Thursday, March 31, 2005

Lost and Found

If I can find Him with great ease, perhaps He is not my God. If I cannot hope to find him at all, is He my God? If I find him whenever I wish, have I found him? If He can find me whenever He wishes, and tells me Who He is and who I am, and if I then know that He Whom I could not find has found me: then I know He is the Lord, my God: He has touched me with the finger that made me out of nothing. Thomas Merton, from No Man is and Island

Dignity by dehydration

Terri Scaivo, Dr. Cranford and the "indignity" of the feeding tube Terri Schaivo died today. Let's hope we can learn something from this terrible story. ***** One of my more outspokenly left leaning readers, Timmy the G, has taken the testimony of the doctor for Micheal Schaivo as the final word on Terri's condition and how she should be treated. It has to be noted that these are two issues, and not one. In philosophy this is the "is/ought" problem that goes back to David Hume at least. Terri might very well have been a PVS patient; I've never denied that. My concern in this case is for due process, or getting the facts right. What to do with them is trickier, but I have a few ideas about what might be reasonable in that regard too. Reading Timmy's post, one gets the impression that he and Dr. Ronald Cranford are perilously close to thinking that diagnosis dictates the treatment, which is absolutely false. Even if Cranford is right and it is PVS, that leaves very large questions open about how we respond. It is a question over which reasonable people can disagree. One reason to confuse is and ought is to avoid that very disagreement and thereby keep the discussion in an area where your credentials will be an advantage. It allows Cranford to use his medical expertise, which no one denies, to make moral and ethical claims about her treatment, and thereby advance his views on euthanasia without being questioned. Read the interview on Timmy's site; Cranford does not like being questioned. He throws facts about with venom, as if the ethical conclusion he sees are their inevitable result. This is not science; it is scientism. The dubiousness of the logical method at work on the ethics of the case are also found in the facts. Much hangs on the character of Micheal Schaivo, a man with many conflicts of interest. Can we trust him when he says that Terri did not want to live in such dire straights, and how much weight can be given those words even if she did say them? His character also affects our judgement of Terri's diagnosis and treatment. One can imagine Micheal and Terri sitting around the television and seeing, say, Christopher Reeve on TV, and somebody says "I wouldn't want to live like that." Maybe it's Micheal and Terri nods. She is in fact busy making popcorn and barely heard what Micheal said, or what he said it about. The only witnesses are close members of Micheal's family. I know this is not the actual testimony but you take my point. How much weight should we give evidence like this? Can a discussion like this be considered reasoned and informed? Then there is the fact of Micheal's second family and potential financial interest. Furthermore, he has not been generous with the money that was awarded for Terri's care. There seems to be evidence that Terri's treatment and diagnosis were not what would be hoped for. The primary witness for Micheal Schaivo was Dr. Ronald Cranford, who does indeed have a long history of dealing with the very ill and with end of life issues. It is telling, I think, that of all the specialists he could have chose, Micheal chose Dr. Cranford, who has a history of being quick to pull the trigger on patients he decides are too ill to be dignified. In this opinion piece from 1997, Dr. Cranford advocates starving (or dehydrating as he prefers to call it) Alzheimers patients:
If people really understood the reality of this dementia, I doubt they'd find it an acceptable lifestyle. Being in a state of wakeful oblivion for five to 10 years or sometimes longer is a degrading experience. The degradation is borne not so much by the patient, who may be completely unaware of him- or herself, but by the patient's family. They must endure the agony of seeing a loved one lying there year after year, often sustained only by a feeding tube... In Europe, feeding tubes are rarely seen in nursing homes. Once a patient is so severely brain-damaged that only artificial nutrition can sustain life, many doctors and families rightly ask, "What's the point?" In many civilized countries, the question wouldn't be asked -- because placing a feeding tube in someone with end-stage dementia wouldn't even be considered.
Is Cranford really saying that it is OK to kill some people because they make other people uncomfortable? Even when there is no evidence that that would be their wish? It seems so. Cranford seems unable to imagine anyone disagreeing with him. The "what's the point" attitude Cranford reveals above may have percolated through to the diagnosis and treatment that Terri received. Writing in The National Review, Robert Johansen wrote that:
Terri's diagnosis was arrived at without the benefit of testing that most neurologists would consider standard for diagnosing PVS. One such test is MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). MRI is widely used today, even for ailments as simple as knee injuries but Terri has never had one. Michael has repeatedly refused to consent to one. The neurologists I have spoken to have reacted with shock upon learning this fact. One such neurologist is Dr. Peter Morin. He is a researcher specializing in degenerative brain diseases, and has both an M.D. and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Boston University. In the course of my conversation with Dr. Morin, he made reference to the standard use of MRI and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans to diagnose the extent of brain injuries. He seemed to assume that these had been done for Terri. I stopped him and told him that these tests have never been done for her; that Michael had refused them. There was a moment of dead silence. That's criminal, he said, and then asked, in a tone of utter incredulity: How can he continue as guardian? People are deliberating over this woman life and death and there's been no MRI or PET? He drew a reasonable conclusion: These people [Michael Schiavo, George Felos, and Judge Greer] don't want the information. Dr. Morin explained that he would feel obligated to obtain the information in these tests before making a diagnosis with life and death consequences. I told him that CT (Computer-Aided Tomography) scans had been done, and were partly the basis for the finding of PVS. The doctor retorted, Spare no expense, eh? I asked him to explain the comment; he said that a CT scan is a much less expensive test than an MRI, but it only gives you a tenth of the information an MRI does. He added, CT scan is useful only in pretty severe cases, such as trauma, and also during the few days after an anoxic (lack of oxygen) brain injury. It's useful in an emergency-room setting. But if the question is ischemic injury [brain damage caused by lack of blood/oxygen to part of the brain] you want an MRI and PET. For subsequent evaluation of brain injury, the CT is pretty useless unless there has been a massive stroke.
In the transcript of Cranford's interview on Scarborough Country that Timmy refers to, Cranford rushes right by the MRI question. He never answers it:
DANIELS: Doctor, was a CAT scan -- Doctor, your critics would ask you, was a CAT scan used? Was an MRI taken? Were any of these tests taken? CRANFORD: You don't know the answer to that? The CAT scan was done in 1996, 2002. We spent a lot of time in court showing the irreversible -- you don't have copies of those CAT scans? How can you say that? The CAT scans are out there, distributed to other people. You have got to look at the facts. The CAT scan is out there. It shows severe atrophy of the brain. The autopsy is going to show severe atrophy of the brain. And you're asking me if a CAT scan was done? How could you possibly be so stupid?
One of Cranford's earlier patients, Nancy Curzon, was euthanized even though she was able to feed from a spoon. Cranford reportedly felt that was also "treatment" that could be withdrawn. You can learn more about the very relevant Curzon case here. In that case, the courts ruled that there was not enough evidence that Curzon would have consented to the removal of her feeding tube, despite her parents' wishes. It recognized that we cannot allow people to die merely to placate interested parties. The court also, however, said that it could hear evidence on what the patient herself would have wanted. On that point I agree with justice Renquist more than the National Review's Mathew J. Frank. Applying this ruling to Schaivo, however, I think that there is insufficient proof as to what Terri would have wanted. In the absence of that high quality proof, the court should have denied Micheal's petition. It also should have ruled that third parties do not have the right to deny food and water, since they are not extraordinary medical interventions. "Substituted judgment" should be reserved for more aggressive treatments. As justice Scalia put it, in his dissent on the Curzon case: "the intelligent line does not fall between action [e.g. the gun] and inaction [the withdrawal of a feeding tube] but between those forms of inaction that consist of abstaining from 'ordinary' care and those that consist of abstaining from 'excessive' or 'heroic' measures." Terri was not dying before the tube was removed, and she did not die during her accident. She was severely handicapped, nothing more, and nothing less. None of us deserves to tell her she is too undignified to live. This is not to say that Terri, had she been able to tell us directly what she wanted, should have been forced to undergo the feeding tube. If she could clearly indicate that she refused it, then I think we ought to respect her. That would be a sad and unlikely decision, I think, but I can't imagine forcing the issue. I also doubt very much that anyone would choose dehydration, or if they did, that they would pursue it to the end. Most people would concede that point, I suspect, which makes all of the talk about Terri's passing "peacefully" and with her favourite teddy bear a macabre bit of public relations theatre for the euthanasia crowd.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Mixing it up in public

