Boinkie's Blog

Universalis

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Uh oh....

Online Dating

But my main blog is G rated.

So much for being "religious"...

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Politically correct religion

The WaPo has a forum for discussing religion. Last week, it was how do you believe in God in a time of war.
Nearly every article was the Democratic talking points, not about keeping faith in war. I wrote them a letter saying maybe if they want to really know about keeping faith during war they should ask someone who has had their tush shot at, not a university professor who knows diddly squat about war.

This week the discussion is about heaven. It's not an improvement. from the summary, it looks like the only one believing in Christian heaven is Cal Thomas, and he is a bit stricter than the Catholic view. Guess they can't find any orthodox Catholics in Washington. (I don't consider a Jesuit an orthodox catholic especially Reese)

Here's the list. If you have a strong stomach go and comment.

Neither is The Final Destination

By Nicholas T. Wright

Heaven is important but it's not the end of the world.

Abandon Hope, Who Enter Here

By Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

Yes, I believe in hell, and in heaven. I believe it because, like Dante, I see it here on earth.

Enough of Heaven and Hell

By Susan Jacoby

Oh, for heaven's sake. This question irritates the...inferno out of me. Of all the pointless, utterly childish notions associated with traditional religion, belief in eternal bliss in heaven or eternal damnation in hell surely tops the list....

One-Way Tickets, Non-Refundable

By Cal Thomas

Waiting to find out for sure is too late.

Heaven is Hope's Address

By Samuel Rodriguez

Hell is a refuge for darkness and the absence of light, music and love.

My Thought about Heaven and Hell

By Gardner Calvin Taylor

I believe hell is the total absence of God.

My Father's House

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

Do only Christians go to heaven? No, anyone who loves can go to heaven.

Spirits are Everywhere, not in Heaven or Hell

By Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo

Heaven and Hell are not places, but forms of virtual reality.

Hell is Other People; Heaven is Other Dogs

By Wendy Doniger

The unquenchable human thirst for life and for justice is what creates heaven.

Peering Into the World of the Dead

By James Anderson

Between the living and the dead is a great gulf, a mystery to all.

Heaven, Yes; Hell, Not So Much

By Alan F. Segal

Even Tony Soprano (who did believe in hell) didn’t think he was going there, though he admitted to some extra work in purgatory for his gangster behavior.

Not "Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing"

By Chester L. Gillis

Is it likely that some of the most morally corrupt individuals in history are in hell? If there is a hell, it is likely.

Heaven on Earth

By Bob Edgar

If God is love then God’s heaven is dwelling in that love.

Choices of Eternal Consequence

By Charles "Chuck" Colson

God doesn’t send anyone to hell.

Heaven: A Place of Learning and Growth

By Michael Otterson

Everyone will be resurrected, and everyone will receive immortality.

Bound for Glory

By Kathleen Flake

I can answer a very qualified yes to the first question; so qualified that some may think it’s a no. The picture of post moral life is, for me as a Latter-day Saint, much more complex than the two-sizes-fits-all tradition...

Einstein and Heaven?

By Jim Cooper

If Einstein is correct and energy is neither created nor destroyed, we have energy and therefore in some basic way we continue. The concept of heaven and hell are helpful images of fulfillment or disintegration. Drawing upon my spiritual tradition...

Persistence in Error is Reckless

By Hadia Mubarak

Of course the Iraqi people want us out. Not only because we’ve unjustly invaded their sovereign country, but because they don’t trust us.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cliches vs speaking from experience

The WAPO has a religion section, and I just got the RSS feed about it, so have been reading it. Actually, so far it's been worthless, but this week all the essays are about Iraq and they sound like Nancy Pelosi's talking points. We even have a cheery looking broad who has an essay saying that dang it we can change religious extremists away from their violence. Well, true, but if he's coming in my hospital with an AK 47 and is high on janga weed, I would prefer a nice Uzzi to a bible.

I emailed them and told them they needed to ask saints about faith, not cheerful academics spouting cliches. Wonder if anyone will read it.

But then I got my rss feed from First things and came across this quote:
It's from Mary Eberstadt.

All men and women fear death; but only mothers and fathers, and perhaps some husbands and wives, can generally be counted upon to fear another’s death more than their own.

