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Thursday, March 31st, 2005
I was late in getting interested in the Schiavo case. When I first began formulating an opinion a few weeks ago, I was inclined to think the courts had made the right decision. Then I began to read more. And watch the news more carefully.
This is a case where one piece of information added or removed changes the whole picture. It was one thing to be told that Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state and could not recover. It was another thing to see her on camera, or to read a neurologist's affidavit saying that it was likely that she was minimally conscious. There are some who reward themselves for thinking, "I know that she appears conscious, but all those behaviors could be coming from the brain stem." Yes. Such can be the case in many instances. But people have made mistakes reasoning like this. Followers of René Descartes used to publically beat laboratory dogs on the grounds that the dogs only appeared conscious. The Cartesians "knew better" and continued to pummel the dogs despite the yelping. Much suffering occurred on account of this kind of superiority.
President Bush's statement that "in instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life" is a good one. There is a difficult middle ground where I don't blame parties for going one way rather than another. I initially thought this was one of them. Now I don't. I think a great wrong was done in removing Terry's feeding tube.
The other night I ordered an inexpensive kit for making my own wishes known in such a case. As disappointed as I am in what happened here, I do believe that our laws will still protect me, so long as I express my wishes clearly. And for the record. I WOULD want to be kept alive in a state like Terry's. Where a feeding tube was as unusual a measure as it required. And where there was a decent chance that I was minimally conscious. Do I think it would be a great life? No. But with minimal consciousness, I would likely not care. That isn't the real point, anyway. Besides, I tend to be a great optimist with regard to medical advances. I think perhaps I would recover from the "unrecoverable." A new cortex might mean a significantly different "new me." But I think we are a little shortsighted when we automatically identify ourselves with our higher functions alone.
1:49 pm Pacific Standard Time
[ posted by Rick Ritchie | Comments ]
Tuesday, March 29th, 2005
Saturday I made the mistake of turning on the History Channel around 5pm. They were showing the Jesus of Nazareth miniseries by Franco Zeffirelli, and I had only missed the first half hour. I came in as the shepherds were arriving at the inn. I didn't know that once I was hooked, I'd be trapped until midnight.
But this was a fortunate mistake. I love that miniseries. And they had on a couple of scholars to introduce the different episodes. The two men were fairly liberal, but not as bad as the ones you usually see in most documentaries. Many of their points were quite helpful.
The one I remember best was how most movie acconts of the life of Jesus lean heavily or exclusively on one of the Gospels. But Jesus of Nazareth harmonized John and the Synoptics.
Seeing this done well is quite helpful. Some time ago, I was in a bookstore looking through the religious section and pulled down bishop Spong's Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. Part of his case against a conservative reading of Scripture was that a conservative reading was made impossible by irreconcilable logical contradictions. As a key example, he cited the birth narratives, and the arrivals of the shepherds, the wisemen, the presentation in the temple, and the flight to Egypt. When did the holy family go to the temple if they left the wisemen to go to Egypt? Well, Zefirelli shows you. The shepherds visited the inn. The family visited the Temple. The wisemen came. The family went to Egypt. If you can show it on film, it probably doesn't contain a logical contradiction. The trouble is, most of us get into trouble when we are not trying to harmonize the gospels with each other, but with the Christmas pageant!
Dorothy L. Sayers was a famous mystery writer who wrote a series of radio plays called The Man Born to be King. (She was in a club of mystery writers including Agatha Christy. Christy used to lampoon the characters of the other writers. According to Vincent Price, in one of his introductions to a PBS version of one of her stories, Christy never lampooned the characters of Dorothy L. Sayers, because she was one tough lady.) Her introductions to her plays are wonderful. She explains how when you set out to work with the gospel materials in a concrete fashion, bad theology is quickly jettisoned, as it leads to bad drama. Some ideas are clearly false once you attempt to work them seriously into how the drama unfolds. This is true in both directions. Once someone has harmonized supposed contradictory passages on film, we know we won't be worrying about those passages again.
10:10 pm Pacific Standard Time
[ posted by Rick Ritchie | Comments ]
Friday, March 25th, 2005
I picked up the Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes at the Huntington Beach Public Library* a couple of days ago for 50 cents. It had a great anecdote about Oscar Wilde and his quick response to a bore at a party.
This morning I ran into another gem. It was an description of bad preaching. Whether or not the preacher in question, F.D. Maurice, was as bad as they say, I don't know. But the description of why they thought he was bad was priceless:
I went, as usual about this time, to hear F.D. Maurice preach at Lincoln's Inn. I suppose I must have heard him, first and last, some thirty or forty times, and never carried away one clear idea, or even the impression that he had more than the faintest conception of what he himself meant.
