Critiques & Controversies: March 2005 Archives

To start with, and to make emphatically clear, I do not condone, excuse, or offer any quarter to the judges who have made the decisions that have thus far condemned Ms. Schiavo. As Dickens says at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, "You must understand this for without it there would be no story."

However, there is a serious danger in lilmiting the blame to the individual judges. That they are morally culpable for their decisions cannot be doubted. Nevertheless, the fact that several judges now have arrived at the same conclusions leads us to a more frightening possibility. If these judges are judging fairly, on the merits, and by the rule-of-law (I don't stand capable of judging these issues), then the law by which they are guided to their decisions is seriously, indeed dangerously flawed. In this sense the actions of the Florida legislature are required immediately to remedy the flaw in the law.

I suspect part of this flaw may have to do with the medical and legal definition of life-support. As countless people have already pointed out, being forced to breathe and pump blood under the aegis of a machine constitutes extraordinary measures. Providing food, while technically life support, is hardly extraordinary. What may be happening in the law is a failure to distinguish between these two methods.

Ms. Schiavo's plight is a wake-up call for all of us. Some take it to mean that we must be explicit in our durable power-of-attorneys or living wills. I take it to mean that we must begin to redefine and truly understand what extraordinary measures are. There may be circumstances under which withholding food MIGHT be moral--I am not enough of an ethicist to understand every possibility. But when we are speaking of a living, functioning human being who happens to be operating at less than their former capacity, there is absolutely no question of the immorality of removing ordinary means of maintaining life.

The courts do not care about morality. They care, rightfully, about the law. That three sets of courts can find no merit in the arguments surrounding Ms. Schiavo must be our tip-off that something is seriously amiss in the legal system. Believe me, I am no friend of the judiciary--however, I think the focus must be on changing flawed laws to assure that future decisions are made in favor of sustaining life whenever there is any doubt as to the person's wishes. We cannot err by sustaining life and allowing God to make the decision as to when and where and how a person will join Him; however, when we take it upon ourselves to pretend to know this, we are in moral jeopardy, and for those who know better, in possible jeopardy of soul. A judge who knows the morality or immorality of the law is not likely to be able to hide behind the excuse of "I was just following orders" when called to account for his or her actions.

As concerned citizens, we must heed this wakeup call as we continue to pray for Ms. Schiavo. We must work quickly and in concert to move our legislatures toward laws that make sense and are compassionate and pro-life. The danger of focusing solely on the individual decisions is that we may not eradicate the root of the problem--bad law and bad legal definitions and understandings. The judges may be in the wrong morally, but the calamity is they may be in the right legally. If so, we must work as each is able to assure that such a thing as this never happens to another family.

Mr. Appleby, who neither endorsed nor approved the message above, does ask that we make everyone aware of his message with which I am in complete agreement. The immediate necessity is to pray, call and work to save Ms. Schiavo--but in the longer term, we must band together to prevent a recurrence of this nightmarish evil.

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from "Evil: The Crime against Humanity"
Jerome Kohn, Director, Hannah Arendt Center, New School University

There are ways in which Eichmann in Jerusalem recalls the last sections of The Origins of Totalitarianism, but there are also important respects in which it differs. Arendt laid considerable emphasis on these differences in a number of letters. To Mary McCarthy she mentioned three of them. She wrote first that she no longer believed in "holes of oblivion" because "there are simply too many people in the world to make oblivion possible." Secondly, she realized that "Eichmann was much less influenced by ideology" than she would have assumed before attending the trial. What had become clear to her was that "extermination per se" did not depend on ideology. Thirdly, and this was by far the most important difference, the phrase banality of evil "stands in contrast to . . . 'radical evil.'" This last distinction is developed in more detail in a letter to Gershom Scholem (see letter to Scholem, July 24, 1963). There she wrote: "It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never 'radical,' that it is only extreme." "Thought tries to reach some depth, to go to the roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated." That there is nothing in evil for thought to latch onto is what Arendt meant by the banality of evil. Not the murderous deeds but the evildoer she faced in Jerusalem and the massiveness of the evil he inflicted on the world are banal in that sense.4 The realization that the most extreme evil has no meaning that the human mind can reveal, that it is not only senseless in its own terms but meaningless in any terms, was momentous; to say the least it afforded Arendt relief from a burden she had borne for many years.

[complete source here]

I have no great philosophical mind. I do not always understand things written in the way they are intended. But what I derive from this brief discussion is that evil has no deep roots and no intrinsic sense because it is, in a sense, utterly alien from what we are. That is, we are created good, only good can be radical because it stems from the depth of our being in God. Evil, which subverts these depths, which starts in a place outside the ground of our being, can have no depth and can ultimately make no sense.

