Imagine a world with one government. The focus of the government is making sure everyone is part of “one unified happy family.” The state controls all aspects of life. “Diversity” is celebrated in word, but ignored or pushed aside in practice. The government ignores individual differences between people, whether it be athletic ability or behavioral differences–absolute equality is preserved. Most people in this state believe that, after death, they will merge into oneness with the universe and lose whatever individuality that remains. Does this sound like a utopian world to you?

The European Union, which attempts in its own way to re-establish the unity of Europe before the fall of the Western Roman Empire, is supported by seemingly disparate groups: some (though not all) Marxists, Social Democrats, Corporatists and other big government, Bismark-style conservatives. The UK, which has not totally lost its historic independent streak, tends to oppose the Union. At least those who argue for the EU use their minds; the same cannot be said for the cotton-candy brained New Agers who believe in some utopian unity in 2012 (in 1969 it was the “Age of Aquarius”). New Agers, who “feel” without putting their emotions under the discipline of reason, tend toward a vague form of ontological monism and pantheism that totally subsumes the individual. Sometimes the more “thoughtful” New Agers may use  (still questionable) arguments from quantum entanglement or the Higgs Field to support their position.

Human beings are social animals, and naturally work together best in smaller social groups. The family is the basic unit of human social interaction, followed by friends, acquaintances, and strangers. It is true that Jesus Christ affirms that all people are our neighbors–that is, we are all human persons made in God’s image, thus not considering a person a neighbor because of his ethnicity is wrong. In His time, the conflict was between the Jewish people and the Samaritans The “Good Samaritan” overcomes the prejudice of the Samaritans against Jews and helps a person in need.

Jesus’ parable should not be used to argue against a hierarchy of communities beginning with the family, where we first learn to love people in spite of differences and learn to deal with fellow human beings, sometimes with much conflict. A person’s first obligation, apart from religious obligations, is to his family, and then to the other groups mentioned above. An emphasis on “we’re all really one” to the detriment of individuals and individual families ignores human nature and will only lead to a socially engineered, artificial society that, in the end, must be unified by the force of government power or by the pernicious influence of large corporations on the general culture. Individual identity is subsumed under a monster state (in socialism) or under the influence of corporations through the media (in corporatism, which, as I always emphasize, is not the same thing as capitalism).

Religion that ignores individual human beings is also pernicious. It is true that human beings, as all substances, are, as Father W. Norris Clarke put it, “substances-in-relation.” That includes relation to one another, to nature in general, and to God. But such relationality does not take away from the fact that each human being is also an individual substance with a personal unity whose value comes from God, the Creator. I have heard rebellious Christians claim that desire for individual resurrection is selfish. It can be, I suppose, but understanding human beings in relation to God and each other surely includes a natural desire to be united to God and to loved ones (and later, to others) in a resurrection world. Unity with God or with each other neither subsumes individuals nor subsume individual communities, though many human relationships will be transcended and become something deeper and far more valuable than relationships on earth. Even the Christian mystics, who in the height of their experience often used language suggesting an ontological monism, in the end recognized that they are created beings, individuals, though they are wholly dependent on God for their continued existence.

Recognizing individual families and small groups, as well as acknowledging the individuality of human persons, implies a less intrusive state as well as smaller businesses oriented to the good of their individual communities. Of course there should be a respect for other people, even those who are strangers, but fundamentally no government or corporation should interfere with the hierarchy of love that is natural to human beings and which forms organic, not forced, communities.

John Demjanjuk: A Case of Justice Perverted

March 18, 2012

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John Demjanjuk hearing his death sentence. Dem...

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John Demjanjuk died in a home for the elderly in Germany, a country to which he was deported and convicted as a Nazi war criminal. The so-called “Nazi hunters” who sought his conviction were hell bent on gaining a conviction, and apparently it did not matter to them whether Mr. Demjanjuk was guilty or innocent. At first he was thought to be a vicious Nazi prison guard nicknamed “Ivan the Terrible.” When this was proven false, he was accused of being another Nazi concentration camp guard. When this was shown to be false, he was finally convicted of being another Nazi guard. Evidence was fabricated in his case, and in no way was there sufficient evidence for him to be convicted. He may have been a German soldier, but if that makes a person a war criminal, then every German foot soldier should have been tried for war crimes. But just war theory forbids punishment of a foot soldier for following his leader’s orders.

Mr. Demjanuk was labeled a “hater of Jews,” but as Pat Buchanan pointed out, given the evidence of his innocent, “who are the real haters”? (see his fine article, “The Real Haters,” at http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=31454). The real haters are those self-professed Nazi hunters who are willing to do anything to hid the fact of their incompetence in Mr. Demjanjuk’s case, even to the point of pushing Germany to prosecute him for war crimes. To its shame, the United States agreed to Mr. Demjanjuk’s deportation. Although not all Jews supported what was done to Mr. Demjanjuk, those pushing for prosecution had too much poitical influence on the U. S. Government, and a man died far away from his family in the United States (and was stripped of his U. S. citizenship) where he had worked for years as an auto worker. All this to placate the bloodthirstiness of a group of individuals who believe that the fact of the Holocaust gives them free rein to abuse others on a lesser scale. But the horrible evil of the Holocaust does not justify evil actions by anyone, whether Jewish or not, against a man who almost certainly would not have been convicted in a U. S. Court of law. I suppose that, given United States’ policymakers’ voluntary slavery to AIPAC, the Israeli lobby in the U. S., the actions of the U. S. government in yielding to a similar group should not be surprising. The entire case was a travesty of justice, and I pray that Mr. Demjanjuk’s family will find some measure of comfort in this difficult time.

