Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Theological Limericks

Coming back to theology this week. I am sharing some of the limericks I wrote sometime last year for the poetry contest at Garrett.

Milbank was writing a book on 'RO.'
Which hoped for a chruch long ago,
so, with the help of Aquinas,
and his wit and his slyness,
he changed the church status-quo.

There once was a man who praised God.
Thinking Him worthy to worship and laud,
but after hearing it said
that God was found dead,
He cast down his head and he bawled.

Long v. Young
(Young asked,)"Does God on His own ever suffer?"
(Long said,)"No! Oh my no! He's much tougher!"
But He's all passion and love?
No. Hes the power all of!
And oh how theology did suffer.

In researching a doctoral exegesis,
a girl wanted an original thesis,
but all the ideas had been done,
so she turned into a nun,
and began a spiritual askesis.

There once was a god named Khali.
Who's presence started a rally.
The students screamed, "burn!"
And the profs grew in concern,
so they baptized her as a finale.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's in a Poll?

A Justification to End Democracy

The recently released New York Times/CBS national poll was blandly covered by reporters suggesting that Democrats like their presidential candidates and Republicans don’t. A national poll wasn’t needed for anyone to know that.

However, there was something surprising that the poll revealed: Americans are dumb.

After downloading the entire poll and the historical trends that correspond to the polling it was quite clear Americans are stupid. I often try to shy away from the incendiary, but it just cannot be helped. Hopefully on a few examples can make this position clear:

1) Americans are inherently pessimistic (and oblivious) about the economy.

The national poll has for decades asked Americans: “Do you think the economy is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same?” The most recent report was the most pessimistic since the oil supply crisis in the late seventies; only 5% believed the economy was getting better, 53% thought it getting worse, 40% it was staying the same. However, with the recent stocks fluctuations, the drop in the dollar (and strengthen Euro), and subprime mortgage bust this isn’t a woefully pessimistic outlook.

Yet, looking over the past thirty years a different picture emerges. In the past thirty years only a six times have over 30% of Americans responded that the economy was getting better!

However in the past thirty years there have been only five recessions (a recession being two consecutive quarters of stagnant GDP growth. The recession lasted a total of 17 quarters (since 1971) out of last 144 quarters (up to 2007, 09), according to the St. Louis' Federal Reserve Website. The economy, almost as a rule, is always getting better. This reminds me of some unfortunate souls in my classroom who swear that 'the capitalist machine' shall break down and begin rusting within the decade. Thank God we didn't allow the Central Bank reps to be electable positions.

This indicator (public perception of the economy) is even less helpful, because it is often called a ‘lagging’ indicator, meaning only after the (economic) fact does the public realize that there has been a shift in the economy (compared to inflation or interest rate changes, which are usually considered ‘leading’ indicators.

2) The second concern is in what is specifically drawing voters to candidates, for republicans and democrats alike.

Under the question: What specifically is it about [CANDIDATES NAME] that makes you want to support him/her. Then it is followed by a number of attributes or possibly relevant associations.

4% of democrats and 5% of all republicans who were polled, answered, “I like him/her.” Which of course is important if one is voting for a new friend into their life, but not so much for a president.

6% of democrats surveyed admirably answered, “smart/intelligent.’ However, another 13% of democrats answered, “Married to Bill Clinton.” Which is a staggeringly stupid answer; no matter how much someone liked Clinton’s two term presidency. Republicans dis not fare much better. Not even a single republican answered that “smart/intelligent” was a characteristic of a candidate that made them want to support them.

3) Americans are (or at least think they) are racist & sexist.

Some of the final questions gave me the jeepers (and reminded me of the time David Duke ran for office (now I'll get people googling "David Duke" into this site, which is even scarier). Because the polls suggest that Americans are ether racist and sexist, or just think most of the people they know are racist and sexist. Each scenario does not bode well for US citizens: they are either mostly bigots or mostly paranoid, or some large combination of both.

The first question reads, “Do you think most people you know would vote for a presidential candidate who is a woman, or not?
49 would, 40 would not, 12 dk/na.

The second question reads, “Do you think most people you know would vote for a presidential candidate who is black, or not?
60 would, 25 would not, 15 dk/na.

Besides the acute fear I feel that many of my friends may be secretly misogynists, these questions also place clearly into perspective how black men got the vote before women. The Amiercan electorate scare me.

So, besides the AP picking up the new tracking numbers and mundanely reporting that Huckabee’s support continues to steadily increase, they should have instead reported that Americans are both blind and stupid… and recommend they be politically muted.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Seminarians and the Good Samaritan

My good parisian friend threw the ethical gauntlet down during a recent note. He spoke of the 1973 study by John Darley and Daniel Batson entitled, "From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior." The study was to see if seminarians, crudely if you will, 'practiced what they preached.'

Richard Beck's blog, "Experimental Theology" summarizes the study well.

The study involved seminarians preparing for the ministry. The seminarians were randomly split into two groups. The first group was asked to prepare a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The second group prepared a sermon on a non-helping religious subject. The seminarians were then scheduled to deliver this sermon at an appointed time and place.

Upon arriving at the place the seminarians were told that the location has been changed at the last minute and that they were to go to a new location. At this point, the seminarians were split into three groups. A third of the seminarians were put under strong time pressure, told that they needed to get to the new venue in a hurry (high hurry). A third was put under moderate time pressure (intermediate hurry). And finally, the third group was told that they could take their time getting to the new venue (low hurry). After this hurry manipulation the seminarians were pointed to the exit and directed to proceed to the next venue.

Now, along the route (an alleyway) to the next venue Darley and Batson had placed a person who showed signs of distress. Specifically, they were sitting slumped against the wall, head down and eyes closed. As the subject passed, the confederate would cough twice and groan. Basically, they showed signs of abdominal pain. As the seminarians passed the key variable was recorded: Would they stop to check on the groaning person?

The findings were less than what romantic seminarians and seminaries would like to find.

Of the 40 subjects, 16 (40%) offered some form of direct or indirect aid to the victim, 24 (60%) did not. The percentages of subjects who offered aid by situational variable were, for low hurry, 63% offered help, intermediate hurry 45%, and high hurry 10%; for helping-relevant message 53%, task-relevant message 29%.

What does this say of ethics? Nothing which shouldn't surprise us. Christians too feel constraints when confronted with deadlines. Christians too are sometimes unresponsive to concrete and tangible social problems.

As the study indicates that ethical choices might be strongly correlated to the context of the ethical decision, it should be no surprise that Christians should take seriously what type of environment they want to intentionally root themselves in. (Perhaps, Amish have something here)?

Also, I agree with my friend that ethics can often play a public role outside of individuated decision making. Christian ethicists have a great task in helping develop social policies and suggest the adoption or proscription of certain social mores.

I also agree with Richard Beck that it also is a clarion call for Christians to slow down: a chance to smell the roses while also considering the ethical quandaries that surround us. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the celebration of the Mass seems a perfect place to start.

Yet, for all of these other reasons, one principle reason Christians may not properly respond to morally atomized situations is that we live in a legal not virtue driven society. I hope to take up this issues after finals.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gratus as an Ontological Proof

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season I would like to recount a story of how gratitude led a man to God.

The summer after finishing college I backpacked Europe and for a month stayed at the American Seminary at Katholic University, Belgium. A good priest friend of mine was spending the summer there in hopes of finishing his doctoral thesis.

One day, while talking, he shared of how his father found faith. His mother was devout her entire life, but had recently passed away. After the funeral the priest's father, who had always been agnostic, sat together with his family around the dinner table. His father then began to share that of all the feelings he was experiencing - grief, loss, pain, even anger - the most poignant was a sense of gratitude. He felt an unoverwhelming sense of gratitude for being able to share his life with his wife. Yet, this gratitude was not 'to' his wife, but 'for' his wife. And as gratitude is relational and always needs someone to be grateful to, he wondered what it meant that he felt gratitude 'for' his wife. Relenting to his own logic, he suggested that it must be God whom he is grateful to for his wife, and with that he had found God.

Hence, let me meagerly suggest - while well knowing the philosophical limitations - that the feeling of gratus can be an ontological proof for God's existence. For everything one is grateful 'for', but not 'to' let it be a meager insight to the possibility that something both greater and good must exist.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Economics and Oikos: Christian Reflections on Polygamy

After reading Augustine’s ‘On the Good of Marriage’ and listening to Dr. Brent Waters wax eloquently on the essay, the question of polygamy in Christianity began to loom. Maybe the topic is currently captivating because of Mitt Romney’s run for President and the anachronistic Mormon polygamy that he engenders, maybe I am fascinated with polygamy because I can barely fathom what monogamy means in society where more than half the marriages end in divorce, maybe I am simply fascinated with it because of a banal and sophomoric interest in the possibility of two wives, and all that might entail… but I digress.