To put the point another way, if 9/11 drove to church for weeks on end millions of Americans who had not darkened that doorstep in years—as it did—imagine the even deeper impact on ordinary mothers and fathers of a sick child or the similarly powerful desire of a devoted spouse on the brink of losing the other.

Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, so too would there appear to be few in the nursery or critical care unit, at least most of the time.

In sum, because it treats belief as an atomistic decision taken piecemeal by individuals rather than a holistic response to family life, Nietzsche’s madman and his offspring, secularization theory, appear to present an incomplete version of how some considerable portion of human beings actually come to think and behave about things religious—not one by one and all on their own, but rather mediated through the elemental connections of husband, wife, child, aunt, great-grandfather, and the rest.


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Yup.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

China to destroy Shrine, forbid annual pilgrimage in Henan China

It didn't get many headlines, but China destroying religious shrines...Catholic and Buddhist.

Pilgrimages are not a Western phenomena. Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism all have sacred spots for pilgrimage.

But for Catholics, the favorite shrines are often in honor of Mary.

Now, every other day someone sees Mary on a tree trunk or Jesus on French toast. Such things are on the same level as seeing Elvis or Big foot: strange, funny, but don't mean much.

But often pilgrimages are to shrines that have historical and religious meaning to those who travel.

Here in the Philippines, for almost four hundred hundreds of years, travelers have visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Bon Voyage (the good voyage) at Antipolo both on leaving to ask for Mary's intercession of safety and on return to give thanks.

My husband made the pilgrimage every time he visited the Philippines. I go with him, it's no big deal for me. But for him, it is to say thanks for his getting a job in America that allowed him to support and educate his extended family.

And our newest shrine, Our Lady Of Peace, commemorates the vision of the Virgin that protected the praying protesters from soldiers during the people power revolution.

True? Hallucination? Superstition? I report, you decide. But such stories have power to those who believe in them (note that Marcos' soldiers didn't shoot) and although as a doctor I scoff at miracles, nevertheless I've seen a few things that make me think that there is a grain of truth in these things.

But the Philippines is not the only Asian country that has such shrines. There is Our Lady of LaVang in Viet Nam, the shrine of the Martyrs at Mirinae in Korea, and several similar shrines in China.


The shrine that the Chinese government is planning to destroy commemorates local villagers and refuges who fled for their lives up a hill when their village was attacked by a mob during the Boxer rebellion. Attackers withdrew after seeing "beings of light" protecting the villagers; another story is that they saw a vision of the virgin.

Whatever the truth, to this day the ridge is called "the retreating range", and although the shrine/church has been destroyed twice, by the Japanese and then by the Cultural revolution, locals have always rebuilt it.

The shrine is a site of an annual pilgrimage that attracts an estimated 40 000 people, even though the government "catholic" priests preach against the pilgrimage. (there are two "catholic" churches in China. One is under the government and legal, and the other is under the Pope and persecuted.) Recently the government appointed bishops have requested and received Vatican approval, which upset the government, so they have started beating up nuns and imprisoning priests who belong to the illegal churches.

Since persuasion is not working, the governor decided something stronger is needed:
May 11th last the secretary general of Henan province gave a personal order to cancel the pilgrimage and spread the order to the neighbouring provinces of Hebei and Shanxi.

To occupy the site and prevent any form of sit-in, the provincial government began holding military exercises in the area of the shrine on May 12, mobilizing over 700 soldiers. Still today all roads leading to the sanctuary are closed. All cars and pedestrians who pass by are stopped and searched.The provincial governor’s decision has shocked the faithful of the diocese....

China has a long dislike for religions that threaten the unity of the empire...not only from Christians but Buddhists and the Falun Gong movement.

The danger of religion to China is that they allow the discontented to unite under a single vision to rebel against the empire, a danger to unity whether it be the Buddhists of the 7th century of the the Taiping rebellion, a mixture of folk Buddhist beliefs and Christian millennial beliefs that resulted in a war that killed 20 million in the 1870's.

There has been a recent upsurge in belief in China, with 20 percent of the population now claiming to practice Buddhism, and ten percent practicing Christianity; the highest rate of believers was in younger people and among those living in the more prosperous eastern regions of China.