Southerners’ Warmongering and Ron Paul’s Low Vote Totals in the South

March 15, 2012

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It would seem that Ron Paul should do well in the Southern primaries. Southerners have traditionally supported a limited role for the federal government and have called for the federal government to actually follow the Tenth Amendment. Part of that tradition was affirming the sovereignty of the states over against federal power. Even though federal power might be used for a good end, it could also be used for evil ends, and to avoid tyranny, the federal government should not be allowed to force states to follow mandates beyond its constitutional authority. Federal moves to take power from the states or to force them to remain in the federal union by force were considered unconstitutional, from the War between the States to the de facto regional dictatorships of federal judges over certain states in the South which has been forced on them since the early 1970s. Ron Paul is the only candidate who truly accepts a strictly limited role of the federal government in the lives of the states. Yet Mr. Paul does far better in the North than he does in the South and finds himself in single digits in most Southern primaries.

Sadly, Southerners have been aggressive in supporting wars. War is the most effective way for the federal government to gain unwarranted power over the people and over the states. During the War between the States, Mr. Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus and shut down newspapers that opposed administration policy. In World War I, opponents of the war were arrested and jailed. World War II massively increased federal spending and created a military-industrial complex that de facto runs the country. Federal spending–and federal incursion into the authority of the states–has increased at a rapid pace since the Second World War. The freedom and rights of the states that traditional Southerners valued, preserved for a time by Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s and by the decline of Reconstruction, have been weakened by every U.S. military intervention that bloats the federal government even more than before.

Yet Southerners have been rabidly pro-war, strongly supporting the Vietnam War (except for a few brave Southern legislators) long after the rest of the country had begun to question its wisdom. The 1968 American Independent Party vice-presidential candidate was Air Force General Curtis LeMay, who led the saturation bombing against Japanese cities in World War II and supported the use of nuclear weapons against North Vietnam as a way to ensure a South Vietnamese and American victory. The irony of a states rights party with a vice-presidential candidate who was part of the vast federal military-industrial complex who supported the anti-Christian murder of civilians was lost on Southerners. Southerners were gung ho about Desert Storm and were among the most aggressive in supporting the second Iraq War. Now Southerners are among the most rabid supporters of war with Iran, and Southern Evangelicals’ blind support for Israel’s aggressiveness is well known. A combination of Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity, Premillenial theology, and Scotch-Irish aggressiveness have combined to push Southerners into supporting wars that erode the very freedom from the federal government that they seek. Thus most Southerners support warmongering Neoconservatives such as Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich, or Mr. Santorum rather than supporting the true candidate for freedom from federal tyranny, Ron Paul.

Only if conservative Southerners overcome their lust for war will they be able to support a candidate, such as Ron Paul, who would work to reverse the power of the federal government over the states.

On “Guilty Pleasures”

March 12, 2012

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I enjoy listening to classical music and jazz, especially bebop. I also enjoy listening to heavy metal music, something that I count among my “guilty pleasures.” I cannot explain the attraction, although the groups I like the most (Anthrax, Zao) tend to write more intellectual lyrics than are found in other heavy metal bands. Another guilty pleasure may relate to this interest–I love horror fiction and horror movies. Black Sabbath became successful when they tried to reach horror fans with their music, and other groups followed. From Rob Zombie to black and death metal, horror themes are found in heavy metal music. Now some people would say I should be ashamed of this guilty pleasure, and perhaps they have a point. Richard Weaver, the author of the fine book Ideas Have Consequences, thought jazz to be decadent, and he would have rolled over in his grave if he had lived long enough to have heard heavy metal music.

As for horror fiction, I prefer books of higher literary quality–not only the classic works such as Frankenstein and Dracula, but also works of fine contemporary horror writers such as Ramsey Campbell and, yes, Stephen King. Dean Koontz is not as strong, though his writing has improved over the years. I love his Frankenstein series. Now and then I don’t mind reading a trashy horror novel–or seeing a trashy horror movie. With a red face I admit I like both the movies Reanimator and Bride of Reanimator. H. P. Lovecraft would have fainted if he saw how his work was adapted, but there is a campiness to these movies that eases the shock of their graphic imagery.

