Politics & Culture
Our Gnostic Masters
The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything but his reason.
— G.K. Chesterton —
We have become a nation of experts.
They are everywhere: on TV, advising us about raising our children or improving our sex life; in magazines and newspapers, lending a measure of weight to opinion pieces disguised as news; in business, promising to improve productivity and bolster profits through higher productivity, or slicker marketing, or yet another reorganization or “team-building” project. They are ubiquitous in government and politics, lending credence to the implausible and certainty to the unpredictable. Armed with statistics, and studies, and the ethereal proclamations of other unnamed experts like unto themselves, they saturate our psyche with innumerable “facts” and figures, that we may live perfect lives in an imperfect world. The chaos which swirls around us need not engender fear and hopelessness — there will always be an expert to hold your hand, lest you become lost and wander from life’s perfect path.
Intimidated by their credentials and self-assured certainty, we slowly relinquish the uneasy feeling that their advice and conclusions invariably run counter to our experience, and common sense, and the simple wisdom of life acquired through parents and parish, logic and lore. Theirs is a relentless battering of our natural defenses, made ever more potent by lives lived without margin, frantically running to and fro, pursuing the very goals our experts have set forth, while quietly dying to the insight gained by simplicity and satisfaction with life’s precious but fragile treasures. Their strident advocacy drowns out the the quiet wisdom whispered to the soul in contemplation and prayer, found only in reflection and the fertile soil of rich relationships.
The fecklessness of our experts is often utterly dispensable, if annoying, as our guilded guides waffle from truth to contradictory truth: “Take estrogen!” “Don’t take estrogen!” “All fats are bad!” “These fats are good!” “Sun causes cancer!” “Sun prevents cancer!” What is true today will be foolishness tomorrow — and nary a hint of humility will be heard from those who hustled us mere months before.
As our increasingly secular and superficial culture abandons the transcendent truths of faith and the tested wisdom of tradition, we search desperately for a lodestone upon which to ground our lives, and so trade trust and belief in transcendent and transformational absolutes for fear and the desperate desire to control the world which has become our enemy. We frantically cling to every proffered proof, no matter how foolish or feckless, seeking something upon which to ground and anchor our lives. As these sands shift dangerously beneath our feet, we lurch and stumble from fragile branch to broken rail, as we stagger along a path which leads ever downward.
Yet the allure of the experts can prove far more destructive than mere personal angst in a turbulent, fast-moving world: how many listened to the professionals who told us we could not lose in real estate? Leverage to the max, it can only go up! The consequences across the economy have been devastating — except for those who sold us this sage advice. These “experts” understood the game far better than the market, and walked away unscathed and wealthy, leaving only our wreckage in their wake.
Our dependence on the guidance of scientists, economists, educators, and technocrats proves especially toxic when their expertise becomes wedded to money and political influence. Under the guise of shielding us from the complexity of their disciplines, they evolve into closed guilds, guardians of a secret knowledge which we, in our harrowed and hectic lives, have no time and little interest in understanding. As our educational system — itself run by a closed guild — produces generations of students tutored in woman’s studies, postmodern deconstructionism, and the evils of the West, yet ignorant of logic, philosophy, and the rigors of the hard sciences, the problem is compounded. We increasingly are left with little recourse but to trust those who guard and disperse the hidden knowledge we no longer comprehend. Our gnostic masters dispense their wisdom; ours is but to nod, and obey.
Nowhere can this process better be seen than the unfolding drama surrounding the East Anglia email scandal. Centered on one of the three major centers for climate research and data in the world, the hacked emails and software code have ripped open the veil to show us the inner sanctum of science utterly corrupted and politicized. At issue is anthropogenic global warming (AGW) — the theory that recent warming trends in global temperatures are caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide from human activity, fostered by industrialization. It has long been a theory which struggled to pass the sniff test, placing undo weight on a trivial component of so-called greenhouse gases, while ignoring the enormous (and obvious) impact of solar activity, water vapor, and cloud cover. Yet for years we have been told — in increasing shrill and strident tones — that this theory is “settled science,” and there is an imminent crisis at hand.
It has been fascinating to watch this ball of yarn unravel. In what may prove to be the greatest hoax mankind has ever witnessed — most certainly the one with almost unimaginable financial impact globally — we are watching the “settled science” of AGW disintegrate. We read how data was manipulated to hide declining global temperatures and make them appear to be rising sharply (“Mikes nature trick“). The peer review process made sure no contrary or skeptical opinions were published, and efforts were made to delegitimize journals which published such articles. Proxy data such as tree-rings were cherry-picked to ensure that the data conformed to the AGW philosophy. FOIA requests for data were met with stonewalling and destruction of raw data. The homogenization of temperature station data — making adjustments to the temperatures to reflect changes in the surrounding environment, such as urbanization — showed shows striking and arbitrary adjustments to demonstrate a sharp rise in temperatures when no such changes existed in the raw data. Other major climate research centers are similarly stonewalling raw data requests. The data problems just scratch the surface; the software used to generate reports and alarmist graphs was incompetently written by amateur programmers — and could not even reproduce the graphs from the original data without massive software hacks and fudge factors — by the programmer’s own admission.
The response of climate scientists to these devastating revelations? Denial and attack. The response of the UN Climate gurus and American and Western policy makers? Denial and attack. The response of the media to this massive global meltdown of AGW “settled science? Silence.
Whatever the role of human activity in global warning, one thing is abundantly evident: the current “science” of AGW is not really science at all, but more closely resembles a pernicious, cultic religion. Its priesthood holds the secret knowledge about “climate change,” and we the fools who question or challenge them engender naught but condemnation, ridicule, hatred and disdain. For the priesthood and the true believers who bow to them, the payoff for guarding their secrets are huge: for our scientist priests, millions in research grants, often at taxpayer expense; for the evangelists (Al Gore comes to mind), the ability to engender hysteria with wild, apocalyptic climate claims while raking in millions on carbon trading and investments in “green” technology; for the politicians, the opportunity to further extend the control and power of government into every aspect of its citizens lives while pocketing huge political contributions from environmental groups and green industries.
