Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Friday, March 29, 2013
Every year, we hear bizarre theories about Jesus having survived the crucifixion. This is known as the "swoon theory" which implies that though severely beaten and bloodied, Jesus had not actually died, but had gone into a state of near death and once he was off the cross and placed in the tomb, recovered and walked out. Journalist Lee Strobel, who was an atheist, set out to prove his wife wrong (she had just become Christian) set out to prove that the Christian faith was false, and interviewed experts in several fields who presented their cases so well that Strobel had no choice but to make a decision for Christ himself. he published his findings and interviews in "the Case for Christ". the interview that follows was taken from his later book "The Case for Easter"
THE CASE FOR EASTER
THE MEDICAL EVIDENCE: WAS JESUS’ DEATH A SHAM AND HIS RESURRECTION A HOAX?
I paused to read the plaque hanging in the waiting room of a doctor’s office: “Let conversation cease. Let laughter flee. This is the place where death delights to help the living.”
Obviously, this was no ordinary physician. I was paying another visit to Dr. Robert J. Stein, one of the world’s foremost forensic pathologists, a flamboyant, husky-voiced medical detective who used to regale me with stories about the unexpected clues he had uncovered while examining corpses. For him, dead men did tell tales—in fact, tales that would often bring justice to the living.
During his lengthy tenure as medical examiner of Cook County, Illinois, Stein performed thousands of autopsies, each time meticulously searching for insights into the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death.
Repeatedly his sharp eye for detail, his encyclopedic knowledge of the human anatomy, and his uncanny investigative intuition helped this medical sleuth reconstruct the victim’s violent demise.
Sometimes innocent people were vindicated as a result of his findings. But more often Stein’s work was the final nail in a defendant’s coffin. Such was the case with John Wayne Gacy, who faced the executioner after Stein helped convict him of thirty-three grisly murders.
That’s how crucial medical evidence can be. It can determine whether a child died of abuse or an accidental fall. It can establish whether a person succumbed to natural causes or was murdered by someone who spiked the person’s coffee with arsenic. It can uphold or dismantle a defendant’s alibi by pinpointing the victim’s time of death, using an ingenious procedure that measures the amount of potassium in the eyes of the deceased.
And yes, even in the case of someone brutally executed on a Roman cross two millennia ago, medical evidence can still make a crucial contribution: it can help determine whether the resurrection of Jesus—the supreme vindication of his claim to deity—was nothing more than an elaborate hoax. With Stein having impressed on me the value of forensic clues, I knew it was time to seek out a medical expert who has thoroughly investigated the historical facts concerning the crucifixion and has managed to separate truth from legend.
RESURRECTION OR RESUSCITATION?
The idea that Jesus never really died on the cross can be found in the Koran, which was written in the seventh century—in fact, Ahmadiya Muslims contend that Jesus actually fled to India. To this day there’s a shrine that supposedly marks his real burial place in Srinagar, Kashmir.
As the nineteenth century dawned, Karl Bahrdt, Karl Venturini, and others tried to explain away the resurrection by suggesting that Jesus only fainted from exhaustion on the cross, or he had been given a drug that made him appear to die, and that he had later been revived by the cool, damp air of the tomb.
Conspiracy theorists bolstered this hypothesis by pointing out that Jesus had been given some liquid on a sponge while on the cross (Mark 15:36) and that Pilate seemed surprised at how quickly Jesus had succumbed (Mark 15:44). Consequently, they said, Jesus’ reappearance wasn’t a miraculous resurrection but merely a fortuitous resuscitation, and his tomb was empty because he continued to live.
While reputable scholars have repudiated this so-called swoon theory, it keeps recurring in popular literature. In 1929 D. H. Lawrence wove this theme into a short story in which he suggested that Jesus had fled to Egypt, where he fell in love with the priestess Isis.
In 1965 Hugh Schonfield’s best-seller The Passover Plot alleged that it was only the unanticipated stabbing of Jesus by the Roman soldier that foiled his complicated scheme to escape the cross alive, even though Schonfield conceded, “We are nowhere claiming . . . that [the book] represents what actually happened.”
The swoon hypothesis popped up again in Donovan Joyce’s 1972 book The Jesus Scroll, which “contains an even more incredible string of improbabilities than Schonfield’s,” according to resurrection expert Gary Habermas.
In 1982, Holy Blood, Holy Grail added the twist that Pontius Pilate had been bribed to allow Jesus to be taken down from the cross before he was dead. Even so, the authors confessed, “We could not—and still cannot—prove the accuracy of our conclusion.”
As recently as 1992, a little-known academic from Australia, Barbara Thiering, caused a stir by reviving the swoon theory. Her book, Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, was introduced with much fanfare by a well respected US publisher and then derisively dismissed by Emory University scholar Luke Timothy Johnson as being “the purest poppycock, the product of fevered imagination rather than careful analysis.”
Today, the swoon theory continues to flourish. I hear it all the time. But what does the evidence really establish?
What actually happened at the Crucifixion? What was Jesus’ cause of death? Is there any possible way he could have survived this ordeal? Those are the kinds of questions that I hoped medical evidence could help resolve.
So I flew to southern California and knocked on the door of a prominent physician who has extensively stud ied the historical, archaeological, and medical data concerning the death of Jesus of Nazareth—although it seems that, due to the mysteriously missing body, no autopsy has ever been performed.
INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDER METHERELL,
The plush setting was starkly incongruous with the subject we were discussing. There we were, sitting in the living room of Dr. Metherell’s comfortable California home on a balmy spring evening, warm ocean breezes whispering through the windows, while we were talking about a topic of unimaginable brutality: a beating so barbarous that it shocks the conscience, and a form of capital punishment so depraved that it stands as wretched testimony to man’s inhumanity to man.
I had sought out Metherell because I heard he possessed the medical and scientific credentials to explain the Crucifixion. But I also had another motivation: I had been told he could discuss the topic dispassionately as well as accurately. That was important to me because I wanted the facts to speak for themselves, without the hyperbole or charged language that might otherwise manipulate emotions.
As you would expect from someone with a medical degree (University of Miami in Florida) and a doctorate in engineering (University of Bristol in England), Metherell speaks with scientific precision. He is board certified in diagnosis by the American Board of Radiology and has been a consultant to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health of Bethesda, Maryland.
A former research scientist who has taught at the University of California, Metherell is editor of five scientific books and has written for publications ranging from Aerospace Medicine to Scientific American. His ingenious analysis of muscular contraction has been published in The Physiologist and Biophysics Journal. He even looks the role of a distinguished medical authority: he’s an imposing figure with silver hair and a courteous yet formal demeanor.
I’ll be honest: at times I wondered what was going on inside Dr. Metherell’s head. With scientific reserve, speaking slowly and methodically, he gave no hint of any inner turmoil as he calmly described the chilling details of Jesus’ demise. Whatever was going on underneath, whatever distress it caused him as a Christian to talk about the cruel fate that befell Jesus, he was able to mask with a professionalism born out of decades of laboratory research.
He just gave me the facts—and after all, that was what I was after.
THE TORTURE BEFORE THE CROSS
Initially, I wanted to elicit from Metherell a basic description of the events leading up to Jesus’ death. So after a time of social chat, I put down my iced tea and shifted in my chair to face him squarely. “Could you paint a picture of what happened to Jesus?” I asked.
He cleared his throat. “It began after the Last Supper,” he said. “Jesus went with his disciples to the Mount of Olives—specifically, to the Garden of Gethsemane. And there, if you remember, he prayed all night. Now, during that process he was anticipating the coming events of the next day. Since he knew the amount of suffering he was going to have to endure, he was quite naturally experiencing a great deal of psychological stress.”
I raised my hand to stop him. “Whoa—here’s where skeptics have a field day,” I told him. “The gospels tell us he began to sweat blood at this point. Now, c’mon, isn’t that just a product of some overactive imaginations?
Doesn’t that call into question the accuracy of the gospel writers?”
Unfazed, Metherell shook his head. “Not at all,” he replied. “This is a known medical condition called hematidrosis. It’s not very common, but it is associated with a high degree of psychological stress.
“What happens is that severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. As a result, there’s a small amount of bleeding into these glands, and the sweat comes out tinged with blood.
We’re not talking about a lot of blood; it’s just a very, very small amount.”
Though a bit chastened, I pressed on. “Did this have any other effect on the body?”
“What this did was set up the skin to be extremely fragile so that when Jesus was flogged by the Roman soldier the next day, his skin would be very, very sensitive.”
Well, I thought, here we go. I braced myself for the grim images I knew were about to flood my mind. I had seen plenty of dead bodies as a journalist—casualties of car accidents, fires, and crime syndicate retribution—but there was something especially unnerving in hearing about someone being intentionally brutalized by executioners determined to extract maximum suffering.
“Tell me,” I said, “what was the flogging like?”
Metherell’s eyes never left me. “Roman floggings were known to be terribly brutal. They usually consisted of thirty-nine lashes but frequently were a lot more than that, depending on the mood of the soldier applying the blows.
“The soldier would use a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh, these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions, which would break open with further blows. And the whip had pieces of sharp bone as well, which would cut the flesh severely.
“The back would be so shredded that part of the spine was sometimes exposed by the deep, deep cuts. The whipping would have gone all the way from the shoulders down to the back, the buttocks, and the back of the legs. It was just terrible.”
Metherell paused. “Go on,” I said.
“One physician who has studied Roman beatings said, ‘As the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.’ A third-century historian by the name of Eusebius described a flogging by saying, ‘The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.’
“We know that many people would die from this kind of beating even before they could be crucified. At the least, the victim would experience tremendous pain and go into hypovolemic shock.”
Metherell had thrown in a medical term I didn’t know. “What does hypovolemic shock mean?” I asked. “Hypo means ‘low,’ vol refers to volume, and emic means ‘blood,’ so hypovolemic shock means the person is suffering the effects of losing a large amount of blood,” the doctor explained. “This does four things. First, the heart races to try to pump blood that isn’t there; second, the blood pressure drops, causing fainting or collapse; third, the kidneys stop producing urine to maintain what volume is left; and fourth, the person becomes very thirsty as the body craves fluids to replace the lost blood volume.”
“Do you see evidence of this in the gospel accounts?”
“Yes, most definitely,” he replied. “Jesus was in hypovolemic shock as he staggered up the road to the execution site at Calvary, carrying the horizontal beam of the cross. Finally Jesus collapsed, and the Roman soldier ordered Simon to carry the cross for him. Later we read that Jesus said, ‘I thirst,’ at which point a sip of vinegar was offered to him.
“Because of the terrible effects of this beating, there’s no question that Jesus was already in serious to critical condition even before the nails were driven through his hands and feet.”
THE AGONY OF THE CROSS
As distasteful as the description of the flogging was, I knew that even more repugnant testimony was yet to come. That’s because historians are unanimous that Jesus survived the beating that day and went on to the cross— which is where the real issue lies.
These days, when condemned criminals are strapped down and injected with poisons or secured to a wooden chair and subjected to a surge of electricity, the circumstances are highly controlled. Death comes quickly and predictably. Medical examiners carefully certify the victim’s passing. From close proximity witnesses scrutinize everything from beginning to end.
But how certain was death by this crude, slow, and rather inexact form of execution called crucifixion? In fact, most people aren’t sure how the cross kills its victims. And without a trained medical examiner to officially attest that Jesus had died, might he have escaped the experience brutalized and bleeding but nevertheless alive?
I began to unpack these issues. “What happened when he arrived at the site of the crucifixion?” I asked.
“He would have been laid down, and his hands would have been nailed in the outstretched position to the horizontal beam. This crossbar was called the patibulum, and at this stage it was separate from the vertical beam, which was permanently set in the ground.”
I was having difficulty visualizing this; I needed more details. “Nailed with what?” I asked. “Nailed where?”
“The Romans used spikes that were five to seven inches long and tapered to a sharp point. They were driven through the wrists,” Metherell said, pointing about an inch or so below his left palm.
“Hold it,” I interrupted. “I thought the nails pierced his palms. That’s what all the paintings show. In fact, it’s become a standard symbol representing the crucifixion.”
“Through the wrists,” Metherell repeated. “This was a solid position that would lock the hand; if the nails had been driven through the palms, his weight would have caused the skin to tear and he would have fallen off the cross. So the nails went through the wrists, although this was considered part of the hand in the language of the day.
