Via Basel: An Ethical Dilemma


Art by Jim Holyoak, Ghost Whale in a Ghost Forest

The Human or the Environment–An Ethical Dilemma?

I have been privileged to befriend a few well known teachers and scholars, mostly in Medicine and Mindfulness. Martin Marty, however, is in a class of his own: world renown for his scholarship on History of Religion, writing over 50 books, teaching at University of Chicago Divinity School (1963-1998), eventually holding an endowed chair, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professorship. His awards and accolades go on and on, but he was also interested in the intersection of Religion and Medicine. That is how we met forty years ago, when, as president of the Calumet branch of the Chicago Medical Society, I invited him to give a lecture on Religion & Medicine. A friendship developed, facilitated by our common interests and living in close proximity. One of his many legacies is an online weekly column, “Sightings” by the Martin Marty Center at the U.O.C Divinity School. I have found it a most insightful and balanced publication, especially in these challenging times, when emotions take over and nuances are ignored at the expense of truth and historical facts. 

A recent article from February 15, 2024, by David Barr, was especially poignant on the moral values and ethics of two competing interests, human and environmental. Can we reconcile the seemingly opposite priorities, planet or human species? I will not discuss the article here at length except that I was moved by his discussion of timelessness and goodness. He approaches the subject both philosophically and religiously. I happen  to agree with how he reconciles the issue, and hope you will read it yourself and make your own decision. The general subject of climate change, global warming, and loss of essential species necessary for our survival has been in the news frequently, but ignored or discredited by a large percentage of the populace, especially in the USA, to the detriment of future generations affected most by it. 

Last year after a retreat, followed by hiking and camping in beautiful New Mexico, I jotted down these scattered thoughts: 

If we as a human species can thrive or even survive in any future on this planet, these qualities are essential in persons, systems, societies, and nations.

–Attentiveness based on the present reality, not past faults and future desires and wishes.

–Reflectiveness with pauses and depth, avoiding subcortical reflex reactions, and allowing the adult prefrontal cortex to be in charge.

–Creativity with out-of-the-box solutions, untried 3rd- or 4th-generation solutions that have risk but require courage, with the hope of emergent results.

–Collaboration involving groupthink, inclusivity focusing on community rather than individual needs, as well as distribution of successes, rewards, and failures equitably.  

Now, the above may seem dreamy, utopic, and unachievable, and even contradictory to many readers, and I do share their pessimism, but I continue to cling to a sliver of hope for us all. Despair is not an option, and therefore I resolve to make my own small contribution by writing, speaking, and acting accordingly. 

Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family; now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, public speaking, teaching, and social engagement.

David Barr’s essay in Sightings

The Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry

Martin Marty at Wikipedia


More art by Jim Holyoak at EIL


2 responses to “Via Basel: An Ethical Dilemma”

  1. Mark Naom says:

    Even though our growth so far has relied on exploitation of the environment, our survival depends on saving it. Great post!

  2. Basel Al-Aswad says:

    Thanks Mark for engaging & commenting. I would add that it’s your generation that will do the job of saving it…please keep it up.

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