Edward Fesser, a frequent contributor at Right Reason, has a most interesting and important article at Tech Central Station entitled How to Mix Politics and Religion. Here is a taste:
Suppose... that someone did defend a view about abortion, same-sex marriage, or some other contentious matter by appealing to religious considerations. Why should this be considered unacceptable? The problem, in the view of many liberals, is that religious considerations are matters of faith, where "faith" connotes in their minds a kind of groundless commitment, a will to believe that for which there is no objective evidence. Opinions on matters of public policy, they would say, can only appropriately be arrived at via methods of argument assessable by all members of the political community, not by reference to the idiosyncratic and subjective feelings of a minority. If religious arguments were in general really like this, then I would agree with the liberal that they ought to be kept out of the public square. But in fact this liberal depiction of religion is a ludicrous caricature, and manifests just the sort of ignorance and bigotry of which liberals frequently accuse others. Thomas Aquinas, for example, would have found it unrecognizable, committed as he was to the proposition that the foundational truths of religion could be demonstrated through reason alone. To have faith, in his view, is not to believe without evidence; it is rather to trust in the veracity of a God for whose existence one can have overwhelming evidence, and whose will can be known (at least in part) through a study of the ends and purposes inherent in nature. Indeed, the mainstream view in Western religious thought was for centuries (and still is within Catholicism and among some Protestants) that religion can and must be given a foundation in reason. This traditional view also holds that the allegedly religiously neutral premises of scientific and philosophical inquiry themselves point inescapably to the existence of a divine Author of nature and of reason.
Now, why would that be? Fesser sketches some of the most famous arguments for God with the intent of showing how doing science presupposes that we really do have rational minds and that the universe is an orderly place. My favourite example (no surprise) is what C.S. Lewis called the argument from reason:
Once science has traced its explanations down to the fundamental laws of physics, it has said all that it can possibly say, and to explain those laws themselves, one must appeal to philosophical reasoning -- reasoning which will lead one to posit a cosmic designer. One way to understand the Aquinas-style teleological argument is in terms of the idea that a purely materialistic interpretation of evolutionary theory is necessarily committed to denying that biological phenomena really have any purposes or functions at all. On a strictly materialistic view, that is to say, things have only the appearance of purpose or function, but are, in fact and literally speaking, without any purpose, function, or meaning whatsoever. Talk of "functions" and "purposes" ends up being at best a recourse to convenient fictions, a shorthand for complex but purposeless causal processes. Precisely because function and purpose, understood literally, necessarily presuppose a designing mind, such notions must be banished from a consistently materialistic interpretation of biology. And taken to its logical conclusion, this entails a denial of the very existence of mind even in human beings, since mind is inherently meaningful and purposive and materialistic causal processes are inherently meaningless and purposeless. It entails, that is, a view known among philosophers as "eliminative materialism," so-called because it advocates eliminating the concept of mind from our scientific and philosophical vocabulary. Materialistic Darwinism, on this view, is, when properly understood, thus committed to a radically counterintuitive, and even incoherent, metaphysical picture of the world -- whether or not Darwinian materialists themselves generally realize this. It follows that evolution can only coherently be understood if interpreted within a broadly theistic worldview.
Fesser then goes on to ask why some attempt to beat back religious people from full participation in public life. He admits that there will be disagreement on these issues, as there is in all areas of philosophy, and asks why this area is held to be different.
It is true, of course, that there are many philosophers who do not accept the arguments described above. So what? What that shows is that arguments for the existence of God are no different from every other argument in philosophy, including arguments for atheism, or arguments for abortion and same-sex marriage for that matter: they are controversial, matters about which intelligent people can and do disagree. Do secularists demand that those in favor of legalized abortion and same-sex marriage refrain from advocating their positions in the public square simply because their arguments are nowhere near universally accepted? Of course not, nor should they. So why do they demand that religion and politics be separated not just in the constitutional sense that no one ought to be forced to belong to a particular denomination or to accept a particular creed, but also in the stronger sense that religious considerations, however well supported by rational arguments, ought to get no hearing in the public square and have no influence on public policy? Why the constant harping on about the "separation of church and state," but not, say, the "separation of naturalistic metaphysics and state," the "separation of feminist theory and state," or "the separation of Rawlsian liberalism and state
I have not done (or intended) to do Fesser full justice here and am happy to suggest everyone have a look at the full text. Fesser also has another post at TCS devoted to The Trouble with Libertarianism, which I'm linking for my libertarian friends. Are you out there Tipper?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Religion in the news

This report indicates that religion was not covered very well in the MSM last year. I know, I know, what an earth shaking surprise. This particular tibit is worth quoting because the exact same phenomenon is happening in Canada, regarding Paul Martin's claims to be devout practitioner of the Catholic faith.
Reporters approached religious issues from a very secular and political perspective, especially in stories on the presidential campaign. When some Roman Catholic bishops announced that they would deny Democratic candidate John Kerry the sacrament of the Eucharist over his decades of pro-abortion voting and advocacy, network reporters placed all their scrutiny on the church leaders, not on Kerry. Not only did they fail to explain the Eucharistic rules of the Church, they misquoted bishops as claiming Catholics shouldn’t “vote for sinners,” while they described Kerry as a “devout,” “observant,” and “practicing Catholic” despite his pro-abortion record. Kerry’s opponents were labeled “conservative,” but Kerry and his supporters were never described as “liberal.”
With more and more news channels to choose from, I don't think this kind of sloppy reporting can go on forever. Someone's going to realize that by being sloppy with these stories, the MSM is making it possible for a new entry to steal their lunch by doing a better job. For more detail and more examples, see here and here.

Not Dead Yet

Joe Ford, writing in The Harvard Crimson, shares his thoughts on what the Schaivo case is revealing, and it isn't pretty.
The reason for this public support of removal from ordinary sustenance, I believe, is not that most people understand or care about Terri Schiavo. Like many others with disabilities, I believe that the American public, to one degree or another, holds that disabled people are better off dead. To put it in a simpler way, many Americans are bigots. A close examination of the facts of the Schiavo case reveals not a case of difficult decisions but a basic test of this country’s decency. Our country has learned that we cannot judge people on the basis of minority status, but for some reason we have not erased our prejudice against disability. One insidious form of this bias is to distinguish cognitively disabled persons from persons whose disabilities are “just” physical. Cognitively disabled people are shown a manifest lack of respect in daily life, as well. This has gotten so perturbing to me that when I fly, I try to wear my Harvard t-shirt so I can “pass” as a person without cognitive disability. (I have severe cerebral palsy, the result of being deprived of oxygen at birth. While some people with cerebral palsy do have cognitive disability, my articulation difference and atypical muscle tone are automatically associated with cognitive disability in the minds of some people.) The result of this disrespect is the devaluation of lives of people like Terri Schiavo. In the Schiavo case and others like it, non-disabled decision makers assert that the disabled person should die because he or she—ordinarily a person who had little or no experience with disability before acquiring one—“would not want to live like this.” In the Schiavo case, the family is forced to argue that Terri should be kept alive because she might “get better”—that is, might be able to regain or to communicate her cognitive processes. The mere assertion that disability (particularly cognitive disability, sometimes called “mental retardation”) is present seems to provide ample proof that death is desirable. ... Besides being disabled, Schiavo and I have something important in common, that is, someone attempted to terminate my life by removing my endotracheal tube during resuscitation in my first hour of life. This was a quality-of-life decision: I was simply taking too long to breathe on my own, and the person who pulled the tube believed I would be severely disabled if I lived, since lack of oxygen causes cerebral palsy. (I was saved by my family doctor inserting another tube as quickly as possible.) The point of this is not that I ended up at Harvard and Schiavo did not, as some people would undoubtedly conclude. The point is that society already believes to some degree that it is acceptable to murder disabled people.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Follow the money

