Undoing Being

The government of New York City wants to put every child into preschool so they can spend time away from their “chaotic two earner parent houses.” This isn’t something they’re contemplating as an optional move, mind you — this would be required, just like public school. A New York State Supreme Court judge has ordered a Stony Brook University to justify its detention of two chimpanzees. Animal rights groups are rejoicing over the decision that seems to open the tent door to the camel’s nose of animals having rights.

We have, over the last several months (and/or years), witnessed a number of people who have been bullied, on social media, into changing laws, changing their minds, or simply shutting up — because anything the Twitter crowd doesn’t agree with is bigoted, right? Of course, it’s worse when it’s the state who’s doing the bullying — breaking into people’s houses, taking their computers and other electronics because they might have said something someone someplace might consider hateful, or contrary to the best interests of the state.

And, finally, colleges and institutions of higher learning, in an effort to “become more relevant,” are focusing ever more sharply on vocational education. While the modern liberal arts education isn’t what it’s supposed to be, education as a commodity as an answer still seems to leave something behind.

What do all of these have in common? The last — colleges and liberal education — might point the way to a better understanding.

In each of these cases, the underlying philosophy is that humans are not, well… actually humans. Rather, we’re just well adapted animals who happen to be at the top of the food chain. There’s nothing really special about humans, other than that we happen to build hospitals, cars, internets, and other sorts of things. After all, if chimpanzees and dolphins are given a few thousand (or perhaps million) years to evolve further, they would be building their own hospitals, cars, and internets. Or something like that.

This reductionist path of thinking states, outright, that chimpanzees are humans — they deserve their own rights (even though we’ve no idea what they really want, as they don’t actually send email quite yet) — and human children don’t. We cannot “detain” an adult chimpanzee, but we may most certainly detain human children in a school system to make certain they are taught just what the state wants. If I were defending the university, I would simply say the chimpanzees aren’t being “detained,” they’re being kept in an environment appropriate to their mental development — a preschool, if you will — in order to foster their thinking skills. Then I could point to the mandatory preschool laws as my justification for keeping them just where they are.

Beyond the logical silliness, though, is a more basic question. If we take this sort of thinking to the bitter end, where, precisely, do we end up? There’s a word to describe the end, but it’s not pretty, and it’s one those advocating this path won’t agree with or like.

Suicide.

In giving up our humanity for the “dream” of having complete and total freedom, we are actually giving up that very part of ourselves that can use and enjoy the freedom we seek. Once you’re an animal, there is not such thing as freedom. Just being detained in the lab of some university is good enough.

They’re Buggy

root-of-problems

Judges 7: Fear and Faith

The Gideon narrative, from his call to the fall of the Midianite troops, can be seen as an alternate wave of fear and faith. Gideon is fearful standing in the wine press, but in faith destroys the altar of Baal after receiving signs from God. The nation is fearful in going to battle, but the fleece brings them around to faith — to the point of raising an army of 32,000 to fight off the menace of the marauders. This standoff between fear and faith is carried through Judges 7, beginning with the army of Israel gathered beside the spring of Harod, literally the spring of trembling.

God causes the army of Israel to pass through two different tests. The first is fairly straightforward — any who are afraid should go back to the camp, not participating in the initial attack against the Midianites. Fear raises it’s head, and is cast out of the camp by the spring of trembling — a more appropriate chain of events cannot be imagined in the war between fear and faith.

After this casting out is a less explicable casting out — the lapping of the water. There is little agreement on the situation here, whether the point is to remove those who are most prepared for war, casting the remaining army more heavily on their faith in God, or to remove those who are least prepared for war, in order to tighten and strengthen the initial strike force. Either way, the army is soon reduced to 300.

The reader is left with Gideon and a band of three hundred who have been directed to attack a massive armed camp. Gideon must now win the war of fear within his own heart once again. How can God assure a victory against such an enemy as this with such a gathering as this?

To resolve this issue, God directs Gideon to enter the camp itself. What’s interesting is that while Gideon is fearful, he is not fearful of creeping up close to the camp, so close he can hear what the people within are discussing. Having reached this point, though, God providentially directs his attention to one specific discussion about one specific dream.

“Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.” • Judges 7:13–14

Now, the shoe is on the other foot — it is Midian who is afraid, and Gideon who is not. Gideon now rushes back to the small strike force God has singled out, and hastily gives orders for a plan of attack. Clearly this plan of attack is not “ad hoc,” but was either given by God or dreamed up by Gideon before his little adventure into the camp of his enemies.

The little strike force sneaks into the camp, breaks the jars covering their flaming lanterns, and, weaponless, routes the Midianite forces. The attack has been planned perfectly — in the wee hours of the morning, when men are most apt to be confused, at the changing of the pickets, when many men would already be wandering through the camp either going or returning to duty, when the pickets would be the least aware, and when it is just dark enough to make it difficult to tell friend from foe. Add to all this the reality of many people wearing a wide array of equipment encamped in the same place, and the result is sure.

Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. • Judges 7:21–22

Faith conquered fear. As it always does.