Another guilty pleasure is that I collect animal skulls–so far I have several dog, cat, and deer skulls, a cow skull, a horse skull, a goose skull, and perhaps more if my old brain could remember them. I do not know the source of that interest entirely–as a child I was afraid of skulls and skeletons when they appeared in horror movies or shows. I remember watching, in the late 1960s as a child, an episode of the horror soap opera Dark Shadows. Someone was sitting down and glanced up to look at a bookcase. Several skulls floated in the air. I screamed, got in trouble, and eventually was…. punished….. for insisting on continuing to watch the show. While an interest in skulls could be explained by my fear-fascination with death, such a pleasure becomes less guilty due to my fascination with form in nature. So many patterns repeat in nature, not only in different living organisms, but inanimate ones, too. That’s the excuse I give myself to feel better about this interest.

Last but not least is ghost investigations. I have no idea whether or not ghosts exist.  I do believe (and have experienced) things that are difficult to explain via conventional science. But I enjoy being in the dark, feeling like a child in the woods listening to ghost stories. It is not that I do not take this activity seriously, but I find it to be lots of fun despite the work involved.

Everyone probably has at least one guilty pleasure, something he enjoys that seems incongruent which his known character and interests. Someone who likes fine wines may have a cheap white Zinfandel now and then. A person who enjoys fine dining may enjoy the occasional splurge as a cheap, greasy fast food restaurant. I’m not convinced that these guilty pleasures are worth feeling guilty about. They reveal human beings to be interesting and complex creatures who can tie together disparate, even contradictory, interests together in their minds. If quirks and guilty pleasures do not harm a person and make this short life a little more interesting, then more power to them.

Anti-Religious Bias in Medical Ethics

March 10, 2012

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A few of my medical ethics students (not by any means the majority) object to my including such a large component of religious ethics in my teaching. Such an attitude is not surprising–it is another instance of religion’s increasing exclusion from public life and debate (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus‘ “naked public square,” but it is nevertheless disturbing. The founders of the great Hippocratic tradition of medicine (and ethics) were Pythagoreans, and their thought cannot be understood apart from Pythagorean mysticism. Roman Catholic scholars were producing texts in medical ethics as early as the seventeenth century, and taught medical ethics as a university course long before the contemporary bioethics revolution began in 1966. Roman Catholic concepts such as the principle of double effect and the ordinary-extraordinary care distinction have become a part of the ethical vocabulary in medicine.

In addition, Protestant scholars, such as Paul Ramsey and James Gustafson, have made important contributions to medical ethics. Jewish scholars, such as Hans Jonas and Leon Kass, have also contributed to the field, with Professor Kass serving as the chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics during the Bush administration. Muslim scholars are beginning to be published in both mainstream medical and in medical ethics journals. At a practical level, understanding diverse religions is important for any health care provider.

The terms of the debates over key bioethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia cannot be adequately understood without understanding the religious arguments involved in these debates. I am not denying the possibility of a consistent secular ethics; I am saying that, as a matter of fact, de-emphasizing the religious aspect of medical ethics is irresponsible, period, and would be more irresponsible for me from a scholarly/teaching point of view.

What is more disturbing than students’ attitudes, which may be as much due to lack of exposure to alternative views (especially for those students who are “rabidly secular”), is the increasing exclusion of religious points of view from medical ethical debates. This exclusion is not absolute; journals such as the Hastings Center Report occasionally publish articles from a religious perspective, as do some other journals in medical ethics, but this is becoming increasingly rare. The false Enlightenment assumption that religion is only a private, subjective matter is part of the problem. Such a view reveals utter ignorance of the function of religion in personal behavior and in society. As one of my teachers at UGA once said, “I would never be such a damned fool as to claim that religion is only a private matter.” He was a liberal Protestant and not a raging Fundamentalist, but he understood the function of religion to be inherently social. He also understood that religions make claims about reality, and such claims can be broadly tested against human experience in general, although there will always be an element of faith and of mystery in religion.

Increasingly, I find a small group of students who could be called “misotheists”–they hate God or at least the notion that any Creator exists. Since these are mostly science students, I would guess they were encouraged to believe such things by some of their science teachers, as well as by the strict methodological atheism of modern and contemporary science. Far too many science teachers make sweeping metaphysical claims regarding religion being a superstition and claim that such a view is “scientific.” Of course this is really the philosophy of “scientism,” the view that science can explain all reality and that any reality claims that go beyond a mythical “scientific method” are, by their very nature, not part of reality. Such a view needs to be justified by argumentation, but neither the scientists who accept scientism nor students are willing to present arguments–their hostility to religion is palpable. Other students (and atheists and agnostics in general) are angry ex-religious people who have rebelled against, perhaps, a harsh religious background (or maybe they just want to get laid and don’t want any religion to get in their way). Since misotheism is, like scientism, an emotionally-based position, there is no rational way to get most people who hold such views to think them through.

I admit I’m frustrated. It is becoming increasingly difficult to be a religious believer who teaches in a college or university. They follow the logic of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, adopting not only its positive side (toleration for different points of view) but also its negative side (the total secularization of the academy). Even in religious schools, the logic of the Enlightenment leads many faculty be be atheists or agnostics and to minimize the role of religion in public life. It is sad that this attitude has spread to future health care providers.