Reading some Garret Keizer

My partner at work likes to read.  His tastes are pretty eclectic but for the most part he goes for the stuff that is too deep to appeal to the average joe.  So he has these magazines lying around in the staff room that I get to take advantage of.  An article in Harpers caught my eye the other day.  It appeared, I suppose, in a timely sort of way, with all the discussions on the right to die/live.  The article is complex as is the issue but I appreciated  hearing from someone who has spent some time thinking on the issue rather than someone who wants to get in a politically timely word. 

The article deals mainly with the case of Dr Thompson but the relevance of it extends to a wide range of cases, some of which can be fairly close to home.  I can’t say that I agree with all of his opinions but it seems to me that he has thought a lot on this issue.  Here are some quotes but I would encourage you to read the whole article.

” You will notice, for example, how the fear of playing God operates exclusively on one side of the medical playground. Thus to help a patient end his or her life “prematurely” is playing God, while extending it in ways and under conditions that no God lacking horns and a cloven hoof could ever have intended is the mandate of “our Judeo-Christian heritage” and the Hippocratic oath. Let someone like Dr. Thompson step out of bounds to honor the spirit of his patient’s advance directives, and we will be told that he is eroding respect for the medical profession. But in cases involving a medical professional who blatantly ignores such directives, we are reminded that doctors don’t always have time to review patient files while making difficult decisions. They’re not God, after all. “

“… The right talks about protecting life and tradition, but on some level—the level, let’s say, where someone like Dr. Thompson is held up for derision—it is mostly interested in protecting pain. For two reasons.
The first is theological: the belief that pain holds the meaning of life. Supposedly, and demonstrably, this is a Christian idea, though if Jesus himself had believed it, he would have told the lepers to find meaning in their sores…”
“… The second reason, which can always be counted on to exploit the first, is political: the belief that pain is fundamental to justice, which makes perfect sense if justice is conceived as nothing more than a system of punishments and rewards. The essence of punishment is pain. Whoever owns pain owns power. “

“… It would be a gross distortion to claim that opposition to physician-assisted suicide is all religious, all from the right, or entirely motivated by some twisted need to see people pay their dues in full. But nearly all the organized opposition to PAS, and especially that of groups like National Right to Life, the Family Forum, The Center for American Cultural Renewal, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy, finds common cause in the need to halt a perceived drift toward nihilism and a disrespect for life.

Like the religious right, I believe in moral absolutes. At the very least, I believe in two that were articulated some years ago by the theologian Paul Tillich, those being “the absolute concreteness of every situation in which a moral decision is required” and “the command not to treat a person as a thing.”

I would challenge you to read the article.  Even if you do not agree with much of what he says, I don’t think it can be dismissed as coming from one with no understanding of faith in God.

And Becky points us towards another article by the same author in The Revealer, The Reverent and the Rude.  Also good reading.

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0 responses to “Reading some Garret Keizer

  1. becky

    Thanks for this! I really enjoy this author. In next month’s Harpers, there’s going to be a long article on megachurches (written by the author of Killing the Buddha). Can’t wait for that one.

  2. Phil

    The author makes a couple of valid points, but it seemed that he was so desparate to denigrate the “religious right” that he misrepresented them in sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant ways. For example, the statement that the “right” is “mostly interested in protecting pain”. Maybe things are different in the U.S. than here in Canada, but a couple of years ago my seven siblings and I made the painful decision to have my father’s respirator removed. We would almost without exception be considered on the “religious right”, yet we had total consensus that keeping dad alive artificially would not be right. Pastor Art and Pastor Randall (two evangelicals) led us in a meaningful bedside service before the medical staff removed the respirator.

    Mom had died just a month earlier, but she knew she was dying and had signed a “do not resuscitate” order. She told us that once she started crossing that river, she didn’t want anyone pulling her back. The local palliative care staff were wonderful in managing Mom’s pain. I know lots of people on the “religious right” but I’m not aware of many (any?) who fit the description painted by this author.

    It’s easy to knock down straw men.

  3. Linea

    I did not get the impression that the author was trying to knock down straw men. I think his thoughts are valid even if I do not agree with all of them.

    I think the right that he refers to are the extremes both politically and religiously. I don’t think that being an evangelical Christian automatically puts that person on the extreme right. And the right is after all just a stance that is a bit right of left, usually judged by the stance of the observer. So, I think there are going to be some things on which we are more right leaning and some on which we lean to the left.

    I don’t know that I would classify you as part of the religious right, actually. Because I am not sure where that puts me then – and I am not sure that I care to be classified.

    As for the attitiude towards pain – I believe there are those who see the relief of pain as interfering with the normal course of events and see the relief of pain in the later stages of terminal disease by the use of opiods and other potentially addictive substances as wrong for fear of slightly shortening the ill person’s life.

    Anyway, this is a huge subject and full of controversy. I still think the article is a good one. It does make a person think and that is always good.

  4. Phil

    I used poor wording re the pastors present at my father’s death. Evangelicals come with a variety of political views, and I think the wise pastors tend to keep those views fairly private.

    Unfortunately the term “religious right” doesn’t have a single definition, and it’s a label not of their choosing. If one defines it as “a coalition of traditionalist Catholics with fundamentalists”, then it doesn’t include me. However if one defines it as those people whose religious convictions result in “social conservative” views, which is how I’ve seen it used here in Canada, then I guess they’d include me. Generally it seems to be a negative term that is used by people with “liberal” views to label their “conservative” enemies who want to protect the unborn, keep marriage as a union of man and woman, and prevent active euthanasia.

    I re-read the article, and I still think the author is unfair in presenting his opponents’ positions. For example, besides his false claim that the “right” is “mostly interested in protecting pain”, he claims that “the wisdom of the right consists of knowing how to take its absolutes just far enough, which is to say never so far as to relinquish the prerogatives of wealth and power”. That statement is unfair to people who choose to keep their babies instead of aborting them, and look after their aging parents, even at considerable personal cost. His dismissal of the advocacy groups for the disabled such as Not Dead Yet by, “I suspect that what they see is not so much a threat as an insult”, I found offensive. I believe those groups have very valid fears about convenience euthanasia somewhere down the slippery slope.

    That said, I did think the author raised some valid points. I just wish he’d have done it without misrepresenting his opponents.