Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gonads, Pendulous Breasts, and Menstrual Periods

It’s safe to say I could, in a pinch, probably take an adequate chest X-ray now.

This is the first week of my third quarter, and I am in my first positioning/laboratory class. This class meets three nights a week instead of just one, like my other classes, so it’s a 9-hour course. I also have a psychology class on Thursdays. We spent part of Monday night, and most of last night, in the lab, learning and then practicing chest X-rays.

I found it to be very interesting, and it’s definitely more fun to be up and doing something, hands-on, rather than sitting listening to a lecture. Of course, this also means that the playing field is more even now – my 4.0 and high test scores don’t mean much outside of the classroom. We get tested every week on the stuff we learn in the book, and we also have a clinical test every week on whatever body part we have learned to X-ray. So next week I’ll get graded on my competency to take a basic PA and lateral chest X-ray. We’re graded not only on whether we position correctly and set up the machine correctly, but even on the details like asking the right questions of the patient and our general bedside manner. There is a checklist with about 25 things that we are checked on.

The good thing about practicing in the laboratory with your classmates is that you learn very quickly to get over the natural embarrassment that comes with putting your hands all over someone’s body, asking people (particularly those of the opposite sex) to remove their clothes, including underwear, and asking women when their last period was. There is only one other man in my class of about 11 or 12 people, so pretty much all of my practice is on young, attractive, 20-something women.

God is a good and generous God.

Seriously though, when doing X-rays of women who are in child-bearing years, it’s standard operating procedure to ask them if they are pregnant, and if they are not, then to probe further and ask them about their last menstrual period. That’s just something I’ll have to get used to, I guess.

Oh, and another thing – when doing chest X-rays, if the woman has large, pendulous breasts, you have to ask her to pull them up and out to the side so they don’t obscure the image. Can’t WAIT to get a 50-year old grandmother in there with triple-E cups and have to ask her to haul them babies out of the way. Yikes. Not sure which is worse: that, or putting on the gonad shield.

All in all, though, I really like this class, and although I’m intimidated by the amount of information we have to learn, I’m excited about getting into the hands-on portion of this program, and I’m excited about the prospect of starting clinicals in a few months and then eventually being able to get out and work in this field.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rush Tour 2007

The tour dates for this year's tour have been released. Last time around, in 2004, I got to see the opening show of the tour, as they opened in Nashville. This year, they're opening in Atlanta, swinging up the east coast into New England, then crossing over to the west coast, then finishing up in the midwest and Canada. So I won't be seeing them until toward the end of the tour this year.

They are coming to Cincinnati on September 1 (Labor Day weekend), and are also coming to Indianapolis and Columbus. I will definitely be going to the Cincinnati show, and will probably try to go to either Columbus or Indianapolis. It'll be expensive, but you only live once, right! It's not like they're going to be touring forever. I'll probably go with a group of fellow Rush fans to the Cincinnati show, and will go by myself, probably, to the Indianapolis or Columbus show.

Now the goal is to get good seats! Tickets go on sale April 12th or 14th, I think.

Also, classes start back up tonight. I have Rad 200 each night, Monday through Wednesday, followed by a psychology class on Thursday. So I'm back to 4 nights a week again, but only 2 classes. Rad 200 is the Positioning I class, so we will start doing a lot of "hands on" stuff now, I suspect. I'm looking forward to it. 'Specially since it's all girls in my class. Haha. Let's get hands on, ladies!!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Is God in Control?

“A man is on a long journey trying to escape from some villains who are out to get him. He gets to a wide open plain offering no place to hide and guaranteeing the faster villains will catch him. But then a ‘miracle’ fog hides everything, allowing him to escape. The character is able to communicate with a ‘higher power’ and learns the fog didn’t just ‘happen.’ The higher power knew of this need millennia ago and set the natural order of things so that the fog would be where it needed to be.”

This is a slight rewording of a comment made by a poster on an Internet message board. The poster was paraphrasing a science-fiction story he had read some years earlier. He went on to point out that this idea of God “setting the wheels in motion” really “resonated” with him. He was arguing that free will and determinism don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

On the surface, I suppose this sort of idea would resonate with just about anyone. It certainly resonated with me for a long time – well into my adulthood. It is a common and widely accepted idea within mainstream Christianity. It is the idea that “God is in control.”

