again, from the Washington Post article:
Critics, however, are questioning the propriety of removing hearts from patients, especially babies, who are not brain-dead and are asking whether the Denver doctors wait long enough to make sure the infants met either of the long-accepted definitions of death — complete, irreversible cessation of brain function or of heart and lung function. Some even said the operations are tantamount to murder.
I don’t have an answer to every question, but I do wonder sometimes why we as Christians avoid such important issues and instead find ouselves locked in heated battle over what color the carpet in the foyer should be.Â I’m not certain Christians would be as divided as we are on moral and ethical issues if we actually talked, as Christians, about them.Â As it is, we are divided about large issues because we focus on and become defined by much smaller differences of opinion, so that we are no longer schooled in the Christian tradition that is meant to form us as followers of Christ.Â As Kushiner says “Isn’t it time to establish an alternative, and moral, traditional Christian medical practice around the country? The fault line is already there, but we’ve got Christian doctors standing on both sides of it.”Â That pretty much describes the relationship of Christians to every moral issue out there.Â There is no unanimity among Christians on these topics.Â And without a willingness to approach them, there never will be.
So here’s the hard question for us: what lengths are available to us from a Christian perspective in the creation of life, or in the preservation of life.Â What are the legitimate actions to take so that a child might live.Â Are we prepared to say that another must die–even if only a bit sooner than otherwise.
The following is a selection of highlights from a lecture Archbishop Rowan Williams gave in June at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Anyone who has read Williams’ theology knows that it is both very cruciform and concerned with avoiding any sort of gnosticism. His essay–thought experiment really–that he presented several years ago to the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement in England entitled “The Body’s Grace” was both very good and troubling in the questions it presented about how we’re to treat same-sex attraction. It was very good in that it avoided many of the cliches we see in current rhetoric, and troubling because of some of the questions raised about the permissibility of homosexual behavior from a Christian perspective. The lasting impression it made upon me, however, was its refocusing of the debate away from strict heterosexual= intrinsically good and homosexual= intrinsically bad thinking, and more toward a consideration of motivation and what it actually means to have a disordered sexuality, i.e. any sort of sexuality that seeks to deprive the other of individuality, objectify or in any other way use another person toward our own ends. That traditional Christian theology sees homosexuality as inherently disordered does not take away from the positive fact that Williams challenges us to examine all of our relations to ensure that we are not forcing our own meanings onto another, or denying the image of God in which they are created. He pushes this understanding forward very well, I think, in his book Lost Icons: Reflections of Cultural Bereavement, where he talks clearly, for example, about the many ways in which our culture deprives children of their childhood and instead forces them to become sexual subjects at younger and younger ages, putting them in a situation where they are made to become both overly sexual at earlier ages as well as parentified children to childish adults who’ve never learned to tell the difference between a child’s wants and needs and those of a grown up.
Since he has being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems that Archbishop Williams’ personal beliefs have taken a more conservative turn in the area of human sexuality, and he has indicated as much in various interviews, though never going into much detail. I doubt his views are “conservative enough” for some still, but he has also maintained consistently that there is a difference between an academic theologian asking certain questions in order to engage in a conversation on a given topic and a Bishop or Archbishop who must always teach what the Church teaches on a given issue, especially one that is controversial. Hence his support for Lambeth resolution 1:10 and his insistence that the various transgressions of the American and Canadian Churches cannot be justified by rights talk.
The video below, I believe, demonstrates very well why Williams takes seriously the question of what it is Christians are supposed to do with our bodies. He reminds us of something very important in our Christian tradition: the fact that bodies matter. It really makes a difference what we do with them. In contrast to various paganisms and mystery cults that inhabited the Greco-Roman world, and the sort of neo-gnosticism that has taken root in our own day, for Christians the body is of utmost importance. As someone put it, it is never appropriate for a Christian to talk about someone “having a body” for Christians we are bodies. Enjoy this selection (it’s a little over 3 minutes) and if you have time, watch the whole thing here.
Note that these highlights begin in an odd place, in the midst of one of Williams’ thoughts. He’s just finished talking about how odd it is that so many modern people are enamored with philosophical systems that Christianity “saw off” in its first few centuries, systems referred to as gnostic, “we can see” he says, “how an affirmative view of the material world began to take root within early Christianity,” and then he says “but surely, people may say, surely early Christianity was neurotic” which is where the clip begins. Williams himself is not saying that early Christianity was neurotic (at least not totally), he’s actually showing why that is not the case. Interesting editing.
Just wanted to point your attention to Anna’s latest post:
I saw this sign at Elderâ€™s Bookstore, a happy little used and rare bookstore near Centennial Park here in Nashville, that said â€œUnattended children will be traded for donutsâ€ and then a second one that said â€œUnattended children will be sold as slaves.â€ I thought the first one in particular was funny, but didnâ€™t think much else of it until today.
I was at our local Home Depot, picking up a few things on the recommended cleaning list from Green Housekeeping when I became aware that there was a message playing over and over again over the speaker system in between songs and such. â€œParents do not let your children climb on shelves. Keep an eye on your children as there are many hazardous itemsâ€¦â€ And so on and so forth.
And I thought, what parent in their right mind would let their child do any of the things that the message was warning against? I mean, I know kids will be kids and all and would definitely do everything on the message and then some if left to themselves, but the warning was to make sure that parents didnâ€™t let their kids do any of it.