Of all the myriad reasons for interest the real reason is economic.

In Gary Becker’s Treatise on the Family he made an interesting observation about polygamy namely societies that condone polygamy help women and children.

Considering that married women want children (an assumption), women will need resources to support their children and herself. Monogamous societies restrict the supply of possible husbands. As any limited commodity marriageable (monetarily supportive) husbands will be scarce for some women (typically those who are least likely to have qualities to find a spouse). These women may then find themselves making a hard decision: marry the dud who proposed to them, or make it on there own.

If they marry the ‘dud’ they face the possibility of lack of resources to have children or even simply sustain the two-unit family. Further, if they have children they risk not being able to properly provide for them.

If the women choose to live a single life she may have to forgo motherhood in sake of livelihood. Or, as so many women do these days, they have children outside of marriage harrowingly raising the children on their own and on their own salary.

Polygyny – having more than one wife – allows women to have more selection in choosing a husband. Ostensibly this increase in choice will lead to husbands who are better able to support their wives and desired children.

If monogamy falls more in the realm of Christian convention than creed than can the practice of polygyny be acceptable in Christian communities? In most cases the answer will probably be a roaring, ‘No!’ I am sure Christian feminists and moral traditionalists could come up with numerous reasons for why it is a preposterous idea even while conceding that it may, at times, help support destitute women. In the United States the notion could never be entertained, besides nuanced theological, sociological or political arguments (the tax-code would probably have to be augmented, too) it just seems down right un-American. So, perhaps the lasting (yet, still distressed) institution of monogamous marriage is a symbolic vanguard to a culture that is beleaguered by quantitatively squared cost-benefit analyses that seem to forever champion pareto efficiency regardless of the moral costs.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Recommended Reading

My good friend and theologian superior, Andy Guffey, after enumerating a number of recommended texts on his blog charged some friends with the same task. As I thought of which books I would want on my list I remember that a good friend from high school had requested five books to read and I offered the following titles:

The Fountain Head by Ayn Rand
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Dangerous Liaisons Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Walden by Henry David Thoreau

These now anachronistic suggestions all have a teenage flare for the dramatic - and I must add - secular. Now in seminary my reading list has changed much. Some of these books I have had for years, others I have just read in recent weeks. I shall limit myself to the top five.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I was given the Little Prince as a graduation present. While backpacking Europe I used the book as a devotional, reading a page a day. As with C.S., Saint-Exupéry was able to distill the importance of Christianity into simplicity. Simply a story of a little prince who loved a rose, and cared for a sheep.

The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser
My first theology book. I read it during my first volunteer year while serving in East St. Louis. It sparked my desire to know God. Rolheiser talks of 'Christian essentials' and the need for serious Catholic Christian reflection of contemporary life which is often at the whim and want of modern, secular culture.

Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
The first science fiction series to be considered properly as Literature. The three books, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, The Hideous Strength comprise the history of the Christian creation, fall and redemption. This series is allegory at its best and most beautiful, though it often if forgotten among the other C.S. Lewis classics.

The Goodness of God by D. Stephen Long
After reading this book I knew I wanted to enter seminary and study under Dr. Long. It was the first time I began to understand that theologies could, in fact, be 'systematic'. After reading the book I found to my surprise that the testimonial on the back cover none other than my undergraduate advisor at DePaul University, Dr. Michael Budde.

Resurrection and the Moral Order by Oliver O'Donovan
Oddly, this is the only book that made my list that I have read while in seminary. Resurrection, much like Long's Goodness of God was a systematic exposition of an Augustinian Evangelical. His interest in rescuing foundational principles, while still not falling into Natural Law is helpful, and his insistence on the vindication, but not full redemption of creation is insightful.

I must mention that after reviewing the list, it is as much an anthology of my faith journey as anything else. Thanks go to Siobhan O'Donoghue for introducing me to both Rolheiser and Saint-Exupéry, Audrey Krumbach and Phil Erwin who placed Dr. Long's book in my hand, and finally my current advisor, Dr. Waters, for imperialistically requiring me to read O'Donovan.

A Poem of Love

As my life is still ebbing with little time for creative thought I simply share a beautiful poem by Pablo Neruda this week.

'The Question'

Love, a question
has destroyed you.
I have come back to you
from thorny uncertainty.
I want you straight as
the sword or the road.

But you insist
on keeping a nook
of shadow that I do not want.

My love,understand me,
I love all of you,from eyes to feet, to toenails,
all the brightness, which you kept.

It is I, my love,
who knocks at your door.
It is not the ghost, it is not
the one who once stopped
at your window.
I knock down the door:
I enter your life:
I come to live in your soul:
you cannot cope with me.

You must open door to door,
you must obey me,
you must open your eyes
so that I may search in them,
you must see how I walk
with heavy steps
along all the roads
that, blind, were waiting for me.

Do not fear,
I am yours,
I am not the passenger or the beggar,
I am your master,the one you were waiting for,
and now I enter
your life,
no more to leave it,
love, love, love,
but to stay.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Prayer of Peace

This week I share a poem and prayer entitled, "Peace" by Gerard Hopkins circa 1918.

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I'll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O Surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Selling Kidneys: Part III - Autonomy

Before exploring the ethical issues of autonomy bout up in selling kidneys it should be reminded that:
Part 1 argued that though alternative procurement methods are available all are insufficient in fulfilling the current lack of kidneys, and
Part 2 living, laparoscopic nephrectomies are adequately safe procedures.

The most common concern for vendor procurement models surrounds the obvious fact that most kidney vendors would be poor. Two concerns come to the fore: 1) vendors will not appreciate or understand the health risks associated with the procedure or 2) that payment will “economically coerce” the poor into the surgery out of necessity.

The first concern should be secondary if we assume that any vendor system would necessarily demand lifelong and comprehensive healthcare for vendors, as well, the practice of full disclosure of medical risks for those who agree to be living donors.

Thus the second fear should be centrally considered. It is perhaps the roadblock for the legal consent for the construction of a regulated kidney market. The concern rests in the understanding of autonomy. I submit three reasons for why autonomy is actually upheld, rather than undermined, when vendoring is permitted.

1) Coercion can only be properly rendered as external and intentional.
2) Laws prohibiting the sale of kidneys are paternalistic and inconsistent toward the poor.
3) The dangers associated with kidney transplantations are comparable to other acceptable occupations.

First, autonomy is defined by the absence of coercion. So to ensure that autonomy is upheld it must be shown that a kidney market will not coerce the poor into selling their kidneys. Coercion can be understood in many ways that are intricately catalogued by James Stacey Taylor in his book, Stakes and Kidneys. It should suffice here that coercion must be both external to the individual and intentional. One cannot coercive oneself, thus coercion is, ipso facto, always an external force. Moreover, the agent of coercion must have an intentionality in the action of coercion. Here the situation of poverty is both rested in the individuality of a person’s situation and has not intentional in colluding for control, thus autonomy cannot be limited by one’s economic situation. As Taylor states, “Given that the impoverished person would thus retain full control over their action even as they (desperately) sell a kidney there is nothing in their economic situation that bars them from being fully autonomous with respect to this sale” (53-59).

Also, if autonomy is understood as the ability to choose compared to coercion as the limit of choice then restricting kidney markets actually offer more autonomy because markets offers more choice.

Second, laws that prohibit the sale of kidneys are both paternalistic and inconsistent toward the poor. The issues concerning the poor as the primary population of vendors for market models need not be the case. Requirements for vending could easily stipulate a certain level of personal, yearly income or some similar financial qualification. However, this would lead to blatant paternalism of the poor. Peter Hoyer states, “A paternalistic attitude to [vendors] implied that they are poor, ignorant and endangering their health.” The issue becomes inconsistent when the same federal system that bars kidney sales out of concern for the poor that may be exploited by the medical community also do not offer sufficient options or programs to the poor to increase their standard of living so that they do not, out of desperation, desire to sell a kidney. Robert Vetch makes this point succinctly: markets are only permissible if one, the society has the economic ability to provide the basic necessities for all their citizens and two, if such a country does not ensure such a minimum standard of living. As he states, “If we are a society that deliberately and systematically turns its back on the poor, we must confess our indifference to the poor and life the prohibition on the one means they have to address their problems [lack of financial security] themselves.”

