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Showing posts from 2021

The fragility of democracy

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Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. - Winston Churchill Some commentators described the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol as an insurrection. If “insurrection” denotes an armed uprising against authority, then what happened in Washington, DC, on January 6 was an insurrection. If “insurrection” denotes an organized armed uprising with a reasonable chance of succeeding in its efforts to overthrow the government, then what happened in Washington, DC, on January 6 was not an insurrection. In either case, the DC riot prompted these musings about the durability and future of US democracy. Coincidentally, in early January I read Volker Ulrich’s two volume biography of Hitler ( Ascent: 1889-1939 and Downfall: 1939-1945 ). Hitler was: Egocentric, at times megalomaniacal. The longer he ruled Germany, the more confident he became that he was a better military strategist than were the uniformed leaders of Germany’s military. Supremely self-confi

Feeling almost resurrected

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  Life can easily feel severely constricted, perhaps even suspended, during the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus has caused more than a million deaths, left some patients experiencing harmful effects for months or years, and prompted both health and political authorities to promote (sometimes mandate) social distancing, mask wearing and significant restrictions on business, travel and other activities. Persons fatal illnesses or diseases may resent the loss of their very limited, irreplaceable time. And just when the virus’ spread appears under control, another surge of new cases emerges with an increase in fatalities and (re)imposition of restrictions on pre-pandemic normal human activities. Consequently, some people, once fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and sufficient time having passed for the vaccine to become fully effective, almost feel resurrected. Light shines at the end of the pandemic’s nightmare tunnel. The prospect of resuming normal activities – dining with family and frie

Hope, Optimism and the Pandemic

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In addition to the four cardinal virtues (cf. Ethical Musings’ Cardinal virtues and the Covid-19 pandemic ), Aquinas also identified three theological virtues: faith, hope and love. The virtue of faith is vital because through faith a person relates to God. Love points to our need to care for our neighbor as we care for self (cf. Ethical Musings’ Vaccination as a sacramental act ). This post discusses the virtue of hope in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hope is not synonymous with optimism. An optimist, in familiar images, tends to view a glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Whose contrasting descriptions lack any specific reason(s) for adopting one perspective instead of the other. Optimism requires no logical or evidentiary basis. Many gamblers are perpetual optimists even though the mathematical odds remained stacked against the gambler winning. Hope, unlike optimism, requires a foundation or basis in logic, mathematics, science, experience, etc. I am optimistic t

Help me make it through the night

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When Christian writer Sue Monk Kidd was pregnant with her second child, her three-year-old son, Bob, was afraid of the dark. Sue tried everything. She left a light on in the hall and a night-light on in Bob's room. Nothing she did helped; he was still scared of the dark and would cry out in the middle of the night. One night as she held him to comfort him, he touched her round abdomen. He asked, "Mama, is it dark inside there?" "Yes," his mother replied, "it's dark in there." Bob thought further, then asked, "There’s not even have a night-light, is there?" "No," Sue responded, "not even a night-light." Then Bob hugged his mother and she patted his head. Bob had one more question that night, "Do you think it’s scary all alone in there?" "I don't think so," Sue explained, "the baby is not really alone. The baby is inside of me," It was a very special moment between mother and s

Cardinal virtues and the Covid-19 pandemic|

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In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas famously promoted four cardinal virtues: courage, justice, prudence and temperance in his Summa Theologica. Aquinas borrowed those four virtues from Plato and then “baptized” them by interpreting them from a Christian perspective. Aquinas’ moves were possible because Christianity, after a long hiatus, again found Greek philosophy a rich source for understanding the Christian faith. Greek philosophical influence is readily apparent in parts of the New Testament, e.g., John’s Gospel and Paul’s letters. Then followed centuries in which Christians avoided any dialogue with Greek philosophy for fear of corrupting Christian thinking. One of Aquinas’ major influences on the Christian tradition was to push Christian ethics toward virtue and away from rules. Virtue ethics presumes that character (who a person is) shapes behavior more than rules do. People generally act without carefully analyzing a situation to determine which rule(s) apply. And onc

Musing about the alternative to vaccination

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Persons choosing not to receive a vaccination to protect against Covid-19 need to consider the moral meaning of their choice. If vaccination is a sacramental act (cf. my last Ethical Musings post ), then what is the spiritual or ethical meaning of not being vaccinated? Among the several reasons that may lead a person to refuse vaccination are: Suspicion of rapidly developed and government approved vaccines, seen from the perspective of historically justified distrust of prior government medical experimentation on members of certain racial or ethnic groups without first obtaining a person’s informed consent Membership in a faith community, such as Christian Science, that rejects all medical treatment Having an actual medical condition that makes vaccination against the Covid-19 virus hazardous Believing one or more lies regarding the virus (e.g., Covid-19 is no worse than the flu) or the vaccines (e.g., the vaccine contains a microchip or the vaccine permanently alters the recipient