So does this upsurge in belief threaten the communist government? Unlikely. But in a country that is trying to adjust to the modern world religion may be seen both as a way to strengthen morality and a way to rebel against corrupt officials. Given the ancient Chinese belief that a government needs the mandate of heaven to govern, and that corruption removes this mandate, one can see how the Chinese government might see any organized belief system as a threat.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Manipulating humans: Brave new world and Cordwainer Smith

BBC Spins story on human animal hybrids: Headlines say " Human-animal embryo tests 'vital' and in the sidebar we see a quote: "There are no substantive ethical or moral reasons not to proceed with research on human embryos containing Animal material"...Martin Bobrow Academy of medical sciences.

But if you go down to paragraph nine and ten, you read a quote that actually contradicts there two claims:

"There are no substantive ethical or moral reasons not to proceed with research on human embryos containing animal material under the same framework of regulatory control," he said.

There were currently no scientific reasons to create true hybrid embryos, Mr Bobrow added.

And for some reason, the very real ethical objections are simply not mentioned.

Why not? Putting one human gene into an animal embryo is probably okay, but destroying an embryo who could become a full human being is ethically objectionable to many people. And adding animal genes into a human is human experimentation.



Placing one or two human genes into another organism isn't a problem, but itsn't it ironic that although there are many protests about "franken foods" and transgenetic farm crops, there are fewer objections into experimenting on human embryos, even to the extent of making human animal hybrids. Indeed, one wonders why these scientists aren't doing their work on lower animals first:why not make cat dog hybrids, or Rhesus/gorilla hybrids to do research instead? PETA would protest. But denying a human embryo the right to live, that's okay?

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MirrorOfJusticeBlog links to Leon Kass' thoughts on the dangers of dehumanization in such manipulation.

No friend of humanity today can be the enemy of science and medicine.

Yet contemplating present and projected advances in genetic and reproductive
technologies, in neuroscience and psychopharmacology, and in the development of artificial
organs and computer-chip implants for human brains, we now clearly recognize new uses for
biotechnical power that soar beyond the traditional medical goals of healing disease and
relieving suffering. Human nature itself lies on the operating table, ready for alteration, for
eugenic and psychic “enhancement,” for wholesale re-design. In leading laboratories new
creators are confidently amassing their powers and quietly honing their skills, while on the street
their evangelists are zealously prophesying a post-human future. For anyone who cares about
preserving our humanity, the time has come to pay attention....

Some transforming powers are already here. The Pill. In vitro fertilization. Bottled
embryos. Surrogate wombs. Cloning. Genetic screening. Genetic manipulation. Organ
harvesting. Mechanical spare parts. Chimeras. Brain implants. Ritalin for the young, Viagra for
the old, Prozac for everyone. And, to leave this vale of tears, a little extra morphine accompanied
by Muzak. ...

Kass goes on to use Huxley's Brave New World to show how many of his prophecies, including the prophacies about dehumanizing effects of technology, have come true, and analyzes the materialistic mindset/denial of God and denial of human dignity that underlies modern bioethics.

Huxley's picture of hedonism and despair resemble the drug culture of the sixties, but we have gone beyond that today. I always thought that Cordwainer Smith's SciFi stories were more prophetic on these issues than HGWells or Huxley.

From Wikipedia

  • Planet Norstrilia, a semi-arid planet where an immortality drug is harvested from gigantic virus-infected sheep, each weighing more than 100 tons
How does a society use immortality?
  • The punishment world of Shayol (cf. Sheol), where criminals are punished by the regrowth and harvesting of their organs for transplanting
So we see criminals as semi human, so inhuman that we use them as organ growers and donors?
  • Planoforming spacecraft, which are crewed by humans telepathically linked with cats and which defend themselves against the attacks of unknown malevolent entities in space with the flash of small atomic weapons (these entities are perceived by the humans as dragons, and by the cats as gigantic rats)
Can we combine humans/animal/computers to do our work? In the story, the affection between species counteracts the dehumanizing effect of the work; a strong argument about how love of animals stops the descent into dehumanization.
  • The Underpeople, animals modified genetically into human form and intelligence to fulfill servile roles, and treated as property. Several stories feature clandestine efforts to liberate the underpeople and grant them equal rights. They are seen everywhere throughout regions controlled by the Instrumentality.
The stories are about D'Joan, who teaches love and peaceful demonstrations, not battle, are the way to assert the (human) dignity of underpeople. The story continues with C'Mell, several hundred years later. It is belief in God that allows the underpeople to remember they have dignity and worth, although that idea is portrayed so subtly that you might miss it.