The problem, for me, is that it does not hold up to scrutiny. In fact, it was through scrutinizing concepts like this that I eventually began to move away from a belief that God is, in fact, in control. It only takes a few minutes to see the inherent problems in this sort of theology. If, in the example above, God truly “set the wheels in motion” in order to make the fog appear at just the right time to save the character’s life, does that mean that when things do not go our way, God has set the wheels against us? Let me illustrate this point with a scenario.

At 8:07 a.m., a tractor-trailer driven by a driver who has been driving all night is going to run a red light at the corner of Main Street and Second Street. Unknowing, John Doe leaves his house at 8:00 a.m., as he does every morning. He pulls out of his street and makes his way through the neighborhood, which empties at the corner of Main and Second. About two minutes after leaving his house, but before getting out of his neighborhood, he realizes he forgot his lunch. He considers whether he should go back to get it. Tomorrow is payday, and he does not currently have any available cash, so he cannot go out to eat for lunch unless he charges his lunch. He does not want to do that, as his credit card is pretty full. Therefore, the only option is to either turn around and go back, or head on to work and just skip lunch. He chooses to go back. He turns around, heads back home, grabs his lunch, then leaves again. It is now 8:04. As he is turning out of his neighborhood at 8:07, his car is smashed by the tractor-trailer, and John Doe is paralyzed, doomed to live out the rest of his life as a paraplegic.

Now, you can see that there are several different ways this scenario could have turned out. John Doe could have left home the first time a minute early, therefore putting him at the intersection at 8:06 instead of 8:07. He could have not forgotten his lunch, therefore eliminating the need to go back home, and putting him at the intersection at 8:03. He could have not gone out to dinner the previous weekend and spent fifty bucks on his credit card, thereby making money tight by the end of the week, such that he could not afford to charge his lunch that day. Furthermore, the tractor-trailer driver could have stopped at a rest area to sleep, meaning at 8:07 he would not have been anywhere near that intersection, and when he did finally reach the intersection, he would not have been so tired that he ran the red light. The tractor-trailer driver could have gotten hung up at a weigh station a few extra minutes, putting him at the intersection at 8:09 instead of 8:07. He could have gotten stuck behind a slow poke who pulled out in front of him, delaying him by a few minutes.

But none of those things happened. Instead, everything worked together to cause that tractor-trailer to run that red light at 8:07, and to cause John Doe to be turning through that same intersection at 8:07, thereby leading to John Doe’s paralysis.

In this scenario, did God make it happen? Did God “set the wheels in motion” by allowing all those “what ifs” to come together in just the right way, such that John Doe ended up in a wheelchair? More importantly, why didn’t God “set the wheels in motion” to allow just one tiny little detail to change, such that John Doe and the tractor-trailer would not meet up in that intersection at the same time?

How would mainstream Christianity account for this tragedy? From my long experience in the church as a traditionally-believing Christian, I think I can say with certainty that the general answer would be that this is a flawed, cruel, uncaring world, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. Thus, we need God in order to cope with the cruel tragedies of life. God doesn’t make bad things happen. Bad things happen because Satan holds dominion over this world.

But what if this scenario had not turned out this way? What if John Doe had decided, for instance, to just go without lunch that day? He’s been eating a little too much lately and has packed on a few extra pounds, so it would do him some good to skip a meal. Thus, he decides, at 8:03, to just head on to work instead of turning around for his lunch. He pulls through the intersection safely and moves on with life. He later learns from a neighbor that a tractor-trailer ran a red light at the intersection just a few minutes after he pulled through, but no one was hurt because no car was in the intersection at the time.

Considering this change, now how would mainstream Christianity account for this situation? Again, as a church alumnus and a nearly 30-year veteran of traditional Christian beliefs, I can say that the general answer would be that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord (to quote the Apostle Paul), and that God helped set the wheels in motion to keep John Doe out of that intersection when that tractor-trailer came rumbling through.

Unfortunately, it cannot be both ways. Either the world is a cruel, cold, uncaring place where bad and good things happen based on the whim of chance, without any interference from God, or God is in control of everything, meaning he caused both John Doe’s paralysis in the first scenario and John Doe’s salvation in the second scenario.