We have been lectured endlessly by our postmodern mentors that religion is naught but ignorance and superstition, while scientific “facts” are Truth. But “knowledge is power,” as the saying goes — especially when the knowledge can be hidden behind a veil of secrecy, manipulated at will to conform to unchallengeable presuppositions and philosophies, then relentlessly drilled into our collective consciences through compliant and complicit channels of media, education, and politics.
The climate scientists are hardly alone in such gnostic gambits; evolutionary biology — whose “scientists” seem to spend most of their efforts proving that God doesn’t exist rather than demonstrating that their tattered and threadbare theories of evolution have an actual basis in reproducible science and genetics, and a demonstrable and reliable predictive value (which all solid science must have) beyond the the pure speculation and projection that comprises most evolutionary science. Think I’m being a crazy fundamentalist creationist? Try, as a scientist, to demand that evolutionists satisfactorily answer any host of devastating challenges to their theories: the irreducible complexity of biological subsystems such as the eye, the cellular mitochondria and intracellular protein factories; the entropy problem (complex systems tend naturally to disorder and chaos, not more complexity); the Cambrian explosion; the impossibly long odds that all physical constants stood at precisely the correct values at the instant of the Big Bang; the enormous problem of free will, higher intellect, and purpose in the human animal which has no precursors in lesser beasts. Challenge these — even with understated, respectful, and serious questions — and watch how quickly the ad hominem attacks begin, how quickly you will be excluded from “peer reviewed” literature, ridiculed and ostracized, and labeled as an ignorant creationist fundamentalist, an enemy of science — or worse.
In our repudiation of a world based on absolutes and transcendency, our free fall into secularization has ironically left us clinging to science as our sole absolute, our foundation in a world which no longer makes sense, in which there are no true absolutes. Yet science cannot bear such weight alone, detached as it has become from notions of absolute truth and the true nature of the creation that is man and his universe. It has become instead a tool of power, and manipulation, and deception. The ship of knowledge no longer has an anchor, and drifts aimlessly toward the rocks of self-righteous deception and the shoals of arrogance.
G.K. Chesterton, writing nearly a century ago, mused that “this is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities.” What was true then is ever more true today, as we relinquish our own convictions and the truths which come by faith and tradition for the perilous tyranny of rule by experts. True freedom requires absolute truth, with its liberating transparency and the humility of knowing we are not gods. Science detached from absolutes will not bring progress but peril, not truth but tyranny. In our quest for the Utopia which technology enticingly promises, to forget our foundational truths is to invite disaster and slavery.
Sadly, we are already well on our way.
Dredging Bottom at The Atlantic
Many of us have been struggling to understand the nature of our current economic meltdown. Was it greedy bankers, who made unscrupulous loans while passing the risks on to others? High-rolling hedge fund managers who resold the risky bundled securities and reaped millions? Politicians and political activists who pressured banks and lending organizations to make risky loans to minorities and low-income customers or be castigated as racists and bigots? Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the FHA?
Let the confusion end: The Atlantic has hit the news stands with a breaking revelation: It’s the Christians! To wit: Did Christianity Cause the Crash?
… recently, critics have begun to argue that the prosperity gospel, echoed in churches across the country, might have played a part in the economic collapse. In 2008, in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Jonathan Walton, a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside, warned:
Narratives of how “God blessed me with my first house despite my credit” were common â€¦ Sermons declaring “as your season of overflow” supplanted messages of economic sobriety and disinterested sacrifice. Yet as folks were testifying about “God can do”, little attention was paid to a predatory subprime-mortgage industry, relaxed credit standards, or the dangers of using one’s home equity as an ATM.
In 2004, Walton was researching a book about black televangelists. “I would hear consistent testimonies about how ‘once I was renting and now God let me own my own home’, or ‘I was afraid of the loan officer, but God directed him to ignore my bad credit and blessed me with my first home’, he says. “This trope was so common in these churches that I just became immune to it. Only later did I connect it to this disaster.”
Whew! That was easy! Who knew? But is it really that simple? What are the facts on which this startling conclusion is based?
…Kate Bowler found that most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona –all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis.
Makes sense: these were rapidly growing areas of the country; with rapid growth and cheap credit, lots of homes were getting sold. And lots of new churches and churchgoers would be expected. So, these Sun Belt areas grew quickly, had a lot of new churches (some of which were the “prosperity” variety) and ended up with a lot of foreclosures. But surely there has to be more evidence than that…
Nationally, the prosperity gospel has spread exponentially among African American and Latino congregations. This is also the other distinct pattern of foreclosures. “Hyper-segregated” urban communities were the worst off, says Halperin. Reliable data on foreclosures by race are not publicly available, but mortgages are tracked by both race and loan type, and subprime loans have tended to correspond to foreclosures. During the boom, roughly 40 percent of all loans going to Latinos nationwide were subprime loans; Latinos and African Americans were 28 percent and 37 percent more likely, respectively, to receive a higher-rate subprime loan than whites.
So, a lot of foreclosures occurred in the Hispanic and black communities — and the prosperity gospel was increasingly popular among these groups as well. Pretty damning, I’d have to say. Pretty much nails it down, don’t ya think?
Seriously, there’s really not much more to the “evidence” in this article than that. Sure, they mention that some of the banks were marketing to prosperity Gospel churches, and some pastors were a bit cozy with the banks as well, and seemed to be encouraging debt. But really, that’s about it. Perhaps some numbers would be nice: how many of these churches’ members actually ended up foreclosed or financially destitute? What percentage of foreclosed homes were purchased by these church members? If you’re going to make the claim that the prosperity churches are a major factor in the housing meltdown, wouldn’t some hard facts and numbers be, you know, reasonable to provide?
