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Texas Faith 13: Do we put too great a premium on our biological lives?

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Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

Despite the cries at town-hall meetings, the House's health care bill contains no "death panels" that would force end-of-life decisions upon elderly Americans. But the protests certainly have revealed a deep anxiety among some voters about the end of their lives.

Part of that is natural. No one wants someone else making decisions for them about how their days come to a close. Yet it also speaks to a heightened fear that many of us have about our mortality.

Texas Faith moderator Rod Dreher explored this subject in a paper he did for his Templeton Cambridge journalism fellowship this summer. He drew upon the writings of Orthodox theologian Jean-Claude Larchet, author of "The Theology of Illness." Here's an excerpt from Rod's work:

Larchet laments the way today's patient has become entirely dependent on physicians for deliverance from physical illness and related maladies. Paradoxically, despite the great advances medical science has made in treating illness, Larchet says patients today have fewer spiritual and psychological resources with which to cope with illness than their ancestors did. He identifies five factors in modern life in the West that put the patient at the mercy of physicians:

1. The overvaluation of biological life.

2. Psychological health conceived as an enjoyment of physical and material well being in the body.

3. Fear of anything that can reduce or eliminate that enjoyment.

4. A refusal of all suffering, and the suppression of pain, as the highest value of civilization.

5.Fear of biological death as the absolute end of human existence.

In Larchet's view, all this leads people to expect salvation from medicine, turning physicians into priests, kings and prophets - a role they did not seek, and which they are utterly unequipped. Orthodox Christianity brings to the holistic treatment of a sick person a philosophically ascetic orientation increasingly alien to the way we live and think in the modern West.

With that in mind, here's this week's question:

In thinking about health care, have we gotten to the point that we put too great a premium on our biological lives? As we have become more secularized, have we lost sight of the transcendent?

In thinking about health care, have we gotten to the point that we put too great a premium on our biological lives? As we have become more secularized, have we lost sight of the transcendent?

See what our panelists have to say:

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas

(I was late for my submission so in my haste I wrote these two sentences.)

What is the use of saving only the dress of a drowning man? The soul is different from the body and therefore has its own needs and concerns. Over oiling your car will not rid yourself of an empty stomach, similarly simply taking care of the body but neglecting the soul will not rid one of suffering.

Hare Krishna :)

Your humble servant,

Nityananda Chandra Das

To see all the responses from the Texas Faith Panel click here