Most Christians want to have it both ways. When bad things happen, they want to turn to God for comfort and solace against a cold, cruel, indifferent natural world. When good things happen, they want to attribute it to God’s control.

For me, the inability to reconcile these dichotomous positions caused me to ultimately move away from the belief that God sets any wheels in motions, intervenes in any way in history, or has anything at all to do with tragedies and blessings.

I believe in God with all my heart, soul, and mind. I believe in a God of infinite love. I believe God can be experienced in very real ways. But I do not believe in a god who intervenes in history, either directly or indirectly. I do not believe in a god who has the power to prevent tragedies, but chooses not to. I do not believe in a god who bestows blessings and fortune and success and safekeeping on some, while leaving others to the whims of a cold, cruel world. I do not believe in a god whose ways are so self-contradictory, illogical, and inexplicable that he must be worshipped as “mysterious.”

When we can learn to love unashamedly and without prejudice, when we can learn to live fully in each and every moment, and when we can learn to be the very best that we can be, we can move into communion and life with God. And when we do that, the need to explain tragedy and blessing in supernatural terms dissipates (in fact, the very idea that events on earth happen at the intervention or neglect of a whimsical god becomes absurd and incompatible with Godly thought). Instead, we can simply face the intersections of life with courage and conviction, we can live as children of God in happiness and peace, and we can truly say that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Beware the Ides of March!

"A certain seer warned Caesar to be on his guard against a great peril on the day of the month of March which the Romans call the Ides; and when the day had come and Caesar was on his way to the Senate house, he greeted the seer with a jest and said: ‘Well, the Ides of March are come,’ and the seer said to him softly: ‘Ay, they are come, but they are not gone.’”

– Plutarch, Parallel Lives, circa 100 C.E.

Today is the 2,051st anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar.

According to the account of Nicolaus of Damascus, who visited Rome just a few years after Caesar’s death and interviewed many of the eye witnesses to the assassination, Caesar was stabbed 23 times, and each conspirator made sure to get at least one stab in, even after he lay dying, so that they could all be “official” assassins of Caesar.

The conspirators, all of whom were Roman Senators, felt justified in their plot, believing they were committing tyrannicide, rather than assassinating a legitimate head of state. Though Caesar, only a month earlier, had publicly refused a diadem and a proclamation of kingship by Marc Antony, they believed Caesar planned to dismantle the Republic and become an autocrat.

By this time, Caesar already held the title of Dictator for Life, but this, alone, was not remarkable enough to justify fears of a destruction of the Republic. Pompey the Great, only several years earlier, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla about forty years earlier, had both held the same title.

Instead, the conspirators feared that Caesar’s planned military conquest of Dacia and Parthia (areas in the modern day Balkans and Iran) would be the final stepping stone in Caesar’s rise to kingship. Ancient lore stated that Parthia would only be subdued by a king, and as such, Caesar had been given permission to wear a crown while campaigning outside of the province of Italia. The conspirators feared that Caesar would return from the campaign as a king and never relinquish the title.

Caesar didn’t help his own cause when, after returning from the civil war with Pompey, he had coins minted with his own likeness on them. This was the first time a living Roman had been put on a coin. He also approved of a statue of himself placed alongside the seven ancient kings of Rome, as well as another statue placed in the Temple of Quirinus – who was the deified figure identified with Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome.

Additionally, sometime prior to the assassination, Caesar failed to stand when receiving several honorary titles bestowed upon him by the Senate. The conspirators took this as an indication that Caesar felt a sense of entitlement and was ungrateful. Caesar’s supporters claimed that he failed to stand because he had just had an episode of epilepsy and was afraid he would collapse if he stood up (he was known for having occasional “fits,” and it was the veritable “thorn in his side” throughout his public life as he attempted to hide the condition from the public; the condition had worsened as he had gotten older).

It will never be known for certain whether an epileptic fit was truly the reason Caesar didn’t stand to receive his honors, but either way, for the conspirators, it more or less sealed Caesar’s fate.

The conspirators mistakenly believed their plot would save the Roman Republic. In fact, Caesar’s assassination not only failed to save the Republic, it ushered in the rise of the Roman Empire and the complete destruction of the values of the Republic, and it set the stage for Octavian (Caesar’s nephew and named heir) to seize the reigns of power and become the very autocratic ruler Caesar’s assassins had feared.