Oh, and here’s a little mental exercise for you: imagine their cover blaring forth: “Did African-Americans and Hispanics Cause the Crisis?”
Sigh. From a once-great magazine to garbage journalism, chasing Newsweek to the bottom of the literary barrel. What drivel. This is their cover story? Jeez.
Where to begin? The prosperity Gospel churches and their televangelists have always been favorite targets of the mainstream media and pundits who want to get a handle on “Christians” and what they think. They are easy targets because they have such high media visibility, and their preachers often have an ostentatious lifestyle which almost begs the accusation of greed and hypocrisy. And sometimes, as happened with Jim and Tammy Baker and Jimmy Swaggert, they hit pay dirt.
What seems to go unnoticed is the the “health and wealth” churches, although culturally highly visible, are very much a fringe movement in Christianity, bordering on cultic at times, and are regarded by most mainstream evangelical and Catholic theologians and scholars as being heterodox at best, if not outright heretical — the antithesis of the core Christian doctrines about concern for the poor, the spiritual benefits of suffering, the dangers and bondage of debt, excessive materialism, and an unhealthy focus on wealth. They are widely ridiculed and little respected among most Christians in my experience, and I suspect their stated numbers of followers is inflated more than Obama’s “jobs created or saved” stats.
True, there will always be an appeal for a message that promises you wealth in the now and joy in the hereafter, and so it is no surprise that their congregations are often large. But neither is the teaching of these prosperity preachers solely devoted to wealth acquisition; there is a strong emphasis by most on morally upright living, self-discipline and spiritual development, and they often have ministries to the divorced, victims of domestic abuse, the homeless, and drug and alcohol recovery. Not everyone in the pew on Sunday is looking to cash in on God.
No, the real motivation behind this article has nothing at all to do with any serious attempt at understanding the housing crisis and its causes; it is a gratuitous slap at conservative Christians, and the nefarious politicians and preachers who supposedly exploit them:
Few of Sarah Palin’s religious compatriots were shocked by her messy family life, because they’ve grown used to the paradoxes; some of the most socially conservative evangelical churches also have extremely high rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births, and divorce.
They just can’t help themselves, can they? What does Sarah Palin have to do with the housing crisis? And precisely what are these “extremely high rates of teenage pregnancies”, etc., etc.? Facts and hard numbers don’t matter when your proffering a political and religious hit piece. Or this:
There is the kind of hope that President Obama talks about, and that Clinton did before him: steady, uplifting, assured. And there is [Pastor] Garay’s kind of hope, which perhaps for many people better reflects the reality of their lives. Garay’s is a faith that, for all its seeming confidence, hints at desperation, at circumstances gone so far wrong that they can only be made right by a sudden, unexpected jackpot
The real “desperation” comes not from sincere-if-misguided congregants of some prosperity gospel churches, but rather from a dying journalism industry, which having lost all objectivity and the respect of their readers, have become naught but petulant, pathetic harpies hoping to score a journalistic jackpot at the expense of religious conservatives.
It’s not working, fellas — nobody’s listening to you or reading you anymore.
Perhaps the money we gullible Christians save by canceling our subscriptions to your sad rag can go towards a bigger home someday.
Speaking Truth to Power
Bishop Thomas Tobin opens a can of whoop-ass on Congressman Patrick Kennedy, on his “I’m pro-choice and a good Catholic, too” shtick:
“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. …
There’s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”
But let’s get down to a more practical question; let’s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?
Well, in simple terms … being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.
Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?
In your letter you say that you “embrace your faith.” Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?
Bravo. Look, if you’re pro-choice, fine. But spare us the hypocrisy of claiming to be a “faithful Catholic” and pro-abortion at the same time. That dog won’t hunt, and it’s long past time our vaunted political leadership got called on it.
The ethics of euthanasia, which as an issue generally stays just barely on our radar screens, given the host of contentious social issues taking up our political and cultural bandwidth, nevertheless may ultimately prove to be an enormous dilemma, with profound impact on both our lives as a society and as individuals. While the issue has only occasionally nosed into the political limelight–usually associated with some initiative regarding physician-assisted suicide–the underlying currents which keep this matter very much alive are powerful and unlikely to be resolved easily or painlessly.
There is broad appeal for the idea of euthanasia. It seems to fit perfectly into our Western democratic principles of the autonomy of the individual, rights and freedom, and the desire to control our own destinies. It seems as well an ideal solution to an out-of-control health care system, where technology and advances in life-sustaining capabilities seem to have taken on a life of their own, driving health care costs to extraordinary levels in the final years of our life, and seemingly removing much of the dignity we believe should be the inherent right of the dying. Patient’s families watch helplessly as their loved ones appear to be strung along in their dying days, tubes and wires exiting from every orifice, a relentless train of unknown physicians and ever-changing nurses breezing in and out of their rooms to tweak this medication or that machine. We all wish for something different for ourselves as well as our loved ones, but seem to be incapable of bringing that vision to fruition.
Euthanasia offers what appears to be an ideal solution to many of these difficulties. We love the idea that the individual may choose the time and place of their own demise; we see an easy and painless exit to prolonged suffering; we visualize a measure of mastery returning to a situation where are all seems out of control; we see a solution to pointless expenditures of vast sums of money on patients with little or no hope of recovery. It is for these reasons that initiatives to legalize this process are commonly called “death with dignity” or some similar euphemism reflecting these positive aspects–and when put forward, often find as a result a substantial degree of public approval.
