Moving the Ancient Boundaries – I

Do not move the ancient boundary stone set up
    by your forefathers.
        — Proverbs 22:28 —

old houseAncient wisdom: a sage injunction uttered in a time when simple shepherds and farmers parsed out land for grazing and grain, speaking to the prudence of respecting contracts, negotiated agreements with those with whom we live, to abide in a measure of peace. Be honest; respect the property and possessions of those with whom you must abide; do not trade peaceful relations for parcels of land.

Yet like so much of this ancient book of Proverbs, its well runs far deeper than it appears, with ageless wisdom waiting for the discerning, those open to its application in different days and other ages. And so it seems that we, as a culture, have been hard at work for decades, if not longer, moving the boundary stones set up by our forefathers. These markers today are not simple rocks in fields or walls on hills to mark water rights or restrain wandering sheep, but are rather the cultural and moral underpinnings of that which we call Western civilization. We are busy cutting wood from the pilings to add garlands to the gables, and wondering why the house leans so far off vertical.
Continue reading “Moving the Ancient Boundaries – I”

A Life Not Long


I’ve been working on several posts, which had been taking longer than expected — especially a post on euthanasia, which is beginning to look like another multi-part series. I hope to start getting some of these up in the near future.

In the meantime, a link from Glenn Reynolds hooked into something I’ve been ruminating on in recent days: the endless pursuit of longer life.

Here’s the question I’ve been pondering: is it an absolute good to be continually striving for a longer life span? Such a question may seem a bit odd coming from a physician, whose mission it is to restore and maintain health and prolong life. But the article which Glenn linked to, describing the striking changes in health and longevity of our present age, seemingly presents this achievement as an absolute good, and thereby left me a tad uneasy–perhaps because I find myself increasingly ambivalent about this unceasing pursuit of longer life.

Of course, long life and good health have always been considered blessings, as indeed they are. But long life in particular seems to have become a goal unto itself–and from where I stand is most decidedly a mixed blessing.

Many of the most difficult health problems with which we battle, which drain our resources struggling to overcome, are largely a function of our longer life spans. Pick a problem: cancer, heart disease, dementia, crippling arthritis, stroke — all of these increase significantly with age, and can result in profound physical and mental disability. In many cases, we are living longer, but doing so restricted by physical or mental limitations which make such a longer life burdensome both to ourselves and to others. Is it a positive good to live to age 90, spending the last 10 or more years with dementia, not knowing who you are nor recognizing your own friends or family? Is it a positive good to be kept alive by aggressive medical therapy for heart failure or emphysema, yet barely able to function physically? Is it worthwhile undergoing highly toxic chemotherapy or disfiguring surgery to cure cancer, thereby sparing a life then severely impaired by the treatment which saved that life?

These questions, in some way, cut to the very heart of what it means to be human. Is our humanity enriched simply by living longer? Does longer life automatically imply more happiness–or are we simply adding years of pain, disability, unhappiness, burden? The breathlessness with which authors often speak of greater longevity, or the cure or solution to these intractable health problems, seems to imply a naive optimism, both from the standpoint of likely outcomes, and from the assumption that a vastly longer life will be a vastly better life. Ignored in such rosy projections are key elements of the human condition–those of moral fiber and spiritual health, those of character and spirit. For we who live longer in such an idyllic world may not live better: we may indeed live far worse. Should we somehow master these illnesses which cripple us in our old age, and thereby live beyond our years, will we then encounter new, even more frightening illnesses and disabilities? And what of the spirit? Will a man who lives longer thereby have a longer opportunity to do good, or rather to do evil? Will longevity increase our wisdom, or augment our depravity? Will we, like Dorian Gray, awake to find our ageless beauty but a shell for our monstrous souls?

Such ruminations bring to mind a friend, a good man who died young. Matt was a physician, a tall, lanky man with sharp bony features and deep, intense eyes. He was possessed of a brilliant mind, a superb physician, but left his mark on life not solely through medicine nor merely by intellect. A convert to Christianity as a young adult, Matt embraced his new faith with a passion and province rarely seen. His medical practice became a mission field. His flame burned so brightly it was uncomfortable to draw near: he was as likely to diagnose your festering spiritual condition as your daunting medical illness–and had no compunction about drilling to the core of what he perceived to be the root of the problem. Such men make you uneasy, for they sweep away the veneer of polite correction and diplomatic encouragement which we physicians are trained to deliver. Like some gifted surgeon of the soul, he cast sharp shadows rather than soft blurs, brandishing his brilliant insight on your now-naked condition. The polished conventions of medicine were never his strength–a characteristic which endeared him not at all to many in his profession. But his patients–those who could endure his honesty and strength of character–were passionate in their devotion to him, personally and professionally. For he was a man of extraordinary compassion and generosity, seeing countless patients at no charge, giving generously of his time and finances far beyond the modest means earned from his always-struggling practice.

