Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Poor Design Part 2

This is an intense posting, so be prepared! I've broken all the rules, including the length of this posting. But the topic is important, in fact it's critical in understanding our human nature and where we exist as part of Creation. So good luck and hope you enjoy!

Two weeks ago we talked about science versus medicine and the human condition. I also said I would talk about why pain exists.

Have you ever had a chronic condition or a long term cold that was miserable? How did you feel after the cold or condition ceased? Relieved, peaceful, grateful? Maybe all those things. Pain reminds us of what we have when we enjoy good health. It also reminds us that our time on this earth is temporary.

Paul says this very well in Romans when he says, “Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” (Rom 8:18) While Paul was talking about the persecution of Christians, he was also considering the temporary state of our being.

To be human for me means that for a short while, we live on this earth and we live in relationship with others and with God. Our bodies are a temporary state, designed to carry us through this short-term three-dimensional experience. The pain we endure comes from living in this state and no one escapes unscathed. But, it is temporary and pain does provide purpose. The death of this body is inevitable, no one has ever avoided it. The endurance of the spirit is eternal and not limited to this body.

Though intellectually we may understand what this means, it is still hard to endure and hard to incorporate. We all experience self-preservation. Plus, Jesus healed many people, he did not tell them to suffer. It is in our very nature to want to heal those who are suffering and it is directed so by Christ during his humanly mission He said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food…ill and you cared for me…Amen I say to you, what you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 35-40)

Recently Pope Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical entitled “In Charity” in which he describes the many ways in which we should live. He talks in detail about being stewards of this earth and each other on topics that include fair trade, helping the poor, using the stock market responsibly, and taking care of the earth. He also talks in detail about the role of technology with regard to human dignity, in particular how we use medical technology to better society. He says, “In this type of culture, the conscience is simply invited to take note of technological possibilities. Yet we must not underestimate the disturbing scenarios that threaten our future, or the powerful new instruments that the “culture of death” has at its disposal. To the tragic and widespread scourge of abortion we may well have to add in the future — indeed it is already surreptiously present — the systematic eugenic programming of births. At the other end of the spectrum, a pro-euthanasia mindset is making inroads as an equally damaging assertion of control over life that under certain circumstances is deemed no longer worth living. Underlying these scenarios are cultural viewpoints that deny human dignity.” (Chapter 6, #75)

This means that technology should be used to help suffering, not to eliminate the sufferers. For example, technology allows us to know before the birth of a child whether or not that little person has debilitating birth defects. However, most times, if birth defects are discovered, the life of that baby is eliminated, snuffed out. Very few times is technology used to help repair the birth defect. Instead of eliminating the suffering, we’ve chosen to eliminate the sufferer. There are many more examples like the case of Terri Schiavo, aiding those to kill themselves, etc.

Do we see that in these cases, technology has not helped at all? In fact, it has hurt us. No longer do we show mercy and engage in helping the sufferers, instead we see our job as showing mercy by “putting them out of their misery.” But are we putting them out of their misery or ours? Is this simply a case of convenience for the rest of us, instead of an opportunity to reach out in mercy. Have we forgotten the beatitudes set forth by Christ? As said in the previous posting, we have eliminated hope.

Our attitude toward medicine is a sterile reverence towards science. We try to solve many of today’s sociological problems by applying science, by employing what we’ve learned through science. However, what if instead we took what we’ve learned through science and applied it with what we know about God and creation? What if we looked at solving the world’s problems with both science and love? Have we bothered to look at the problems from our Creator’s point of view? Should we?

Lots of questions, but necessary to contemplate if we are truly interested in improving this world we temporarily call home.

Next week, we’ll bring it full circle as we talk about mending the suffering in and of this world. See you then.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Poor Design Part 1

I saw an orthopedic doctor last week to help me address the nagging problem I probably received from all my years of volleyball and softball. As the doc was explaining the issue, he showed me how the different muscles and tendons moved. Twice he said, “We’re poorly designed.”

The first time I heard this I ignored it as a slip of the tongue. When he said it again it hit me right between the eyes. Do all doctors think we’re “poorly designed?” The fact that we get diseases or broken bones or encounter arthritis or a multitude of infirmities, does that make us weak?

To me, the fact that we can move at all, shows tremendous thought in our design. The idea that I can think about moving my fingers across my keyboard to write this blog means that I am more than just a poorly designed creature. I am human.

What is a human? We could go on and on about the myriad of definitions of what it means to be human, but what would we accomplish? We know we have a form, we are body, mind and spirit, we have a conscience, etc.

What if we asked a different question? What if we asked, “What does it mean to be human?” Now that question could take some time to answer. What do you think?

Has the human condition benefited from science and medicine? Undoubtedly, yes! For a long time we’ve realized that the practice of medicine is not enough. If we are body, mind and spirit, then we need to address our spirit in order to keep us whole.

Science has regrettably left out half of the story, which in turn leaves the facts of the human condition sterile and cold. The fact is there is no redemption in medicine.

Dr. John Bruchalski agrees. “What happens in medicine is that science and technology bring progress; they don't bring redemption. The only person who brings redemption is Christ. So if you can't tie the two together, you're lost.”

Without redemption there is fear. Again, this doctor reminds us the truth. “What happens is, science and medicine have literally confined faith into the realm of private experience. And by making it private, it deprives the world of hope. The answer to fear is ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’”

Visit next week when we look at why pain exists and we address our “poor design.” In the meantime, share what you think it means to be human. I’d love to hear your thoughts.