The phrase "banality of evil" was used to descirbe Adolf Eichmann as he faced trial in Jerusalem. He was an accountant of death, dealing merely in numbers. Free from passion, simply exercising his functions within the legal system of his time.

Eichmann's example occurred to me as I considered the plight of the police officers who are standing guard over Terri Schiavo. There are still people who are willing to do evil and prevent good as a matter of course. Perhaps they do not understand the evil they do--I pray it is so. But if they are aware of it and do it anyway, they have entered the realm of senselessness. While their moral culpability may not be sinful, nevertheless, it should give us all pause to consider how we cooperate with this same evil and accept the shallow, the rootless, the invasive. And unfortunately, it seems, there is no end to the people who are willing to enter the realm of the senseless. Even if every officer present today were to quit, there would a cadre of others to replace them. This is not to say anything about police. Were the police to leave, there would be a cadre of misguided "compassionate souls" who would be willing to preside over her execution. (The same souls, I might add, who are aghast at the barbarity implicit in Scott Peterson's possible demise--after twenty to thirty years of appeals. I echo their concerns, but see the terrible compassion that leads to the gas chambers.)

The real danger of what we face here is outlined by Arendt's discovery in a trial in Jerusalem.

[source as above]

Perhaps the most provocative aspect of Eichmann in Jerusalem is its study of human conscience. The court's refusal to consider seriously the question of Eichmann's conscience resulted in its failure to confront what Arendt called "the central moral, legal, and political phenomena of our century." The Israeli judges understood conscience traditionally as the voice of God or lumen naturale, speaking or shining in every human soul, telling or illuminating the difference between right and wrong, and this simply did not apply in the case of Eichmann. Eichmann had a conscience, and it seems to have "functioned in the expected way" for a few weeks after he became engaged in the transport of Jews, and then, when he heard no voice saying Thou shalt not kill but on the contrary every voice saying Thou shalt kill, "it began to function the other way around." (see Eichmann in Jerusalem, chapter 6) And this was by no means true only for Eichmann. Arendt was convinced by testimony presented at the trial that a general "moral collapse" had been experienced throughout Europe, from which even respected members of the Jewish leadership were not exempt.5 (see Eichmann in Jerusalem, chapter 7)

The systemic danger we face from this single case is far greater than we might imagine. It is the sound of the torrent that turns us from Thou shalt not to Thou shalt. Too many mistake the law for what is morally right--the reason of the law replaces the light of God and conscience. Indeed, in a society where religion is sidelined, it is possible that what is legal becomes the definition of what is moral.

Ms Schiavo's case is not over, and I pray it has a better end than seems possible now. But if it does not, I think we need to recall Donne's prescient understanding, "Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

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Two Views of the Law


Aristotle wrote, "The law is reason free from passion."

Modern society accepts, "The law is agenda free from reason."

The law cannot but fail us if it is reason free from compassion, and it has once agin failed us in the defense of life. However, one can no longer argue that the unfortunate, indeed evil, result of Ms. Schiavo's case is a single person's point of view. Too many sources have reviewed and uphelf it. I do not know the law, but it appears that all who do seem to think things were conducted as they should be. This suggests that there is something malign and dangerous about the law as it presently stands. Hence, the law must change.

I also do not know where God's will lay in this matter or what, ultimately, may happen to Ms. Schiavo. What I do know, is that no matter what the outcome, legislators must continue to fashion laws that will protect the innocent and the ignorant. Casual statements cannot be taken as the source of our ultimate disposition. I am surprised that the law allows hearsay without considering hearsay on the opposite side. The law must find in favor of the spouse, but when there is serious disagreement over a person's wishes AND that person cannot be consulted, the law should be forced to decide in favor of life--particularly when the measures used to support that life are merely the provision of sustenance.

If a mother withheld food from her child until it died, the law would, at a minimum charge her with neglect and abuse. Unless a person categorically states that they would waive right to nutrition, how can we presume otherwise? How does this case differ?

Judges should be forced in such cases to witness the results of their decisions. Law may be reason free from passion, but it should not be reason free of compassion. And compassion is not cultivated in the courtroom.

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Hooray for Mel!


Our Senator from Florida is trying to intervene for Terri at a Federal Level--Praise God and keep praying.

