Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two stupid things I've heard, relating to politics/democracy:

Abortion: "Needs to be made affordable/less restricted because it's the law of the land, and if it's not universally available, it's being discriminated against."
 BS. It's a medical practice, not a citizen, and therefore has no rights and is not subject to discrimination laws, but rather to the same regulation as any other operation.

Gay marriage: Voters in MA or PA or somewhere, so it goes, have the same right to vote on the matter as those in CA.
We live in a hybridized democratic republic, but that doesn't mean you're entitled to vote on any issue you want at any point. No. Voting is only one part of the process and only comes at certain times. At other times and places, go campaigning. Don't complain that the movement in different states is in different stages, except to call attention to more or less progress is being made in one state than another. That can motivate people to be more active. It's as fitting (which is to say, not at all) to demand to vote on the east coast because people on the west coast are, as it was to ask Bush to step down early so Obama could get a head start on saving the country.  Keep talking that way, though, and you'll give the impression that you or your cause or people on your team are entitled to special civic and legal privileges, which is distasteful to people who are aware that you haven't earned the right.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Are "mysteries" the crutch of the intellectually lazy?

No, or, not necessarily.

Calling something a theological mystery and not having a solution is not a lack of inquisitiveness or a sign of sloth.  All mysteries are mysteries before they're solved; are detectives and private investigators, then, merely lazy?  Of course not.  A mystery is simply something we can't explain with the facts and logic at hand.

When we speak of transcendental ones, we do generally mean they're unsolvable by temporal means.  It's good to accept they're beyond us, in the sense of cultivating trust and patience, but it's not a sign reading "think this far and no further."  Mysteries are not devoid of meaning; they are recognized as possessing more meaning than we can apprehend.

It's a race we know we probably can't finish.  It does not mean we should not or will not make the effort.  Some people may be more or less disposed to apprehending some part of the whole, but some people also may be more or less disposed to apprehending parts or all of complex cobordism, either, and there's no shame or conviction in that, either.

It may be expanded to the subject of religion as a whole.  How often do you hear things like "The Catholic Church tells you what to think?" (more on that another time)  Sure, there are professional theologians and philosophers, but most of the people you meet on the street are amateur theists, so to speak; they--we--can't answer a lot of the tough questions, or recognize some of the stupid ones, so we end up trusting what the Church tells us.

How is this a moral failing?  I'm sorry, but I'm too busy to figure out why the difference between homoousios and homoiousios is important; I will take it on faith, ponder it when I have the means as well as opportunity to do so, and allow the experts in their fields to do their job.  They keep me from falling into heresy, and I'll keep their planes from falling out of the sky.  Is that not a fair deal?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Unbelievers keep saying that the miraculous healings attributed to saints are merely rare, natural occurrences that we don't have the science or technology to explain.

I think God, in His infinite wisdom and power, works miracles that happen to be beyond the understanding of anyone who would witness.  A miracle to a panhandler a thousand years ago might be transparent to a physicist today; a miracle to a lawyer today might be transparent to a doctor a thousand years from now.

This may seem tidily pat to unbelievers, but hopefully it will remind believers of hope.  There's plenty of room for mystery.

God can do whatever He wants, remember?  If we explained every mysterious healing by saying "I'm confident medical technology will advance to the point where this sort of thing is commonplace; it just happened to occur spontaneously in this case," then we're making hulking, looming idols out of science and technological progress.

There's nothing wrong with putting mundane faith in science; with as much as the state of the medical arts has advanced, there are lots of reasons to hope for continued improvement in maintaining health.  But reasonable optimism is no substitute for sober open-mindedness to unexpected possibilities, or for rational and informed thought.

I'm sure I'll revisit that subject more in the future, as I have in the past.  Permit me a disjointed segue.

Most often, the standard I hear for a healing to be considered miraculous by atheists and non-Christians is the regrowth of a missing limb.  It would be an understandably dramatic and easily documented event, to be sure.  Has such a thing, then, never happened?

In the little research, I've done, I haven't heard of such a thing--the closest I could come was a few references to a surgery in the third century by Saints Cosmas and Damian where the gangrenous leg of Deacon Justinian was replaced by a leg from the cadaver of an Ethiopean.  Not quite the same thing, not a lot of corroborating evidence at hand, if still miraculous in magnitude given the era.

There are a few other cases that might be dramatic enough to qualify, however.

