Saturday, June 23, 2007

Doctors with Borders

I was rather disappointed with this article on MSNBC.com, about doctors whose attempts to be faithful to their moral and theological traditions require them to decline to offer certain treatment options. I should make it clear, of course, that I don't always agree with those doctors about what is right and what is wrong. (I'm enough a child of my culture that I can't quite figure out why Catholics are against birth control – even Chesterton's explanation hasn't quite sunk in.) But it's my starting assumption – clearly not shared by the author of the article – that faithfulness to your beliefs is very nearly the highest ideal to which a human can subscribe. It's certainly more important than someone else's feelings, as important as those are.

Indeed, the "hierarchy of needs" implied in the article is perhaps the greatest lie perpetrated by our culture. Nearly everything we read, see, or hear in our popular media is predicated on the idea that religious faith is a private matter, to be subordinated at every turn to, well, everything else: medical advice, entertainment, political expediency, or for that matter, business requirements. Like Lewis' "mountain apple", this poisonous unquestioned assumption pervades nearly every aspect of our public discourse, and any attempt to question it sounds odd and discordant, even to my ears.

On NPR last night, they were talking about the website WorldWithoutOil, an interesting attempt to imagine how our world would change in the weeks following a severe energy shock. It would be fascinating to engage in a similar exercise, imagining a world where we took faith seriously, in all its dimensions. Lots of people think it would end up looking like The Handmaid's Tale, and because I remain a firm believer in original sin, I don't really disagree with them. But resulting dystopia would still be the result of not taking our faith seriously enough, not of taking it too seriously.

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