Christianity


Somewhere in the last couple of years, I was near a city where the Body Worlds display (or one of the copy-cat shows) was stopping. After thinking about this for years, I’ve had enough of the ads (as it keeps travelling around the country), so here you go.

There are two primary ethical objections to these displays:

1) Our common humanity is denigrated by dissected bodies being displayed to public view as a matter of entertainment and moneymaking.

From a Christian perspective, the body is an integral part of what it means to be human. The Bible describes God forming Adam’s body and breathing life into it, and says that Adam was made “in the image of God.” To turn the human body into an object to be displayed for the enjoyment of crowds makes this crowning miracle of creation nothing more than any other animal displayed in a zoo.

But even if you wish to avoid a religious rationale, surely we can agree that the concept of Body World is of a piece with the modern entertainment culture, where horror films like Saw, Saw II, and Saw III (not to mention all the rest of their ilk) are viewed as acceptable amusements. Violence perpetrated on human bodies is now just a way to pass the time, not something revulsive. Similarly, Body World teaches us to accept the image of human bodies dissected, distorted, displayed – for our entertainment.

One of the greatest nightmares of medical school, gross anatomy, for centuries an illegal secret, and until recently at least a private activity, has been turned into mass entertainment for the crowds. I cannot express to you what it was like to cut up a human body, to destroy what another human person had used to live in, to love with, to see the sky from, the feel the ground by. . . At least I had the comfort, the excuse, that I was doing it for a reason – to be able to help hundreds of other people live, love, see, feel, a little longer, a little more comfortably. And it was, at times, a paltry excuse. To saw a skull open? To split a pelvis in half? To peel the skin off a face? To split a hand into useless threads? Who can do that calmly and claim to be still human himself? These phrases are the description of a monster’s activity. At least we had a reason; and I think our humanity survived. 

But what excuse is there, for the general public, to go and stare at bodies split open, splayed apart -amusingly posed? If you want to know what your inside is like, read Grey’s Anatomy; get a plastic model from the school supply stores; read Netter’s, if you prefer color. If you want to know how the thing works, there is no scarcity of physiology books, in all ranges of readability. The craze about Body World has nothing to do with a sudden hunger for anatomical knowledge. It stems from a fascination with the forbidden, the weird, the indecent.

Like the rest of the violence and indecency which is now commonplace in our society, the Body World displays serve the purpose of destroying our conscience and filching our reverence for humanity as something separate from the animal kingdom.

2) These particular humans almost certainly had no say in the disposition of their bodies; and even if you allow that it might be all right to use bodies this way, if their owners had knowingly and completely consented, it is wrong to participate in the exploitation of individuals who in their lifetimes were the victims of a cruel state.

We all ought to have known better than to think that Chinese bodies were come by honestly (and you had only to look at their faces to know they were Chinese). Recently ABC’s 20/20 removed the possibility of further self-deception by investigating the body-selling trade in China. Protest as he may, the inventor of plastination cannot deny that his original bodies came from a shady source, as he is now loudly promising not to use unethically obtained bodies anymore. The news stories mention thousands of people currently offering their bodies to be used in these displays, but the fact remains that there is no good documentation of the origin of the bodies that are currently touring the country. And for anybody who thinks any Chinese person whose body is being used actually freely consented to this arrangement, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

But, even if all the unethically obtained bodies were cremated, the objections in my first point would still be reason enough not to see these exhibits.

For a much better-written exposition of the moral objections, please see Thomas Hibbs’ essay, “Dead Body Porn”.

Christos anesti! Elithos anesti!

Alleluia.
Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, has risen from the dead.
By death he trampled on death,
And gave life to those who were in the graves.

Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!

For someone who spends as much time communicating as I do, I’m obviously still not very good at it.

Since between work and Pascha services this week I don’t have much time, let me, as the fastest way of saying what I really think about Mormonism, refer you to a post I made this spring, back when Romney was a viable contender. You can find it right here. Basically, I conclude that Mormonism is a false religion, just as much originated by Satan as Islam is, in that he probably inspired two men (Mohammed and Joseph Smith) to write blasphemous lies against Jesus. Mormonism, unlike true Christianity, does not regard Jesus as divine, the only-begotten, unique Son of God. Mormonism teaches that God was once a human, and that all humans (or at least all males) can become gods in their own private universes, peopled by the offspring of their subservient wives (so yes, Mormonism, like other false religions, tramples on women, and, unlike Christianity, regards them as lower in kind than men).