The call I received from another friend, a general surgeon, requesting an assist at his surgery, was an unsettling one: Matt had developed a growth in his left adrenal gland. His surgery went deftly, with much confidence that the lesion had been fully excised. The pathology proved otherwise: Matt had an extremely rare, highly aggressive form of adrenal cancer. Fewer than 100 cases had been reported worldwide, and there was no known successful treatment. Nevertheless, as much for his wife and two boys as for himself, he underwent highly toxic chemotherapy, which sapped his strength and left him enfeebled. In spite of this, the tumor grew rapidly, causing extreme pain and rapid deterioration, bulging like some loathsome demon seeking to burst forth from his frail body. I saw him regularly, although in retrospect not nearly often enough, and never heard him complain; his waning energies were spent with his family, and he never lost the intense flame of faith. Indeed, as his weakened body increasingly became no more than life support for his cancer, wasting him physically and leaving him pale and sallow, there grew in him a spirit so remarkable that one was drawn to him despite the natural repulsion of watching death’s demonic march.

Matt died at age 38, alert and joyful to the end. His funeral was a most remarkable event: at an age in life where most would be happy to have sufficient friends to bear one’s casket, his funeral service at a large church was filled to overflowing–thousands of friends, patients, and professional peers paying their respects in a ceremony far more celebration than mourning. There was an open time for testimony–and such a time it was, as one after another took to the lectern to speak through tears of how Matt had touched their lives; of services rendered, small and large, unknown before that day; of funny anecdotes and sad remembrances which left not one soul of that large crowd untouched or unmoved.

A journey such as his casts critical light on our mindless pursuit of life lived only to live long. In Matt’s short life he brought more good into the world, touched more people, changed more lives, than I could ever hope to do were I to live a century more. It boils down to purpose: mere years are no substitute for a life lived with passion, striving for some goal greater than self, with transcendent purpose multiplying and compounding each waking moment. This is a life well-lived, whether long or short, whether weakened or well.

Like all, I trust, I hope to live life long, and seek a journey lived in good health and sound mind. But even more–far more indeed–do I desire that those days yet remaining–be they long or short–be rich in purpose, wise in time spent, and graced by love.

Collision of Worlds

cosmosAs wrecks go, it was not all that spectacular: some broken glass on the roadway, a few police cars, their rooftop strobes painting the night walls of nearby buildings with surreal dancing figures of light, red and blue. The SUV sat on a flatbed, with little apparent damage; the less fortunate compact, compacted on the passenger side. No apparent injuries, no ambulance, no stretchers.

The intersection–a T-bone emptying a side street into an urban arterial, controlled by a stoplight–was one I traveled often, almost daily. It was the insider’s way home–the city street longcut which circumvents the crush of rush-hour traffic, bypassing the freeway which costs time even on the best of days. Stopped at the light, I rubbernecked the scene, half-distracted by the mindless verbal patter of talk radio or some burned .mp3 I had heard too many times before. The mind wanders in such places, darting from thought to image, with no strong focus or overarching life crisis to rivet its attention. So the thought was odd, atypical, crisp in its clarity:

Sometimes other accidents happen at accident scenes.

The light turned green–my usual clue to pin the pedal and shorten my day by milliseconds while squandering a few extra ounces of too-costly petrol. But I paused: atypical. Was it the thought? Some other distraction? The fatigue of a day too long, the distracted weariness of a profession which sometimes bleeds your lifeblood like red pools on pavement? Who knows–how do you ever know?

My foot off the brake, not yet on the pedal, my car eased lightly into the now-allowed right-of-way. Retinal rods sensed motion without detail on the right–a car stopping at its just-red signal–or so it seemed at first.

He blew through the intersection–40, 45 my best guess–passing within inches of my front bumper. Never slowed, never braked, never aware that my car even existed. No surge of red from the tail lights, as they quickly faded down the dark arterial, undiminished and unaware.

The obligatory expletives rolled off my tongue, with far less fury than fear–it’s incongruous the bodily functions we sometimes call “holy.” The adrenaline leaves you shaken, and shaking, as the reality of what if sinks in.

Sometimes other accidents happen at accident scenes.

What is the nature of such intuition–a random thought presaging some disaster, a warning arising from–where? The depths of subconscious? Some long-forgotten experience, or story overheard? Perhaps a higher function of the brain, poorly developed and unrecognized, or some cosmic power, called “E.S.P.” or “paranormal” or “premonition” by those nearer to being charlatans than sages.

It may of course be any of these things, or several, or none: a random thought on a random corner, on a random night, near a random driver motoring recklessly. My sense, however–my conviction, even–is that it was something rather more–a collision, if you will, of two universes.

