Sunday, December 25, 2005

Poverty in Wealth, Wealth in Poverty

[Christ Jesus] though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.1

[B]eing rich he became poor, for your sakes; that through his poverty you might be rich.2

May our many material gifts not blind us to our true poverty. We must recognize our emptiness before we can accept His wealth.


1. Phil 2:6-7.

2. 2 Cor 8:9.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Schonborn Saga

At last the semester is complete! Now I have some time... for the Christmas rush. Despite my desire to write a more in-depth analyis, I will have to be satisfied with merely pointing you to the latest exchange in the Schönborn offensive on evolution and design:

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, "The Designs of Science," First Things 159 (January 2006): 34-38.

The piece addresses Steve Barr's response in FT to Schönborn's controversial New York Times op-ed this summer:

Stephen M. Barr, The Design of Evolution," First Things 156 (October 2005): 9-12.

Also interesting are the Cardinal's Vienna catecheses on creation:

Recent posts on this general topic:

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wasted Bullet

In case the barrage of stories praising his "legacy" hasn't tipped you off... yes, John Lennon was shot 25 years ago today.

Let's be honest: the guy was a great musician, arguably among the best, but no philosopher. Contrary to the American habit of equating profound emotion with depth of substance, most of his ideas were pretty, well...ungood. The best that can be said of them is that they were lukewarm and derivative.

Who else but a white limosine liberal would be gullible enough to believe that to banish all strife and suffering, we need only "peace"?

I put peace in quotation marks because his idea of it wasn't based on the right ordering of society (i.e., justice), but on the shallow standard of lack of conflict. The "free love" Lennon proposed as panacea is an intrinsic disorder. (As Woody Allen taught us, everyone pays for sex, whether they know it or not.) At the very least there would be hurt feelings among the jilted lovers. (No, Mr. Lennon, no one ever fought over love and sex. Roight.)

In one pretentious song he imagines "all the people living for today." The existential myth: we needn't order our actions according to the actual structure of the world, but instead we'll find paradise by ignoring all that rot and concentrating on the here and now: here in my now and what I want. As if mankind's hyper-obtrusive self-centeredness were a plausible foundation for peace and harmony!

It's such low-lying fruit that the observation can only be a cliche. The obvious one-line reply to Lennon's "Imagine...Nothing to kill or die for\ No religion too..." was made by a contemporary of his, a man who suffered (and died) for his beliefs and for others and whose religion gave self-sacrifice a transcendent value: "A man who won't die for something is not fit to live."2

What a contrast, Martin Luther King, Jr. makes with Lennon: a giant next to a moral midget!

As a human being John Lennon was like all of us, a child of God, and thus possessed of a dignity surpassing the whole remainder of the universe. For that reason his death is a tragedy. But it needs to be observered that while figures like King die for their beliefs, Lennon died merely for his fame; his beliefs weren't worth a bullet.3


1. Originally I thought to call this post "John Lenin." The man has some biographical affinities with Marx, but the comparison would grant him much more weight than he merits. (More on Communism.)

2. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963 (A reply eight years previous!); cf. "A man who won't die for something is not fit to live." —Decimus Junius Juvenal, Satires (VIII, 244)

3. ...and certainly not all the media retrospectives!

John Lennon, "Imagine," Imagine (1971).

Woody Allen, dir., Shadows and Fog (1992).

Kleinmann (Allen). I've never paid for sex in my life.
Prostitute (Tomlin). You just think you haven't.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Double Homicide

Science News reviews a couple New England Journal of Medicine articles on maternal deaths from the abortion pill RU-486.1 In the five years of the pill's availability, four otherwise healthy women died of toxic shock after being "treated." All four developed vaginal infections of a microbe called Clostridium sordellii. Why?

Ralph P. Miech, a physician at Brown University School of Medicine in Providence, R.I., suspects that quick-responding immune cells typically fend off C. sordellii infections. Mifepristone may sabotage this defense in certain women. How that occurs, he acknowledges, "is unknown."

When you're dealing with a state as intimate to a woman's being as pregnancy, it seems unsurprising that ending it has radical repercussions on the woman herself. The further commentary is illuminating.

If there is a connection between the treatment and the fatalities, says Michael F. Greene, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, these data suggest a risk of about 1 death per 100,000 patients getting mifepristone. That's about 10 times the risk of death for a surgical abortion during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy, when mifepristone is used, Greene comments in NEJM.

