Truth-Telling Is Not Anti-Semitism or Holocaust Denial: A Personal Reflection

This is a follow-up to and revision of my last posting about a Zoom call that recently caused a stir on OpEdNews

Rob Kall, the editor in chief of OpEdNews (OEN) recently published a provocative edition of a weekly Zoom call among editors and contributors to his website. It was provocative because the remarks of one of the participants about fascism and the Great Holocaust caused several Jewish attendees to take offense and vehemently accuse him of holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.

Basically, the offending remarks identified Germany’s wealthy Jewish 1% as providing Hitler’s fascism with pretext for his genocide of the other 99%.  (I’ve summarized what was actually said here.) The discussion that ensued led Rob to wisely recommend caution in approaching such sensitive topics.

Rob’s recommendation reminded me of a sobering experience I had years ago in Mexico. It put me in the position of the OEN provocateur. It also caused me to reflect on the role of self-criticism that is part and parcel of the Judeo-Christian tradition and of critical thinking in general.

My Report from Israel

The experience I’m referring to came when I was invited to give a “Report from Israel” after a three-week study tour of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt sponsored by Berea College, where I taught in the Philosophy and Religion Department for 40 years. The invitation came from the Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) congregation of San Miguel de Allende.

My report was heavily influenced not only by our time spent in the Palestinian community, but by a separate visit my wife, Peggy, and I made to the Sabeel Ecumenical Center for liberation theology in Jerusalem. Scholars there connected the Palestinians’ situation with colonialism. They pointed out that ever-expanding Jewish settlements stood in blatant contravention of UN Resolution 242. It was a continuation of the European colonial system that had supposedly been abolished following World War II. In Israel-Palestine, Jewish occupation represented the familiar European settler pattern repeated throughout the former colonies. It had (Zionist) settlers from Germany, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, and elsewhere arriving unexpectedly in lands belonging for millennia to poor unsuspecting Palestinian peasants, and then confiscating their homes, fields and resources.

With all of that fresh on my mind, the thesis of my U.U. presentation was clear and unambiguous. “The real terrorists in Israel,” I said, “are the Zionists who run the country.” I didn’t consider my basically historical argument particularly original or shocking. The Sabeel Center and Noam Chomsky had been making it for years.

What I didn’t realize was that almost everyone in my audience was Jewish. (I didn’t even know about San Miguel’s large Jewish population – mostly “snowbirds” from New York City.) Nonetheless, my remarks that Sunday stimulated an engrossing extended discussion. Everyone was respectful, and the enthusiastic conversation even spilled over beyond the allotted time.

The trouble started after the head of San Miguel’s Center for Global Justice (CGJ) where Peggy and I were working at the time invited me to publish my talk as an article in San Miguel’s weekly English newspaper, Atención.

I’ll never forget what followed; it was very similar to what occurred during Rob’s OEN Zoom call. All hell broke loose:

  • A barrage of angry letters flooded the Atención pages for the next two weeks and more.
  • As a result, Atención threatened to cancel the column space set aside for the CGJ each week.
  • San Miguel’s Bibliotheca (library) talked about ending the CGJ’s access to meeting rooms there.
  • My article was removed from Atención’s archives.
  • Someone from the AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) phoned my provost at Berea College reporting me for my inflammatory article, asking whether I really taught there and if my credentials were genuine.
  • The CGJ’s leadership was forced to do some back-pedaling distancing itself from me and my remarks.
  • They lit candles of reconciliation at a subsequent U.U. meeting begging forgiveness from the community and absolution for that mad man from Berea.
  • The guiding assumption in all of this was that my argument was patently false.

In other words, an article that should have stimulated critical thinking and discussion (with CGJ activists leading the way as a voice for Palestine’s voiceless) was met instead with denial, dismissal, and apology.

Biblical Perspective

Of course, I know that criticizing Zionists for their treatment of Palestinians is quite different from the holocaust denial that some on the OEN call perceived a few weeks ago.

It is also probably futile for members of the goyim like me to comment on the topic. Frankly, I’m unqualified to do so, because:

  • My relatives and loved ones weren’t the ones slaughtered in Hitler’s crematoria and gas chambers.
  • They weren’t among the peasants, laborers, shopkeepers, mothers, fathers, grandparents and children whose lives were cruelly wasted and destroyed by the Third Reich.
  • Instead, as Elie Wiesel has pointed out again and again, my Christian religious cohorts were the very ones who incinerated Jews during the week, went to confession on Saturday, were given absolution, received Holy Communion on Sunday, and then returned to their gruesome work the following day.

Yet, it must be acknowledged that my religious tradition is also specifically Judeo-Christian. Its central figure is the Jewish prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, who was a reformer of Judaism and had no intention of founding a new religion. Jesus was not a Christian; from his birth to his death, he was a proud and faithful Jew.

In a sense, then, especially as a theologian in this tradition, I too am somehow a spiritual Semite. (Whether they realize it or not, all Christians are.) Additionally, what separates Zionists from other contemporary neo-colonizers is their claimed religious identity. So, to ignore the role of religion here overlooks the proverbial elephant in the room.  

Recognizing the elephant gives license to say that what really happened in the Zoom conversation and in reaction to my remarks in San Miguel mirrored exactly the traditional dynamic between Jewish prophets like Amos and Jesus and their contemporaries. Both Amos and Jesus (as typical Jewish prophets):

  • Denounced their nation’s elite in no uncertain terms
  • Predicted that their crimes would lead to destruction of the entire nation
  • Were vilified as unpatriotic, self-hating Jews
  • Were threatened with ostracism, imprisonment and death
  • And were often (as in the case of Jesus) assassinated for their prophetic words      

Put otherwise, the Jewish prophets were social critics – the kind of clear-eyed seers who weren’t afraid to blame the powerful in their own nation for crimes that brought harm, ruin, death and destruction to the entire nation. The prophets did not blame the widows, orphans, foreigners, peasants, unemployed, beggars, prostitutes, or the hobbled and ill. Instead, they unstintingly impugned the equivalents of Germany’s Jewish 1% while recognizing that the crimes of those few inevitably brought ruin, pain, exile and death even to the innocent among their own people. It’s simply the way the world works. The blameworthy crimes of the powerful cause suffering, death and massacre for the innocent majority. Pointing that out is simply telling the truth.

