Wednesday 29 December 2010

Euthanasia: The Patient and the right of 'Advance Directives'

Dr Megan Best suggests that while Christians believe that we are not free to take the life of another person, this does not mean that we must prolong life at all costs. Nor does it mean that the patient has no rights to cease treatment or give directions about their last days of life. Dr Best presented her ideas at the CASE Medical Ethics Conference held at New College on the 27 March 2010. She presented two stimulating papers on the subject of Euthanasia. One of these papers "The Ethical Dilemmas of Euthanasia" has been published in Case Magazine #25 and was recently released. A second talk on 'Advance Directives' is available on the CASE website as a free download. In it she states:
"For Christians, these are questions that do not have straightforward answers. This is because at the end of life there is a balance to be struck. On the one hand, we are not free to hasten death - it is God's to give and take away. Yet on the other hand, there is no imperative in the Bible that says we need (or even should) hold on to life at any expense - treatment should be proportional to the patient's situation. And it's okay to say it's time to go. Inside the poles of euthanasia on the one hand, and doing 'everything possible' on the other, I believe God has generously given choices regarding what treatment we want to receive as our life comes to its end."
Best points out that many decisions are made by medical practitioners, the patient and families as the life of a patient nears its end. There are matters of life and death to be considered and they involve moral choices about prolonging or allowing death to occur faster. These decisions must be made well. When the patient is of sound mind they are free to give directions to medical staff, there must be no coercion in this from family, friends or staff. But what happens when the patient is no longer mentally competent?

Dr Best suggests that 'Advance Directives' can be helpful in determining what a patient would want when it is difficult for them to make decisions when no longer mentally able. An 'Advance Directive' is an explanation of a patient's preferences for treatment should they become unable to communicate their views as death approaches.

In her paper Dr Best outlines the history of how advance directives developed, as well as important features of advance directives and potential problems to be avoided.

If you'd like to know more about this topic you can read her complete paper HERE.

You can also download a longer version of her paper 'The Ethical Dilemmas of Euthanasia' that was published in Case #25 from the CASE website HERE.

Both papers are also available as MP3 files from the CASE website HERE.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Truth in the Midst of People's Confusions about Christmas

I was amused by the above nativity scene that I photographed on Saturday in someone's front yard. The message of Christmas is actually quite simple, but it's amazing how people manage to distort the central meaning with a vast array of misused symbolism. Some of it is very funny, some unhelpful, some offensive, and other attempts are simply confused. The family that created the above scene was no doubt having some fun with Santa and the garden mulch, as well as representing the birth of Christ in their own way. In the process they had inadvertently (I assume) communicated one of the key truths of Christmas. While Santa Claus is irrelevant to the biblical meaning of Christmas, the nativity scene uses remarkably appropriate symbolism; for John's Gospel tells us that in the coming of Jesus, it was if God came down to earth and pitched a tent in all of our front yards. John 1:10-18 describes what happened on that first Christmas.

10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15(John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") 16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

When John wrote that Jesus ('The Word') came and 'dwelt among us' in verse 14, the Greek from which this was translated, literally God “pitched his tent”. This was an allusion to how God dwelt among the Israelites in the tabernacle (see Exodus 25:8-9; 33:7). God's rescue plan for his rebellious people was to send his own Son into the world. The eternal and holy Son of God took on human nature and came to live amongst humanity. He came both as God and man at the same time, and in one person. While the tent in the front yard and the 'humble' representation might not match our sense of the wonder of God, in a strange way its simplicity speaks powerfully of what God did for us.

The Bible teaches that our response to God's amazing act in sending his Son into the world, is that we should acknowledge it, repent, and believe that Jesus was and is the saviour of the world.And that his death and resurrection (which we remember at Easter) is sufficient to remove the debt we owe God due to our sin and rebellion. If we do this, then we need not fear death, for God promises us eternal life as his adopted children.  As John's gospel reminds us:
12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
My prayer is that readers of this blog might grasp something new this Christmas about the story of Christ. Whether you see yourself as a Christian or are simply curious about him, I pray that you might look afresh at the teachings of the Bible and see new truth in the simplicity of the message.