Such thoughts seem out of place–quaint even–in a technologically sophisticated culture where all that is known is that which is measured, where wisdom is weighed and parsed and packaged, and knowledge grows vaster about things ever more trivial. This vastness of knowledge has left us smaller people, living in a tightly constricted world, where joy and wonder have become the fodder of fools, displaced by cold cynicism and soulless skepticism. Ours is the triumph of gnosticism, the age of salvation through knowledge, fact trumping truth and science slaying the spirit. For in our great knowledge we have lost sight of that which is far vaster still, a universe unseen yet still experienced by many, a cosmos which impacts our lives moment by moment in ways both tiny and tectonic.

Ever since man looked upward at an incomprehensible sky, he has perceived the need for transcendence, to provide not only knowledge of the wonders beheld, but their meaning–to integrate that which is far larger, far deeper than himself into some sort of meaningful whole. Thus the history of man is the history of religion–a history with endless variations simple or sophisticated, from cave glyphs to gothic cathedrals, all pointing to something beyond man himself, whose very nature demands an explanation his nature alone cannot provide.

The fusion of these two worlds–material and spiritual–has had profound effects on human history in ways both great and small: from the lofty musical masterpieces of Bach and Handel, to the soaring architecture of the great cathedrals, to the preservation of ancient literature and culture by the monasteries, to the very roots of Western civilization, with its elevation of the individual and ideas of freedom and human rights, derived from Judeo-Christian insights on the nature of man and his relationship to God. And beyond these large and tangible mileposts lie countless lives transformed through the touch of spirit on hardened hearts, rippling through ages and cultures in ways almost imperceptible yet profound.

Yet Western civilization, so richly endowed with the gifts and benefits of its infusion of spiritual life and principles, has in an ironic twist taken one of these very gifts–the value of reason and logic and curiosity about the workings of a divinely-ordered creation, which gave rise to science–and used it as a wedge between the material and the spiritual. Western culture has bankrupted the very treasure from which its greatness arose, leaving an increasingly fragile shell of process without principles, institutions without inspiration, governance without grace. Steeped in knowledge yet long in shortcomings, our culture increasingly dismisses the spiritual and transcendent as but mere ignorance or malign superstition, and thus strangles its own lifeblood in its frantic rush to solve problems of the soul with the prescriptions of science and sociology. Our sickness is deep, and pervasive, and ultimately deadly–and made even more dangerous by our peculiar denial that there exists any sickness at all. Such malady takes many forms: from evangelistic secularism, seeking to purge all thought or mention of religion from our collective consciousness; to the intellectual miasma of postmodernism, where the only absolute truth is the denial of absolute truth; to the grand charade, where lust for power or corrupt materialism masquerade in the mantle of religious devotion or a gospel of social justice–which is neither just nor good for society; to the spirituality of the self, which seeks to find God within having denied Him without, and ends up worshiping only ego, in all its hideous manifestations.

There are, it is said, many roads to God–a cozy notion for the intellectually lazy and spiritually slothful, a passing nod to a past glory still spoken of but no longer believed. It is a bromide fast dissolving in a world where religious zealots praise Allah while slaughtering women and children; where men sing of Jesus while drinking poison Kool-Aid; where televised con-men fleece the faithful while preaching love and generosity; where men of the cloth speak of killing the elderly and suctioning the young with soothing words of “mercy” and “freedom” and “choice.” We are tossed like ships in a storm because we have lost both rudder and mast: the principles which have steered us, and the power which gives us purpose and direction, have been swept away in the rolling swells of material prosperity and the saturating rains of empty information and worthless knowledge.

It is time to do the hard work, the painful and unsettling job of foregoing easy assumptions and comfortable conclusions, to shine the harsh light of honesty and self-examination on our sated and sleepy souls. The easy road only leads downward, and we have followed it far too long. If all roads lead to God, then no road gets you there: you will spend an eternity seeking that which you do not wish to find.

I am a Christian; this is the road I have discovered, which has led me to God, which has allowed me to glimpse that universe which I understand little and conform to less. I make no apologies for my convictions, for I have found, by grace, a solid path which, while mysterious and tortuous and unpredictable, has proven real, and trustworthy, and tangible ways which only the intangible can be. As G.K. Chesterton said of his own journey into faith, the case for Christianity is rational–but it is not simple; it is an accumulation of countless facts all pointing in one direction. In the coming months, I hope to share something of my own journey into and through this faith. I do so, of course, in the hope that you too may also discover–or rediscover–its depth, and power, and integrity. But short of even this, may we begin to examine truth, and restore the principles, which alone may shine light on our ever-darkening age.

Postmodern Liberalism Comment Problems

Bizarre behavior on my last post, which generates an Apache error when comments are submitted–but no error on comment submissions from any of my other posts. Upgraded WordPress to 2.02, which hasn’t fixed the problem (but fortunately went without a glitch so far).

My hunch is that there is a spam or adult content filter on my hosting ISP’s web server, and it doesn’t like the title, which includes the dreaded “P” word, so is blocking it.