“And it’s important to understand that the nail would go through the place where the median nerve runs. This is the largest nerve going out to the hand, and it would be crushed by the nail that was being pounded in.”
Since I have only a rudimentary knowledge of the human anatomy, I wasn’t sure what this meant. “What sort of pain would that have produced?” I asked.
“Let me put it this way,” he replied. “Do you know the kind of pain you feel when you bang your elbow and hit your funny bone? That’s actually another nerve, called the ulna nerve. It’s extremely painful when you accidentally hit it.
“Well, picture taking a pair of pliers and squeezing and crushing that nerve,” he said, emphasizing the word squeezing as he twisted an imaginary pair of pliers. “That effect would be similar to what Jesus experienced.”
I winced at the image and squirmed in my chair.
“The pain was absolutely unbearable,” he continued.
“In fact, it was literally beyond words to describe; they had to invent a new word: excruciating. Literally, excruciating means ‘out of the cross.’ Think of that: they needed to create a new word because there was nothing in the language that could describe the intense anguish caused during the crucifixion.
“At this point Jesus was hoisted as the crossbar was attached to the vertical stake, and then nails were driven through Jesus’ feet. Again, the nerves in his feet would have been crushed, and there would have been a similar type of pain.”
Crushed and severed nerves were certainly bad enough, but I needed to know about the effect that hanging from the cross would have had on Jesus. “What stresses would this have put on his body?”
Metherell answered, “First of all, his arms would have immediately been stretched, probably about six inches in length, and both shoulders would have become dislocated—you can determine this with simple mathematical equations. “This fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 22, which foretold the crucifixion hundreds of years before it took place and says, ‘My bones are out of joint.’”
THE CAUSE OF DEATH
Metherell had made his point—graphically—about the pain endured as the crucifixion process began. But I needed to get to what finally claims the life of a crucifixion victim, because that’s the pivotal issue in determining whether death can be faked or eluded. So I put the cause-of-death question directly to Metherell.
“Once a person is hanging in the vertical position,” he replied, “crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation.
“The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones.
“After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again he’d have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn’t be able to push up and breathe anymore.
“As the person slows down his breathing, he goes into what is called respiratory acidosis—the carbon dioxide in the blood is dissolved as carbonic acid, causing the acidity of the blood to increase. This eventually leads to an irregular heartbeat. In fact, with his heart beating erratically, Jesus would have known that he was at the moment of death, which is when he was able to say, ‘Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ And then he died of cardiac arrest.”
It was the clearest explanation I had ever heard of death by crucifixion—but Metherell wasn’t done.
“Even before he died—and this is important too—the hypovolemic shock would have caused a sustained rapid heart rate that would have contributed to heart failure, resulting in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart, called a pericardial effusion, as well as around the lungs, which is called a pleural effusion.”
“Why is that significant?”
“Because of what happened when the Roman soldier came around and, being fairly certain that Jesus was dead, confirmed it by thrusting a spear into his right side. It was probably his right side; that’s not certain, but from the description it was probably the right side, between the ribs.
“The spear apparently went through the right lung and into the heart, so when the spear was pulled out, some fluid—the pericardial effusion and the pleural effusion—came out. This would have the appearance of a clear fluid, like water, followed by a large volume of blood, as the eyewitness John described in his gospel.”
John probably had no idea why he saw both blood and a clear fluid come out—certainly that’s not what an untrained person like him would have anticipated. Yet John’s description is consistent with what modern medicine would expect to have happened. At first this would seem to give credibility to John being an eyewitness; however, there seemed to be one big flaw in all this.
I pulled out my Bible and flipped to John 19:34. “Wait a minute, Doc,” I protested. “When you carefully read what John said, he saw ‘blood and water’ come out; he intentionally put the words in that order. But according to you, the clear fluid would have come out first. So there’s a significant discrepancy here.”
Metherell smiled slightly. “I’m not a Greek scholar,” he replied, “but according to people who are, the order of words in ancient Greek was determined not necessarily by sequence but by prominence. This means that since there was a lot more blood than water, it would have made sense for John to mention the blood first.”
I conceded the point but made a mental note to confirm it myself later. “At this juncture,” I said, “what would Jesus’ condition have been?”
Metherell’s gaze locked with mine. He replied with authority, “There was absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead.”
ANSWERING THE SKEPTICS
Dr. Metherell’s assertion seemed well supported by the evidence. But there were still some details I wanted to address—as well as at least one soft spot in his account that could very well undermine the credibility of the biblical account.
“The gospels say the soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals being crucified with Jesus,” I said. “Why would they have done that?”
“If they wanted to speed up death—and with the Sabbath and Passover coming, the Jewish leaders certainly wanted to get this over before sundown—the Romans would use the steel shaft of a short Roman spear to shatter the victim’s lower leg bones. This would prevent him from pushing up with his legs so he could breathe, and death by asphyxiation would result in a matter of minutes.
“Of course, we’re told in the New Testament that Jesus’ legs were not broken, because the soldiers had already determined that he was dead, and they just used the spear to confirm it. This fulfilled another Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah, which is that his bones would remain unbroken.”
Again I jumped in. “Some people have tried to cast doubt on the gospel accounts by attacking the crucifixion story,” I said. “For instance, an article in the Harvard Theological Review concluded many years ago that there was ‘astonishing little evidence that the feet of a crucified person were ever pierced by nails.’ Instead, the article said, the victim’s hands and feet were tied to the cross by ropes.
Won’t you concede that this raises credibility problems with the New Testament account?”
Dr. Metherell moved forward until he was sitting on the edge of his chair. “No,” he said, “because archaeology has now established that the use of nails was historical—although I’ll certainly concede that ropes were indeed sometimes used.”
“What’s the evidence?”
“In 1968 archaeologists in Jerusalem found the remains of about three dozen Jews who had died during the uprising against Rome around AD 70. One victim, whose name was apparently Yohanan, had been crucified. And sure enough, they found a seven-inch nail still driven into his feet, with small pieces of olive wood from the cross still attached. This was excellent archaeological confirmation of a key detail in the gospels’ description of the Crucifixion.”
Touché, I thought. “But one other point of dispute concerns the expertise of the Romans to determine whether Jesus was dead,” I pointed out. “These people were very primitive in terms of their understanding of medicine and anatomy and so forth—how do we know they weren’t just mistaken when they declared that Jesus was no longer living?”
“I’ll grant you that these soldiers didn’t go to medical school. But remember that they were experts in killing people—that was their job, and they did it very well. They knew without a doubt when a person was dead, and really it’s not so terribly difficult to figure out.
“Besides, if a prisoner somehow escaped, the responsible soldiers would be put to death themselves, so they had a huge incentive to make absolutely sure that each and every victim was dead when he was removed from the cross.”
THE FINAL ARGUMENT
Appealing to history and medicine, to archaeology and even Roman military rules, Metherell had closed every loophole: Jesus could not have come down from the cross alive. But still, I pushed him further. “Is there any possible way—any possible way—that Jesus could have survived this?”
Metherell shook his head and pointed his finger at me for emphasis. “Absolutely not,” he said. “Remember that he was already in hypovolemic shock from the massive blood loss even before the crucifixion started. He couldn’t possibly have faked his death, because you can’t fake the inability to breathe for long. Besides, the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all. And the Romans weren’t about to risk their own death by allowing him to walk away alive.”
“So,” I said, “when someone suggests to you that Jesus merely swooned on the cross—”
“I tell them it’s impossible. It’s a fanciful theory without any possible basis in fact.”
Yet I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the issue. At the risk of frustrating the doctor, I said, “Let’s speculate that the impossible happened and that Jesus somehow managed to survive the crucifixion. Let’s say he was able to escape from his linen wrappings, roll the huge rock away from the mouth of his tomb, and get past the Roman soldiers who were standing guard. Medically speaking, what condition would he have been in after he tracked down his disciples?”
Metherell was reluctant to play that game. “Again,” he stressed, becoming a bit more animated, “there’s just no way he could have survived the cross.
“But if he had, how could he walk around after nails had been driven through his feet? How could he have appeared on the road to Emmaus just a short time later, strolling for long distances? How could he have used his arms after they were stretched and pulled from their joints?
Remember, he also had massive wounds on his back and a spear wound to his chest.”
Then he paused. Something clicked in his mind, and now he was ready to make a closing point that would drive a final stake through the heart of the swoon theory once and for all. It was an argument that nobody has been able to refute ever since it was first advanced by German theologian David Strauss in 1835.
“Listen,” Metherell said, “a person in that kind of pathetic condition would never have inspired his disciples to go out and proclaim that he’s the Lord of life who had triumphed over the grave.
“Do you see what I’m saying? After suffering that horrible abuse, with all the catastrophic blood loss and trauma, he would have looked so pitiful that the disciples would never have hailed him as a victorious conqueror of death; they would have felt sorry for him and tried to nurse him back to health.
“So it’s preposterous to think that if he had appeared to them in that awful state, his followers would have been prompted to start a worldwide movement based on the hope that someday they too would have a resurrection body like his. There’s just no way.”
A QUESTION FOR THE HEART
Convincingly, masterfully, Metherell had established his case beyond a reasonable doubt. He had done it by focusing exclusively on the “how” question: How was Jesus executed in a way that absolutely ensured his death? But as we ended, I sensed that something was missing. I had tapped into his knowledge, but I hadn’t touched his heart.
So as we stood to shake hands, I felt compelled to ask the “why” question that begged to be posed.
“Alex, before I go, let me ask your opinion about something—not your medical opinion, not your scientific evaluation, just something from your heart.”
I felt him let down his guard a bit. “Yes,” he said, “I’ll try.”
“Jesus intentionally walked into the arms of his betrayer, he didn’t resist arrest, he didn’t defend himself at his trial—it was clear that he was willingly subjecting himself to what you’ve described as a humiliating and agonizing form of torture. And I’d like to know why. What could possibly have motivated a person to agree to endure this sort of punishment?”
Alexander Metherell—the man this time, not the doctor—searched for the right words.
“Frankly, I don’t think a typical person could have done it,” he finally replied. “But Jesus knew what was coming, and he was willing to go through it, because this was the only way he could redeem us—by serving as our substitute and paying the death penalty that we deserve because of our rebellion against God. That was his whole mission in coming to earth.”
Having said that, I could still sense that Metherell’s relentlessly rational, logical, and organized mind was continuing to crunch down my question to its most basic,
“So when you ask what motivated him,” he concluded, “well . . . I suppose the answer can be summed up in one word—and that would be love.”
As I drove away that night, it was this answer that played over and over in my mind. All in all, my interview with Metherell had been thoroughly helpful. He had persuasively established that Jesus could not have survived the ordeal of the cross, a form of cruelty so vile that the Romans exempted their own citizens from it, except for cases of high treason.
Metherell’s conclusions were consistent with the findings of other physicians who have carefully studied the issue. Among them is Dr. William D. Edwards, whose 1986 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded, “Clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted.... Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”
Those who seek to explain away the resurrection of Jesus by claiming that he somehow escaped the clutches of death at Golgotha need to offer a more plausible theory that fits the facts.
And then they too must end up pondering the haunting question that all of us need to consider: What could possibly have motivated Jesus to willingly allow himself to be degraded and brutalized the way that he did?
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Medical Aspects of the Crucifiction: What He Endured For Us.
Compiled by David Terasaka, M.D. ©1996. All Rights Reserved, David Terasaka, M.D. However, permission is hereby granted to copy and distribute free of charge for non-commercial purposes only.
Heb 12:2 - "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
In the last few hours of Jesus' life what did He endure, and what shame did He suffer?
EXCRUCIATE: to cause great agony, torment
Latin : ex : out of, from cruciate : cross
"from the cross"
The tone of this presentation can best be summarized in the word "excruciate", (the root of the word "excruciating") which refers to something which causes great agony or torment. The Latin roots of the word are :"ex", meaning from or out of, and "cruciate", meaning cross. The word "excruciate" comes from the Latin for "from, or out of, the cross".(Websters)
Jesus spent the last hours before the crucifixion at several places in Jerusalem. He started the evening in the Upper Room, in southwest Jerusalem. At the Last Supper, He told the disciples that His body and His blood were to be given for them.(Matt 26: 26-29) He went outside of the city to the Garden of Gethesemane. He was then arrested and brought back to the to the palace of the High Priest. where He was questioned by Annas, a former High Priest, and Caiaphas, Annas' son in law . Afterwards, He was tried by the Sanhedrin, and found to be guilty of blasphemy by proclaiming Himself the Son of God. He was sentenced to the death penalty. Since only the Romans were able to execute criminals, He was sent to Pontius Pilate at the Antonia Fortress. Pilate, not finding anything wrong, sent Him to King Herod , who returned Him back to Pilate. Pilate, submitting to the pressure of the crowd, then ordered that Jesus be flogged and crucified. He was finally led out of the city walls to be crucified at Calvary.