Conclusion

Despite what I said about being unqualified to comment on words that seem cruel and insensitive to victimized Jews, I do know something about being tarred with a broad brush. As a Roman Catholic and former priest, I could easily be accused of being part of a worldwide pedophilic ring represented by the priesthood and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. It would even be true to say that the ring has connections to a still wider movement of pedophiles among the world’s elite whose iceberg tip revealed (e.g. in the Epstein scandal) connections with the CIA, mi5, mi6, Mossad, and Mafias of various types throughout the world.

All of that would be true even though I never personally encountered any hint of pedophilia in all my more than 20 years preparing for and direct involvement in the Roman Catholic priesthood. It remains true despite the innumerable saints, martyrs, and holy men and women I’ve known personally and from the otherwise hallowed history of the Catholic Church.

The point here is that as an American, and much more as a former priest, I’ve been deeply associated with horrendous institutional delinquencies that I’d rather not discuss, because they hit too close to my spiritual and cultural identity. In other words, as both a Roman Catholic and a U.S. citizen, I find in my own community, uncomfortable truths that parallel the “accusations” against the Jewish 1% in Hitler’s Germany and against contemporary Zionists. I feel resentment at the very mention of such truths.

Nonetheless, and despite my hurt feelings, truth remains truth. And in the spirit of Amos and Jesus, I must face the facts and draw appropriate conclusions. Doing so draws me out of parochial consciousness and self-defensive denial. It creates room for the dialog and recognitions that might head off further community disaster.

As Paulo Freire puts it in The Politics of Education, all critical thinking begins with self-criticism.

Anti-Semitism, Holocaust Denial, Hurt Feelings: The Bible’s Prophetic Tradition

Rob Kall, the editor in chief of OpEdNews (OEN) recently published a provocative edition of a weekly Zoom call among editors and contributors to his website. It was provocative because the remarks of one of the participants about fascism and the Jewish holocaust caused several other attendees to take offense and vehemently accuse him of holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. The discussion that ensued led Rob to wisely recommend caution in approaching such sensitive topics.

In my capacity as a theologian of the specifically Judeo-Christian Tradition, the conversation made me realize that the type of criticism that offended so many on the OEN call was entirely biblical. It was consonant with the tradition of Jewish prophets like Amos and Jesus of Nazareth who because they denounced the rich and powerful among their countrymen, were roundly accused of being self-hating Jews.

My hope is that summarizing the offending remarks on the one hand along with the outraged responses to them on the other, might highlight the value of the biblical tradition in helping us transcend national and institutional loyalties that prevent frank self-criticism and acceptance of historical fact.

Offending Remarks

Begin by considering the provocative remarks in question. In paraphrase, they ran as follows:

“I never use the word ‘fascist,’” the provocateur said. “I never use the word ‘holocaust’ either. That’s because the simple use of those words implies that one accepts the assumptions of Zionists and right-wing Jews. I refuse to do that, because the words suggest that in the 1930s, the German Jews were entirely innocent, when they weren’t – not by a long shot.

“I mean, no one hates any person or group without reason. For instance, the Shylock character in the “Merchant of Venice” wasn’t simply a product of Shakespeare’s imagination. Shylock had a foundation in reality – in people’s experience.  And like Shylock, elite Jews in Germany gave Germans plenty of reason for hating them. In turn, Hitler used that legitimate animosity towards the few to tar all Jews – even the poorest and most exploited – with the same well-justified brush.

“Let me explain.

“The fact is that the period from the end of the 19th century to WWI was a very prosperous time. Working class expectations for social mobility were on the rise. However, to move up the social ladder – to become an attorney, for instance — one had to belong to certain clubs (like guilds) in order to get clients. Wealthy Jews who were the bankers, attorneys and physicians, controlled the clubs in question; and they wouldn’t let working class people in. That created a lot of bitterness towards Jews in general.

“Before that, under feudalism and until the end of the First World War, the people who owned the land were the nobles, the clergy, the burghers and yes, the Jews. Wealthy Jews were not peasants. They had privileges. For instance, they could carry weapons. They also bought leases to the estates of the nobles (sometimes the size of entire counties). They managed those estates for a profit.

“In other words, wealthy Jews were the interface between the peasants and the nobles.

“At the same time, the nobles mistrusted the Jews I’m describing because (again) they were the bankers, attorneys, and physicians. The nobles resented having to trust the Jews for all those essential services. For their part, the peasants mistrusted the Jews just referenced because they were always in debt to them as their landlords.

“Then following the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles, Germany experienced tremendous inflation that drastically devalued the German mark. The Jews were blamed for that too because they controlled banking. The fact is that Jewish bankers engineered the inflation to bring down the actual costs of repaying the debts demanded by the Versailles treaty. That served the interests of the wealthiest Germans who, like the wealthy today, kept their money not in savings accounts but in stocks, bonds, and real estate. Unlike working class savings accounts, the value of stocks, bonds, and real estate float with inflation. So, inflation helped the rich Germans stay rich, but completely wiped out the country’s workers, both Jewish and non-Jewish. 

“Finally, there came the Great Crash of 1929 that impoverished everyone. So, by the time Hitler came to power in 1933, the Germans, the Poles, the Hungarians and the Austrians were all ready to explode. And, of course, Hitler lit the match with his identification of all Jews as the root of their problems.”

Defensive Responses

Responses mainly from Jewish participants in Rob’s Zoom call came thick and fast.

They included the following:

  • I disagree. People do in fact hate individuals and groups for no reason at all. And Jews in Hitler’s Germany represent a case in point. They were completely innocent. To hint otherwise is simply anti-Semitic and leads to holocaust denial.
  • I don’t think there were very many Jews who managed property for the feudal lords. Yes, there may have been a few Jews who had a lot of power, and there is something to the Rothschilds, and now we have the Zionists that I absolutely hate. However . . .
  • You’re talking about Jews as if they were somehow monolithic. Most Jews were poor.
  • Yes, my own ancestors were holocaust victims and I assure you that they had nothing to do with what you’ve just described.
  • My grandmother was dragged off to Auschwitz with her husband and three children. Their entire village was leveled.
  • I’ve heard these tired arguments before – you know: the Jews keep to themselves, they wear odd clothes, speak their own language, etc., etc. It’s all part of anti-Semitism. I don’t buy any of it.
  • You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re nothing but an anti-Semitic holocaust denier. You’re basically saying that “The Jews deserved what they got in the holocaust. That makes you uncivilized; you should get off this call.”
  • I hope you’re recording all of this, Rob, so we can go back and see who’s misrepresenting what.