See here

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There is a new, and uncommonly tone-deaf "inclusive" translation of the Bible, that does once again great harm to God's word and even greater harm to the English language. Those who cannot hear its dissonances (how in the world can you take the concrete "Kingdom" and turn it into "reign" and think that you have not done violence to the meaning?) are merely too enamored of their own agendas to recognize the damage they do to scripture and to language. Of them John Donne wrote the first four lines of this:


ETERNAL God—for whom who ever dare
Seek new expressions, do the circle square,
And thrust into straight corners of poor wit
Thee, who art cornerless and infinite—
I would but bless Thy name, not name Thee now
—And Thy gifts are as infinite as Thou—
Fix we our praises therefore on this one,
That, as thy blessed Spirit fell upon
These Psalms' first author in a cloven tongue
—For 'twas a double power by which he sung
The highest matter in the noblest form—
So thou hast cleft that Spirit, to perform
That work again, and shed it here, upon
Two, by their bloods, and by Thy Spirit one ;
A brother and a sister, made by Thee
The organ, where Thou art the harmony.

Modern translations seek to accommodate modern sensibilities, to update, renovate, and refresh what is ever new. There is a word for this--presumption.

Inclusivity need not be hideous, nor need it be so obsequious as to find fault in the word Kingdom. The Kingdom of Great Britain is ruled by a Queen--the word in itself has no gender, but the foolish rive it and find fault. (Rather like women and wymmin--or however it is "neutered.") It is also foolish to take the concrete "kingdom" and turn it into the nebulous "reign." A plot of land becomes a piece of time. This is not a matter of inclusivity--rather it is a paean to obfuscation and a grand example of what Orwell inveighed against in Politics and the English Language. This should be required reading for all who presume to improve upon past translations--they should be certain that what they do is actually an improvement, not merely an agenda. Inclusivity is NOT the issue, where the original lacks any sex or gender referent, so the modern can convey; however, it should do so gracefully, and not in a way that rends the fabric of language and meaning. Too few seem to understand the violence they do.

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Is anyone else of the opinion that we would do well to return to the text of the constitution and examine what it says rather than continue in our merry way of ignorance. Today the Supreme Court will hear two cases regarding the display of the 10 commandments and whether that violates the so-called "separation of Church and State."

The text of the first amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Explicitly it is congress that shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. It seems very clear that this text refers explilcitly to congress requiring any group of people to worship in a way contrary to their conscience.

Note that the first amendment does not in any way preclude congress from festooning their chambers with texts from the Bible, statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, or paitning cherubs on the ceiling. It does not say what may happen within the individual states (though I will accept that it is logical and reasonable to assume that the several states would also not make laws regarding the establishment of religion.)

However, what the consitution DOES NOT prohibit is any display of religious identity at all. There is no word regarding opening prayers, or art, or speeches, or any other aspect of religion. It does not say that Congress shall keep the law completely separate from religion and shall not be influenced thereby.

Our modern doctrine is an egregious misrepresentation of what the Constitution says. There is nothring whatsoever about an individual's display of the Ten Commandments, nor even about the government's dispaly thereof. One of the argument for the removal of all relgious articfacts is that it makes an "uncomfortable" environment for those who do not worship as the majority does. We are to preserve a space of comfort for the minority opinion. But my question continues to be, why must the majority be put out to accommodate the minority in ever case. I would derive a great deal of comfort from the thought that the law was derived from and seasoned by the Law of God.

This is one of those cases in which the most appropriate response to whatever the ruling may be is Andrew Jackson's famous, "Mr. Marshall has made his law, now let him enforce it." Because, in fact, while congress has made no such laws, the Courts has inundated us with restrictions and hedgings to such an extent that it is not possible in some schools to read and report on the Bible. If this isn't a "law" restricting religion, I don't know what it constitutes. And it did not come from congress, but from the courts.

It is really long past time that we should take back what is our own from the courts. We have had too much taken from us and I would encourage Texans to petition their governor, regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court's rulings on this case to keep the monument on the Statehouse lawn. It is ridiculous that our lives have become overrun by an oligarchy that seems bent upon recreating society in its own image. In the sixty years of the Roosevelt dominated courts, the tone of society has so far degraded that we look nothing like what we once did. In some ways these changes have been very good. It is good to see that people of color are more accepted than was once the case. (There's always the exceptions.) However, for the most part the insistence upon extreme secularization of society has been a detrimental influence on society and on individual behavior. It is time as a society to tell the Supremes to get off their high horse and get back on track. They are not the law of the land, nor were they ever intended to be. They were to interpret that law, not formulate new law. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in a great many years and we all suffer for it.

May God be merciful unto us though we do not deserve it and may He spare us from further depradations of the Court.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from March 2005.

Critiques & Controversies: February 2005 is the previous archive.

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