Saturday, December 12, 2009

Know Your Christian History.

Chris Armstrong at Grateful to the Dead has a list of top ten Christian History books.

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Repugnance and the Formation of a Society's Ethics and Morality.

From Bryan Caplan at Library of Economics and Liberty. This post may at first seem off my beat but what causes me to post it is not only the contention of the article itself - that repugnance is often conditioned and should not be used, as Leon Kass argues, as a justification for establishing ethics or morality - but because it gets at ideas of changing morality and medical ethics. Remember way back when a heart transplant was roundly criticized as "playing god?"

Don't miss the comments. I think they get at much of what I follow in medical ethics, changes in acceptable moral views, and attempts by religious individuals and entities to stop the clock in a period (of time) that they, without memory or historical context, assume represents moral clarity. The "hell in a handbasket" argument made by those who oppose legalization of certain medical treatments (read, for the sake of my issues, "pro-life" groups who oppose sterilization, fertilization, abortion, or aid in dying) can be said to represent an area of morality established on "repugnance."

I finally read that instant classic of bioethics, Leon Kass' "The Wisdom of Repugnance." While its proximate goal is to urge a ban on human cloning, Kass advances a much more general ethical position:
[R]epugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason's power fully to articulate it. Can anyone really give an argument fully adequate to the horror which is father-daughter incest (even with consent), or having sex with animals, or mutilating a corpse, or eating human flesh, or even just (just!) raping or murdering another human being? Would anybody's failure to give full rational justification for his or her revulsion at these practices make that revulsion ethically suspect?
Given my ethical intuitionism and my view that moral theories should begin with simple concrete cases, you would think that I would have to grant his point. I do not. Our two positions are actually quite different. I think people should calm down and think rationally about ethical questions. Kass almost seems to think that people do their best moralizing when they're overcome with emotion. Listen to him try to angry up his readers' blood:
People are repelled by many aspects of human cloning. They recoil from the prospect of mass production of human beings, with large clones of look-alikes, compromised in their individuality; the idea of father-son or mother-daughter twins; the bizarre prospects of a woman giving birth to and rearing a genetic copy of herself, her spouse or even her deceased father or mother; the grotesqueness of conceiving a child as an exact replacement for another who has died; the utilitarian creation of embryonic genetic duplicates of oneself, to be frozen away or created when necessary, in case of need for homologous tissues or organs for transplantation; the narcissism of those who would clone themselves and the arrogance of others who think they know who deserves to be cloned or which genotype any child-to-be should be thrilled to receive; the Frankensteinian hubris to create human life and increasingly to control its destiny; man playing God.
But the most amazing sentence in Kass' whole piece almost flies under radar:
Revulsion is not an argument; and some of yesterday's repugnances are today calmly accepted -- though, one must add, not always for the better.
It's quite an admission. Even if his last clause is dramatic understatement, Kass still acknowledges that calm acceptance of yesterday's repugnances is sometimesfor the better. And on reflection, that list is very long: vaccination, girls, dissection, religious toleration, kissing, C-sections, inter-racial marriage, paying for parking, colonoscopies, amputation of gangrenous tissue (double yuck), sex, Indian food, male nurses... Some of these continue to disgust me - I feel faint if I even look at a syringe. Still, if I think I need a shot, I try to calm down and do what I think - not feel - is the right thing.

My point is not that repugnance is less than 100% reliable. 100% reliability is a silly standard. My point is that repugnance is
habitually unreliable. In any case, there are several useful ways to test the wisdom of repugnance. Under what conditions do we justifiably discount repugnance? For starters:

1. When the repugnant thing is
unfamiliar. In retrospect, new things often seem repugnant merely because we haven't experienced them before. When a hero kisses a heroine in a movie, my sons flee in horror. Once they have personal experience, I predict their views will change.

2. When a repugnant thing involves bodily fluids and the inner workings of the human body. There's no way around it - dissection is gross. Fortunately, some people are rational enough to overcome their natural disgust, secure in the knowledge that (a) the dead feel no pain, and (b) they might learn how to help the living.