I’m going to use this post for comments to the prior one, and hope that works.

Sorry about the inconvenience.

The Pornography of Ideas

Japanese woodblock printOn one of my earlier posts on Islam, I received the comment from a reader who, one might surmise, was not exactly an admirer. Such comments are a fact of life on a web log, and actually have been relatively infrequent here–may Allah be praised. I deleted the comment, as I’ve found life far simpler spent on productive pursuits rather than giving a forum to trolls — but I must confess, in retrospect, that I regret having done so, as quotation would have been a cleaner way to illustrate some of the following points. And so, I will summarize the its gist, which left me pondering broader topics of political and social discourse, particularly as they pertain to those who call themselves “progressives.”

The comment was actually a tad atypical for the genre: there was no profanity, and the words “extremist”, “right wing”, “fascist”, “Nazi”, and a host of other pejoratives were sadly absent. Nevertheless, it did provide a window into the peculiar mindset of some who live on the left side of the spectrum, and thereby providing a teachable moment or two.

My reader opened the monologue with his conclusion that I was “Islamophobic, and therefore a racist.” He proceeded to educate me to the fact that there was no such thing as Islamofascism or Islamic extremism–that the current conflict between radical Islam and the West was simply a natural consequence of years of oppressing the poor in Third World countries through American hegemony. On a roll, my admirer than proceeded to inform me that there was no such thing as Communism, either–that neither the Soviet Union nor Red China had ever been a threat to the United States, and that in essence, the entire Cold War had been about domination of the Third World by the First World. Then, he treated me to the customary bromide about those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

The commenter–who hailed from the Puget Sound area–in closing informed me that he was “embarrassed” that someone like me would live in this area, and suggested I move to Nebraska–his original home state–where I could be with other closed-minded folks like myself. In a parting jab, he intoned that if he and his friends had their way, I would receive not one dime of reimbursement for health care. He apparently hasn’t noticed that many of his compatriots in government and the health insurance industry have already thought of this idea–and are working hard to make it happen.

There is, of course, the natural tendency to respond in kind, detailing logical and historical errors on a tit-for-tat basis. One could, for example, point out that Islam is comprised of people from every race and nation, and therefore expressing concerns about the religion, its teachings, and the behavior of its followers is no more racist than expressing concerns about domestic violence or anti-Semitism. Islam–as demonstrated by the recent bombings of sacred sites in Iraq and India — is, at its worst, an equal-opportunity destroyer, and questioning the teachings and actions which bring about such travesties is hardly racist. Nevertheless, our friend apparently felt a need to reach into his grab bag of insults, and pull out at least one such invective, lest I forget what a miserable bigoted swine I really am. Logic and reason need not enter into such a discourse, of course.

The notion that Communism never existed, and that the Soviet Union and China were never a threat, is almost breathtakingly naïve. For those of us who lived through Communism’s horrors: the Cuban missile crisis; the crushing of the Prague Spring; the brutal put-down of the Hungarian uprising; the gulags; fugitives shot and left hanging on the barbed wire of the Berlin Wall; proxy wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; and the longstanding threat of Communist totalitarian superpowers armed to the teeth with nuclear and conventional weapons, realize what a foolish and laughable assertion this really is. One wonders if this stunning ignorance of history is intentional, or simply a product of the postmodern revisionism and deconstructionism which seems to have replaced serious historical scholarship at most universities. I have no doubt forgotten much of the history which I learned over the years: I don’t recall what year the Hapsburgs took power, or the reasons for the Peloponnesian wars — but I do understand what happened in Europe and the rest of the world prior to the Nazi juggernaut, the dangers of profound denial of threat posed by evil regimes, and the foolishness–and deadliness–of wishful thinking and appeasement. I may therefore be doomed to repeat history, having forgotten some of it–but one wonders what the consequences will be of never having learned history in the first place.

Now, it is certainly natural as human beings to try to abstract and generalize from the individual to the group. And I understand that not everyone of liberal persuasion believes the sort of poppycock perpetrated by my perturbed pundit. But it does not take a great deal of observation and abstraction to understand that many of the most vocal members of the left today espouse similar notions, which simple objective analysis easily demonstrates to be nothing more than pure fantasy or propaganda. One need only browse the comments at Kos, or Democratic Underground, or to see this and many more egregious examples. The list is long and painfully familiar to anyone who has followed the political or cultural scene of the last few years: Bush is Hitler; no blood for oil; Bush lied, people died; the root cause of terrorism is poverty; the solution to terrorism is making the Third World our adopted welfare state (the Patty Murray daycare solution); we are no different from the terrorists; those who resist the creeping culture of decadence harbor only hatred and intolerance. The list, as most of you well know, could go on for far, far longer. Such pronouncements are repeated with bone-wearying regularity, slogans without substance–yet nevertheless a staple of argument for many on the left. One is left to ponder how so many people can be so passionately–even religiously–convicted of that which is so easily disproved, continuing to use such false premises on a repeated basis until they become de facto truth.