THE HEALTH OF JESUS AND DEMANDS OF THE ORDEAL
It is reasonable to assume that Jesus was in good health prior to the ordeal that He faced in the hours before His death. Having been a carpenter and traveling throughout the land during His ministry would have required that He would be in good physical condition. Before the crucifixion, however, He was forced to walk 2.5 miles over a sleepless night, during which He suffered great anguish through His six trials, was mocked, ridiculed and severely beaten, and was abandoned by His friends and Father. (Edwards)
THE UPPER ROOM OR CENACULUM
The ordeal began in an upper room of a house at what we now call the Last Supper, where Jesus, in giving the first communion, predicted that His body and blood would be given.(Matt 26:17-29) Today in Jerusalem, one can visit the Cenacle or Cenaculum (Latin for dining hall), a room which is built over what is believed to be the site of the Upper Room, (Kollek) which was located on the southwestern aspect of the old city.
GETHESEMANE : oil press
Luke 22:44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
"the Spirit of God ....crushed"
From the upper room, Jesus went outside of the city walls where he spent time in prayer at the Garden of Gethesemane. The garden has many ancient olive trees today, some of which may have grown from the roots of the trees that were present in Jesus' time. (All trees in and around Jerusalem were cut down when the Romans conquered the city in 70 A.D. Olive trees can regenerate from their roots and live for thousands of years.) The name "Gethesemane", comes from the Hebrew Gat Shmanim, meaning "oil press" (Kollek). Since "oil" is used in the Bible to symbolize the Holy Spirit, it may be said that the garden is where "the Spirit of God was crushed".(Missler). It was here that Jesus agonized in prayer over what was to occur. It is significant that this is the only place in the KJV where the word "agony" is mentioned.(Strong's concordance) The Greek word for agony means to be "engaged in combat" (Pink) Jesus agonizes over what He is to go through, feeling that He is at the point of death.(Mark14:34) Yet He prays, "Not my will, but thine be done."
Of medical significance is that Luke mentions Him as having sweat like blood. The medical term for this, "hemohidrosis" or "hematidrosis" has been seen in patients who have experienced, extreme stress or shock to their systems. (Edwards) The capillaries around the sweat pores become fragile and leak blood into the sweat. A case history is recorded in which a young girl who had a fear of air raids in WW1 developed the condition after a gas explosion occurred in the house next door.(Scott)) Another report mentions a nun who, as she was threatened with death by the swords of the enemy soldiers," was so terrified that she bled from every part of her body and died of hemorrhage in the sight of her assailants."(Grafenberg) As a memorial to Jesus' ordeal, a church which now stands in Gethesemane is known as the Church of the Agony. (also called the Church of the Nations because many nations donated money to its construction.(Kollek)
ABANDONED BY MAN
Matthew 26:56: "Then all the disciples deserted him and fled."
Psa 22:11: "Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help."
While in Gethesemane, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested by the Jews. His disciples all desert Him, even at the expense of running away naked (Mark 14:51-52). He is bound (John 18:12) then brought back to the city to the court of the High Priest, which is located near the Upper room.
ILLEGAL ASPECTS OF THE TRIAL OF JESUS
Following are some of the illegal aspects of the trial of Jesus:
Trials could occur only in the regular meeting places of the Sanhedrin (not in the palace of the High Priest)
Trials could not occur on the eve of the Sabbath or Feast Days or at night
A sentence of 'guilty' might only be pronounced on the day following the trial
THE ISSUE OF WITNESSES
Deut 19:15: "One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."
Deut 17:6: "On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness."
Mark 14:56: "Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree."
While in the court of the High Priest, He was questioned by Annas (John 18:13) and struck by a soldier (John 18: 22). He was then brought to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. who sought to put Jesus to death by the false testimony of many witnesses. The witnesses brought against Him did not agree. By the law, no one could be put to death without the agreement of two or three witnesses. Although the witnesses did not agree, He was found guilty of blasphemy when He told them of His identity as the Son of God. He was sentenced to death. Jesus suffered ridicule from the palace guards, who spat on Him, beat Him and slapped Him on the face.(Mark 14:65.) During the trial, Peter denies Him three times. The proceedings of Jesus' trial violated many of the laws of His society. Among some of the other broken laws were:(Bucklin)
Any arrest could not be made at night.
The time and date of the trial were illegal because it took place at night and on the eve of the Sabbath. This time precluded any chance for the required adjournment to the next day in the event of a conviction.
The Sanhedrin was without authority to instigate charges. It was only supposed to investigate charges brought before it. In Jesus' trial, the court itself formulated the charges.
The charges against Jesus were changed during the trial. He was initially charged with blasphemy based upon His statement that He would be able to destroy and rebuild the Temple of God within three days, as well as His claim to be the Son of God. When He was brought before Pilate, the charge was that Jesus was a King and did not advocate paying taxes to the Romans.
As stated above, the requirement of two witnesses in agreement to merit the death penalty was not met.
The court did not meet in the regular meeting place of the Sanhedrin, as required by Jewish law.
Christ was not permitted a defense. Under Jewish law, an exhaustive search into the facts presented by the witnesses should have occurred.
The Sanhedrin pronounced the death sentence. Under law, the Sanhedrin were not allowed to convict and put the death sentence into effect. (John 18:31)
Today, one can visit the palace of the High Priest. where one can stand in the midst of the ruins of the courtyard. A model of the structure in Jesus' time is available for viewing.
Mark 15:15 - "Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified."
The Sanhedrin met early the next morning and sentenced Him to death. (Matthew 27:1) Because the Jews were not, and the Romans were, able to carry out an execution, Jesus was brought before Pilate. The charge was now changed to an allegation that Jesus claimed to be King and forbade the nation to pay taxes to Caesar. (Luke 23:5) In spite of all the charges, Pilate finds nothing wrong. He sends Jesus to Herod. Jesus is speechless before Herod, except to affirm that He is King of the Jews. Herod sends Him back to Pilate. Pilate is unable to convince the crowds of Jesus' innocence and orders Jesus to be put to death. Some sources state that it was Roman law that a criminal that was to be crucified had to be flogged first.(McDowell) Others believe that Jesus was flogged first by Pilate in the hope of getting Him off with a lighter punishment .(Davis) In spite of his efforts, the Jews allow Barabbas to be released and demand that Jesus be crucified, even crying that ,"His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:25) Pilate hands Jesus over to be flogged and crucified.
It is at this point that Jesus suffers a severe physical beating. (Edwards) During a flogging, a victim was tied to a post, leaving his back entirely exposed. The Romans used a whip, called a flagrum or flagellum which consisted of small pieces of bone and metal attached to a number of leather strands. The number of strikes is not recorded in the gospels. The number of blows in Jewish law was set in Deuteronomy 25:3 at forty, but later reduced to 39 to prevent excessive blows by a counting error. (Holmans). The victim often died from the beating. (39 hits were believed to bring the criminal to "one from death".) Roman law did not put any limits on the number of blows given. (McDowell) During the flogging, the skin was stripped from the back, exposing a bloody mass of muscle and bone ("hamburger " : Metherall). Extreme blood loss occurred from this beating, weakening the victim. perhaps to the point of being unconscious.
ROMAN SOLDIERS MOCK AND BEAT JESUS
Matthew 27:28-30 (The soldiers) stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. Jesus was then beaten by the Roman soldiers. In mockery, they dressed Him in what was probably the cloak of a Roman officer, which was colored dark purple or scarlet .(Amplified Bible) He also wore the crown of thorns. Unlike the traditional crown which is depicted by an open ring, the actual crown of thorns may have covered the entire scalp.(Lumpkin) The thorns may have been 1 to 2 inches long. The gospels state that the Roman soldiers continued to beat Jesus on the head. The blows would drive the thorns into the scalp (one of the most vascular areas of the body) and forehead, causing severe bleeding.
THE CROWN OF THORNS AND THE ROBE
Genesis 3:17-18: "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field."Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." The significance of the scarlet robe and crown of thorns is to emphasize Jesus' taking the sins of the world upon His body. The Bible describes sin by the color of scarlet (Is 1:18) and that thorns first appeared after the fall, as a sign of the curse. Thus, the articles that He wore are symbols to show that Jesus took on the sins (and the curse) of the world upon Himself. It is not clear that He wore the crown of thorns on the cross. Matthew describes that the Romans removed His clothes after the beating, and that they put His own clothes back on Him. (Matt 27:31)
THE SEVERITY OF THE BEATING
Isaiah 50:6: "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting."
Isaiah 52:14: "..... Just as there were many who were appalled at him -- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--"
The severity of the beating is not detailed in the gospels. However, in the book of Isaiah, it suggests that the Romans pulled out His beard.(Isaiah 50:8) . It is also mentions that Jesus was beaten so severely that His form did not look like that of "a son of a man" i.e. that of a human being. The literal translation of the verse reads, "So marred from the form of man was His aspect, that His appearance was not as that of a son of a man." People were appalled to look at Him (Isaiah 52:13). His disfigurement may explain why He was not easily recognized in His post resurrection appearances.(Missler) Today, one can visit a site known as the Lithostrotos, traditionally believed to be the floor of the Antonio Fortress.(although recent excavations may cast doubt on this theory (Gonen)) The floor is marked for games once played by the Roman soldiers
From the beating, Jesus walked on a path, now known as the Via Dolorosa or the "way of suffering", to be crucified at Golgotha. The total distance has been estimated at 650 yards. (Edwards). A narrow street of stone, it was probably surrounded by markets in Jesus' time. He was led through the crowded streets carrying the crossbar of the cross(called a patibulum) across His shoulders. The crossbar probably weighed between 80 to 110 pounds. He was surrounded by a guard of Roman soldiers, one of which carried a titulus, a sign which announced His crime of being "the King of the Jews" in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. On the way, He was unable to carry the cross. Some theorize that he may have fallen while going down the steps of the Antonio Fortress. A fall with the heavy patibulum on His back may have led to a contusion of the heart, predisposing His heart to rupture on the cross. (Ball) Simon of Cyrene (currently North Africa (Tripoli)), who apparently was affected by these events, was summoned to help.
The present Via Dolorosa was marked in the 16th century as the route over which Christ was led to His crucifixion.(Magi) As is the location of Calvary, the true location of the Via Dolorosa is disputed. Much tradition as to what happened to Jesus is encountered on the Via Dolorosa today. There are 14 stations of 'events' that occurred and 9 churches on the way today. The stations of the cross were established in the 1800's. (Magi) Today, there is one section of the path where one can walk on the stones which were used during Jesus time.
SUFFERING ON THE CROSS
Psalm 22:16-17: Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me."
The crucifixion event is prophesied in several places throughout the Old Testament. One of the most striking is recorded in Isaiah 52:13 ,where it says that , "My servant will act wisely (or prosper) .He will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted." In John 3, Jesus talks about His fulfillment of that prophecy when He says, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life." He refers to the events recorded in Numbers 21:6-9. The Lord had sent a plague of fiery serpents on the people of Israel and they bit the people so that many of the people died. After the people confessed their sin to Moses, the Lord for gave them by having a bronze serpent made. Bronze is a symbol for judgment and the serpent is a symbol of the curse. Whoever was bitten by a serpent and then looked at the bronze serpent, was saved from death.. These verses are prophecies that point to the crucifixion, in the Jesus would be (lifted up ) on the cross for the judgment of sin, so that whoever believed in Him should not die (an eternal death), but live an eternal life. II Cor 5 :21 amplifies this point, in that "He (the Father) made Him who knew no sin (the Son) to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."(Pink) It is interesting that the sign of Aesculapius which is the symbol of the medical profession today, had its roots from the making of the bronze serpent.(Metherall) Indeed, Jesus is the healer of all! Jesus is led to the place of the skull (Latin Calvary, Aramaic :Golgotha) to be crucified. The actual location of Calvary is also in dispute. At the end of the Via Dolorosa, there is a "T intersection". If one turns left, we go to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. If one turns to the right, one goes to Gordon's Calvary. The Church of the Holy sepulcher has long been believed to be the traditional site of the crucifixion.