Hypocrisy of the week

This last week, the Friends School of Baltimore removed a profile of one of it’s high profile alumni — Ryan T. Anderson — from various outlets. Why? Because he is best known as a “fresh face fighting against gay marriage.” In the words of the school’s head, as quoted in the Daily Signal

My decision, in other words, places a priority on the very real and human sentiments of the actual members of our community (as expressed to me in the wake of our posting of this article) over the more purely philosophical commitment to the free flow of ideas. Those of us in the majority – in this case, the heterosexual majority -have the luxury of treating the debate about same-sex marriage as an issue of abstract ideals. That luxury is simply not available to those whose humanity and civil rights have historically been degraded in this area and many others. I believe that Mr. Anderson is entitled to hold the views he does, and I respect his educational and professional accomplishments. As the article remarks, he is seen as a “fresh face” for the anti-gay-marriage movement largely because of the civil and reasoned manner in which he presents his arguments. I hope that his ability to respectfully disagree with his opponents has at least some root in his experiences at Friends School.

In other words, he’s entitled to free speech, just not, you know… free speech. In a burst of praise for an opponent’s reasonable demeanor, the head of the school proves he isn’t, actually, reasonable. After all, we can’t force people to hear an opinion they disagree with, right? That would be unreasonable.

Empty Box

Obama-hopeful-empty-box

This describes so much of our modern world…

Review: Naming the Silences

naming-the-silences>Naming the Silences: God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering
Stanley Hauerwas

In a world awash in evil, what should a Christian say? In Naming the Silences, Stanley Hauerwas argues that our answer needs to be couched in community, rather than logic.

In keeping with this line of thought, the author structures his answer to the problem of evil around stories (or, as we seem to like to call them today, narratives). He begins with a story told in another book, The Blood of the Lamb, providing an outline of the story itself, and the doubts, fears, and faith of the people populating this story. The intent here is to illustrate how the modern world specifically pits medicine against pain, and our grand expectations that medicine will, in fact, win the day. When it doesn’t, particularly in the case of children, we seem to be at a loss about why. To wit —

It is one thing to think that “the problem of evil” can be answered by the “free-will” defense or explained through human sin; it is quite another to confront the illness of a child. This is as true for the most convinced believer as it is for the half-convinced or the convinced unbeliever. It is speculatively interesting to ask how the existence of a good and all-powerful God can be reconciled with the existence of evil in the world; how we answer that question may even be the way we justify our belief—or explain our unbelief. But when I confront the actual suffering and threatened death of a child—in particular, the actual suffering and threatened death of my child—such speculative considerations grounding belief or unbelief seem hollow.

And so we turn to God — not in hope, quite often, but rather in pain and anger. This is the point at which faith is lost, where God loses his grip on the daily life of a person (or people). This is, in fact, the primary point of those who argue against Christianity.

The author goes on to drive our hope in medicine home in the following chapters, arguing that anthropodicy — the problem of why man cannot solve all pain and suffering — has replaced theodicy — the problem of why an all powerful, all good God allows suffering. After turning to God and apparently finding no answer, or in spite of the answer we find there, we turn to ourselves to solve our own problems. We turn to medicine, placing our faith and hope in the white lab coat. The problem, for the Christian, is that man cannot solve our problems — white lab coat or no. So what is a Christian to do with suffering?

According to the author, we are to expose it, to express it — in short, to build a community that can absorb it.

We are encouraged to express our pain and suffering not simply because that provides a “healthy release.” Once we understand how expressing pain and suffering can delegitimate theodicies meant to legitimate the status quo, then we can see that our willingness to expose our pain is the means God gives us to help us identify and respond to evil and injustice. For creation is not as it ought to be. The lament is the cry of protest schooled by our faith in a God who would have us serve the world by exposing its false comforts and deceptions. pages 82-83

Seeing the problem from this way, the Christian response should be to limit our hope in medicine, thus helping society at large to limit its hope in medicine. Rather, the job of the Christian is to place medicine within a narrative of suffering that is this world we live in.

The author, in this regard, makes a strong argument. It is, in fact, important for Christians to build communities that both alleviate suffering and absorb it. The Christian hospital, before it turned into the county hospital, was a community that dealt with disease and dying in many ways beyond medicine. In the replacement of Christian for secular, much has been lost. Now the diseased and dying are placed in a different world, a medical world, in which they must die, essentially, alone — no longer a part of life outside the walls of the institution. Even worse, we’ve taken this entire path to what must be its logical conclusion: any disease, any suffering, is not to be tolerated. We cannot be suffering servants, because we are not servants, and we have medicine — ultimately the right to end it all. We pursue death as a matter of reducing our burden, rather than as a matter of keeping a community alive and functioning.

At the same time, this entire line of thinking rests on a presupposition — God does not, ultimately, will this evil in which we are immersed. Contrary to the author’s argument, we cannot build this community that can absorb grief unless we see God as grieved as much, or more, than we are. We need a solid theodicy which provides a solid rational foundation for our belief that evil is, in fact, evil, and that suffering is a part of that evil which we must both minimize and absorb.

Overall, a compelling argument, even if there are some flaws in relating the foundation to the structure built on top.

@book{Hauerwas_2004,
place={London; New York},
title={Naming the silences : God, medicine, and the problem of suffering},
publisher={T&T Clark},
author={Hauerwas, Stanley},
year={2004}}

Public Thinking

Born that way

This was inevitable.

The brothers of men convicted of sex offences are five times more likely than average to commit similar crimes, according to researchers. […]

Modern Argument

You have a right to die — therefore I must kill you

Negative rights argue that your right to swing your fist ends at my nose. Positive rights, however, argue that you have a right to eat, […]