Caesar had planned to leave for his campaign in Dacia and Parthia in April of 44 C.E. Thus, the conspirators knew they must implement their plan prior to his departure.

On March 15, a Senate meeting was convened under the auspices of having Caesar read a petition. The Senate was to meet at the Theater of Pompey. This was a temporary meeting place for the Senate, as a new Senate house was under construction at the time. (The new Senate house, incidentally, was to be named in honor of Caesar – another thing that fed the conspirators’ ire.) While waiting for a quorum, several of Caesar’s friends and family tried to dissuade him from going. His wife claimed to have dreamed of his death the night before, and all the augers and soothsayers were proclaiming bad omens (augers and soothsayers were always called upon before meetings of the Senate to predict favorable or unfavorable outcomes). Most significantly, Marc Antony had heard rumors that the Senate meeting was a ruse, and that something bad was going to happen instead. He begged Caesar not to go.

Caesar was reportedly about to give in when his longtime friend Marcus Brutus came to tell him quorum had been reached and to escort him to the Theater of Pompey. According to the account of Nicolaus of Damascus, Brutus reportedly told Caesar to “turn your back on these people’s nonsense and do not postpone the business that deserves the attention of Caesar and of the great empire, but consider your own worth a favorable omen.”

Brutus, of course, was one of the conspirators, and, thanks to Shakespeare, has been remembered most of all for his betrayal of his friend.

Several years earlier, Brutus – who had been one of Caesar’s top generals – had betrayed Caesar during the civil war and had fought instead for Pompey. When Pompey was defeated, Brutus was captured. But instead of executing him as all his advisors insisted, and custom dictated, Caesar pardoned Brutus and allowed him back into his inner circle. Upon his return to Rome after the civil war, he even named Brutus as his second heir, should Octavian die before Caesar.

His compassion for his old friend proved to be his undoing. In fact, most of the conspirators were men Caesar had pardoned in the past for various betrayals and transgressions, most associated with the civil war.

Brutus led Caesar to the Theater of Pompey, and instructed him to enter the portico adjoining the main hall. Marc Antony was still there, attempting to turn Caesar back, but Caesar followed Brutus toward the portico, leaving Marc Antony behind.

Caesar entered the portico where the Senate was convened and began reading the false petition. Casca, one of the conspirators – and the person who, the evening before, had inadvertently hinted at the plot to Marc Antony – stepped forward, snatched Caesar’s toga, and stabbed him in the shoulder. Caesar grabbed him by the arm and reportedly said, “Villain Casca, what are you doing?” Casca called for help, and the other conspirators jumped to his aid and began stabbing Caesar with daggers hidden underneath their togas.

Caesar, naturally, was trying to get away, and the melee ended up outside on the steps of the portico. Caesar, bleeding and seriously injured, tripped and fell onto the steps, where he was overcome by the assassins.

Reports of his last words vary, and the actual truth is not known. The familiar line “Et tu, Brute?” (“Even you, Brutus?”) was invented by Shakespeare, and is therefore not a historical account of what was said. One of Caesar’s ancient biographers, Suetonius, reports that his final words were “You too, child?” directed at Brutus (this, of course, is the source of inspiration for Shakespeare’s line). Suetonius, however, states that Caesar spoke the words in Greek, not Latin. Plutarch, another of Caesar’s biographers, states that Caesar said nothing, and instead covered his head with his toga in resignation when he realized Brutus was among the assassins.

In the wake of the assassination, the conspirators went through Rome proclaiming that Rome was free again, but mob violence erupted all over the city and a large portion of the Forum was burned. Ultimately, a series of civil wars broke out, waged by Marc Antony and Octavian, eventually ending with Marc Antony’s suicide (along with Cleopatra), the deaths of most if not all of the conspirators, and Octavian’s rise to emperor. (Octavian is better remembered by some as the Caesar Augustus referred to in Luke’s New Testament narrative of Jesus’s birth – he had given himself the new name after becoming emperor.)