On observing those who maintain such positions, several things become evident: first, as a group, such folks are indeed a glum lot. They seem to spent an inordinate amount of time fretting about how terrible the world is (thanks to Amerikkka), how awful and hateful conservatives and Republicans are, how evil their own country and its leaders are, and how hate-filled are all who do not see the world through their peculiar lenses. They never seem to find anything good in life, anything noteworthy or praiseworthy: their faint praise extends only to the base and depraved, and never to the exalted and noble. Their hatred for their own country is palpable, as they see in America, not a shining light, but rather the taproot of all evil in the world. Yet, they lack sufficient courage of convictions to find a national home more suitable to their beliefs, entrapped by the very prosperity, freedom, safety, and ease of life which they often deny or decry. During Vietnam, conscientious draft resisters put their money where their mouth is, and with gonadal fortitude moved to Canada; today’s valiant heroes “speak truth to power” from the spoiled decadence of lavish homes or ski chalets in Aspen. Enormous energy goes toward rationalizing and justifying the behavior of truly heinous regimes–Castro, Saddam Hussein, and the violent fascists of radical Islam–and none celebrating those who sacrificed and died to protect their right to freely voice such insanity, and to prosper free of such oppressive tyranny.

From this observation arises another conclusion: those on the left are far more tribal than national. Their allegiance and loyalty is no longer to country–working for and hoping for more national unity, peace, and progress–but rather to their particular interest group, whose narrow agenda dominates their worldview and becomes the totality of their focus. They are not Americans who seek to improve the country’s environment, but “environmental activists” who view all who differ on means and priorities as greedy polluters and evil capitalists. They are not Americans who genuinely seek, by personal effort and compromise, to improve the lot of the poor and underprivileged, but who prefer instead to exploit the poor as political pawns, demagoguing those who seek the same goals by economically rational means. They are not Americans who seek racial healing and cultural unity, but rather to use race as a lever to power, and charge “racism” freely and liberally–all the while being viciously racist against non-whites who dare to leave the liberal plantation. To be on the left is to be gay, lesbian, or transgendered; pro-choice or feminist; environmental activist or animal-rights warrior; anti-globalism anarchist or antiwar protester–but never a member of a unified national community striving through compromise and cooperation to address core issues of discrimination, tolerance, economic or environmental progress, national security. The tribe comes first: their personal grievance their only allegiance; the nation–if considered in any positive light at all–is nothing more than a alliance of tribes, bound together by collective victimization, whose goals are to seek sufficient power to coerce their intellectual and moral inferiors into submitting to their dictates. Such is the natural history and inevitable outcome of multiculturalism, which seeks to divide and conquer rather than unite and restore.

To watch the postmodern left is to observe projection in action: scream “Racist!” at conservative whites while ridiculing and demeaning conservative blacks; physically assault counter-protesters at “peace” rallies; preach “tolerance” and “diversity” while telling those with whom you disagree to move to Nebraska; decry the Christian Right for “ramming their values down your throat,” all the while force-feeding your own values to those who attend the schools you control or listen to the media you run; holler about “censorship” and “First Amendment rights” when criticized, while silencing those not satisfying your stifling PC speech codes. You can rest assured, if a progressive is accusing you of some heinous act, they are exhibiting that self-same flaw in far greater measure somewhere else, against someone else.

The man who is my best friend–my wife excepted–is politically quite liberal. He is a teacher, and a regional representative for the teacher’s union. We disagree on far fewer fundamentals than you might imagine. When we discuss issues social and political, we air our differences–but surprisingly often agree on core principles, differing mostly on the means to implement them. Our friendship and commonality trumps our politics–we are a microcosm of true community, true nationality, true unity. Our unity is not tribal–the weak bonds of shared lust for power–but transcendent, based on the values we share and the primacy of our relationship, which endures despite our differences. The postmodern left loves the pornography of ideas: not the deep, transformational passion for beauty, and character, and worthy cause, sacrificing self for the best of the beloved, but rather ideas as harlots, useful to satisfy their lust for power and control, lascivious but cheap, discarded like yesterday’s condom when their utility passes and another conquest looms.

The left is hardly alone in such postmodern cynicism–there is plenty to go around on the right as well, the product of passion for power and utilitarian secularism. And not all on the left fit this stark description–but if you look around you will find suitable subjects faster than a Starbucks in Seattle–on TV screens, in college lecture halls, at protest marches, on the front page of your local news rag. Their volume is loud, their voices shrill and without timbre, hoping by outward intensity to hide the vacuity of their inner substance. Like Dr. Faustus they have sold their souls for the might and magic of the moment, and as their power weakens their fear and hatred multiplies–the inevitable consequence of ditching principles for power, character for control.

