I don’t want to lose my head

Altartafel_Kapelle_Spannweid_Zürich_StadtheiligeI learned a new word last week:  cephalophore.  Actually, it is an old word, so it is more accurate to say I learned a word that other people learned long ago.  An old word was new to me.

The word came up in a gathering of serious practicing Catholics.  As a convert, I thought I had a good excuse not to know the word.  Some of those present were cradle Catholics; they had less of an excuse.

But I’m straying from my point of discussing the word, cephalophore.  It is an art form that depicts a saint carrying his (or her) own head. The idea is that a saint can be decapitated and still have the presence of mind (albeit at arm’s length) to hold the severed head and, perhaps, express some holy sentiment.  Tradition has it that St. Paul spoke the name of Jesus after being decapitated.

Around 120 saints are so depicted in art.  The more famous include St. Paul, St. Dennis and St. Aphrodisius.  Of course, the Bible recounts some beheadings, St. John the Baptist likely being the best known. John didn’t get to hold his head, it being placed on a platter to please the whims of a dancing girl and her lecherous king.

john baptistBeheadings also show up in the news these days.  Muslim terrorist groups like ISIS like cutting off heads.  (This is where I add the standard disclaimer that not all Muslims are terrorists, nor do any but a pathetic few remove the heads of their enemies.)

As you might imagine, the history of beheadings is long and disquieting.  I did a little research and learned that execution by beheading seems to be a part of nearly every culture in every part of the world.  Executioners see it as a fast and effective way to kill – and certain to be useful as a behavior modification tool.

Some cultures used beheading as a more humane option to other methods such as burning at the stake, boiling in oil or hanging by the neck.  St. Paul was a Roman citizen and thus given the “humane” beheading rather than the alternative: crucifixion.

The French use of the Guillotine during in the wake of their revolution would seem to make them the beheading all stars.  During those terrifying times, the French removed the heads of a great many people, some of them quite famous:  Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Maximilien Robespierre.

But I’m not willing to crown the French the best at beheading; the English started the practice early and did it often.  Losing a battle, failing to gain a crown or refusing to agree with a king brought many a noble Englishman (or woman) to the chopping block:  Sir Thomas Moore, Anne Boleyn, Jane Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell, Sir William Wallace (AKA Braveheart).

Legend_of_Sleepy_Hollow_U.S._StampIn cinema and literature characters occasionally lose their heads.  For example, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow gives us the headless horseman.  The rider was hardly a saint, but the United States produced a postage stamp in his honor.

Saints seldom show up on stamps, certainly not without their heads.  And it might seem rather obscure (random, as my daughter would say), but the way the world is going, the cephalophore could make a comeback as an art form.

Christians are persecuted around the world; thousands are killed for their faith each year.  And, yes, many are beheaded.  I don’t know if any are able to literally utter words after the horrid act.  But their conviction and courage speaks louder than words to my heart.

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The most awful, disgusting, ignorant, repulsive pro-abortion justification ever

Happy_babyI suppose the headline above gives a hint of my feelings on the topic for discussion in this little blog.  I’m in good company, because Bishop Robert Barron Tweeted this reaction:

That is perhaps the stupidest argument ever made in the public forum. That this lady is a professor of anything is an indictment of our entire educational establishment.

“That” was an appearance on “Philosophy Time” by Liz Harman, a professor at Princeton University.  If you aren’t a regular viewer of Philosophy Time (I wasn’t and likely won’t be), it is a short YouTube program hosted by actor James Franco and his friend, Eliot.

I’m not sure what qualifies as “going viral” on YouTube, but nearly 700,000 people have viewed this particular video.  That is a large number of people who will never get back the five minutes spent on this program.

I don’t normally go on a rant about another person, so let me make it clear that I’m attacking Professor Harman’s ideas, not her as a human being.  Perhaps she is kind to others, takes in stray cats and donates to the Salvation Army.

But in five minutes she unfolds, as I mentioned earlier, the most awful, disgusting, ignorant, repulsive pro-abortion justification ever.  I’m not sure I can recount it with the emotion it merits, but it involves something called the Actual Future Principle.

In a nutshell, if there is an unborn baby and the mother plans to have the baby, the baby thus has a future and therefore has moral status.  On the other hand, if the mother plans to have an abortion, the baby has no future and because it therefor isn’t going to amount to anything, it has no moral status.  Therefore, aborting a baby who has no moral status can’t violate any moral principles.

It is an academic and convoluted version of “don’t bring a baby that isn’t wanted into the world.”  But it isn’t the video that worries me the most.

No, what worries me is that the moral reasoning expressed in Professor Harman’s philosophy apparently is seen as legitimate by our great universities.  After all, she didn’t dream up her ideas for this interview with James Franco; she presented them in a paper published by Princeton University Press in 1999.  (Frankly, it is a rather pedestrian paper.) In other words, she has been polluting young minds with moral depravation for nearly two decades.

Professor Harman has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, a doctorate from MIT and has been teaching at Princeton since 2003.  She is a professor of philosophy and human values with specialization in ethics.

I guess Princeton has a different definition of ethics than I have.  They probably wouldn’t want someone like Zeno, Mill, Gandhi or Jesus influencing future generations – not when you have someone who can explain that if someone is going to be aborted they cease to have “moral status.”  Why, letting students read those old philosophers might lead to them wanting to know right from wrong.

Follow Pope Francis on Twitter

tweets“I get most of my news from Twitter.”

No, not me – someone I was listening to on a podcast…someone highly educated, articulate, respected.  Perhaps someone who isn’t the world’s deepest thinker or has an attention span of only 140 characters.