Biblical Perspective

Of course, it’s probably futile for a member of the goyim like me to comment on the dialog just summarized. Frankly, I’m unqualified to do so. My relatives and loved ones weren’t the ones slaughtered in Hitler’s crematoria and gas chambers. They weren’t among the peasants, laborers, shopkeepers, mothers, fathers, grandparents and children whose lives were cruelly wasted and destroyed by the Third Reich.

Instead, as Elie Wiesel has pointed out again and again, my Christian religious cohorts were the very ones who incinerated Jews during the week, went to confession on Saturday, were given absolution, received Holy Communion on Sunday, and then returned to their gruesome work the following day.

Yet, it must be acknowledged that my religious tradition is also specifically Judeo-Christian. Its central figure is the Jewish prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, who was a reformer of Judaism and had no intention of founding the new religion that ended up defaming Jews as God killers – and who finished by supporting Hitler’s genocide. Jesus was not a Christian; from his birth to his death, he was a proud and faithful Jew.

In a sense, then, especially as a theologian in this tradition, I too am somehow a spiritual Semite. Whether they realize it or not, all Christians are. So, in that capacity, please indulge the attempt that follows to shed some biblical light on the dialog centralized here.

What really happened in the Zoom conversation just summarized mirrored exactly the traditional dynamic between on the one hand Jewish prophets like Amos and Jesus, and on the other, their contemporaries, especially among the elite in Amos’ 8th century BCE and in Jesus’ first century of our era. Both Amos and Jesus (as typical Jewish prophets):

  • Denounced their nation’s elite in no uncertain terms
  • Predicted that their crimes would lead to destruction of the entire nation
  • Were vilified as unpatriotic, self-hating Jews
  • Were threatened with ostracism, imprisonment and death
  • And were often (as in the case of Jesus) assassinated for their prophetic words      

Put otherwise, the Jewish prophets were social critics – the kind of clear-eyed seers who weren’t afraid to blame the powerful in their own nation for crimes that brought harm, ruin, death and destruction to the entire nation. The prophets did not blame the widows, orphans, foreigners, peasants, unemployed, beggars, prostitutes, or the hobbled and ill. Instead, they unstintingly impugned the equivalents of Germany’s Jewish one percent while recognizing that the crimes of those few inevitably brought ruin, pain, exile and death even to the innocent among their own people. It’s simply the way the world works.

For his part, Amos criticized the wealthy for breaking covenant with Yahweh, their God, the traditional protector of widows, orphans and resident non-Jews. Instead of caring for the poor, the one-percenters, he said, lay on beds of ivory, lounged idly on soft couches, drank the finest wines, anointed themselves with precious perfumes and oils, lived in their luxurious summer houses while underpaying and overcharging the peasant poor. They victimized everyone, even the most innocent. Such crimes brought harm, the prophet warned, to everyone, even the most innocent. Once again, that was simply the law of cause and effect.

Jesus did something similar under the Roman Empire. His prophetic criticism was directed not towards his people’s poor majority; he didn’t blame them. No, he unrelentingly criticized their Jewish exploiters. However, at the same time he knew that the crimes of those powerful would cause untold suffering for everyone. So, he predicted the absolute destruction of Jerusalem where forty years after his death more than one million innocent Jews were slaughtered and nearly 100,000 of his blameless compatriots were captured and enslaved.

To repeat, that’s the way the world works. The blameworthy crimes of the powerful cause suffering, death and massacre for the innocent majority.

Conclusion

Despite what I said about being unqualified to comment on words that seem cruel and insensitive to victimized Jews, I do know something about being tarred with a broad brush. As a Roman Catholic and former priest, I could easily be accused of being part of a worldwide pedophilic ring represented by the priesthood and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. It would even be true to say that the ring has connections to an even wider movement of pedophiles among the world’s elite whose iceberg tip revealed (e.g. in the Epstein scandal) connections with the CIA, mi5, mi6, Mossad, and Mafias of various types throughout the world.

All of that would be true even though I never personally encountered any hint of pedophilia in all my more than 20 years preparing for and direct involvement in the Roman Catholic priesthood. It remains true despite the innumerable saints, martyrs, and holy men and women I’ve known personally and from the otherwise hallowed history of the Catholic Church.

The point here is that as an American, and much more as a former priest, I’ve been deeply associated with horrendous institutional delinquencies that I’d rather not discuss, because they hit too close to my spiritual and cultural identity. In other words, I find in my own community, uncomfortable truths that parallel the “accusations” against the Jewish 1% in Hitler’s Germany. I feel resentment at their very mention.

Nonetheless, and despite my hurt feelings, truth remains truth. And in the spirit of Amos and Jesus, I must face the facts and draw appropriate conclusions. Doing so draws me out of ghettoized consciousness and self-defensive denial. It creates room for self-criticism, dialog and recognitions that might head off further community disaster.

What Amy Coney Barrett Missed in Pope Francis’ “Fratelli Tutti”

The Catholic Church returned to national focus over the last month. During that period, two distinct versions of Catholicism have taken center stage.

The first was the Republican, pre-Vatican II Catholicism of Judge Amy Coney Barrett who was interviewed for a lifetime position on the bench of the nation’s Supreme Court (SCOTUS).

The second version of Catholicism displayed last month was the post-Vatican II form of Pope Francis who pointedly issued his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (“Brothers All”) exactly one month to the day before our country’s general election on November 3rd.

Let’s take a look at both forms of Catholicism for purposes of highlighting aspects of Pope Francis’ encyclical that many commentators have overlooked and that Judge Barrett explicitly rejects.

Judge Coney Barrett’s Catholicism

Judge Coney Barrett’s form of Catholicism is the one which (thanks to a pair of reactionary, restorationist popes – John Paul II and Benedict XVI) most non-Catholics (even 55 years after the Second Vatican Council) still identify with the church of Rome. It comes off as a weird, backward-looking cult mirrored in Catholic organizations like Opus Dei and the People of Praise fundamentalists long embraced by the SCOTUS nominee.

This version of Catholicism insists that men are the heads of households, and that women are their husband’s “handmaids.” Its spiritual practices reflect nostalgia for Latin Masses and ostentatious clerical costuming. The practices centralize specifically Catholic customs like abstention from meat on Fridays, reciting the rosary, and rejecting the salvific value of Protestant denominations and, of course, non-Christian religions. In its latest incarnation, this type of Catholicism goes so far as to preach a Catholic version of the prosperity gospel celebrated by white American evangelicals.     

However, Judge Coney Barrett’s Catholicism goes even further. As a dyed in the wool Trump supporter, hers represents a particularly Republican understanding. It focuses on reproductive issues. This means that despite the Church’s pedophilic scandals, it continues to grant to discredited celibate males the moral authority to pronounce on issues such as abortion, same sex marriage, in vitro fertilization, and contraception. Under some versions, it would also refuse communion to divorcees. (Of course, none of these concerns are addressed anywhere in the Bible).