Considering the dramatic impact on Roman history that Caesar’s assassination had, and considering the dramatic impact on world history that the Roman Empire had, the Ides of March may be the single most important date in history.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Far Cry

Rush has a new single out called Far Cry. You can hear it in its entirety on their website

I think the single is fantastic. They had posted a 10-second "teaser" of the song back in February, which sounded great, so I've been greatly anticipating it since then. It's got a good mix of classic Rush technique (syncopated rhythms, odd time signatures, etc.) while also displaying a modern rock sound. From a musical standpoint, it is simultaneously reminiscent of something off their 2002 Vapor Trails album, but also like some of the sounds from their late 1970's concept albums.

If the whole album (due out May 1) sounds like this song, it is going to be a truly crowning achievement for them.

The album is called Snakes & Arrows and reportedly deals quite a bit with religious concepts/themes. The phrase "Snakes & Arrows" refers to an ancient Hindu game concerned with the ups and downs of life's spiritual journey (it is what our children's game Chutes & Ladders is based on).

Friday, March 09, 2007

Adventurous, and Expensive, Afternoon

I had an adventurous afternoon yesterday. But before I get into that, it is necessary to give a bit of background information.

Earlier this week, my wife told me she had to go to Louisville on Thursday for a conference. In discussing this, she told me that she was nervous, because her car just “didn’t feel right” lately, and she was worried about it breaking down on her. I suggested that she could take my car, if she felt that worried, but she sort of blew it off and said it would probably be fine. We discussed how, if she were to break down, we have people/contacts in Louisville we could call to come help her. Not really too big of a cause for worry. After our conversation, I didn’t give it much more thought.

So yesterday, around 3:50, my wife called to say she was leaving Louisville from the conference, and was on her way back to Lexington. We chatted for a few minutes, then got off the phone. I went back to what I was doing, and within just a minute or two, she called me again. I was kind of irritated because she does that fairly frequently – she will call, we’ll talk, we’ll hang up, then she’ll remember something else and call right back.

Well, this time, when we got on the phone, her voice sounded panicky and she was saying that there was something wrong with her car. When she pressed the gas pedal, the RPM’s were going up, but she was not getting any speed. She was slowing down well below the speed limit as she attempted to go up a short incline in the highway. We stayed on the phone and she grew more panicky by the moment, saying that she could get speed as she went downhill, but could hardly get uphill at all. Then, a lot of white smoke started coming out from behind/under the car. I told her to slow down but keep trying to move forward to get to the next exit. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the next exit was about 8 or 9 miles away. She had just passed the interchange of I-64 and I-265 (that’s the Gene Snyder Freeway, which sort of marks the outer boundary of Louisville to the east), so she was about 3 miles past the Gene Snyder, outside of Louisville, heading toward Lexington.

She finally stated that she was going to have to pull over. When she pulled over, she felt like she didn’t get over far enough, so she attempted to start the car again to pull over farther, and the car wouldn’t start at all.

By now, I was telling her to call 911 to ask for a police officer to come by, and to call some of our friends in Louisville. I hurried out the door and jumped in my car. It was about 4:00. I had to get out of downtown Lexington right as rush hour was starting, I had to stop and get gas, and then I had to drive about 60 miles (58 miles, according to Google Maps) to the Gene Snyder, where I had to double back about 3 more miles to the spot where she was pulled over.

I did it in about 55 minutes.

Definitely the quickest Lexington to Louisville trip I’ve ever made. On the way, I was in contact with my wife most of the time. She had tried to call some of our friends, but they weren’t home. I called a friend of mine who doesn’t live far from where she was, and he was at home, but was getting ready to leave for work. He said he could go get her, however, if I needed him too. Fortunately, the police officer showed up fairly quickly, and was very accommodating and nice, so I called my friend back and told him he didn’t need to come.

The police officer stayed with her a while and then gave her a direct line, emergency number to call should someone approach her car. He also promised to do his normal circuit and then come back to check on her. In the meantime, she called a tow truck place that he said he trusted, and they agreed to come out and tow the car back to a dealership in Louisville (it would have cost nearly $300 to have them tow it to Lexington), and they agreed to take the keys and give them to the dealership so that we didn’t have to go over there in person.

