The Puzzle of Roe v. Wade (Mary Zeigler, June 14, 2024, Yale University Press)

This interest in Roe is even more puzzling given the scholarly criticism the decision has received. Almost from the start, commentators across the ideological spectrum have questioned the opinion’s reasoning, which did not draw on constitutional text, history, or other conventional sources of interpretation. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who would become the Supreme Court’s most vocal defender of abortion rights, often argued that Roe went too far too fast and undermined the prochoice movement’s earlier progress. Feminists like Catharine MacKinnon described it as paternalistic and unconvincing. Originalists, starting with Robert Bork, have found it little short of horrifying. It is surprising that we care so much about a decision that is criticized by so many.

The interest is a function of the fact that it was an exercise in power politics, not jurisprudence.


Leo Tolstoy and The Silent Universe: Frank Martela relates how science destroyed the meaning of life, but helps us find meaning in life. (Frank Martela, June 2024, Philosophy Now)

What makes ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ such a powerful question that inability to deliver a satisfactory answer can push a person to the brink of a suicide?

When I started investigating the history of the question, the first surprise was how recent it actually is. We often think of it as an eternal question asked since the dawn of mankind; but actually, the first recorded usage of the phrase the ‘meaning of life’ in English took place as recently as 1834, in Thomas Carlyle’s highly influential novel Sartor Resartus: “Our Life is compassed round with Necessity; yet is the meaning of Life itself no other than Freedom, than Voluntary Force.”

Before asking the question, Carlyle’s protagonist goes through the classic steps of an existential crisis. First came loss of religious faith: “Doubt had darkened into Unbelief… shade after shade goes grimly over your soul… Is there no God, then?” Without God, the universe becomes cold and silent: “To me the Universe was all void of Life, of Purpose, of Volition: it was one huge, dead, immeasurable Steam-engine, rolling on, in its dead indifference, to grind me limb from limb.” In a mechanistic universe void of any transcendental values, nothing seems to matter any more.

For Tolstoy, the existential crisis stage was marked by being constantly tormented by the question ‘Why?’ He attended to his estate. But why? Because then his fields would produce more crops. But why should he care? Whatever he did, whatever he accomplished, sooner or later, all would be forgotten. Sooner or later, he and everyone dear to him would die and there would be, as he wrote, “nothing left but stench and worms.” Since everything vanishes and is finally utterly forgotten, what’s the point of struggling?

The silence of God drove even Him to despair.


C. S. Lewis & Maksym Kryvtsov: The Experience of War and Godforsakenness (Yuliia Vintoniv, May 20, 2024, Church Life Journal)

The multifaceted experience of Christ’s cry: the raw intensity of “cursing in fight and toiling,” and the desperate plea of “Stop! Stop it! Enough!” These evocative expressions paint a vivid picture of godforsakenness—that moment when grief plunges so deep that even faith and hope seem to waver. Yet, nestled within this existential struggle lies the possibility of kenosis, a self-emptying love we discover through Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.

Biblical commentators highlight Christ’s cry as a powerful expression of human despair and a desperate plea for help from the gathered crowd. This interpretation draws support from the Greek text, where words like βοάω (Mark) and ἀναβοάω (Matthew) signify a loud cry or an anguished outburst. Notably, Christ re-utters this cry at the very moment of his death (Matt 27:50; Mark 15:37; Lk 23:46). This echoes the cry that raised Lazarus from the tomb (Jn 11:43) and mirrors the cry accompanying the angel’s dramatic arrival in the Book of Revelation (Rev 10:3).[6] However, other exegetes offer a distinct perspective. They argue that Christ’s experience of Godforsakenness signifies him taking on not only the burden of “sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), but also the very consequence of sin itself: the agonizing separation from God and existence outside God the Father’s divine presence (cf. Gen 1-3). In this interpretation, Christ plunges into the depths of sin without succumbing to it himself.

Such exegetes simply can not accept God having become fully human.


Civilization is from the Jews (Andrew Doran, May 25, 2024, European Conservative)

Most will agree that civilized behavior, at a minimum, consists of abstaining from ritualistic torture, rape, sexual mutilation, human sacrifice, cannibalism, and related conduct. Yet for most of human history such conduct was normative and often sacralized. Habits of ritual violence and scapegoating to satisfy blood lust and communal anxiety were ubiquitous.