Aubrey de Vere was quite right when he said that listening to him was like eating pea-soup with a fork, and Jowett's answer was no less to the purpose, when I asked him what a sermon which Maurice had just preached at the University was about, and he replied'Well! all that I could make out was that today was yesterday, and this world the same as the next.'
* Note: The Huntington Beach Public Library is the best ugly library you'll ever visit. Okay. Ugly is a harsh word. And it depends on where you are standing. Some stunning outdoor shots have been taken at night. But this is one building that taught me that functionality does cover many sins. The building was designed by famous architect Dion Neutra (son of R.J. Neutra). It is an easy place to sit and read. And it is easy to access all the books, something I cannot say of some larger, prettier libraries. This leads to some of the ugliness, as you can see all floors of the library as they are all openly visible even from within the building. The ease of travel from book to book is facilitated by the building design. This is one modern building I look upon very fondly.
Then again, I remember reading one of Ayn Rand's comments about library design. She thought that the savage who didn't value reading enough to be willing to be inconvenienced in the pursuit of books was unworthy of them. Perhaps ironically, Rand lived in one of R.J. Neutra's houses. But I think a harmonization is possible. It might sometimes increase a person's appreciation of a single book to have to struggle to get a hold of it. The ability to find many books in a short time is a different kind of virtue.
10:17 am Pacific Standard Time
[ posted by Rick Ritchie | Comments ]
Monday, March 14th, 2005
A comment by wildboar on my last posting reminded me that I should list some of the Lutheran Church's architectural glories, in addition to its current foibles. My last posting was on how so many of our current buildings look like tennis clubs. But this has not characterized Lutheranism over its history. Even in Orange County, California there are some beautiful Lutheran churches. St. John's Lutheran Church in Orange, and nearby Immanuel Lutheran are two examples. Eighty or so years ago, they knew how to build them. St. John's has some painted glass windows that I have been told made it on the last ship out of Germany before World War I.
Here are some examples of Lutheran church architecture that I like. My parents visited Europe in 1992, and brought home the right pictures. My dad is Presbyterian, so he does not have the Lutheran art bug. But has not given up the great habit of returning from trips with things his adult son would enjoy.
This first picture is from the Lutheran Cathedral in Turku, Finland. Turku was the old capital of Finland. This seven hundred year old church is considered the mother church of the Lutheran Church of Finland. This picture shows the altar area with candles and altar painting above. This is a wonderful arrangement, to my mind. I find it aesthetically very pleasing. For anyone wondering about why Lutherans believe it is permissible to have religious images, they should read Luther's Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments found in Luther's Works, volume 40. I still have some questions of prudence, but Luther answers the Ten Commandments question quite well.
The second picture is from the cathedral in Helsinki. It has some of the same elements, but also some angels on the sides of the altar. These two pictures show the more urbane side of good Lutheran architecture (i.e. good Catholic architecture, minus the errors). I may have to do another post on the rougher, more rural churches.
My copy of "Here We Stand: The Nature and Character of Lutheranism" by Hermann Sasse is missing, so I can't quote from one of my favorite passages. But in his chapter on the doctrinal differences between the Lutheran and Reformed churches, Sasse mentioned how when a visitor from the Reformed church entered the great Lutheran cathedrals of Europe, he entered into a foreign ecclesiastical world. The religious art, the incense, the canonical hours. These things were not found in Reformed churches. He mentioned some churches that I do not have my own pictures of: Trondheim and Uppsala
I like Sasse because he takes great care over the course of his life to distinguish between the ideal and how it is actually practiced. Specificially, even someone on the Lutheran side of the church art question can make a mistake. Sasse loved to see his Lutheran church adorned with earthly beauty. But in some of the church fights in Germany, silliness was often in great supply. The Reformed would argue that one could not have candles on the altar because they were not necessary for salvation. (The regulative principle given an odd twist.) On the other hand, one Lutheran involved in the liturgical revival claimed that those churches that failed to have a Christmas Eve service had denied the Incarnation. Yikes!
Sasse shows us how we ought to wish our church to be adorned without getting silly about it. In any case, many probably don't know what our buildings are supposed to look like.
7:48 pm Pacific Standard Time
[ posted by Rick Ritchie | 5 comments ]
Tuesday, March 1st, 2005
This is my first quiz posting on my blog site. And no, I did not shade my answers to get this result. There were far too many possibilities.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Lord of the Rings. You are
entertaining and imaginative, creating whole
new worlds around yourself. Well loved, you
have a whole league of imitators, none of which
is quite as profound as you are. Stories and
songs give a spark of joy in the middle of your
eternal battle with the forces of evil.
Which literature classic are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
1:21 am Pacific Standard Time
[ posted by Rick Ritchie | Comments ]