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starkAs family matters go, death is surely a big one.  How families respond to the deaths of loved ones is likely a primary determinant of a culture’s treatment of mortality.  Death is not a common social topic in the U.S. and I have sometimes thought that stemmed from a form of denial.  On the other hand, perhaps it is a function of propriety in which as a family matter, death is left to the family.  Still, it is my experience that death is not a common topic within families until someone within dies.

The W.H. Stark House in Orange, Texas is a museum that took an interesting approach to the typical silence on death with an exhibition specifically about the aspects of death in a family over a decade.  At issue is the Stark family who lived in the mansion that has since become a museum.  The exhibit – A Death in the Family – explores the private lives of the Starks in the context of loss and mourning.

Stephanie Fulbright reviewed the exhibit noting;

“By grounding the conversation in someone else’s story” the exhibit “opened the door to the conversation about death and mourning and offered people an avenue to think and talk about mourning and loss in their own context.”

Effectively representing personal experience with death in a publicly accessible way is an accomplishment that will hopefully be continued in other venues.


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o-LETHAL-INJECTION-PRISON-facebookEveryone dies, but most of us never kill anyone. Americans are divided over whether it is moral to take a person’s life. On the matter of State executions 37% affirm that it is not acceptable to kill prisoners while 61% maintain that it is morally acceptable to kill prisoners. That moral divide has held rather constant over decades. Now it appears to be in transition.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is a major Christian group with a powerful political lobby representing 45,000 churches. For 40 years the NAE has been a staunch proponent of State executions. The basic argument of the NAE has been that in order to be pro-life we must be willing to kill people.414388769_eee7427f32

“If no crime is considered serious enough to warrant capital punishment, then the gravity of the most atrocious crime is diminished accordingly.” (NAE, 1973)

In 2015 the NAE issued a new Resolution on Capital Punishment which for the first time recognizes differing views on State execution among Evangelicals.  The new resolution does not assert a stand for or against capital punishment.  Instead it recognizes that significant biblical and theological cases can be made both in favor of and in opposition to State execution.

“Evangelical Christians differ in their beliefs about capital punishment, often citing strong biblical and theological reasons either for the just character of the death penalty in extreme cases or for the sacredness of all life, including the lives of those who perpetrate serious crimes and yet have the potential for repentance and reformation. We affirm the conscientious commitment of both streams of Christian ethical thought” (NAE, 2015)

sunrise-182302_640This is a major shift away from the NAE’s long standing decree that robust support for State executions is the only legitimate position for Christians.

It is positive to witness a recognition of diversity of views on moral issues by a staunch conservative body.

When a long standing major proponent of a policy moderates it’s stance, the times are changing.

NAE Resolution on Capital Punishment, 1973

NAE Resolution on Capital Punishment, 2015

New NAE Resolution Recognizes Different Views on Death Penalty, 2015

The National Association of Evangelicals has changed its position on the death penalty, Washington Post, 2015

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Monkey Day 2014, a great day for monkeys and other primates!

Hanuman_Mistakes_the_Sun_for_a_FruitThis is an auspicious moment to honor Hanuman the Indian monkey god.  He excels in the virtues of intelligence, courage, and agility.  Son of Siva, god-son of Vayu, as an infant he mistook the sun for a fruit and chased after it voraciously.  He suffered for his error but gained the power of flight.

An excellent source volume is Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God (2010) by Sri Krishna Das.

A terrific cartoon, complete with talking animal characters (including a cameo from Bambi) and demon women warriors, is Hanuman.  It is in Hindi, but we English speakers ought not expect to be spoon-fed cultural comprehension.

Chimps are apes, not monkeys, but Monkey Day is a good time to honor them as well.

Significant progress in human evolution was made in 2013 when the National Institute of Health (NIH) moved to reduce research which uses chimpanzees as test subjects.  This follows the 2002 the Chimpanzee Health Improvement,450px-Kibale_chimp Maintenance and Protection (CHIMP) Act.

Chimp Haven is sanctuary for apes released from laboratory tyranny.  An astonishing release video demonstrates clearly the meaning of this change.  Possibly the human species is growing up.

The Great Ape Project, founded by philosopher Peter Singer, is dedicated to defending the rights of non-human primates.

The struggle continues as on 12.04.2014 the New York appeals court ruled that chimps do not have human rights protections.  The suit was brought on behalf of Tommy, a chimp held in captivity in NY.  I am confident that these legal efforts in defense of apes will grow.

At issue in this debate is the definition and value of personhood.  At a time when corporations are deemed to have constitutional human rights but apes do not, we have cause for reflection on our social values.

Kant argued that animals do not have equivalent moral status to humans because;

“The fact that the human being can have the representation “I” raises him infinitely above all the other beings on earth. By this he is a person….that is, a being altogether different in rank and dignity from things, such as irrational animals, with which one may deal and dispose at one’s discretion.” (1978, Lectures on Anthropology).

Even if we grant Kant’s conception of personhood as self-awareness, the philosophical and scientific animal consciousness demonstrates an increasing difficulty in separating humans from other animals: See Animal Consciousness.

I think that along with self-awareness comes doubt which enables us to question our own beliefs.  A powerful expression of human consciousness will be to call our beliefs about animals into question and extend to them the benefit of the doubt.  Let’s extend the golden rule to our bestial kindred, the 8099406232_383e5e3d91apes and monkeys.

Most of all, take this day to appreciate and value monkeys!

I’ll celebrate with banana cake and reading Hanuman stories and at least one Curious George book.

Happy monkey day!


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