Human sacrifice was a near-universal practice in primitive pagan societies, even among sophisticated pagans. Greeks had elaborate religious rituals for killing their pharmokoi (scapegoats). Romans buried sacrificial victims alive in religious rituals to spare Rome from enemies like the Carthaginians, and though human sacrifice was later banned, crucifixion, mass executions, and murderous entertainment continued until banished in the Christian era. The Carthaginians, like their Phoenician and Canaanite ancestors, sacrificed their own children, as did many Mediterranean peoples. Aztec, Maya, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian civilizations all had rituals for human sacrifice.

Ritualistic violence among low pagans was less well documented but often more horrific. Christians from the medieval to modern eras, travelers like Ahmad ibn Fadlan and Samuel de Champlain, and missionaries all personally witnessed ritualized torture, murder, and cannibalism, from North America to Northern Europe and Asia. Celtic and Baltic, Germanic and Angle, Comanche and Guanche—more peoples partook than can be numbered because most have gone extinct. Ritualistic barbarity was universal.

We probably cling to the myth of the noble savage despite the evidence because the truth—that we all descend from inbred cannibals who made a sacred ritual of torture, rape, sexual mutilation, child sacrifice, and murder—is too unpleasant. We have no desire to confront our history, ourselves, or what the world looks like with different gods. The earth beneath us is a vast crime scene, and those of us walking around descend from something far worse than our simian ancestors. Apes are incapable of the tortures humans inflict on one another.

So what brought most of that savagery to an end? And why do we believe in universal moral norms that restrain violent impulse rather than indulge it? Each inquirer is free to examine cause and effect throughout history. But if by progress we mean the spread of universal concepts of human dignity, equality, and morality—rather than, say, democracy or roads or sound architecture or law—then it all began with the Hebrews. It was the Jews who gave us monotheism, universal moral standards, the notion of the human person, and much else besides. Civilizational progress came from the Abrahamic faiths—unevenly, imperfectly, and undeniably.

Sacrificial violence and scapegoating were cathartic. They satisfy blood lust and the innate sense that there is injustice, that something is wrong, and that someone ought to be held to account, hence the sacrificial victim. The Hebrews shifted the violent cathartic urge from man to creature, and Christians shifted it to bread and water.

There are of course examples of civilized conduct among high pagans, though many of these had a threshold for quotidian violence that we conveniently ignore. And there are Abrahamic peoples who, often in the name of God, inflict unspeakable violence—much of it on each other, and the worst of it on the Jews. However, in general, civilized conduct among high pagans requires a deviation from pagan norms, and uncivilized behavior among Abrahamic communities requires a deviation from their own morality. Sorting through the genealogy and authenticity of moral systems today is nearly impossible for many reasons. Suffice it to say, most of us behave very differently from our pagan ancestors—and why we do so has everything to do with Judaism.


The new science of death: ‘There’s something happening in the brain that makes no sense’ (Alex Blasdel, 2 Apr 2024, The Guardian)

Today, there is a widespread sense throughout the community of near-death researchers that we are on the verge of great discoveries. Charlotte Martial, a neuroscientist at the University of Liège in Belgium who has done some of the best physicalist work on near-death experiences, hopes we will soon develop a new understanding of the relationship between the internal experience of consciousness and its outward manifestations, for example in coma patients. “We really are in a crucial moment where we have to disentangle consciousness from responsiveness, and maybe question every state that we consider unconscious,” she told me. Parnia, the resuscitation specialist, who studies the physical processes of dying but is also sympathetic to a parapsychological theory of consciousness, has a radically different take on what we are poised to find out. “I think in 50 or 100 years time we will have discovered the entity that is consciousness,” he told me. “It will be taken for granted that it wasn’t produced by the brain, and it doesn’t die when you die.”

If the field of near-death studies is at the threshold of new discoveries about consciousness and death, it is in large part because of a revolution in our ability to resuscitate people who have suffered cardiac arrest. Lance Becker has been a leader in resuscitation science for more than 30 years. As a young doctor attempting to revive people through CPR in the mid-1980s, senior physicians would often step in to declare patients dead. “At a certain point, they would just say, ‘OK, that’s enough. Let’s stop. This is unsuccessful. Time of death: 1.37pm,’” he recalled recently. “And that would be the last thing. And one of the things running through my head as a young doctor was, ‘Well, what really happened at 1.37?’”

In a medical setting, “clinical death” is said to occur at the moment the heart stops pumping blood, and the pulse stops. This is widely known as cardiac arrest. (It is different from a heart attack, in which there is a blockage in a heart that’s still pumping.) Loss of oxygen to the brain and other organs generally follows within seconds or minutes, although the complete cessation of activity in the heart and brain – which is often called “flatlining” or, in the case of the latter, “brain death” – may not occur for many minutes or even hours.