3. When
other people encourage our repugnance. If a classroom full of kids see you eat a chocolate-covered bug, they'll all go, "Eeew!" in unison. They'd probably be less judgmental one-on-one.

4. When we
easily get used to it. While deliberate exposure tends to reduce our negative emotions about almost anything, we get used to some things much more quickly than others. Why? Because we often learn that, all things considered, it isn't nearly as bad as we imagined. Think about how completely we've adjusted to widespread in vitro fertilization. It's a repugnant procedure to describe, but when you see happy parents holding their "test-tube baby," the folly our initial repugnance is plain. Compared to the great good of life, a little yuckiness is nothing.

Frankly, I don't see how Kass could deny my points. He almost surely agrees that mankind has repeatedly done the right thing by putting repugnance aside. I'm equally sure, though, that he'd insist that we should stick with our gut reaction to human cloning.

Yet notice: Human cloning fits
all four criteria for when we should discount our repugnance! It's totally unfamiliar; it involves bodily fluids and the inner workings of the human body; other people (like Kass himself) encourage our repugnance; and it's pretty obvious that if clones walked among us, we would get used to them lickety-split. If Kass himself met a clone, I doubt he'd tell him, "You should never have come into existence." And before long, he probably wouldn't even say such things to himself.

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Mental Health Advocates or Big Pharma Groups?

From The Truth About Prone Restraint, another example of how "patients' rights" groups are often fronts for big pharma interests.

Makes you ask yet again where oversight of the medical profession is, no? The government has historically given undue authority to the medical industry at the expense of patients' rights. If they wish to treat health care as a human right, the government will have to undo the creep of free license and abuse the industry is accustomed to, with the collusion of doctors organizations (who do not want to be regulated) and the Conservative right which fears "socialism" or any government regulation of free markets.

According to the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights Internation (CCHRI) – A Mental Health Watchdog group. According to CCHRI, Mental Health Advocacy Groups the following MH organizations are paid front men for the pharmaceutical companies. All the companies in favor of banning a person’s right to defend themselves or others. Their solution — dope them up.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)

Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)

Center for the Advancement of Children’s Mental Health (CACMH)

Children and Adults with ADD (CHADD)

Herbert Pardes: Creating The Front Group Pipe Line

Mental Health America (Formerly National Mental Health Association)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

National Association for Research on Schizophrenia And Depression (NARSAD)

Screening for Mental Health, Inc

Signs of Suicide (SOS)

Suicide Prevention Action Network USA (SPAN)

TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups

The Jed Foundation

These are groups operating under the guise of advocates for the “mentally ill,” which in reality are heavily funded pharmaceutical front groups.


In the late 1970s and 1980s, prominent American Psychiatric Association (APA) psychiatrists, directors and researchers with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) were in need of more government funding, and devised a plan to create a “growth of consumer and advocacy organizations” with the intention of getting these groups to help lobby Congress for increased funding for psychiatric research.[i] Several groups emerged first on the scene during that period: The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADDA), National Depression & Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA, now called Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, DBSA) and National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD).

In an incestuous relationship, many of these groups were formed by the directors or researchers from NIMH-the very organization that needed mental health advocacy groups to make demands on Congress for increased funding. All of them had board or advisory board members with financial ties to Pharma and the majority of them were heavily funded by Pharma. So this was a brilliant marketing/lobbying strategy – Set up patients rights groups to lobby for the funding needed for psychiatry and big Pharma while claiming to be “advocates” for the mentally ill.

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Homosexual Violence and the Church.

Jodi Jacobson writes at RHRealityCheck that the Holy See has condemned violence and discrimination toward homosexuals. Read the entire article here.

At what advocates have called a "breakthrough meeting," the Holy See delivered a statement that said it:

opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. … [T]he murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State.

The United Nations General Assembly panel, which met this week, "helped build new momentum for ending human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity," according to a coalition of human rights advocacy organizations. (A video of the panel can be viewed by clickinghere.)