Third, there are comparative dangers found in completely acceptable occupations, which under the same principles should ethically justify kidney markets. Even the highest mortality rate for nephrectomies (.06%) is lower than for other generally accepted occupations, such as commercial fisherman, merchant seaman, tax drivers, construction workers, and those in armed forces. Thus the same principles that allow for the poor to enroll in the armed forces – a statistically dangerous occupation – would also imply consent to a regulated kidney markets, especially considering the fact that the advent of laparoscopic nephrectomies will further lower mortality rates.

Hopefully this post helped to illustrate why autonomy of even poor vendors would not be undermined by regulated kidney markets. However, the ethical issues surrounding beneficence, non-maleficence and equity must still be considered in later posts.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Random Questions of Heaven and Love

A dear college friend recently posed two questions to me:
1) I want to know what you think heaven is?
2) How can you love God or others if you don't know that you are loved by God and others?

In answering the questions for my friend, I thought I would post the answers for anyone who reads this blog (which my advisors assures me is only myself) (Which would consequently make this a self-acknowledged schizophrenic sentence)).

I think the best way to answer these questions is anecdotally. I want to walk around their meaning so as to circumscribe an answer, but not actually articulate one.

1) I want to know what you think heaven is?
First, to ask what heaven is opens the metaphysical door to endless discourse. Could it be that heaven can be understood by its proximity to God – we can know of God, but we cannot comprehend God.

More concretely I would have to think that heaven has some type of materialism – or (paradoxically) at least a spiritual materialism. Augustine states, “When the body is made incorruptible, all the members and inwards parts which we now see assigned to their various necessary offices will join together in praising God; for there will then be no necessity, but only full, certain, secure and everlasting felicity” (CoG 22.30.1178). It seems such place for our bodily and communal worship would be heaven – a place too of physicality (Though I may have to reflect on this).

Another way I think about heaven is in purposely not thinking about. A good friend said to me once, “Jason, at some point theology becomes more important than just who gets into heaven and who goes to hell.” Christian teleology should be directed toward being nearer to God, and hoping for salvation in heaven only insofar as it allows one may nearer to God.

Also, the lines of ‘Amazing Grace’ have always been helpful in conceptualizing heaven: “When we've been there ten thousand years / bright shining as the sun / We've no less days to sing God's praise / then when we've first begun.” The boredom that can so quickly overcome us now will have no place in our insistent and eternal worship of the Triune God who’s pure Love and Goodness will forever enrapture our attention.

Dante’s Paradiso tried describe the divine scene in heaven and only found that words were inadequate for descriptions and ended with, “My will and my desire were turned by love / The love that moves the sun and the other stars.” This seems a fitting way to end my answer to what I think heaven is.

2) How can you love God or others if you don't know that you are loved by God and others?
This is unfortunate to say, and may sadden me to share it so explicitly, but this is the truth: I cannot love God or others, until I know and accept that God loves me. In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus answers that the greatest command is to love God and neighbor. The second derives from the faith in the first. To not know God would be to exonerate the second imperative. To love is first to acknowledge that God loves. If one does not know God then one cannot, properly speaking, love.

Of course, I may be intimate with a lover, friends or family members – and even on occasion show deep compassion for a stranger. Yet, all this is not love.

Consider my grandmother. I ‘love’ her more than anyone else I have ever known. She is growing older and weaker each day. The way I ‘love’ her though is too direct, too intimate. There is no space for God. A Christian who loves through God’s love – a mediated love – concomitantly creates distance and irreducible collapses the difference between the loved and beloved. I cannot properly and absolutely love my grandmother because I am both not close enough and too close to my grandmother. This may seem impossible, but let me explain.

First, I am too close to my grandmother to love her. This is because I cannot see that my grandmother and I are not limited to the temporal life we share together. If one does not know God loves them then they cannot understand how to love one in a way that anticipates immortality. So I cannot love my grandmother because I am too close to her.

Second, I am not close enough to my grandmother to love her. This is because if I do not know God loves me I will only see my grandmother as simply my grandmother, and never my sister in Christ. Only by accepting such a radical siblinghood can I ever truly love my grandmother. Thus, I do not love my grandmother because I am not close enough to her.

So though it is sad, one cannot love until they know God loves them, and if they love God they must love their neighbor.

Thanks for the questions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Oh the [In]humanity: A Theological Apology for Zombie Films

Zombie movies often have a heavy veneer of superficiality. The Resident Evil movies, Grindhouse and Doom all make this point nicely. On the other hand, more 'refined' zombie flicks have given way to social commentary: Romero's Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later both fall into this category. These movies have often been used to question and critique 'mindless' consumerism, the breakdown of the family, and the ascension of the individual over society, among other issues.

Yet, theological reflection seems scant. I would submit that zombie movies in particular can be used as vehicles for theological reflection.

All of this came about when my beloved friend had an evening free from his wife to see the new Resident Evil 3: Extinction with me. As we are both theology students are discussion always are reduced to questions of God. Yet, my beloved friend and I seemed unable to respond to the movie theologically. So with some good ol' Samuel Well's "theological imagination" I came up with some ways Christians can begin to redeem the damned:

1) Immortality through worldly means is distortive and vain:
Through the consequence of sin we all must suffer death. As death looms over us with inevitability we seek immortality through worldly ends instead of Godly ones. Paul shares, "To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life" (Romans 2:7). The virus that causes the zombie outbreak in the Resident Evil trilogy was created to essentially create worldly immortality. However, it only leaves to a mere immortality, but not sanctification; a deformation, but not transformation. More than just medical means to extend the length of life there are a myriad of ways we try to vainly grasp immortality. Through fame, career, status we all seek out a means to an end that if extended to such a point or brought to their logically outcomes all still lead to death. Christianity does not deny the reality of death, but reassures us that Christ conquered death for all.

2) The consciousness of humanity permits the knowledge of Good and God:
Most horror movies and almost all zombie movies convey to the audience the intrinsic value of civility and humanity. The grotesque zombie places into relief the virtue of man. Even as humanity is still marred by sin, grace is given by God so that man may still know the Good. Zombies, I would argue, cannot know the Good, as they are soulless and consequently spiritless, unable to self-transcend, ergo unable to know the Goodness of God. This assumption that Zombie's do not have souls leads into the final point – and was also discussed in another blog.

3) Christian resurrection will not be zombie-like re-animation:
If zombie movies promise anything it is an illustration of what is to be rejected when a Christian considers the doctrine of bodily resurrection. Paul said, "But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come? Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sounds, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality." (I Corinthians, 15:35-38). The resurrection of the dead will not be grounded in a crass physicalsim, and cannot be separated from the mind. Zombie movies are a via negative for understanding the resurrection of the body.

The professed creed ends, "We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen." Thus the resurrection of body cannot be denied, but in what fashion it is raised makes all the difference. In Luke two disciples are walking on the road to Emmaus, and are joined by the risen Christ. Though they do not recognize Jesus until supper they do not confuse him for some walking dead. The zombie is relegated merely to this image of illustrative death. Thus, it entails all the horror of the anthropomorphized understanding of death – literally, death incarnate. Such a future bears little good news for the faithful, and thus zombie movies are properly in the genre of horror.

I would like to thank both my beloved friend and Coptic Christian for their insights into this issue, and without whom this post would have been impossible, or at least far far less insightful.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Does God Suffer? No!

Today Fr. Thomas Weinandy lectured at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He was the culminating speaker for the Forum for Evangelical Theology’s series on the question of God’s Sovereignty.

During last year’s presentations God’s sovereignty was critiqued through the lens of a number of traditions: Patristic, Calvinist, Moltmannian, Open Theist, Process, and Thomist.

Fr. Weinandy’s lecture was not especially surprising, but was “illustrating” – as he seems to hold a penchant for drawing diagrams of the divine. Nevertheless, God’s impassability was defended, evil was stopped before it could become ontologized, and the distinction between Creator and creation was upheld.

It would be unduly discursive if I were to simply describe the lecture in total, so I will simply touch on two – while scourging the theological and rhetorical power of three – issues in his lecture: 1) God’s immanent workings pointed to God’s wholly Otherness, and 2) God’s love is in absolute action, constantly.

First, God's transcendence can be found in how God immanently related to the world. As Weinandy stated, "Thus, while he is intimately present o and dynamically active within the created historical order, God has revealed, through his very presence and activity, that he exists in a manner that differs in kind and not merely in degree to that of everything else within the created historical order." The biblical theophanies and the sanctification of God's peoples are examples of such immanent workings of God that distinguish God the creator form creation.