Regarding polygamy, I agree that it’s illegal in America, and that even the biblical patriarchs limited themselves to two wives, and those of an age to consent.

What I was trying to say about the FLDS branch of Mormonism is that 1) I think most Americans’ visceral reaction to them is based on lifestyle choices that have nothing to do with polygamy, but which do present a glaring challenge to the culture of hedonism and free sex that prevails in America today; and 2) I respect groups which hold to the original tradition when it’s not politically correct to do so. The mainstream LDS church threw out Joseph Smith’s original teaching on polygamy because it made their life easier to do so. The FLDS hold onto it; even though that may involve brainwashing women, it’s at least the original form of Mormonism. Similarly, I respect “radical” Muslims more than “moderate” Muslims, because I think the radical Muslims understand and obey the original commands of Mohammed (kill the unbelievers until they submit to you, make no friends with Jews or Christians) better than the watered-down, secularized, moderate Muslims. That doesn’t mean that I approve of suicide bombers; I simply think they’re acting on the logical conclusions of their beliefs.

Does that help at all? Maybe I should also mention that in my personal beliefs, I try to stick to the Bible exactly as God gave it, without making alterations for modern sensibilities. God created the world out of nothing, in the space of six days, and all very good, until it was marred by man’s sin and the entry of death. God condemns sinners to hell in the next life because of their infinite crimes against him, and he is righteous and loving to do so (we can take this up in a later post). God offers free forgiveness and eternal life to all who confess that they have broken his laws, and accept his merciful gift in Christ, who died for us and rose from the dead on the third day, and sits in heaven until his kingdom is established through the whole world, and all nations kneel down and worship him. And along the way, women should submit to their husbands, men should have one wife and be faithful to her, and Christians ought to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves. This is absolutely true, and I make no apology for any of it, except to say that I wrote it as forcefully and bluntly as possible in order to parallel my wild statements about Islam and Mormonism.

They and I are at least in agreement about the existence of absolute truth and the extreme importance of finding it out; just as I had more in common, regarding modest clothes, and avoidance of wild parties, and chastity, and taking time out from studying for religious observances, with the Muslim girls in medical school, than with the nominal Christians.

I look forward to reading your comments.  :)  And I guess I had better also put out an apology in case any of the above is needlessly offensive, as I may not have time to answer comments till late in the day. I don’t mean to be insulting, but to state the truth as I know it, forcefully. The lateness of the hour may make some phrases ill-judged.

I betook myself to the Coptic Pascha evening service tonight after work. I missed Palm Sunday service through falling asleep post-call, and not being able to muster the energy to get myself out of bed after a 15min nap. So I felt bad about that, and I considered giving up on the enterprise of keeping Pascha and working 13-15hrs a day at the same time. But then there wouldn’t be an Easter that meant anything to me, and that would ruin the whole year, and that would be pretty bad.

So I dragged myself to church after work, not entirely thrilled about a 1hr round trip, and two hours of service (allowing for missing the first hour, and skipping the last 45min due to the sermon being entirely in Arabic).

Somebody please kick me the next time I consider missing Coptic church. I was so glad to be there. I didn’t know many of the people, and I didn’t have a service book. But we were praising God and commemorating Christ’s passion, and there is nothing better in the world.

Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, and the majesty, forever, Amen.
       Emmanuel, our God and our King.
Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, and the majesty, forever, Amen.
       My Lord Jesus Christ, my Good Savior.
           The Lord is my strength and my song, and has become my salvation.
Thine is the power, the glory, the blessing, and the majesty, forever, Amen.

The Copts are my identity, one of the only things about me that’s still the same at the end of this year. At that church, everything is right and in order.

(Man cannot live by bread alone; and neither can one get by entirely with Presbyterian church services, especially the strict ones. They’re missing something, like icons and incense and color and music. I should point that out to the elders of the church I’ve been going to. The reaction at least would be interesting.)

Dr. Schwab’s Surgeonsblog is one of my favorite blogs ever. He has tremendous stories, and tells them very well, and I am inspired by his example as a caring and competent surgeon.

Lately, though, he’s taken to posting political and religious rants (his word) on the weekends. Creationists are a common target. I’ve got to respond to his latest post, but so many ideas came to mind I thought it would be better to write on my own blog.

Dr. Schwab’s post opens with an 8min clip of an ABC news segment on two creationist men who give tours of a Denver science museum to Christian homeschoolers, giving the creationist point of view in contradiction to the evolutionary teachings of the museum.