Classic liberalism fought broad battles with lasting impact, propelled by noble principle: women’s suffrage, the right to unionize, civil rights, federal health and retirement benefits for seniors and the poor. While some of these visions have subsequently proven misguided or ill-conceived due to government hubris or the hard light of social reality, they arose nevertheless out of sincere desire to bring about a more just, equal, and compassionate country. The postmodern liberal has ditched the principles while flying the pennants, perverting past triumphs into petulant tirades. Their battles are small, their motives self-serving, their philosophy nihilism, their priority power.

Welcome to their world–where diversity is division, tolerance tyranny. The merchants of multiculturalism have a vision for you. It’s yours for the taking–if only you’ll see things their way.

UPDATE: Trying to figure out the problem with comments on this post (they seem to work on other posts). Thanks for your patience.

UPDATE 2: No luck figuring this out so far–all my other posts allow comments without a problem (I suspect my ISP web server doesn’t like the “P” word in the title or text). Anyway, if you want to leave a comment, go here. As always, keep it civil–I have an itchy trigger finger for trolls. Comments are off on this post to avoid the error.

Head of the Snake

If you read nothing else this weekend, you should read Michael J. Totten’s Head of the Snake post at his excellent Middle East Journal blog. Michael is one of the growing number of independent journalists who are breaking out of the rut into which their mainstream brethren have fallen, and bringing us the kind of reporting top-notch journalism should (and used to) deliver. Michael, who has extensive time and experience in the Middle East (including Libya and an extended stay in Lebanon) is now travelling through Kurdish Iraq. He has visited the genocide museum in northeastern Iraq, which has preserved the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s brutal extermination and torture of the Kurds.

It is not an easy read, but an important one nevertheless. We live in an age where moral and cultural relativism reigns unchallenged, where Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli defense measures are treated as equivalent, where Bush = Hitler, where Ted Kennedy tells us that Sadaam’s prisons have reopened under U.S management because a few prisoners had to wear women’s underwear or be photographed naked. Though we resist it, evil must sometimes be seen face-to-face, at its very darkest: Michael shows us one of Sadaam’s prisons, in all its horror. Go, look, ponder, reflect–and never forget.

P.S. — Be sure to click his Paypal button, and contribute. Michael is doing this on his own dime, and should have your support.

Multicultural Madness

silk flowersOne of the nicer things about having a blog is the ability to rant periodically about things which are maddening, but utterly out of your control. It is healthy to have an outlet for such frustrations, and although my dog seems to understand and cares deeply when I express my concerns about troubling issues, she doesn’t seem to fully grasp some of their subtleties. Hence I turn to my readers, most of whom are quite a bit more intelligent than my dog–although there have been a few notable exceptions.

The rant of the day has to do with our fine state legislators in the great State of Washington. Their noble accomplishments in the arena of healthcare in the State of Washington have included an utter inability to satisfactorily address the state’s spiraling malpractice crisis, phenomenally high rate of uninsured, the migration of physicians out of the state because of a hostile malpractice environment and dismal Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, and a punitive approach which attempts to recover the cost of their incompetence by treating all physicians as fraudulent. Be sure–when you hear Democrats talking about how they are going to solve the healthcare crisis–to take a close look at Washington State, where they control both the governors mansion (by coup) and the State legislature. Consider it a crystal ball into what might be accomplished at the federal level.

Nevertheless, our elected officials are currently considering legislation which will utterly transform the healthcare arena in the state–for which I am immensely proud. The State legislature is currently considering, and will likely pass, a law which requires physicians to have a certain number of hours of CME training in cultural diversity. Color me impressed.

Now, not that I am a culturally insensitive fellow–by no means. Some of my best friends are Democrats, after all. And I’m sure, in the big picture, that this is simply a tiny paper cut in healthcare’s death by 1000 cuts in this state. But for some reason, this drives me nearly insane.

Current state licensure requirements in every state mandate that healthcare professionals take a certain amount of continuing medical education (CME). This requirement, though largely unnecessary for most physicians (since they generally are well-motivated to improve their skills and knowledge without state requirements), nevertheless strikes me as at a reasonable requirement for medical licensure. Increasingly, however, the state is requiring that this continuing medical education be on specific, state-mandated topics. The camel’s nose under the tent began with a requirement that a certain number of CME hours be dedicated to education in medical liability. This was part of some sort of previous liability reform, which never accomplished its main goal of reducing medical malpractice and spiraling malpractice premiums, but nevertheless left a silly requirement in state law that physicians spend time thinking about how to reduce their liability–as if this is something they do not think about every minute of every waking day. Now we must dedicate an additional number of hours learning how to be culturally sensitive–which apparently means not telling overweight patients that they are obese, dining out at ethnic restaurants, and being careful to not offend our African-American male patients like telling them that their risk of prostate cancer is higher, or that the cultural diet they prefer is killing them through high lipid intake and hypertension. Keep in mind that most physicians are busy enough that time for continuing medical education, while important, is nevertheless a relatively scarce commodity. Spending time on extraordinarily stupid topics like cultural diversity means your physician is now spending less time at a conference to better manage your diabetes, or cancer, or improve his or her surgical or diagnostic skills. Of course, the moronic social engineers in our State legislature are far more interested in feel-good measures which paint them as “tolerant” and “sensitive” to improve their chances of reelection in a state which values quotas more than quality health care.

