Showing posts from February, 2017

Holy places

The Episcopal Café asked for articles in February on holy places. This Ethical Musings post is my contribution to that great website. I, like a great many people, experience some places as holy places. However, I do not believe that God created specific holy places. Ongoing, consistent evolutionary processes produced the cosmos as we know it. This presumably precludes God differentiating particular places in ways that those places are inherently holy or “thin,” i.e. places in which God is more easily or frequently encountered. So what makes a place holy? When I served for two years as the Head of the Religious Facilities Management Branch in the Office of the Navy Chief of Chaplains, I oversaw the design of a dozen chapels and religious support facilities. I wanted Navy religious facilities to offer sailors, Marines, and their families the feeling of being in a holy place. The question of what made a place holy acquired an urgent professional importance that caused me

Why we no longer engage in civil discourse

Civil discourse – meaningful conversation about issues important to democracy – rarely occurs in the US today. Unmet requirements for civil discourse among politicians, public figures, opinion makers, and others include: Trust – Trust presumes honesty. Civil discourse has no room for “alternate facts.” Even the most honest person will occasionally get the facts wrong or say something later regretted, e.g., an ad hominem remark or an overly broad generalization. When this occurs, a retraction and an apology are offered. Continuing to insist that a falsehood is true erodes the foundation of trust required for civil discourse and democracy. Civility and mutual respect – This excludes personal attacks and requires focusing on the issues and not personalities. I may disagree with a judge’s ruling, but that disagreement does not entitle me to attack the judge verbally nor to question the judge’s fitness to sit on the bench. Willingness to compromise – No person, organization, or polit

Choosing between fear and courage

In response to both cancer and terrorism, an individual has two basic choices: fear or courage. In the short run, fear advantageously heightens a person’s senses, thus increasing vigilance along with the potential to improve the rapidity and quality of one’s response. Over the longer term, including fights against cancer and terrorism, fear’s disadvantages outweigh that advantage: Fear loses its power over time, the altered condition becoming the new normal. Life is inherently risky. No prophylactics exist to ensure that one will not develop cancer. Similarly, no guarantees exist to prevent one from becoming a victim in a terror attack. Indeed, counterterrorism authorities unanimously agree that there are too many potential targets to protect all of them. Fear inherently degrades one’s quality of life. Conversely, courage tempered by prudence (avoiding that which is rash) has only advantages: Courage is a moral habit that develops and strengthens with practice. Co


The Old and New Testaments both reflect widespread, theologically rooted belief in the idea that the sin is the cause of illness. For example, when Jesus heals a man who was born blind, some of the people in the crowd ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” (John 9) Who sinned and caused my cancer, my parents or I? My parents were by no stretch of the imagination perfect. However, to posit that two of their five children would die of incurable cancers (one of my brothers died of colon cancer almost twenty years ago) because of egregious sins my parents committed is unreasonable. First, my parents – like most people – did not commit horrendous sins. Second, punishing children for sins committed by their parents is unjust. Old Testament declarations that the sins of the parents will affect their children make sense only in limited contexts, e.g., parents who pollute the earth invariably harm the lives of their progeny or pregnant women who drink alcoholic beverages will often ca

Respite or reprieve?

The pace of executive orders and other changes issued by the Trump White House appears to have slowed. Is this a respite or reprieve? According to senior Trump administration officials, the administration has hundreds of draft executive orders ready to be finalized and signed. The slower pace at which Trump is signing these orders may optimally reflect President Trump’s belated recognition of the desirability of staffing the draft order through the departments and agencies that will be responsible for implementation. For example, the new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine General John Kelly, has acknowledged that the Trump administration should have better staffed the executive order on immigration before issuing it. If so, this may represent the beginning of a positive learning curve for the Trump administration. Furthermore, President Trump is no longer assured of being center stage in the daily news, nudged (or shoved, depending upon one’s perspe

Frustrated yet thankful

In the middle of September last year, I spent a week in the hospital, my body ravaged by the effects of multiple myeloma that had gone undiagnosed for months. Three months of chemotherapy followed. During those three months, my oncologist encouraged me to exercise, so as to maintain my strength. My neurosurgeon, however, encouraged me to spend my days lying in bed. He was afraid that some unexpected movement my result in my becoming a paraplegic because of the damage that the cancer had done to my spine. The two physicians never gave me a mutually agreed recommendation on exercising. So, I erred on the side of caution, exercising some while spending considerable time sitting on lying down. This was easier than it might sound because the multiple myeloma, hospitalization, and chemotherapy combined to leave me in a rather weakened, exhausted condition. During those months, I lost about twenty pounds. In December, my cancer went into remission. Kyphoplasty ended immediate concerns ab

The Donald Trump Amateur Hour

Ted Mack hosted an amateur hour on radio and then television from 1948 to 1970. That show was one entertainment forebear of more recent shows such as “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol.” Sadly, Ted Mack’s “Original Amateur Hour” also seems to have provided the model for the Trump presidency. Consider: Trump delights in portraying himself (and being seen by others) as the quintessential Washington outsider with no political experience. In other words, he is a political amateur. Similarly, Trump’s cabinet members and closest advisers are amateurs. Unsurprisingly, Trump’s initial executive orders, tweets, and interactions with foreign leaders reflect that amateurism. For example: Cozying up to Russia’s Putin and alienating the Prime Minister of vital US ally Australia. Claiming in Tweets and public statements, contrary to all available evidence and expert opinion, that he would have won the popular vote had there not been several million fraudulent votes in fa