If the risk of fatality is ten times that of surgical abortion, that's rather remarkable for a "treatment" that our betters have told us is completely safe,... pay no attention,... move along.

Even more illuminating is the incidence relative to death among women at large (not just RU-486 "patients"); the researchers found only 9 deaths from the same microbe-induced toxic shock unconnected with the abortion pill in the 25 years between 1977 and 2002. In what population were these deaths? Worldwide or only the U.S.? Science News doesn't say. But even if only the U.S. that would make the result 9 deaths from over 130 million women in 25 years. If the incidence of death linked to RU-486 were merely normal, we would expect 113 deaths in five years or 565 in 25 years. That makes deaths by toxic shock over 141 times more likely with RU-486 than without.2

Of course, these numbers need to be put in perspective with other causes of death (getting run over by a car, dying in a plane crash,...). But you still gotta wonder what our betters mean by "safe."


1. The mortality rate among the children targeted by this "medicine" is undoubtedly close to 100%.

2. The article says the risk from surgical abortion is ten times less than for RU-486. So it must be that having a surgical abortion directly increases one's risk of dying 14 times. That's not including all the indirect ways that abortion results in the death of the abortive mother (depression, suicide, illness, etc.). See Elliot Institute, press release, "Abortion Nearly Four Times Deadlier Than Childbirth," June 2000.

Nathan Seppa, "Rare but Fatal Outcome: Four deaths may trace to abortion pill" Science News 168:23 (December 3, 2005), 358, 360. [online article for subscribers only; References and Sources]

Michael F. Greene, "Fatal Infections Associated with Mifepristone-Induced Abortion" New England Journal of Medicine 353:22 (December 1, 2005), 2317-2318.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Speaking about Ensoulment

A prime focus abortion debate is the timing of "ensoulment," that is, when the soul enters the human embryo and makes it fully human. The language of this issue is a great obstacle, because there are two notions of the soul easily confused.

The more common understanding of "soul" is the invisible, supernatural part of the human being, the spirit, that will survive our bodies. Being wholly immaterial and most evident in intellectual acts, it is understandably difficult to point to evidence of its presence in any but a conscious, fully formed human.

The concept of soul more relevant to abortion is that of the natural form of the body: what holds its parts together and animates it. Unlike the spiritual soul, this natural soul is manifestly evident from the first moment of conception, and historically the law has been quick to recognize the rights of the unborn thus ensouled. Chapter 8 of the NCBC's Handbook on Critical Life Issues documents the evolution of laws regarding the unborn through the centuries as medical knowledge of life in utero has grown.

Already in 1823, a standard American work on law, Elements of Medical Jurisprudence, by Theodore Beck and John Beck, argued for considering "vitality" from the moment of conception on grounds of reason and physiology....

In 1803, the first British statute against abortion condemned as a felony any attempt to procure an abortion [and] cleared up any confusion in common law about the act of abortion before quickening: it was a felony.

The significance of quickening, the point at which the mother can feel the child stir in her womb, is that it was regarded as the time when the soul entered the developing body. In the 18th century, Blackstone had set it at the point at which the fetus was to be regarded as living legally.

But the advances of medical science have clearly demonstrated that the child is ensouled from conception. It is not the mother's body that assembles the embryonic body; she only delivers the nutrients that the embryo itself arranges into itself. Certainly, in the earliest stages of zygotic development, the cellular machinery from the egg's cytoplasm plays an essential role in "jumpstarting" the process, but the force of the new life is itself indispensibly central.

Science refutes the old assumption that the fetal soul enters an already assembled body. Rather the soul is present from the beginning and is the primary architect of its body. We of the modern age take too much for granted modern science's revelation of natural wonders. The reason previous ages didn't criminalize abortion throughout pregnancy is that they had no idea how early the natural soul of the developing child manifests its presence.

We who seek to defend that life need to be clear that we base our defence of unborn humanity not by pulling some sort of invisible, supernatural spirit out of rhetorical thin air, but by simply following the evidence that modern science presents to us so clearly.

John A. Leies, Donald G. McCarthy and Edward J. Bayer, Handbook on Critical Life Issues, ed. Louise A. Mitchell (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2004), ch. 8. [The book itself is burdened by an easily misunderstood definition of the human being]

Also: Robert P. George, "Statement(joined by Dr. Gomez-Lobo)" in President's Bioethics Council, Human Cloning and Human Dignity (Washington, D.C.: 2002), 258-266.