Sigh–I’m sure I’ll conform like the rest of my sheep-like colleagues to the new requirements, and rediscover yet again what a worthless, oppressive white male worm I truly am. Let’s just hope that some day, there will still be a few of us sheep left around to take care of sick patients.

Apollyon Appears-III
The Core

Mecca at nightMy prior post, on the subject of the Islam, its history, and the relevance thereof in an age where nuclear terrorism is increasingly a possibility–if not a certainty–was one of the more difficult posts I’ve had to write in a long time. It was a difficult labor, morphing through many revisions, ended up far different than it began–and I don’t ever recall being quite as uneasy in the past when hitting the Publish button as I was this time. And I’m not entirely sure why…

There is a certain–discomfort–in challenging another man’s faith, be it religious or otherwise. Faith, after all, is an intensely personal thing–arguably one of the most powerful forces in the psyche of man. To question another’s beliefs is to challenge the believer: to paint him or her with a broad brush, slathering thick layers of ignorance and bias over their good intentions and sincere convictions. It implies, in many ways, a superiority: that your faith–or lack of faith–is a finer, more noble, more intellectually honest or morally superior way–and that you, by inference, are also morally or intellectually superior to those who espouse such beliefs. Such presumption naturally makes others bristle–especially in a postmodern age where there can be no objective truth, where my feelings are as true, and legitimate, and valid as yours, beyond all reproach, and demanding of your tolerance. For today, to feel that something is true, and right, and good, is to know it is thus–an unassailable fact.

In daily life, however, we live with such emotive delusions at our peril. That kindly gentleman helping your aging mother with her finances may in fact be a con artist, scamming her out of a life’s savings–no matter how strongly she feels he is honest. That passionate attraction, that illicit love, which feels so right and noble, can destroy a marriage, wreak havoc on the lives of its children–often for generations–and in the end be bitter and unsatisfying rather than blissful and fulfilling. We feel that the Islamists mean us no harm–until we see that low-flying jet roaring towards our 100th floor office window. The power of deceit and emotional self-delusion is enormous, and its presence ubiquitous–and detached from something permanent, real, true, is highly destructive and dangerous. Such magnetic poles–good and evil, light and darkness, right and wrong–live far more in the world of the unseen–in the spiritual, vertical, intangible world, rather than the horizontal, material one. It is on the anvil of such principles, morals, and ethics that feelings must be hammered, tested, and annealed, to verify their true strength and integrity.

Religion is supposed to provide clarity about such transcendent principles. Religious belief carries the implied subtext of a first cause, a universal law-giver, a source of goodness, and wisdom, and guidance to steer us through the pain, the meaninglessness, the struggles of material life in this world. It is supposed to result in a life improved, one with more meaning and purpose, a life lived better, more nobly, more beneficially through its principles both for ourselves and for those in the society around us.

Yet it takes but little reflection to realize that people who follow religious beliefs and principles, who adhere to faiths seemingly lofty in their teachings and tenets, often behave in ways as bad–or worse–that those who eschew all religious faith and teachings. It is child’s play to point to countless instances of wars and strife, both ancient and modern, brought about–or at least intensified by–religious differences and pietistic enmities. It is trivial to find instances where religious individuals live lives which fall far short of their stated moral and ethical standards, manifesting a hypocrisy quite evident to others. And so, it is no large leap for some to conclude that all religion is hypocritical, that religious faith is the source for much–if not all–of the evil in the world, and that only true secular skepticism can save us from the deluded fanatics in our midst.

Yet such easy dismissiveness–while emblematic of an age where the superficial masquerades as the profound–avoids the far harder work of discrimination needed to sift through the noise and the nuance thrown up by a postmodern culture reveling in relativism. To cut through the chaff you must look at the core: what does a religion hold as its core beliefs? Do these beliefs have historical integrity, maintaining its fundamental convictions throughout the centuries, or rather wafting and wandering from one set of beliefs to another, drifting in the shifting winds of cultural convenience and awkward revisionism? For such is the call of postmodernism: change your “truth” to conform to our culture. But if there be that which is unchanging, transcendently true in ever age and every place, then it is the truth which judges culture–not the other way around.