Meanwhile, as a Republican supporter of President Trump, the faith of the Supreme Court nominee allows her to endorse the extreme nationalism reflected in Trump’s MAGA preoccupations. This entails underwriting anti-immigrant policies including refugee concentration camps, baby jails and separation of families at our southern border. It rejects Black Lives Matter and the African American community’s call for reparations while valuing blue lives as more important than the victims of police violence. It supports U.S. wars, increased military spending, torture, extra-judicial executions, and capital punishment. It denies anthropogenic climate change. Its model of God’s Kingdom is an economic technocracy, where the country is run “like a business.” Hence, it supports privatized, for-profit health care. Its overall economic approach is top-down, since it believes that the wealthy rather than the poor deserve subsidies, bailouts and outright welfare on the disproven theory that such government largesse might eventually trickle down to the less deserving.

Pope Francis’ Catholicism

All of Judge Coney Barrett’s specifically Republican understandings of Catholicism are not only directly contradicted by Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti; they also ignore the Church’s long history of social justice instruction that stretches back to at least 1891 and Leo XIII’s publication of Rerum Novarum (“Of Revolutionary Change”).

Even more, Coney Barrett’s restorationist version of Catholicism directly contradicts the teachings of Vatican II which remains the official teaching of the Catholic Church. In a sense, then, her People of Praise understanding represents what has traditionally been classified as “heretical” belief.

With all of this in mind, consider the teachings of Fratelli Tutti on the essence of Christianity, its relationship to other world religions including Islam, and the position it takes on immigration, capitalism, populism, violence, war, capital punishment, and abortion. (All references below are to the encyclicals numbered paragraphs.)

Then imagine how different Ms. Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing responses might have been – and their effect on national consciousness – had she embraced the official positions of the Church with which she so insistently claims to identify, but whose authoritative teachings she and other Republicans evidently reject. As delineated in Fratelli Tutti, those teachings address:

  • The Essence of Christianity: Pope Francis finds the essence of Christian faith captured in Jesus’ parable of “The Good Samaritan” to which the pontiff devotes an entire chapter entitled “A Stranger on the Road.” In Jesus’ story, a non-believer rescues a victim of violence who has been ignored by religious professionals. The rescuing Samaritan is a humanist, Francis says, who recognizes that everyone is his neighbor (86). That recognition represents the heart of Christian faith.
  • Christianity and Islam: In fact, according to Pope Francis, all the great religions of the world properly understood acknowledge this truth. Francis makes this point in the final chapter of Fratelli Tutti, which he entitles “Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World.” Moreover, throughout the encyclical, the Pope goes out of his way to underscore this point precisely about Islam. He does so by repeatedly referencing his collaboration with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb when they met in Abu Dhabi in 2019 (5, 136, 192, 285). Their joint declaration affirmed that all human beings are brothers and sisters with the same rights, duties, and dignity (5).
  • Immigration: That dignity along with accompanying rights and duties belong to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers (37-41). Borders are of secondary importance in the face of human need (99, 121, 125). We must never forget that immigrants’ needs are often generated by not only by their own unrealistic expectations, but also by wars, persecution, natural catastrophes, drug traffickers, human traffickers, coyotes, loss of culture, dangers of their journeys, and separation from children (38). As citizens of a world commons, immigrants deserve a new home even when they are simply seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families (36).
  • Immigration Reform: Indispensable steps in response to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers include: (a) increasing and simplifying the granting of visas, (b) adopting programs of individual and community sponsorship, (c) opening humanitarian corridors for the most vulnerable refugees, (d) providing immigrants with suitable and dignified housing, (e) guaranteeing personal security for them and access to basic services, (f) insuring adequate consular assistance and the right to retain personal identity documents, (g) affording equitable access to the justice system, (h) creating the possibility of opening bank accounts and the guarantee of the minimum needed to survive, (i) offering freedom of movement and the possibility of employment, (j) protecting minors and ensuring their regular access to education, (k) providing for programs of temporary guardianship or shelter, (l) guaranteeing religious freedom, (m) promoting integration into society, (n) supporting the reuniting of families, (o) preparing local communities for the process of integration (p).
  • Capitalism: Yes, the world belongs to everyone – but to the poor primarily. The right to private property is not absolute or inviolable. It can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of common ownership. Its purpose is to serve the common good (120). If anyone lacks what is necessary to live with dignity, it’s because another more powerful or dishonest person has stolen it. Put otherwise, the world’s poor are victims of robbery no less than the one saved by the Good Samaritan (119).
  • Populism: In today’s world populist politicians address such victimhood by presenting themselves as populists. Unhealthy populism appeals to the lowest and most selfish inclinations of certain sectors of the population. It vilifies rather than helps society’s most marginalized. Genuine populism is guided by a clear vision of human dignity and the common good. It starts from addressing the needs of the least powerful (159, 167, 188, 193, 194, 215, 235).
  • Violence:  Ignoring the poor inevitably leads to violence (219). For instance, disrespecting the rights of indigenous people is itself violent (220). Those whose rights and dignity have been violated should not simply roll over before their oppressors. They have to strenuously, but non-violently defend themselves (241). This means that in dealing with injustices committed on both sides of a given conflict, we must avoid false equivalency. Violence perpetrated by the state using its structures and power is far worse than that of groups resisting excessive use of official power (253). Religious violence comes from misinterpretation of traditional texts. But it is also connected to policies linked to hunger, poverty, injustice, and oppression (283).
  • Reparations: Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting, denying, relativizing, or concealing the injustices of exploiters (250). The Shoah must never be forgotten (247). The same is true of the crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as those of the slave trade, other persecutions, or today’s ethnic slaughters (248). “For God’s sake!” the pope exclaims, we cannot simply turn history’s page. “For God’s sake, No!” (249). Impunity offends the spirit of forgiveness itself (241, 252). In fact, true forgiveness demands that criminals at the highest-level answer for their crimes (241).
  • War: Given the destructiveness of modern weaponry, the only viable policy option is “War Never Again” (258). Nuclear weapons must be eliminated completely. After all, they are incapable of responding to the challenges of terrorism, cybersecurity, environmental problems, and poverty. The trillions now spent on weapons must be diverted into ending hunger and fostering development. The hard work of diplomacy and dialog informed by considerations of the common good and of international law as outlined in the UN Charter represent the only acceptable means of resolving inevitable international conflicts (262).
  • Capital Punishment: The death penalty is absolutely inadmissible in civilized society; it must be abolished worldwide (263). All Christians are called not only to oppose capital punishment, but to improve conditions in prisons whose point is to reform and reintegrate even the guiltiest of criminals back into human society (265, 269). Hence, even lifetime imprisonment (a concealed form of the death penalty) is abhorrent (268).
  • Abortion: Abortion goes virtually unmentioned in Fratelli Tutti. The closest Pope Francis comes to mentioning it occurs in his first chapter section under the heading “A ‘Throwaway’ world.” There he simply observes how we waste food, disposable products and “useless” people like the unborn and elderly (18).