Second, God's immutability supports God's ability to be love. Usually the contrary is argued that only a suffering God can love. However, Weinandy noted, "God is immutable or unchangeable in his love and goodness not because his love and goodness are static or inert. That would be a contradiction of terms. Love and goodness are, by their very nature, dynamic and active. To say that God's love is immutable is to say that God's love and goodness are eternally perfectly in act and no further act of love could make his love and goodness more perfectly in act.... the divine attribute of impassibility specifies that God's love and compassion are so ardent that no change could enhance the ardor of his love or compassion." He unfortunately went on to use the metaphor of God as the eternally perfect kisser who is always ready to lay a wet one on you; as I said unfortunate.

During the question and answer session Dr. Vaux asked if this wasn't 'whole-sale Greek metaphysics.' The Fr. responded, "This is whole-sale revelation! If I thought I started out with Greek philosophy and just added revelation, I would give up."

A good friend of mine noted that he loved how the whole lecture seemed to be a doxology, not an opportunity for the Fr. to show his knowledge per se, but a time to preach the truth of God: that God is all loving, all knowing, eternal and unchanging. And appropriately the lecture ended with, AMEN.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pagan Gnosticism and Christian Revelation

Augustine in his early and wayward years was a Gnostic. He allied to the common dualism between the enslaved material corpus and the liberated spirit. Later he would rightly turn to a God who made the heavens and the earth and saw both as good and a God who would make Himself truly man, scourging the docetic Christology of others, like Marcionites.

However, more than the penchant anti-materialism that defined the early Gnostics, there name sake also helped to define them: they believed themselves the bearer of gnosis – the bearers of secret knowledge.

And who doesn’t enjoy being the keeper of a secret?

However, this gnosis is what separates Christians from pagans. The knowledge Christians hold – that Christ is Lord – was never meant to be a secret. While paganism is gnostic, Christianity is revelational. The Great Commission is essentially to continue the revelation: preach, baptize and teach to the nations (Mt. 28.19-20).

There are then two sides to this Christian currency. On one hand being Christian is to share the gospel (to be revelatory), and on the other hand being Christian is to know that Christ revealed all (to reject gnosis).

Though Christianity is to be revelational it does not always succeed: sometimes not being honest about the knowledge it has and sometimes coveting the knowledge.

In a secularized society it is often not fashionable to share the knowledge of Christianity. Instead the knowledge is unduly (and heretically) bifurcated. Often Christians talk of ‘Jesus’ as a wise and worldly teacher in public, but stop at proclaiming his radical and salvific message. Personally, I muse at the number of times I have shared that I am an atheist to a Christian and their response is something resembling affirmation. To be Christian is to witness, not in partial, but in total.

Other times Christians seem to covet their knowledge, seeing the gospel more as secret than as revelation. My beloved friend wrote a sermon recently that feared as much: “I love the parable of the prodigal son, but it also scares me. It troubles me because it ends with the older son outside the party, refusing to come in. Sometimes I worry the church is like the older son, wanting to keep God all to themselves, wishing that God would not be so forgiving to those who don’t deserve it, questioning whether they really want to follow a God who throws such outrageous parties.” Perhaps the message is just too radical; we can’t fathom such audacious mercy. So, instead we covet the Father, believing the younger son gone for good.

However, it is not enough to simply share the revelational message – it is to rebuke those other teaching that believe in a secret knowledge that extends outside of the Word.

Paganism ultimately tries to give meaning to history – in a word, Astrology. Slavoj Zizek rejects this cosmic – if not still somewhat inscrutable – ordering. Thus, part of his resonance with Christianity is that both reject the secret ordering of the world that can only be gleamed (or, if you prefer decoded) by understandings of planetary alignments and seasonal happenings. Christians thus are called to render history intelligible as if a Janus Bifrons (note the irony of using pagan Gods as an example): always looking back to the incarnation as the beginning of history, but also looking toward the future and the promised Parousia, which will mark the end of history. Reinhold Niebuhr also makes this distinction warning that Christianity (and humanity at large) often tries to rationalize history as some slow march to a culmination that humanity itself wills. For the secular world this is embodied in the belief in technological progressivism, and for Christianity (as Niebuhr saw it) the Social gospel’s post-millennialism. Of course, both are to be rejected. As Mark reads, “But about the day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do no know when the time will come” (Mark 13.32-33).

Moreover, there is a current trend in popular fiction that emulates Gnosticism, and which should be repudiated. Three books that exemplify this are: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Even the titles of these books suggest a gnosis, and promise that the secret can unlock some fulfillment that can come from outside the Church. The Secret and The Alchemist both uphold a dualism between the mind and body, as if purposing a peculiar anthropological ‘big-headed’ Apollinarianism – in that the body becomes only some vessel for the Mind, which need only take cue from the fanciful flight of Peter Pan and, “Think happy thoughts.” Yet this is at the same time to reject the materialism of the world in-and-of-itself while also rejecting the limits of materialism. Certainly, this is not a Christian message.

The Da Vinci Code can be differentiated. The other two books offer a gnosis extra ecclesiam Brown offers a gnosis intra ecclesiam. Thus nominal Christians don’t really have the knowledge of Christ and God, but rather a politically and patriarchal version. Only a few carefully selected persons – most who aren’t particularly religious – become the bearers of the secret. In the end however, Brown’s Christianity falls into worshipping the symbols and signs themselves, rather than Christianity that use the symbols and signs only as mediation that points to God. And most importantly the meaning of these symbols – such as the cross – is not masked to hide the importance behind it, but prominently displayed and proclaimed to all, so that all might know the knowledge.

Christian revelation that comes from Christ and continued by the Holy Spirit is not to be coveted, but to be shared. That Christ is Lord was never meant to be a secret. The implication of that gospel is that there is no other secrets to be found out. We are all equally welcome to know the good news and share it with others.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Jesus is Not 'Real'

While driving on Interstate 70 outside of Columbus, Ohio I saw a number of Christian billboards lining the highway. One read, “Consider where you want to spend eternity! Repent!” Another read, “Avoid hell, repent. Jesus saves!” Wile I admonish both of these signs for using Christianity as an eternal hedge-bet (read Paschal) they did not disturb me as much as one black and white sign that said simply, “Jesus is Real.”

However, Jesus is not ‘real’.

Do not misunderstand me; this is not a sophomoric attack at the historical foundations of Christianity. Nor is it a rejection of the incarnational presence of Christ.

No, what makes the sloganized and simplified claim of ‘Jesus is Real’ so insipid is that it perpetuates the Enlightenment project that demands Cartesian certainty that begins with doubt and moves to belief only through reason. This leaves a Church that is merely empirical rather than confessional. Here, faith and reason are not only rent from one another but made antipodean – each placed against the other.

The God who gave his name as ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is not adequately – nor could be – properly understood by pure rationalism. All of this is part of the tired trek to fit God into an ontological equation. However, such rationalistic algebra will always fall short, unless we turn to the phrase from Ecclesiastes that states, “Only God is God.”

There is desire to make Jesus a magnificent historical quest, and at times there is a place for that. Certainly the particular and historical nature of the incarnation is a testament to the worldliness of the Christian message. However, the historical quest should also be held in tension with the spiritual quest. This quest shares the road with reason alongside faith.

Instead of the sign reading, ‘Jesus is Real’ it ought to read, “Christ is Lord.”

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Why Not Catholic?

I take the Creed seriously, or as seriously as an atheist can take such a thing. So, when it states, “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church” I take that just as serious as the line “We believe in one God.”

So why aren’t creedal-confessing Christians Catholic?

An Episcopalian some what heatedly told a class of mine that he was in fact catholic, just not Roman Catholic. However, this ‘catholicity’ he affirmed is non-substantive. A ‘Catholic’ Church that is also apostolic must be one that is substantive and particular and rooted in a historical construction.

I met with Dr. Stephen Long during my first visit to Garrett-Evangelical. I had recently finished his book The Goodness of God. While reading it I was struck at how centrally and reverently he discussed the sacraments. While we talked in his office, I asked him, “Dr. Long why aren’t you a Catholic?” He saw three problems with being Catholic: the celibacy of the priesthood, the ordination of only men, and the fact that he was already an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church.

Of course, Dr. Long might be harboring a few other theological qualms with the Catholic Church, but probably not too many. I’ve heard him support the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception and he has published a paper on the need for the Papacy.

Dr. Long has also been critical of the Protestant church being defined by protest. He (and I) agrees that the joint declaration has answered most of the questions that originally created a schism within the Church. The Methodist Church in a resolution last year also agreed with the joint decalration. So, do most Protestant stay so for only three reasons: they want priests to marry, women to be ordained and because they happen to already be Protestant?