For almost all people at all times in history, cardiac arrest was basically the end of the line. That began to change in 1960, when the combination of mouth-to-mouth ventilation, chest compressions and external defibrillation known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, was formalised. Shortly thereafter, a massive campaign was launched to educate clinicians and the public on CPR’s basic techniques, and soon people were being revived in previously unthinkable, if still modest, numbers.

As more and more people were resuscitated, scientists learned that, even in its acute final stages, death is not a point, but a process. After cardiac arrest, blood and oxygen stop circulating through the body, cells begin to break down, and normal electrical activity in the brain gets disrupted. But the organs don’t fail irreversibly right away, and the brain doesn’t necessarily cease functioning altogether. There is often still the possibility of a return to life. In some cases, cell death can be stopped or significantly slowed, the heart can be restarted, and brain function can be restored. In other words, the process of death can be reversed.

It is no longer unheard of for people to be revived even six hours after being declared clinically dead.


Judaism Is a Religion of the Heart (Shai Held, 3/22/24, WSJ)

We have all heard it a thousand times. Christianity is about love, we are told, but Judaism is about…something else, like law or justice. In a similar vein, we often hear that whereas Christianity cares about how you feel and what you believe, Judaism cares only about what you do. Judaism is a religion of action, we’ve been taught, not emotion; a religion of deeds, of rote rituals, not inwardness.

Centuries of Christian anti-Judaic polemics are not the only source of such distortions and misapprehensions; they are also part of a broader phenomenon in American Jewish life. Perhaps because of anxiety about assimilation, American Jews long ago began to define Judaism as whatever they thought Christianity was not. So because Christianity was about love, Judaism was, well, not about love. […]

The Torah issues three dramatic love commands. We are charged to love our neighbor, a fellow member of the covenant between God and Israel; to love the stranger, someone who lives among us despite not being part of our kin group and who is therefore vulnerable to exploitation; and to love God, who created the world, redeemed us from slavery, and gave us the Torah as an act of love and commitment. Later Jewish sources clarify that we have an additional obligation to love all human beings, who were created in the image of God and who are part of the same single human family as we are.


Human Dignity and the Politics of Dune : Dune: Part Two contains conservative truths about human nature the fate of political faiths. (Kody W. Cooper, 3/22/24, Law & Liberty)

As the story progresses so does Jessica’s pregnancy, and the audience sees Paul’s fully human sister develop with striking visuals inside the womb, portraying Alia from her embryonic to later stages. At one point on the threat of death, Lady Jessica is forced to ingest a poisonous substance that the Fremen call the “Water of Life,” which sends her into life-threatening convulsions. But the Fremen did not know she was pregnant. When they realize they unwittingly endangered the baby girl, they lament: What have we done!?

Rarely has the silver screen featured such a powerful, if subtle, moral condemnation of chemically-induced abortion. Dune sends a clear message that human life has dignity from the moment of conception.


Identity Satiation: Some rarely discussed phenomena can shed light on why the focus on identity and introspection has coincided with a rise of mental health issues, including identity disorders. (Brandon McMurtrie, 8 Mar 2024, Quillette)

This well-studied phenomenon—sometimes called “inhibition,” “fatigue,” “lapse of meaning,” “adaptation,” or “stimulus satiation”—applies to objects as well as language. Studies have found that compulsive staring at something can result in dissociation and derealization. Likewise, repeatedly visually checking something can make us uncertain of our perception, which results, paradoxically, in uncertainty and poor memory of the object. This may also occur with facial recognition.

Interestingly, a similar phenomenon can occur in the realm of self-perception. Mirror gazing (staring into one’s own eyes in the mirror) may induce feelings of depersonalization and derealization, causing distortions of self-perception and bodily sensation. This persistent self-inspection can result in a person feeling that they don’t recognize their own face, that they no longer feel real, that their body no longer feels the same as it once did, or that it is not their body at all. Mirror-gazing so reliably produces depersonalization and realization (and a wide range of other anomalous effects), that it can be used in experimental manipulations to trigger these symptoms for research purposes.

This effect doesn’t only occur with visual self-inspection, but with mental introspection too. I call this “identity satiation.” It has been studied for thousands of years and it is the basis of many Buddhist and other spiritual practices. It has long been understood that extended periods of introspection and self-contemplation result in a sense of identity-loss and a disorder known as “depersonalization-derealization” with eerily familiar symptoms. Depersonalization-derealization affects “your ability to recognize your thoughts, feelings and body as your own.”