This appeal grows ever stronger as our culture increasingly emphasizes personal autonomy and de-emphasizes social responsibility. We are, after all, the captains of our own ship, are we not? A culture which believes that individual behavior should be virtually without limit as long as “no one is harmed” can see little or no rational reason why such individual autonomy should not be extended to end-of-life decisions.
The reality, unfortunately, is that “no one is harmed” is a uniquely inadequate standard for human behavior, and our autonomy is far less than we would like to believe. It assumes that human behavior occurs in a vacuum. Thus we hear that sexual relations between consenting adults are entirely reasonable if “no one is harmed”–a standard commonly applied to relationships outside of marriage, for example, which often end up having a profound and destructive effect both on the spouse–and particularly on the children. “No one is harmed” serves as mere justification for autonomous behavior while denying or minimizing the inevitable adverse consequences of this behavior. When Joe has an affair with Susie at the office, and ends up in divorce court as a result, there can be little question that many are harmed: Joe’s children, not the least; his wife; perhaps the husband and children of the woman with whom he has had an affair. Yet in the heat of passion, “no one is harmed” is self-evident–believed even if false. And to mention these obvious ramifications of a supposedly “harmless” behavior is to be “judgmental” and therefore must be assiduously avoided.
But the consequences are real, and their ripple effect throughout society is profound: to cite one simple example, children from broken homes are far more prone to become involved in gangs or crime, to be abused sexually or physically; to initiate early sexual activity and become unwed mothers; to under-perform academically, and to have greater difficulty with relationships as teenagers and adults. These effects–particularly when magnified on a society-wide scale–have effects vastly broader than the personal lives of those who have made such autonomous choices.
Similarly, an argument is often used by libertarians (and others) for drug legalization using this same hold-harmless rationale. After all, who could argue with personal drug use in the privacy of your home, since “no one is harmed?” No one is harmed, of course–unless the residual, unrecognized effects of your drug use affects your reflexes while driving the next day, resulting in an accident; or impairs your judgment at work, costing your employer money or resulting in a workplace injury; or when, in the psychotic paranoia of PCP use, you decide your neighbor is trying to kill you, and beat him senseless with a baseball bat; or when the drug itself, in those so physiologically prone, leads to addictive behavior which proves destructive not merely to the individual, but to family, fellow workers, and society as a whole. Burning up every spare dollar of a family’s finances to support a drug habit, and stealing to support it–surely not an unusual scenario–can hardly be qualified as “no one is harmed.” To claim that there is no societal impact from such individual autonomous behavior is profoundly naive, and represents nothing more than wishful thinking.
But what about euthanasia? Surely it is reasonable to end the life of someone who is suffering unbearably, who is beyond the help of medical science, and who has no hope of survival, is it not? This, of course, is the scenario most commonly presented when legalization of euthanasia is promoted. It should be stated without equivocation that such cases do indeed exist, and represent perhaps the most difficult circumstances in which to argue against euthanasia. But it should also be said that such cases are becoming far less common as pain management techniques and physician training in terminal care improve: in my experience, and in the experience of many of my peers who care for the terminally ill, is a rare occurrence indeed that a patient cannot have even severe, intractable pain managed successfully.
But the core arguments used in support of euthanasia in such dire circumstances are easily extended to other terminal situations–or situations not so very terminal at all. Intractable terminal pain merges seamlessly into hopeless prognosis, regardless of time frame; then flows without interruption to chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis or severe disabilities. Once the principle of death as compassion becomes the guiding rule, the Grim Reaper will undergo metamorphosis into an angel of light, ready to serve one and all who suffer needlessly.
To mitigate the risk of this so-called “slippery slope,” it has been suggested that safeguards against such mission creep be crafted. Such measures may invoke mandatory second opinions, waiting periods, or committee review, prior to approval of an act of euthanasia. That such measures are ultimately doomed to fail is self-evident: in effect, they impose a roadblock between patient autonomy and relief of suffering and its amelioration through euthanasia–and thus run counter to the core principle sustaining it. It is not difficult to foresee that such roadblocks will quickly be made less “burdensome,” if not rendered utterly impotent, by relentless pressures to prevent patients from needlessly suffering, regardless of their underlying disease.
Perhaps more importantly, the process of assessing and approving an act of euthanasia through second opinions or committee review is not some ethically neutral decision, such as vetting budget items or inventory purchases. Those who serve in such advisory or regulatory capacity must by necessity be open to–indeed supportive of–the idea of euthanasia, lest all reviewed cases be denied. As demand for euthanasia increases, such approvals will become rubber-stamped formalities, existing solely to provide defensive cover for unrestricted assisted termination.
But such arguments against euthanasia are in essence process-oriented, and miss the much larger picture of the effects of individual euthanasia on our collective attitudes about life and death, and our societal constitution. There can be little question that the practice of actively terminating ill or dying patients will have a profound effect on the physicians who engage in this practice. The first few patients euthanized may be done in a spirit of compassion and mercy–but repetition deadens the soul and habitualizes the process. This is routinely seen in many areas of health care training and practice: the first cut of a novice surgeon is frightening and intimidating; the thousandth incision occurs with nary a thought. One’s first autopsy is ghoulish; the hundredth merely objective fact-finding. Euthanasia, practiced regularly, becomes simply another tool: this can be readily seen in the statistics from the Netherlands, where even 15 years ago, a startling percentage of reported cases of euthanasia by physicians took place without explicit patient request — reflecting far more a utilitarian attitude toward euthanasia than some diabolical conspiracy to terminate the terminal. The detached clinicians, utterly desensitized to the act of taking a life, now utilize it as they would the initiation of parenteral nutrition or the decision to remove a diseased gallbladder.
