Weekly Meanderings

Good morning!

Zion, don’t hang on that cross!” Derek on the meal of the Messiah.

Trusting the Sunday Story.

Too many evangelicals are anti-intellectual and demean doctrine. Allan Bevere on this problem: “We must avoid the two extremes of denigrating the significance of Christian doctrine as if it makes little to no difference for how Christians live. Neither should we so emphasize right belief that we lose sight of the importance of living faithful lives. Those who emphasize orthodoxy at the expense of orthopraxy do not understand either one. Those who highlight orthopraxy and depreciate the importance of orthodoxy do not understand either one.” This leads to Ted’s post on working together because orthodoxy and orthopraxy are forms of ortho-ecclesia.

Very few have taken issue with Rob Bell’s theology of continuity, so this is a good entrance into that subject by Patrick.

Bill Donahue on trust. :mic on the church in the present tense.

Father Pfleger is out: “But the issue of obedience has been at the center of the conflict between Pfleger and the church, said Dwight Hopkins, a professor of theology at the University of Chicago. At the core, he said, is the Roman Catholic belief that there is a link between the pope and Jesus Christ. “If a priest disobeys the cardinal, the highest representative up to the pope, they disobey a direct line back to Jesus Christ,” Hopkins said. “The cardinal is saying that Father Pfleger has removed himself from the Catholic Church because he refuses to obey.”

Stop the train: Milt Essenburg blogs! (About the Pillar Commentary series.)

I’ve said for many years that finishing a doctorate requires stamina … and sometimes that’s all that separates those who finish and those who don’t. Tony had stamina. Congrats.

Meanderings in the News

1. This is a tough time for many young teachers: “Pink-slipped teachers are scrambling to find jobs even as they wait to hear whether they might be rehired once financial projections and student enrollments firm up. Others survived layoffs but face the uncertainty over new assignments or schools. The pressure-cooker has become a fixture of spring for many Illinois educators who are let go in March and April, only to be hired back months later. But it shows no signs of abating as school districts confront another round of state funding delays and the end of federal stimulus money that was intended to stave off the worst of the school layoffs. A bill awaiting review by the state House could upend the long-standing practice by requiring that teacher specialties and classroom performance determine layoffs and rehires across Illinois, with seniority playing the role of tiebreaker rather than being the determining factor. Still, for educators caught in the cross hairs, the proposed changes offer little relief.”

2. David Sehat on five myths about church and state: “Liberals claim that the founding fathers separated church and state, while conservatives argue that the founders made faith a foundation of our government. Both sides argue that America once enjoyed a freedom to worship that they seek to preserve. Yet neither side gets it right.”

3. Clifford J. Levy: ” KIEV, Ukraine, EVERY Sunday, thousands of worshipers crowd into an arena here for a rollicking evangelical Christian service. A choir and rock band belt out gospel tunes in Russian. People sing along and clap and shimmy in the aisles. They dash up to the stage for a chance to grab the microphone and declare how their new faith has changed their lives. It is as if a Sunbelt megachurch had been transplanted to Kiev, birthplace of Slavic Orthodoxy, land of onion-domed cathedrals and incense-shrouded icons. But the preacher at the podium has little if any connection to the United States. Could there be a more unlikely success story in the former Soviet Union than the Rev. Sunday Adelaja, an immigrant from Nigeria who has developed an ardent — and enormous — following across Ukraine?”

4. Jonah Goldberg takes another shot at Obama: “He may sincerely have wished his awesome job came with a cooler phone (or a Bat Signal perhaps?), and he may honestly feel trapped in a bubble. But he’s also determined to pretend that he is running “against Washington” in 2012. And that is outrageous nonsense for a president who effectively owned the government for two years. Already his campaign’s messaging is all about recapturing the feeling of insurgency from the first time around. Finish the mission. Complete the work. Remember the feeling. That’s why he’s running his reelection campaign out of Chicago, as if people won’t notice he’s the incumbent. Obama has never run on a record. He’s always run almost literally on a hope and a prayer. Now he must defend what he has done — and what he has failed to do. If that makes him cranky, that’s just too bad.”