When I was about 20 minutes away, my wife mentioned that there were men cleaning up trash along the highway nearby. Of course, these would be convicted criminals, probably out on probation, doing required community service. She told me that one of them was very close to the car picking up trash, and kept looking over at her in curiosity. Right about that time, like a deus ex machina, the police officer showed back up. He came over to her window and said, “I think I’ll just go ahead and stay with you now until your husband and the tow truck get here.” She felt very relieved by that, as did I.

After I got there, we had to wait another 15 minutes or so for the tow truck. I had just finished drinking a 20-ounce glass of water right before I left, and by this time I really had to pee. Fortunately, once the tow truck got there, we were able to go ahead and leave, letting him take care of hooking the car up and towing it back to the dealership. I stopped at a rest area to relieve myself.

There were two other twists involved here. First, both our kids were still at daycare. The youngest stays with a private sitter, but our oldest is in a traditional daycare that closes at 6:00. We didn’t pull away from the tow truck until about 5:20, and then we had to stop for me to go to the bathroom. Since we don’t have any family in Lexington, we had no one to call. Fortunately, our youngest daughter’s private sitter had no problem just keeping her until we could get her, and my oldest daughter’s best friend’s mother was willing to pick her up and take her back to her house, which is in a neighboring subdivision.

The second twist was that my Thursday class started at 6:00, and I had a paper due, along with a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation to give. I could not miss the class. Fortunately, it is a laid back class with a very easygoing instructor, and I knew he wouldn’t mind if I had to be late. I called and left a message for him.

In the end, I managed to leave downtown Lexington around 4:00, right at the start of rush hour, stop and get gas, get all the way to the Gene Snyder Freeway in Louisville, 60 miles away, double back 3 miles, sit on the side of the interstate for 15 or 20 minutes waiting for the tow truck, stop at a rest area to pee, then get all the way to Winchester Road in Lexington to my school, get inside and change into my scrubs, and get into my classroom – all by 6:15.

Not bad, eh?

The bad news, of course, is that my wife’s clutch burned out, and the car won’t be ready until Wednesday, and we won’t be able to pick it up until next Friday, and it’s going to set us back $1900. Her parents are going to pay for a rental car for us, which is very nice and helpful of them.

So much for getting our credit cards paid off with our tax refund! But, at least we have the money right now to pay for it (if this had happened even 2 months ago, I don’t know what we would have done), and at least it happened on a warm, sunny day, there was plenty of traffic around so my wife wasn’t alone on a deserted stretch of highway, there was a cop there very quickly who was very nice and helpful, it wasn’t a day where she accidentally forgot her cell phone, and it happened on a day when I didn’t have a major test or a class with an uptight, stickler instructor.

The moral of the story – when you suspect something might be wrong with your car, don’t attempt to drive it to Louisville!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hell: The Disgrace of Christianity

I recently ran a poll on an Internet message board I frequent, asking respondents to choose what they believe God will do with humanity at the end of time. Among the choices were the following:

1) All non-Christians will go to hell.
2) Anyone who doesn’t believe in God will go to hell.
3) People will get a chance to accept God before the final decision is made.
4) Only the most evil and unrepentant will go to hell.
5) God will have mercy on everyone.

I then asked them to choose what they would do if they were God. The same choices applied. My gut feeling was that some people would choose answers 1 or 2 in the first poll (believing that God would either send all non-Christians to hell, or at least all non-believers to hell), but that far fewer people would choose answers 1 or 2 for the second poll.

My assumptions proved true. For the first poll, two respondents believed that all non-Christians would go to hell, and one respondent believed that anyone who didn’t believe in God would go to hell. The majority, of course, chose something between answers 3, 4, and 5. Yet no one, when answering the second poll – the one about what they would do if they were God – answered choice 1 or 2.

What does this say about our conceptions of God? Could it be true that these rebellious, sinful, hopeless creatures called human beings are more merciful, forgiving, and loving than the very God who created them? If one abides by a traditional/evangelical Christian view of reality, this seems to be the only assumption one can make. We think God will send all non-believers, and maybe even all people who aren’t specifically born again Christians, to hell, yet if we were God ourselves, we would be much more lenient, merciful, and forgiving.

Something’s wrong with this picture.

By the standards with which we understand the terms, the very idea that an all-loving, all-merciful, all-compassionate God could even conceive of a place such as hell is counter-intuitive and nonsensical. You must redefine those terms in order to make sense of such a concept.

