Thursday, March 5, 2015

The New Old Radicals...

I blazed through “Runaway Radical” last weekend. I knocked it out in a few hours which I don't often do. It’s the story of a kid who buys into the gospel message 100% and sets out to throw himself entirely into the call of the Great Commission, (as it is conceived by Evangelicalism anyway). He proceeded to slam directly into a wall of disappointment, letdown and personal betrayal.
Africa...sigh
In a lot of ways, this kid’s story and my own story overlap quite a bit. In fact, I had to put the book down at one point and go look up an old journal entry from over ten years ago. There are a couple of scenes in which Jonathan Hollingsworth, the young protagonist  of the story, has a series of conversations dealing with various people regarding a mission to Africa gone badly. The words in my journal entry were nearly identical to some of these exchanges. I also had a very similar conversation with my old pastor after a ministry experience that… did not meet expectations. In fact, I dare say that I might have had the exact same conversation. In any case, reading the book was a bit of a flash back from ten years ago. 

The story also details a post-letdown encounter with another young zealous ministry-man who is fired up and ready to turn the screws of conviction on any one within reach. This was the one part of the book that was actually kind of a disappointment for me. It is told in the manner of Chaucer satirizing his debtors complete with details of glassy eyed sneering taking place. I felt kind of bad for the young dumb drunk youth pastor who was the designated bad-guy in this narrative. Was he an ass? Of course. Still, it was sort of harsh to frame the moment in print as a permanent memorial of how to over-shoot your zeal. To anyone in this youth pastor's circle of friends,  the identity of the prime offender is not going to be a real mystery. Whatever. We've all said dumb stuff in our 20s. Who am I to cast stones? To that young dummy, let me tell you kid, I've done worse friend. Anyway, what the Hollingsworth do illustrate is that at some point it is pretty apparent that the narrative of a particularly Americanized Christian witness gets played out to the point that it is actually a bit of a clichĂ©. Real men love Jesus. Hmmm...

But why? Why does this nonsense go on? Legalism is the answer offered up by the young protagonist. That is a word only used by a particular set of Christians so it may or may not make sense to the reader, (depending on your background). But yes, perhaps legalism is part of it. But there is something deeper going on here. It can’t happen that so many people share a common pathology without having some implicit central idea in common. There is some philosophy or theology at work here. People have all sorts of variables in their wrongdoing.  Missions oriented evangelical churches often talk in great deal about how their theology is not central to who they are as a people of faith, (which makes no sense really). Rather, they assert that their theology is merely a peripheral accessory that is employed only where insofar as it is helpful. I’m not buying. They do have a theology and it is solidly fixed. This sort of ministry bullying happens too often and in too similar a manner to not have some interior framework in common. 

So...we love Jesus. We want to give Him everything. The evangelical missions endeavor seems so noble. What could go wrong? Why is this not enough? I can even say that in my case, I know my former pastor had the best intentions, (at least in our particular encounter). In fact, I  know he did. But what was he seeing in the mission that I was missing? Or, what was I seeing about the mission that he was missing? Or is it that the theology of mission that he taught wasn’t big enough?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Educating in STEM Towards the Transcendentals.

The Washington Post has an essay that considers the heavy emphasis on STEM in education and poses the following question:
"What was the purpose of everything if it all came down to mechanical interactions of particles and cells - what was the point of living, of doing anything at all?"
"Ah, my soul...Meaning, Existence and forming young shepherds of Being"
Eckart has gone right to the heart of it.

We go about breaking things down into mere quantities, jamming them into quantifiable categories and simultaneously we annihilate any sense of wholeness or holistic quality.  Under the terms of this sort of pseudo-scientific dogma, no one can say what anything is. She is right…why do science in the first place?
Modern science needs the humanities in order to recover itself. 

I would suggest three sources for recovering a sense in which education in STEM and otherwise is rooted in something truer and deeper.

1.) Move out from within the heart of the Church. Education of the whole person, inquiry, fullness of realization and revelation is of course, (and always has been), the objective of the Christian endeavor...helping to reveal the world and particularly, revealing man. We need to read and re-read Guadium et Spes.

"The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,(20) namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown." - GS 22
Guadium et Spes is huge!!! We cannot read and re-read this one to much. Christ reveals man to himself. This is where education begins and where it aims.

2.) We need to educate so as to form people who are lovers of wisdom. This effort has been taken up elsewhere. New times call for new measures. We don't need to repeat or duplicate exactly what has come before. That would never work anyway. However, we can certainly glean some good ideas and recover some of the same sensibilities that have preceded us. Anthony Ensolen has a terrific essay on acollege program that taught the humanities with a sense of wonder and spurredyoung people to an untold number of vocations, (religious and otherwise). 