Gordon's Calvary has a possible prophetic reason for being the actual site of the crucifixion .In Genesis 22, Abraham is tested by God to sacrifice Isaac on the top of a mountain. Realizing that he is acting out a prophecy, that "God Himself will provide a Lamb" , Abraham calls the place of the event "Jehovah Jireh", meaning "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen." If we take this as a prophetic event of Jesus' death, then Jesus' died on the high ground of Jerusalem. Gordon's Calvary is the highest point of Jerusalem, 777 meters above sea level.(Missler: Map from Israel tour book) Today, at Gordon's Calvary, caves in the rock are situated which give the site the appearance of a skull.
Jesus was then crucified. Crucifixion was a practice that originated with the Persians and was later passed on to the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians. The Romans perfected it as a method of execution which caused maximal pain and suffering over a period of time. Those crucified included slaves, provincials and the lowest types of criminals. Roman citizens, except perhaps for soldiers who deserted, were not subjected to this treatment. (McDowell)
The crucifixion site "was purposely chosen to be outside the city walls because the Law forbade such within the city walls...for sanitary reasons ... the crucified body was sometimes left to rot on the cross and serve as a disgrace, a convincing warning and deterrent to passers by." (Johnson) Sometimes, the subject was eaten while alive and still on the cross by wild beasts. (Lipsius)
The procedure of crucifixion may be summarized as follows. The patibulum was put on the ground and the victim laid upon it. Nails, about 7 inches long and with a diameter of 1 cm ( roughly 3/8 of an inch) were driven in the wrists .
The points would go into the vicinity of the median nerve, causing shocks of pain to radiate through the arms. It was possible to place the nails between the bones so that no fractures (or broken bones) occurred. Studies have shown that nails were probably driven through the small bones of the wrist, since nails in the palms of the hand would not support the weight of a body. In ancient terminology, the wrist was considered to be part of the hand. (Davis) Standing at the crucifixion sites would be upright posts, called stipes, standing about 7 feet high.(Edwards) In the center of the stipes was a crude seat, called a sedile or sedulum, which served a support for the victim. The patibulum was then lifted on to the stipes. The feet were then nailed to the stipes. To allow for this, the knees had to be bent and rotated laterally, being left in a very uncomfortable position. The titulus was hung above the victim's head.
There were several different types of crosses used during crucifixion. In Jesus' time, it was most likely that the cross used was a T shaped (or tau cross,), not the popular Latin, or t shaped cross which is accepted today.(Lumpkin)
PHYSICAL SUFFERING ON THE CROSS
Psalm 22:14-15: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death."
Having suffered from the beatings and flogging, Jesus suffered from severe hypovolemia from the loss of blood. The verses above describe His dehydrated state and loss of His strength.
When the cross was erected upright, there was tremendous strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints.(Metherall) The arms, being held up and outward, held the rib cage in a fixed end inspiratory position which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath. The victim would only be able to take very shallow breaths.(This may explain why Jesus made very short statements while on the cross). As time passed, the muscles, from the loss of blood, last of oxygen and the fixed position of the body, would undergo severe cramps and spasmodic contractions
ABANDONED BY GOD -- SPIRITUAL DEATH
Matthew 27:46: "About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?'--which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
With the sin of the world upon Him, Jesus suffered spiritual death (separation from the Father ). Isaiah 59:2 says that sins cause a separation from God, and that He hides His face from you so that He does not hear. The Father must turn away from His Beloved Son on the cross. For the first time, Jesus does not address God as His Father.(Courson)
DEATH BY CRUCIFIXION : SLOW SUFFOCATION
Shallowness of breathing causes small areas of lung collapse.
Decreased oxygen and increased carbon dioxide causes acidic conditions in the tissues.
Fluid builds up in the lungs. Makes situation in step 2 worse.
Heart is stressed and eventually fails.
The slow process of suffering and resulting death during a crucifixion may be summarized as follows:
"...it appears likely that the mechanism of death in crucifixion was suffocation. The chain of events which ultimately led to suffocation are as follows: With the weight of the body being supported by the sedulum, the arms were pulled upward. This caused the intercostal and pectoral muscles to be stretched. Furthermore, movement of these muscles was opposed by the weight of the body. With the muscles of respiration thus stretched, the respiratory bellows became relatively fixed. As dyspnea developed and pain in the wrists and arms increased, the victim was forced to raise the body off the sedulum, thereby transferring the weight of the body to the feet. Respirations became easier, but with the weight of the body being exerted on the feet, pain in the feet and legs mounted. When the pain became unbearable, the victim again slumped down on the sedulum with the weight of the body pulling on the wrists and again stretching the intercostal muscles. Thus, the victim alternated between lifting his body off the sedulum in order to breathe and slumping down on the sedulum to relieve pain in the feet. Eventually , he became exhausted or lapsed into unconsciousness so that he could no longer lift his body off the sedulum. In this position, with the respiratory muscles essentially paralyzed, the victim suffocated and died. (DePasquale and Burch)
Due to the shallow breathing, the victim's lungs begin to collapse in small areas. causing hypoxia and hypercarbia. A respiratory acidosis, with lack of compensation by the kidneys due to the loss of blood from the numerous beatings, resulted in an increased strain on the heart, which beats faster to compensate. Fluid builds up in the lungs. . Under the stress of hypoxia and acidosis the heart eventually fails. There are several different theories on the actual cause of death. One theory states that there was a filling of the pericardium with fluid, which put a fatal strain on the ability of the heart to pump blood (Lumpkin). Another theory states that Jesus died of cardiac rupture." (Bergsma) The actual cause of Jesus' death, however, "may have been multifactorial and related primarily to hypovolemic shock, exhaustion asphyxia and perhaps acute heart failure."(Edwards) A fatal cardiac arrhythmia may have caused the final terminal event. (Johnson, Edwards)
A LAST DRINK OF WINE VINEGAR
John 19:29-30 "A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips." When he had received the drink, Jesus said, `It is finished'. "With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
Having suffered severe blood losses from His numerous beatings and thus in a dehydrated state, Jesus, in one of His final statements, said "I thirst." He was offered 2 drinks on the cross. The first, which He refused, was a drugged wine (mixed with myrrh). He chose to face death without a clouded mind. Edersheim writes:
"It was a merciful Jewish practice to give to those led to execution a draught of strong wine mixed with myrrh so as to deaden consciousness" (Mass Sem 2.9; Bemid. R. 10). This charitable office was performed at the cost of, if not by, an association of women in Jerusalem (Sanh. 43a). The draught was offered to Jesus when He reached Golgotha. But having tasted it....He would not drink it. ....He would meet Death, even in his sternest and fiercest mood, and conquer by submitting to the full....(p.880).
The second drink, which He accepts moments before His death, is described as a wine vinegar. Two points are important to note. The drink was given on the "stalk of a hyssop plant". Remember that these events occurred at the Feast of the Passover. During this feast, (Exod 12:22) hyssop was used to apply the blood of the Passover lamb to the wooden doorposts of the Jews. It is interesting the end of this hyssop stalk pointed to the blood of the Perfect Lamb which was applied to the wooden cross for the salvation of all mankind. (Barclay) In addition, the wine vinegar is a product of fermentation, which is made from grape juice and yeast. The word literally means "that which is soured" and is related to the Hebrew term for "that which is leavened". (Holmans) Yeast or leaven, is a Biblical symbol of sin. When Jesus took this drink, (i.e. a drink which was "leavened") it is thus symbolic of His taking the sins of the world into His body.
CELEBRATION OF THE OPPOSITION
Psalm 22:12-13: "Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me."
While He was on the cross, darkness covered the land (noon to three p.m.). Jesus, in Luke 22:53, associates those who arrested Him with the power of darkness. Where were the evil forces while Jesus was on the cross? The verses above from Psalm 22 seem out of place when first read. There seems to be no mention of "bulls" and "lions" around the cross. The verses, however, have a deeper meaning.(Courson) Bashan was an area to the east of the Jordan River which was famous for its fertility. Cattle were raised there which grew to enormous sizes. The people there worshipped demon spirits (associated with Baal) within the cattle. In 1 Pet 5:8, Satan is described as "a roaring lion...seeking those who he may devour" These verses are thus suggestive of the spiritual activity of Satan and his demons, celebrating as Jesus was suffering on the cross.
JESUS LAID DOWN HIS LIFE
John 10:17-18 "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."
>Luke 23:46 "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit'." When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The average time of suffering before death by crucifixion is stated to be about 2-4 days(Tenney), although there are reported cases where the victims lived for 9 days.(Lipsius) The actual causes of death by crucifixion were multifactorial, one of the most significant would have been the severity of the scourging. (Edwards) Jesus died a quick physical death (Pilate was surprised that He had died so soon.(Mark 15:44)). While many of the physical signs preceding death were present, one possibility is that Jesus did not die by physical factors which ended His ability to live, but that He gave up His life of His own accord. His last statement, "Into your hands I commit my Spirit" seems to show that Jesus' death occurred by giving Himself up. In John 10, He states that only He has the power to lay down His life. He proved His power over death by His resurrection. Truly, God is the one who has power over life and death
DEATH BY CRUCIFIXION:
HASTENED by the breaking of the legs, so that the victim could not push up to take a good breath.
>John 19:32-33: The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
CONFIRMED by a spear thrust into the right side of the heart.
John 19:34: Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. Death in crucifixion was hastened by the breaking of the legs of the victim. This procedure, called crurifracture, prevented the ability of the victim to take in a good breath. Death would quickly occur from suffocation. In Jesus' case, He died quickly and did not have His legs broken. Jesus fulfills one of the prophetic requirements of the Passover Lamb, that not a bone shall be broken.(Exodus 12:46, John 19:36)
To confirm that a victim was dead, the Romans inflicted a spear wound through the right side of the heart. When pierced, a sudden flow of blood and water came Jesus' body . The medical significance of the blood and water has been a matter of debate. One theory states that Jesus died of a massive myocardial infarction, in which the heart ruptured (Bergsma) which may have resulted from His falling while carrying the cross. (Ball) Another theory states that Jesus' heart was surrounded by fluid in the pericardium, which constricted the heart and caused death.(Davis) The physical stresses of crucifixion may have produced a fatal cardiac arrhythmia. (Johnson)
The stated order of "blood and water" may not necessarily indicate the order of appearance, but rather the relative prominence of each fluid. In this case, a spear through the right side of the heart would allow the pleural fluid (fluid built up in the lungs) to escape first, followed by a flow of blood from the wall of the right ventricle.(Edwards) The important fact is that the medical evidence supports that Jesus did die a physical death.
The story, of course, does not end here. The greatest event that separates Jesus from all others is the fact that He rose again and lives today. He intercedes for those who follow Him at the right hand of the Father.(Heb 7:25)
APPEARANCE IN HEAVEN
Revelation 5:6: Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
In eternity, Jesus will bear the marks of His crucifixion. Rev 5:6 suggests that He appears in heaven with the marks as a Lamb "looking as if it had been slain". We know that when He appeared to Thomas that He bore the scars of the nails and the spear in His side.(John 20:26-28) It is also worth considering reasons as to why He was not immediately recognized after His resurrection. In John 21:12, it is stated that the disciples did "not dare to ask Him His identity, because they knew that it was the Lord." It is possible that His resurrection body still has the marks of His beatings. "The body of His glorification will be the body of His humiliation." (Missler)
Are we ready to meet Him? What have we done with what He has given to us?. Today, He encourages us to consider the cost of the cross and to apply it to our own lives.
FOLLOWING JESUS CHRIST
Luke 9:23: Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
When He was on earth, Jesus stated that , "If any man would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) As we have seen, in Jesus' time it meant going to your death, giving up and separating yourself from all that you had.......your rights, your friends, your body and blood and even your "god", to follow Him.
We are challenged by the example of Simon of Cyrene. Scripture mentions Him as being the father of Alexander and Rufus.(Mark 15:21) Rufus ("a choice man in the Lord") and Simon's wife were both addressed by Paul in his letter to the Roman church. (Romans 16:13) Here was a man, who indeed carried the cross...and made an impact for Christ in eternity. What commitment are you willing to make to Him now?
The Bible, God's Word (II Timothy 3:16-17), relates how God once had a personal relationship with man. God would talk and relate to man, just as you might relate to your best friend. God created man to give him a meaningful and purposeful life.
