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LCC Stories

How To Be Confused About a Tricky Issue


This email was sent to all faculty on October 30th, 2017.

We need to model behavior we want students to learn. It is a difficult path, but and education without challenges only provides the illusion of an education.
    - Eric Kim

I was hoping someone else would jump in to model this kind of discussion. But after more than two weeks no one has, so I will try.

If you have time, interest, and energy please assess the structure and flow of what I write. Totally separate from my personal views on the issue, what approaches and elements work or don't work for starting a conversation about a difficult topic? How do I succeed or fail in modeling behavior we want students to learn?

(Is there a sufficient attitude of inquiry? Are expected issues and feelings acknowledged? Is potential defensiveness defused? How do things move between abstract to personal? Is it too preachy? Is the concluding question too generic to be effective? Etc. That kind of assessment.)

Please do not hit "reply all".

Instead, I'll commit to compiling the replies I get and sending them all to everyone who contributes something. I expect those of us interested in pondering and developing the skills involved in discussing difficult topics will learn stuff! LCC provides instructions for dealing with an earthquake or a belligerent student; perhaps we can help formulate a similar aid for dealing with a surprise discussion topic about a difficult issue.

And to everyone, please excuse me for being foolish enough to "put myself out there" by writing a somewhat inappropriate e-mail to all faculty. Believe me, it was not really what I wanted to do this morning! But we need some actual attempt to assess, some actual behavior to model.

Here we go...

I have no idea when personhood begins.

I know that about 70% of fertilized eggs do not implant in the uterus, and 20% of pregnancies miscarry so early that they are unnoticeable by the parents. Neither God nor Nature values fertilized or even newly-implanted eggs in the same way human life is valued. Perhaps it is intended that two-thirds of humanity skip the evils of This World and go straight to the World to Come.

I also know that until its fifteenth day an embryo lacks a primitive streak (what becomes the spinal column) and can split into twins. In other words, for first two weeks the embryo is alive, but the actual question is not "Is this living thing a person?" but "How many people can it become?".

So the facts of biology make it hard to say a new embryo is a person.

But relationships disagree. Many parents start making plans and setting up a nursery and otherwise treating a desired child as person even before conception. Early miscarriages are sad things. (Due to Celiac Disease my wife had several, an especially sad one on Mother's Day.) Interestingly, scripture claims God can really know people as individuals even before their conception, most succinctly in Jeremiah 1:5.

Who really discusses this issue?

When have we last pondered the differences between life, personhood, and ensoulment?

Should we look for factual clarity in developmental milestones, religious creeds, or shout-able slogans?

I believe that factual clarity is not the best goal dealing with the sublime. As Heschel wrote, "Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge" and "The beginning of awe is wonder, and the beginning of wisdom is awe."

Perhaps you are different than me, and you do have certainty about this issue. Then I urge you to stay vibrant. Do not let certainty impair your ability to appreciate the sublime in wonder. Do not complain without also offering a reasonable suggestion for moving forward. It would be an ironic tragedy if contemplating when human life begins produced a stagnation of vision and heart that made the contemplator only half alive.

I think I just talked too much. What are you thinking and feeling?