  
3.) We would do well to read Wendell Berry and his thoughts on modern education. He is sometimes a bit polemic but I think his clarity of vision and his ability to articulate a sense of love for the world, and education as oriented towards the beautiful, the true and the good is vital. His short book, "Life is a Miracle" is a great place to start.


None of this…I REPEAT…NONE OF THIS….IS TO REJECT SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY and MATH. What we want instead is to recover STEM, not as a means towards further consolidation of wealth, advancement of oligarchy and the reduction of vocation as a joyless existence of slogging it out in the technocracy. Instead we would want to elevate science as being the discovery of what is. Technology as properly oriented towards the common good of families and societies. Math as a pursuit of the great depths of being.


Hopefully, this provides at lease a brief insight into the Christian sense of how and why we educate and work in the world while living for the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sometimes the Comments Section in Internet Stories are Totally Worth it

Usually, the stuff you read in comment sections is totally useless. Emotional venting and/or the lowest type of antagonism..."trolling," I think they call it.

DNA's survival of space travel hit the news this week.


DNA in Spaaaaaaaaaace!
My initial thoughts were sort of, "so DNA can survive entry into Earth's atmosphere...its totally feasible I suppose that life on earth originated from aliens from another galaxy, just like Battlestar Galactica.
Cool.
Of course that still leaves the problem of origin with regards to that life, but I guess this at least kicks the can down the road a bit, huh?" 

Not even.

"sonofEinstein" has a great reply to Scientific American's story on "DNA Surviving Entry from Space.

"What a piece of nonsense "science". This from a mere 13 minutes in flight?? The problem is that 98% of all of the meteors that have hit Earth, according to NASA have originated in the asteroid belt and are of the original materials that built the Earth. At the average speed of a meteor, it would take about a year to reach Earth. This would mean traveling through space where the temperature is about 10 degrees Kelvin. Since all life has to have carbon and oxygen to survive, this would mean it would be frozen before it reached the atmosphere of Earth. That is when it hits the Van Allen Belts where the temperatures rise rapidly to 1,923 degrees Kelvin. So could DNA have survived THESE temperatures? Not like! Finally it would have had to survive the impact of actually crashing onto the surface of Earth, whether land or sea doesn't make a difference to the impact. Finally, we have NEVER found ANY evidence of life anywhere on any of the asteroids, including Vesta from which most of the meteors have come, and has been visited by the Dawn space probe in July 2011. For Life to have come on a comet, it would have to have been from the asteroid belt, which means that there would have to have been Life there some 4.54 billion years ago when they were formed at the same time as Earth. That leaves the prospect of DNA or some form of Life coming on board a meteor from further away, meaning somewhere else in our solar system - though we have no evidence of it from Voyager and other space probes, and since Life has been on Earth since 3.6 billion years, it would have LONGER to develop on one of those planets/moons - yet no sign yet either. That means if Life was a hitchhiker, it would have come from even further away, and only 2% of meteors on Earth came from this far away. But that would mean "life" would have had to travel 1,000 years before reaching Earth, all through dark space where the temperature is a mere 2.7 degrees Kelvin. So this "experiment" replicates NOTHING and is scientifically useless in the reality of our solar system!"

Good job Son of Einstein!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Does the Catholic Church Hate/Worship Women/Woman?

I remember when I was getting ready to convert to the Catholic Church being told the following (literally in the same week):
1.) I shouldn't become Catholic because the Catholic Church worships a woman, namely Mary. (this from a "conservative" Protestant).
2.) I shouldn't become Catholic because the Catholic Church hates women because, male priesthood, (this from a "liberal" Protestant).
After 10 years in the Church I've seen first hand that neither is true. Seems to me that both of these readings of the Church's ecclessiology are entirely extrinsic and utterly foreign to the actual sacramental reality of the life of the Catholic Church. Perhaps it is not about sexism and power plays or paganism and goddess worship and we ought to look more deeply into the Catholic understanding of what it means to be man and woman.

As to the specifics of Cardinal O'Malley's comments on 60 Minutes concerning the male priesthood, (pre and post edit), he was attempting to give a thorough, fair and reasoned answer while also anticipating the heart of the question for moderns which might be "why does the Church not trust women as priests?"
Clearly, he is on board with the teachings of the Church. I just can't get the partisanship and the almost gleeful trigger response of getting upset among some folks who seem to prize their status as conservative and faithful. I suppose it's a bit easier to understand if folks outside the Church can't understand the reasons for the male priesthood. However, its not like the Church does not have a well developed theology for this and its not like the Church isn't open about sharing that theology in great detail. It seems to me you have to be trying kind of hard to get upset if this is scandalizing for you. 