Conclusion    

The Second Vatican Council’s lead document, Lumen Gentium — its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – affirms that the Pope’s “supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to decisions made by him” and that “loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given” to his teaching (Lumen Gentium, 25). In other words, Fratelli Tutti is not simply an expression of one man’s opinion. Rather, along with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, it represents the official teaching of the Catholic Church.  

Regardless of what one might think of such top-down declarations of external authority, the fact remains that the encyclical carries far more weight than contradictory interpretations formulated by rich Republican politicians led by President Trump and embraced by his acolytes such as Amy Coney Barrett. In fact, as noted above, there is no more apt juridical term for such uninformed dissent than “heresy.”

Even more to the point, Fratelli Tutti’s affirmation that the world belongs to everyone, that it should be run like a family rather than like a business , that human dignity must be preserved at all costs, that private property must serve the common good, that the poor have been robbed, that reparations must be assessed, and that the supposed sanctity of borders must be subordinated to human welfare, all reaffirm not only the Church’s long-standing social justice tradition, but the very teachings of Jesus himself and of the Judeo-Christian tradition as a whole.

Imagine if Judge Barrett had been able to make those points at last week’s hearings.  

80th Birthday Reflections Part 7: Priestly Disorder (continued)

St. Columban’s Seminary, Dalgan, Ireland where in 1970 & ’71 I took part in a General Chapter of the Society of St. Columban

[Before I continue with my 80th birthday reflections about my political development, I must add a brief account of a very important event in the process that eventually led me to leave the priesthood I had prepared so long to enter. The event I describe below gave me an insight into the inner workings of the missionary organization I had joined (the Society of St. Columban) — at the highest level.]

As indicated in previous postings, the changes represented by Second Vatican Council reforms introduced into my life a certain alienation from the Society of St. Columban, from traditional ideas of the priesthood and from my vow of celibacy. My immediate superior’s unfounded accusations recounted in part 5 of these octogenarian reflections were central to the process.

The feelings I described were compounded, when the Columbans convoked their post-Vatican II “Chapter” (leadership assembly) in 1970. The idea was to gather together the group’s leaders to determine how the Society of St. Columban might change in the light of Vatican II documents such as “The Church in the Modern World.”

The leadership in question was comprised of ex officio members such as our current Superior General and his Council. At large members were also either appointed or elected by the group which at its height had about 1000 priest-members. The majority delegates to the Chapter turned out to more than 60 years of age.

With that in mind and because of the objections of younger members, a compromise was reached to allow invitation as well of one representative each from Irish, American, and Australian members of the Society 30 years of age and under. Because of their junior status, the “young” invitees, it was determined, would have voice at the Chapter, but no vote. Joined by two bright counterparts from Ireland and Australia, I was elected to represent U.S. juniors.

The voice without vote restriction had all of us feeling like outsiders from the get-go.

My own alienation was brought to the fore by the ex officio presence of my rector from Rome. Soon after my arrival at the Chapter’s venue (the Columban major seminary in Navan, Ireland about 30 miles from Dublin), I learned that he had wasted no time before conveying to others my status as suspect and “dangerous.”

And why was I considered dangerous? It was because of positions I had taken on issues hotly debated at the time. In retrospect, the positions seem quite tame. But when I wrote them up in an “Introductory Note on Youth Representation,” even my Irish and Australian youth delegate counterparts thought them “too polarizing” to share with the Chapter at large.

The paper contrasted pre-Vatican II positions with post-conciliar approaches to church, mission, sacraments, priesthood and authority. Here’ the gist of what I wrote. Now, it almost seems laughable that such tame positions were considered polarizing:

  • Church: Pre-Vatican II theology, I noted, thought of the Catholic Church as an organization to which everyone must belong in order to save their souls – i.e. to get into heaven. There was “no salvation outside the church.” By contrast, the Post-Vatican II position envisioned the church as an often-small prophetic community at the service of the world itself – helping it towards the fully human life of love exemplified in the example and teaching of Jesus the Christ. Even a very this-worldly life based on self-giving constitutes the meaning of “salvation.”
  • Mission: According to older understandings that had shaped the Society of Saint Columban, our work as missionaries meant saving pagans in China, Korea, the Philippines, and Fiji by baptizing as many as possible into the Catholic Church without which it was impossible for them to get to heaven. In the newer view, quantity of membership took a backseat to quality of witness. And witness meant replicating Jesus’ life of healing, forgiveness and self-sacrifice – for the benefit of the larger world.
  • Sacraments: In the theology imbibed by most members of the Chapter I attended, the sacraments were rituals that made human events like birth, marriage, sickness and death holy. The faithful needed sacraments to turn such secular events into acts of supernatural worth. However, the newer vision saw those human events as already holy simply in virtue of God’s creative order. On this understanding, sacraments became occasions to celebrate life itself and the transcendent dimension found in every human birth, marriage, visiting of the sick, in every act of forgiveness and sharing – whether they might be formally celebrated or not.
  • Priests: Pre-Vatican II theology understood priests as men set apart – almost of a caste different from lay people. Post Vatican II theology understood priesthood as one function or charism among many others within the Christian community – e.g. counsellor, teacher, administrator, musician or prophet. 
  • Authority: In the world of my inculturation, authority was given to administrators. Obedience was a supreme virtue for the rest of us. According to the old view, the ideal superior was a “sound man” who was safe, took no chances and “runs a tight ship.” After the Second Vatican Council, authority is earned, not conferred. Here community leaders are listeners who articulate a community’s consciousness of itself.  They enable rather than direct. They are forward-looking, innovate and take chances. When mistakes are made, they are freely admitted.

I conveyed my initial impression of the Chapter in my journal when I wrote soon after my arrival at the end of September: “Reading over the Chapter publications and talking with various people here make it awfully hard to identify with the Society and with the approaches of this Chapter. It makes me wonder what my own future in an outfit like this can possibly be. I’m estranged; I really am.”