First, two things about the video: the two men, while I applaud their beliefs and their activism, are not the best possible spokesmen for young-earth creationism. When asked how long the period was between Adam’s creation and Noah’s flood, they stumble, and end up guessing that there were six or seven generations. In other instances, I agree that their responses are simplistic. If they know of the scientific evidence for creation, they’re not adept at mentioning it when called on. In their defense, this could be due to the young age of the children; most of them look to be in early elementary school. A disquisition on carbon-dating would be over their heads. I would bet that if you filmed an elementary school tour led by an evolutionist, there wouldn’t be much more sophisticated discussion than there was here. However, the ABC producers slanted the segment nastily. When the two creationist spokesmen guessed that there were six or seven generations of 800-yr olds between Adam and the flood, they multiplied 800 x 7 and got 5000+ years, making the creationists look ridiculous. Actually, the egg should be on ABC’s face. You don’t multiply generations like that. Each generation ought to start 20-40 years after the previous one. Better informed young earth theorists add up the genealogies in the Bible to make 1500 years between Adam and the Flood. There are other ways, as well, in which the producers went out of their way to pick soundbites that would make the creationists look bad. You might also notice that their claims, and those of the evolutionary scientist at the museum, are equally without evidence – in this video. Those watching this news segment were being asked to choose between creation and evolution based simply on the mockery of the museum’s scientist and of the producers.

(For further information on all kinds of questions regarding creation science, check out Answers in Genesis (specifically the answers page) and the Institute for Creation Research, which give much better evidence-based and Bible-based reasoning than the tour leaders in that video were able to do.)

 Now, to Dr. Schwab’s comments. He says,

My reaction to the above video goes beyond anger: it makes me sick. These kids are deliberately being deceived. Brainwashed. And, yes, abused.

My question to Dr. Schwab is, who doesn’t brainwash their kids, by his definition? Children sent to public schools and taught to believe that the entire universe sprang into existence on its own (where, after all, did the material for the Big Bang come from?), and that random atoms then coalesced into organic molecules, which then arranged themselves into the infinite complexity of data coding which is DNA, and that information was somehow progressively added into the system, making more and more complex organisms, until their own intelligence randomly developed – are they not being “brainwashed” as well? They’re told that these are the facts, this is how life is, this is what they should believe, and the alternatives are mocked and laughed at, if they’re even mentioned at all. All parents want to teach their children the same things that they believe. That’s not abuse, that’s good parenting. If you, as an adult, believe that you know what is true, you want to protect your children and save them from the painful errors that you yourself may have made. I’m sure Dr. Schwab would not be thrilled to let a creationist lecture to his children. Neither would creationists want evolutionists teaching their young impressionable children – although most of us do encourage the study of the theory of evolution for older children, say highschoolers.

But this is the part that really annoys me:

They are being led to extremism which differs not from the kind that creates believers in paradise filled with virgins. And we know where that leads.

I respect Dr. Schwab’s right to believe whatever he wants about the origin of life and the universe, and to make his arguments for what children should be taught. But to accuse Christian creationists of being morally on a par with Islamic suicide bombers is – I think slander is the right word, although more loaded than I’d like for a polite discussion. There is nothing, nothing, nothing in orthodox Christian teaching which would in any way condone the killing of other innocent people simply to make a point. You cannot show a single instance in recent history of Christians, acting on teaching which has anything near polite acceptance in the Christian community, killing other people. (The rare instances of killing abortionists don’t count: the number of Christians who would approve of this is vanishingly small, too small to count in a percentage.) Islam, on the other hand, teaches repeatedly and clearly, throughout the Koran and the hadiths, and among the vast majority of imams, that it is not only right, but necessary, to kill unbelievers. Creationism, which teaches children that they were made in the image of God (and therefore they should respect and value their own bodies and the lives of others) comes nowhere near this kind of violence.

Dr. Schwab continues:

These are the people putting religious tests to our potential leaders, proclaiming their holiness above mine . . . banning books and destroying public education. Rioting over cartoons. These are the people claiming our country needs more religion, even as their religion-above-all attitude is subverting the very foundations of our democracy and aiming us toward societal failure by substituting indoctrination for education.