Such false assumptions about the objective impartiality of the decision-making process leading to euthanasia can be seen as well when looking at the family dynamics of this process. We are presented with the picture of the sad but compassionate family, quietly and peacefully coming to the conclusion that Dad–with his full assent, of course–should mercifully have his suffering ended with a simple, painless injection. Lost in this idyllic fantasy is the reality of life in families. Anyone who has gone through the death of a parent and the settlement of an estate knows first-hand the fault lines such a life crisis can expose: old grievances brought back to life, old hot buttons pushed, greed and avarice bubbling to the surface like a toxic witch’s brew. Does brother John want Dad’s dignified death so he can cop the insurance cash for his gambling habit? Does sister Sue, who hates her father and hasn’t spoken to him in years, now suddenly want his prompt demise out of genuine concern for his comfort and dignity? Are the children–watching the estate get decimated by the costs of terminal care–really being objective about their desire for Mom’s peaceful assisted death? And does Mom, who knows she’s dying, feel pressured to ask for the needle so she won’t be a burden to her children? Bitter divisions will arise in families who favor euthanasia and those who oppose it–whether because of their relationship, good or bad, with the parent, or their moral and ethical convictions. To make euthanasia the solution to difficult problems of death and dying, as suggested by its proponents, will instead require the death of our spirits: a societal hardness of heart whose effects will reach far and wide throughout areas of life and culture far beyond the dying process. Mercy killing will kill our mercy; death with dignity so delivered will leave us not dignified but degraded.
The driving force behind legalized euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is patient autonomy: the desire to maintain control over the dying process, by which, is it hoped, we will maintain our personal dignity. But the end result of legalized euthanasia will instead, in many cases, be loss of patient autonomy. When legalized, medical termination of life will by necessity be instituted with a host of safeguards to prevent its abuse. Such safeguards will include restricting the procedure to those in dire straights: intolerable suffering, a few months to live, and the like. Inherent in these safeguards are the seeds of the death of patient autonomy: such determinations must rely on medical judgments–and therefore will ultimately lie in the hands of physicians rather than patients. It will be physicians who will decide what is intractable pain; it is physicians who will judge how long you have to live; it is physicians who will have the last say on whether your life has hope or is no longer worth living. Such decisions may well be contested–but the legal system will defer to the judgment of the health care profession in these matters. Patient autonomy will quickly become physician autocracy. For those who request euthanasia, it will be easy; for those who do not wish it, but fit the criteria, it will also be far too easy.
This has been the legal and practical evolution of euthanasia in the Netherlands. The legal progression from patient autonomy with safeguards to virtual absence of restrictions on euthanasia is detailed in a superb paper from Brooklyn Law School’s Journal of International Law (available here as a PDF), in which this evolution is detailed:
Soon after the Alkmaar case was decided, the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) published a set of due care guidelines that purported to define the circumstances in which Dutch physicians could ethically perform euthanasia.
The KNMG guidelines stated that, in order for a physician to respond to a euthanasia request with due care,
- The euthanasia request must be voluntary, persistent, and well-considered.
- The patient must suffer from intolerable and incurable pain and a discernible, terminal illness.
Thereafter, Dutch courts adopted the KNMG guidelines as the legal prerequisites of due care in a series of cases between 1985 and 2001. Despite the integration of the KNMG’s due care provisions, courts remained confused regarding what clinical circumstances satisfied the requirements of due care. In 1985, a court acquitted an anesthesiologist who provided euthanasia to a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis. The court thereby eliminated the due care requirement that a patient must suffer from a terminal illness. By 1986, courts decided that a patient need not suffer from physical pain; mental anguish would also satisfy the intolerable pain due care requirement.
Similarly, all reported prosecutions of euthanasia prior to 1993 involved patients who suffered from either physical or mental pain. Then, in the 1993 Assen case, a district court acquitted a physician who had performed active voluntary euthanasia on an otherwise healthy, forty-three year old woman. The patient did not suffer from any diagnosable physical or mental condition, but had recently lost both of her sons and had divorced her husband. With the Assen case, Dutch courts seemed to abandon the requirement that a patient suffer from intolerable pain or, for that matter, from any discernible medical condition as a pre-condition for the noodtoestand [necessity] defense.
The requisite ambiguity of all such safeguards will invariably result in their legal dilution to the point of meaninglessness–a process which increasingly facilitates the expansion not only of voluntary, but also involuntary euthanasia. This is inevitable when one transitions from a fixed, inviolable principle (it is always wrong for a physician to kill a patient) to a relative standard (you may end their lives under certain circumstances). The “certain circumstances” are negotiable, and once established, will evolve, slowly but inexorably, toward little or no standards at all. When the goalposts are movable, we should not be surprised when they actually get moved.
Another effect rarely considered by those favoring euthanasia is its effect on the relationship between patients and their physicians. The physician-patient relationship at its core depends upon trust: the confidence which a patient has that their physician always has their best interests at heart. This is a critical component of the medical covenant–which may involve inflicting pain and hardship (such as surgery, chemotherapy, or other painful or risky treatments) on the patient for their ultimate benefit. Underlying this trust is the patient’s confidence that the physician will never deliberately do them harm.
Once physicians are empowered to terminate life, this trust will invariably erode. This erosion will occur, even were involuntary euthanasia never to occur–a highly unlikely scenario, given the Dutch experience. It will erode because the patient will now understand that the physician has been given the power to cause them great harm, to kill them–with the full legal and ethical sanction of the law. And the knowledge of this will engender fear: fear that the physician may abuse this power; fear that he or she may misinterpret your end-of-life wishes; fear that he may end your life for improper motives, yet justify it later as a legal and ethical act. The inevitable occurrence of involuntary euthanasia–which in an environment of legalized voluntary euthanasia will rarely if ever be prosecuted–will only augment this fear, especially among the elderly and the disabled. In the Netherlands, many seniors carry cards specifying that they do not wish to have their lives terminated–a reflection of a widespread concern that such an occurrence is not uncommon, and is feared.