Steve Sailor has published an e-mail exchange he had with a Florida lawyer regarding the Schaivo case. Sailor's quite right about the fact that no one has been talking or thinking about the legal aspect in the media very much. It's probably because that aspect can't compete with the compelling and tragic nature of the events that have unfolded this past week. It is, however, both interesting and important. Here is an excerpt:
I have been following the case for years. Something that interests me about the Terri Schiavo case, and that doesn't seem to have gotten much media attention: The whole case rests on the fact that the Schindlers (Terri's parents) were totally outlawyered by the husband (Michael Schiavo) at the trial court level. This happened because, in addition to getting a $750K judgment for Terri's medical care, Michael Schiavo individually got a $300K award of damages for loss of consortium, which gave him the money to hire a top-notch lawyer to represent him on the right-to-die claim. He hired George Felos, who specializes in this area and litigated one of the landmark right-to-die cases in Florida in the early 90s. By contrast, the Schindlers had trouble even finding a lawyer who would take their case since there was no money in it. Finally they found an inexperienced lawyer who agreed to take it partly out of sympathy for them, but she had almost no resources to work with and no experience in this area of the law. She didn't even depose Michael Schiavo's siblings, who were key witnesses at the trial that decided whether Terri would have wanted to be kept alive. Not surprisingly, Felos steamrollered her. The parents obviously had no idea what they were up against until it was too late. It was only after the trial that they started going around to religious and right-to-life groups to tell their story. These organizations were very supportive, but by that point their options were already limited because the trial judge had entered a judgment finding that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted to live. This fact is of crucial importance -- and it's one often not fully appreciated by the media, who like to focus on the drama of cases going to the big, powerful appeals courts: Once a trial court enters a judgment into the record, that judgment's findings become THE FACTS of the case, and can only be overturned if the fact finder (in this case, the judge) acted capriciously (i.e., reached a conclusion that had essentially no basis in fact). In this case, the trial judge simply chose to believe Michael Schaivo's version of the facts over the Schindlers'. Since there was evidence to support his conclusion (in the form of testimony from Michael Schaivo's siblings), it became nearly impossible for the Schindlers to overturn it. The judges who considered the case after the trial-level proceeding could make decisions only on narrow questions of law. They had no room to ask, "Hey, wait a minute, would she really want to die?" That "fact" had already been decided. In essence, the finding that Terri Schiavo would want to die came down to the subjective opinion of one overworked trial judge who was confronted by a very sharp, experienced right-to-die attorney on one side and a young, quasi-pro bono lawyer on the other.
Credit for the link goes to Paul Cella, who also offers a link to an NRO article detailing Terri's neglect over the years.

Nice hair

Posted by Hello Let it Bleed slams one out of the park on the subject of the hypocrisy of the Federal Liberals. Pierre Pettigrew famously told the Catholic church to stay out of the SSM debate and is now faced with the fact the Canadian Sikh MPs have been told that they too should vote against the bill. What is poor Pierre to do? I don't want Pettigrew to tell the Sikhs to keep quiet. No, nothing like that. I think he ought to publically apologize for letting his anti-religious bigotry get the better of him, and admit that all groups, even Catholics, have the right to speak to public issues. Heck, if he does that I might even stop making fun of his hair.

The Libertarian in me

"Obviously, Microsoft coming up with Reduced Media Edition was their very arrogant slap in the face of the EU," said naming consultant Laurel Sutton. "They were specifically requested to come up with something that didn't sound inferior."
The libertarian in me thinks that Microsoft should respond to the Euro weenie's name fetish by pulling all copies and all support for Microsoft products for six months. Of course the threat would have more force if MS made better software, but you get the point. For those interested, Reason magazine has a look at Ayn Rand on what would have been her 100th birthday, February second of this year.


Colby Cosh once again demonstrates that he holds the banner high for Canada's redneck blogging contingent. Writing about the Schaivo case, he says:
Paul O’Donnell, a Roman Catholic Franciscan monk, said the family is urging Schiavo’s husband to allow his wife to receive the sacrament of communion at sundown Saturday, when Catholics begin celebrating their holiest feast of the year. Schiavo, who cannot swallow, would have a minuscule piece of bread and a drop of wine placed in her mouth.
You could go blind trying to figure this one out. There are two problems for the Romish theologian here--Schiavo cannot ingest the Eucharist (which is sort of the whole idea), and she lacks the reasoning capacity to distinguish the sacred wafer from ordinary bread (assuming she would know she was being fed at all). As far as I can tell, the latter might conceivably be overlooked in deciding whether to administer viaticum. But in conjunction with the former it raises a danger of what was traditionally called "irreverence toward the sacred Host." Is some poor doctor going to reach in there and remove the holy cookie after it has resided long enough in her dessicated cakehole to infuse her with a little spare Body of Christ for the long road home? I'm not a Catholic, but even to suggest that Terri ("AHHHHH! WAAAAAAA!") should receive communion in her present condition strikes me as irreverent. Not to say about a thousand percent nasty and self-serving. The husband looks better every day here in contrast to the family: frankly, at this point, he arguably comes off relatively all right even if you accept that he's committing a self-interested murder by omission.
Throughout this bit of callous prose, Cosh blithely assumes that all that can be known about Terri's condition is indeed known, never mind that a Nobel Prize winning doctor has said he thinks there's reason to be hopeful. Even if there is indeed no hope for improvement, does that mean we owe her nothing? Is her state such that we can dispose of her in any way? He's also ignorant about the Eucharist. If there is any moisture in her mouth at all, it can dissolve. Only the tiniest fragment needs to be ingested and if that should fail, the wine is perfectly acceptable and equally worthy. I can't understand the objection to a bit of grace in this last step in a difficult death. I can't understand it at all. There's nothing irreverent here. Colby's grossed out by a dying woman. Why doesn't this surprise me? I got tired of his love for auteur porn references and violent video games long ago. It's real, dude. She's not made of pixels or silicone and there's no do over, so she gets every aid, help and comfort we can reasonably give. We don't just assume we know it all, pull the plug and call for pizza.

The Romance of Orthodoxy

First up is Sidney Callahan, writing in the Washington Post:
To many of us in the church's liberal wing, some of John Paul's rulings have been cause for real distress. As a card-carrying member of Feminists for Life, I find myself dissenting with a small but significant percentage of church teachings -- on women, sex, divorce and homosexuality. I also fault the pope for failing to enact more of the Vatican II reforms intended to change the way the church is run.
The response is from Irish Law:
Too many people, Westerners in particular, seem to believe today that the Church only teaches what she does because of the pernicious authoritarian influence of John Paul II, not because any writings and teachings he has made are drawn from and expound on about 2,000 years of Tradition, Scripture and natural law. The Church is not going to undergo radical theological changes as soon as a new pope is elected, not only because the office is larger than a single man, but also because as we believe the deposit of faith is protected by the Holy Spirit against corruption.
This is an interesting debate, for many reasons. One is that it gets to the heart of what the Catholic Church is. Is it "by the people, of the people and for the people" or is it rather something else, something unlike any other institution? Another interesting facet of the debate is how it inverts our expectations of how people of different ages would usually view it. Callahan is the older of the two writers, and yet she is the one who questions things that do not line up with her views, which draw heavily on very recent thinking. Irish Law, is, I suspect, Gen X or Gen Y and it is she who is the defender of time-tested orthodoxy. One could look at the age split here and argue that Callahan represents the wisdom of experience and Irish Law youthful idealism (or even zealotry). After all, the youth wings of the various politcal parties are rampant with youthful exuberance and excess. It is when people learn that excess is unlikely to succeed in practical matters, and even less likely to convince anyone with a dissenting opinion, that they begin to reform their position. It becomes more modest in ambition and the sales pitch becomes sweeter. I don't think that scheme fits here. A large reason for my saying that is that Irish Law is drawing on a very old tradition and not her personal wants. She may well have difficulty with tradition here and there (as do I) but her view is the traditionally Catholic one that when an individual disagrees with the Church on a matter that is considered to be settled, it is the individual that needs to pause and reflect, and to wonder why it is that this particular wisdom is eluding them. That's not to say that everything in the Church has that weight. An institution that has been around for 2,000 years is going to have a lot of tradition and not all of it has equal weight. Priestly celibacy, for example, is a longstanding tradition and it could be changed (bad idea, I think). Other questions are considered to have been settled, either through the deposit of faith that the church was created to defend, or because formal, institutional debate has ended (informal debate of the kind we are engaged in here never ends; we all need to learn the issues from scratch). It is considered to be ended when the Vatican arrives at a decision that is considered to have been divinely inspired. Such decisions are quite rare! Casual comments by Vatican officals do not fall anywhere near this authority. As best as I know, the question of women priests falls into this category. Given the church's long history and complex, evolved legal traditions, the laity ought to be forgiven for some confusion in matters like this. It's harder to understand how those who have given their lives to knowing such things wind up in blatant error. In the comment thread of one of my wife's posts, The Last Amazon wrote:
A good friend of mine is in the process of converting and I have been going to mass with her as her sponsor. I have not had much call in the last ten years to attend a different parish and it has been eye opening. From the wafer police that stand watching to make sure you swallow the host on the spot to learning Jesus was a Palestinian and not a Jew or that all men are created evil. The mass this evening will see the rites concluded and she will be accepted today which is a good thing on many levels but mostly because if I had to keep this up I will be calling the rabbi to convert.
I winced when I read that because Palestine did not exist in Jesus' time. The muslim arab people moved into that area of the world hundreds of years later. It is also impossible to overlook Christ teaching in the Jewish temples, which is plainly in the Gospel itself. The comment looks to me to be a stark example of present day politics manipulating the past to serve its ends. The idea of man being "created evil" is also completely out of step with Catholic teaching. The generation gap in the Catholic Church in North America is fascinating. Why is it that we have a sandwitch generation, of which I'm using Callahan as an example, that puts more weight on intellectual trends than it does historic teaching? My speculation is that Callahan's generation might be the last in a line of thought going back to the 1800's, which believed most of the wildest dreams of enlightenment modernity. For people like myself, too many of those dreams have crashed and we are left to clean up the mess. An interesting book on this subject is Colleen Carol's The New Faithful, in which she writes:
For liberal Catholics at the 2000 national conference of Call to Action in Milwakee, the future looked grim. The conference spilled over with gray haired radicals, priests wielding canes, and nuns dressing as definantly as septuagenarian can. But young adults were scare. To fill a meeting room reserved for "the next generation," conference organizers defined young adults as anyone between the ages of eighteen to fourty two - a move that provoked snickers among the collge-aged students in attendence. High on the list of concerns at the conference were the conservatism of young seminarians and the overwhelming sense that today's young Catholics no longer care to wage the battles for women's ordination, married priests, and democracy in church, battles that consumed their baby boomer predecessors.
Caroll also offers suggestions for why this should be the case, suggestions that seem sensible to me:
The childhood experiences that shaped today's young adults - both at home and in the larger culture - go a long way toward explaining not only their craving for community but also why many are attracted to Christian orthodoxy. Reared in a media culture that relentlessly lobbies for their attention and panders to their whims, many young adults find it refreshing when religious leaders demand sacrifice, service, and renunciation of consumerism. They feel strangely liberated by orthodoxy's demands of obedience and objective morality, which belie their culture's tendency towards individualism and relativism. And they are captivated by groups that stress stability, commitment and integration - the very values they found wanting in their splintered, mobile families and fragmented, impersonal communities.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The inadequacy of automomy