In 1921, Peter Smith was born at Mother Cabrini Memorial Hospital.  As was custom at the time, a silver nitrate solution was put into his eyes for prophylactic purposes.  Instead of using the usual 1% concentration, however, the nurse accidentally used the stock 51% concentration.  Young Peter's eyes were burned out of his head, and the solution ran into the crying infant's mouth and down his throat, burning his lungs.  His temperature rose to 108°F.

They prayed for him before the Blessed Sacrament.  In two days, his eyes were restored.  A day after that, his fever was gone.

Father Peter Smith died of an aneurysm in 2002.

In 1892, Marie Lemarchand visited Lourdes.  A victim of lupus, she bathed in the waters and was cured; her ulcerous skin was regenerated, and she no longer coughed up blood.  Atheist and author Emile Zola was there to witness it.  

But believing and seeing are two different things, and there is such a thing as a dogmatic faith that miracles do not happen.

Zola had claimed he only wanted to see a cut finger healed by dipping in the miraculous water.  Although he examined Ms. Lemarchand closely enough to describe the condition of her skin (he omitted the details of her coughing in the report on his trip to Lourdes) when she arrived, when asked to look at her after bathing in the water, he said "Ah no!  I do not want to look at her. She is still too ugly."

Before he left Lourdes, he asserted that he would not believe in miracles even if everyone at Lourdes were healed.  In his book on the subject, he suggested that it perhaps wasn't lupus the woman had at all, and that her cure was merely psychosomatic.

You can almost feel Zola considering the possibility that the world was stranger than dreamt of in his philosophy, before falling back on "it wasn't really lupus so it wasn't really a miracle."

Some have even speculated that Padre Pio was only faking his stigmata, since they miraculously healed in the days before his death.  While doctors had examined his wounds in life and his woundless body after death, the skeptics comfortably asserted that no medical investigation was allowed or made, for convenience of perpetuating the "myth" of Padre Pio's stigmata.

But what about limb regrowth, you ask?  Was that not the original contention?

I submit that limb regrowth is a more trivial matter than the cure of lupus.  It may also be simpler than regrowing an eye, although I won't stake anything on that.

We are already culturing tissues in the lab.  Teeth and ears have been grown, and in July of this year a trachea was grown and successfully implanted into a human.

To this I say, so what?

We are not talking about "medical miracles" of coaxing stem cells to replace missing or excised tissue.  We are talking about spontaneous curing of conditions of missing limbs.

We must be careful, we believers and we skeptics; for to explain how something might have been done is not to explain how something was done.  In cases when we cannot be sure of all the events, the gap between "what we know at the moment" and "what we know could have accomplished this" may be large enough to admit reasonable doubt, and there is no shame or conviction either way in that; but when we speculate about likely explanations for bizarre phenomena, and we later come into facts that make reasonable suppositions impossible, it is silly and dishonest to persist.

I say this because at some point I would wager a missing limb will be miraculously restored, and some skeptic is bound to say "That could have been done on an outpatient basis" and be satisfied that no supernatural explanation could disprove a natural means for healing, even if it is known that the subject did not in fact visit a hospital, that no one who had the means to grow a limb "in the field" was present. Theists do have it a little easier in that God can work through natural means just as well as directly intervening, and so we may never know when God may make an exception to how the natural processes run in a case of limb stumps or cancer or lupus, but we want to be careful not to accede a miracle when someone fails to prove a mundane occurrence was possible in opportunity while spending all his effort to prove that a mundane occurrence just happened to be physically possible.
It's the difference between "could have done" and "did do."

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Prayer request

My grandmother was admitted to hospice yesterday.  She's ornery and had a series of small strokes years ago, followed by a couple years of mismedication, so it was thought that she was merely getting more ornery and senile, but for reasons I'm not clear on they decided to get someone to review some test results taken about a month ago; it turns out she's got a cracked L4 vertebra, I think it is, and cerebrospinal fluid is leaking somewhere in her brain.  She's in pain but lucid; seemed happy to be admitted and is ready for an end to living with all that pain.

Pre-diagnosis, they speculated she might have a month left to live.  Knowing that she has actual medical problems and what they are, I'm not sure how it changes her prognosis; if she were younger, perhaps surgery could help, but they don't think she's strong enough to survive an operation on her back.  No idea what palliative options may even exist for her brain thing.

Prayers are requested, for a happy death whenever it comes and comfort in the meantime.  She gave up going to church a few years ago and agreed to see a priest when asked but didn't want confession because she still harbors a lot of anger.

On that note I would also ask for prayers for my grandfather and her relationship with him; I don't know what may have gone on between them but he is the target of much of her ire.  He may be a curmudgeon, but he doesn't have much else in his life than her.