Montana judge: man has right to assisted suicide
Effects on physicians:
Truth & Consequences
In the trial of Jesus, ancient texts have recorded this exchange:
Pilate replied, “You are a king then?” “You say that I am a king, and you are right,” Jesus said. “I was born for that purpose. And I came to bring truth to the world. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked.
Some questions are truly timeless.
We live in an age where the notion of truth, of absolutes which transcend the individual and society, is increasingly under assault. Ours is an age of radical individualism, wherein man alone becomes the sole arbiter of what is right or wrong, where moral relativism reigns, where postmodernism trades absolute truth for “narratives”, which vary from individual to individual, culture to culture, and age to age.
It is no small irony that ours is an age of science and technology — disciplines which depend by their very nature on the absolute, unchanging, and permanent laws of nature. Yet this same age rejects or disdains the concept of absolutes and transcendent truth. No one questions the speed of light, or the Pythagorean theorem, or the laws of gravity, or the quirky and counter-intuitive physics of subatomic particles. The postmodernist whose narrative does not accept the law of gravity will still need a sidewalk cleanup crew when he flings himself from a tall building, believing he can fly.
The difference, of course, is that the absolutes of physics and science apply to the physical world, quantifiable and tangible in greater or lesser measure, while the absolutes of ethics, morality, and religion touch on the metaphysical, the invisible, the philosophical, the theological. The materialist rejects such notions outright, as superstition, “values” (i.e., individual beliefs or preferences based on nothing more than feelings or bias), as mindless evolutionary survival skills, or the dying remnants of an age of ignorance. Absolutes are rejected because of the presuppositions of constricted materialism, the arrogance and conceits of intellectualism, the notion that if it cannot be weighed or measured it does not exist. But the deeper and more fundamental reason for the rejection of transcendent absolutes is simply this: such absolutes make moral claims upon us.
In truth, man cannot exist without transcendent absolutes, even though he denies their existence. Our language and thought are steeped in such concepts, in notions of good and evil, love and hate, free will and coercion, purpose and intentionality. We cannot think, or communicate, or be in any way relational without using the intangible, the metaphysical, the conventions, the traditions. We are by our very nature creatures who compare: we judge, and accept or reject; we prefer or disapprove; we love or hate, criticize or applaud. All such choices involve the will as a free agent — and free will is meaningless if it is not used in the context of an ethereal yet unchanging standard against which a choice is measured. We say a rose smells beautiful and a rotten egg rotten, because we judge those smells against an invisible standard which determines one to be pleasant and the other offensive. We cannot measure the love of a child, or or weigh the sorrow of a death, or calculate the anger at an injustice or the beauty of a Bach concerto; yet such reactions, and the standards by which we recognize and judge such intangibles, are every bit as real as the photons and protons, the law of gravity or the principles of physics. Even the most hardened Darwinist, atheistic to the core, by necessity must speak the language of purpose and transcendence and choice, as Mother Nature “selects”, and “chooses”, and “intends”, and “prefers” this genetic trait or that survival skill. We are incapable of describing even the purported randomness, mindlessness, and purposelessness of evolutionary biology without concepts and language of intentionality, preference, good and evil.
No, the rejection of absolutes is the rejection of their claim upon our wills. To reject that absolute truth exists, to deny that standards and principles stand apart from mere constructs of human imagination, is to affirm the absolute that we are absolutely autonomous, answerable to nothing and no one, masters and gods accountable only to ourselves. To deny absolutes is to deny free will — and to deny the consequences of choices which violate the very principles we dismiss as foolish, ignorant, prejudiced, and superstitious. To deny dogma is to be dogmatic; to reject absolutes absolutely is to affirm absolutes, even if unknowingly. Transcendent absolutes define our very humanity; dogs do not have dogmas, nor are cats categorical.
G.K. Chesterton, prescient and insightful as ever in his vision of the foolishness of man in his intellectual hubris, said:
Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense . . . becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding to no form of creed and contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.
Ideas have consequences, philosophies have predicates, and the rejection of absolutes absolutely dehumanizes us, for we devolve from a species of high principles and moral light to denizens of a depravity far lower than the animals. For animals have rational restraints on behavior, brutish though it may be, while there is no end of evil for the human mind unleashed from absolutes.
Speaking of the fall of Carthage, with its materialism, wealth, and power, steeped in a religion whose worship sacrificed infants in the fires of Moloch, Chesterton says thus:
This sort of commercial mind has its own cosmic vision, and it is the vision of Carthage. It has in it the brutal blunder that was the ruin of Carthage. The Punic power fell, because there is in this materialism a mad indifference to real thought. By disbelieving in the soul, it comes to disbelieving in the mind … Carthage fell because she was faithful to her own philosophy and had followed out to its logical conclusion her own vision of the universe. Moloch had eaten her own children.
The rejection of absolutes, with the resulting moral relativism and narcissistic nihilism, is no mere intellectual folly nor faddish foolishness. It is instead a corrosive toxin, appealing in its seeming rationality and reasonableness, but pervasive and deadly for both person and polity.
If the Truth will set you free — and it most surely will — its rejection will surely enslave you. Slavery or freedom: your choice.
Courtesy of the always-excellent blog What’s Wrong With The World, we read this gem about the philosophy and worldview of our current educational system:
It seems to me that the regulative idea that we — we…liberals, we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists — most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions. This is the much like the concept which the victorious Allied armies used when they set about re-educating the citizens of occupied Germany and Japan. It is also the one which was used by American schoolteachers who had read Dewey and were concerned to get students to think ‘scientifically’ and ‘rationally’ about such matters as the origin of the species and sexual behavior (that is, to get them to read Darwin and Freud without disgust and incredulity). It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.