Rev John Smuts gave a great sermon titled 'The Wonder I Never Saw' on this passage at Petersham Baptist Church last Sunday.  You can listen to it HERE.

A simple explanation of the Christian faith 'Two Ways Lived' HERE

Monday 13 December 2010

Is Teacher 'Belief' Important for Educational Transformation?

I’ve been working on a book over the past year with a group of theologians and educators that is exploring what is distinctive about Christian education. We see a strong connection between faith and educational priorities and decision-making. But we live in an age where teaching is seen as a secular activity and where the teacher is meant to dispassionately separate or even suppress their personal beliefs as they teach the children of other parents. This of course wasn’t how teaching was always seen. In fact, for much of human history, teaching was seen as a deeply religious activity, that is, something guided by beliefs shaped by an understanding of an ‘Ultimate Reality’ concerning the cause, purpose and nature of life and the universe. I am of the view that it is virtually impossible for the act of teaching to be free of religious belief.

Peter Hodgson in his helpful book ‘God’s Wisdom’ reminds us that people of ancient, medieval and early modern times saw teaching as shaped by religious objects like truth, goodness, beauty and holiness, and a religious power (e.g. God) or agents (e.g. the Torah) as the ultimate teacher. While in a secular society like Australia this is seen as inappropriate by many, one might question what we end up with in the absence of foundational beliefs shaped by an understanding of God. Indeed, there is some evidence that modern theorists who see no place for God struggle to find a focus for education and tend to reach out for some religious or moral significance on which to peg or anchor the theories.

In the absence of foundational religious belief, educators at times present foundational principles, ‘conditions’ and values, which are religious in nature and while at times they are presented as based on evidence, they are just as often reflective of specific beliefs.

Martin Buber
Almost 90 years ago Martin Buber suggested that it should not surprise us that educators grapple for an inner religious impulse to be in the service of ‘One’ who can do things that they cannot. The hidden God he suggested is known in the “in between” of dialogical relationships that are at the heart of education.

We can see this tendency in the most surprising places. For example, the work of Gloria Watkins, an African American Professor of English and feminist scholar (who used the pen name ‘bell hooks’) illustrates this tendency. In her book ‘Teaching to Transgress’ (1994) she draws on Paulo Freire’s work to argue that true freedom is to “Teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students…if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.

John Dewey
In sharing Paulo Freire’s passion for the liberating power of education to offer freedom from oppression, Watkins argues that we must demonstrate that anyone can learn. Teaching she suggests “…is a performative act... that offers the space for change, invention, spontaneous shifts, that can serve as a catalyst drawing out the unique elements in each classroom.” Teaching can change people and liberate them to realise their potential and change the world. Peter Hodgson argues that this power of transformation that writers like Watkins speaks of is “a sacred power”.

While not suggesting that education is a religious activity, American philosopher, psychologist and educator John Dewey also offered echoes of the sacred as he argued for the role of education as a key to renewal and human transformation. And yet, Dewey was one of the founders of pragmatism and his work was a catalyst for varied progressive approaches to education and the championing of education’s role in ensuring democracy. He wrote the following words in his well-known work ‘Democracy and Education’ (1916):
By various agencies, unintentional and designed, a society transforms uninitiated and seemingly alien beings into robust trustees of its own resources and ideals. Education is thus a fostering, a nurturing, a cultivating, process. All of these words mean that it implies attention to the conditions of growth. We also speak of rearing, raising, bringing up - words which express the difference of level which education aims to cover. Etymologically, the word education means just a process of leading or bringing up. When we have the outcome of the process in mind, we speak of education as shaping, forming, molding activity -- that is, a shaping into the standard form of social activity.
While Dewey and others grasp for words to explain the essence of what they believe, words like “ideals” lead us to ask, on what foundations are these based? But for Freire and Dewey, it is education that liberates and sets people free, whereas the Bible teaches that only Christ can offer true emancipation and freedom (Gal 5:3). The transformation that Freire’s education or that of Dewey offers is a pale shadow of the transformation that is possible in Christ (Rom 12:1-2).
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Education is indeed about transformation, but I believe that it is much more than just the transformation of knowledge and behaviour. The Bible doesn't say a lot directly about education, but the picture that it presents of the transformed life in Christ is relevant to our thinking. The Christ-centred life is one under the direction and authority of God; and is made possible by God's grace in sending his son to take the punishment for our sins and to restore our relationship with him. The life God demands of us is one that leads to a renewing of our minds and the transforming of our life priorities. The biblical message of transformation in Romans 12:9-21 is a life of very high expectations made possible by Christ.
"9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