I don’t spend much time on Twitter, and the selection of people I follow is a bit narrow.  Someone I urgently recommend is the Pope.

Pope Francis has more than 35 million followers on his Twitter accounts in nine languages, according to Vatican Radio

The numbers for the various languages: 13.6 million in Spanish, 12.1 million in English, 4.52 million in Italian, 2.79 million in Portuguese, 894,000 in Polish, 854,000 in French, 825,000 in Latin, 472,000 in German, 378,000 in Arabic.

The @Pontifex account, opened by Pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 3, 2012, is among the most followed in the world and the one that records the most retweets. Since March 19, 2015, Pope Francis is also present on Instagram with the account @Franciscus, which has recently exceeded 4 million subscribers.

Among world leaders, the Holy Father is in the top spot, following closely by US President Donald Trump.  The world’s Twitter leader is singer Katy Perry, with more than 100 million followers.

As you may have heard, there is a good deal of political warfare waged on Twitter.  You don’t to be on Twitter to know what President Trump tweets; it is reported everywhere.  It tends to generate conversation.

At the other end of the Twitter spectrum are the pop stars like Katy Perry.  I don’t follow Miss Perry, but I checked her Twitter page and quickly learned that she is a woman who has trouble deciding her favorite hair color.  And I learned which other pop star she was riding with on a motorcycle.

Obviously, Twitter can give you a full range from political name-calling to vapid fan gossip.

But check out the Pope – he brings you the real Word.

Just make up your mind

coinUntil a few days ago, I never heard of Brad “Ria” Cooper.  I don’t have anything against him and have a bit of pity for him.

Brad appears to be on a path to earn an entire chapter in the Guinness Book of World Records.  He was the youngest person in the UK to have a sex-change operation, going from male to female at age 15.  After he turned 18, he changed his mind and transitioned back to being male, albeit a gay man.  Now in his early 20s, he is transitioning back to being female (again).

I’m sure there is a long and heart-string-tugging story to be told about Brad.  But with other issues to consider, I won’t pursue it.

The story I find interesting is that of the loss of moral clarity in the UK medical system.  This accompanies its long-standing loss of reputation for caring in any manner for the welfare of their patients.

I have but one personal experience with the medical system in the UK.  It occurred about 18 years ago when I was working in London, got a case of bronchitis.  I mentioned to one of my office colleagues that I had decided I needed to see a doctor and supposed I go to the nearest health clinic.

“You can’t do that,” my colleague exclaimed.  “They’ll kill you…let me give you the name of a private doctor who can help you.”

So, I avoided the government-run clinic and visited the private doctor.  He had a nice office, was extremely polite, gave me a thorough exam, provided me with medicine and charged me a very reasonable fee.

I decided that private medicine trumped socialized medicine.  I have experience nothing on either side of the Atlantic to change that view.

Still, it would be possible for the UK to have an inefficient and ineffective socialized medical system while maintaining some semblance of morality.  But such is not the case.

In recent weeks, we witnessed the despicable – and ultimately successful – campaign by UK medical officials and courts to make sure a sick baby had no chance to live.  Now, the UK’s medical system ponders whether it is appropriate for it to pay to turn a boy into a girl into a man into a woman.

When you lose your moral compass, it becomes really difficult to set priorities, let alone know right from wrong.  Perhaps your only guide is the toss of a coin.

Genetic modification – or mutilation?

Genebank4_(4331057760)Genetic modification is nothing new.  Some might call it miraculous.

The practice started a few thousand years before the birth of Christ.  If a farmer grew corn, he would plant seeds from the hardiest plants that produce the most.  If a herder wanted to improve his flock, he would breed the strongest ram with the fattest ewe to produce better lambs.

Of course, things got more sophisticated in the past several decades.  The first genetically modified plants appeared in the 1980s.  We got better corn, cheese, potatoes and cotton.  In the past couple years, we got modified animals approved for consumption, notably faster-growing salmon.

These improvements come from scientists in laboratories, a clan with admirable determination to make the world a better place.  And who could argue with longer-lasting tomatoes, fluffier rice or sterile mosquitos?

But what about human beings?  What if scientists could modify human genes and make better people?

That has a certain appeal.  Humans aren’t perfect.  My lower back has a slipped disk that must be the result of poor design.  My sinuses are prone to infection.  It wouldn’t hurt to have a few more points on my IQ score.  Maybe those are things genetic engineering could address.  But I doubt it is possible to re-engineer me at the relatively advanced stage of my life.

For future generations, scientists have improvement plans.  Really smart researchers in Portland, Oregon have created genetically modified embryos.  They didn’t let them grow for long, just enough to prove that their genetic editing had been successful.  Then they killed them.  This raises some moral issues in my mind.

First, there is the issues of creating life in a lab, then destroying it.  My reading of the catechism suggests there are at least two wrongs here and they will never yield a right.

Second, there is the potential application of the law of unintended consequences.  By fixing one problem, science might create another.  Maybe engineering people to be smarter would make them arrogant, selfish and less appreciative of God’s gifts.

Third – and speaking of God – as trite as it sounds, are we playing God by playing with the very building blocks of humanity?  Past efforts to build a better man have yielded sad results.

A century ago, the eugenics movement to improve the human race produced racism, sterilizations and abortions.

Nazi efforts at genetic/racial purification produced the genocide of “lesser” races, millions of deaths, torture, hideous experiments and the “great war.”

Such horrors could never happen today.  We’re so more advanced, so smarter, more sophisticated, more.  Perhaps.  But are we any wiser?  We may simply have greater means to create a horror we can’t predict.