The Weekly Standard has an excellent opinion piece on the Schaivo case and what we can learn from it. The author is Eric Cohen, who is the resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
FOR ALL THE ATTENTION we have paid to the Schiavo case, we have asked many of the wrong questions, living as we do on the playing field of modern liberalism. We have asked whether she is really in a persistent vegetative state, instead of reflecting on what we owe people in a persistent vegetative state. We have asked what she would have wanted as a competent person imagining herself in such a condition, instead of asking what we owe the person who is now with us, a person who can no longer speak for herself, a person entrusted to the care of her family and the protection of her society. ... For some, it is an article of faith that individuals should decide for themselves how to be cared for in such cases. And no doubt one response to the Schiavo case will be a renewed call for living wills and advance directives--as if the tragedy here were that Michael Schiavo did not have written proof of Terri's desires. But the real lesson of the Schiavo case is not that we all need living wills; it is that our dignity does not reside in our will alone, and that it is foolish to believe that the competent person I am now can establish, in advance, how I should be cared for if I become incapacitated and incompetent. The real lesson is that we are not mere creatures of the will: We still possess dignity and rights even when our capacity to make free choices is gone; and we do not possess the right to demand that others treat us as less worthy of care than we really are. A true adherence to procedural liberalism--respecting a person's clear wishes when they can be discovered, erring on the side of life when they cannot--would have led to a much better outcome in this case. It would have led the court to preserve Terri Schiavo's life and deny Michael Schiavo's request to let her die. But as we have learned, the descent from procedural liberalism's respect for a person's wishes to ideological liberalism's lack of respect for incapacitated persons is relatively swift. Treating autonomy as an absolute makes a person's dignity turn entirely on his or her capacity to act autonomously. It leads to the view that only those with the ability to express their will possess any dignity at all--everyone else is "life unworthy of life." This is what ideological liberalism now seems to believe--whether in regard to early human embryos, or late-stage dementia patients, or fetuses with Down syndrome. And in the end, the Schiavo case is just one more act in modern liberalism's betrayal of the vulnerable people it once claimed to speak for. Instead of sympathizing with Terri Schiavo--a disabled woman, abandoned by her husband, seen by many as a burden on society--modern liberalism now sympathizes with Michael Schiavo, a healthy man seeking freedom from the burden of his disabled wife and self-fulfillment in the arms of another. And while one would think that divorce was the obvious solution, this was more than Michael Schiavo apparently could bear, since it would require a definitive act of betrayal instead of a supposed demonstration of loyalty to Terri's wishes. ... the autonomy regime, at its best, prevents the worst abuses--like involuntary euthanasia, where doctors or public officials decide whose life is worth living. But the autonomy regime, even at its best, is deeply inadequate. It is based on a failure to recognize that the human condition involves both giving and needing care, and not always being morally free to decide our own fate.
This story is a moving one and one that is a sharp reminder of how we need to come to grips with all of the technology we now have at our disposal. I don't buy the argument that the Schaivo story is being exploited for political purposes. What I see is that there are those who would much prefer that the story be buried because the light shining in this previously dark corner does not suit their politics.

Shaidle says

Via Kathie Shaidle's Relapsed Catholic, I see that blogger Andrea Harris reads what is happening to Terri Schaivo just as I do. Harris writes:
People are acting as if what happened to Terri is some awful, demonic, sci-fi thing that only happens in 1,000,000 years and only to people who have angered Cthulhu but I tell you it's in all our futures one way or another; we have no control on how we end, whether you believe in the God of Moses or the God of Chance, and people like Terri Schiavo are an in-your-face reminder of this and people hate and fear that, some enough so that they will do anything to destroy the reminder. Terri is the messenger. The message is: we are not in control. We1 are, in fine, traditional fashion, killing the messenger because we don't like the message. 1 The "we" is humanity in general; the same humanity that that the Christians say killed God. I'm beginning to think that the Christians are right.
Shaidle also links to Another Thought, where we can consider the "Schaivo Protocol":
Enter the Schiavo Protocol. Men and women who are incapacitated, even when they face no immediate risk of dying, may now be declared unfit for further life-sustaining care. If an estranged husband can achieve this result over the objections of his wife's own parents, surely insurance companies, the Veterans Administration, Medicare, and other health-care funding agencies will realize that they might make use of this precedent as well, to cut off care for chronically ill patients when they have become a drain on our national healthcare resources."
Kathy also wrote, "I get a kick out of so many self-proclaimed conservative men up here in Canada, declaring their post-convention disillusionment with the Conservatives because -- shock! -- the Party is against gay marriage. And you thought something called the "Conservative Party" would endorse gay marriage because...? My boys, you know I love you all, but you were really libertarians all along, I think." To which I can only say, slack jawed yokel that I am, Uh-huh.

Reason's last step

This is from an interesting essay by William A. Rusher, published at the Heritage Institute, called "Conservatism's Third and Final Battle." The contrast with the sonic whine coming from some so-called conservatives over the results of the recent Tory convention is quite stunning. Jay Currie's upset, to say the least, that he didn't get his way on the issue of SSM. You haven't heard me say much about the Tories' unwillingness to do anything about the utter lack of any abortion law in Canada, have you? They even tried to silence debate on the subject, and you heard nary a word (never mind a threat) from me about it. I trusted that silencing debate would not be allowed to stand, and ruefully admit that Canada may well not be ready yet to deal with the issue in a mature and civilized way. I'm still on board. If I can't have a mile, I'll take an inch. Seems to me that's how successful coalitions get built. Rusher writes:
Public opinion polls have clearly established that the American people are already--or perhaps I should say still--the most religious-minded of all Western societies. (In this respect, as in others, most Americans disagree with the intellectual elite.) And in the past 20 years we have seen a remarkable mobilization of a segment of religious believers for direct political action. In a sense, therefore, it can be said that the philosophical battle that [Russel] Kirk envisioned and [Alexander] Solzhenitsyn called for is already well and truly under way at the social and political level, under the rubric of what is often called the "culture war." If what we have seen thus far is the shape the battle is going to take, we conservatives are going to have to prepare ourselves to lose many allies who fought at our side in the struggles against communism and democratic socialism. Many libertarians and some classical liberals are simply not ready to accept a "metaphysical dream of the world" that has a central religious component. By the same token, however, we can expect to gain immense numbers of recruits in some hitherto almost wholly inaccessible segments of the population, notably including both blacks and Hispanics. Over time, I am confident that the conservative movement will win this final battle too, and that Kirk's vision of an America true to its Creator will be realized. But let me suggest to you that the battle may not take the form I have described--a knock-down, drag-out free-for-all between the remaining secular humanists and the regiments of the Religious Right. We have all witnessed occasions on which an unfashionable idea, but one with ultimately overwhelming justification, presents itself at the door of received opinion. At first, and for as long as possible, it will simply be ignored. Then it will be misrepresented and ridiculed. Next it will be denounced. And then, finally, it will (if it must) be accepted, with the dismissive comment, "We knew that all along." I suggest that this may be the final whimper of the intellectual elite, when the inadequacy of science to answer the ultimate questions is plain to everyone. It was Pascal who said that "Reason's last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it." If the battle between modernity and the Judaeo-Christian tradition follows this second scenario, victory for the latter may come somewhat more quickly and painlessly than one might currently suppose. There are, I believe, immense moral reserves in the character of the American people, the heritage of those Christian centuries, still available to be drawn on in times of crisis. But it will be necessary for many Americans to put aside one all-too-convenient crutch, which is the legacy of the 1960s--that decade in which, two centuries after the Enlightenment and 30 years after the Humanist Manifesto, the moral bottom temporarily fell out of American society. I am referring to the current almost universal unwillingness to be "judgmental."
Clearly, if I have to choose between Jay's uber idealism and the persistent wisdom of people like Russel Kirk and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the choice won't be too hard. The Tories would do well to do the same. Canada is not America - it lacks anything like the American people's faith- but people here also deserve a real choice at the ballot box, and they deserve a party that is not afraid to lead to listen to 50% plus of the population. The intellectual heft of current SSM arguments is weak, vainly trying to tie it to the racial rights movement of the 1960's. It is even less convincing for anyone who thinks that the prism of equal human rights is not the be all and end all of moral thinking. Canada too has a respectable religious heritage and a party that speaks kindly, sensibly, and intelligibly - and above all with the honest courage of conviction!- may succeed in waking it. Doing so will not be easy, but it would cause a tectonic shift in the way that we debate issues for a long time to come. Have courage!