Meanwhile, I also noticed that the Irish seminary itself seemed behind the times. True, I hit it off well with the seminarians taking part in field day competitions and playing basketball on the outside courts. They even wanted me to play on the seminary team.

However, a November (1970) letter to my constituents had me making the following observation regarding the stage of renewal in our seminary in Ireland: “As for the stage of seminary renewal here. . . It’s about up to where we in the States were in the ’64-’66 period. Or maybe even a little before that. . .The difficulty with renewal here (in the seminary and in the Irish church in general) seems to be this: here the church is more or less coextensive with the culture. . . The Irish church can go on speaking in archaic terms, it can go on doing rather meaningless things and still have the impression that it’s communicating the Good News in a meaningful way to the world. However, it’s not. And, after speaking with young people here (outside the seminary), it has become clear to me that this kind of illusion will not be long-lasting. The young are being alienated here too, sad to say.”

The break I predicted came in 1973 with Ireland’s integration into the European Union and with the pedophilia scandals of the late 1980s. Together, they changed everything. Entry into the EU brought the secularization and eventually the Thatcherism and Reaganism of the 1980s that centralized money, entrepreneurism, and consumption just as they did elsewhere in the western world. And, of course, the pedophilia crisis completely discredited the clergy and hierarchy.

The changes introduced were so profound that by 2018 – the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Society of St. Columban – the head of the Society characterized Ireland’s culture as “post-Christian.” Hearing those words from a Columban superior was shocking to me even at the age of 78.

During the two Chapter sessions I attended in Ireland (1970 and ’71 — each lasting several months) all of that was only vaguely foreshadowed. But it certainly was part of the disorder I’ve been trying to explain in these 80th birthday reflections. My highly ordered world was disintegrating at very deep levels that were intellectual, ecclesiastical, very personal, and eventually highly political.

Jesus & Rent Strikes: Violent or Non-Violent?

Readings for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 5: 1-7; Psalm 80: 9-20; Philemon 4: 6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

During the COVID-19 hiatus, I watched in its entirety Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s PBS production “The Vietnam War.” The series has ten episodes, each about an hour and a half long.

I bring it up because the viewing experience has relevance to this morning’s Gospel reading which describes resistance to a landlord system similar to the one that provoked Vietnam’s peasantry to take up arms.

Closer to home, the parable is also relevant to our current Corona Virus context, where unemployed renters will soon be required either to pay their rents or risk eviction. Their dilemma, like those of Jesus’ audience 2000 years ago is whether to pay those rents or to join a general rent strike. Additionally, Jesus asks to what extent citizen violence might be justified as a strategic option as they resist paying rent.

Ironically, both the Burns and Novick film series and this morning’s gospel obscure the questions just posed. The producers of “The Vietnam War” avoid the rent question altogether. As for Matthew the evangelist, he completely allegorizes Jesus’ parable to similarly obscure its central question about absentee landlordism, rent strikes, and the role of violence in social change.

Vietnam & Rent Strikes

Let’s begin with Burns and Novick. The official story they tell is that of a geopolitical struggle between China and Russia on the one hand and the U.S. and France on the other. So, the film’s narrative is dominated by maps depicting huge swaths of geography (China and Russia) looming menacingly over Vietnam. The maps indicate that Vietnam along with the rest of “French” Indochina (including Laos and Cambodia) were threatened by monolithic communist takeover.

U.S. officials one after another describe their alarming “domino theory” contending that if Vietnam were “lost” to communism, so would Laos, Cambodia, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and the rest of Far East. It wouldn’t be long before Ho Chi Minh’s forces would be landing in Hawaii and then in California.

So, viewers are asked to believe that in the footage showing huge numbers of Vietnamese civilians (including the elderly, women and children) moving equipment, building bridges, and ferrying supplies, we are simply witnessing mindless agents of China and Russia. The Vietnamese were somehow persuaded to risk their lives (four million of them were killed in the conflict) to advance the totalitarian cause of Sino-Soviet world conquest.

As John Pilger and others have written, that simply doesn’t stand to reason. For one thing, there was no monolithic alliance between Russia and China. Any semblance of that lay in ruins between the years 1960 and 1989.

That is, for the Vietnamese, what they call “The American War” (1960-75) could not have been fought on behalf of China or Russia. Rather, the conflict represented a struggle against colonial rule by French and American forces. It was also fought against a rent system that had peasants paying predatory tribute to absentee landlords. The latter were holed up in Saigon along with other beneficiaries of deteriorating colonial arrangements including its dysfunctional army, government officials, and participants in the supporting infrastructure.

Meanwhile, outside of Saigon, the peasants’ revolutionary army (the Viet Cong) defended farmers against rent collection. They had the peasantry stop traveling to Saigon to pay their land fees. This, they said, would force representatives of the landlord class to venture out into territory controlled by the Viet Cong to collect their money or in-kind revenue. And there in the countryside they would be duly slaughtered.

In other words, patriotism and the peasants’ immediate economic interest, not geo-political considerations, provided their main motivations for resistance to a colonial rental system that had long exploited them and caused their families to starve.

Jesus & Rent Strikes

All of this has relevance to this morning’s Gospel episode where Jesus tells a story that parallels the situation I’ve just described. Jesus and his audience too were living under an imperial system not unlike Vietnam’s. The Romans controlled Palestine using tactics highly similar to those of the French and Americans in Indochina. The system’s administrators, armies, police, and hangers-on were all holed up in Jerusalem protected by Roman legions.

Meanwhile, absentee administrators and landlords kept the province’s peasants impoverished by exacting rent and taxes that the farmers detested. The latter resisted accordingly – at times in Israel’s history forming armies of resistance similar to the Viet Cong. One of those militias was known as the Zealots.

In any case, the parable centralized in this morning’s gospel has Jesus problematizing a situation of violent peasant conflict over rent collection. In so doing, Jesus, no doubt, provoked a spirited discussion among his listeners about colonialism, landlordism, and about violent vs. non-violent resistance.

Jesus’ story goes that an absentee landlord has rented out his vineyard. Peasants are resisting payment. So, the man in the Big House sends out no doubt well-armed rent collectors. After the first ones are murdered by the farmers, he sends out what was probably a small army of “enforcers.” But the peasants successfully defeat them too. Eventually, the landlord gets more serious. His own son heads up a collection force probably much larger and better armed than its predecessors. But surprisingly, the renters wipe them out as well. They assume ownership of the land in question presumably under some ancient version of the revolutionary slogan “Land to the tiller.”