Gender equality just is not the primary theme here.
Look closer.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Three Parent Embryos

It's also called Mitochondrial Donation.
The donors typically aren't asked so the donation is presumed and the takers just take.
In the US, the FDA said "NO"
Or at least "not yet." The FDA isn't so backwards as to prevent science from doing what science must do on moral grounds. 

The US believes in science too...as good westerners of course we subscribe to that creed.
We're just a bit slower sometimes. These sticky morality discussions take some time to ignore. Sometimes it takes a little bit of work for us to isolate these moral concerns and cram them into the category of "moral" so we can move forward with the separated category of "science" as the unrelated and more pragmatic, (and therefore more real), objective. 
At the FDA, they can only dispassionately weigh all empirical categories of "science."
Science is a public concern. 
Moral is for the religious and is only a private concern.
So what does science say?
Science says that Mitochondrial Donation is still not very safe.
Darn. Not safe for who?

Well, before answering that, can we ask why "safety" is even a problem for science in the first place? I mean, it is beyond me as to why science should care one bit about safety. That sounds too much like something that would fall under the moral category. Science ought to  just be neatly concerned with the category of "results" and not the category of "moral." At least that always seems to be the line given if anyone voices an objection to an effort deemed scientific.
Is safety only good because it pertains to results or is treating people in an unsafe manner also not a morally problematic?

In any case, does Mitochondrial Donation work?
Yes.
So what does science care if there is a high risk of complication for the people involved.
Care for people is a moral issue.
So to keep up the confusion of issues...some science concerns itself about some health results for some humans and some science does not concern itself with health results for some humans. When the latter happens it is no longer deemed a scientific concern even if the science is right smack dab in the middle of whatever is going on.
Well, at least, the contradiction seems apparent to me.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Vaginorm - Brought to You by Some Mystified Dudes Who Know How to Turn a Profit

Man, the stuff I run across in my research. It's a few years old, but Phil Smits, some guy who used to head up Bayer's Women's Healthcare was getting pretty excited about the prospects for this drug called...Vaginorm. Vaginorm. That is your go-to-market branding? So is this stuff supposed to make vaginas normal? Or perhaps it helps returns one's vagina to normalcy?

“Vaginorm is an important late stage addition to our Gynecological Therapy R&D pipeline. We are pleased to work with EndoCeutics towards bringing a new treatment alternative for vaginal atrophy and female sexual dysfunction to an area of high unmet medical need,” said Phil Smits, M.D., Head of Women’s Healthcare at Bayer Schering Pharma. “Gynecological Therapies are a new growth area adding to our contraception business. Our research, in-licensing and innovation efforts are all geared towards this strategic goal.” 

Oh. Well...there you go. So its a drug for dysfunctional vagina! To make those vaginas sexually functional. Hmm. I think I see.

OK, I'm not an expert on menopause. Please, don't think I'm saying that its not a real health concern with potential complications. But this is the same guy who had his Division turning revenues at $16B annually,of which women's contraception drove 45%. The same organization by the way, also currently has tallies of over $1B in legal settlements for health complications, (some as serious as death), for the marketing of it contraceptive Yaz. So pardon me for being a little skeptical that he's got women's health in mind.
"You know I don't know what all is happening there for you ma'am but  I'll do my best to get it functionally sexy."

Mr. Smits has now moved on to running Bayer's Business in the Middle East in which he now has the pleasure of turning down requests for affordable pharmaceuticals to women in India. 
Well, who am I to throw stones?
I used to be a minor war-profiteer myself.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In Distrust of Movements

Wendell Berry's 2001 essay "In Distrust of Movements" Passed along from the Orion Magazine...

The movements which deal with single issues or single solutions are bound to fail because they cannot control effects while leaving causes in place.

I have had with my friend Wes Jackson a number of useful conversations about the necessity of getting out of movements - even movements that have seemed necessary and dear to us -when they have lapsed into self-righteousness and self betrayal, as movements seem almost invariably to do. People in movements too readily learn to deny to others the rights and privileges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a “peace movement” becomes violent. They often become too specialized, as if finally they cannot help taking refuge in the pinhole vision of the institutional intellectuals. They almost always fail to be radical enough, dealing finally in effects rather than causes. Or they deal with single issues or single solutions, as if to assure themselves that they will not be radical enough.

Read the rest here.