That Terrible Power

EagleThese have been difficult weeks.

The practice of medicine is one of the most gratifying careers possible, but it is relentless in its demands and unforgiving of imperfections — both those of the patient and the physician. Surgery in particular — while enormously satisfying in its technical and definitive nature for those physicians so inclined and gifted — is at the same time the most humbling of all disciplines. Despite all the training and experience, the knowledge and technical skill acquired through countless repetitions and refinement, things do not always go as planned.

John (not his real name, of course) was like so many others — in good health, early sixties, found to have a rising PSA blood test, which proved to be the harbinger of prostate cancer, fortunately still at an early stage. Presented with the options for treatment, he chose surgery: radical prostatectomy, the total removal of the prostate gland and biopsy of the pelvic lymph nodes — those filters which are the first resting place for cancer cells migrating outside the organ. It was an operation I had performed hundreds of times over nearly thirty years, and promised an excellent chance for cure, with an acceptably low risk of long-term adverse effects.

Surgery began uneventfully, with good exposure of the pelvic organs and lymph nodes, despite his portly habitus which can make such access challenging. The right pelvic lymph nodes were addressed first. Located in a triangular area demarcated by the external iliac vessels — the main artery and vein to the leg — the obdurator nerve (a large nerve deep in the pelvis) and the wall of the pelvic bone below, the lymph glands therein are gently teased and separated from these structures and sent for biopsy.

Surgeons get to know anatomy intimately, and depend on its predictability for safely performing their craft. In this area, the external iliac artery is reliably and predictably located lateral to the vein — farthest to the outside. At times, it can run a somewhat serpentine course, as cholesterol plaques narrow the channel and changes in flow and pressure lengthen and twist the artery. Such variations are also predictable: the artery courses in front of the vein if it moves toward the midline, or else moves away from it, farther toward the outside.

The bulk of the nodes were out in little time, titanium clips sealing the lymphatic channels and small blood vessels which feed them. The final packet was located near the point of the triangle, at the upper part of the pelvis below the vein. Several small vessels were clipped, and these nodes were removed easily as well.

I inspected the nodes, feeling them for firmness that might suggest cancer spread. One node looked peculiar. Hollow. Lymph nodes aren’t hollow.

Shit.

Inspection of the surgical field confirmed my worst fear: I had removed a short section of the external iliac artery, the main vessel to the leg. Located in a highly unusual location: underneath the vein, rather than above and lateral to it — an aberrant knuckle of vascular conduit enveloped in fat and lymph nodes — a section of artery had been cleanly removed with the nodes.

There was no bleeding, and the ends of the severed artery were easily identified and freed up. Fortunately, John did not have advanced vascular disease, and alternate paths for blood flow to the leg were open. A vascular surgeon was contacted, and arrived within 10 minutes. A short synthetic vascular graft was placed to bridge the gap, and full circulation was restored in less than an hour. There was no evidence of ischemia — a dangerous situation where insufficient blood flow and oxygen causes damage to tissue and the release of high levels of toxic lactic acid into the blood.

But the presence of a vascular graft, while salvaging a serious situation, meant something else: the main surgery, the prostate removal, would have to be canceled until the graft healed. To proceed as originally planned would risk contaminating the vascular repair, leading to graft infection — a disastrous complication. The incision was closed, and the patient arrived uneventfully in the recovery room. Two days later, he was home.

Imperfection in a field which demands perfection is perhaps the burden a surgeon experiences most deeply, with the most fear and respect. We hope, by endless years of study, preceptorship, practice, and experience, to master that which cannot be fully mastered, to control and manipulate our world to achieve that which is unachievable.

A surgeon who has never made a mistake is a surgeon who has never operated; the doctor who makes no errors must be one who sees no patients. The hard truth — hardest of any we healers, so often arrogant in our knowledge and skill, must swallow — is that we are not perfect — and neither are our patients.

Such untoward events may occur for many reasons, of course: a surgeon’s inexperience, recklessness, or fatigue, or his inattention to detail and proper technique. Aberrant anatomy, prior surgery, body habitus and underlying disease processes lay additional mines which trigger in unexpected ways and at unplanned times. But in many cases — perhaps even most — such ethical, physical or technical failings contribute little or nothing to a bad result or a poor outcome. Such a claim seems self-serving — and perhaps it is; hence I leave judgment of my own performance in this situation to those wiser and more objective than I — but it has been my experience that such is so with most good, talented surgeons with whom I have worked. The power to heal is the power to harm; the competence to cure the capacity to kill.