5. Anthony Roy on the meaning of “Easter”: “And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier. It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.”

6. For the scientists among us: “A new framework for the universe’s formation suggests that it began as a single thready line, then evolved into a plane, and only then the three-dimensional space we now inhabit. This could simplify sticky cosmological questions, including dark matter and gravity waves.”

7. Spoiler Alert! Rich Lowry: “In March 1996, an Islamic terrorist group kidnapped seven French Trappist monks from their remote monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria. They were held for two months, then beheaded. At the heart of this atrocity is a tale of heroic faith, steadfastness, and love, captured in the sublime film Of Gods and Men. It is perhaps the best movie on Christian commitment ever made…. There’s no higher praise of Of Gods and Men than that it does justice to the faith of these men. In a scene near the end, the monks listen to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” laughing and crying together. A terrible fate awaits them. And it feels like victory.”

8. Wilfred M. McClay: “Whatever one finally thinks of Freud—and I count myself among the respectful unbelievers in his fanciful systems—this seems to me a very rich and insightful analysis, and a useful starting place for considering a subject largely neglected by historians: the steadily intensifying (though rarely visible) role played by guilt in determining the deep structure of our lives in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Such an analysis cannot, for obvious reasons, be reduced to quantifiable data; and it admittedly runs the risk of veering onto the circular path of the non-falsifiable, a Freudian spécialité de la maison. Yet it has a ring of truth to it, both as a diagnosis and as a symptom of the condition it diagnoses. It suggests that what W. H. Auden claimed for Freud over seventy years ago remains equally true today: Even if he was “wrong and at times absurd,” he stands for “a whole climate of opinion under whom we conduct our different lives.” And then this: “I don’t mean to disparage these writings in a blanket way or label them utterly wrong. There is a great deal to be said for any effort to release the soul from captivity to hateful emotions and encourage the more noble and expansive side of our natures. But the shift in emphasis is notable. In the new dispensation, forgiveness is all about the forgiver and his or her well-being. And the motivation sometimes borders on the suspect. As Luskin puts it, in arguing for the health-giving benefits of forgiving, “Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. . . . Forgiveness is about personal power.”

9. Turnabout is fair play with Paul Krugman: “It is in this dismissively diagnostic spirit that I would like to approach Paul Krugman’s latest column. He writes:

Here’s my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car—and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough. What has gone wrong with us?”

10. On drafting players for professional sports: “Could it really be true that these innocuous statements can help assess Cam Newton’s pro potential? That’s the assertion, mission, and business plan of an Ohio-based company calledAchievement Metrics. It analyzes the speech of star college players, looking for traits such as “conceptual complexity,” “need for power,” and “deliberativeness.” It compares similar players and correlates these traits with future performance. College wide receivers whose speech shows low levels of distrust, for example, have a greater probability of becoming Pro Bowlers than their less-trusting counterparts.”

Meanderings in Sports

On Tiger Woods: “But if there were ever a time to doubt Woods, this is it. In fact, let’s go all the way today and say he’s finished, at least in the old-Tiger, straw-that-stirs-the-drink kind of way. Woods announced Tuesday that he will miss next week’s Wells Fargo Championship because he hurt his left leg (yes, that left leg) while hitting his second shot from underneath the Eisenhower tree left of the 17th fairway in the third round of the Masters. “Woods suffered a Grade 1 mild medial collateral ligament sprain to his left knee and a mild strain to his left Achilles tendon,” said a statement on his web site.”

Read more: http://www.golf.com/golf/tours_news/article/0,28136,2067787,00.html#ixzz1KftOCmjv

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Universalism and “The Devil’s Redemption”

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  • Jim

    Sure wish you had not included a spoiler for the film “Of Gods and Men”. Was looking forward to seeing that. “Spoiler Alert” would have been a good thing.

