Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Culture of life

"Culture of life" is a phrase that is getting bandied about pretty regularly. It's one thing for the Pope to use the phrase and then for Catholic and Evangelical theologians to pick it up. But when politicians and talk radio pick it up, watch out! At least you can figure the theologians are going to make an honest attempt to arrive at some internally consistent sense of what it means to have a "culture of life." When the phrase is thrown around in the media it is usually just a rhetorical code to inflame passions and subdue intellect. If you unpack the phrase, things get very complicated very fast.

"Culture of life" suggests a culture which reveres and upholds the sanctity of life. Does that just mean preserving life or does it include improving quality of life? What life? Does the culture of life just embrace human beings or are animal and plant life included? Do we only care about American life? What about the Iraqi civilians who were killed in the war that we started? Did they die because we haven't yet made a culture of life a reality in this country or would a culture of life still allow for a war like the one in Iraq? Do people who do horrible things (murder, rape, etc) forfeit their chance to be part of the culture of life? Is the life of a murderer not sacred because of what he or she has done? Reasonable people can disagree and I suspect that there are a host of different answers to these and other questions. Yet, I suspect that everyone would say that they value life.

I suggest that the phrase, "culture of life," be retired. With the addition of just one word we can have greater truth-in-advertising while still retaining much of the sound bite punch of the original. So I propose that we use a variety of phrases that a speaker can choose from to best convey the intended meaning. For example, "culture of human life." Or "culture of American life." Perhaps, "culture of some life." [In the previous example, the phrase "and not others" is implied. I think most people would get that.] I'd also include "culture of inoffensive life." [Basically, these are the people who don't piss us off.]

On second thought, just forget it. Where sound bites are concerned, it's just too difficult to sound morally upright and say what you really mean.

Culture Vultures

William Saletan makes an excellent point.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Abstract Appeal

Interested in good, detailed information about the Terri Schiavo case? Go to Abstract Appeal -- by Matt Conigliaro. It seems fair and balanced. As the case winds down, he'll move on to other issues but I expect that Matt Conigliaro will continue to shed more light than heat.


I saw a headline today indicating that Michael Schiavo intends to request an autopsy to prove the extent of Terri's brain damage. Although the autopsy could provide useful information, it's rather disquieting to hear about plans to have one before she has even stopped breathing.

It's disconcerting because it is not about Terri. Rather, the autopsy announcement is the latest salvo fired in the war between Michael and Terri's parents. This is no longer about Terri. Michael is trying to obtain vindication and perhaps this is not surprising given how visciously he's been attacked with, among other things, suggestions that he's trying to cover up by having her cremated after her death.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Pascal's Wager

I'm on a philosophy of kick at the moment. I must say I really don't like Pascal's Wager. It's got a sort of mercenary feel to it. The argument doesn't actually say anything about the existence of God. It basically just says that if you don't believe in God you could be well and truly screwed. Another reason I don't like the argument is that it weighs the pros and cons solely in terms of what happens after death. The hereafter is, after all, the name of the game in Christianity. But if I were formulating the wager, I'd want to include some assessment about whether belief in God improves the quality of this life. So which is it? Better living through theism or atheism?

Rambled a bit...

Yikes! A blogging pitfall! I re-read my last post. Rambled a bit there...

More atheism

Here is an interesting article about strong and weak atheism. Peter Pike responds to atheism by arguing that atheism leaves one without purpose and without anyway to assert a moral perspective. I don't know that a self-determined purpose is not viable. A moral perspective could also be argued according to a utilitarian perspective. As the article suggests, strong atheism has a certain burden of proof that comes from its assertions about the impossibility of the existence of God. It seems to me that atheists tend to pick a mythic, Christian conception of God. But such a conception is not the only way one might imagine God to be. Hmmm...OK. Here's a general overview of philosophy of religion: Good stuff.

Letter to the editor..

For more data about how I think about issues...A letter to the editor was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer and also appears online.
[Come on! Sign up! It's free!]

Terri Schiavo; Atheism

Terri Schiavo
Well, I'm rather disturbed by the whole series of events regarding Terri Schiavo. There seems to have been so much more heat than light shed around the debate about her fate. I strongly suspect that her family's belief that she is responsive is more a measure of their love and grief than her actual medical state. On the other hand, I'm not entirely confident that her husband has Terri's best interests in mind.

I remind myself that the courts have extensively reviewed both sides of the argument. Schiavo's parents have had ample opportunity to present their case. The courts have also not relied on Schiavo's husband as the sole witness to what her wishes were. Furthermore, Terri Schiavo has had two Guardians ad Litem.

I found the Raving Atheist, a blog that provides an "examination culture of belief: How religious devotion trivializes American law and politics. Quite interesting. I'll have to look at this site more closely. Atheism can provide a pretty devastating critique mythic religion, but (as I'm far from the first to point out) tends to be guilty of the pre/trans fallacy.
[As you can perhaps see from the links: Ken Wilber's theoretical formulations resonate very strongly with me.]

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

What Is Enlightenment?

What Is Enlightenment? is a great magazine published by Andrew Cohen who devotes most of his work to teaching about evolutionary enlightenment. Ken Wilber can frequently be found in WIE's pages. I am a huge fan of Wilber's work and the whole notion of the evolution of consciousness feels right for me. More about it later. Oh, one more thing. Check out Dashh.