I have long marveled at an observation I rarely hear made: that a patient, a complete stranger, after one or two short visits, allows a surgeon to perform what is often a high-risk surgical procedure on their body, with something approaching blind trust. Granted, there is trust accrued in the degree, the board certification, the training, and hopefully the reputation of the surgeon you (or more likely, your family doctor) have chosen. But in reality, the information gap is real, and the leap of faith substantial. The “eyeball test” only goes so far: is the personable, knowledgeable professional you meet in the office a ham-handed clumsy oaf in the OR? Is the obnoxious, cold, arrogant technician a highly competent surgeon (a dichotomy often imagined as the norm), or instead a hot-headed impulsive boor whose ego trumps caution in surgery while denigrating all around him? Fortunately, neither scenario is typical — most surgeons are well-trained, professional, and highly competent — but how will you know?

But even among the highly competent, unexpected or adverse events in surgery are closer to the norm than the exception. Most are trivial and inconsequential — the small vessel cut and easily secured, the important suture which breaks and must be replaced, the surgical dissection which proves tedious and time-consuming rather than routine. Even more serious surgical problems may end up having no discernible impact on the outcome of the procedure, the recovery, or the end results. But serious complications are the bane and bale of every surgeon: our perfectionistic natures strain to demand that it not be so, but reality too often intervenes to correct our hubris and false hopes.

The dashed expectations and frustrated hopes of perfection fall hard on all whom surgery touches — the patient, the family, and the physician. For the patient, there is of course the harm done: the surgery aborted; the longer hospital stay; the pain of additional surgery or procedures made necessary; a temporary or even permanent disability; the disease not cured or ameliorated; even — God forbid — death itself. Both families and patients must bear these losses — and often suffer financial setbacks as well, both in medical costs, lost jobs, wages and benefits forfeited. And the question of, why has this happened? How could it occur? all too often go unanswered, or at best only partially so. Such confusion and frustrations often lead to anger — a potent cocktail whose dregs are often drained in the cold glare of courtroom lights.

For the physician, the demeanor perceived as indifferent or callous is rather the intellectualization and rational detachment which allows the surgeon to perform the vivisection which the untrained would find ghastly. But the cost of such steely objectivity comes in the relationships with those harmed, as empathy and compassion must be recruited from the dark closets to which they were banished long ago, orphans of the very training needed to excel in this field.

And beneath the professional veneer simmers also a cauldron of emotions. Smashing the idol of perfectionism comes hard — though a fragile idol it be — as false conviction that care and competence can avert all disasters is dispensed by the errant knife or misplaced scissors, by dense scarring or genetic quirk. The confidence which carries a surgeon effortlessly through daunting technical challenges melts away in moments, as simple tasks become feared challenges in the light of recent failure. The trust so critical to the patient-surgeon relationship is shaken and battered, and may not survive the event. And the fear: of unforeseen secondary complications arising in the future; of judgement and criticism by peers; of angry families and damaged reputation; of legal implications in an environment where lawsuits are the answer to every problem.

For some the worst wounds are self-inflicted, as shame, self-criticism and depression set in. Like the trapped wolf gnawing at his own leg, we wound ourselves further in vain hopes of escaping the pain and seeking freedom from its ensnarement — only to end up weakened, more vulnerable, and less able to stand. And we strike out at those closest to us, those who wish to help, deepening our isolation. The results can be deadly: scratch the surface of physician suicide — a problem more common than generally recognized — and you will often find the self-destruction engendered when perfectionism collides with poor outcomes.

To greater or lesser degree, many of these reactions were mine in the aftermath of this complication. And there was one other: I was angry — angry with God.

You see, I pray before surgery — and I prayed before this one, for guidance, wisdom, and good judgment, as I often do. If you are of a skeptical bent, and disinclined to give weight to such superstition, at least humor me by accepting that such an act might focus the mind and center the soul. But only a fool would deny that there is much beyond our control — and few things teach this lesson more clearly than surgery. It was not always thus: I have lived a life where skills and talent were all that was needed to succeed — a formula which led me inexorably on a downward spiral of failure. So I pray.

But to pray is to expect answers — and with that lies the unspoken assumption that all will turn out as I would wish. And so, it is God’s fault — is it not? — if the outcome is not what I would desire. Did I not have my patient’s best interest at heart in this request? Would not a good God answer this prayer to the benefit of both me and those He entrusted to my care? And so it appears, ipso facto, that God screwed up — and I get to take the heat. Bum rap, it seems to me.

