Some thoughts on the Wesley J. Smith lecture at St. Tikhon’s Seminary

I listened to Wesley J. Smith’s lecture a few days ago and have been thinking about it ever since (listen to it here). Some thoughts in no particular order:

St. Tikhon Theological Seminary1. It is very good that St. Tikhon’s invited Smith to speak for several reasons. First it introduces the seminarians to the concrete questions debated in the larger culture and thus the hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices where end of life decisions are made. They will be called on to consult with families to help make these decisions and must be able to recognize the ideas behind the differing opinions that health care professionals offer in these situations.

2. It is very good that St. Tikhon’s is examining the larger moral and cultural dimension of these bioethical questions as well. Smith is a front line warrior, with particular expertise in the relationship between a high ethic of human life and human rights. It is important that those of us who hold to the same high ethic but defend it primarily in theological terms understand Smith’s approach since they are closely interrelated. Hopefully Holy Cross and St. Vladimir’s will recognize his expertise and invite him to speak as well.

3. Smith made a point that is very powerful and needs to be developed: Those who seek to rid suffering from society do so by seeking to kill those who suffer. Don’t believe me? Watch this (and listen closely):

While Virginia Ironside ostensibly wants to relieve the suffering of a child by killing it, what she really wants is to relieve her own anguish caused by the suffering child. Watch the reactions of the guests, especially the female minister with the clerical collar (an incongruous image, but her reactions are authentic and appropriate).

(While I am at it, beware too of the financial pragmatism of the right spilling over into the utilitarian ethic [see: Not Dead Yet Mike Huckabee Says Folks with Pre-Existing Conditions are Uninsurable, Just Like a Burnt-Out House]. Mike Huckabee is no moral relativist and values human life, but good motives don’t justify sloppy thinking.)

Back to the point: Smith’s argument that some people want to eliminate suffering by killing those that suffer has tremendous moral power and strikes the conscience as true. It’s one of those statements that pulls back the curtain on the wizard pulling the levers.

4. Learn, learn, learn. Read Smith’s books, and anything else that reveals the cultural juggernaut around us. Don’t be asleep at the switch. (You can order his books here, scroll to bottom.) If you want to learn more, I just posted an article on Orthodoxy Today that offers a superb analysis of culture (Living Within the Truth: Religious Liberty and Catholic Mission in the New Order of the World). It is written for Catholics, but the analysis applies to the Orthodox as well.


  1. What can one possibly say? Father, you are absolutely correct. People like this care not one whit about another’s suffering – they care only how it affects them.

    The female minister may have just been in shock but, she sure took a long time to say anything (if she ever did).

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Steve, I wonder what history will say about the Boomers. They were supposed to be the best and brightest generation ever, but the legacy is -what? –thirty million abortions in the US alone, mountains of debt, the pornifaction of the public culture, you name it.

    The sheer arrogance is astonishing: Virginia Ironside confidently proclaiming that smothering children is justifiable in some circumstances, Hillary Clinton feverishly working to promote abortions in the Third World, the crowd at Planned Parenthood and NOW shilling for the abortion industry — they just don’t stop.

    What is it about these aging Boomers and their love of the culture of death? You’d think that the difficulties of life might have softened them somewhat, made them a little more tolerant of the hardships of others, enough at least to lay aside some of their arrogance and presumption. Instead they get harder and more defiant.

    I’ll give the female minister a pass. The entire liberal wing of the Church of England has descended into unrecoverable loopiness anyway and you can’t really expect her to mount any kind of reasoned defense (moral relativism dulls a person). Still, her reaction displayed some genuine maternal feeling which puts her ahead of Ironside.

    • Fr Hans: The boomers have much to be proud of in the arena of scientific, medical and engineering advancement. The end of the cold war without massive death and suffering must be appreciated, though certainly not claiming whole credit anywhere. Your point is well established that we have a powerful movement that has difficulty discerning a difference between a veternary and a human approach to medical ethics.

      I was asked by person then a state senator ‘How does gay marraige hurt you?’. She was unable to answer the question ‘How does prostitution hurt you?’.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Harry, I think we gotta give the Gipper credit for winning the Cold War. To the extent that we Boomers provided the moral “sanction” to the Democrat/Liberal/Progressive parties of the West, we were ankle-biters in this endeavor.

  3. cynthia curran :

    Well, I think you are a little harsh on Mike Huckabee. Granted, I don’t agree with the right’s idea of using a tax credit and buying your own insurance since a lot of people still couldn’t afford health care. But Huckabee is far from the most conservative Republican in fact as govenor of Ark he expanded health care for kids in his state and hike taxes. In reality Huckabee is mainly conservative on the social issues but take stands on issues to further his ambitions. The pre-conditiong force on companies to insurance is complex and while it might benefit some it might reduce health care for others employed by the same company. Also, I didn’t like Mike Huckabee when he ran for president since use the Mormon issue against Romeny in the Republican primarly.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      I doubt Huckabee would support the killing of the disabled like the left did with Terry Schiavo. But utilitarianism is an ideology that easily piggy-backs on the native pragmatism in the American character. The writer at Not Dead Yet offers what I think is a warning worth heeding.

  4. See for help standing up for your loved one with present-day hospice. The articles on Euthanasia are apt and fit Mr. Smith’s accurate warnings. Euthanasia is not just for the suffering or the brain-impaired. As an Orthodox convert and psychiatrist, I am horrified at the faulty thinking, denial, and misleading info given to families which lead to outright killings as horrific as abortion. May the Orthodox Church educate itself and its members through homilies and show its presence with those frightened into abortions as they go in to get them and ally with the vulnerable who may be euthanasized. Thank you for your words and focus in your blog. The Vatican may not understand the Trinity or the Theotokos as we do, but they are clear and firm on Euthanasia and abortion, thank God.

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