The meeting included discussion of discriminatory and draconian “anti-homosexuality legislation” currently before the Ugandan parliament, and of the role of American religious groups in promoting that bill and homophobia across Africa. In a groundbreaking move, a representative of the Holy See in the audience read a statement strongly condemning the criminalization of homosexual conduct.

The panel was held on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, and the 61st anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It featured speakers from Honduras, India, the Philippines, and Zambia, as well as Uganda, where the proposed "anti-homosexuality law shows the steady threat of government repression."

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Moscow Gets Religion.

From Catholic News Service, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church have joined forces to combat abortion, euthanasia and homosexual marriage in Russia. It's an unholy match, with many theological differences. But they are both losing members to "secularism" and worry that post-Christian humanism is robbing them of followers.

You find a lot of the same "martyrdom of the Church" stuff that you hear from Christians here in the US.

Sadly, homophobia is a large element of discrimination in the Russian society. Since I was there - over two years ago now - I've said I would hate to be black, Mongolian, or Gay in Russia.

It's a long article but worth reading for the comments on the Manhattan Declaration and other efforts the Church is combating around the globe. In an unstated apology for the ravages of Communism, under which the church was silenced, a new tolerance for religion has surged in Russia. The new president has even gone so far in the past year to instate classes in schools on religion and for reasons of population decline, to invite back religious sects who fled the country under Communism.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For years, the Vatican has suggested that a promising area of ecumenical cooperation was a joint struggle by Christian churches against the moral and social challenges posed by a predominantly secular society.

Now the Russian Orthodox Church has come forward to propose a strategic alliance with the Catholic Church aimed, in effect, at saving Europe's soul from "Western post-Christian humanism."

The offer came in an introduction written by Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion to a book of speeches by Pope Benedict XVI on Europe's spiritual crisis, published in Russian by the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate. In an unusual move, the Vatican newspaper published almost the entire introduction in its Dec. 2 edition.

Archbishop Hilarion, who is president of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, took a combative tone in his text. He denounced the "militant secularism" adopted by an increasingly united Europe, warned that religion was being closed off in the "ghetto" of private devotion, and urged Christians to confront their governments on issues like abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage -- even to the point of civil disobedience.

Archbishop Hilarion's proposal came as 140 Christian leaders in the United States met in New York and issued the "Manhattan Declaration" pledging renewed zeal in defending the unborn, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and protecting religious freedom. The Manhattan Declaration, too, urged non-compliance and perhaps even civil disobedience when Christians are asked to participate in acts like abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

There were many parallels in the Russian Orthodox initiative, along with one big difference: the Russian Orthodox Church, in the words of Archbishop Hilarion, speaks with the moral authority and practical experience of survival under communism. That chapter of ideological repression has similarities with what's happening to religion in Western Europe today, he said.

"For religion, militant secularism is just as dangerous as militant atheism was. Both tend to exclude religion from the public and political sphere, relegating it to a ghetto, confining it to the area of private devotion," he said.

The archbishop added that in modern Europe the "unwritten rules of political correctness" are increasingly applied to religious institutions, to the point that believers can no longer express their religious convictions publicly because it would be considered a violation of the rights of non-believers.

Archbishop Hilarion said Europe's political unification had brought with it the risk of a new pan-European "dictatorship" that would impose a single model of secular humanistic values on all European countries.

The process has been abetted by the Western media, he said, which focus almost exclusively on the scandals and shortcomings of Christian churches and ignores their spiritual richness and social contributions. He suggested that this may be part of a wider design of intimidation and "progressive marginalization of Christianity from society, up to its complete expulsion."

The Russian Orthodox view is that the religious beliefs of the population of each state should be reflected in its legislation. For Christian populations, that would mean rejection of practices like euthanasia, homosexual marriage, pornography and prostitution, he said.

