Ms. Dominique

Ms. Dominique
Ms. Dominique

Sunday, April 15, 2007

When Does Life Begin?

Pythagoras of Samos (580-500 BCE)

Pythagoras of Samos, the famous Greek mathematician, is also know for starting a philosophical and religious movement based on the idea that everything is based on mathematics (which seems obvious) and that numbers were the basis for reality. This movement is now called Pythagoreanism.

Pythagoras is generally credited for creating the Pythagorean Theorem, though in fact he may have simply borrowed this idea from the Egyptians. Less well known is his effort to create a secret religious society. Very little is known about this group, except for its reverence for numbers and its strict vegetarianism.

Evidently Pythagoras influenced the development of Platonic philosophy and, to some extent, the development of various magical and esoteric traditions, such as Rosicrucianism. His ideas were also important to the development of Numerology.

There is a story about the death of Pythagoras, which is worth repeating. According to the story, Pythagoras was running away from his enemies. He was being pursued by a group of men who meant to kill him. As he ran, Pythagoras came up to a field of beans. Pythagoras stopped short, because he believed that beans were sacred. This was part of his strict vegetarianism, that no one should harm beans—because they possessed a living soul.

Needless to say, his enemies quickly caught up with him and murdered him there on the edge of the bean field. Perhaps some of them might accidentally have trampled a few beans in the process. We can only hope—for the sake of his soul—that they did not damage or destroy any beans in the process.

We are, today, in a similar situation with respect to stem cell research. Our Fearless Leader, George W. Bush, believes that the human embryos—even those that are discarded by fertility clinics—have a soul. These bits of human tissue are therefore “sacred” and should not be harmed or destroyed. This idea ignores the fact that the eggs are about to be discarded anyway, and there is virtually no chance of them being implanted in a womb. These eggs are, quite frankly, no different from the many trillions of eggs and sperm that are “lost” and discarded each day, washed away in the laundry of homes all over the world.

Still, George W. Bush—and the right-wing religious nut-jobs who support him—believe that these eggs are somehow “sacred.” And they are quite willing (perhaps not to die themselves right now) but at least let many thousands of people die of horrible diseases instead of using these discarded eggs in genetic research.

We may be puzzled by the way Pythagoras died. But we are, in our own way, just as foolish. We allow a rather bizarre religious idea—an idea which runs counter to early Jewish and Christian ideas—prevent us from using these eggs for medical research, even though stem-cell research holds great promise.

It’s worth noting, too, that Pythagoras is said to have decided that beans were sacred because, “the beans create a wind in the gut that is foul, and thus proves that beans should not be eaten.”
This certainly sounds reasonable, in that preventing people from eating the sacred beans also prevents the development of gas and foul odors. Clearly, Pythagoras was a humanitarian.

At the same time, the right-wing religionists have decided that “life begins at conception.” And for this reason a mass of human cells should be equivalent in importance (in God’s eyes) to a fully-grown human. We should “respect life” because it is, well, life.

Obviously the “life begins at conception” idea is false. After all, what was it before conception? Mac and cheese? Potatoe salad?

Life exists and it continues until it dies. Human beings die, as life reaches its end—usually when something happens to stop its continued existence. All life is like this. It exists and it continues until it stops, at which time it becomes dead—a mass of flesh that is “lifeless.” A fertilized human egg did not spring to life out of nothingness. It was made up of the cast-off cells, the seed or germ of two parents. To claim that life somehow begins at conception is only a playing around with words—it is a theological game that is as foolish as the claim that beans have a soul.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Mencken "On Government"

Mencken "On Government"

H.L. Mencken's essay is even more relevant today, in the wake of
9/11, than it was when it was first written. Everyone can
benefit from these sentiments:

"The great pox of civilization, alas, I believe to be incurable,
and so I propose no new quackery for its treatment. I am against
dosing it, and I am against killing it. All I presume to argue
is that something would be accomplished by viewing it more
realistically--by ceasing to let its necessary and perhaps useful
functions blind us to its ever-increasing crimes against the
ordinary rights of the free citizen and the common decencies of
the world. The fact that it is generally respected--that it
possesses effective machinery for propagating and safeguarding
that respect--is the main shield of the rogues and vagabonds who
use it to exploit the great masses of diligent and credulous men.

"Whenever you hear anyone bawling for more respect for the laws,
whether it be a Coolidge on his imperial throne or an humble
county judge in his hedge court, you have before you one who is
trying to use them to his private advantage; whenever you hear
of new legislation for putting down dissent and rebellion you may
be sure that it is promoted by scoundrels. The extortions and
oppressions will go on so long as such bare fraudulence deceives
and disarms the victims--so long as they are ready to swallow the
immemorial official theory that protesting against the stealings
of the archbishop's secretary's nephew's mistress' illegitimate
son is a sin against the Holy Ghost. They will come to an end
when the victims begin to differentiate clearly between government
as a necessary device for maintaining order in the world and
government as a device for maintaining the authority and
prosperity of predatory rascals and swindlers...."