Thursday, July 22, 2010

A New Word

I have coined a new word. I think it's rather lovely.


Enstiflement is being in a place where original thought or questioning is unwelcome. It is also the process of blanketing people with enough b***s*** that they are incapable of original thought, independent action or, in the most severe cases, even caring to do either.

The enstifle-r feels entitled to do so; they believe it is it is their right as employers, heads of families or groups, clergy or government officials. Their reasoning is that they are doing what is best for the family, group, church, country, constituents, students, employees, even homeless people and immigrants.

The enstifle-e is the person  trying to get by, to make a living, to take care of the family, follow the rules, do the best job possible and trust in God and those entrusted with overseeing the health, safety and well-being of others physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The enstifle-e may see something wrong and try to fix it but is met with rebuffs and stone walls.

now the big question to consider -- in what ways and places am I an enstifle-r and in which ones an enstifle-e?  What do I need to change?  How do I change it?  What are the positives and negatives of such changes for me, for those around me, for the world? 

Something to think about this hot, muggy morning.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I write like
Cory Doctorow
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

h/t to Mark Harris.  now to find out who this person is and what he/she writes like (I confess, I never heard Cory Doctorow nor read any of his/her books.) At least it didn't say Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza or Augustine of Hippo!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thoughts on the Death Penalty, DNA and Faith

I was sorting through papers the other day, looking for something or other when I ran into two pieces of paper with an essay on it. there was no title, no date. I looked through my computer files but couldn't find it. I have also been unable to locate the source of the report although I can find references to the subject.

If it's yours, please claim it. I'm posting it becuase it feels like something I'd want to put here on my blog. It's a good essay. I hope I wrote it.

There has been report in the recent past that the rate of utilization of the death penalty by various states has reduced over the past few years because there as a decrease in the number of violent crime. I can’t believe that is so; I would hope that the use of the death penalty was due to people realizing that having the state take a human life is a form of revenge and removes the responsibility from us for taking that life, even though what that person might have done might be heinous, depraved and almost impossible to contemplate much less understand.

The EfM lesson this week dealt with science, particularly physics, and what the changes in many of the sciences have meant to humanity over the past 100-150 years. The Human Genome Project has worked to classify the genes that make up our DNA with the ultimate goal being to find diseases that are genetically related and by which gene manipulation could cure. It is a far cry from that of our grandparents and their parents who frequently lost children to diseases and genetic abnormalities and whose only comfort were the words, “Well, I must be God’s will.” Perhaps God’s will has a place in it but I don’t know that that sentiment is much comfort go grieving parents or even really the whole truth.

With the discovery that DNA not only exists but can be used as an identifier not just of disease but of the existence of a specific individual has been phenomenal. I believe that one of the main reasons that the death penalty referred to above has been less enacted of late is that DNA has proven that some on Death Row are innocent of the crimes for which the inmate was given the death penalty. Some will say that it is better to execute one innocent person rather than abolish the death penalty and allow murderers, rapists and the like to live out their lives and possibly achieve parole somewhere down the road. It is better to kill one innocent person than to let a guilty one escape.

Oddly, most of the states where the death penalty is not only given but actually carried out with some regularity (more than, say, once a year) are states known for their very conservative, Republican, Protestant, Evangelical majorities. States like Texas, Florida, Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina accounted for the overwhelming majority of executions in 2008.

Science has even played a part in how the death penalty is carried out. Firing squads and hanging used to be major means of executing convicted and sentenced felons until science and medicine revealed the effects of gunshot and botched hangings on individuals and proved them to be “cruel and inhuman punishment.” The gas chamber was a later attempt to execute the convicted but in a more humane method as was the still-later electric chair. Both have proven to be less than 100% humane and sometimes less than effective. The current favored method, lethal injection, is held up as humane and relatively painless, much as it would be for your aged dog or sick cat, but yet I am sure that not all people witnessing such an execution of a human being would find it “just like watching them go to sleep” with no emotional reaction beyond “ok, that’s done.”

Science has given us a number of new ways of seeking and finding truth and alleviating pain and death just as it has created a false sense of human control of life and new ways of causing both pain and death when used as weapons of war or terrorism. It is no wonder that sin in the latter years of the 19th and throughout the 20th century Christians pondered whether all this scientific mumbo jumbo was nothing but a veiled attempt to discredit and remove Christianity from the mixture of science, civic duty and public welfare. This is still the belief in some areas and denominations, and the cries of especially the evangelical and conservative Christians grow louder and more strident as they attempt to defend a world view that has changed within their lifetimes and which all their beliefs into question at times. In a world where science and religion cannot coexist and have both be seen as valid, viable and even complimentary theses and antitheses which are working to create new syntheses, the question remains one of how much is enough and how much is too much? If a butterfly’s wing flaps in Brazil, will the Arctic icecap melt as a result? If Christians accept the theories and discoveries of science and medicine, does that mean that they cannot hold that the Bible and the faith are true and even enriched by deeper understanding, deeper than the superficial “What it says is what it means and that’s all there is to it.”

Science has changed the world, of that there is no doubt. Science has changed religion. We can’t point vaguely to the sky and say that heaven is “Up there somewhere” because pictures produced by science, via the Hubbell Telescope and a number of adventurous little satellites have shown us a universe infinitely large and complex – and beautiful. We can’t say that Adam was created by God out of mud and breath, not literally anyway, although many can and do. We can’t even say with 100% surety that an accused person is guilty of a crime simply because it seems most reasonable to see and prosecute that person based on circumstantial evidence and gut feelings. DNA and the myriad disciplines involved in forensic science have created new levels of test which can confirm guilt – or exonerate the accused.

All this is to say that the world is a place where the perceptions have been shifted because of the advances of science. Religion has had to make a decision: does it accept the findings of science and seek to form a new synthesis from its previous view in light of the new theses or does it reject science and attempt to remain static in a sort of time warp where things were simpler and certain? Different denominations and individuals have pondered this and each has responded as it felt necessary, some rejected much of the science outright and some embraced it wholeheartedly. Ultimately, however, each person must make that decision, as with the death penalty, when they contemplate what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century and how that Christianity can be lived authentically, faithfully, honestly and yet stay true to the gospel imperatives as that person understands them.

There is black, there is white and, for most, there are shades of gray. How all people, including Christians, react to those shades of gray, be they scientific, moral, religious or philosophical, are a test of where their faith and belief lies and how it is practiced.