But maybe — just maybe — there is a bigger picture in all this. Maybe I get to learn how little really is under my control. Maybe I learn to depend more on Him than on myself. Maybe — and this is a tough one — my shortcomings, my imperfections, which can cause harm as easily as my skills beget good — can work beneficially in some unfathomable way, even for those who must bear the suffering of these very imperfections. Some of the worst, most painful episodes in my own life have proven in the long run to be blessings unimaginable at the time — perhaps it can also be thus for others, even when I am the instrument of such adversity. A frightening thought, this — a terrible power.

And what of John? His recovery has been smooth, his lymph nodes show no cancer. I have apologized to him and his wife for this adversity, though no harm was intended nor evident neglect present to my knowledge. I have offered to assist with any financial burden thus accrued. And they have decided to trust me to perform the second surgery — which is humbling and sobering in ways difficult to express.

May God be with me then — and always.

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35 thoughts on “That Terrible Power

  1. LJ (and Dr. Bob) –

    My apologies in advance. This is a long comment.

    In this comment thread it seemed the discussion of prayer had gravitated toward the issue of “what do I get out of it.” This is quite natural. Pagans religions through the ages were about greasing the wheels of deity for one’s own benefit.

    People who considers themselves rationalists (I presume you characterize as such) would also see the only reason for prayer being self-benefit–either the avoidance of evil or the earning of good. Unfortunately, too many Christians also give this impression–either because of flawed thinking or carelessness in their communication. Too often God is portrayed as some big goodie machine which–if we only work the prayer levers long enough or hard enough–we get a reward plunking out.

    You put the emphasis on getting something for oneself out of prayer. I do not deny that requests are a part of Christian prayer, but in my previous comment I sought to stress that the focus of Biblical prayer is not self-centered.

    Christ prayed that he would not have to go through the suffering on the cross (see Matt. ch. 26 again), but at the end of that prayer he prayed that the will of God the Father would be done. And so Jesus Christ was crucified. If Jesus, the most, (and only,) righteous person can’t come to God in his moment of extreme trial and cash in his chips for a “get out of jail”–if, instead, his prayer is answered with the most terrible death–then either God doesn’t answer prayers, or else Christ and his followers are nuts. Because, being righteous and praying to God doesn’t seem to accomplish much as far as saving our own skins.

    See, I’m not disagreeing with you that Jesus and his Christian followers are nuts. Rather, I’m trying to elucidate how nuts we are.

    Rather than working the prayer channels as hard as we can in hopes of eking out a gift we are called to seek the will of him who sent us. Since the many prayerful Christians of ages past have died many a horrible death either God isn’t very good at accomplishing his will, or else his will seems rather sick, not to mention unpleasent.

    This recognition of miserable deaths and suffering by the great prayer warriors of the past gets around to your comment of “(Will of the Father=best humanitarian intentions as far as we can tell.)”

    Who is defining “best humanitarian intentions.”? Ask ten different people in ten different countries and you’ll probably get ten different answers. Whose standard of humanitarian intentions is God accountable to? The UN? Yours? Or mine?

    A better statement would be “Will of the Father=that which is best.” The will of the Father might not be your health. It might not be your wealth. In fact, getting back around to all that suffering and death bit, it seems like the will of the Father might not be all that pleasant, humanly speaking.

    Moving along, you say prayer has no “function or effects we can readily discern”. That depends on who the “we” is, and what the we holds as a litmus for “readily discern.” Some people say that prayer does have an effect which is readily discerned. Others say not. This is the point in discussion where the contention first began in this thread.

    Your statement that seeking (or praying for) the will of the father is persisting in “doing something to achieve an unknown end of an unknown Super Vagueness” does bring up what many see as a problem. A bit of clarification, then.

    Biblically, the end is not unknown, strictly speaking. “Thy Kingdom come.” When the kingdom comes that is the end. As for issues of vagueness–unless one claims to know all the thoughts of God there will always be some vagueness. Nobody in the New Testament claimed to clear all that vagueness up.

    Have we been given some knowledge? Yes. But, “what we will be has not yet been made known” (1 John 3:2). If we knew everything there would be no need for trust, for faith. If we knew everything, we would be God—or, God would be nothing more than man with the added feature of being able to throw down lightening bolts from on high. So yes, I posit that God cannot be fully encompassed by our minds. Define this human inability as you like.