A while back I wrote contrary opinion to a famous pro choice essay by Judith Jarvis Thomson. At Right Reason, Francis Beckwith gives us a vivid counter example to Thompson's: The Baby on the Porch. An amazing French woman has successfully paddled across the Pacific Ocean. It seems she was looking for a challenge after doing the same on the Atlantic. Is there anyone in Canada who speaks for us specifically and not "world opinion" as clearly as Robert Bork does in this essay?
What is really alarming about Roper and other cases citing foreign law (six justices now engage in that practice) is that the Court, in tacit coordination with foreign courts, is moving toward a global bill of rights. Neither our courts nor the foreign courts are bound by actual constitutions. Prof. Lino Graglia was quite right when he said that “the first and most important thing to know about American constitutional law is that it has virtually nothing to do with the Constitution.” That is certainly the case with the Bill of Rights. From abortion to homosexual sodomy, from religion to political speech and pornography, from capital punishment to discrimination on the basis of race and sex, the Court is steadily remaking American political, social, and cultural life. As Justice Antonin Scalia once said in dissent, “Day by day, case by case, [the Court] is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize.” The courts of the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, and almost all Western countries are doing the same thing, replacing the meaning of their charters with their own preferences. Nor are these judicial alterations random. The culture war evident in the United States is being waged internationally, both within individual nations and in international institutions and tribunals. It is a war for dominance between two moral visions of the future. One is the liberal-elite preference for radical personal autonomy and the other is the general public’s desire for some greater degree of community and social authority. Elite views are fairly uniform across national boundaries, and since American and foreign judges belong to elites and respond to elite views, judge-made constitutions tend to converge. It hardly matters what particular constitutions say or were understood to mean by those who adopted them. Judges are not, of course, the only forces for a new elite global morality. Governments and non-governmental organizations are actively promoting treaties, conventions, and new institutions (the International Criminal Court, for example) that embody their view that sovereignty and nation-states are outmoded and that we must move toward regional or even global governance. American self-government and sovereignty would be submerged in a web of international regulations. The Supreme Court, in decisions like Roper, adds constitutional law to the web. That is the one strand, given our current acceptance of judicial supremacy, that cannot be rejected democratically. What is clear is that foreign elites understand the importance of having the Supreme Court on their side, which is precisely why their human-rights organizations have begun filing amicus briefs urging our Supreme Court to adopt the foreign, elite view of the American Constitution.
It seems that the trend for constitutional government is beginning to wane. One can have a country without a written constitution, of course, but that might be the hard way to do it. Without a respected constitution or a monarchy, what will put the brakes on the machinations of the most powerful people and classes? The historical record on this is not very good and the Bible gives us no shortage of warnings about the predations of the powerful. They're doing this "for the people"? Please. We don't want or need the pity of people who do not understand us. How to respond to accusations that the Nazi's where "right wing extremists":
National Socialism is often classified as a “right-wing” political philosophy. The reason for this has less to do with an honest and careful analysis of the content of Nazi ideology than with a desire to smear conservatives by associating them with Hitler and company. In fact there was nothing remotely conservative about Nazism, in any usual sense of “conservative.” Hating capitalism and bourgeois civilization as they did, the Nazis were as far as one could possibly be from the Whiggish conservatism of Burke; despising traditional Christianity and desirous of substituting the F├╝hrerprinzip for conventional sources of political authority, they were equally far from the Throne and Altar conservatism of de Maistre. Nor were the Nazis interested in conserving traditional institutions of any sort. Their aim was to impose a radically modern pseudoscientific ideology based on a vulgarized Darwinism. They were, in this respect, as “progressive” as their equally pseudoscientific and vulgar Marxist rivals, two peas on opposite sides of the socialist pod. That the one side preferred crackpot race theory to crackpot economics does not show that it was any less a child of the “Enlightenment.” In both cases we have what are by themselves ordinary and decent human feelings – a sense of fellowship with one’s countrymen, compassion for the poor – warped beyond all recognition and transformed into the sort of thing Burke called “armed doctrines,” cold and inhuman rationalistic abstractions that flatten out the complexity of real human life, implemented by equally cold and inhuman ideologues who are utterly contemptuous of that complexity.
Here is a look at Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, one year later:
As in-your-face as Passion was in portraying the offend-everyone truth about Jesus' crucifixion, it didn't explain the movie's impact on friend and foe alike; nor the ruckus; nor the peculiarly venomous hissings about violence and pornography with which the movie was greeted by critics not otherwise noted for taking offense at violence and pornography. No, as the dust settled over the course of the last year, and especially after the damning-with-faint-praise Oscar nominations, I became convinced that what, above all, the militant seculars in the arts and entertainment industry cannot abide about this religiously orthodox movie is that it is original, that it is bold, and that it is art. "When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist," Flannery O'Connor once wrote, addressing the vexing problem that the Christian novelist of our time is writing for a largely hostile audience, "I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist." Let's be honest here: much, perhaps most of what we Christian writers, artists, and filmmakers have produced in the last few decades has been, at best, workmanlike but conventional, and at worst, confectioned piety laid on with a trowel. With such comfortingly treacly examples to hand, we needn't be surprised that enemies of Christianity, heretofore confident of their cutting-edge sensibilities and artistic superiority, felt suddenly threatened by this independently produced box-office behemoth.
Here is an idependent film that looks promising: Unscrewed. This is something quite different for NWW, but which I am passing along because it is so useful. Cartest! is an excellent guide to car buying and shopping, and it's Canadian too! It has lots of content, including links to sites where you can get estimates for the price of any car you wish to buy or sell.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Promises, promises