Yet, this is the prevailing concept within traditional/evangelical Christianity. God is love. God is merciful. But God will send you to roast for eternity in unimaginable torment if you don’t believe and do the right things.

It can’t be both ways. If you abide by traditional/evangelical Christian thought, then you must either acknowledge that God is not loving, not merciful, and not compassionate, by the standards with which we understand those terms, or you must acknowledge that the very concept of hell is flawed.

I personally believe that the hell doctrine is Christianity’s single biggest doctrinal disgrace. For centuries it has been used as a tool to wield power, scaring people into submitting to the will of the Church for fear of eternal punishment. It is certainly not worthy of the God we believe embodies love, mercy, and compassion, and it is not even biblical, if one understands the background against which the bible speaks of hell. Even if one makes the argument for the biblical veracity of a place called hell for sinners, such teachings would clearly fall into the category that the Episcopalian bishop, writer, and scholar John Shelby Spong would call a “sin of scripture.” It can stand proudly beside those other sins of scripture such as mandatory execution for homosexual acts, the slaughter of innocent Egyptian babies, and words of encouragement and support for beating and abusing wayward children.

I don’t personally believe in hell. I believe in a God of love, a God of compassion, and a God of mercy. I believe in forgiveness and acceptance. I don’t believe that anyone is completely guilty of whatever crimes/actions they have committed. No one is born evil, or born with a desire to do evil. We learn these things through society and culture, and usually a healthy dose of neglect, abuse, and bad influences. Even if someone is born with a mind seemingly pre-wired to criminal pathology, is it their fault they were born with such a mind? Did they ask to become a homicidal maniac, child molester, or serial killer? I believe in the concept of basic human innocence. We are born innocent, and anything that happens thereafter is a complex combination of psychological pre-wiring, nurture, and societal influence. No one can do anything other than attempt to make their way in the world with the set of parameters they have been given. Some of us get two loving parents, a nice house in suburbia, reliable cars, good schools, and positive influences. Others of us get an abusive mother, a drug-dealing father, dangerous schools, ghetto tenements to live in, and the stench of crack pipes to fall asleep to. Still others get the impression of stability in white suburbia, but grow up behind the scenes with sexually, physically, and emotionally abusive parents.

Where would you be, if you had been given scenario number two or three in the paragraph above?

I’m not suggesting I believe that crimes should go unpunished or that serial criminals should be allowed back on the streets. What I am suggesting is that when it comes down to ultimate truths and ultimate realities, we all have innocent souls. Therefore, how could anyone be worthy of a place like hell? Don’t forget – hell is not just a place of temporary punishment where you get to burn in utter agony for a few weeks in order to pay for your crimes. Hell is a place where you burn in utter agony, without dying, for all eternity! No crime/action/inaction in life could possibly justify such a punishment – especially not the crime of believing in the wrong religion, or choosing not to believe at all.

The ancient Jews did not really have any unified or structured concept of hell. The closest thing to an afterlife to the ancient Jew was the place called “Sheol,” which was more or less the underworld – the world of shadows, under the ground, where all people went when they died. It had nothing to do with eternal torment, or any sort of reward/punishment cycle.

Hell came into being along with the birth of the Christian church. If you open your bible, you won’t find any reference to hell until the New Testament. During the time of the birth of Christianity, there was a garbage and refuse dump outside of Jerusalem, called Gehenna in Greek, which was routinely on fire as the city’s waste was burned. The early Jewish Christians combined their understanding of the spiritual place called Sheol, with their knowledge of the physical place called Gehenna, to form the concept of hell. It was a way for them to makes sense of the tragedies and persecutions that they suffered, and it was a way for them to satisfy the basic human idea of reward/punishment.

Although the gospel writers (writing several generations after Jesus’s life), attributed words to Jesus that included talk of hell, most scholars do not believe the historical Jesus would have had any concept of hell as we understand it, as the concept was not developed until long after his death. If Jesus ever spoke of eternal rewards and punishments, it would have been in a metaphorical sense – in other words, to live apart from God is to doom yourself to eternal suffering through being separated from the source of your being; to live in union with God is to live in perpetual exaltation with the source of life and love. Which sounds better to you? I know I would choose the latter.