What is the relation of this idea to the regulative idea of reason which Putnam believes to be transcendent and which Habermas believes to be discoverable within the grammar of concepts ineliminable from our description of the making of assertions? The answer to that question depends upon how much the re-education of Nazis and fundamentalists has to do with merging interpretive horizons and how much with replacing such horizons. The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire “American liberal establishment” is engaged in a conspiracy. Had they read Habermas, these people would say that the typical communication situation in American college classrooms is no more herrschaftsfrei [domination free] than that in the Hitler Youth camps.
These parents have a point. Their argument is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students….When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank.
Putnam and Habermas can rejoin that we teachers do our best to be Socratic, to get our job of re-education, secularization, and liberalization done by conversational exchange. That is true up to a point, but what about assigning books like Black Boy, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Becoming a Man? The Racist or fundamentalist parents of our students say that in a truly democratic society the students should not be forced to read books by such people — black people, Jewish people, homosexual people. They will protest that these books are being jammed down their children’s throats. I cannot see how to reply to this charge without saying something like There are credentials for admission to our democratic society, credentials which we liberals have been making more stringent by doing our best to excommunicate racists, male chauvinists, homophobes, and the like. You have to be educated in order to be a citizen of our society, a participant in our conversation, someone with whom we can envisage merging our horizons. So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours.
I have no trouble offering this reply, since I do not claim to make the distinction between education and conversation on the basis of anything except my loyalty to a particular community, a community whose interests required re-educating the Hitler Youth in 1945 and required re-educating the bigoted students of Virginia in 1993. I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents. It seems to me that I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Sturmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause. I come from a better province.
Rarely do we get such a clear window into the thinking and motives of those who rule our educational institutions, to whom we have entrusted our children: that they may transform a society through their indoctrination into the secular, Utopian vision of their dreams. Richard Rorty, the late philosopher and postmodernist who died in 2007 (and simultaneously discovered the Truth he so long ridiculed and denied, much to his eternal detriment), epitomizes the mindset of our secular culture, which insinuates itself at every opportunity through our media, our institutions of “higher learning”, our popular culture and the entertainment industry.
This is the soul of our now-thoroughly post-Christian, postmodern culture.
Yes, this is indeed the soul of our “now-thoroughly post-Christian, postmodern culture”.
Keep in mind that the “fundamentalists” whom Rorty sought to discredit, ridicule, and reeducate are not simply knuckle-dragging, illiterate, six-day-creation bumpkins, the straw men they create to dismiss and destroy with presumptuous arrogance — but rather every Christian who believes in absolute truth, who places themself under the authority of Christ, the Church, and the Scriptures. Our enlightened masters have their secret knowledge — and the sworn duty — to coerce all “unbelievers” into discarding their “primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions.” This is Gnosticism with a fascist bent — the arrogance of superior knowledge, forcefully applied to all who resist.
This philosophy, now thoroughly inculcated in generations of students, and echoed incessantly in media, entertainment, the arts, and popular culture, have engendered a societal world view which can no longer be redeemed with reason, or persuasion, or by the religious engagement in the low compromise of “cultural relevancy.” The culture of materialism and the ideology of atheism have merged, and are now entrenched, dominant, and empowered. The Church has fiddled as Rome burned — and now finds itself engulfed in the fiery holocaust it did little to avert. It is long past time for the church to stand proudly apart, to state the truth without fear or compromise, to serve as light and salt to a very dark and increasingly dangerous and toxic society. We will be hated for it — but we are already hated: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
The challenge of the Church today is to stand apart, to be the prophet, to be, if necessary, the martyr. It is time to abandon congregations and churches which have been compromised and co-opted by this corpse of a culture — let the dead bury their dead. It is time to call church leaders and pastors to account, and rebuke or even reject them if they refuse to stand for and teach the truth of the Gospel. It is time to train our children — after we ourselves have been trained — in the core beliefs of our faith, its historical veracity and integrity, in the defense of that which is true, and unchanging, and eternal. It is time to set aside the petty differences of denominationalism and sectarianism, join hands in submission to Christ, and recognize the true enemy we face. Your enemy is not the Baptist, or Catholic, or Pentecostal church down the street; however large your differences may seem. It is not the man who makes you uncomfortable by raising his hands in church; not the woman who loves the Mass and respects the saints; not the Biblical literalist nor the contemplative mystic who sees visions and dreams dreams. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Get to know them, discerning their spirits and the passion of their hearts. Learn to love them, learn from them, serve them, respect them. Pray, worship, and study together. The faith which you proclaim is broad and deep, rich in gifts and heritage, a spectacular jewel with countless facets reflecting the unlimited brilliance of a gracious God.
The night grows darker; it is well past time to fill your lamps with oil, and light them.
A Brave New World
Newsweek has declared: We are all Socialists now.
Well, I suppose that’s now true — although it might have been useful information to disclose, oh, about six months ago. Whatever. The agenda is disclosed only after the fix is in. The bad news is, though, the situation is in reality far worse than our resigned embrace of socialism. Socialism is far more a symptom than the disease.
We are entering a brave new world.
America has come relatively late to this party. Most of the world, at least the Western world, has sailed before us into these treacherous and jealous waters, some becalmed in economic doldrums and others perished in their whirlpools of revolt against the inevitable oppression of such systems often bring. We have lived for some decades in this country, under the presumption that we are a free, liberal democracy, where personal freedom, a spirit of entrepreneurship and risk-taking, and a financial system which fostered these character traits in promoting prosperity and wealth have happily coexisted. In reality, this American narrative has been far more myth than reality for a long time now. It may well be arguable whether it has ever really existed at all. We have boasted of our independence and courage while ever more tightly holding our nanny’s hand.