Such is the confusion manifested today in the world’s response to Islam. That many of its ways seem foolish, destructive, and childish at best (burning flags and embassies to protest cartoons, which most protesters have never seen), or heinous at worst (suicide bombers, beheadings, terrorism, nuclear blackmail) is patently obvious to all but the most obtuse observers. Yet there is a desire not to paint all Muslims with the ragged brush of the most extreme and violent of Islam’s members–and rightly so, as large swaths of the Muslim world neither participate in, nor endorse, such errant behavior and wanton destruction. We blame the violence on those who have “hijacked” Islam; we call for moderate Muslims to “stand up” against such perversions of their faith (which few seem to do), and “recapture” or reform Islam from within; our politicians and leaders repeatedly stating that the war on terror is not a war on Islam.

While such assertions may be politically expedient, fashionably non-judgmental, or optimistically naive in the face of obstinate realities, they must be examined in light of the core: the central tenets of Islam and their historical congruity. For we see one religion, but two different behaviors: one peaceful, one violent. Such could be said about many religions, of course–the behavior of their followers is not of necessity an accurate measure of their true nature, especially when one is selective about choosing specific instances of behavior or historical time periods. Which behavior–peaceful coexistence or belligerent conquest and conversion, with death to the infidels–best represents the core of Islam?

Although many contemporary apologists for Islam emphasize its peaceful nature and the “inner struggle” aspect of jihad, early Islamic sources tell a quite different story. After the hijra–the forced emigration of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Yathrib in 622, barely a dozen years after Mohammed received his revelation from the angel Gabriel–Mohammed created a “new order” in the city. Yathrib (later known as Medina) was a Jewish colony formed by the diaspora of those who survived the revolt against the Romans. Initially invited by the residents of Yathrib, Mohammed established what appeared at first a peaceful covenant with the tribes of the city–but which later allowed the Muslims–on a tribe-by-tribe basis–to drive out, slaughter, and confiscate the property of these Jews, often enslaving their women and children. Tribes who capitulated to Mohammed and his warriors with the promise of reprieve were subsequently slaughtered without mercy. Indeed, the wealth thus plundered provided Mohammed and his armies the resources to later conquer Mecca. This brutal conquest was viewed by Mohammed as divine vengeance on the infidels–an attitude extended soon thereafter to Christians and anyone else who refused to convert to Islam. Subsequent caliphs, from Abu Bakr, Mohammed’s successor who initiated the Great Jihad which overtook all of the Arabian peninsula, to the great expansionist wars which conquered Asia Minor and much of southern Europe until finally stopped by Europe’s ascendence and military dominance, were all a manifestation of the central teachings and revelation of Islam. Indeed, “peaceful” Islam is the true anomaly, brought about far more by the social and technological advances of the Christianized West rather than any change in purpose or mission on the part of Islam. Islam was born under the sword, and lived by the sword: it was from the start the divine judgment on the infidel, executed by the hand of man.

It is this very core which persists today, unchanged and unchangeable. If Mohammed is the Prophet and the Apostle of God, and the Quran Allah’s inspired and unchangeable word thus revealed, then the manifestation of this revelation was evident from the religion’s earliest days: conversion by coercion, and death to those who refuse the “submission”, and its “peace” enforced at the point of the sword. For Islam to reform from within–as many wistfully hope it will–is for Islam to reject that which Allah gave to His last and greatest Prophet. Such “reform” would be as the Jew rejecting Moses as the giver of the Law from Yahweh, or the Christian to reject Jesus Christ as the Son of God: it is only those who dilute and corrupt their faith who could believe thus, thereby undermining and destroying the very essence of the faith they would thereby “reform.”

At its heart, Islam is a faith of weakness wrapped in the armor of a warrior. Its god Allah is incapable of winning victory or changing hearts except by the murder, warfare, subjugation, and coercion of his followers. Who needs such a God when man is fully capable of such deeds without Him? For to convert a man through threat of death is to fail utterly to change a man’s heart. To enforce morals through coercion is not to create moral men or righteous societies, but fearful men and tyrannical rule, strapped by rigid legalism, and fear, and the slavery of hatred which crushes rather than renews the spirit of man.

Such are those who now seek access to modern weapons which can kill millions. That such an act will not usher in the kingdom of Allah, but rather a living hell on earth, is something about which we can no longer afford to be deluded. At the core of our peril is a religious zealotry which seeks–with horrifying weapons it could not develop on its own–to kill or subjugate all who will not convert. The postmodern secular mind cannot and does not grasp the strength such conviction, though delusional, can foment–it wants to coopt Islam into its euphoric pipe dream of peace and tolerance. To resist and destroy such an enemy requires not nuance, nor negotiation, nor appeasement, nor the painless fantasies of a postmodern culture with neither heart nor soul, but those assets now increasingly rare in the pampered and stupefied West: courage, clarity, endurance, character. May there be enough such men to stand in the gap.