Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My God! I'm Going to Die.

The Flaming Lips' song 'Do You Realize' has a quote that while at worst falls prey to emo-culture is at best the foundational statement of existentialism: "Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die."

I think about this amid the rancor and vitriol which is currently masquerading as a public discourse about health care reform in this country. This goes for both sides; conservatives and liberals.

Apparently, Rush Limbaugh is saying that White House health care reform will 'kill grandma.' And, I really have little interest in that fight. What I find more interesting is that no one seems to realize that grandma, along with everyone else you know will someday die, including me.

Such a blunt proleptic prognosis is sobering. It also elucidates a grim reality about the ultimate efficiency of modern medicine, it always loses. The house, just like death, always wins. Christians may have a rejoinder, but that's another topic. No surgery, vaccine, or rehabilitation program will ever stave off the sting of death forever.

Heath care, no matter the delivery system, is a scarce good confronting an ever increasing need and never satiated demand. Health care 'rationing' seems an uncaring or even crass description of squaring the supply of it with the demand for it. But, it is the reality, and it must be faced.

Peter Singer wrote an editorial for the New York Times a few weeks ago that framed the issue of rationing quite well.

You have advanced kidney cancer. It will kill you, probably in the next year or two. A drug called Sutent slows the spread of the cancer and may give you an extra six months, but at a cost of $54,000. Is a few more months worth that much?

If you can afford it, you probably would pay that much, or more, to live longer, even if your quality of life wasn’t going to be good. But suppose it’s not you with the cancer but a stranger covered by your health-insurance fund. If the insurer provides this man — and everyone else like him — with Sutent, your premiums will increase. Do you still think the drug is a good value? Suppose the treatment cost a million dollars. Would it be worth it then? Ten million? Is there any limit to how much you would want your insurer to pay for a drug that adds six months to someone’s life? If there is any point at which you say, “No, an extra six months isn’t worth that much,” then you think that health care should be rationed.

Yet, Christians, rightly, may not find rationing a theologically, if not pastorally, acceptable. Stewardship, however, I think, offers a refreshing paradigm in understanding healthcare. Stewardship implies limitedness. It helps suggest that while healthcare is a good and is Good, that it cannot overcome death and must be understood in light of this fundamental limitation. After realizing that everyone we know will someday die, we then turn to the task of health care policy. This does not make the task easier, it will probably make it ever the more gripping and painful, but it may also offer a platform for real public discourse.

What do you think? I'm interested to know.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sunday Morning "Worship Center"

Driving back to Chicago, the rain falls stedily on the pavement of Interstate 55 North. On the left, a large building with a large fancy marquee was situated immediately beside an exit ramp. The marquee was not unlike so many other that spelled out the nightly specials for chain motels. This marquee, though, was not for a motel. Intead, above the scrolling electronic marquee the words, “Worship Center” brightly appeared. The same name appeared above the large double doors of the building… “Worship Center”. Christian in essense, no doubt, but what secularly banal, commerically marketed, and theologicall ambigious a place it must be, too.

A worship center, only pushes the question that God, too, is no different than any other consumable good. People consume religious experience on Sunday mornings, and this “Worship Center” provides such an experience. It’s not Church. It’s not the community of Christ, the Body of believers. It is simply a collection of people who want to do some worshipping on Sunday mornings… instead of say, yoga, or running, or drinking at a cafĂ©.

In the blurring rain, the builing flees into the distance. I could almost see the marquee scrolling through a last damning message: Coming Soon! Drive-thru prayer window!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

'Begotten, Not Documented'

The 'birthers' are a pretty easy target. But, hey, what's one more pot-shot at a political movement built on thinly veiled racism?

Slate ran a Doonesbury cartoon yesterday that makes both political and theological points.

The title of the strip, "Begotten, Not Documented."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Christianity, the Downfall of America?

The liberal leaning Slate asked its readers what will be the downfall of America. Rounding out the top five: Loose nukes, Peak oil, Antibiotic resistance, China unloading US treasury bonds, and Israel-Arab War.

Understanding that this poll is as unscientific as you can get, one of the findings, at least for Christians, should be a little surprising. Of the 144 scenarios that lead to the American apocalypse, both Christianity and Militant Islam made the list.

the surprise? Christianity was voted as more likely to cause the end of America than Militant Islam. Christianity ranked 35th while Militant Islam ranked 52nd. At first glance, this seems unlikely to me, but it gets even more unlikely when you read Slate's given reason for why Christianity may ultimately undermine the United States.
Just as, per Edward Gibbon, the rise of religion killed Rome's fighting spirit, increasing spirituality turns America into a nation of pacifists. We get attacked and don't fight back.

So, here's to hoping that Christianity leads to the end of America.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Questionable Wedding Theology

Last weekend two of my dear friends, Andy and Emily, were married. It was a wonderful service: theological faithful and beautiful, too.

So, it was with horror that I came across a picture of the very antithesis of the wedding I witnessed just last weekend. The picture above, sigh, is both theological skewed and aesthetically disturbing. If you can't see, the picture is of a wedding couple, pouring two differently colored vials of sand into a single jar. The two colors - neon green and pink! - of course, do not mix into one, but like retro-colored water and oil stay separate in their own corners. So much for 'becoming one flesh'!

In many weddings, the couple, each taking a lit candle, light a unity candle. The unity, far from a crass amalgamation, is a sacramental transformation. One can not look at a unity candle and identify where one spouse ends and the other begins. That is the very notion of unity.

Plus, you can also see the couple were married outside; another theological taboo.

In addendum: this is why I left Indiana.