Western culture and civilization, manifested in its highest and most successful form in the American experiment, was grounded in the Christianization of Europe over many centuries. This process — religious, cultural, ethical, and moral — created a fertile ground for societies which prospered culturally and economically based on their respect for the individual, their recognition of the dual nature — good and evil — of the human spirit, and a high view of men as created in the image of God and imbued therefore with a strong inner moral sense and a desire to create in freedom.
This system led to economic prosperity, cultural excellence, and the advancement of science, by basing its worldview on an enlightened reason, and by grounding its economic principles on a system of justice and personal integrity. And yet, within this very system, were contained the seeds of its own ultimate destruction — not through any inherent flaw in its underlying moral and ethical principals, but rather by intellectual advancement through science and technology, empowering not only great technological and economic advances, but also fomenting the dark hubris of arrogant human autonomy.
As Western civilization became increasingly sophisticated through exponential increases in scientific knowledge and technological advancement, there began a divergence from the very empowerment of that civilization in the individual moral compass of Christianity which not only empowered its great intellectual advances, but restrained the perverse consequences of those same technological and financial advances.
Detached from its moral grounding by its intellectual paradigms, the West has become increasingly and intractably secular. We now look to science for all answers about life; we have experts for everything; the new creation of Christianity has devolved into the evolutionary hopelessness and purposelessness of survival-of-the-fittest reductionism. We have become no more than random chance, with no purpose higher than our survival in this life, and no meaning beyond genetics or neurotransmitters or selfish genes. Morality, ethics, self-restraint are but social constructs convenient to our survival — and eminently disposable when the need arises.
The consequences of this imperceptible but profound change in worldview, centuries in the making, have brought us to our current state. We no longer trust the individual, based on the inculcation of moral and ethical values through family and cultural tradition, but instead trust no one, multiplying laws, rules, and regulations to micromanage behavior no longer restrained by the inner moral compass and now-discarded social mores. We no longer look to the individual, and family, the community, the church, to be the prime movers of support or those who fall by life’s wayside, in poverty, ill health, economic or social misfortune. We have outsourced our hearts, contracting with those most ill-suited to the task of compassion: those who by our own appointment or their own unbridled ambition have become our leaders in government.
We talk in terms of left and right, liberal and conservative, but such labels disguise and distort the true reality: we are engaged a war of world views, a war which has become increasingly lopsided in favor of the secular. We have gone from a Christian culture to a Gnostic culture, where knowledge is God, knowledge is power, and power is everything. We have now granted, by means of indifference, ignorance, and deception, the unrestrained levers of this power to our government, which was to have been our servant, but now becomes ever more our master. We have lived under the delusion that these two worlds may live together in harmony, but such fantasy has been demonstrably shown to be catastrophically false.
Those who live by certain conviction of a divine and beneficent deity, upon whose absolute principals lie the foundations of all moral behavior and societal harmony, may tolerate the corruption of secular man who rejects such notions, having as they do a clear-eyed understanding of the fallen nature of man. The secular, on the other hand, can broach no such tolerance: secularism is instead an aggressive and metastasizing malignancy which, while speaking tolerance, seeks only the extermination of that which by its very existence stands as a condemnation of their views. For to be religious, moral, ethical, and grounded in the consequential absolutes which transcend and measure the heart of men is to stand as an intolerable affront to the notion that man alone is the measure of all things.
We referred to this unbridgeable chasm as “the culture wars” — but it is far more than cultural differences and tolerably different perspectives. It is, in fact, a war on absolutes, and it is a war in which the secular by most measures are triumphing. The lost battles are legion; from the removal of old vestiges of religious practice and speech from the public square; to the relentless undermining of traditions regarding family, sexual behavior, public propriety, and respect for others in speech and behavior; to the hollow ethics which speak of honesty and integrity while reveling in bribes, extortion, and the abuse of power; to the absence of everything noble and honorable in our cultural expressions of art, music, and entertainment, the relentless assault of arrogant secularism in all its cultural and political forms has ground our fragile moral and cultural framework into dust.
We stand now at the edge of an abyss. Our technological wizardry, fueled by our moral blindness and hubris, has created a global firestorm — economic and otherwise — which threatens to consume us all. Nations are bankrupt; huge corporations and institutions owe far more than their assets; nation-states are increasingly impotent at providing core and essential services necessary for a safe, stable, and economically prosperous society. The world is going bankrupt, at the light-speed of its digital communications and global commerce.
And we stand at this precipice, in great peril, as those who have fostered this disaster now scurry about pretending to fix it. In our drunken materialism, we bought what we could not afford with money which we did not have; we promoted and elected those leaders who will tell us the same lies which we told ourselves as we catapulted blindly into our current crisis. We hope through a government of crooks and cronies to legislate a stable, fair and compassionate society, when neither we ourselves nor those whom we placed in our have any moral framework by which to establish such a just and equitable society. The criminals sit in the judge’s seat, comprise the jury, and mete out their punishment — and we wonder why our lives and situation becomes increasingly chaotic, dangerous, and violent.
It is a time at which one might hope for some wisdom among the elected; some humility at the daunting task now faced; some responsibility to look out for the common good rather than simply grasp for more power. Yet the fools we have empowered to govern us continue to whistle through the graveyard, pretending in their hubris that the dark forest path upon which they are hopelessly lost really does lead to Paradise — if we only run faster.
We lived in a profoundly unsettling and unstable time, almost apocalyptic in its potential for calamity. Our Gnostic guides assure us, in their high knowledge, that they have the answers — when in fact they do not even understand the questions. The liberty, the prosperity, the promise which was inherent in the Western culture engendered by Christianity, brought to its highest in the American experiment, is drawing to a close, its lifeblood long since drained by those who saw no evil except by those who pursued the good, who saw no answers save those their darkened minds could conceive and by which they might rule. How quickly this edifice will crumble is but pure speculation, but crumble it must. What will remain, or arise, in its stead, is as yet unknown.
We are indeed entering a brave new world.