That said, the Master articulates the problem that certainly provoked spirited discussion in his audience. “What will happen,” Jesus asks, “to the revolutionaries demonized as ‘wicked’ by the landowning class?”

No doubt, some in Jesus audience would say they weren’t “wicked” at all, but heroic champions of the exploited. They would applaud their armed resistance. Others though joining the applause, might point out that the peasant victory would be short-lived and doomed.

These more cautious discussants would hold that the better-armed and trained forces of the landowners and their Roman sponsors would eventually prevail with disastrous results for the entire province of Palestine. Accordingly, they might advise nonviolent resistance to the system in question. (There were, by the way, at least three such forms of nonaggressive struggle in Jesus’ first century context.)

It is unlikely that any in Jesus’ audience would defend the imperial status quo the way Matthew’s allegorized retelling of the parable seems to do. Fifty years after Jesus death the anonymous Jewish author called by that name even goes so far as to imply identification of the absentee landlord with God and the landlord’s son with Jesus himself. Such identification would have been possible around the year 80 or 85 when the Gospel of “Matthew” was written following the utter defeat of Jesus’ people by the Romans in the year 70.  That same identification would, of course, have been abhorrent to Jesus listeners and thus impossible in the Master’s revolutionary context.

Considerations like these – about the similarities in revolutionary situations separated by 2000 years – might help viewers better understand the causes of the Vietnam War and other conflicts even closer to our own day. Clearly, I find those causes obscured in the Burns and Novick documentary despite its very evident artistic merits.

Conclusions

Several conclusions suggest themselves from the considerations just advanced. They have to do with Jesus himself, with rent, and with considerations of violent vs. non-violent resistance.

First of all, Jesus:

  • As originally told, Jesus’ parables weren’t nice little five-minute vignettes. They were meant to stimulate long lively discussions as indicated in this morning’s reflection.
  • As thought provocateur, Jesus was wildly popular among peasants and the dispossessed on the one hand and hated by the religious-political establishment and occupying Romans on the other, not because of one-dimensional religious teachings, but because he constantly connected his people’s faith with issues like land reform, workers’ wages, debt and rent.
  • Those are the same connections that put religious leaders in danger and in early graves today, whether they’re Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.

Secondly, rent:

  • According to Jesus’ teaching, land reform, wages, and rent were more matters of faith than what we term “going to church” or saying the right words about God, the Bible, sexual behavior, or “thoughts and prayers.”
  • For the dispossessed including basically conservative peasant farmers (in ancient Palestine, Vietnam, or in the United States) such local issues are what lead to revolutionary action, not geopolitical considerations.
  • That is, like politics, all revolutions are local and center on issues of exploitation involving food, shelter, and dignity.

Thirdly, violence:

  • High rents imposed on poor people are an egregious form of violence.
  • Even violent resistance to such deprivation of the fundamental human right to shelter and subsistence is entirely justifiable as self-defense.
  • The U.S. Founding Fathers said something like that.
  • However (as indicated by the “more cautious discussants” referenced above) such secondary violence can be counterproductive in terms of the absolute destruction wreaked in response by state and empire.
  • Ironically too, the propaganda arms of state, empire, and church (including someone like Matthew the evangelist) excel at lastingly branding justifiable violence by the poor and oppressed as (to use Matthew’s word) “wicked.”

Finally, the very least people of faith can do today is to support rent strikers and to help others understand motivations for violent response in places like Vietnam, Lexington and Concord – or the streets of New York today. Equating state and imperial violence with the self-defense and counterattacks of the poor represents a false equivalency. Thoughtful people of faith must reject it.

My Recent Hospitalization: Do I Really Need to Live Beyond 80?

Norwalk Hospital: Scene of Last Week’s Five-Day “Retreat”

Is there something perversely magical about crossing the line between 79 and 80? All I know is that no sooner did I make that transition, than I found myself hospitalized for the second time in my life – the last time being more than 40 years ago.

In both cases, the cause was the same – complications introduced by atrial fibrillation (periodic rapid heartbeats). When that happened for the first time, I entered a medical labyrinth that I swore never to fathom again.

I’m sure many of us are familiar with the drill – endless tests, being sent from one doctor to the next, prescribed medicines with threatening side effects. (I didn’t like one doctor’s answer when I asked him how long I’d be on beta blockers. “For the rest of your life, of course,” he said.)

That experience along with the tale I’m about to share have me wondering about ensuring life beyond 80. After that, shouldn’t we just back off and let nature take its course?

Let me tell you how I came to that question – and to its surprisingly clear answer.

The Medical Nemesis

I recall that during my first serious run-in with the medical establishment (again, about 40 years ago), I was reading Ivan Illich’s The Medical Nemesis. There, the great philosopher, trenchant social critic, and (like me) an ex-priest advanced a thesis relevant to my then-emerging medical situation. He wrote that modern medicine was making westerners sicker rather than healthier.

All of that was in line with his wider analysis, viz. that after a certain point:

  • The more formal education we have, the stupider we become (knowing more and more about less and less, while understanding less and less about more and more).
  • The further we advance in the field of transportation, the more immobile we find ourselves (sitting in traffic jams and airports, separated from each other by increasingly greater distances, and dependent on machines that only the few can afford, and even fewer can repair).
  • The more “advances” in communication we experience, the less meaningful our interactions seem (as we use phones and computers to occasionally talk rather than enjoying the daily face-to-face conversations that are part and parcel of being human).
  • The more food modern agriculture produces, the less nourishing its content (due to monocultures, feedlot diseases, preservatives, and dependence on inputs such as artificial fertilizers, animal drugs, and poisonous pesticides).

It’s the same with modern medicine, Illich argued. Its takeover by hospital equipment and pharmaceutical companies has us all hooked on procedures and drugs whose side effects and interactions are only partially understood. Within the system, doctors claim authority due only to those who know everything about the human body, while in reality 90% of it remains a mystery.

Even more basically, hospitals serve patients typically terrible food, which should be the major source of health in any circumstance. But instead, already undernourished patients are further deprived in places that are actual germ farms – ranking high among the most dangerous environments human beings have ever produced. It’s all “iatrogenic,” Illich charged – a disease-inducing epidemic intensified by physicians and the medical establishment itself.

To reiterate, then: beyond a certain point, the more modern medicine we have, the sicker we become.

My Medical History

Well, my experience with the medical establishment 40 years ago confirmed Illich’s insight.

