A Life Beyond Reason
I had another post all ready to go for today, but I’m going to bump it because I just read something that so moved me that I had to share it with you. Go read this stunning article called A Life Beyond Reason, in which Professor Chris Gabbard recounts how his severely disabled son made him take a hard look at his views on the value of human life. An excerpt:
I was inspired by Socrates’ statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Similarly, Aristotle’s dictum that man is the animal having “logos,” the power of reasoning, impressed me. The notion that the human being is a rational animal made sense, and I internalized it as a basic assumption, as I did Socrates’ pronouncement. At San Francisco State University, I became intrigued by the Enlightenment. John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant fascinated me. Who would not want to be enlightened? Who in his or her right mind would choose in favor of a benighted past of superstition, ignorance, and blind faith in custom? I put my faith in reason. Eventually I obtained my doctorate at Stanford in 18th-century British literature—the age of reason: Anne Finch, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson.
In sum, I grew up prizing intellectual aptitude — not that I am a candidate for Mensa — and detesting “poor mental function.” Perhaps what helped make me revere intelligence was growing up in Palo Alto, with Stanford less than half a mile away and a number of Nobel Prize winners and famous and wealthy technology innovators all around me. People in my immediate vicinity had good brains, and that meant money, respect, and international influence.
Given, then, my nearly metaphysical attachment to intelligence, imagine my surprise when in March 1999, at my first child’s birth, he failed to breathe and consequently suffered severe brain damage…After his birth, as I entered the intensive-care nursery, I was deeply ambivalent, having been persuaded by the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer’s advocacy of expanding reproductive choice to include infanticide. But there was my son, asleep or unconscious, on a ventilator, motionless under a heat lamp, tubes and wires everywhere, monitors alongside his steel and transparent-plastic crib. What most stirred me was the way he resembled me. Nothing had prepared me for this, the shock of recognition, for he was the boy in my own baby pictures, the image of me when I was an infant.
Professor Gabbard goes on to describe how he came to see the value of his son’s life — a value beyond reason — despite lingering misgivings from his old ways of thinking. The article makes a profound statement about the limits of a purely rationalist worldview, and about the power of love to change hearts. Go check it out. (Hat tip to Dorian Speed and Korrektiv)
- Finding inspiration in severe disability (an interview that echoes many of Professor Gabbard’s sentiments)
- The article touches on the question of God’s role when bad things happen. A book that does a good job addressing that subject is 10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To by Anthony DeStefano.