"The protocols of the elders of science" With Terri Schaivo and an aged and ill Pontiff dominating the news this Easter, yours truly is feeling a mite humble. Here are some links to stories that I think are appropriate this weekend. From the pages of The New Yorker, an examination of the concept of "brain death":
After the presentation ended, I spoke to Ronald Cranford, a professor of neurology and bioethics at the University of Minnesota, who is one of Shewmon's critics. He argued that Matthew's case was only an unusually prolonged example of the normal course brain death takes. "Any patient you keep alive, or dead, longer than a few days will develop spinal-cord reflexes," he said, recalling a case in which the doctor said, "Yes, she's been getting better ever since she died." In a question-and-answer session with Shewmon the next day, after an address in which he drew parallels between the brain dead and people who are conscious but have been paralyzed by injuries to the upper spinal cord, no one really took issue with his science. At the same time, none of the physicians would accept what Shewmon was really saying: that the brain dead are not dead. "The main philosophical question is, Is this a body or is this a person?" said Calixto Machado, the Cuban neurologist who organized the symposium. Fred Plum, the chairman emeritus of the Department of Neurology at Cornell University's Weill Medical College, had positioned himself directly in front of the podium for the talk, and shot his hand in the air as soon as Shewmon was finished. "This is anti-Darwinism," Plum said. "The brain is the person, the evolved person, not the machine person. Consciousness is the ultimate. We are not one living cell. We are the evolution of a very large group of systems into the awareness of self and the environment, and that is the production of the civilization in which any of us lives." Shewmon had laid a trap for his audience, he later told me. He had hoped to break down the pretense that anyone subscribed to the whole-brain rationale. He wanted to show that the higher-brain rationale, which holds that living without consciousness is not really living—and which the President's commission rejected because it raised questions about quality of life which science can never settle—was the sub-rosa justification for deciding to call a brain-dead person dead. He wanted to make it clear that these doctors were not making a straightforward medical judgment but, rather, a moral judgment that people like Matthew were so devastated that they had lost their claim on existence. And, at least in his own view, the comments he'd provoked meant that he had succeeded.
Interesting reading. It brings me to this op-ed on the Schaivo case, which gets I think gets the issue right:
Those who argue that Terri Schiavo should die note that her doctors say her prognosis is hopeless. Doctors are always right, correct? There is the argument that the courts have adjudicated on this and sided with the husband. That's why the Schindlers and Republicans compare Schiavo to death-row defendants. The courts keep finding them guilty, and their lawyers keep filing appeals, because there should be no doubt as to the defendant's guilt and access to a fair trial. If the law is going to give the benefit of the doubt to convicted killers, it makes sense to extend it to a woman whose only crime is that she is disabled.
Mark Steyn wades into the life / choice as well. He links it to The Big Lie of western life, that life need not be a struggle. That's a bit like telling a swimmer that he doesn't need to swim, isn't it?:
Since 1945, a multiplicity of government interventions - state pensions, subsidised higher education, higher taxes to pay for everything - has so ruptured traditional patterns of inter-generational solidarity that in Europe a child is now an optional lifestyle accessory. By 2050, Estonia's population will have fallen by 52 per cent, Bulgaria's by 36 per cent, Italy's by 22 per cent. The hyper-rationalism of post-Christian Europe turns out to be wholly irrational: what's the point of creating a secular utopia if it's only for one generation? ... Ah, the protocols of the elders of science. Odd the way scientists have such little regard for scientific progress. It's highly likely that many birth defects - not just the bilateral cleft lips - will be treatable and correctible in the next decade or two. But once you start weighing the relative values of individual lives, there's no end to it. Much of that derives from the way abortion has redefined life - as a "choice", an option. In practice, a culture that thinks Terri Schiavo's life in Florida or the cleft-lipped baby's in Herefordshire has no value winds up ascribing no value to life in general. Hence, the shrivelled fertility rates in Europe and in blue-state America: John Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest birth rates; George W Bush took 25 of the 26 states with the highest. The 19th-century Shaker communities were forbidden from breeding and could increase their number only by conversion. The Euro-Canadian-Democratic Party welfare secularists seem to have chosen the same predicament voluntarily, and are likely to meet the same fate. The martyrdom culture of radical Islam is a literal dead end. But so is the slyer death culture of post-Christian radical narcissism. This is the political issue that will determine all the others: it's the demography, stupid.
Steyn adroitly makes the link between The Big Lie and our demographics. When having kids is too hard, things have a way of getting harder, as this look at the U.S. debate over social security shows:
This is exactly what is happening here in the USA with the Social Security shortfall. We don't have enough young workers contributing into the trust fund to support the retirees. When FDR introduced the bill and it was adopted the ratio was 43 workers to 1 retiree. Now its 4 : 1. Here is the simple math: 1.5 million abortions for the last 40 years = 60 million potential workers. If they mature with an average income of $30 thousand/yr that equals $1800 trillion, and @ 15% combined SS tax (employer and employee) equals $27 trillion of Social Security taxes that we don't have. That is the Human Life Value of the aborted workers for SS.
That makes a story like this one all the more tragic and puzzling, doesn't it? Micheal Coren's very Easter-appropriate subject of suffering offers us some hope:
Goodness has been under siege since it first came into the world. In past times the critics were often brilliant and learned, whereas today they are novelists and publicity hounds. It is so much better to be a mere Christian than a mere cynic. But I say again that the pain is as significant as the joy. We live in an age when television, the government, the culture tell us that life without suffering might be possible if we behave and believe in a certain way. It's a cumbersome, glutinous lie. Bad things happen. We all die, and many in acute discomfort. Jesus died not in discomfort but in absolute agony. Then rose again in absolute perfection. The same is offered us, and we commemorate Him and His sacrifice this weekend. As a direct consequence of this, those of us who are believers are asked why bad things happen to good people, as if this is some threatening dent in the Christian faith. Our reply should be to ask why bad things would not happen to good people? Christ didn't promise a good life but a perfect eternity. Indeed, in some ways The Bible predicts earthly suffering more than it does earthly triumph. Which is one of the reasons alleged Christians who promise constant success and healing are not to be believed.
The world is indeed a hard and confusing place, made all the more confusing by the fact that we live with many who deny that is confusing at all. Merton reminds us not to take it all too seriously:
A Christian is essentially an exile in this world in which he has no lasting city. The very presence of the Holy Spirit in his heart makes him discontent with worldly and material values. He cannot place his trust in the things of this life. His treasure is somewhere else, and where his treasure is, his heart is also.
It's essential to keep this in mind when the politicians, the ad-men and the unions come calling with their promises and their manipulated "science."

Der Blog - verbotten?

This David Letterman Top Ten type list appears to have been done by someone in Germany in response to a rumour that there are more blogs in Iran than in Germany. I have no idea if that's true or not. I do, however, know Germans and German culture and this is funny!
Top 10 Reasons Why Germany has Less Blogs than Iran 10. Humor? 9. Opinionated German bloggers risk being called Na.zis by the irate, deranged and mentally disturbed commenters who lurk in the Blogosphere. 8. People will find out how great Germany is and cause a mass migration of (gasp) foreigners! 7. On the internet, no one cares about someone's Dipl-X or Dr. 6. Blogging is not required. 5. No one famous has a blog yet. Olli Kahn, Boris Becker, Joschka... It all rides on you. 4. Hartv IV cut back on social benefits for DSL. 3. Der Blog, Die Blog, oder Das Blog? 2. Ein-Euro-Jobs don't have internet access. 1. No one can figure out the Neue Rechtschreibung.
From David's Mediencritik via The Last Amazon.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Wine as Strong as Fire