Besides the second issue, the other two do not hold theological purchase; and I would hesitantly suggest that even second need not justify a schism in the Church (while I would also suggest that the addition of the ‘filioque’ to Creed didn’t either).

Recently an editorial articlein the Christian Century made the point that the Pope’s declaration that Protestant churches are not, “churches in the proper sense” should not alarm Protestants. The editor went on to say that the Pope’s message was a technical statement not necessarily a moral one; rather, Rome simply meant that some Protestants don’t hold the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, fewer uphold bishop delineated apostolic succession and none recognize Papal authority.

The author then went on to write, “At the same time, most Protestants would affirm, with Augustine (and against the Donatists), that the church exists by God's grace, sometimes in spite of human efforts.” Of course, the invisible Church should be affirmed, but the author takes such a doctrine to its relativist-slipper-slope conclusion, “Ironically, in this sense [that they can witness to the pluriformity of the Spirit’s work in the world] Protestants can be more "catholic" than Catholics.” Yet isn’t this ecclesial carte-blanche exactly what has lead to the current state of undue liberalism?

A good friend of mine and Ph.D. candidate has remarked of this same problem with the word, ‘liberal evangelical.’ He criticizes that it often means those who want to claim the name evangelical, but while at the same time relegating its denotation so anyone can claim it. Similar, the author misses the point about what it means to be ‘catholic.’ It may be a nice or amusing sentiment to call Protestants ironically catholic, but in that very moment the term is robbed of any significance it began with. The Church must draw lines in the sands for the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla salus to be meaningful. If not, then all are anonymous Christians and humanity is to be silently conscripted into the ranks and rolls of the ‘catholic’ Church without exceptions – the final step of the Church become nothing more than a secularized humanism.

Brent Waters recently mused in a class lecture, “If you are going to be a heretic pick a good heresy... however, I wonder if a Protestant could even be a heretic these days.”

One things for sure, there’s not much stopping them from being Catholic.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Academic Freedom in Question: Part II

Yesterday I wrote a post admonishing DePaul University’s decision to suspend Dr. Finkelstein from teaching classes this academic year. Today a good friend and fellow DePaul alumnus wrote a contrary article defending DePaul’s decision to deny Finkelstein tenure. I felt it important to call attention to some issues that must not go unchallenged.

First and foremost is the most recent action by DePaul to cancel Dr. Finkelstein’s classes and place him on administrative leave. Further, he was barred from his office which held his personal and professional effects. This indignity and improper process of dismissing a professor is the most unsavory of occasions that has arisen from this entire debacle. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has now twice written DePaul University sharing its concern over the university’s treatment toward Dr. Finkelstein.

As I count Dr. Finkelstein has four different to protest:
1) His denial of tenure.
2) His denial for an appeal of the tenure decision.
3) His placement on administrative leave (and effective cancellation of his classes).
4) His being banned from his personal office.

1 – Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s denial of tenure.
Rachel’s article most specifically addresses Dr. Finkelstein’s denial of tenure and her reasoning for the ‘apt’ decision. However, it should be noted how the process developed. First the political science department committee voted and arrived at a 9-3 for tenure vote. Second it went to the LA&S college tenure committee, which voted 5-0 for the tenure. Third, at the university level tenure committee however voted 2-4 against tenure. In sum he was overwhelmingly supported by the tenure committees 16-7.

Rachel’s argument for support of the denial of tenure primarily rests on the reasons given by the department committee minority opinion – written by the three opposing faculty. The article, "Academic Freedom On Trial, Peg Birmingham, a DePaul University professor, does a suburb job of showing the shallow and insipid claims those against Dr. Finkelstein’s scholarship are alleging.

Of course my own conviction of scholarly merit will hold little weight. However, on the radio show Democracy Now two Middle-East expert scholars praised Dr. Finkelstein’s work: "We speak to two world-renowned scholars in these fields: Raul Hilberg, considered the founder of Holocaust studies, and Avi Shlaim, a professor of international relations at Oxford University and an expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Shlaim calls Finkelstein a "very impressive, learned and careful scholar", while Hilberg praises Finkelstein's "acuity of vision and analytical power." Hilberg says: "It takes an enormous amount of courage to speak the truth when no one else is out there to support him." His academic credentials far exceeded those of most political science professors that were tenured at DePaul and his international attention and praise are representative of such.

Of course, Dr. Finkelstein claim that DePaul University was third rate is simply accurate. As an alumnus of the school it takes a certain amount of humility to say this, but DePaul has for years been ranked as a third-tier school by the Princeton Review. The university has been committed to being a teaching institution and not a researching one (which again emphasizes that a professor with five published books has certainly published enough for tenure). It is simply stating factually and by category what DePaul University was and still is, a third-tier national university.

2 – His denial for an appeal of the tenure process decision.

Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s denial for an appeal of the tenure decision is also inconsistent with its faculty handbook. In a letter from the AAUP the president stated he was concerned with such a denial for appeal. He wrote, “Our concerns arise when you go on to assert that ‘there is simply no basis for any claim that the UBPT failed to uphold the standards and processes set forth in the Faculty Handbook.’” In our view, it is precisely that assertion as well as the question whether the administration similarly failed that bear on the claims by Professors Finkelstein and Larudee that impermissible considerations—involving violations of their academic freedom—contributed significantly to the adverse decisions in their cases.” This seems an undue stance by the university, signaled by the AAUP.

3 – His placement on administrative leave (and effective cancellation of his classes).

After being denied tenure Dr. Finkelstein, as is done with other professors who are denied tenure, was allowed one more year of teaching at DePaul. With rumors that the university might try to bar Finkelstein from teaching the next year it came at little surprise that the university placed him on administrative leave for the year and thus effectively canceling his classes. Another letter by the AAUP warned the university that this was uncharacteristic of the usually process afforded to professors. Dr. Finkelstein was rightly troubled by the development and claimed he would perform a sit-in and hunger strike if necessary so as to be afforded the right to teach.

4 – His being banned from his personal office.

The letter by Dean Suchar, which I shared yesterday, is the apex of this entire spectacle: a full blown circus with the dean miming as a teenaged angst ridden clown. There is little more that needs to be said on this issue.

Rachel has her reasons for suspecting Dr. Finkelstein’s fidelity to truth. Her particular and peculiar story is interesting, but not necessarily insightful enough for me to disregard the more than 1,000 pages of published work he has produced and been praised for. I would like to point out that some of her reservations in supporting Dr. Finkelstein’s work come from his ‘lack of empirical evidence’ in which I would respond where then is your evidence that besides a rather quirky personal anecdote? The empirical evidence you seem to castigate Finkelstein for lacking also seems lacking in your assertions.

It is no secret that Dr. Finkelstein does not play nice. However, that is not what his project is about – it was about truth. This in no way is to suggest this man a martyr, but he is at least a model.

I too have stories from Finkelstein and I will share them here:

The first is when taking a class on Utopias. While in class he recollected how his mother was called to testify, sometime in the 1990’s, against the woman who ran the concentration camp Dr. Finkelstein’s mother was sent to during WWII. Dr. Finkelstein traveled to Europe with his mother to support her during the emotionally grueling ordeal.

At the trial his mother testified against the head of the camp. The ex-Nazi was now an old woman, a hallow shell. She was a mere run-down ghost of what she once so unfortunately was.

After Finkelstein’s mother testified they walked back toward the hotel. Along the way they passed the very woman Finkelstein’s mother had just testified against – who was on bail. Finkelstein’s mother was so enraged by her presence she lost all control and demanded that Norman should attack the woman. She scolded him, “They treated us like dogs, Norman! Like dogs. Get her, Norman! Get her!”

Dr. Finkelstein stopped his lecture there. The entire room was enraptured. My retelling does it no justice. Then of course someone asked, “Well, what did you do?” And he said quite seriously, “I will never tell.” Then what commenced was the best classroom discussion on ethics I have ever had. .

Another time Dr. Finkelstein, on the last day of class on Utopias, asked each student if they believed that political utopias were someday possible for humanity. Of course there were a variety of answers most were of the type that you would expect from idealistic and optimistic undergraduates.

When it was my turn I answered that, no there was no chance for a political utopia. He stopped and mentioned how surprised he was that I would believe that. That moment and that exchange has stuck with me for years now. I always felt like I disappointed him, that I hadn’t gleaned the possibility and promise of humanity from the texts and fellow peers. However, if anything has proven my answer right it has been how Dr. Finkelstein has been treated by the ‘political’ process.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Academic Freedom In Question

On Friday, August 25th Dr. Norman Finkelstein - who was recently denied tenure at DePaul University in Chicago - received this terse email from Dean Suchar:
Prof. Finkelstein - Professor Budde has informed me that you have asked for office space for your books. We do not have office space assigned to you for the coming academic year. I will look into whether we can make space available for you and either I or Professor Budde will get in touch with you next week with more information.

