Category Archives: Ethics

Engaging with Appalachia’s Coal Crisis Old Stereotypes and New Initiatives

by Sarah Riccardi-Swartz

There’s no whitewashing the dark environmental effects of coal mining and fracking in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia. Most assuredly, coal is toxic—for the environment, for local economies, and for life more broadly the Mountain State. In “An American Guilt Trip,” his recent article for Public Orthodoxy, Dr. Fr. John Chryssavgis draws on a brief trip he took to West Virginia in order to witness first-hand the cost of “black diamonds.” As an anthropologist, I’m tremendously supportive of scholars conducting ethnographic research in order to think through broad societal questions and problems. However, as someone who has just returned from twelve months of living in West Virginia for my dissertation research, I am also deeply attuned to the problematic ways in which we scholars often talk about or even for Appalachia and its inhabitants. For those of us who work on issues of environmentalism in its various expressions, even adjacently, I worry that sometimes we fall prey to colonialist assumptions of privilege, often subconsciously, that feed into our narratives of communities dealing with ecological devastation. As someone who works in the social sciences and humanities, I wonder how we might highlight issues of the Anthropocene in a way that critically examines toxicity as it relates human neglect for the environment, while also being mindful of the other crucial sociocultural issues of power at play historically. This is important particularly when we approach regions such as Appalachia that have long been subject to external mechanisms of power that mine the area for its natural resources while suppressing, subjugating, and stigmatizing those employed as extractors.  Continue reading

An American Guilt Trip

by Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis

John Steinbeck once wrote: “There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation . . . There is a failure that topples all our success.”

In an effort to witness first-hand the financial, social and personal impact of “black diamonds”—the benefits of which we all enjoy, but the cost of which we all irreproachably disregard—I decided to meander through the unparalleled beauty of the Appalachians in West Virginia, among the oldest mountains on the planet. I wanted to see for myself the origins of the benefits I enjoyed living in my home in Maine. It is easy for Americans, especially environmentalists, to ostracize the coal miners, who, by the way, smashed every stereotypical image I had and instead displayed an unassuming charity and disarming simplicity. Nevertheless, I saw them as tragic pawns in the coal and fracking industries from which all of us reap the benefits with our cozy comforts.

There is good reason why West Virginia has been labeled “almost heaven.” Today, it is eerily close to hell. Continue Reading…

Reconceiving Healthcare Philanthropia and the Vocations of Healing

by Chris Durante

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, God is described as being the “Great Philanthropos,” and Jesus Christ, as a healer of body and soul, is described as the “Great Physician.” Being adopted by early Christians, the Hellenic idea of philanthropia, or being an “unconditional lover of humankind,” was used as a way of describing God Himself and became intimately intertwined with the notion of diakonia, or service, which highlights the uniquely social and inter-personal dimensions of Christian love. Mimicking the life of Christ, philanthropically serving the needs of the sick was a central component of the lifestyle of the early Christians. Both the idea of diakonia and the institution of the diaconate were so foundational to the Church’s presence in the world that in the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch described the diaconate as representing Christ on earth by performing his ministries of healing, teaching, and selflessly tending to the needs of the sick and the poor. In the fourth century, it was under the auspices of philanthropic diakonia that St. Basil the Great established hospitals and hospices as charitable institutions, a practice that spread throughout Byzantium and later in the West as well.

Coupled together, the empiricism of modern science and the financial corporatization of contemporary medical practice threaten to eradicate the relational, philanthropic, and ascetic dimensions of healthcare. What is needed is an outlook that views the sick as suffering persons and not as mere consumers of medical services, while it views healthcare providers as healers serving the health-related needs of the sick rather than functioning as “merchants of medicine.” Although all Christians are called to engage in diakonia, in a certain sense physicianship entails a special diaconical responsibility in that it entails healing and a transfiguration of persons’ states of being. In that Christ is the Great Physician and deacons are representatives of Christ on earth, the Church might consider reinvigorating the diaconate by reimagining the current purview of deacons’ responsibilities and expanding the role of deacons to include, for instance, a vocation of healthcare-provider or physician, where deacons trained in medicine could perform medical ministries. Continue Reading…

Pope Francis’s Challenge to All Christians: End the Death Penalty

by Jim Forest

It never ceases to amaze me that many of those who describe themselves as “pro-life” are, when it comes to capital punishment, passionate supporters of death as a method of improving the world. Most notably in America, not a few of those who wear a symbol of an earlier method of execution, the cross, would be more than willing to volunteer their services to end the lives of people now on Death Row whether by injection or hanging or the electric chair or firing squad — or, why not, crucifixion?

Many Catholics and other Christians were outraged when the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had authorized a modification of the Catholic Catechism. That basic text will now include the declaration that the death penalty is an attack “on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and can no longer be regarded as an appropriate means “of safeguarding the common good.” (Full text of the changes)

Christians of the Church’s first few centuries would be astonished at the number of pro-execution Christians they would find in a twenty-first century country crowded with churches. In the early Church even soldiers and judges entering the catechumenate couldn’t be baptized until they vowed not to take the lives of fellow human beings.

Take for example this third-century canonical text attributed to an earlier Bishop of Rome, St. Hippolytus (170–235 AD), who stressed that the renunciation of killing men, women and children was a precondition of baptism: Continue Reading…