When I was in college, Starbucks was the devil. They were considered evil by the hippigensia that pervaded my university (which I love by the way) because they worked against the little guys at home and abroad. In the US they moved into areas and put independent coffee shops out of business, or at least made their lives harder. Overseas their lack of care in purchasing their beans meant laborers were mistreated. So, by extension, Starbucks was the devil.
Eventually the hatred died down as Starbucks worked on cleaning up their image by offering benefits to their employees at home and buying at least partially into the fair trade movement.
Now in 2008, Starbucks is trying to turn their flagging business around in an economy where folks are cutting the fat. And Starbucks is nearly all fat. As part of their plan to turn things around they’ve launched a new line of Coffee that hearkens back to their roots in Seattle’s Pike Place. In addition to the throwback coffee, they’ve added a throwback design. But now the BBC is reporting that some Christians (belonging to a group calling themselves “the Resistance”) are up in arms over the “new” Starbucks logo (see comparison at right) and are calling for a boycott of the Coffee giant. Excuse my lack of righteous indignation, but I like the new logo better. If you’re going to use a representation of a mythological creature for your logo you ought to have the gumption to depict it in a similar way to the original. In this case, the Starbucks logo is reportedly based upon a “16th century Norse design” of a siren.
On a side note, I’m not sure it’s entirely appropriate to talk about Norse in the 16th century–by then I would think the general term Scandinavian and the more specific Swedish, Danish, Norwegian etc… would be more apt. Be that as it may, this just strikes me as another example of how some Christians get hot under the collar over the stupidest stuff… all the while they are probably working frantically to come up with some pseudo-Christian Kitsch version of the logo to slap on the T-shirts they sell which are manufactured with love by tiny hands in third world countries by companies involved in the same conglomerates as some of the “Christian” publishing imprints owned by parent companies that in their other manifestations cater to all sorts of degenerate appetites… Global capitalism and all that…
Am I wrong? Should I really be offended by this? Parents, would you cover your children’s eyes when passing this sign?
To paraphrase a commenter on another site, this is horrible… if we don’t get rid of this logo all the Christian children (and husbands) are going to go straight down to the fish market and debauch themselves.
I guess Starbucks is the devil again…
And, for a very interesting history of the Starbucks Logo, check out this site.
Notice anything interesting?
Doesn’t it look like the mermaid had liposuction? I guess even mythical creatures aren’t immune to cultural standards of beauty. I’ll leave it to Anna to unpack this…
My new friend Fr. Matthew Olver, a fellow Covenant author and one of three or four Gen X/Y Diocesan Ecumenical Officers at the National Workshop on Christian Unity, has written a fantastic piece reflecting on the value of life. It’s very good and I hope you’ll take the time to read and reflect on it:
In Cormac McCarthyâ€™s novel No Country for Old Men (recently and excellently adapted for the screen by the Cohen Brothers), the sheriff describes meeting a woman at a conference in Corpus Christi, who tells him:
â€œI donâ€™t like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion.â€
And I said, â€œWell, maâ€™am, I donâ€™t think you got any worries about the way this country is headedâ€¦Iâ€™m goinâ€™ to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, sheâ€™ll be able to have you put to sleep.â€
Which pretty much ended the conversation.
The Gospel is a call to live by grace in union with the Father, by grace to share in that bond of love between the eternal Father and his coeternal Son. The Gospel beckons us into Life itself. Near the very end of Israelâ€™s sojourn in the wilderness, God puts the choice starkly before them: â€œI have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may liveâ€ (Deut 30:19).
Jesusâ€™ summary of his redemptive mission is straightforward: â€œI came that they might have life, and have it more abundantlyâ€ (John 10:10). This life is the fulfillment of how the Blessed Trinity created us, â€œin our [Godâ€™s] image, after our likenessâ€ (Gen. 1:26). The power of sinâ€™s infection in all creation is profound: it obscures, but does not obliterate, Godâ€™s image in us. This tension is where Christians begin in their understanding of the human person.
The more I’ve read about Bishop Wright recently, and the strong moral stands he has taken, the more I believe we should be thanking God for leaders like him and praying that he would life up even more in the Church and society at large. Having done my CPE training in an area of a veterans hospital that was transitioning to a focus on palliative care I can testify to it’s benefits for the patient and family.
Legalised killing is unacceptable. We must consider the radical alternative – palliative care
David Aaronovitch, using the pulpit of his column, challenged me to justify an â€œoutrageous claimâ€ that I made in my Easter sermon. I said that there was a â€œmilitantly atheist and secularist lobbyâ€ that believes that â€œwe have the right to kill… surplus old peopleâ€. He replied that it was simply not true.
But there is clearly a strong body of opinion – part of a larger, albeit unorganised, secularising or atheist agenda – pressing in this direction. Such an agenda doesn’t need protest marches. It has powerful politicians and journalists presenting the case.
Lord Joffe’s â€œassisted dyingâ€ Bill, rejected by the Lords last year, was, at one level, about â€œvoluntary euthanasiaâ€. The normal word for that is, of course, suicide. But his Bill was about those too ill to achieve that unaided – it was proposing not just â€œvoluntary dyingâ€ but â€œlawful killingâ€ by people enlisted by the patient. You can’t reduce this, as Mr Aaronovitch implied, to â€œpeople having a right to end their own livesâ€. The question is, do other people have the right to help them do so? Those who support this Bill reckoned they do.
He might want to come back at me on two other counts. First, I said â€œoldâ€ people. But clearly young people, too, suffer debilitating and incurable diseases. Reports from the Netherlands suggest that moves are being made to extend the euthanasia protocol to cover new-born children.
I’ve removed this video because it started showing adds. If you would like to watch it, please visit the following link.