Good Friday, Suffering, and Terri Schaivo For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. St. Paul, Corinthians 1:18 It is Good Friday today, the day that Christians remember the crucifixion. In the Catholic Church today's mass is called "the way of the cross" and we are encouraged to think hard about suffering and sacrifice. It is a long, almost exhausting service, during which the everyone present touches or even kisses the cross. For someone looking on from the outside, it must be a strange spectacle. In fact, it is not easy for the faithful either. The "Problem of Pain" is said to be one of the most difficult challenges that a Christian faces. If God is good, then why is there suffering in the world? Or sin? Why do we die? Why did Christ, innocent and blameless, have to die? Teri Schaivo, does she deserve to be in the helpless state that she is in?
Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
That passage is from Psalm 31, which was a part of today's readings. I think it captures well how we feel when our suffering weighs on us like an anchor, when we fear being a burden on others and we cannot see why we should bear it. Anyone in Terri Schaivo's situation could easily find themselves thinking along these lines, as could Christ himself, wondering why he should lay himself down for us, when even his chosen apostles could not stay awake and pray with him. In fact, our suffering need not be on a grand scale in order for us to question it. Why should we suffer anything at all? What is the point of it? In the Schaivo case, I think this is exactly what those in favour of her euthanasia see, and this is why they think letting her die is a mercy- even if she is not in much if any physical pain. They see her deprivation and cannot see the point of enduring it. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis distinguishes between suffering that is a consequence of the material reality of the world we live in. Its regularity creates a space in which we can work and act, manipulating it as we can, and growing both physically and spiritually as a result. The world's regularity also causes pain, as when a radio falls into the bathtub or we touch a hotplate unawares. These sorts of accidents can't be fairly blamed on God because, as Lewis tells us:
fixed laws, consequences unfolding by necessity, the whole, natural order, are at once limits in which... common life is confined and also the sole condition under which any such life is possible. Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the extistence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.
The important thing to note here is that the regularity infused into the world by God has positive implications. Through it, we have freedom to act, to learn, and to choose. The freedom to choose is rightly seen as an extremely valuable property of life. For Christians, however, for reasons I can't go into here, not all choices are equally valid. For a Christian, some choices are not just unprofitable, they are wrong, and their wrongness springs from how they undermine and eat away at our relationship with God. Sin is like a cancer, in which some real pleasures grow unnaturally and press upon others until we are out of balance. We often sense this when we contradict the Natural Law. There is a sense of having crossed a line that it is better not to cross. Sometimes we call this feeling guilt. If we are attentive to it, and seek the Grace to accentuate our sensitivity, we can improve our ability to perceive where these lines are. This guilt is no more "repressive" than our reflex to pull a hand away from a hot flame. Writes Lewis, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Pain, then, can be seen as a feedback mechanism, prompting us to reconsider our choices. There is a serious problem, however, in that this description of pain, while accurate, is incomplete. It does not account for random and senseless events in which the victim has had no input into the result. Think of the victim of a stray bullet or of Mrs. Schaivo, who was unlucky enough to have had a heart attack that killed off most of her brain but not her body. What are we to make of acts like these? In the case of the stray bullet we see how we can be maimed by the sins of others as well as our own. We can, if we are able to see a bit beyond ourselves, how such an event can be a help to the person who caused it. It can be an opportunity "to plant the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul." What we can't allow is that God would use another person so cruelly, as a mere object used to teach another. What is the good pulled from this? Lewis writes:
If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us.
This is a difficult lesson, there is no way around it, because it strikes very deeply at our sense of pride. We do not at all like to be reminded that we are not responsible for our own existence. We are not in control. For the most part, we tend to bury that information and when it presents itself we can be hard pressed to deal with it. Thomas Merton wrote very well about this in No Man is an Island:
The effect of suffering upon us is dependent on what we love. If we love ourselves selfishly, suffering is merely hateful. It has to be avoided at all costs. It brings out all the evil that is in us, so that the man who loves only himself will commit any sin and inflict any evil on others merely in order to avoid suffering himself. ... In any case, if we love ourselves, suffering inexorably brings out selfishness, and then, after making known what we are, drives us to make ourselves even worse than we are. If we love others and suffer for them, even without a supernatural love for other men in God, suffering can give us a certain nobility and goodness. It brings out something fine in the nature of man, and gives glory to God Who made man greater than suffering. But in the end a natural unselfishness cannot prevent suffering from destroying us along with all we love. If we love God and love others in Him, we will be glad to let suffering destroy anything in us that God is pleased to let it destroy, because we know that what it destroys is unimportant. We will prefer to let the accidental trash of life be consumed by suffering in order that His glory may come out clean in all that we do.
This is why bearing pains and injustices has value, because it is a chisel scraping away parts of us that hide from us the true nature of our existence. In the movie Shadowlands, which was based on Lewis' short marriage, Lewis is often seen using that analogy to explain the existence of suffering in the world. It takes a whole new meaning, however, when his wife develops cancer and he is forced to confront the reality of what he has been teaching. It shakes him to the core and his faith is in real peril. Thankfully, in the end Lewis pulls through and is stronger and humbler for the experience. He becomes something more than he was before. Turning again to Terri Schaivo, it may very well be true, as Tech Central Station reports, that:
She has been in what is medically referred to as a "permanent vegetative state" for the past 15 years, ever since her heart temporarily stopped (probably due to the severe effects of an eating disorder), depriving her brain of oxygen. Brain scans indicate that her cerebral cortex ceased functioning -- probably just after she experienced cardiac arrest in 1990. Ms. Schiavo's CAT scan shows massive shrinking of the brain, and her EEG is flat. Physicians confirm that there is no electrical activity coming from her brain.
None of that tells us if and when she has made her peace with God on the very basic count of her very being being dependent on him. We don't know, and probably can't know, where and how that relationship has been resolved. Turning back to Psalm 31, we have an example:
In you, LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your justice deliver me; incline your ear to me; make haste to rescue me! Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to save me. You are my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake lead and guide me. Free me from the net they have set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, LORD, faithful God. You hate those who serve worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD. I will rejoice and be glad in your love, once you have seen my misery, observed my distress. You will not abandon me into enemy hands, but will set my feet in a free and open space
If it is incomplete, we could be doing eternal damage to her by shortening her time on earth, as another TCS contributor notes. In Terri's case I think that our discomfort with her arises from the fact that her existence reminds us of something we'd rather not deal with. She is not in terrible pain, but there are many who are in distress when they look at her or think about her plight and I suspect that is the motive behind those who would suggest "pulling the plug" is an act of mercy. The pain is in the observers more than it is in the observed, and the observers, rather than seeing "the flag of truth" Lewis refers to, seek to press on with their confused rebellion (recall the quote from St. Paul above). One need not be a Christian or even a religious person to object to Terri's court sanctioned starvation. All you need is to recognize that we do not know what her status is. We don't know that the flat EEG is the final word. All other minds are a philosophical mystery that we accept on faith. Terri's mind may be physically different from ours as a result of her heart attack but that has no impact on our ability to know it. It's just as mysterious now as it was before that tragedy occurred. I do think that a religious faith is very helpful in recognizing this. Through religion, we do our homework and we come to situations like this better prepared to deal with our limitations. If we are very fortunate, we can see a great deal in even the seemingly senseless, as Thomas Merton does in this passage:
When I see my trials not as the collision of my life with a blind machine called fate, but as the sacramental gift of Christ's love, given to me by God the Father along with my very identity and my very name, then I can consecrate them and myself with them to God. For then I realize that my suffering is not my own. It is the passion of the Christ, stretching out its tendrils into my life in order to bear rich clusters of grapes, making my soul dizzy with the wine of Christ's love, and pouring that wine as strong as fire upon the whole world.


This cartoon is from the blog Faithmouse. Note the vinnegar on the corner of the bed. Posted by Hello


I made quite a few changes to the template today. I think the most useful thing was adding a script from to allow you to get a definition of any word just by doubleclicking on it. That'll help with jargon, and I'll try to keep handcoding links to the Wikkipedia for names and places that might be unfamiliar. I also:
  • dropped most of my blogrolls. Well- I didn't drop them so much as hide them. You can click on their icons for the list of blogs. I found that they were becoming very long and cluttering up the page as a result. The Red Ensign group does not have a page to link to so I guess it stays until there is one. The Flea's does not have the blogroll for the group.
  • placed code on the page showing referers. Like most bloggers, I find the referers very useful and a great way to find new blogs and interesting people
  • tidied up some of my references by separating "wordsmithing" resources from Catholic resources
  • added new links to almost all of the reference sections on the right column
I think the changes will make the page more useful for me, and, hopefully, for you as well. I want to thank everyone for the kind words and encouragement that I got when I asked for reader feeback a few days ago. The comments were all very positive and I'll continue to try and make NWW an interesting and useful place to visit.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Philosophy of science

