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Showing posts from 2020

Should economics trump healthcare in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

An Ethical Musings’ reader sent me these comments:
… which gets me to the question I’m struggling with. Saving lives is a worthy ethical objective. I’ve done my own math on “flattening the curve”, and slowing the spread of the virus could indeed save hundreds of thousands of lives (or more). Absent a vaccine, a large percentage of Americans will inevitably contract the virus even in a slowly spreading pandemic, but the healthcare system would have a chance at treating them as they present instead of the Italian scenario where people who could be saved by treatment are dying because no treatment is available. That’s the scenario where the mortality rate is 5-10% instead of the 1% that we’ve seen so far in the U.S.
On the other hand, shutting down the economy indefinitely has its own costs. Perhaps not life-and-death, but the costs are real in the sense of massive unemployment, loss of employer-provided benefits such as healthcare (a feedback loop?), etc. Also, is on 2009 the persons i…

Hope strong enough for any pandemic

Today’s gospel reading that tells the story of Jesus raising a dead man seems especially timely during the COVID-19 pandemic.[1]

Morton Kelsey was an Episcopal priest, psychologist, and professor whose work focused on the spiritual life. In his book, The Other Side of Silence, he recounts an incident that occurred after he had preached for two consecutive Sundays on the story of Lazarus. Kelsey began his sermons by reminding his congregation that Jesus taught primarily by telling stories and parables. He then interpreted John 11 as a story that Jesus had told rather than as a factual narrative of Jesus literally restoring a dead Lazarus to life.[2] More than a century of oral transmission that crossed several generations, at least two cultures, and two languages can help to explain the conflation of a teaching story with actual historical people.

A young man whom Fr. Kelsey had been counseling – unsuccessfully - heard the sermons and, at his next counseling session recounted a dream he …

How will a virtuous person respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Predation – one species propagating and surviving at the expense of one or more other species – is widespread on earth. COVID-19 in attacking humans is doing exactly what viruses and other predators do: spreading its genes at the incidental expense of other species. In the case of COVID-19, human attention has focused on the virus because our species was previously unaware of it and we are the virus’ primary victim. Initially identified in humans in Wuhan, China, the virus has spread and now become a global pandemic.

How will a virtuous person respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

First, a virtuous person will respond courageously, not yielding to worry, fear or panic. The person will take appropriate and recommended precautions, e.g., frequent hand washing and staying three feet or further from infected persons. Then the person will relax. Having taken all recommend precautions, worrying about COVID-19 will only sap one’s strength, erode one’s health and produce other negative effe…

Lent and our need for reconciliation

A couple, married or otherwise, who split up when they have one or more children together is rarely simple. If both want a role in the child(ren)’s life, two persons now going their individual ways must find a means to co-parent and to communicate. Otherwise, even when divorce is obviously the best choice for all involved, the child(ren) will most likely enter adulthood with significantly greater challenges (if not handicaps) and deeper emotional scars.

For about a year and a half, I’ve volunteered as a mediator at the Mediation Center of the Pacific (MCP). Most of the cases that I mediate involve domestic situations: a parent wanting to establish or change timesharing arrangements (what used to be called visitation, but is more appropriately labelled timesharing since both parties are the child(ren)’s parents), custody of the children, division of marital assets/debts in case of a divorce, etc. Although mediation is not therapy, many pastoral counseling skills (e.g., active, empathi…

Jesus taught character, not rules

Today’s gospel reading offers multiple, important sermon topics: anger, violence, adultery, divorce and oath taking.[1] Instead of focusing on one topic, or all of them (think a two-hour sermon), I want to consider the passage as a whole, equipping you to interpret if for yourself.

Christians generally adopt a misguided approach toward this reading, mistakenly seeking to discover specific rules for governing human behavior from God. More broadly, Christians frequently characterize Jewish and Christian ethics as divine command ethics, God issuing a set of commands by which people should live.

An interpretation more faithful to Jesus begins by situating the text in its historical context. Jesus’ contemporaries regarded him as a rabbi, a teacher of Judaism, not as God incarnate issuing commands. What Christians regard as “law,” Jews then and now believe are instructions on how to live constantly mindful of God's loving, life-giving and liberating presence.