    Prayer is not rightly continued because of tradition. Perhaps you mis-understood what I meant by our prayers being focused on the will of the Father. I was not suggesting that prayer is supposed to be the daily repetition of “Thy will be done,” as if we just drone those words on in an endless monotone until we tire of praying for the day.

    The idea of “Thy will be done,” which is contained in the Bible is fully expressed in ones whole being–thoughts, actions, and innermost desires of the spirit. Prayer does not consist of saying “thy will be done” in as many variations as we can happen to think up. Prayer is communication. It consists of petition, praise, thanksgiving, and so on. In prayer we seek to praise God for what he has done, to be like him, and to understand him–because all of these things are his will. We ask God for “things” (whether it be for wisdom or for more tangible things) because we know that it pleases him to answer our prayers. In answering our prayers God shows us who he is—revealing his power and his will. Note: In “answering” I do not mean to imply that we get what we wanted. Even the apostle Paul received the answer of no, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). This gets back to the whole thing of praying to God and still dying, suffering, and living in poverty. Not a great selling line to most people, but I don’t see the Bible as exactly be shy about the facts.

    About your Surinam “friend” . . . I also have a “friend.” He said, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Your Surinam friend was probably at least smart enough to tell you that you would earn a lot of money if you gave him your bank account number. In whatever feeble way, he at least tried to make you think you would gain something tangible that would improve your health, wealth, and prosperity. Not my friend. He says sell everything you have and you’ll have treasure in heaven.

    Can’t top that. Get rid of all your earthly possessions and come follow me to suffer every form of pain and deprivation so you can have treasure in heaven. Just trust me on this one.

    Want some beach front property in Nebraska?

    See, we don’t need your friend from Surinam to make your point about proof and reason . . . Jesus Christ servers your example well enough, don’t you think? (My quote was from Mark. 10:21.)

    We’ve been discussing prayer, but really the problems present here are only extensions and manifestations of something deeper. The lack of proof or reason (as you define it) strikes to the heart of the gospel. Why not skip this whole issue of prayer and face the fact that the founding stone of Christianity is God taking on the form of man, born of a virgin, killed and brought back to life so that the punishment for our sins might be paid and everlasting life belonging to those who believe, that we might dwell with God eternally when he returns. I think every point just made breaks your reason and your need for proof. And, we haven’t even got to prayer. Focusing on the dubiousness of prayer (Christian prayer that is) is rather like straining at the gnat while ignoring the camel. If you can accept the whole Christian spiel that comes before getting down on your knees and praying to that God, then the problems with prayer seem rather small.

    Rephrasing the question implicit behind your “Surinam friend”, you want to know what authority I am accepting that leads me to believe this unbelievable stuff, and what experience can I claim as backing up that authority.

    Ah. This is where we get into the supernatural. That’s our little bone of contention–the spiritual, the supernatural. Neither of these things fits within the rationalist framework. How can you hold the intangible. How can you touch the untouchable?

    Let’s go back to your Surinam friend. Let’s say I was dead, long dead, and your friend from Surinam came along. He looked at my dead bones lying on the ground and he said “live.” And then I was standing before him, alive. Then he said, “Give me your bank account number. In fact, give me all your money. Even more, spend your life living for me.”

    Now, whether you think your friend for Surinam would be fair in demanding all these things, I think you would agree that he has demonstrated some proof, and some authority, in his act of raising me from the dead.

    You reject the spiritual, the intangible, the unseen. Nonetheless, if you are interested in understanding my “thought-process” it is something like the example above. I was spiritually dead. Dead beyond all hope. Worse, I did not even know I was dead. When I was dead I thought it was normal and natural. Then God said to me, “Live!” and I was alive. Only then did I see how dead I had been, and now how alive I was. The presence and power of God in my spiritual life is the proof, the reason, and the authority.

    Is that tangible? Is that something you can discern with your eyes, hear with your eyes, taste and feel? We can digress into philosophy, metaphysics, and existentialism, but why bother? Certainly by all tangible standards James, Peter, Paul, and Jesus Christ didn’t have it very hot. If the very ones I claim to follow failed to show tangible, rational, worthwhile benefits for their employment by God, what makes anyone think any Christian will?

    If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:13-19).

    There you have it from the very mouth of the apostle Paul. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. I don’t know if you would call your reaction to Christians pity or contempt, but Paul puts it rather well, don’t you think?