But taken together, the storie ask: Are animals genetically altered to be intelligent/semi human that do the dirty work of society worthy of rights?
  • Habermans and their supervisors, Scanners, whose sensory nerves have been cut to survive the pain of space
Will we manipulate human/machines into inhumanity for profit? The hero of Scanners leads a revolt after he falls in love and starts turning off his machine...

Making a utopia without a reverence for life ends up dehumanizing all involved is the context of Smith's thoughtful stories. And in reading them, it makes us wonder if scientist's hubris to manipulate animal/human hybrids may someday be recognized as the equivalent of slavery and human experimentation.

Something to think about.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why I am an agnostic (not really)

The WaPo has an ongoing series about religion, and if you want to read cliches, just go there and try not to throw up.

This guy, who is of course a nice leftist pacifist, tells us all we should work with poor people. well, duh.

Isn't it nice when Protestants finally discover the Gospel, something that we catholics always knew about?

Now, I'm an ex missionary, so been there, done that.
But most people serve God in the "duties of their daily lives"....

See LATImes story here...
Today, experts think that about 46 million American adults (or 1 in 6) do so and predict those numbers will surge in the coming decade, as a wave of baby boomers age, expected life spans grow and institutional care becomes more costly and uncertain.

Studies show that few will regret the time spent caring for an ill or dying relative, but new research suggests that many will pay dearly in terms of family income and their own mental and physical health.

The majority of those caregivers who are employed juggle paid work and elder-care, reducing hours on the job (and often pay, promotions and pensions) to do so. A 2003 study found that family members caring for those with dementia suffered suppressed levels of immunity for three years following their stint of caregiving, raising their risk of developing a chronic disease themselves. Other surveys have found that compared with the general population, caregivers — especially those with intensive caregiving demands and those already in fair or poor health — are less likely than their noncaregiving peers to attend to their own healthcare needs, less likely to exercise or see their doctor regularly and more likely to eat poorly and drink alcohol excessively.

One of the problems of the "post vatican II" social emphasis is that they stress doing good deeds in the political sphere, but too often seem to be clueless about about what we old time catholics called "crosses".

And if you are sick, I would bet it is your Baptist neighbor who once in awhile brings over a cassarole who is more of a help to you than a lot of the "peace and justice" types at the parish.

Of course, we need the food bank/car pool types too, and most towns have such organizations run by local churches.

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Reviews of the classics

A lot of people are asked what books/movies would you bring with you to a desert island?

Well, I personally know which books I take with me when I move overseas so I am going to have a series about these books.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Telling Stories

I am trained as a scientist, so appreciate the discipline behind biblical scholarship.

However, too much skepticism ignores that societies have traditionally taught their culture via stories and song. So Greeks see the Iliad as a template that they used to argue law and philosophy.

And Tolkien, in his famous Beowulf lectures, pointed out that often scientific historians missed the point on that poem, which was to tell a story of ancient heroism but recast into a Christian worldview.

First, studies show that predominantly oral societies have ways of preserving accurately those traditions they wish to preserve, even across many generations. In this respect, they treat different sorts of traditions differently, and the question is: Did the early Christians want to preserve testimonies about Jesus faithfully?

Second, in the case of the Gospels, we are not really talking about traditions passed from generation to generation like folklore. The Gospels were written within living memory of the events. They are what historians in the ancient world regarded as the only sort of history that should really be written, that done while eyewitnesses were still accessible. They are what modern historians call oral history. The central thread through my book is my attempt to put the eyewitnesses of Gospel events back into our picture of how Gospel traditions reached the evangelists. The eyewitnesses (many of them, certainly not just the Twelve), I suggest, remained the authoritative sources and guarantors of the traditions they themselves had formulated. This is one way the transmission of the traditions was controlled, and it's a key factor in the origins of the Gospels themselves.