  • Scot McKnight

    Thanks Jim. I added Spoiler Alert!

  • rjs

    Bill Donahue’s post is really thought provoking.

  • Market forces don’t work with health care, at least at its core. (There is room for market forces around the edges.) Every other country has recognized that fact, even Switzerland. (The health insurance providers in their exchange are non-profit.)

    In order for the market to work, you have to be able to walk away if the price is too high. If someone is charging too much for a car, you walk away. When it comes to health care, where is that point? Your child has cancer. What is the price you’ll pay to obtain treatment for her? Everything you have. Everything you can borrow. Everything you beg. There is no upper limit.

    That dynamic is made even worse today, since we have exempted large parts of the health industry from anti-trust laws. That made sense once upon a time when health insurance companies and hospitals were almost entirely non-profit. (And that wasn’t even that long ago. The shift from largely non-profit to almost entirely for-profit happened just a couple of decades ago.)

    I think Krugman has an excellent point. Health care should not be treated as simply another business transaction. And it didn’t used to be that way. We’ve collectively lost our minds. The system (or non-system really) we have in place now is an abomination.

  • Thank you, Scott #4.

    I don’t see why the majority of Americans cannot comprehend the clear choice in front of us: We either make health care universally affordable via some form of government intervention and organization or we bankrupt our nation financially and morally.

  • So many interesting things here to read! But for some reason the Tiger story caught my eye…hadn’t realized his situation. My kids are still big fans (we have shielded them from the sordid details, but they know he has made mistakes and is needing to work through them) and they pray regularly for him. I keep hoping that his present trials will give him a window of spiritual opening and that someone will be able to explain Christianity to him. What could be more freeing for him than to fully understand that his sins are forgiven?

  • rjs

    Congratulations to Tony. It takes hard work and stamina.

    The defense is the high point.

  • I find the news article on Rev. Pfleger intriguing, and as a Protestant a bit disturbing. While the article touches briefly on the issues Pfleger spoke out about (issues that I don’t hear as much about in political/doctrinal debates as many others), I only get the barest idea of just how much of a thorn in the hierarchy’s side Pfleger must have been. I’m merely told (again and again) that he “wouldn’t obey.”

    My wife’s a priest in the Episcopal church, and they too require obedience to superior clerics. Even so, this comes off a rather creepy.

  • Robin

    The thing about Pfleger is that this archdiocese has a standard policy of keeping priests at one location for 12 years, and then moving them to the next parish. Pfleger, being a gadfly, has managed to remain at the same parish for 30 years, but when he finally has to come to grips with the arch-diocese’s standards, he throws a fit and threatens to leave the church altogether. Considering he is asking to have special priveleges relative to every other priest under that cardinal, he really looks petulant as an outsider looking in.

  • Jorge L

    It’s much deeper than what even Robin mentions. I have been to St. Sabina’s. Pfleger abandoned Catholic liturgy long ago. He makes no effort to follow the prescribed liturgy. He has deliberately created his own conflation of Missionary Baptist and Catholic liturgy, ecclesial structure etc.

    He had been admonished privately for years. But his response was always, don’t you dare push me or I’ll cause a schism–my people are devoted to me and if I leave, they’ll leave. Because a bishop’s responsibility is to avoid unnecessarily causing division, the threat was taken seriously. He’s been out of control since long before Cardinal George became bishop. He was publicly warned and tgemporarily suspended. But he had built such a fiefdom that he was untouchable–that is, a bishop had to think long and hard before stirring up the hornet’s nest that sacking him would constitute.

    But he finally abused that threat to cause schism once too often.

    Of course, if he truly believes that a combination of Missionary Baptist and Catholic liturgy is superior, for his parishioners, to the prescribed Catholic liturgy, he’s free to worship that way. But not at the same time to call himself Catholic. It’s fundamentally dishonest. Whether one is Protestant or Catholic, one ought to be able to see that truth.