  2. LJ, I just saw your questions of me; I’ve been away for a few days. I would need to look up precise references, which I’m willing to do tomorrow or Saturday, but Jesus Christ told us, several times, to ask: “Ask for anything in my Name, and I will do it,” is one example. God knows our needs, yes, but He clearly–according to scripture–wants us to be involved, to acknowledge our dependence on Him (a really tough thing for the intelligent person, especially, to do), and to ask. Our asking also gives Him the chance to answer: Yes, No, or Not yet. And no, I don’t often get an immediate reply, although that has happened.

    I’m sorry–I’ve just been called to another room. I think scripture is quite clear that God wants us to acknowledge our dependence on Him, and that He wants to be very involved in our lives…as do many parents. More later, if you wish!

  3. In my previous post, I commended your writing and your acknowledgment that your faith could be an illusion. Indeed this is nothing new to the honest x-tian, and you seemed to admit this in your 7/20/05 posting. I found that admirable, which is why I attached the caveat “(or not)” to my claim you may be deluded.

    I am willing to concede that the logical possibility remains that your worldview—and attenuating tale of a bloodthirsty deity who couldn’t figure out any other way to cure the universe except through the suffering of innocents—may be the correct one. I shudder to think what a tenuous and bland eternity in which we will live. But hey, that’s just an outsider’s perspective on your graceful creator. I was trying to show respect in that last brief post, yet you call me out, so I will respond.

    And though you enjoy the status of revered apologete, and your fans here at your blog may think your creative non-fiction is the height of contemporary evangelical engagement with the (gasp!) godless, through straw men, equivocation, and category error, you mislead them into a false security. Not only that, you end by confessing your allegiance to the only view of the world that we have, that of reason, and for which I commend you.

    To begin, you do sum up the problem nicely:

    “Are [answered prayers] mere chance, wishful thinking, psychological crutches, neuro-endocrine surges that my highly-evolved cerebrum maps into culturally-molded thought patterns?”

    Unfortunately you do not answer this question, leaving the specter lurking in the corner. Instead, you respond to doubt in the following manner:

    “The questions I ask, the problems I present, are answered–always. But not in words, almost never at the time I speak or ask. But I know they have been answered–although the fruition, the language, the form of the answer may be hours, months, years away” (emphasis added).

    In a nutshell your “argument” flows like this: You don’t always see proof of prayer working, and, in fact, prayer may be an illusion, yet you still know they are answered (though you admit your “knowledge” is often postponed).

    However, when you employ the word, “know,” you equivocate. Knowledge is precisely what you don’t have; in fact, you pride yourself on operating in the absence of knowledge. So, to bandy the term “know” around misleads your followers into thinking they are on rational ground, when in actuality they have never left their lofty nest on Faith Mountain.

    What’s worse, you convince yourself and consider your “argument” to have moved somewhere, when, in fact, you have basically said something to the effect of, “I believe prayer works, though (and because) I may not believe it for years to come.”

    Please note how “know” functions in your “argument.” It stands in as a rational imposter and presents an illusion that something positive is occurring in your sweet rhetoric, when you are really whispering into a mud fence. What you have is belief, not knowledge.

    Fearing the rejoinder, you remark:

    “Of course, the skeptic’s challenge contains a presumption–one rarely recognized, in fact: that everything which exists, all that is real, can be measured, tested, analyzed, proven, and recorded. But much which is human–perhaps all which makes us uniquely human–is beyond such simple means of measurement and proof.”

    Rather than retreating from your proud claims, you instead erect a convenient straw man that will enable you to persist in your special pleading.

    I do not recall stating this, nor have I met any skeptic that maintains this position. This was the error of positivism, and one I do not endorse. There are many elements to reality that are unquantifiable and immeasurable yet remain objectively observable and do not need an appeal to mystical irrationality.

    Further aiding your immolation of the straw man you have erected, you conveniently ignore the psychological science that does address these immaterial realities without resorting to an extra-natural concept to do so. Nicely done, Doc.

    But I need not digress into “psycho-babble” to answer your charge. Consider, for instance, that love is something all cultures attest to, as is smell, or a failed marriage. Courage is a culturally dependent judgment but something many will agree has been exhibited. These are objectively observable, though they are not physical. Hmmm…does that mean we have all become x-tians now? Not in the least.

    But look what you do next. Here’s where your “argument” becomes most incoherent: you make an equation between your pet mystery and everything that is particular and beyond mechanistic explanation in the human experience.

    Again, you equivocate your terms. It is far different to say that you cannot measure the smell of a rose and that you cannot measure the results of prayer. Though the “weight” of an aesthetic experience is difficult to ascertain, the brute fact of smell is not. Try cutting off your nose and see if you don’t arrive at an objectively verifiable measure of smell (or the lack thereof.)