In the meantime, you will not have access to your old office space. To the extent that you left personal belongings in your old office space, we can discuss a plan for their return to you when I get in touch with you next week. You should not plan on moving into any office space tomorrow, as that option is not available to you.

I will contact you next week with more information.

Dr. Charles (Chuck) Suchar
Professor and Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
DePaul University
Besides this, Dr. Finkelstein was placed on administrative leave for the academic year, effectively canceling his classes, one ironically entitled 'Freedom and Empowerment.' This because the controversy of his denial of tenure and class cancellations go to the heart of the academe; academic freedom.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) - wrote DePaul's president after it was announced that Dr. Finkelstein's classes would be canceled. The letter warned that the school's conduct toward the professor was not in accordance with general procedures usually afforded to professors. The (AAUP) already voiced concern over DePaul's denial to allow Dr. Finkelstein to appeal the tenure decision (which consequently held a majority (9-3) recommendation by the departmental tenure committee and a unanimous (5-0) recommendation by the Personnel Committee for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences though did not pass by marjority at the university committee level).

Most regretably, DePaul and Dr. Finkelstein will both lose face in this insipid and certainly uninspiring spectacle that bedazzles no one all while at the loss of academic freedom.

Further, DePaul in its debauched handling of the entire process has further strengthened Dr. Finkelstein's career thesis: that ultra-sensitive feelings towards Jews and specifically the state of Israel borne from Holocaust guilt has lead to the inability to criticize Israeli policy. DePaul has made him his own self-fulfilling prophecy.

I personally took classes from Dr. Finkelstein and it is a shame such a professor is asked to leave in such a manner. The sum of the academe is lessened by such a loss.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Should Seminaries Give Atheists Scholarships?

It a strange thing to be sure that in this day of such rampant liberalism such a question is even given a moments ponder – should seminaries subsidize the cost of theological education of avowed atheists? It is an even stranger thing that such things happen – and they do happen.

The repercussions are of course that some hopeful Christians entering seminary are awarded less or even no scholarship monies. This could even lead a possible seminarian to conclude that they are not financially able to attend seminary.

There seem to me a few reasons one might argue for permitting seminaries the possibility in awarding atheists scholarships: 1) a call to diversity, 2) a hope of conversion and 3) a commitment to meritorious awarding.

A Call to Diversity

On one hand, one reason seminaries may justify funding atheists is in the desire to diversify the view and theological perspectives of their students. Brown v. Board of Education fell heavily on the reasoning that there was a psychological and sociological benefit to diversity itself. Theological schools could crassly want diversity for diversity’s sake, or a more refined belief that a plethora of perspectives lead ultimately to better theology. Even the Vatican Councils have a designated ‘devil’s advocate’ that is to play against the prevailing arguments of the day in an attempt to ensure that every conceivable viewpoint is considered.

On the other hand, what theological diversity is needed in the seminary? A denominationally aligned seminary already has an orthodoxy and theological perspective. Certainly, if anything is orthodox in Christian doctrine it is the belief that God exists. Theological education presupposes God’s existence; to ‘do’ theology is already to ‘speak of God.’ So what benefit would it be to have the antithetical perspective introduced in theological classrooms? Further, what assurance would there be that such a ‘token’ atheist would share his or her radically divergent perspective?

I say, there is need for theological diversity in seminaries. A dialogue between the Church, faculty and staff is needed to decide to what degree such diversity should be welcomed; nevertheless, atheists can never properly constitute a ‘theological perspective.’ They are quite literarily ‘a-theist’ in name: they are indifferent to God. Their speech about God is in silence, muted. Thus they can give no proper perspective of God. Their diversity would be a false one.

A Hope for Conversion

On one hand, some might argue that funding an atheist’s theological education could lead them to convert to Christianity. By being steeped in a Christian community, immersed in the history of Christianity and introduced to the Word an atheist would be more likely to be converted to the faith and thus it would be worthwhile to financially support an atheist in attending seminary.

On the other hand, seminary is not the place to convert atheists. Its mission is to primarily train the ministerial leadership of the Church. The monies the seminaries are allocated by patrons are earmarked for this mission, not for conversion and evangelism. Further, the seminary - though obviously a Christian environment - is not necessarily the most effective place to instruct someone on why and how to be a Christian. Thus, it would be both spiritually ineffective and financially improper to use the seminary for such ends.

I say, the seminary is part of the Church and has the same desire to see people turn to the belief in Christ; however it functions different than churches, focusing more on supporting vocations than fostering conversions. This should not be read as an attempt to bar atheists from seminaries who may want to use the institution as an avenue for faith, but rather as a proscription in allocating funds to such individuals for such projects.

A Commitment to Meritorious Awarding

On one hand it may be said that as seminaries are graduate institutions they should reward funding primarily – or perhaps solely – on merit; be it academic, leadership, or relevant experience. Academically, graduate schools must take into account the merit of students entering programs and with financial incentives attract students whom can continue to keep or raise the standard of academic excellence of the school. This also is the case for other meritorious considerations such as past careers and leadership experience. The fact that someone is an atheist need not impinge upon such considerations. Generally, it is the overall strength of the applicant rather than theological convictions that can best be quantified and objectified and thus judged. This both expedites the process while also offering the most reliably way to evaluate students. The financial awarding of scholarship by seminaries need not be different from other graduate schools that primarily if not simply consider the merit of the student while ignoring other such subjective qualities such having such and such political party affiliations or having or not having faith.

On the other hand, seminaries are more than mere graduate schools. It is more an accident than the essence of a seminary. And so, academic excellence, leadership ability and the like are a distant secondary to the most important commitment in the financial determination for seminaries: does the candidate have a viable vocation in leading the Church? Obviously, an atheist cannot answer in the affirmative. Though meritorious considerations should be made to those candidates who can answer positively it must be the first qualification that drives the second. The seminary is not a religious studies department - it is a religious studies department and much more. The seminary should care more about the sanctification of their candidates than their qualifications.

I say that seminaries are not equivalent to other graduate schools; they are qualitatively different, and in following so should the students be qualitatively different. Students that are funded by seminaries should be chosen by qualities that reflect their Christian life; atheists that do no have such a life cannot reflect such qualities.

It seems that though we should not bar atheists from seminaries such institutions should not fund them either. As an atheist who received – and accepted - a full-tuition scholarship and stipend from my institution it seems that perhaps I am making a hypocritical argument; but I do not believe so. I know that I do not believe the seminary should have offered me a scholarship and I am absolutely certain I should not have received such a generous one; however, my argument rested in the fact that I believe seminaries should not offer atheists scholarship, not if I believed it prudent for atheists to accept scholarships from seminaries.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Selling Kidneys: Part II - Living Kidney Tx

We should agree that cadaveric donations cannot fully satiate the demand for kidneys (see Part I).

In a desire to explore all viable medical and ethical options to increase the number of kidney transplantation one should then turn to living kidney transplantations.

Surprisingly living transplantations came before cadaveric transplantations, usually between twins when immunosuppressant drugs were still only marginally effective or inexistent. For a while cadaveric donation (CD) became much more common then living donations (LD), but through the 1990's LD become an accepted medical procedure between family members or related living donors (RLD). Following this, emotionally-related living donations become acceptable. Thus, between 2001-2003 there were more LD than CD txs (See OPTN database). Though now there is an almost equal number between living and cadaveric donations.

Moreover, LD are usually preferable to CD txs because LD can be done preemptively, before a patient begins to undergo dialysis. This noticeably decreases the morbidity and mortality rates of the recipients who were pre-emptive. Further, the longer a patient is on dialysis the less effective the kidney transplantation will be in improving the quality and quantity of life.

Of course, during this time the LD operation (nephrectomy) became much safer, less invasive, and offered a quicker and less painful recovery time for the patient. Two reasons for this: 1) growing experience in the field from doctors who began to specialize in the procedure and 2) laparoscopic technology that bypassed the need for opening the abdominal cavity of the donating patient.

The procedure has become so safe that most hospitals now allow for non-direct donations or sometimes called 'good-Samaritan' donations. This is when the donor does not know the recipient. This is the type of donation I went through (see Donating a Kidney).

To say anecdotally that the procedure is safe does not likely reassure the modernist mind. So, cautiously and pessimistically the surgical mortality (death) rate is around <.005% or death in 1 in 20,000 cases. The chance of complication during surgery or the morbidity rate is a little higher, around <.007% (See OPTN).