Man chose to go his own way by disobeying God. (This applies to all men as in Romans 3:23). This disobedience, called sin, caused a break in the relationship between man and God. If a man casually seeks a relationship with God by his own efforts (religion), he will find nothing, because sin has broken the communication. (Isaiah 59:2)
Christianity is the story of God sacrificing His Son to restore a relationship that was broken. As stated in the above text, Jesus gave up His life to pay for the sins of mankind and taking the punishment for the sin upon Himself. Because He gave His life on the cross, any one who believes in Him will have a restoration of a personal relationship with God. Jesus Himself claimed to be the only way to God (John 14:6) and only by the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ can man have a meaningful and purposeful life.(John 10:10)
God desires that all men come to know Him in a personal way. If you have never received Jesus' gift of Himself for your sins , or have any doubts to how you can have a meaningful and purposeful life by the kinowledge of God through Jesus Christ, you can start by praying a simple prayer, such as:
Dear Lord Jesus. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. I confess that I am a sinner before God. I acknowledge that by your death and sacrifice that you have paid the penalty of my sins for me. Please come into my heart and become the Lord of my life.As you gave your life, I give my life to you. I will take up my cross and follow you, not as I will, but to follow Your perfect will for my life. In Jesus Name, Amen.
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Holman's Bible Dictionary, Holman Bible Publishers, 1991.
Johnson, C.."Medicaland Cardiological Aspects of the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus, the Christ", Bol Asoc Med P Rico 70 (3) :97-102, 1978.
Kollek, T. and Dowley, T. , "Next Year in Jerusalem", Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 1995.
Lipsius, Justus. "De Cruce. Libri tres, ad sacram profanamque historiam utiles. (3rd part Tom III. Opera Omnia. Antwerp, 1614)
Lumpkin,R.."The Physical Suffering of Christ", J Med Assoc Ala 47: 8-10, 1978.
Magi, G. "Israel". Casa Editrice Bonechi, Florence, Italy, 1992.
McDowell, J. "The Resurrection Factor". Campus Crusade for Christ, Nashville, Tenn., 1981.
Metherall, A.. "Christ's Physical Suffering" (Tape) Firefighters for Christ , Westminister, Ca.
Missler, C. "Isaiah 53" (Tape) Firefighters for Christ, Westminister, Ca.
Missler, C. "Israel Tour Book" 1995 Edition.
Pink, A. "The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross", Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1958.
Scott, C.T. "A Case of Haematidrosis", Br Med J .1: 532-533, 1918.
Strong, J. "Strong's Concordance", MacDonald Pub Co., McLean, Va.
Tenney, S.M. "On Death By Crucifixion", Am Heart J .68(2) :286-287, 1964.
Websters Dictionary, Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1974.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Human Trafficking is a global problem. It is a major assault on the dignity and personhood of many of the poorest and most defenseless people in the world.
Human Trafficking is a meat grinder as Pope Francis put it. A very accurate description.
IT is the forcing of young people of both genders into prostitution. It is using poor people of all ages for pornography. It is the sex tourist trade... It is the drug trade, whereby children are used as mules...forced to swallow condoms full of drugs and sent to destination with a one way ticket, to be cut open and disposed of.
I am referring to street children who are abducted and sold for body parts to wealthy persons who want to jump the queue. I am referring to prisoners in certain country, many locked up for issues of conscience being executed, and their body parts sold to the wealthy.
I am referring to slave labour. Yes slavery is alive an well in the world. People living in apalling conditions, and made to work for the profit of others.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Here's interesting tidbit i heard about the ring: Is is recycled. Obviously it was never a Papal ring, but it had been worn by a former secretary of Pope Paul VI. He had it slightly modified, but instead of using money to have a new one made, he freed the money up for other uses by re-using an old ring.
There are a couple pf messages here.Stewardship of what we already have leaves us more to give to others.
Also , that this ring was worn by a close associate of Paul VI, may be a signal that Humanae Vitae is a part of who he is. In other words, he is showing us another aspect of Catholic Universality: The ring represents stewardship of all creation, be it natural resources, or human beings.
It's another way he is going to bring the church together. We have had liberals and conservatives, something there is no room for , since the body of Christ cannot function properly if it is divided. This sends the message that social justice include the pro-life and family teaching, which means that conservatives , who have been resistant to anything to do with social justice now can be confident that pro-life values will be respected in all the church's outreach to the poor, while those on the left will find support for their heart for the poor but understand that it cannot be done without respect for life. In other words, we cut through the "isms", and carry the cross of Christ. Even the Cross itself is representative of how we should be. The Patibulum goes from left to right, yet, the body of Christ was in the center of the cross, so the left and right must unite with Christ on the Stipe.
If we do any of our works apart from Christ, and Him crucified, whether for the poor or for the defenseless, They will survive the test of fire to which all our works will be put.
Monday, March 18, 2013
As an adoptee, I take GREAT exception to this rubbish, obviously prepared to bolster the argument that abortion is the better solution. If you go the main page, there is a big banner (similar to what we see on many pro-life pages) that says"Number of babies Lost to Adoption" .That gives teh reader allthe insight they need into their mindset
I know many adoptees, and I know birth mothers who made the right decision, and have talked to them at length and know all the angles.
Nobody says it is easy for birth mothers. There are consequences to choices.This bolsters the argument for chastity, since the situation of pregnancy can be avoided altogether.
Yet, as difficult a decision as it is for a birth mother to place a child for adoption, at least they are secure in the knowledge that the child is alive and given a chance at a new life with a family that will love them (and, i might add, be grateful to said birth mother) as opposed to the knowledge that their child is deceased, and their earthly remains treated as no more than medical waste, no dignity whatsoever.
I have never met my birth mother. I have never pursued it it for two reasons. While my adoptive parents were still living I wanted to honour them as my only parents since it was they who gave everything they had to raise me as their own, and because on the flipside, she could have gone on to a new life with a family of her own who know nothing about me. I am grateful to her for giving me life, and following through when teen pregnancy carried a real stigma.I thank her in my heart daily. I have long said that should he desire to meet me I will not hesitate to do that, but I will not intrude on her.
I will also say that at no time-NONE- was I ever made to feel like I was any less a member of my family than my sibling who was not adopted. Other adoptees in similar situations have told me the same.
Obviously, the ideal situation is the natural order of things where biological parents conceive and bear and raise children, but we live in a fallen world where because of our own choices, we get handed a lemon. Abortion is taking the lemon and throwing it away, while adoption is taking the lemon, and turning it into lemonade. It is a win win situation where one who for whatever reason either cannot or does not wish to raise a child, can do something that respects the humanity and inherent dignity of that little life, and bring joy to another family who cannot have their own children, or has room in their hearts for more.
with abortion there are no winners, except the abortion clinic who walks away with their fee, but at the price of their souls, so it is no win at all.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
That's what i tell my kids all the time. Don't fantasize about being a pop star. you have no freedom, you do as you're told. These people are not freewheeling rebels doing their own thing. Everything they do or wear, every dance move they do is what they are told to do by consultants. No more, no less. It even applies to their dating relationships. It's all fake. These relationships are scripted.
There is wealth and fame to be gleaned, but at the price of one's soul.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Connecting the Dots on So-called Same Sex "Marriage": Part 5: Dot #VI. Essay on the Nature of Human Culture
Dot #4: Essay on the nature of human culture
There are many tangential points that were brought up in the comments boxes to the previous posts, but I am worried that if I start tackling them one by one the volume of commentary will cause my core arguments regarding marriage and family to acquire a taste of negativity. I am, however, normally quite a cheerful person, living and Waiting in Joyful Hope. I do not want to take an approach that will obscure the beautiful and positive things I believe many if not most of us believe in and want to promote. Yes, I do think that Bill C-38 represents a legal disaster. But as much as the opposition to it needs to have an articulate position, we also need to be able to put forward our positive alternative vision, and articulate it as well. Here is my attempt to do so, and my hope is that the answers to these secondary points will then become self-evident.
The word "natural" has been kicked around quite a bit in the comments boxes. My own argument regarding the change in the law centres on the question of "natural family bonds". How can we expand on these concepts to create a positive, encompassing vision? It should be rational, even scientific, and rooted in natural concepts rather than depending solely on religious ones. Let us begin our exploration.
1. Our animal nature
If there is one thing I think we can all agree on, it is that we humans possess an animal side to our nature. We are living beings, not inanimate minerals. But we are not plants, we are animals. We are, of course, the most advanced species of animal yet produced by the process of evolution, at least in the intellectual sphere. As far as we know, we are the only animals capable of rational thought, and this defines to such a degree that the ancient Greek philosophers defined Man as a "rational animal".
Now let us recall what the theory of evolution says, particularly regarding animal behaviour. Animal behaviour, it proposes, is driven by two key instincts: the instinct of self-preservation, and the instinct to preserve the species through reproduction. In some ways, it is just two facets of the same preservation instinct: a personal facet for the individual, and a collective facet for the species as such. Now over time, mutations occur within a species that affect its ability to meet the needs arising from these instincts. Because of competition between species, the negative mutations are weeded out and the positive mutations remain, and so species evolve, gradually becoming better. Indeed, some species may have competition within themselves, to ensure that the healthiest members are able to pass on more of their genes to the next generation. We see this quite often in mating behaviours, for example, as males fight over the right to mate with a female in heat.
One of the key evolutionary advances that breeds survival success is greater animal intelligence. Animals that are "smarter" are better able to adapt to their environments, because they can *learn*. And the smartest animals we know of (apart from us) are the primates, particularly the most advanced of them. Many anthropologists have gone to study primate behaviour, in order to gain insights into human behaviour by studying these closest "cousins" of ours. They have discovered a number of interesting things worth noting here, to serve as a basis of comparison.
First of all, regarding primate sexual behaviour, they note a high degree of promiscuity. The higher primates are social animals, typically organized into family units around an "alpha male" who keeps a harem of females for himself which he defends against other males. This is seen as the evolutionary paradigm at work: he wishes to pass on his own genes to his offspring, so naturally he will want to have as many females as possible in his harem, and he will want to ensure that no other males intrude and mate with his females. The females, however, are not merely passive participants in the survival of the species. Weaker, typically younger males often lurk in the outskirts of these family units, and females often prefer to mate with them. You see, for one male to challenge another for the title of "alpha" is a test of brute strength, and ensures that offspring are physically strong from the male genes. For a physically weaker male to successfully sneak a tryst with a female, however, implies cleverness and greater intelligence, on the part of both the male and the female. Such trysts are actually better in an evolutionary standard, because the offspring, presumably, gradually acquire a greater physical capacity for animal intelligence. Polygamy and infidelity are the rules of the game in the primate world.
As animal intelligence increases, however, we see the emergence of something very interesting: the existence of a genuine animal culture. The basic instincts remain the central driving force, but more intelligent animals rely less and less on specific instinctual behaviours and more and more on learned behaviours. An insect hatched in a laboratory can be easily placed back into the wild, as it will simply live according to its instinctual impulses. Higher animals born in captivity often have a much harder time adjusting to the wild, however. For some, it is because their more specific instincts (the instinct to hunt, for example) has been sublimated and needs to be re-awakened, but in others it seems to be because those behaviours no longer *have* associated instincts — rather than being passed on purely biologically, these social animals pass on these behaviours through their social contact.
All of this is particularly true of primates. Primates possess a remarkable capacity to solve problems and to learn, and these behaviours can be passed down to the next generation by imitation. There is no gene, as far as we know, that causes a chimpanzee to stick a twig in an anthill to get at more tasty ants, or to wash the dirt off food by rinsing it in the ocean: these are inventions, and are transmitted, not by biology, but by culture.
Still, primate culture is quite primitive. The tools primates use are themselves drawn from nature — the twig already existed as a twig. The social behaviours are much more physical than mental: primates groom each other, but they don't recite poetry. Even the celebrated learning of basic sign language by certain gorillas and chimpanzees is not all that impressive when we consider that they didn't come up with the signs on their own in the first place, and they these signs always express concrete subjects rather than abstract ones: the gorillas know the signs for "red" and "berry", things that they can see, but ideas like "multiplication", "justice", and "God" mean nothing to them. It is still merely signing, and not yet true language, but the fact that such animals pass these signs on to their offspring shows the importance of animal "culture" in these creatures.
All this changed, however, with the coming of human beings, the most advanced animals in terms (at least) of intelligence. Let us see what this means.
