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Friday, June 05, 2009

Question for the Year Revisited

The question I've been revisiting this year is this: "How does one change want one wants?" Previous thoughts can be tracked back by starting with this from March.

I have this beautiful set of books modestly titled The Great Books. I like to feel smart and refer to them from time to time. To that end, I looked into what Freud had to say on our topic. Although he not surprising crafts his discussion around sex, I though this idea was interesting. When evaluating our instincts, we must consider (1) the Source: what is the stimuli, internal or external that the instinct is trying to address; (2) the Aim: which is always to eliminate the stimuli; (3) the Object: the means by which we are trying to achieve the aim; and (4) the Impetus: the action taken to effectuate the object.

Perhaps it is helpful to breakdown our desires. Perhaps I think I desire X as an end in and of itself, but it is really the object of my instinct.
Example 1: Stimulus: low blood sugar (or whatever way lack of nutrients in your body manifests itself), Aim: remove stimulus, Object: cure by eating, Impetus: go get a cheeseburger.

Example 2: Stimulus: feeling sad, Aim: remove stimulus, Object: cure by eating, Impetus: go get a cheeseburger.
I know it is not revolutionary, but I thought there was value in having an analytical framework to address this stuff. Then I came across this research that says we suck at predicting what makes us happy (or sad for that matter). The piece that clued me in on this was "The futile pursuit of happiness" published at page 116 in the 2004 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading edited by one of my favorites, Dave Eggers. However,the same researcher is featured in this Time article that I can link to. The point is that we typically overestimate how unhappy/happy a single event will make us. So, in my example, you can see a feedback loop problem. If you are eating potato chips to eliminate your sadness, the chip is less helpful than you think it will be, thus leading to more chips. (By the way, I assume there are non-eating applications to the discussion, but I thought the concrete example would help, and is obviously the challenge I am dealing with.)

But of course all this is just stating the problem of why we might have unhelpful desires. It doesn't really address what to do about them.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Abortion Issues

When the issue of abortion comes up, we want to jump straight to the question of whether to criminalize abortions. We don't do this with other issues. For example, Bishops serve communion to politicians who vote to reduce welfare spending despite Jesus' clear and unambiguous teaching to help the poor. In the case of helping the poor, the Catholic Church is able to find more nuance suggesting that one can be faithful and oppose government aid for the poor.

Of course, not only do we accept a more nuanced understanding of the poverty issue than we do on abortion, but we base our extreme positions on abortion on very, very little in the way of Hebrew or Early Church tradition. True, there is a scripture praising God's love that says God made the psalmist in the womb (Psalm 139:13), but there is another scripture describing God's role in our lives that claims life begins with breath (Gen. 2:7). We play the translation game Exodus 21:22, which treats a certain crime as less than murder--translating "causing the baby to come out of her" as either miscarriage (pro-choice) or premature birth (pro-life). There are others, but with the exception of Exodus 21:22, which was in fact a part of the legal code, they are not really on point. It is disingenuous to take the Genesis scripture out of context to address the abortion issue and the same is true of most other scriptural citations on the issue.

What if we back away from the issue of criminalization for a minute and consider the necessary precursor to an abortion--an unwanted pregnancy? Does our faith give us any help there? I think our faith should counsel us against meaningless sex. That is not necessarily a precursor to an unwanted pregnancy but it can be. I'm open to hear a principled reason to take a stance on contraception. It seems to me that the poverty that results from over population and the destruction of the planet threatened by the same is a good reason to favor birth control.

Of course, one reason for unwanted pregnancies is people not being able to care for a new child. Helping the poor, being there for the family after the child is born, that is a no-brainer. And, I think adequately funding the public assistance that would allow someone to want to bring a child into the world is probably not a bad idea.

It is just a complex issue, it is a whole suite of complex issues.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


For our high school and junior high youth group we watched Dead Poets Society on Sunday. We examined the film in terms of how we should respond to authority. Noting for example that Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) responded to authority by working from within the system. Some complied completely, some gave up, and the kid who had been meek throughout the film literally stood up to authority at the end and spoke truth to power.

What does Christianity have to say on the topic? The Last Week as recounted by Mark is all about questioning authority, even if it means you are killed by those authorities. And those authorities were not just the Romans, they were the church establishment. On the other hand, you have the lesson of the prophets that when you deviate from God's law you will be punished. And, of course, our friend the Apostle Paul gives us this dandy:
Submission to the Authorities
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Rom. 13:1-7. And of course there were Christian abolitionists and Christians behind the Red Scare. How do you see the church: calling you to challenge authority or to submit to it?