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Shelby Foote, The Civil War

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or the Whale

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Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

 

Disclaimer

The contents of this website are for contemplative purposes only. No medical advice will be given, and emails asking for medical advice will be ignored.

Although patient vignettes are based on my experiences with real individuals, I liberally change details to maintain patient confidentiality.

I also reserve the right to change old postings to correct errors, and to delete comments that include obscene language or that I deem abusive to me or other commentators.  If you are looking for a open mind, I suggest you consult a neurosurgeon.

Tuesday
Dec272005

Jesus of Bethlehem?

I try not to get into religious issues too often on this site, because I cannot claim exceptional expertise on the subject. But I have read one time too many this Christmas season the argument that Jesus was born in Nazareth and not in Bethlehem, and I am getting tired of it.

I am not a Biblical literalist. I do not think the world was made in 6 days, or that Noah really had 2 of every creature on earth in his ark. But I am a scientist by training, and I do think that if the best evidence we have says something happened a certain way, then we should accept it as having happened.

There are 4 Gospels, or accounts of Jesus' life, in the Bible. Some critics argue that a 5th account, the Gospel of Thomas, also has some claim to authenticity. This is debatable, but even if true, it still means that only 2 of the 4 or 5 accepted gospels recount the birth of Jesus. Only Matthew and Luke tell the Nativity story; John, Mark, and Thomas completely omit it.

The two Nativity stories have some variation in their accounts, with Luke telling the story mainly from Mary's point of view and Matthew using the Joseph perspective.  But both agree that the birth of Jesus occured in Bethlehem.

Scholars base their argument that Jesus was born in Nazareth on two points. First, they say that all biblical references to Jesus refer to him as Jesus of Nazareth instead of Jesus of Bethlehem. Usually, they posit, when a location is used in a person's proper name during Jesus' lifetime, it refers to the person's place of birth. If Mark and John thought Jesus was born in Bethehem, they would not have repeatedly called him Jesus of Nazareth.

The second point scholars make is that the reason for the trip to Bethlehem is historically unclear. Matthew and Luke say Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to register for a census. Unfortunately, there is no historical record of any such census during Jesus' childhood. It would be strange for a man to take his pregnant and about-to-deliver wife on a walking trip of over 100 miles for no particular reason. Certainly, they argue, Mary and Joseph would have stayed home during her pregnancy, rather than risk the safety of both mother and child on an arduous journey in the desert. Especially if there was no census, as the scholars seem to think.

These arguments make logical sense. The problem with them is that they are unsupported by evidence. What the scholars are saying is that probably Jesus was not born in Bethlehem because probably there was no census and probably if the other gospel writers thought Jesus was born in Bethlehem they would have said so. That's a lot of probablys in an argument that is supposed to be scientific.

The truth is, we have no proof that Jesus was born in Bethlehem except that Matthew and Luke say so. We also have no proof he was born in Nazareth, except for the arguments of probability. 

Making assumptions from probabilities can get you in trouble in a hurry. The two most common causes of death in America are heart disease and cancer. If I read an obituary in the paper about a poor soul who died in a house fire, I could say to myself, "No, in America fire is an uncommon cause of death. He probably died of cancer or heart attack." Probably. Except he didn't.

We can probably ourselves from California to Calvary about Jesus, but we only have two accounts of his birth, and both of them say he was born in Bethlehem. If you argue otherwise, you are saying the Gospel writers made things up. They could have, but without a third source to dispute them, all doubt is conjecture.

Jesus is a very distant and shadowy figure, from a strictly historical point of view. Almost all of what we know of him is from Christian tradition and the Gospel accounts. The rest is filled in by Christians through faith. But scholars, who claim to be searching for truth through facts, need to stop this stupid oddsmaking. If they have an account, or physical evidence that points to Jesus' birth in Nazareth, then out with it. Otherwise, they need to be quiet.

Monday
Dec262005

Christmas 2005

As you can see, my Christmas entry is on December 26. Needless to say, I was too busy yesterday, but it also bears saying that today is Christmas too. The traditional Christmas celebration is 12 days long, and does not end until January 6, the Feast of the Three Kings. In fact, Christmas was not the preeminent celebration of the Christmas season until about 150 years ago. Before the 20th century and the days of birth certification, many people did not even know the exact date of their births; but most people knew their baptismal date, because churches kept records of that.

For that reason, and for many others, New Year's Day was considered the most important day of the 12 days of Christmas. New Year's is the day most Christian churches celebrate the baptism or circumcision of Christ. Consider this fact: the Catholic Church reorganized the calendar times during the Dark and Middle Ages, the last time under Pope Gregory in 1582. The Church could have easily assigned January 1 the feast of Jesus' birthday, but it did not. It kept Christmas day were it was and made the first day of the calendar year the feast of Christ's baptism. This was probably intentional and suggests the relative importance of the two holidays at that time.

