Would Jesus have wanted Christianity?
Jesus wasn't about promoting divisiveness.
Rob Bell is a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and spiritual teacher. His books include Love Wins, How to Be Here, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Velvet Elvis, The Zimzum of Love, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and Drops Like Stars. He hosts the weekly podcast The Robcast, which was named by iTunes as one of the best of 2015. He was profiled in The New Yorker and in TIME Magazine as one of 2011’s hundred most influential people. He and his wife, Kristen, have three children and live in Los Angeles.
Rob Bell: Why is it so hard to love your neighbor? Well I mean if you think of in terms of evolution and how we got here tribes and tribal affiliation kept us alive. So you had your group and it was your group against the world. And there was a threat. At any time you had no idea where the threat was coming from. And so the way that the species survived, the way that we got here was people held to each other, stuck close to each other because you never knew what threat was hiding in those bushes. You even think about early brain development. Is there a lion in the bush or not. The brain developed quite quickly this radar for yes or no because if there is one I'm going to run this direction really fast. And so some of these impulses they served us very well and got us to this point. But the way the development works is something that may have gotten you to this point may now be in the way. I mean anybody want to go back to puberty? I don't. I don't have a problem with puberty. I'm quite grateful for puberty.
I'm also grateful that I moved through it. Without it I couldn't have gotten here. And so one of the keys to understanding how we grow as humans and how we spiritually grow is something that served us well for a while. And now you transcend it, you move beyond it but you've also included it. It's not like you ignore it or avoid it or deny it. It simply helped shape you into who you are. And so to this day for many people the other, the one who isn't like me, all of these primal instincts well up. Is this a threat? And could this person be a possible obstacle to my thriving and growth? I don't know. I have to do all sorts of assessment. My radar is on full when it comes to interacting with those people. But the powerful thing that's happening now is more and more people and the moments that when you often grow the most are when you are engaged. The moments when you engage with that person who is the other, who is them, and you discover if you look far enough inside them that you see yourself. And to me that's the real challenge, the real art, the real invitation is to look far enough into this person with the trust that at some point I will see myself. I will see my struggles. I will see my challenges. I will see a bit of my story in them.
I actually think Jesus would be mortified that a religions started in his name. I think he'd be like, "You what?!" I think Jesus came to wake us up and remind us of the shared humanity, the brother-and-sisterness of all of us. I don't think he came to create another division where people could say "Are you this or not this?"I find Jesus more compelling than ever. I find his message of love, grace, compassion, courage, a third way of nonviolence in the world, care for those who the system has not worked for them—Love for the widow, the orphan and the immigrant among you—I find his way, I find him more compelling than ever, I believe.
But I think the last thing he came to do was start another religion that would divide us even more. So when he says love your neighbor, which was a text from his tradition, he's quoting something there. If you love your neighbor, your neighbor could be anybody! And suddenly you have bonds and connection and solidarity with all sorts of people. That's always the moments of greatest joy. So I don't have really a problem with the word Christian, unless it becomes this giant bulky thing that serves just to divide people all the more when Jesus' message was about bringing us together.
- The reason it's hard to love our "neighbor" is because, from an evolutionary standpoint, people outside of our groups have always been suspected as possible threats.
- The way to love "others" is by engaging with them long enough that we begin to see, in them, ourselves. That is, we see our own struggles and challenges reflected back.
- Bell believes that the "last thing" Jesus wanted to do was found a religion that would divide humanity even more. Jesus would be "mortified," Bell says, that his followers started a religion in his name.
If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.
In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
- Prejudice is typically perpetrated against 'the other', i.e. a group outside our own.
- But ageism is prejudice against ourselves — at least, the people we will (hopefully!) become.
- Different generations needs to cooperate now more than ever to solve global problems.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.