What can I say? I learn from the Bible to proclaim, not my holiness, but my sinfulness – and God’s holiness and mercy. My homeschooling family, and those like us, are not destroying public education, but trying to rescue our children from an educational system which has already failed disastrously (school shootings on a regular basis, drugs available in schools, high school graduates who can’t read or do simple math, high schoolers who can’t compete with most other developed countries in math and science, schools which spend more time teaching young children how to have sex than telling them basic facts about American history). When our religion is mortally insulted (as in the demeaning and gross “art” exhibits in New York a few years ago, which were far more insulting to Jesus than those cartoons were to Islam), we didn’t riot. We wrote polite letters to the editor.

I don’t want to make this sound like boasting, but in the homeschooling creationist community nationwide that my family is part of, there are many young people becoming doctors and nurses; we are acing the SAT and ACT, and are competitive applicants to the best universities in the country. My friends from college, creationists like me, went on to become biochemical researchers.

Dr. Schwab, your indignation would be better spent on the disaster that is the public school system, and the teachers’ unions who refuse to allow any changes, and the truly dangerous religious extremists (Muslims) rather than on a group which is simply trying to raise their children in peace to be good and productive citizens.

Last night I came across a couple of news articles about a prominent Italian Muslim (who, to be fair, hadn’t actually practiced Islam for many years) who converted to Christianity and was baptized by the pope as part of a televised Easter vigil service. I say congratulations to him, and admire his bravery. Magdi Allam, who took the name Christiano in the baptismal ceremony, already had one death warrant against him for his activism against Islam, and I am sure this very public conversion will earn him another.

Some media commentators, ever ready to deliberate on matters they don’t understand, questioned why the Pope would create such a public show. It seems consistent with his bold statements about the true nature of Islam, and I think he as well as Allam is to be praised for boldly confronting an issue which Muslim leaders would rather keep secret, that is, that conversion out of Islam deserves the death penalty under sharia law – law which is often effectively carried out by vigilantes or family members of converts in Muslim countries.

In American politics, I finally decided to read Obama’s famous race speech. I have to say, much as I disagree with his philosophy and his grasp of history, conservatives who denigrate his speaking abilities seem to be doing so unfairly. It is a rhetorically effective speech, well constructed, cleverly addressing all the key issues and defusing them. Not that I think he actually solved the question of his connection Jeremiah Wright, but he did the best possible job of explaining him and at the same time making the attacks on him part of a bigger picture.

That was a busy night. Spent a lot of time shepherding a patient who ended up going back to the OR in the middle of the night. Although too bad for the patient, it was kind of nice to have been right about what needed to happen. Then, it seemed like every drug dealer in the city decided to shoot or stab himself in the hand, and come to our ER to see about it. Such babies. For big guys who were playing with dangerous weapons in dangerous situations, they were pretty wimpy about the results. On the other hand, they were also fairly polite about it, and quite willing to explain all the circumstances surrounding their misadventure. Made the time pass while I was suturing.

Maybe surgery residency was like this before the 80hr rule, but we seem to have a very stiff ethic about responsibility for one’s own jobs now. If something is assigned to you, you’re expected to get it done somehow, without asking other people to share the work. (This applies to tasks, not to asking for help if you don’t know what to do.) We’re pretty touchy about making it clear that we can do all of our own work. It would be lazy to ask, or allow, another resident to help out; and laziness is regarded by residents and attendings alike as most of the seven deadly sins.

This was brought up because of the [rare] episode of a surgery resident and medicine resident being on the same team. The medicine resident offered to help fill out some paperwork for the surgery resident, who was shocked. They were his charts, and he had every intention of taking care of them himself – somehow, no matter how late he had to stay for it. The whole group of us then spent an entire lunch time dissecting this difference between the medicine and surgery cultures. I think the point, for us, is that we want to prove to ourselves (and to our attendings, if they’re noticing) that we’re not slacking off just because there are relief shifts.

So I’m trying to figure out the subtle line where, without implying laziness in someone else, I can still offer to help when another resident is truly overloaded. Especially when one resident is being pretty frankly abused by one of our worst seniors/chiefs. There’s no shame in accepting help when you shouldn’t have been given such an assignment anyway. On the other hand, this is also the attitude that lands me with cleaning up constantly after the weakest interns in the program.

If you’re wondering about the lack of Easter posts, it’s because the Orthodox Easter, which is the one I plan on celebrating, is not until April 27th. Our Lent just started two weeks ago. So Happy Easter to you Westerners (and Protestants – meditate on the fact that the date you celebrate Easter is still determined by the Catholic Church ;) ), and if you want some Easter programming, go back to April 2007, when I had the time to blog pretty extensively about Passion and Resurrection.

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