Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Harvard ethics

First, as this blog's contribution to keeping up the internet's record of notable events, let's have a look at two recent statements from Harvard University clerics. There is this much noted (in certain blog quarters) passage from a sermon of Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, head of the Episcopal Divinity School:
And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion – there is not a tragedy in sight — only blessing. The ability to enjoy God’s good gift of sexuality without compromising one’s education, life’s work, or ability to put to use God’s gifts and call is simply blessing.

These are the two things I want you, please, to remember – abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.

I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing – who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes — in my eyes, you are saints); the escorts and the activists; the lobbyists and the clinic defenders; all of you. You’re engaged in holy work.
And then there is this little brouhaha about Harvard's Muslim chaplain sticking to Islamic orthodoxy:
Harvard Islamic chaplain Taha Abdul-Basser ’96 has recently come under fire for controversial statements in which he allegedly endorsed death as a punishment for Islamic apostates.

In a private e-mail to a student last week, Abdul-Basser wrote that there was “great wisdom (hikma) associated with the established and preserved position (capital punishment [for apostates]) and so, even if it makes some uncomfortable in the face of the hegemonic modern human rights discourse, one should not dismiss it out of hand.”

The e-mail was forwarded over Muslim student e-mail lists and later picked up by the blogosphere, sparking debate and, in many cases, criticism of Abdul-Basser from those who have interpreted his statement as supporting the execution of those who leave the Islamic religion.
Next, let's look at what they don't teach at Harvard. Here's the Rene Girard-inspired anthropology of Gil Bailie:
We are religious beings with religious hungers. Cultures which allow religious pluralism to degenerate into ideological secularism cease to foster sanctifying and civilizing forms of religious experience. In the absence of more edifying expressions, the hunger for transcendence grows desperate and eventually takes crude and primitive forms.

Since death is the one thing that cannot be fully secularized, those desperate for religious meaning eventually turn to death, as fallen humanity always has, siding with death against death, turning death into a cure for death, eluding death by exploiting its mystique and becoming its pious accomplices. In a post-religious world, both those who are desperate for meaning and those who have despaired of it will find in death an unspoken organizing principle. Whether fleeing from it or flirting with it, whether bound to it by fear or fascination, death eventually becomes the default preoccupation, the chief obsession, of those who come to regard it as the final, incontrovertible fact.

At the Resurrection, ‘the power of death’ was broken. Only by living in the light of that victory can we keep from slipping back into the old religious swamp out of which we were dredged at Easter. Post-Christian culture, bereft of religious vigor, is becoming such a swamp, a ‘culture of death.’ Threatened from without by a resurgence of pre-modern forms of sacred violence, it is inwardly imperiled by postmodern forms of nihilistic resignation, dickering with death – in a world ‘distracted from distraction by distraction,’ death being the only distraction weighty enough to distract. Na├»ve irreligious secularism is powerless to meet this challenge. Christianity is not.
One of the many fascinating things about our times is that we will get to see how once revered institutions of learning move on from their present dead ends. Will they try to mover further downhill and prove Bailie right, falling deeper into a death worship and thus, one assumes, eventually losing what's left of their ability to maintain public credibility (at least among those who are capable of maintaining our civilization) in the contests over truth and finance? Will Cambridge crumble? Will the schools turn back to respect for Christianity? Or will it be possible for them to embrace an anthropology (inspired by but not identical to Christian faith) and simulate the Judeo-Christian embrace of life, in an intellectual culture that remains secular, i.e. not dependent for its sacred charge on belief in God?

No doubt the answer to such questions depends on us. In the meantime, Catholic Georgetown University, or President B.H.Obama, cannot allow Obama's presence at Georgetown to be shared with, or subsumed by, a sign of the name of Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

Dag said...

Peers, this satanic chanting by Katherine Hancock Ragsdale has to be the most disturbing thing I've ever read. Yes, I've read a lot. Nothing as chilling as that.