It seems that this 'minor major' surgery is a relatively safe procedure. Living transplantations then might be a viable means to procuring more kidneys. The next post will then begin to look at the ethics surrounding living kidney procurement options – most specifically at direct financial incentive options.

Post Script
I want to thank my friend and blog-resident surgeon Jessica Clevenger for making sure I am not spoofing on any medical facts or jargon. Thank you.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Selling Kidneys: Part I - Cadaveric Options

End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) has only two viable medical options to date: regular dialysis or kidney retransplantation. Dialysis is more expensive, less effective and limits certain lifestyles choices. Transplants, then, are a superior option to handling ESRD, but as it has already been said there is a severe shortage of kidneys. So three questions come to the fore: 1) What might increase the supply of kidneys? 2) Will that option be ethical? 3) Will that option be effective?

What might increase the supply of kidneys?

The good news is that there are a surprising number and a variety of ways to increase the number of transplantable kidneys. The bad news is that many of them are either questionably ethical or marginally effective or both.

One broad way to increase the kidney supply is to increase the number of cadaveric organ donations. Currently this country runs under an 'opt-in' system for cadaveric organ donation. In contrast Belgium, inter alia, runs on a 'opt-out' model, where everyone is presumed to be an organ donor unless they choose specifically and explicitly to not participate. Also, though no country is currently under a 'salvage' model it has been discussed by ethicists. Here citizen preference is completely disregarded - essentially the state has ownership of the body of deceased citizens for medical purposes: organ donation conscription. Of course, this final model has obvious ethical dilemmas.

There are two options with both ethical and effective promise.
1) Offer a 'required response' model. This is the blend between the 'opt-in' and 'opt-out' models. It would require citizens to make choice between being or not being an organ donor - most likely it would manifest as a question on yearly IRS tax forms. Polls have suggested that many people want or are willing to be organ donors, but have been deterred in the process to 'opt-in.' The hopes of this method would be to reduce the possible deterrence in becoming a organ donor, which is currently done through the DMV while registering/updating licenses. The downside of the model is that on its own it does introduce an incentive for donating.

2) The government offers a non-direct pecuniary incentive for those willing to be organ donors. This incentive could take many forms. Mostly likely it would be some type of premium reduction in the cost of health insurance (subsidized by the government or run through medicare), a one-time tax reduction, or subsidizing funeral costs. This would almost surely increase the number of donors, but there are ethical qualms about the introduction of any form of pecuniary incentives (this will be discussed at length - perhaps even ad nauseam - in future posts).

Both of these options are ethically innocuous enough to be at least conceivable options in the United States. However, the fact is they just won't be able to satiate the need for kidneys. (Though these measures should still be seriously considered because of the inability to do living transplantations on other organs, most poignantly hearts.

Even if some financial incentive is introduced to increase the number of citizens to enroll as organ donors it will not be able to adequately reduce the number of patients on the kidney waiting-list. Even if everyone was a donor there would likely still be need for kidneys because so few people die in a way compatible with donating.

So, while cadaveric options to increase the supply of organs may be a worthwhile venture, it will not be suitable to address the shortage for kidneys. That is why living kidney transplantations must be considered. In the next post I will address the medical issues surrounding living donation (LD) and what incentives might be introduced to increase such operations.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Donating a Kidney: Part III

All is well. With the surgery behind me I can now look forward to the upcoming school year, which will be my twentieth year as a student (I have got to get a job).

Since last Tuesday I have been off medication, and my mobility has continued to increase daily. As you can see from the pictures below my incisions are quickly becoming scars. The two smaller incisions are exactly half an inch long and the exit incision is a little longer than three inches – the surgical doctor bragged before the surgery that she had very small hands.

After the leaving the hospital I haven’t heard from or anything about the recipient. Of course, Gift of Hope has my contact information and I could potentially be contacted at anytime; however, because I was always been ambivalent to meeting the recipient I am not disappointed.

In the next few weeks I am going to begin posting on why kidney markets are both viable and ethical means to addressing the acute shortage of kidneys. Much of research was done last year while I began to reflect on my decision to donate.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Family History

Students from Northwestern used to chant, “This is the place of the destitute, Garrett Biblical Institute!” Could our student loans prove otherwise? More recently and more kindly, the students of our sister institution would distinguish Garrett-Evangelical from Seabury as “Jesus Tech East” and “Jesus Tech West,” respectively. That Garrett and Northwestern are sister institutions to one another should be remembered. Like real family members their presence is sometimes forgotten, they blend into each others’ normalcy of life. Each takes the other for granted.

Though the Northwestern charter was established earlier, Garrett started classes a few months before. For a brief time the charter members even considered the name, Northwestern Biblical Institute – clearly they made for the better decision. For years the two schools shared students, faculty, and trustees, and many recognized Garrett as meeting the needs of Northwestern’s theological department, though this may not be the case today.

As all family members, each is in debt to the other. And, so, over the years each institution has helped the other. During the great depression Northwestern saved Garrett from financial insolvency. In 1933 Garrett foreclosed on its properties, and during that time Northwestern, unbeknownst to the trustees or president, secured the properties and resold them back to Garrett far below their value. After the ordeal an article in the Garrett Tower stated, “No words can ever quite acknowledge the debt which Garrett owes to Northwestern University for the part it played in this reorganization. In the darkest day of all, that institution threw its vast resources back of its sister school and prevented the educational home from falling into unfriendly hands…. Without that friend Garrett would probably be a homeless institution.” Certainly, there is more than geographic proximity that binds these two institutions, there is a shared story.

In the 20’s, either sadly, or appropriately, Northwestern changed its mascot from the Fighting Methodists to the Wildcats. Of course, it may be argued that a more rich rivalry between Notre Dame and Northwestern could have been preserved without such a change. And yet, do names matter? Sisters often take their husbands’ names, but the familial relationship isn’t lost. Garrett, too, has changed its name over the years, and still its essence is preserved.

There is no political message hidden in this article, no impetus for action, only a gentle reminder that human memory is brief and institutional memory even more so. As there is always a value in reveling in the nostalgia of the family history, so too is it for the shared story of these two great institutions. Perhaps students from both schools would gain from recognizing the contributions of each to the other.

Where Have All the Crosses Gone

I have jokingly referred to myself, on account of my persistent lack of faith, as the only Calvinist who is not part of the elect. This comment is quite innocuous coming from a greenhorn theologian like myself, however, I have recently been privy to a number of disturbing theological comments made by Garrett-Evangelical staff and faculty. Future seminarians beware.

Perhaps the most harmless statement occurred today. I asked a Biblical Studies professor to explain why I missed an entire letter grade on an essay question. Their response, “It was too theological.” I rejoined, “Isn’t good biblical studies ultimately good theology?” A pause, then the professors response, “Not in this class, I’m looking only for the context.” Harnack seems to have won the day, and the historical critical method lives on.

The second incident happened during light conversation with another faculty member a few days ago. While discussing a range of topics the professor jovially remarked that for him, the word “orthodoxy” is pejorative. His comment was made without malice, but struck me odd for a professor working in a seminary. Are there not Religious Studies departments for such minded professors?

The final was by far the most disturbing. A group of students recently wanted to display a cross in each classroom. The students presented the issue to one of the higher administrators at Garrett-Evangelical. The administrator showed great reluctance toward the idea, because, as was quoted back to me, “Some see it as a symbol of torture.” The predominant symbol of the Christian faith might offend people in the confines and corridors of a Christian seminary? Is Christianity so susceptible to Foucaultian deconstructionism that renders all action into inevitable power plays? How can one not witness if one cannot point back to the cross? And perhaps most importantly, as a good friend of mine offered, isn’t the cross ultimately an ironic symbol. Original a symbol of Roman oppression and torture, that through Christ was then appropriated as a sign of resurrection and eternal forgiveness? To see the cross as a symbol of torture is to stop reading the gospels at the dereliction of the cross.

Paula Cole wrote an unfortunate song entitled, “Where Have the Cowboys Gone?” This one hit wonder, inspires me to muse, where have all the crosses gone? Some seminarians should be downright furious and dumbfounded at such developments. And I would even suggest, take appropriate action.

Mormons in the House

I have just finished reading the my seminary President's message that the school chapel will now temporarily house a congregation of LDS. Confused is too weak a word.

Personally, I am all for ecumenicalism... however, is this more accurately an interfaith situation? Comparing the Mormons to Baptists and Methodists is a stretch, no?