While not all readers of this blog will accept the message of the Bible, my challenge to all would be to consider the ultimate goals of an education system that seeks to strip away any basis of belief or faith. From what will it draw its priorities and what will be the marks of the graduate of the system of education that is created? My comments above will raise many questions. Am I saying that you have to be a Christian to be a good teacher, or is the only good school a Christian school? The short answer to both is no. But what I am saying is that what teachers believe matters, and that their beliefs have an impact on the type of education that is offered. I will return to this topic again in 2011.

Friday 3 December 2010

Seeing is Not Believing

Second Lecture to be Broadcast!

As many of the readers of this blog know Professor Jeremy Begbie presented a series of talks and performances in September for the 2010 New College Lectures at the University of New South Wales (Sydney). The series had the theme ‘Music, Modernity and God’ and addressed three sub themes – ‘Creativity’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Language’. Below you will find references and links to a variety of resources on his work.

His second lecture in the series will be broadcast this Sunday evening (5th December) at 6.00pm Sydney AEST time and again at 1.00pm Tuesday. The lecture will be broadcast on Rachael Kohn's program 'The Spirit of Things' on ABC Radio National.   International readers should be able to listen to the broadcast HERE. Please note that this second lecture will be posted on the New College website as a podcast once the program has aired.

On night two of the Lectures Prof Begbie began by posing the proposition ‘Can we be free with God in our space?’ He challenged the notion that having a creator God in our space can only lead inevitably to a battle between the two. He also suggested that music can help us to understand deep biblical concepts such as the Trinity and the concept of freedom as spoken of in John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

With wonderful clarity he suggested that at times our use of words and even images has offered almost sub-Christian explanations of deep truths like the Trinity. Music he suggested can help us to understand biblical metaphor and biblical truth in new ways. Not as a replacement for word and image but in addition to it.

I will never forget how he demonstrated ‘sympathetic resonance’ to show how two sounds do not need to be in opposition, and can indeed work together - the upper note helping the lower note to resonate – one enhancing the other, not constraining it but helping to make it the unique sound the composer meant it to be.

So too, the biblical explanation of freedom in Christ suggests that rather than taking away our freedom, God frees us from enslavement to sin and rebellion and enables us to be free to become the people he meant us to be (John 8:36). A profound truth demonstrated in the simplest of ways.

Other resources

1. Two great interviews

a) Jeremy Begbie was interviewed (at the keyboard) on Hope 103.2 radio station during the lectures and this was broadcast on the 19th September on the 'Open House' program.  You can listen to the program by downloading an MP3 file or listening online HERE.

b) ABC Radio National's Rachael Kohn interviewed Jeremy on 'The Spirit of Things' during the Lectures. This program was aired on the 26th September and can be downloaded or listened to HERE.

2. Jeremy's Case article

If you would like to read some of Jeremy Begbie’s work, the recent article he wrote for CASE is a great place to start – ‘Polyphony of life: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’. The whole issue of Case #23 in which it appears is devoted to the theme ‘Music and Theology’ and I have reviewed it HERE. The magazine can be purchased HERE.

3. My summary of the Lectures

You can read the post in which I summarised the Lectures HERE.

4. Jeremy's latest book

Jeremy Begbie’s most recent book ‘Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music’ (2007) also covers some of the content of the lectures. He also has a new book in preparation but this won’t be available for 18-24 months.

5. Other related posts

'Music, Life & Worship' (here)