    His replacement as interim pastor is an African-American priest, a former Chicago cop, who takes no guff. It’s a good choice to try to salvage what can be salvaged from this parish wrecked by Pfleger–those who truly want to be Catholic will now be free to do so. Those for whom the Pfleger-personality cult is front and center, one may hope, will follow him where he goes. I imagine he’ll try to cut a deal to be restored. I, for one, would not trust him to keep his side of any agreement–he’s violated his agreements in the past.

    He was given ample opportunity to correct himself. He not only refused, but defiantly refused. And now, as of course we all expected, he’s playing poor ‘lil me, big bad Cardinal’s mean to me, sob, sob, sob. Anyone who falls for his “poor little victim” schtick ought to know better.

  • The Economist’s response to the Krugman is spot on. The next sentence after the Krugman quote is:

    “Let us ask this, instead: What has gone wrong with this celebrated economist such that he has come to believe that something “has gone wrong with us” if we have come to conceive of those who buy medical services from those who sell them as “consumers”, which is what they are?”

    Whether buying a car or receiving care in a “sacred relationship” goods/services are being consumed, someone has to produce and provide those goods and services, and sustainability requires that the value of payment for those goods/services match or exceed the cost of delivering them. There are consumers and producers. Period.

    The question is how should we ration health care among consumers, not whether or not there are consumers. A market approach allows people to weigh options make informed choices about the care they will buy. Yes, some care will be too expensive for some. But that creates opportunities for entrepreneurs to figure out how to get the “goods” to market cheaper, driving down costs for everyone. Catastrophic insurance could be made available for such cases and aid to the poor could be given so they could make their health care preferences felt within the market as well. Rationing becomes an endless iterative process of health care consumers making their preferences known and providers competing to satisfy those preferences.

    Universal care removes the end recipient from the care decision. Government, through its bureaucracy, decides how and to whom care will be given. Government becomes the consumer of health care which it parcels out as it sees fit. With markets, recipients can affect care decisions by walking next door to a competitor who will provide satisfactory care. But here, recipients are powerless and must organize political movements to effect change. And as we are seeing in other countries, universal care is unsustainable. No one directly bears any cost for their health care decisions and everyone thus has the incentive to demand more and more care. And when this finally hits critical points at which rationing and reduced care must be imposed, you don’t have a “sacred relationship” but an adversarial relationship between the health care consumer (the government) and the citizens who receive the care.

  • JST

    If you want to call any health care system unsustainable, you must start with ours. It is a national sin, greater than abortion, the way we tie life directly to income. To live in a nation where chemo for children is funded by donation cans at the 7-11 makes me ashamed.

  • Anna

    I don’t see for-profit market-based insurance companies lining up to provide access to care, catastrophic or otherwise, to poor, sick people. There is already an adversarial relationship between consumers and insurance companies.

  • JRS


    I’m not unsympathetic to your perspective, but there is another way of looking at the problem.

    Consider this: I’m ashamed to live in a country where the providers of chemo for children charge so much that people have to raise money in donation cans at 7-11.

    Because medicine involves life and death, the providers have a moral responsibility to charge reasonable fees. All too often it seems they ignore that responsibility.

  • Samb

    I saw the movie Of Gods and Men. I knew how the story would play out because it is based on a true story. But it doesn’t matter if you know how it ends. My wife and I were overcome with this beautifully and well done movie. It is truly wonderful. I hope everyone will have the opportunity to see it.

  • JST #12, Anna #13, JRS #14

    My comments weren’t intended as an endorsement of our present system. It is not a market-based system in the sense that those who actually receive the care are the ones looking at comparing costs. It is impossible for me as patient to determine what any procedure costs because there is no practical cost information. Until that happens, we are little better off than with universal care with a single (government payer).

    “Because medicine involves life and death, the providers have a moral responsibility to charge reasonable fees.”