2. The rational animals
As far as we can tell, human beings are the only animals that can truly be said to possess intelligence to such a degree that we can properly call it the gift of reason. Rationality gives us two capacities that other animals do not possess:
the capacity of free will, which can go so far as to override our specific instinctual impulses;
the capacity of abstraction, which permits us to attain true insight and understanding of things, as well as to use and manipulate symbols to convey meaning. The latter is the basis of language itself, as words themselves are symbols without an intrinsic connection to the thing signified.
The capacity for abstraction, in particular, meant that human evolution was to take on a whole new direction. While primate behaviour was beginning to show a cultural dimension, it was still biological evolution that was the key mechanism for better adaptation to the environment — and the process of biological evolution is slow. With the capacity for abstraction and insight, however, human inventiveness far surpassed the twigs-in-anthills of our closest evolutionary cousins. Fire, hunting weapons, tools, and clothing all permitted us to adapt quickly to new environments despite physical weaknesses, and the capacity of language allowed us to transmit the results of our successful experiments to others and pass them on to our children. There most certainly was evolution, but it was cultural, not biological, and it was driven by the accumulation of insights.
What, then, of human sexual behaviour? Some anthropologists have speculated that the behaviour of human beings, closely related as we are to the primates, should parallel the natural "best behaviours" of those primates. Such anthropologists see in these primate behaviours a justification and even sometimes an exaltation of polygamy and infidelity, or at least of promiscuity. These anthropologists forget, however, that humans are different, because we are rational beings. This is a radical shift in our natures, and it creates with it a corresponding new set of "best behaviours".
One thing we need to keep in mind is that the development in mental capacity for humans is coupled with a physical development: the larger cranial capacity of the human head. Basically, we have bigger brains for our body size, and we have bigger heads to match. Because of this, human babies need to be born with relatively underdeveloped bodies, or else the head would become too large to pass through the birth canal. Our children are born practically blind, unable to walk or even crawl, or even to lift their heads. Primate babies are nowhere near this helpless when they are born, coming into the world quite alert and strong, able to grasp mama's fur and to move about quite early.
So while human intelligence brings great advantages, it also comes at a cost: the human child demands a great deal more care, both initially and in the long road to adulthood. Human females, therefore, find themselves at a disadvantage with regards to their primate sisters: they cannot be anywhere near as independent, and they cannot simply rely on other females because they have the same problem. Some sort of pair bonding is therefore necessary with the males, who will contribute services of protection and providing. Arising from this comes the natural prerogative of monogamy. While males may still wish to have their harems and their trysts, the females are now suddenly a lot less interested, as true monogamy prevents the dispersion of the male contribution to child care.
Let me say that this analysis, as we have seen it thus far, is not my attempt to rationalize Judeo-Christian values. Many evolutionary biologists see certain parallel physical developments that seem to go hand in hand with tempering the biological "promiscuity drive" seen in other primates. Human females, for example, have a menstrual cycle that is very unusual in the animal world: it is not tied to the seasons, and shows very few external signs of fertility. Without knowing which of the subtle signs to read, women often don't even know for sure themselves! In the primate world the "alpha male" only gives his special sexual supervision to the females when they are in heat while largely ignoring the rest, but in the human world this is not possible, and so it is much harder for a human male to actually exercise sexual supervision of a harem — it is a full-time job, with regards to each and every female, and the male, if he is really is interested in seeing his genes survive in his offspring, needs to be busy providing for their care and the care of their mother. Polygamy is simply too much to handle.
There is also an interesting evolutionary development within human males that supports this evolutionary view: the possibility for human males to develop strong emotional bonds with their children. Among primates this is far less evident, with active child care confined largely to the females. Given the helplessness of the human babies, however, and the much longer time it takes for them to grow to adulthood, the females need the males to contribute to this task. It is only logical that evolution provide a mechanism to help support the males in their evolutionary imperative to help ensure that their offspring survive and mature and pass on their genes: rather than the generalized male indifference found in primates, male humans naturally have strong emotional bonds with their children. It is a different bond from the female one, but very real nevertheless. How many fathers have told me that their life changed when their first child was born — they felt a powerful emotion at work that they had never even imagined before! It is the power of a genuine human evolutionary trait, designed to help the species thrive.
All these basic patterns, complete with their primitive responses, can be seen in human behaviour today:
Human females have traditionally looked for a strong mate who would be, first and foremost, a good provider, and who would contribute to the rearing of the children. This is true across all major cultural groups. Human females tend to be devastated when they discover their mate has been unfaithful, which is an echo of the reality that such infidelity threatens a dispersion of the male-contributed resources to the family unit that are necessary for survival. Human males, partly because they never know when their mates are fertile, insist upon a reciprocal fidelity, most basically in order to ensure that the children are truly theirs. Human beings tend to monogamy, again across cultures. Where polygamy exists, whether as multiple wives or as harems of concubines, such social structures are only accessible to the wealthy and powerful, and indeed are often seen as a sign of that wealth and power.
All these elements, rooted in biology and structured by our rational natures, give rise to a set of natural "best behaviours" for the human race. Philosophers call it the "natural law", but no matter what term we use it is merely a recognition of certain logical patterns built into us that are meant to help us achieve the evolutionary imperative of survival: survival of self, and more particularly survival of the species.
3. The role of culture
As I mentioned above, higher animals (and especially human beings) evolve not only biologically but culturally. Ideally, the biological development of a bigger brain would have been accompanied simultaneously by the biological development of other physical features and instinctual behaviours, to round out the picture. Evolution, however, is a slow and sometimes chaotic process. Perhaps the bigger brain came first, and gradually other physical features (such as the hidden menstrual cycle) followed, with nature selecting in favour of those features because they contributed to the creation of a set of "best behaviours" that supported the obviously important advance of intelligence.
There is no guarantee, however, that the human species has yet evolved to possess, biologically, the fullest set of supporting instincts. In one sense, perhaps we don't absolutely have to. Because we possess culture, those human "best behaviours" don't need to be programmed by nature, they can simply be learned and passed on from generation to generation: the flexibility of intelligence itself allows the mind to quickly supply for instinctual behaviours the physical side of our nature has not yet provided. On the other hand, it obviously is useful for the human race to slowly catch up by biologically providing instincts that back up the "best behaviours" already determined by the intelligence. One could say that this kind of natural selection has been led by human beings themselves, using our intelligence in the selection of mates whose behaviour is best in synch with the human "best behaviours". As such biological instincts manifest themselves in human behaviour, they would tend to be experienced as a kind of sub-rational wisdom: a certain "relaxation of spirit" when behaviour is consistent with human "best behaviours", and an uneasiness when behaviour is inconsistent.
Human beings, then, find themselves between two states. With our bigger brains capable of supporting the function of abstraction we have evolved beyond the state of the primates, but this brain creates new behavioural demands because of slow relative physical development. This capacity for intelligence allows us to supply for the lacking instinctual behaviours through cultural development as we wait for biological evolution to catch up, but this means that humans always face a particular temptation: the temptation to fall back into primate behaviours, mistaking them for our true "best behaviours". Our capacity for free will allows us to override any residual primate instinctual behaviours, and so, strengthened by culture, this capacity allows us to continue to live according to our own human "best behaviours". While we are likely also slowly evolving a new set of instinctual behaviours to replace the primate behaviours, and indeed for many of us this evolution of a "natural conscience" may be quite advanced, we must also recognize that the success of the human species has historically depended on two things: the use of intelligence to discover the human "best behaviours" made necessary by the simply physical demands of that intelligence, and the use of free will to override the residual primate instinctual behaviours and choose the new, culturally discovered human behaviours.
Taking the evolutionary imperatives of personal and species survival as our criteria, therefore, we can state the following: Those cultural developments which support human "best behaviours" are superior to those which instead allow us to revert to, or indeed canonize, primate behaviours.
This is a fairly radical statement, especially in this day and age of cultural relativism. We like to believe that all cultures are equal, seeking to avoid any ethnocentric chauvanism. At the same time, though, we do recognize that, for people to be able to live and work together, some kind of basic common ground is necessary. Each time a new ethnic group immigrates to Canada, for example, bringing with it its own ways of life, some kind of cross-cultural exploration becomes necessary to discover these ground rules. If radical cultural relativism was truly the norm, then Canada would have no choice but to accept cultural groups which practiced human sacrifice, doing so in the name of being unwilling to "judge". But we don't accept such groups, and in fact we do believe that there are "better" and "worse" human behaviours, regardless of culture. The analysis I am presenting here is quite simple: rooted in the very nature of human beings as opposed to primates and other animals, I am proposing a basis upon which this common ground can be determined.
Now some may argue that, in fact, there are "best behaviours" that arise from the condition of primitive man, but because we are now a much wealthier and more advanced society it is possible to throw off these requirements of biology and write our own new "best behaviours". For example, when the development of the birth control pill was announced, Hugh Hefner (the founder of Playboy) is said to have proclaimed, "At last, sex can be used for recreation, not procreation!" There can be no doubt that this new technology led to a revolution in sexual behaviour, such that both women and man are more promiscuous, in both intent and deed, and there is a greater cultural tolerance and even celebration of promiscuity. But is this really progress, or regress? Promiscuity is, in fact, a return to primate sexual behaviour. We see it in its accompanying signs: the impetus to form monogamous pair bonds weakens, bringing with it an increase in adultery and breakdowns of monogamous relationships (i.e. divorce rates rise). And when pregnancies do occur, the women often find themselves abandoned by the men to raise the children on their own. In many cases this leads to cycles of poverty and poor socialization, reducing our capacity to culturally strengthen the next generation (particularly the men) to avoid the excesses of primate behaviour: a downward spiral sets in, gradually leading to the decline of the culture itself. Of course, some will argue that abortion technology should be used to stop such pregnancies, but to do so is to go against one of the most basic of natural laws — the law of the survival of the species, written into the most basic instincts of all animate living things. And of course, again it is the women more than the men who pay the price of conscience in such matters.
This decline of the culture is a serious matter, because we need to realise that cultures do not exist in a vacuum. Many different cultures have arisen all over the world, and these compete with each other for the passing on of both genetic and cultural material to the next generation. The very existence of this competition is what justifies the claim that certain cultures are superior to others. The simple fact is that a culture that behaves according to the human "best behaviours" is, in the long run, going to produce more and better offspring. Such cultures are acting in accordance with the evolutionary imperative of survival of the species (in this case, of the cultural sub-group), and so each new child will be seen as a blessing. These cultures will create family units with greater stability, meaning the children will be better socialized, and those family units, seeing their children as their raison d'être, will ensure they are better educated. How can a more "primate" culture compete? Given enough time, they will simply be bred into insignificance, with the culture that is more in tune with human "best behaviours" taking a dominant role.
May I add that this is happening today. Let me put an example to you in the most blunt terms possible: While it does not do so perfectly, Islamic culture respects many natural "best behaviours" better than current post-modern Western culture. It is no wonder, then, that many Muslims believe Western culture to be decadent: according to the standard of natural "best behaviours", it is! One might believe that they will simply assimilate into Western culture, but they have the necessary cultural support to avoid falling into the primate behavioural elements of that culture, rooted as they are in a strong religious sense. Therefore, while Muslims living in the West will adapt to the many advances of Western culture, they will *never* actually assimilate into it en masse. Increasingly the West is having to accommodate the presence of this culture within its boundaries, and given a few more generations of Western cultural decadence, the West will in fact be dominated by Islamic culture.
More and more I see pundits wringing their hands at this reality of Islam within the West, and I read articles filled with fear, resentment and even loathing for the Islamic resistance to cultural assimilation. Such cases are usually accompanied, however, with an utter lack of awareness that perhaps what is something wrong with Western culture can be identified using an objective standard. Human "best behaviours" provide that standard, not only for the West, but for all cultures.
So what are the cultural features that should be present for human "best behaviours" to be properly supported?
4. Elements of a truly human culture
The following list, without pretending to be exhaustive, outlines which I believe should be present for a culture to be able to rise above primate behaviours.
Children are a blessing
A truly human culture accepts and lives the evolutionary imperative to propagate the human species. Every child is, therefore, a blessing, and while the attitudes of individuals are one thing, there is no cultural attitude that validates the idea of an "unwanted child": even if the child is not wanted by the parents, the child is wanted by the culture as a whole.
