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\"How dead is dead?\"

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From "How dead is dead?" story in the Economist:

IN GENERAL, people are pretty good at differentiating between the quick and the dead. Modern medicine, however, has created a third option, the persistent vegetative state. People in such a state have serious brain damage as a result of an accident or stroke. This often means they have no hope of regaining consciousness. Yet because parts of their brains that run activities such as breathing are intact, their vital functions can be sustained indefinitely.

When, if ever, to withdraw medical support from such people, and thus let them die, is always a traumatic decision. It depends in part, though, on how the fully alive view the mental capacities of the vegetative—an area that has not been investigated much.

To fill that gap Kurt Gray of the University of Maryland, and Annie Knickman and Dan Wegner of Harvard University, conducted an experiment designed to ascertain just how people perceive those in a persistent vegetative state. What they found astonished them.

Find out what here.

Retreat from theology's frontiers

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We report today that the Vatican’s orthodoxy watchdog department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has sharpened its focus on the way theology is being conducted in our church today. The purpose of the congregation is to uphold Catholic doctrine. The congregation, however, misconstrues its role when it becomes the arbiter of what constitutes Catholic theology, managing and even squelching discussions within the theological magisterium. Doctrine and theology should have separate places in the Catholic lexicon.

Lessons from Libya

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What appears to be the victory of rebel forces in Libya is welcome news for the oppressed people of that nation. Consolidating that victory will be as difficult as, if not more than, overthrowing Qaddafi.

There is no history or traditions in self-rule much less in democracy in that country. Nevertheless, what is inspiring is the strength of the people in wanting to take control over their lives and to achieve their liberation.

This is one more example of what is now being called the "Arab Spring" or the liberation movements starting with Tunisia, then Egypt, now Libya, and still in progress in Syria and, hopefully, in other despotic Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia.

I take from these events, including the events in Libya, two lessons.

O'Brien's opportunity with the Order of the Holy Sepulchre

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Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore is known for rarely pulling his punches, whether it’s openly wondering if the Legionaries of Christ are capable of reform in the wake of the scandals surrounding their founder, or pushing Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on gay marriage.

Here’s hoping O'Brien brings the same "tell-it-like-it-is" style to his new job as pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, because the embattled Christians of the Middle East desperately need a real political heavyweight to take up their cause.

On this day: Oliver Wendell Holmes

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On this day in 1809, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born.

"The twenty-ninth day of August, in the year eighteen hundred and nine, was Commencement Day in a double sense in the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts; for on that day of smiles and greetings, — the merriest of all the year, the day of the graduating festival of Harvard College, — the Rev. Dr. Abiel Holmes entered in his little almanac the memorandum, 'Son b.,' at the same time sprinkling over the writing a few grains of sand, which still glisten upon the page just as they did when he closed the book, seventy-four years ago."

--Oliver Wendell Holmes: Poet, Littérateur, Scientist, by William Sloane Kennedy, Boston, 1883, page 11.

Morning Briefing

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Archbishop O'Brien leaving Baltimore for post in Rome, Expected to continue work in Baltimore until successor is chosen

Archbishop Chaput bids adieu to Denver

Bolivia: Catholic bishop says indigenous people have a say in road development

John Paul II's blood brings hope for peace in Mexico, a waxen figure of late Pope John Paul II and relics (his blood) has begun a tour of the country.

Ireland Cardinal Brady defends seal of confession, says proposals on mandatory reporting of sex abuse may challenge religious freedom

Hermeneutics as Weapon

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Beware of hermeneutics! It’s a $25 Greek word, referring to the god Hermes, considered the inventor of language and speech, and it deals with the principles of interpretation used in examining the meaning of texts. In theological and philosophical circles, hermeneutics has a long, relatively polite history as scholars probed the writings of masters and came up with diverse (though not necessarily contradictory) meanings based on their hermeneutic perspective. Picture a formal dissertation with two scholars dissecting from different points of view a proposition (preferably in Latin) from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, while a more or less rapt audience of students looks on.

That was then, this is now.

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