Christmas became The Day I think because of commercialism. For the last month I have been listening to Christmas music on the radio. I turn it on this morning and the music selection it might as well be from July. The Christmas songs are gone and Fleetwood Mac and Fifty Cent again reign supreme. Because Christmas day is the big gift-giving day, merchants have no reason to promote the holiday past December 25. December 26, things are right back to business as usual. People, who are heavily influenced by what they see on TV, simply mindlessly follow suit.

I like the old way. I think the Christmas season should be celebrated, if not all the way to January 6, at least through January 1. Christmas is not just about buying and giving presents, and we should carry the spirit of this delightful holiday through more than a 24 hour period. The great thing about the days after December 25 is that the good feelings have not died out yet but no one is rushing around looking for gifts and worrying about the social calendar. Other than what New Year's Eve party we should go to, our plans are pretty much set. So we can enjoy our holiday(s) free of the advertising bombardment, free of the rushing and worrying. We can eat our Christmas turkey for lunch with a cold beer and no ruckus to trouble us. God bless this day!

In Canada and Europe December 26 is known as Boxing Day. It also is sometimes called the feast of St. Stephen. (Remember the old Christmas carol, "Good King Wencelas looked out, on the feast of Stephen . . . ") Boxing Day takes many forms, but it is generally thought of as a day, after the excess of Christmas parties, that the rich give to the poor. The carol "Good King Wencelas" is about a Slavic king who was good to one of his poor subjects.

This is the spirit of the Christmas season. We need to bring it back. It seems so artificial to go back to work the day after Christmas as if nothing has happened. Holidays are not about feeling better for a day, or even "recharging our batteries." They are about feeling better for a day and then making that feeling stick. It may be a cliche to say that we should have the spirit of Christmas year round, but it is not a cliche to say that we need to be open to letting positive experiences reflect into our daily lives. Charity is not just for December, it is for July also, and we should be making every effort to ensure that the good feeling we have now carries on just that long.

Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee!
Friday
Dec232005

My Christmas Op-Ed

Yesteday (December 22), the New Orleans Times-Picayune kindly ran an essay of mine on its Op-Ed page. It is about an experience I had with a patient in Chalmette, Louisiana and how it affected me through Katrina. You can read it here.

Sunday
Dec182005

True Office Stories, Part 1

I once had a patient, Dan (not his real name), who lived with a woman and her two twin daughters. The daughters were terribly spoiled and gave Dan a miserable time. They wouldn't listen to him, they trashed his house, and refused to show him any respect. After about a year of living with the three of them, he got sick of the insolence, flew into a rage, and threw them out.

A few days later his girlfriend called him. "You need to tell your doctor when you see him that your Zoloft isn't working."

"My Zoloft is working fine," he said. "I threw all three of you out and I don't give a s**t."

Saturday
Dec102005

Katrina #3: Help Out Storm Victims and Make Money, Too

So you want to help the folks who are suffering from Hurricane Katrina. What if you could do that and make money too? You might not think that is possible, but it is, and it is very easy to do.


The Gulf Coast will need a lot of money to rebuild. Not just public tax dollars, but also private investment. Much of this private investment money will come from banks. To help support this process of private investment, you, the private citizen, can lend money to the backs involved in the recovery effort. You do this by buying certificates of deposit in Gulf Coast banks.


CDs, or certificates of deposit, are bank accounts that you agree not to take money out of for a specific length of time. You can create CDs for 7 days, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, or even longer at most banks. When the time period expires, the bank adds the interest you have earned to your initial deposit, and then asks you if you want to renew your CD for another period of time. Say yes, and the bank puts the money in a renewed CD account. Say no, and it returns your initial investment, plus your interest.


CD interest rates are pretty good right now. Most 1 year certificates are going for about 4%, which means for every $1000 you leave with the bank you will get $40 back after a year.


Banks use CD deposits to make loans to clients. If lots of people buy CDs, the bank has more money to lend, and can charge lower interest rates. If not many people buy CDs, interest rates tend to rise and banks end up turning many borrowers away.


The goal, if you want to help storm victims, is to buy a CD from a bank that has lots of branches in storm ravaged areas. If you buy from a bank based outside of the Gulf Coast, most of your money will go elsewhere. For Mississippians, I would suggest Trustmark Bank. For Lousisiana and New Orleans, try Gulf Coast Bank and Whitney Bank.


This same technique could work for any disaster region. Just look for a local bank in the affected area, and buy a CD from them. You will be helping out, and it won't cost you any money to do it.