Now some may argue that this point is in fact dangerous, because it will eventually lead to overpopulation. "Overpopulation", however, is a relative term: it is always determined as a function of available resources, such as food. And, starting with the doomsday scenario of Malthus, *EVERY* prediction made thus far of a population disaster has been an utter failure. Why is this?
We need to understand that, all other things being equal, higher populations are better than lower ones for the development of human culture. The motor of cultural development is the discovery of new insights, such as scientific insights. A new beneficial biological mutation takes a long time to spread throughout a population, because it is only useful to the direct descendents of the originator of the mutation. A new insight, on the other hand, is propagated by the intelligence, not by biology, and so can benefit all human beings relatively quickly. The simple fact, then, is that the more people there are seeking new cultural insights and working for their propagation, the more human culture will develop. The evolutionary imperative to "be fruitful and multiply" produces more than just people: it produces a culture that, more and more rapidly, is able to adapt to any situation.
The bottom line is that by the time this world truly reaches a level of population that is unsustainable even with the extraordinary technologies that will be developed by then, we will already be colonizing Mars and spreading throughout the solar system (and possibly the galaxy). "Overpopulation", for it to even exist as a potential danger, requires unfettered procreation within the context of a selfish primate culture. The solution is not fewer offspring; the solution is to elevate the culture.
Social support for natural family bonds, particularly in education
Part of the evolutionary imperative of the survival of the species is the fact that this is accomplished by actual individuals doing the reproducing, who seek to ensure that their genetic heritage is passed on. There is therefore a natural bond that exists between parent and child which is, quite simply, an axiom of life.
While the parent-child bond does exist, however, the fact that humans develop partly through culture, as well as the fact that our free will can override our instincts, can mean that these bonds are stronger in some and weaker in others. A truly human culture would therefore seek to provide special cultural support, creating a climate of respect and honour for parents and parenthood. There would be a positive recognition of the natural family bonds that exist between parents and their children, along with support for the rights and responsibilities that flow from them. This would include a strong legal bias in favour of custody for natural parents.
The most important of these rights, next to the right of custody, is the right to for parents to determine the best way for their children to be socialized and educated. This socialization is extremely important for human beings, given the large role given to culture in human society. Parents fulfill their evolutionary imperative by not only begetting children, but by seeing that they are properly raised. (Let me also add that, because this requirement is long and demanding, it tends to place an upper limit on the number of children that will be born in human societies, unless that society has degenerated to a more primate culture and the proper socialization of children is less of a practical concern.)
The right to educate, therefore, does not begin with the society as a whole, but at a lower level, with the parents. Society does have a right to insist that parents properly undertake this responsibility, but it should step in only when absolutely necessary. Apart from this, because it is part of the evolutionary imperative tied to the natural family bonds with their children, parents should have the primary right to determine the best mix of home education vs. institutional education (i.e. schools), as well as the proper curriculum.
Gender difference understood as complementary
A truly human culture would recognize that men and women are equal but different: true equality is therefore not rooted in the idea that the sex difference is fundamentally unimportant, but in the idea that a complementarity exists between men and women.
Modern feminist analysis sees the root of social problems in the concept of patriarchy, i.e. the dominance of women by men. This, however, is actually a feature of primate culture, in which the males "own" their females and use their physical strength to keep them in sexual subjegation without, in fact, doing a great deal to ensure that the next generation is looked after (as this contribution simply isn't necessary). A truly human culture, on the other hand, recognizes that the success of the next generation actually requires (because of the helplessness of human children and the need to a long socialization) the active cooperation and collaboration of both parents, and possesses this as a cultural norm.
Still, this partnership does not have to equal the radical denial of gender difference. A truly human society demands a partnership between men and women, but (coming as we are from a primate background) men live their maleness differently from the way women live their femaleness. This is not necessarily the start of a new patriarchy: indeed, without it, patriarchy may be impossible to avoid. If men are not socialized into their maleness in a manner that respects the unique differences of that maleness, they will by default fall back into primate patterns and patriarchy will resume (as we are seeing in the fallout of the sexual revolution). I might also add that the primate pattern for women is to meekly accept their subjegation, as the monkeys females do. That isn't right either.
What does this proper socialization therefore require? In short, the presence of both parents, each contributing their proper part of this socialization. Boys need role male models to socialize them into proper manhood, but the strong presence of women is also needed to prevent this male bonding from turning into an "boys club" that is simply a union to push for the re-establishment of patriarchy; in other words, the men need strong women to help identify for them the path of true partnership. In their turn, girls need female role models to socialize them into proper womanhood, but also need a strong and upright male presence to teach them that they should not accept subjegation and patriarchy should primate patterns threaten to reassert themselves.
The solution for a truly human society, therefore, is not a total separation of the sexes, nor a denial of gender difference. It is a vision of partnership and equality rooted in gender complementarity.
As has already been demonstrated, monogamous marriage becomes a necessary cultural imperative to properly support the next generation of children. The only real alternative is polygamy, specifically polygyny (polyandry is exceedingly rare in human cultures). Polygamy spreads the resources for proper physical and cultural development too thinly, however. Monogamy really is the only possibility for a truly human culture.
We must concede, however, that polygamy *does* exist. Where does it come from? Polygamy is often seen in very warlike cultures, because the higher death rate of men over women from war casualties creates a gender imbalance: half a husband is better than none in such a context, especially when there are already children in the picture. Polygamy also often arises among the ruling class of a society, as the kinship bonds created by marriage become a mechanism to create alliances within and across tribes and nations: often, the king is culturally expected to be polygamous, for the sake of social peace. Finally, polygamy often arises in situations of wealth and power, even outside of the ruling class. In this respect, the wealth acts an enabler for the resurgence of primate behaviour, because the simple reality is that, in order to have multiple wives (or to keep a harem) a human male needs to have much greater resources than a primate male. He must contribute far more to the care of his multiple offspring, and the hidden fertility of his women means he must be even more vigilant than a primate male. Is it any wonder that the harems of many ancient cultures were guarded, but guarded by eunuchs? Such harems, of course, quickly become their own raison d'être, acting more as social symbols of wealth and power than true attempts to propagate the species.
Human culture demands more than simple monogamy, however. Because primate behaviour lurks so closely below the surface, a truly human culture transforms monogamy into the social institution of marriage. Human free will is the capacity that permits human to override any lurking primate instincts, and so human marriage is, in fact, rooted in a meeting of wills: whether it is through tea ceremonies, spoken vows, or the tossing of flower petals, the partners in marriage *choose* one another. The public nature of this institution is also important, because monogamy is not important only for the couple, but for the whole of society. It is not surprising, therefore, that societies create a special social category for married persons, complete with its own vocabulary: they do so to support the marriage partners in their vows.
Strict regulation of divorce
Monogamous marriage, as we have seen, is important for a truly human culture. Easy divorce, on the other hand, leads to a form of polygamy called "serial polygamy". i.e. multiple spouses, just not all at the same time. In some ways, this is even worse than simultaneous polygamy, because the former spouses often find themselves truly abandoned. Divorce, for example, is often associated with single-mother poverty.
Because marriage is a choice, a meeting of wills, society does have the right to insist that people keep their promises and remain married. In the end, easy divorce gradually leads to the establishment of a primate culture.
This being said, we must recognize that there are times when a marriage truly has broken down, in the worst cases because of the manifestation of primate behaviours like adultery or jealous possessiveness leading to abuse. Society does need some mechanism, therefore, to permit the separation of a couple. The conditions for a divorce should be quite strict, so that the entire institution of marriage itself does not descend into primate chaos. In particular, society should enforce strict requirements on parents, that regardless of their current marital status they have a positive duty to contribute to the welfare of their children, which is one of the reasons for monogamy in the first place. Of course, there must be a certain reciprocity: such parents, unless they present a danger to their children, should be permitted to continue to participate in the education and socialization of their children, as otherwise their "contribution to the welfare" of the children is merely financial.
Another possibility open to society for the regulation of divorce would be the expansion of the possibilities of civil marital annulments. Currently, civil annulments are granted only on technical grounds (such as being under age). These grounds could be expanded to include cases of personal immaturity or improper socialization. The marital vows are meant to help prevent primate behaviour from surfacing, in part by identifying socially-supported marital expectations, but it may be that there are persons who, despite the fact that they say "I do", are still personally in a very primate attitude and are not really capable of a truly human marriage.
Sexuality as something sacred
A quick study of ancient human cultures shows that sexuality was held as something sacred, particularly in respect to fertility. Ancient stone carvings, for example, show female figures with impossibly large hips and breasts, themselves signs of fertility, and a study of the ancient values of world religions shows a preoccupation of the human spirit regarding sex and fertility.
Of course, you don't need to examine ancient stone carvings to know that sex is on peoples' minds. This is quite natural, and is part of the basic instinct to reproduce the species. What is interesting, however, is how societies tend to wrap sexuality in sacred language and attitudes. We should not confuse the sacred with the religious: the word "sacred", in the original sense, does not mean "holy" as much as it means "set apart", or if you prefer, "put in its own proper place". Human society seems to "sacrilize" sexuality quite readily: unlike animals, people tend to have sexual relations in private, and even sexual language is often replete with metaphors. Conversations about sex generally require a preparatory context, and despite this, is still often accompanied by nervousness and giggles. Although its exact form is different from place to place, modesty is a common human norm.
Why do we so spontaneously create cultural norms that sacrilize sex? Again, it goes back to the original tension between our primate ancestry and our human nature. Patterns of promiscuity, beneficial to primates in their evolution, are destructive to the future of the human species. Cultural patterns therefore necessarily develop to keep this promiscuity in check.
Apart from promiscuity and infidelity, however, we often find sacred language used to describe the sexual relations of husband and wife. Typically this language celebrates such relations. But, interestingly, the sacred dimension of sex is also often found to justify limiting sexual relations even within the context of marriage. Again, this is easily comprehensible within the context of human evolution. The relatively long time it takes for a human child to come to full maturity naturally mitigates against having an excessive number of children, because even the biological imperative to pass on our genes depends on not just having kids but raising them well. We can therefore conclude that a certain regulation of sexual contact even within marriage makes sense, and in fact this is what we often see. The only foolproof way to not get pregnant, of course, is to not have sex, and so cultures often develop patterns of periodic abstinence, even within marriage.
A whole host of other sexual taboos rounds out the mix. Sexual activities that do not respond to the evolutionary imperative to spread one's genes within the gene pool, such as bestiality, incest, and homosexuality, are seen as sexual deviations. Children exposed to sexual contact at a young age often become very promiscuous as adults, so it is natural to expect that human societies would frown upon such contact. Sex before marriage also becomes a social taboo in this context, and there are strong social prohibitions against sex outside of marriage (i.e. adultery).
It is not only the sex acts themselves, however, that are wrapped in taboos: even artistic and cultural representations of sex are made "sacred". Whether it is the depictions of sex acts on Hindu temples (note: on temples!), or the style of discussion within medical textbooks, these is still a sense of sex being "set apart". An exception to this, of course, is pornography. But pornography regularly depicts elements of a very "primate" attitude to sexuality: largely consumed by men, porn typically displays spontaneous sex acts outside of marriage, all without any inhibitions, cultural or otherwise. Even the women depicted are a nod to primate culture: they evoke a sense of fertility, being young and/or having a body shape that resembles the ridiculously large breasts and hips of the ancient statuettes. Even the fact that porn is largely silent regarding pregnancy and childbirth is a part of this "primate dynamic": the male apes just don't care, because the females do all the work anyway! Pornography is, quite simply, inherently patriarchal.
Fornication and its depiction in pornography have historically been strictly regulated, if not by law then by sexual taboos. Some of you reading this may have even become uncomfortable by this very academic discussion. Our modern society has seen an explosion of fornication and pornography, however. Oddly, this has been partly driven by the drive for women's equality. The simple reality is that while virginity before marriage and fidelity within marriage may be the cultural ideal, there are many cultures which place all the burden for this upon women while the men continue to behave, literally, like apes. I have sometimes heard women complain that it isn't fair that men get to sleep around while women have to remain faithful. But while it is true that such men are behaving like primates, the solution is not for the women to join in and behave like primates too! As in the primate world, female promiscuity actually benefits the men more than women, and for women to simply join in leads inexorably to the justification of the misogyny of the primate world. Feminism is correct when it promotes the positive role of women in society against patriarchy. It is incorrect, however, when it sees sexual equality requiring equal access to fornication. This is merely a recipe for greater patriarchy further down the road, and feminism is at war with its own values when it extols female promiscuity.