I am skeptical to this new development. However, I hope to hear opinions that will illuminate my reasoning. Yet, in the light of the fact that crosses might offend people, how is this any different? Opinions? Discuss

Rooting for Religion

In Chicago it is not uncommon to see a Cubs fans clad in blue, white and red appareal screaming anathemas toward a White Sox fan. Within workplaces across Chicago this rivalry continues; co-workers mock one another for their misplaced allegiances. To suggest that both are essentially baseball franchise teams that have little difference except logo, roster, and stadium would be blasphemy. To be a White Sox fan is categorically different than being a Cubs fan, each would assert. It would surely be suggested that if you didn’t see a difference between the teams you necessarily couldn’t be a fan of either. And all of this sports hoopla and franchise worshiping is pretty common practice.

So, why can’t someone rout with the same fervor for their religion as they do for their baseball team?

This brings us to the Catholic Church. On July 7th Pope Benedict XVI authorized the use of Latin services. However, it is not the lingua franca issue that caused concern. Instead, the Jewish Anti-Defamation League protested the also reinstated Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of Jews.

On July 10, the Pope restated language in a document issued in 2000 that essentially proclaimed the primacy of the Catholic Church and it the sole salvific mediator.

On Friday, the Cubs will be playing at home against Houston with nearly 40,000 loyal fans in attendance. All of them will be sharing two beliefs: More Cubs fans are good, and the Cubs are the best baseball team ever.

The Pope was merely suggesting a similar sentiment for his Church: More Catholics are good, and the Catholic Church is the best religion ever.

So what is so surprisingly about such developments?

Cubs and Sox fans would never agree to disagree as to which team is the best. It would be disloyal even to suggest another perspective was possible. So why can't one share the same fervor for their religion?

Donating a Kidney: Part II

Two days ago my kidney was removed. Two hours after it was removed it began to filter blood and produce urine for a fifty-year old man who I have never met. We live in strange times.

My first post stated that my surgery was for Friday, but unexpected cadaveric donations came up and pushed my operations to Tuesday. Of course, one should be happy that more transplants took place and at the same time, cadaveric donations also inevitably signal death. A mixed of macabre and miracle; something thoroughly Christian in it all, too.

Of course the change in the surgery wasn’t a problem for me, because I had already taken two weeks off from work for recovery, but it meant my girlfriend Amanda would not be able to stay with me during my overnight stay at the hospital after the surgery. If I rescheduled I wouldn’t have time to heal before school started so the date was set for Tuesday, August 7, 2007.

The day before the surgery Amanda and I had a quiet day reading and cooking. I felt little stress, and was looking forward to my operation. In the evening I stopped eating solids and at midnight I stopped drinking liquids. It stormed most of the night, and though ominous I felt at peace with my decision. I awoke at 3:30 in the morning not being able to sleep any longer. At 4:30 we took showers, dried and dressed. We left at 5:15 and arrived at the Surgery Reception Desk at 6:00.

After signing a few medical forms I was escorted, with Amanda, to a pre-op room. There I was asked to exchange my clothes and bracelet (that I never take off) for a flimsy gown that made me feel pasty, weak, and emaciated. While I changed Amanda, who is a nurse, looked innocently at my medical records, and accidentally found that the recipient’s name, age, and gender. Later, she would tell me that she saw his family in the waiting room, being told that the retransplantation would begin.

Back in the pre-op room there was thirty minutes of doctors, nurses and attendants who kept asking the same ten or twenty questions; What is your name? Any medical allergies (yes, Keflex), Who are you donating you kidney to? Every time I answered the question by stating that I was a non-direct donor they would respond, “Oh, how, um, generous.” Then I was given an IV line and kissed Amanda goodbye. During the entirety of the procedure I felt qualm, sure about my decision, happy that my year of contemplation was coming to fruition. The last thing I remember was entering the machine-laden operation room and placed on the table, being strapped down and then… …

I awoke peacefully. There was almost no pain. The recovery room was loud and I sensed it was large though I couldn’t tell because of the curtains that surrounded me. My nurse, Kim was talked with in bursts of sentences; “How are you? Doing well? I am giving you a pain medication. You will get a private room soon.” Then I was alone. In front of me was a nurses’ station, and I continually and groggily kept smiling and waving at nurses and passers-by. Finally, Amanda came back to the recovery room. I proudly, if not dumbly, lifted my gown aside to show her three incisions. The larger one cut across my lower abdomen and was no less than five inches. My surgeon; doctor Baker came in to tell me that the operation went well. My kidney’s renal artery was naturally split in two (which isn’t uncommon) and she had needed to do some work to splice into one, but that that too had been successful.

A new nurse took over for Kim, her name was Faye. She had just been married in Israel, and through honed skills of deduction I surmised she was Jewish. We talked about Jews weddings, which after seeing one at the age of fourteen always found preferable to protestant, though not Catholic weddings. After arriving in recovery at around 10:00, I finally was wheeled to my hospital room at around 2:00 p.m. Still groggy, and beginning to feel some pain, I made a number of calls to family and friends to inform them that I was still alive.

In the early evening I began to reel. My friend Krista came to visit – bless her heart; and by bringing me flowers concurrently took a personal stand against gender stereotyping. Yet, as the anesthesia began to wear off I felt discomfort and pain. The anesthesia led to dry-mouth and nausea, and Krista had to watch me reject a lovely serving of apple-juice and Jell-O (She’s quite a good friend). That evening I had to ask for more pain medication because I couldn’t fall asleep. Around 4:00 a.m. I finally was able to rest.

The next day another friend, Ted, came to visit and by 1:00 in the afternoon I had taken a shower, eaten and was urinating normally. These were three goals before being discharged, and soon I was being driven to Indiana by my brother John. After arriving at Amanda’s house I promptly fell to sleep.

Today I have taken things slowly, as I shall do for the next three to four days. On Monday I have a check up, and will return to work on Tuesday if I continue to improve as expected. Ultimately, the experience was a positive one. In economics they call these types of transactions Pareto-efficient, meaning that all parties ended better off than how they started. Perhaps the old adage is true: It is better to give than to receive.

Donating a Kidney: Part I

If you do yet not know I am donating a kidney. The surgery is this Friday.

This decision was borne from the brain-child of one Maryanna Ramirez (Maryanna, consequently, is the type of friend one thanks their lucky stars for: beside her infinite ability to forgive she has impeccable taste and a long history of promising and datable roommates). Maryanna almost a year ago mentioned that in the medical field there are ethical debates surrounding the permissibility of organ markets. She mentioned that genesis of such medical ethics came from a book by Richard Titmuss entitled, "The Gift Relationship." She also mentioned Sally Satel who currently write for the American Enterprise Institute and has written in favor of organ markets – specifically (if not exclusively) kidney markets.

Thus was my introduction to the world of kidneys. Now, Maryanna knew such an issue would fascinate me for three reasons: 1) it involved economics 2) it involved ethics 3) it was a generally contentious subject.

In the following weeks I read not only the Titmuss and Satel pieces, but everything else on living laparoscopic nephrectomies, which is the medical operation kidney donors undergo. After my initial foray into the world of organ donation two things became abundantly clear: there was a shortage of kidneys and I could relatively safely donate one of my kidneys.

First, lets talk about the shortage of kidneys. End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) is a catch-all medical condition for kidneys that are failing or not functioning to such an extant that dialysis or transplantation are necessary. Though cadaveric donation and living relative donations meet much of the demand for kidney transplantations about 4,000 kidneys annually are still needed. Dialysis is the only option for those waiting on the list or who have no option of being a recipient. Further, dialysis – though a wonderful medical invention – marketedly decreases life expectancy, quality of life, and in the long run costs more, on average, than transplantation. The number of ESRD patients who annually die waiting for a kidney is nearly the same as the number of US military deaths in Iraq in the past four years – around 3,600.

Second, a living laparoscopic nephrectomy is a relatively safe procedure. Besides the chance of death being effectively 0%, complications are exceedingly rare. The two hour long procedure consists of two half-inch incisions (for laparoscope and surgical tool) and one four to five inch incision (for kidney removal). Most post-operative pain is not due to the incision, but rather the carbon-dioxide gas used during the operation to literally inflate the chest cavity. A donor stays over night and discharged the next day. In one to two weeks of rest donors can return to work (required it involves no heavy-lifting) and in four to five weeks donors can return to rigorous exercise.

For these two reasons I decided a year ago that I would donate my kidney. On Friday that promised decision will become a reality. Per a friend’s request that I blog the process I am going to do just that. Thus, I will be updating the process throughout the week, and would love to take questions you may have.