Imagine each of the four topic…

Why bother with church?

Recently, I attended a free, two-hour training session sponsored by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) on how to advocate for legislation with the Hawai’i State Legislature. Two aspects of the useful session particularly caught my attention.

First, the session used technology to connect people gather in four locations (one each on the islands of Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawai’i). Sitting in the session, I wondered why more groups, such as the Episcopal Church, do not use similar technology to offer seminars in multiple locations. The technology is available for free. Gathering in multiple locations can boost attendance, as it did for the ACLU. Some evangelical churches already use this type of technology to allow congregations that meet in various locations to worship together and to hear the same sermon. Slow adoption of this technology has unintentionally both limited audience size and restricted groups to hearing speakers locally available.

Second, I was among the oldest five …

Americans get the political leaders they deserve

Government of, by and for the people – we call democracy – requires that people invest some effort and maybe a little money in elections. This does not happen in the U.S.

One reason the founding fathers established the electoral college was that they did not trust the average voter to exercise his franchise wisely. And that was after limiting voting in most places to white, property owning males.

Thankfully, the U.S. has extended the privilege of voting to all citizens 18 and older who register to vote. However, that extension of the franchise has not diminished voter laziness.

Voter laziness cedes electoral power to monied interests. This is nothing new. For example, in times and places where the rule of law was less strictly enforced, voters sold their vote to the highest bidder (remember machine politics in New York City, Chicago and elsewhere).

The two most important ways that a citizen can invest in democracy are (1) to become informed about the issues and candidates and then (…

Jesus, Lamb of God

The image of Jesus as the Lamb of God pervades Christianity. The lamb is a familiar symbol for Jesus, found not only in today's gospel[1] but also throughout the New Testament as well as in art and literature. The image of Jesus as the Lamb of God reinterprets the Jewish Passover narrative, which describes the angel of death in Egypt passing over Israelite houses marked with the blood of a lamb, killing only the Egyptian first born. Thus, we have the Agnus Dei, “O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us,”[2] a part of Christian liturgies since the early fourth century.[3]

Biblical images and metaphors are often complex and confusing. For example, Biblical authors describe Christians as God's sheep, although they sometimes refer to Jews as sheep, even in the New Testament.[4] New Testament authors similarly describe Jesus as both the Lamb of God and the shepherd, two conflicting images actually found in a single verse in the Revelation of John.[5]

Ethical reflections on the death of General Suleimani

The U.S. assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani raises ethical questions that have received short shrift in the outpouring of political concern about what Suleimani’s death may portend for peace in the Middle East.

First, assassination is unethical. There are no exceptions because assassination by another name is murder. Furthermore, the United States is not at war with Iran. If the U.S. decided that Maj. Gen. Suleimani was a terrorist, then the U.S. should have aimed to apprehend him to bring him to trial. Terrorism is a crime, not an act of war. For a fuller treatment of this point, read my book, Just Counterterrorism (available for free download by following this link), or my article, Just Counterterrorism, in the journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism.

Second, whether analyzed from a criminal justice perspective (strongly preferred) or a just war perspective, for any killing to be ethical, reasonable expectations of the killing’s effect must be to aid in moving toward a more…

Predictions for 2020

Last year, I made several predictions for 2019. Below, red annotations report the accuracy of each prediction.

·US stock markets will fall more than 20% from their 2018 highs. This prediction was off by about 45% - the markets rose rather than fell.
·President Trump’s enjoyment of chaos, erratic behavior, dishonesty, and narcissism will continue to destabilize US and world politics. Accurate.
·The loyalty of President Trump’s base will erode and his base diminish in size. Many of Trump’s policies harmed his base, as I forecast, but this did not erode the loyalty of his base.
·President Trump’s legal problems will escalate. The U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump; he now awaits a Senate trial.
·Brexit will happen. The Conservatives did call an election. They scored an unexpected, overwhelming victory. Brexit is now inevitable.
·The US will tighten border security, especially with Mexico, but will not build a border wall along the southern border. Accurate.
·Trump, a man of few bedro…