For instance, after I expressed my concerns about rapid and irregular heartbeats, doctors at the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville, had me doing things that seemed well, “iatrogenic.” At one point I recall, they gave me a “tilt table test.” That meant strapping me to an upright mobile board that was turned to various angles in attempts to induce (for purposes of analysis) the very symptoms I was complaining about. The resulting sight appeared quite self-consciously ridiculous and somehow comic to me. Something seemed wrong.

At another point, I found myself enduring a stress test on a treadmill while connected by electrodes to an electrocardiogram monitor. That was o.k.; I had already done several of those.

However, this particular time, the technicians were amazed by my endurance. They even called some colleagues over to witness the wonder of it all as they progressively increased the treadmill’s speed. Suddenly however, they realized I was approaching cardiac arrest. In panic, they shut down the machine, rushed me to a nearby couch and urgently sent for the emergency doctor to attend to me lest I expire.

Episodes like those led me to see the truth of Illich’s argument. I concluded, “These guys don’t know what they’re doing. Much of it just doesn’t make sense. I have to make my own decisions here.”

Eventually, I did. After obtaining a second opinion from an elderly Asian physician who explained my options, I decided to “self-medicate” in the sense of changing my diet, committing to a rigorous daily exercise program, and (most importantly) meditating twice each day for half an hour. And here I am, still alive, healthier than most of my physicians and telling the tale. The Asian doctor just mentioned had given his presumed medical authority straight back to me. His crucial question was, “What do you think?”

My Current Situation

Of course, I was carrying all of that in my mind when three weeks after my 80th birthday, and following the direction of my primary care doctor, I reported to the Norwalk (CT) Hospital’s emergency room complaining of extended heart palpitations, skin sensitivity, and shortness of breath. I thought I might have COVID-19.

Instead, following a COVID test, a couple of x-rays, a CT scan, two ultrasounds, an electrocardiogram, an echocardiogram, and innumerable blood tests, it was determined that I have blood clots probably caused by my recent 12-hour, single day drive from Canadian Lakes Michigan to our home in Westport Connecticut. The condition was aggravated by my chronic atrial fibrillation. Together, those inputs caused my shortness of breath and unusual fatigue. And, yes, I would have to submit to a regime of three medicines taken twice a day for “the rest of my life.”

Suddenly, this very healthy and strong person (me!) was rendered “sick” and reduced to invalid status.

So, I spent those five days hospitalized and ingesting intravenous drips containing various formulations of blood thinners and heart tranquilizers.

The doctors’ problem was determining the correct dosages of the three prescribed medicines. We experimented daily with blood thinners and heart calmers. The therapies worked while my body was at rest. But as soon as I started moving around, the heart irregularities and shortness of breath returned (though I hardly noticed). My heart continued to race at times even as the blood clots dissolved themselves. (This was natural, I was told, even without Heparin or its equivalent.)

With their alternatives apparently exhausted, an excellent pair of very bright and articulate staff physicians (and teachers in the medical school) with stellar bedside manners suggested a procedure reminding me of the term “iatrogenic.” They wanted to shock my cardiac system back into normalcy. According to the procedure, (1) I’d be sedated, (2) swallow a miniaturized scanning device in search of a possible clot in my heart, and if none were found, they’d (3) give my heart a normalizing electric shock and hope for the best.

Hmm. I wondered what Ivan Illich would say about all of that. I didn’t know. But I recalled his distinct suggestions that:

  • The less apparent the causes of one’s symptoms
  • The more exotic and complicated their diagnosis and anticipated cure
  • The more “sophisticated” the technology
  • And the more numerous the medications involved,

the less likely it is that a given therapy is on the right track.

Thinking like Illich, I wondered: given my age, does it make sense any longer to take such life-prolonging measures for someone who up to a few days before had been progressing quite nicely as far as his health was concerned? (I was taking only one med each day – for enlarged prostate. I walked four miles seven days a week at a rate of 14:30 minutes per, did 40 pushups midway through each of those walking sessions, and played golf regularly with great enjoyment – especially with my two sons. That along with the healthy diet provided me for the last 44 years by my gourmet vegetarian wife were keeping me quite healthy.) Why not continue trusting my body and Life itself to give me a few more relatively healthy years – or not? At 80, it’s been a good run. Who could ask for more?

Enter Ezekiel Emanuel

In asking that question, I was reflecting what I had read six years earlier in an Atlantic Monthly article written by University of Pennsylvania oncologist and medical ethicist, Ezekiel J. Emanuel. The article was called “Why I Hope to Die at 75.”

There (writing at the age of 57) Emanuel wrote that statistical concerns about physical and mental decline among aging Americans had inspired him to conclude that “Once I have lived to 75, my approach to my health care will completely change. I won’t actively end my life. But I won’t try to prolong it, either.”

Practically speaking that would mean, he said, no regular doctor visits, no colonoscopies, cancer screenings, cardiac stress or PSA tests, no pacemaker or implantable defibrillator, no heart-valve replacement or bypass surgery, no hospitalizations – nothing curative; only palliative medical procedures.

In Emanuel’s opinion, death according the natural lifespan of a post 75-year-old body is far preferable to the indignities of artificially prolonged life with its probabilities of immobility and mental decline.

I was convinced that Emanuel’s diagnosis of my “condition” would be that there is really nothing wrong with me at all. Despite appearances, I’m simply old. My body parts including my fibrillating heart and sometimes gasping lungs are showing normal signs of wear and tear.

It’s all part of life’s wonderfully mysterious process.

I found myself agreeing with that position. After all, I’ve already led a full productive life. Everything from now on is gravy.

So, once I’ve consumed my present supply of meds (to appease my family members), and after my next appointment with my cardiologist (for the same reason), I plan to swear off the whole thing. I’m going to follow Emanuel’s advice.  

Conclusion

As it has turned out, my time in the Norwalk hospital was a great gift – almost a spiritual retreat. The experience provided me time to focus on the topics I’ve raised here – the nature of U.S. medical care, the advisability of adopting curative (vs. palliative) measures after the age of 75 or 80, and other end-of-life issues.

Like Emanuel I’ll forge ahead without any exotic interventions whatsoever. If the heart attack comes, I’m ready to go. As I said, it’s been a good run.

If a stroke comes, same story. And should I become disabled, I’ve clearly asked my family members to simply put me in a nursing home without any life-extending treatments and let me die. Absent those medicines and treated only with palliatives, my life’s end will probably come quickly and painlessly.

Meanwhile, I’ve resolved to continue enjoying life, writing for social justice, following my spiritual practices, and concentrating on lowering those frustrating golf scores rather than my unfathomable heart rate.