I came across two good posts today on a subject that is dear my my heart, and that is Epistemology and it's subsection, the philosophy of science. At Right Thinking People, Trodwell writes:
People who confuse a passing familiarity with a few of the elements of scientific terminology, with a fundamental understanding of science, tend to come a cropper when they attempt to apply scientific precepts to unscientific areas or methods of inquiry. The problem, as it always is with pseudoscientists, is that they approach science as a religion rather than as what it really is - a method. This is because, to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, those who fail to understand science see it as magic. And to paraphrase Carl Sagan (since we're on a paraphraseological roll here), what the co-opters are hoping to do is to acquire the credibility accruing to science, without strict adherence to the method that is the source of that credibility. ... The utility of any hypothesis lies in the extent to which it explains observed phenomena. The credibility of the scientific method derives from the willingness of scientists to modify or discard any theorem that fails to adequately explain observable phenomena. Newtonian physics was modified by Maxwell's equations, and both later found further refinement in Einstein's work on special and general relativity. Other lacunae in Newton were resolved by subsequent work on quantum electro- and chromodynamics. Each of these theories still contain complexities and asymmetries that will almost certainly be resolved by further refinements or, perhaps, by chucking the whole lot if somebody comes up with a more elegant theory that explains everything at once. But this is the strength of science "the willingness to alter hypotheses to explain new data, or if necessary to discard them entirely and start over.
Now it's true that in our day and age we are subject to a great many claims every day that use scientific garb in an effort to enhance their credibility. An actor in a white coat telling us about nine out of ten dentists is just such an effort, and it could fairly be called a right wing capitalist abuse of science. Tradition, however, is immune from this criticism. It is more of a heuristic than a hypothesis because it is not subject to testing and refutation. It either seems like a reasonable guide to you, or it does not. If it does not, however, I wonder how you can seek to enshrine or protect your own contributions to anything. Utility, the holy grail or radicals, is a terribly slippery subject, meaning different things to different people. It is difficult to see how it can be meaningfully applied to any collective endeavor because people's tastes and pleasures and their balance of them are so idiosyncratic. What is pleasureable and useful to a six year old is boring and crude to a senior citizen. Then there is also the endearing problem of trying to institute a tradition of utilitarian thinking, an oxymoron that just makes me smile. Utility seems to me to fall into what Trodwell is writing about in a large way. It seems to offer what he calls the "mystic credibility" of science because it suggests objective measurement but fails to deliver it. Tradition is similarly untestable - by man, anyway. But then tradition never made any claims to be measurable or scientific anyway. If it is a measured good, it's measurement is Darwinian survival over time. Meanwhile, at Right Reason, Roger Kimball writes glowingly about Australian philosopher David Stove:
Stove was that rarest of creatures: a genuinely independent thinker. His allegiance was always to the best argument, the most persuasive reasoning. This made him difficult to categorize, impossible to pigeon-hole. Stove's favorite philosopher was David Hume. Stove saw in Hume a man devoted to intellectual sanity, to patient reasonableness, to what Hume called "the calm sunshine of the mind." But Stove's admiration did not prevent him from criticizing Hume. For example, Stove showed that Hume's attack on inductive reasoning proceeded from "deductivism," from a conviction that the only arguments that were really compelling were those that were valid in the strict logical sense of the term. This had the effect of sharply depreciating Hume's faith in observation and experience--odd for a philosopher who was an avowed empiricist. But Stove shows that it was precisely the combination of deductivism, on the one hand, and empiricism, on the other, that led to the distinctive irrationalism that has infected modern philosophy of science from Popper forward. ... In some respects, Stove was a paradigmatic Enlightenment thinker. He prized reason highly, sought to expose superstition, and could have adopted Kant's formulation of the Enlightenment motto--Sapere aude!, "Dare to Know!"--as his own. But about the Enlightenment as about everything else Stove was the opposite of doctrinaire. "Enlightened opinions," he saw, "are always superficial." Consider the Enlightenment's attack on religion and established authority as nothing more than a repository of superstition. "If," Stove argues, "priests, kings, soldiers, doctors (and so on) were nothing more than Enlightenment can see in them--if they were, in plain English, confidence men--then virtually the whole of human history would be unintelligible." If one side of the Enlightenment was embodied in Voltaire's demand "Ecrasez l'infame," another side was embodied in the French Revolution and its witch's brew of "revolutionary republicanism, regicide, anti-religious terrorism, and the deliberate destruction, for the sake of equality, both of thousands of innocent people and of high culture in any form."
If nothing else, "enlightened opinions are always superficial" is a great quote to remember, as the example Kimball gives us shows:
Among educated persons today, any suggestion that aspects of Darwinian theory are suspect is instantly met with contempt, pity, derision--anything but a mind open to rational persuasion. Crackpot creationists are anti-Darwinian, ergo anyone who challenges Darwinian dogma must be a creationist, a crackpot, or both.
That's a busted syllogism, plain and simple. Yet you'll hear it tossed off at any cocktail party you care to attend and woe to you who dares question it. I have yet to read anything by David Stove, but his name just climbed upwards on my rather endless list of books to read. For more about Stove, see here. The site includes links to some of his works, including The Worst Argument of All Time and Helps for Young Authors.

Nineteen something

Mark Wills bring back a lot memories with this one...
Saw Star Wars at least eight times Had the Pac-Man pattern memorized And I've seen the stuff they put inside... Stretch Armstrong (yeah) I was Roger Staubach in my backyard Had a shoebox full of baseball cards And a couple of Evil Knievel scars On my right arm. I was a kid when Elvis died And my momma cried... Chorus It was nineteen seventy somethin' And the world that I grew up in Farrah Fawcett hairdo days Bell bottoms and eight track tapes Lookin' back now I can see me Oh man, did I look cheesy But I wouldn't trade those days for nothin' Oh it was nineteen seventy-somethin'. It was the dawning of a new decade We got our first microwave Dad broke down and Finally shaved them old sideburns off I took the stickers off of my Rubik's Cube Watched M-TV all afternoon My first love was Daisy Duke And them cut-off jeans. Space Shuttle fell out of the sky And the whole world cried... It was nineteen eighty-somethin' And the world that I grew up in Skatin' rinks and black Trans-Ams Big hair and parachute pants And lookin' back now I can see me Oh man, did I look cheesy I wouldn't trade those days for nothin' Oh it was nineteen eighty-somethin'. Now I've got a mortgage and an SUV But all this responsibility... Makes me wish... Sometimes... That it was nineteen eighty-something And the world that I grew up in Skatin' rinks and black Trans-Ams Big hair and parachute pants And lookin' back now I can see me Oh man, did I look cheesy I wouldn't trade those days for nothin' Oh it was nineteen eighty-something... Nineteen seventy-something... Oh, it was nineteen...somethin'.


The highly divisive Terri Schaivo case is much in the media right now, as her parents and other pro life people try to get legal suport for her life beforre she succumbs to starvation and / or dehydration. In the WSJ, Peggy Noonan asks a good question about this case:
I do not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people. What is driving their engagement? Is it because they are compassionate, and their hearts bleed at the thought that Mrs. Schiavo suffers? But throughout this case no one has testified that she is in persistent pain, as those with terminal cancer are. If they care so much about her pain, why are they unconcerned at the suffering caused her by the denial of food and water? ... What does Terri Schiavo's life symbolize to them? What does the idea that she might continue to live suggest to them? Why does this prospect so unnerve them? Again, if you think Terri Schiavo is a precious human gift of God, your passion is explicable. The passion of the pull-the-tube people is not. I do not understand their certainty. I don't "know" that any degree of progress or healing is possible for Terri Schiavo; I only hope they are. We can't know, but we can "err on the side of life." How do the pro-death forces "know" there is no possibility of progress, healing, miracles? They seem to think they know. They seem to love the phrases they bandy about: "vegetative state," "brain dead," "liquefied cortex."
The entire column is worthy. Credit for the link to Happy Catholic. Also relevant is this link to the Catholic Encyclopedia, which contains the Church's 1980 statement on euthenasia. Tip: Sirius. Brandon (Sirius) also writes ably, I think, on the subject of the Congressional subpoena that was issued for Terri:
I do want to say something about the recent Congressional subpoena, about which I have strongly unambivalent feelings. Whatever one's views about the rationality or propriety of the move, Congress has, and should have, the authority to subpoena anyone and everyone relevant to its legislative work. Further, Congress itself is the one that determines whether something is relevant to its legislative work. I thus find reports of Judge Greer's ordering hospital staff to disregard the congressional subpoena rather disturbing, far more disturbing than the abuse of Congressional powers I have seen people claim the subpoenas to be (personally, I see no abuse). And the arguments I have seen in support of the judge's actions are utterly absurd. For instance, this comment:
Stetson University law professor Charles Rose said that if a congressional subpoena can be used to keep her alive, Congress would essentially have blanket power to overrule state courts.
Which is absurd; the only way this could happen is if Congress forced the person served to testify for the rest of their lives. What a congressional subpoena does is call a person before Congress in order to testify. An equally silly comment, from the same source:
"If you do that, why have a state at all?" Rose said. "Why not just have the federal government do everything? It's absolutely contrary to every principle of federalism."
Yes, that makes sense; Congress is going to usurp all state government functions purely in virtue of requiring people to testify before it. Oh, the menace. My inclination is to agree with those who say that Judge Greer should be charged with contempt of Congress; whatever the propriety of the subpoena, it is not his place to decide whether Congress is within its rights in issuing it. But part of this is due to the fact that I see no constitutional need for conflict of powers here: at most the testimony delays state action until after the hearing, nothing more. Worry about the bills, not the subpoenas.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


A young protestor is arrested for trying to take water to Terri Schaivo. Tip: Southern Appeal The Ludwig Von Minses Institute reviews a new book, Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America. Looks interesting:
Allitt's thesis is that during the 1950s American Catholic conservatives generally held a cohesive position, based on natural law. In politics, Catholic rightists favored a strongly anti Communist foreign policy and defended capitalism, although not in the pure form professed by libertarians. This group succeeded during the 1950s and early 1960s in securing for themselves a distinct place in American politics. But then disaster struck. The Second Vatican Council, with its attendant upheavals, fragmented American Catholicism. Accordingly, in the 1960s and 1970s the united front among Catholic conservative broke apart.
I'm too young and new to the faith to be able to comment much on Vatican II. I am curious about the subject, however. I suspect too much blame is put on Vatican II, but also suspect that it muddied the waters more than it needed to. National Review was very good yesterday: I have not had time to look this over, but Penitens offers us a link to guide to Catholic thought on end of life decisions. Penitens is also the host for this week's Catholic Carnival. Drudge reports Playgirl editor fired for being a Republican. This webpage claims to tidy up your difficult text and make good HTML. Bloggers take note!