For the kingdom of God to be realized in the present, I believe Christianity must jettison outdated and immoral doctrines like the doctrine of hell. If God is all-loving, all-merciful, and all compassionate, then all human beings have innocent souls, and all are equally deserving of eternal communion with God.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Carbs Are Our Friends

The “low carb” diet craze has long since died out from its peak a few years ago, but it seems to have left a general feeling within the population that carbohydrates are bad and must be watched carefully to ensure that we are getting proper healthy nutrition.

This is an unfortunate misconception.

Our body’s cells require energy in order to function properly. Without energy, the cells would die and so would our body. For this reason, all life requires nutrition. When we eat foods, our body’s cells get energy from the nutrients within the food. There are three sources for cellular energy: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Carbohydrates are the first nutrients metabolized by our cells. They are the cells’ preferred source of energy. When all the carbohydrates have been burned, our cells then turn to fat. When there is no fat left, the last resort for our cells is protein. If your body is metabolizing protein for energy, you are on the verge of starving to death. This is what happens in anorexics and starvation victims.

The reason low carb diets work so well is because they function by eliminating the cells’ first choice for energy, thereby forcing the cells to metabolize fat. Obviously, when the cells metabolize fat, they are breaking the fat down and burning it off as energy. This is what makes you lose weight. In that sense, low carb diets are an efficient and appropriate way to lose weight.

However, when low carb diets become a lifestyle habit, they begin to lose their effectiveness and instead become a liability in our body’s health. This is particularly true for many type 2 diabetics who maintain low carb diets in an effort to control their blood sugar.

When we ingest carbohydrates, our digestive system breaks them down into glucose, which is a simple sugar called a monosaccharide. That glucose becomes the source of carbohydrate metabolism by the cells. Any glucose that is not metabolized is stored as glycogen in the liver, for later use. It is for this reason that many type 2 diabetics avoid carbohydrates – they don’t want that extra glucose in their bodies, since their insulin is not effective in breaking it down (that’s what defines type 2 diabetes – the increasing inability of the person’s insulin to get rid of glucose; type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is characterized by a lack of insulin).

The problem with avoiding carbohydrates over the long term, however, is that carbohydrates are the cells’ preferred metabolic source. The cells function best when they are getting energy from carbohydrates. That’s why people who ingest sufficient amounts of carbohydrates have more energy and generally feel better. And since carbohydrates are the cells’ preferred metabolic source, the cells are healthiest when they are getting the majority of their energy from carbohydrates. When you eliminate, over the long term, the cells’ preferred choice for energy, the cells will suffer. This has far reaching implications, because healthy cells make for healthy bodies. People whose cells are continually getting energy from fat will eventually have cells that are not as healthy as those who get their energy primarily from carbohydrates. This can result in everything from early aging to the quicker and more likely onset of chronic diseases.

For diabetics, and for anyone wishing to watch their sugar intake, low carb diets are not necessarily the answer, and, more times than not, will actually be more harmful in the long run. Instead, the focus should be on exercise. If a person stays active on a daily basis and gets plenty of exercise, they can eat a normal diet of carbohydrates without any fear of increasing their sugar. This holds true for the type II diabetic as well. The reason the diabetic can have no fear of increasing their sugar is because they don’t have to be dependent on their poorly functioning insulin to break down the carbohydrate glucose. Instead, the cells will metabolize the glucose for energy, which will not only make the person’s cells more healthy in the long run, but will also make the person feel more energized and more healthy in general.

Exercise is the key. Our bodies are not biologically designed to be sedentary. We are designed for activity. And our cells work best – and therefore keep us healthier – when they are drawing energy from carbohydrate metabolism.

Whether you are a diabetic, or just someone concerned about healthy lifestyles, don’t worry so much about carbohydrates, and focus instead on staying active every day and reducing your fat intake. Then, you won’t need a low carb diet to help you lose weight, and you can ingest an appropriate amount of carbohydrates without fear of increasing your blood sugar.

If you need to shed a few pounds, low carb diets are a good way to do it. But once you have lost the weight you need to lose, end the carb counting and start eating sufficient carbohydrates, low amounts of fat, and plenty of vegetables, along with daily activity and exercise.