    So here is the crux. The costs for the procedures have to be covered somehow. A procedure is so expensive that people must raise funds at the Seven-Elven. Okay. If we move to the government taking care of it all, the costly procedure still has to be paid for. And, in effort to keep costs under control the government may actually provide the procedure to fewer people than with the Seven-Eleven strategy where people have the freedom to pursue the procedure if the want to raise the money.

    Unlike Scott M above, I believe a considerable amount of health care service is amenable to market competition where prices are driven downward and quality upward by discerning consumers. Yet their are things like catastrophic illness/injury and pre-existing conditions that must be accounted for that probably can’t be addressed by purely by market forces. Aid to the poor is essential as well.

    Markets can’t fix everything but I think they need to be a central piece of the system due to both their ability to drive down costs (and thus expand availability) and their ability to empower people to mange their own health care weighed against other values in their lives.

  • JST

    If you work for a corporation, your job is to maximize profit for rhe shareholders. Charging less than what the market will bear is dereliction of any senior manager’s duty. For-profit health care is first and foremost, in our free market structure, about maximizing profit. Health is not the goal.

  • DRT

    One of the best ways of achieving responsive organizations is to force the organization to periodically change. The change itself brings about good things since corruption has a more difficult time embedding itself. Corporations do this through changing goals, organizational structures etc. Our government does this by changing politicians.

    Unfortunately though, the bureaucracies created by or government and the people themselves are corrupt because they avoid change. The key to a successful national health care would be to force change periodically for the sake of change. I am sure that is like driving a dagger through a conservative’s eye, but that is what is needed (I mean change, not daggers in conservatives eyes, … well…)

  • JST

    We the people ought to pay for a doctor’s education so they graduate with no debt.

    And then they become civil service employees making, say, $250K per year.

    I have a cousin who is an oncologist and lives in a $6M home, pays $15K a month in child support to his first wife, and in general is richer than rich. And I ask myself: is his value to society greater than a water treatment engineer, or a family practitioner, or a fire chief?

  • Christine

    What?! No link to one of the biggest news stories of the week, the Royal Wedding?!!! Shocking, I say, shocking. 🙂

  • @Michael W. Kruse

    …A market approach allows people to weigh options make informed choices about the care they will buy.…

    Treating patients as “consumers” in as full knowledge, rational Homo economicus actors is a totally flawed model. Both in theory and in practice, as we can see directly from the empirical results that U.S. system costs ~2X per capita, yet ranks lower in infant mortality, curing preventable diseases, life expectancy, quality of life after attaining specific age (50), etc.…

    …opportunities for entrepreneurs to figure out how to get the “goods” to market cheaper, driving down costs for everyone. …

    Because simply waving a free-market-fundamentalist wand will magically make everything better!

    No, in a market based health care system (and if you study the history of education in America, a similar paradigm exists there, before the ubiquity of public education), there is great incentive to not serve those at the greatest risk or lacking the funds to pay.

    Universal care removes the end recipient from the care decision. Government, through its bureaucracy, decides how and to whom care will be given.

    No. Not a given at all.

    First, because a “safety net” for the “least of these” does not preclude health care recipients from transactions — it just makes sure that a human right is provided.

    Second, there already exists a bureaucracy — at a considerable cost that does indeed “remove the end recipient from the care decision”.

    Even the arch-conservative (or neoliberal) The Economist publication, in an “official” editorial, recognizes that universal health care is a common good.

  • AJ

    Scot – what is your take on the Pillar commentary series?

  • JRS

    Michael #16

    Well stated and a welcomed perspective.

    My point was primarily a concern for high charges that seem to have no connection to reality; only a thirst for money.

    For example, when a physician charges hundreds of dollars per patient just to be in the room when chemo is administered something is wrong. It sounds like greed more than medical necessity or covering a costly procedure. A friend told me the amount she was charged and it was stunning. I wish I could remember the amount but it was quite obviously much more than reasonable.

    This is the moral responsibility physicians seem to ignore.