    The aesthetic category is far different from the theological category; speaking of despair is not the same as positing an invisible deity with whom you correspond and who does or does not answer prayers that no one knows how or when or if.

    I hope the distinction is clear.

    Attempting to clothe your religious speak in respectable garb, you have conflated the two categories, thus shielding all manner of religious irrationality. This is quite a leap and I feel your category error is dangerous, because it allows solipsistic demons to arise and all manner of epistemic claims.

    Further, even if I were to concede the reality of prayer and the spiritual realm , notice that only your chosen irrationality of x-tianity need apply. No room for the Poseidonist, or the Taoist, or Koreshians at this inn.

    “He knows how to listen to what I ask for and give me instead what I really need, and truly want.”

    You finally circle back to your theme of prayer, one you admitted above you may not “know” the answer to for years (if ever), and now say, “see, since I cannot measure it, prayer has as much validity as other naturally occurring yet unquantifiable events,” and the answered/non-answered prayer becomes proof of this deity and “evidence” of the efficacy of prayer. Whatever happens, your prayer theory is preserved. Wonderful! What amazing theosophical acrobatics!

    But here’s where your diatribe really gets interesting and reveals the x-tian anxiety.

    So far we have been told x-tians are beyond proof, yet you slip and advise what sort of prayer we try. Start small you say. Don’t worry about world peace (perhaps because you know it is futile to try?). Yet you are not able to suppress your innate need to know, and for this I am still hopeful for you.

    “Then open your eyes, your ears, your heart for the response.”

    Wait a minute! This sounds like an attempt to understand and observe. Hmmm . . . I guess if you use terms like “open your heart,” it’s got a nice soft x-tian ring to it and it’s passable, but if someone is brash and radical enough to ask for some sort of assurance or want to live their lives in a rational sphere, thenn they are to be castigated for a lack of imagination or insensitivity; all the while religious division runs roughshod through our histories.

    Doc, you can’t have it both ways. You, too, wish to know; you, too, cannot help but seek explanation and observe even in the midst of your pious contractions. Unfortunately for your “argument,” your language gives you away. Your anxiety and lust for knowledge shines through even while you extol the virtues of a spiritual realm and a prayer process that is beyond our knowing.

    What I have shown is a x-tian playing loose with his language; fooling some, but not all. You claim to know something about prayer, yet knowledge is exactly what you do not have.

    You try to equate objectively observable immaterial realities that are beyond our ability to mechanically gauge, with an abstract theosophical category. This is an equivocation and your entire argument rests on this conflation.

    Lastly, for all your theological bluster, you reveal your latent need to know, a desire you would criticize the godless for and say that we are proud or controlling or want to be our own gods or other such nonsense. If nothing else, I hope you will admit that the rational impulse is not devious.

    Of course you need to know and there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t blame you.

    Ultimately, though your prose is fluid, your argument fails. Your language unmasks your fearful heart and indicates the vacuous reality of living on prayer.

  4. LJ,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond, thoughtfully. You’ve helped me in ways you cannot know.

    I’ve set aside a couple of upcoming posts, and will compose some thoughts about yours in another. I’ll be in surgery most of the day today, so it may be a few days.

    Thanks again.

  5. The frustrating thing about making a brilliant point is the trouble getting anyone to understand it. (Please step in, Mr. Jaques Derrida.)

    I recently finished a term paper on Leszek Kolakowski’s The Presence of Myth. Therein Mr. Kolakowski argues that meaning is myth. Myth, to scholars of myth, does not imply falsity or denigration. It means “signifcant story”. Kolakowski takes this back a step, saying that anything significant is mythical.

    It is a short but thoroughly intellectual book. He relies, I think, on David Hume, but he makes a lot of his own connections. Kolakowski is not a Christian. He avows the utter contingency of the universe. And yet he says that there is no way to say that anything has any value, reason, worth, moral, logic, or significance without simply presuming it (the way classical myths, such as Christianity, are presumed).

    Like most modern thinking, this doesn’t leave much room for anything to be said. Obviously, Mr. Kolakowski’s conclusions mean that those conclusions themselves are only to be believed if you hold certain beliefs/myths a priori to support/validate his conclusions.

    In other words, Kolakowski’s view puts Dr. Bob and LJ on equal footing, as arbitrary adherents to signification schemes.

    As I said, it is thouroughly modern, rational, and intellectual. And interesting, once you make some sense of the philosophical jargon.

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