Of course, throughout history women have quite readily accepted the uneven balance of sexual responsibility, simply because they find themselves facing an uneven balance in its consequences: it is the women who get pregnant, and primate behaviour dictates that it be the women who raise the children. What, then, has occasioned the massive increase in female participation in casual sexual contact? Quite simply, the breaking of the sexual act with its consequences. Simone de Beauvoir, the noted feminist, believed that full female liberation would require a sexual liberation in which women could behave as freely as men. She also noted, however, that this would never happen until abortion and contraception was widely available. Well, the future is now, and the advent of these two technologies allows women to then pursue their own side of primate behaviour: sexual contact with males without a sense of commitment. Of course, this often leads to conflicted feelings within the females themselves, because of the very conflict between their human nature and these residual primate instincts. And the greatest conflict comes when a pregnancy does occur, because the choice is often either single-motherhood, or abortion. The latter, of course, goes against both human and primate evolutionary imperatives. Even the female primates, in their multiple sexual contacts, are open to the possibility of procreation. We should not be surprised to discover that human females who have abortions typically don't brag about it.
This now brings us to a very important discussion regarding the means of family planning. There are two possible ways to avoid pregnancy: by artificial methods, which seek to block the act of conception by technology, and by natural methods, which seek to determine when the couple is not fertile and limit sexual contact to those times. Both kinds of methods can be over 90% effective, but there is in fact a very real difference between the two. Artificial methods permit sexual contact at any time, and so opens the door to promiscuity, anonymous sex, and a lack of sexual self-control. Natural methods, on the other hand, require the cooperation of both partners, and depend on good communication and trust between them; they also require self-discipline in matters of sex, and so help build the traits that support fidelity and monogamy. Now this does not mean that all couples who use artificial methods of contraception are necessarily doing so because they want to have permission to be unfaithful — far from it, I am sure! But we should still not be surprised to learn that divorce rates are far lower for couples who use natural methods, and that such couples report far higher rates of marital satisfaction. It still isn't nirvanna — humankind is far too complicated for that to depend on one thing — but the results are striking. It is merely the manifestation of the satisfaction that comes from living according to human nature, rather than according to our primate echoes.
A truly human culture will be one in which altruism is promoted as superior to selfishness. Now there are some anthropologists who see this as contrary to the basic evolutionary imperative to pass one one's genes. Such a motive, they believe, demands and justifies a certain competition, to ensure a "survival of the fittest". Even biologically, however, we are already social animals even within the context of reproduction, as we need pair bonding for the sake of our offspring. Beyond this, humans evolve primarily by culture, rather than by biology, and so there is a definite value to seeing *all* offspring thrive, not just our own, because the success of other offspring may very well contribute to cultural advancements from which all humans benefit. Nevertheless, our primate echoes do seem to reside in us as a "selfish gene", and so a truly human culture encourages and supports a sense of altruism, and even encourages us to choose that altruism when it is difficult.
How does the "selfish gene" typically manifest itself? We see it at its most basic in the preference parents have for their natural children over other children. As long as it does not lead to harm for other children this can be a wholesome thing, as the bond is in fact the root of the self-sacrifice of parents for their children, but it does also explain why we prefer for adoptions to take place within extended families, and why we screen adoptive parents before giving them custody of orphans: we are looking for either a close family bond to parallel the natural bond, or we are looking for people who are sufficiently "human" to take care of the orphans as their own.
The "selfish gene" shows up in other levels of social organization as well. We prefer our extended family to our local clan. We prefer our local clan to our tribe. We prefer our tribe to the tribes of "outsiders". It is no wonder, then, that to counteract the subtle influence of the "selfish gene" humans have, throughout history, relied on family ties and imagery to provide the necessary cultural support to prevent social disintegration. Whether it is marriages between royalty or a common ancestor myth, these mechanisms exist in order to justify the cultural development of altruism towards the Other.
What happens when this altruism is limited, and a situation of "us" and "them" arises? It does not take long for xenophobia, racism, and war to result. In its most basic form, war occurs when it is easier for one socially-knit group to steal the resources necessary for its own survival rather than produce them on their own, but war depends on an "us" and "them" mentality: one does not kill those who may enrich us culturally unless we believe that they cannot enrich us culturally. But even war is not the worst crime against humanity: this is reserved to genocide. Even war usually stops at enslaving the oppressed people. Many Jews in the Nazi death camps believed that, as brutal as the Nazis were, they would not exterminate them as long as they were economically useful. But in Nazism we see the worst manifestation of primate instincts in an "us" and "them" mentality. The Jews, let us not forget, had produced until that time a great many scientific and cultural advances: Einstein was a Jew! But the Nazis were not interested in the possibility of benefiting from further cultural advances: instead, they defined their enemy according to blood, declaring them racially inferior, and therefore sought to remove the Jews from the breeding pool of humanity by extermination. Primates, let us not forget, care less for culture and more for biological breeding: left unchecked, in an "us" and "them" context that allows justifies raw biological competition, anything can happen.
A truly human culture, therefore, sees altruism and social openness as a generally beneficial norm. Even the division of human beings into different physical races becomes unimportant, because the capacities of abstraction and language are common to them all and permit beneficial cultural contact. A truly human culture seeks to multiply such contacts, seeking to overcome xenophobic tendencies and cross-cultural misunderstanding for the benefit of all. There is one caveat, however: it may not be possible for a human culture, despite its general openness, to be fully open to another culture that is more "primate", because of the limitations of the latter. A truly human culture defines everyone as "us", but the irony is that the part of that "us" may include more primate cultures which define part of the "us" as "them"! Civilization is always threatened with disintegration, then, whether from within due to cultural decadence, or from without due to pressure from the "barbarians". The solution is not disengagement, however: the more human culture should seek to engage the genuinely human elements of the cultural patterns of the Other, and in the event war does result it should not utterly crush the vanquished but instead use the opportunity to bring them to a higher level of culture. When Germany was defeated in World War II its people were not annihilated, but rather the destructive elements were purged and a new, peaceful and productive culture was born that has taken its place in the community of nations.
Altruism, however, for it to become a community-wide value, needs to start at home. A truly human culture seeks to encourage this, and in this regard it will see even the weakest members of its society as valuable. Our older people no longer reproduce, and may even require such assistance as to not be making any realistic economic contribution to society, so in a more "animal" paradigm there is little reason for them to be honoured, but the simply requirement to "honour our mother and father" helps build our cultural altruism to overcome the echoes of our primate selfishness. A culture which honours its aged is displaying human characteristics; neglect of the aged is a primate behaviour. The same also applies to other weak members of our society, such as the crippled, or the mentally handicapped. Yes, the care of such persons consumes social resources, but it also produces its own reward: the strengthening of cultural altruism. In some ways, these poorest and weakest among us represent one of our greatest cultural treasures. Finally, some might say that the greatest sign of cultural altruism will be found in the way we treat our criminals. Criminal behaviour, by definition, is anti-social, a kind of private war against society, and so such persons need to be removed from society for the protection of the greater body. But how are such persons to be treated? With bitterness, and revenge? A truly human society seeks reformation for such persons, but even if there is no hint of reform possible, even if such a person must be labeled a dangerous offender and isolated from society for the rest of his life, the very fact that he is treated in a human way is a triumph of altruism over our primate echoes. Even the enemies of human society give us an opportunity to strengthen our resistance to falling into barbarism.
The quest for meaning
Every human being has a basic sense of the concepts of "pleasing" and "displeasing", simply from our own experience. Even babies grimace when they are fed food they don't like. This experience is not limited to humans, though: anyone who has ever pet a purring cat, or scratched the belly of a dog, knows that animals understand "pleasing" and "displeasing" as well. Among primates, some of these pleasurable activities are used to cement social relationships, such as the practice of grooming. Primates even use sexual practice to achieve secondary social outcomes, something that fits well in their promiscuous natures.
Among humans, however, the communication of pleasure is joined, thanks to our rational nature, to the communication of meaning. Language is so much more than sounds from our mouths: it comprises gestures, choices, and actions as well. "What did he or she mean by that?" is a common question only humans ask. It merely serves as an illustration of a much larger quest in life, however: the quest for meaning.
The basic level of the experience of "pleasingness" starts with the physical senses. We have basic appetites — food and sex being two of the most basic — but we humans tend to do more than satisfy them: we seek meaning within them. Food rituals exist in every culture as a form of social bonding, in things as simple as family dinner. For humans, sex is much more than mere mating, but rather it is intercourse, in the truest sense of the word: a "conversation" of the body, communicating love and intimacy. These two appetites form the basis of what the ancient Greeks called eros, but the physical level of pleasingness can be expanded to include dance, music, sports, and so on. As near as we can tell, animals do none of these things.
The next level of "pleasingness" extends to concepts of the mind. Human beings find a certain pleasure in discovery and learning. To be sure, some of this is because it gives us a greater sense of control over our environment, but there can still be beauty in a mathematical equation, or in a really good book. Take the latter as an example: it is not a satisfaction of the senses — we are less interested in the quality of the paper or the print on the page — but we *are* interested in the contents. We want to see what it all *means*.
The highest level of "pleasingness" belongs, for lack of a better word, to the soul. I am not proposing here some sort of natural proof for the existence of the soul. What I *am* proposing is that there is an ultimate level of our quest for meaning that comes face to face with our finitude. Human beings seem to have a "thirst for the infinite", which manifests itself most basically in our religious quest. We pray and meditate, something animals do not seem to do, and in the face of death we ask ourselves, "Is that it?"
Social rituals, moral codes, philosophy, sports, the exploration of nature, art, and religion are all social constructs which, in part, serve the function of responding to this quest for meaning. Animals don't do them, but humans do, and within each of them we are inspired to go beyond our mere animality. A truly human society welcomes and encourages each of these things as part of the total humanization of, well, human beings. Now it *is* easy for each and any of these things to descend into becoming a tool to support our primate echoes, but at the same time they act as a measuring stick to let us know when this is happening: eating is now about fast food; sexuality turns into "If it feels good, do it"; moral codes which teach the value of sacrifice are seen as backward; cheating becomes more prevalent in sports, as winning becomes more important than how you play the game; the arts are reduced to a source of stimulation and titillation; and so on.
As for religion, a decline into a more primate culture will naturally lead to a decline in religious practice in general. In particular, the experience of death will become increasingly socially intolerable, something Ernest Becker famously noted in his Pulitzer prize-winning book "The Denial of Death". Periods of mourning will become increasingly short, for example: primates do not mourn their dead. But a loss of a sense of meaning in the face of death only leads to a loss of a sense of meaning in the face of life, for death comes to us all. Life easily turns into a frenetic search for distractions, but when those distractions are stripped away life itself becomes intolerable. Decadent human culture has, at its core, a seed of despair and nihilism: euthanasia and suicide become socially acceptable norms for those who cannot imagine continuing to live. Or, in a more sinister form, for those whom *we* cannot imagine wanting to live.
A truly human culture, therefore, strongly supports the genuine human quest for meaning. It makes a generous place for religion. It organizes sports leagues, in a spirit of true sportsmanship. It supports the arts, particularly those arts which in the excellence of their presentation or their subject matter, express an echo of the deepest longings of the human heart. It honours its dead, particularly those who died after a noble life or in a noble cause, and it honours those who choose to live despite great obstacles. In short, in every part of human activity, it seeks to truly "humanize" that field of endeavour, lifting it out of the merely animal through the consideration of meaning. This is the highest level of "pleasingness" available to man, and a truly human society holds it up as its highest goal.
What you have just read is my personal vision for human society. I think it is reasonable and rational, rooted in the best philosophical natural law tradition but further explored given the data of anthropology and modern human experience. I do believe, of course, that the reality of human existence goes far beyond these points: I am a Catholic priest, after all! I believe that there is a God, and that he has taken an active part in human history. Grace builds on nature, though, so it does behoove us to begin with a consideration of that underlying nature. Among other things, it permits us to dialogue and form community with those who do not share our specific religious convictions.
I have been struggling to find a name for this paradigm, and I've decided to settle on the term socio-naturalism. It call it this because it is a vision of the social dimension of the human person (hence the socio), but it is more than a rooting of that vision in biology (i.e. it is more than sociobiology, which already exists as a field of inquiry). My social model includes biological elements, but incorporates human reason as an integral determining part of that social model. What is at stake, then, is not just human biology, but human nature: hence, socio-naturalism.