It should not be surprising, then, that rumination—a persistent introspection and compulsive focus on one’s internal sensations, thoughts, or identity—is a hallmark of anxiety disorders of various kinds, including depersonalization-derealization. People who engage in compulsive introspection can become increasingly uncertain, anxious, and confused. […]

In other words, the proliferation of therapy culture and compulsive introspection, intended to encourage self-knowledge and mental well-being, may in fact be more like the poison than its antidote.

Psalm 27 as the Solution in the Struggle Over Self-Image (JOE COSATO, MARCH 04, 2024, Center for Faith & Culture)

In beholding our God, we will be captivated by his glory so that the troubles and pressures which surround us will begin to fade. When we are captivated by him, we become free to cherish, love, and delight in all that he is, forgetting ourselves and striving more and more for him.

This is the same path that Tim Keller urges us down. Avoiding too high or low view of self-image, Keller finds a middle way to wholeness and freedom: “A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person.”[1] Keller’s point resonates with Psalm 27, Freedom isn’t found in elevating or diminishing our self-image. Instead, freedom is found in forgetting ourselves! Freedom is had in being captivated by the beauty of Christ, rather than being held captive by the ideals we make for ourselves.


Another Kind of Vision: Forgiveness in Genesis (Marilynne Robinson, February 27, 2024, Commonweal)

The book of Genesis begins with the emergence of Being in a burst of light and ends with the death and burial of a bitter, homesick old man. If there is any truth to modern physics, this brings us to the present moment. Disgruntled and bewildered, knowing that we derive from an inconceivably powerful and brilliant first moment, we are at a loss to find anything of it in ourselves. God loved Jacob and was loyal to him, no less for the fact that Jacob felt the days of his life, providential as they were, as deep hardship. […]

Genesis can hardly be said to end. In it certain things are established—the nature of Creation and the spirit in which it was made; the nature of humankind; how and in what spirit the Creator God enters into relation with His human creatures. The whole great literature of Scripture, unfolding over centuries, will proceed on the terms established in this book. So Genesis is carried forward, in the law, in the psalms, in the prophets, itself a spectacular burst of light without antecedent but with a universe of consequences. This might seem like hyperbolic language to describe a text largely given over to the lives of people in many ways so ordinary that it is astonishing to find them in an ancient text. This realism by itself is a sort of miracle. These men and women saw the face of God, they heard His voice, and yet life for them came down to births and deaths, love, transgression, obedience, shame, and sorrow, everything done or borne in the course of the characterization of God, for Whom every one of us is a child of Adam, made in Hisimage. God’s bond with Jacob, truly a man of sorrows, is a radical theological statement.


REVIEW: On Muslim Democracy: Essays and Dialogue by Andrew F March and Rached Ghannouchi (Usman Butt, 3/11/24, MEMO)

Ghannouchi makes a critical shift in his political thinking from Islamism to Muslim democracy. He no longer seeks to create the ideal Islamic state. Instead, he is looking at core principles in light of democratic, pragmatic and pluralist Tunisia with all its virtues and flaws. March describes meeting Ghannouchi as being with a great living historical thinker, and insists that he should be considered in wider conversations about Muslims and democracy.

“Ghannouchi’s political theory was noteworthy for the role he imagined for an active, engaged, and deliberative democratic populus,” explains March, who argues that Ghannouchi breaks with dominant Western philosophical approaches to democracy. “Unlike Montesquieuian and Madisonian theories of the separation of powers and institutional pluralism as the ultimate check against tyranny, Ghannouchi had long stressed public virtue and public opinion.”

However, Ghannouchi also breaks with Islamic theorists. “Unlike traditional Islamic theories that placed custodianship of the law in the hands of jurists exclusively, Ghannouchi imagined the realisation of Islamic law as largely a public deliberative process involving not only experts but also ordinary citizens-believers.”

The latter idea has undergone an evolution with Ghannouchi seeing elected parliamentary members as being the check on authoritarianism. In my view, though, the “citizens-believers” bestow authority on the members of parliament, who then carryout this function, and so Ghannouchi’s current line of thinking is not a million miles away from his original line. Ghannouchi insisted on the popular will as part of the process of realising Shariah and being essential for governance, which puts him at odds with a number of Islamist thinkers.

Accepting the imperfectability of the Ummah is the whole magilla.