He noted that the Russian Orthodox Church has taken strong public positions against abortion, surrogate motherhood, artificial insemination and sex-change operations. It's crucial, he said, that churches have the right not only to hold these beliefs but also to profess them in society and influence public policy, without being accused of intolerance.

In case of a conflict between the church's moral teachings and civil law, the Christian must have the right to follow his religious beliefs, Archbishop Hilarion said. In particular, he said, when a civil law contradicts divine law on an essential matter, it "ceases to be law and becomes illegal."

When respecting such a law would force the Christian to commit a grave sin, the Christian is held to denounce it through legal means and, if necessary, resort to civil disobedience, he said.

"Obviously, disobeying a civil law is an extreme measure that a particular church can adopt in exceptional circumstances. But it is a possibility that cannot be excluded in advance, if a system of secularized values becomes the only operating one in Europe," he said.

Archbishop Hilarion noted the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that crucifixes hanging in Italian public schools violate religious freedom. The court's decision, he said, went against the right of each state to preserve its own traditions and identity, and represented another attempt to erase Europe's Christian roots.

"I think in all these areas we can collaborate with the Catholic Church in defending the Christian tradition against militant secularism," he said.

The archbishop said it was a "sad spectacle" to see European churches abandoned by the faithful and turned into pubs, half-empty cathedrals, seminaries without students and empty religious houses. While the church communities themselves are partly responsible for this situation, the disruptive effects of secularism should not be undervalued, he said.

In contrast, he said, the Russian Orthodox Church has emerged from decades of repression with new vigor: new churches are being built, seminaries are full and millions of people are returning to God in a "religious renaissance."

Vatican officials made no formal response to the archbishop's text, but read it with great interest.

At age 43, Archbishop Hilarion is considered a young mover and shaker in Moscow. Partly educated in the West, he has been open to dialogue and recently held extensive talks with Pope Benedict and other Vatican officials.

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A Peaceful Death.

Risa's Pieces recounts the peaceful death of a woman in Washington state:

We arrived early on a chilly morning. The home was spotless and charming, embossed with her favorite colors, reds and pinks. Her daughters were gracious, relieved to have support, offered us coffee. We sat at the kitchen table and opened the 90 barbiturate capsules, briskly tapping them and then using a toothpick to remove all of the white powder. We dissolved it in 4 ounces of cranberry juice. About 30 minutes ahead of the time she had chosen, she took pills to quiet the stomach and chase away nausea. Everyone seemed both sad and peaceful. She held the glass with both hands—a bit unsteady, sitting in a rocking chair, bright red afghan across her legs—and took two long deliberate swallows. There was a sweet, tearful hug for each daughter just after she finished. She relaxed back in her chair, smiled gently, and was asleep in about 5 minutes. There was no struggle. No noise or movement. Twenty minutes later, there was no heartbeat.

It was the most peaceful death I have ever seen.

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Subsidiarity: Catholics abet Tea Bagger Independence.

The concept of subsidiarity, a part of Catholic social teaching, sounds a lot like federalism when you spell it out. Those opposed to "entitlement" programs, often right or far right groups depending on the program, kind of overlap with conservatives Catholics when health care reform comes up. Here's a little argument from The Lewis Crusade that refutes those arguments:

The Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

This is one of the basic dividing lines of the two basic approaches to American politics. The Right emphasizes “not delegated to the United States by the Constitution” and “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”.

The Left emphasizes “prohibited byit to the States.” Therein lies the dilemma.

Article I, Section 8, gives Congress power “To regulate Commerce . . . among the several states.”

OK, so here’s the thing. I usually praise Medicaid for being subsidiarist, even while I express frustration that one can’t get medical care in another state if one is on Medicaid.

It occurred to me today, and this is just a little change in thought, as subsidiarity and the question of not trusting federal power in general still come into play, but I’m wondering if the Constitutional argument against government run health care is really valid, since health care is most definitely an interstate commerce issue in our society.

For example, if Medicaid were transferable out of state, I could have taken the girls and gone to Johns Hopkins by now.

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