Vaccination as a sacramental act

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  Dr. David C. McDuffie (Senior Lecturer, Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Greensboro – cf. his bio at https://rel.uncg.edu/faculty/mcduffie/ ) has written an excellent article on vaccination as a sacramental act. His article, “ On Life, Grace, and Vaccines: A Sacramental Approach to Public Health ,” is available on the website of the Berkley Center, Georgetown University. One of Lent’s purposes is to remind Christians of their personal mortality. In this pandemic year, being reminded of one’s mortality may feel redundant. Another of Lent’s purposes is to remind Christians of their dependence upon God. And yet a third purpose of Lent is to remind Christians of our interconnectedness with one another and with creation. Being vaccinated, when the vaccine is available and it is one’s turn, is an act of restorative justice, moving one toward being able to rejoin the larger community safely. Being vaccinated, when the vaccine is available and it is one’s

A purpose driven life

In 2002, Rick Warren, pastor of the 30,000 member Saddleback Church, published the bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Warren’s answer to the title’s question is that everybody shares a single purpose, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. I found his book’s contents boring, predictable and unhelpful. Warren and I have conflicting understandings of the Christian gospel, e.g., his is exclusive and mine inclusive. Apparently, a majority of the people who bought Warren’s book agree with my assessment. Based upon their actions, a majority of purchasers either did not read the book or read and then ignored Warren’s prescriptions. Nevertheless, the title of Warren’s book resonated deeply with me. One of the first sociologists, Emile Durkheim, argued that individuals who commit suicide do so because the person can find no meaning in life. Existentialist philosophes and theologians similarly posit that the search for meaning is life’s central question. R

A new day

My family of origin would spend Christmas one year at home in Maine and the next year with my grandparents who lived in the Carolinas. On our journey home from those visits, we invariably spent a day in Washington, DC. One or more Smithsonian museums was always part of the stopover. As time permitted and competing interests desired, we went to other sites. One year in the mid-1960s (I do not remember the exact year), we visited the U.S. Capitol. There were no entry tickets, security checkpoints or mandatory tours. We simply wandered around the building on our own. I vividly remember that at one point we found ourselves unable to go forward. A guard blocked the entrance to what in retrospect was probably the Senate floor. An intrepid pre-teen, I told my family to follow me and led them to an elevator that took us to the next floor. Only when I exited the elevator did I notice asmall sign by the elevator’s entrance that read “Senators Only.” A new day has dawned. No longer are such a

What to do about Donald Trump - part 2

What legal actions, if any, should the government take with respect to President Donald Trump? As Rep. Liz Cheney (R, WY) later said, “There’s no question the president formed the mob. The president incited the mob. The president addressed the mob. He lit the flame.” Impeachment. Although Congress cannot move with sufficient speed to impeach and convict President Trump before he leaves office on January 20. Congress should impeach and convict Trump. That will disqualify him from holding federal office in the future, making official what his actions have already made unofficial. Indictment and Trial. Legal action against President Trump is pending in more than one non-federal jurisdiction. These actions should proceed. If the President pardons himself, the pardon covers only federal offenses, not state offenses. Given currently available public information, the federal government should not pursue charges against Trump. Federal investigation(s) will send a mixed signal (is the inves

What to do about Donald Trump - part 1

President Donald Trump invited supporters to gather in Washington on January 6, 2021, prior to Congress counting the Electoral College’s votes. Trump encouraged the crowd to walk to Capitol Hill where they should protest because the election results were “an egregious assault” on American democracy. He said, in part, “We are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them – because you will never take back our country with weakness.” Trump’s son, Donald Jr. (“We’re coming for you”), and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani (“trial by combat”), who both spoke before the President did, were more explicit in suggesting violence. How should the preponderance of US citizens who found the actions of the mob that invaded Capitol Hill and temporarily disrupted the certifying of the Electoral College results shocking, abhorrent and reprehensible? First, outrage, excessive passion and exaggeration are un

Predictions for 2021

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Last year, I made several predictions for 2020. My 2020 predictions were my most accurate in the twelve years that I’ve been making predictions. Critically, I failed to foresee the “black swan” Covid-19 pandemic. Below, red annotations report the accuracy of each prediction. The Senate will fail to convict Trump; he will finish his first term in office. Accurate. The presidential election will be hard fought. Trump’s base will remain loyal. The Democrats, at this time, lack a charismatic candidate who can easily defeat Trump. The race will turn on a handful of battleground states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida. The outcome of the election will hinge on events that occur between now and November. Accurate. Democrats will hold on to a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives; Republicans will continue to control the Senate in 2021. Accurate with respect to the House. The composition of the Senate was not determined by the end of 2020. The stock market’s decade l