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Woman fist with woke written. Woke concept refers to awareness of social and racial justice, concern, vigilance, activism.
Woman fist with woke written. Woke concept refers to awareness of social and racial justice, concern, vigilance, activism.

A Catholic and a Hindu Tackle Woke culture

In a wide-ranging discussion, Michael Egnor and Arjuna Gallagher look at Woke culture, abortion, euthanasia, and microaggressions

In a recent series of Mind Matters News, podcasts, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed Arjuna Gallagher, a Hindu who lives in New Zealand.

The first podcast looked at what the world’s 1.2 billion Hindus generally think about the mind and the second explored the Hindu view of free will and evil. The third podcast addressed the question, “What do Hindus think about the Big Bang?” Now, the fourth and final podcast asks, what do Hindus think of current science and culture issues, especially the flowering of Woke Cancel Culture, abortion, and euthanasia?

Gallagher hosts a YouTube channel called Theology Unleashed, which has featured many guests discussing the spiritual dimension of our lives — for example, philosopher David Bentley Hart and neuroscientist Mark Solms, (along with Egnor).]

A partial transcript, notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow:

Michael Egnor: We’ve talked about about theology, metaphysics, ethics, and science. And I just wanted to get into some cultural, contemporary issues. What’s your feeling about the Cancel Culture that’s going on now in the Western world?

Arjuna Gallagher: I think Cancel Culture is a bit of a worry. I mean, this idea that we should punish somebody for something they put on Twitter 10 years ago is really childish. Also, I’m a big fan of Jonathan Haidt

And they [Haidt and Greg Lukianoff] came to realize that the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy that teach you how to be resilient and happy and successful are totally contradicted by this Woke culture. If you want to make people unhappy, unresilient, and unsuccessful, then Woke-ism is basically the philosophy you’d teach people. We can get into that more, or we could just point people to The Coddling of the American Mind.

Note:The Coddling the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure was named by many sources as one of the best books of 2018:

“First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt show how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people. These three Great Untruths contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and ancient wisdom from many cultures. Embracing these untruths—and the resulting culture of safetyism—interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. It makes it harder for them to become autonomous adults who are able to navigate the bumpy road of life.”

The book appears to have had virtually no impact on higher education in the United States. Currently, classical languages, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen, are being Cancelled, along with Isaac Newton. There is also a war on math at the elementary and high school level. Just recently, a number of lawmakers and intellectuals have written to Yale University Law School to protest the students who were organized — with the apparent support of faculty — to drown out a visiting speaker on freedom of speech.

Michael Egnor: Wokeism, there’s so much bad in it. And a major part of the bad is that there’s no way in Wokeism that anybody gets any happier or any better. It just leads to more anger, more fighting, and more losing. And it’s just a terrible way to run a culture.

Arjuna Gallagher (right)

Arjuna Gallagher: I think what’s happened with a lot of these social justice movements is they were fighting genuine problems — and they won those battles. After winning those battles, they had to continue to justify their own existence. So they were no longer fighting genuine battles, they were just justifying their own existence and actually creating problems.

Michael Egnor: I totally agree. I think the whole social justice thing really is a branch of Marxism. I think of Marxism as distilled evil. It’s what you get when you bring everything evil into one place at one time.

How do you feel about a lot of questions of social ethics nowadays? For example, abortion, euthanasia, a lot of the life issues. Are there viewpoints in Hinduism that reflect on that? Or do you have personal viewpoints?

Arjuna Gallagher: I don’t know if I can speak for Hinduism, broadly. As I said earlier, Hinduism is a category, like the Abrahamic tradition. So we wouldn’t ask, what do native American religions or Abrahamic religions say on this particular social issue? Even within Hare Krishnas, you’re going to get a diversity of views. But the general view on abortion, say, is that abortion is murder and it’s not okay.
There’s one Hare Krishna thinker, Dr. Howard Resnick, who I’ve had on my channel a few times. I’ve listened to him give a talk on it. And I quite like his views, which is that in some extreme cases, abortion would be all right, where either due to the mental health of the mother or due to medical reasons, the abortion could be necessary. So it’s not that we should ban all abortion. But you could also ask a question of Tulsi Gabbard, she’s got a Hare Krishna background…

Her view is actually a little bit anachronistic from the Hare Krishna tradition, but she gives a good argument for it and I think it’s justified. Which is, if the government can tell you today that you can’t have an abortion, then tomorrow it’ll be able to tell you that you must have an abortion. And this is not the kind of power we want to give to the government. So just because we think something is wrong and shouldn’t be done, doesn’t necessarily mean that the government should go around policing it.

Michael Egnor

Michael Egnor: That’s true, and that gets to the “personally opposed” argument in abortion that Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York said years ago. That he was personally opposed to abortion, but he didn’t believe that it should be legislated. The problem I have with that is that I could certainly see the personally opposed viewpoint in flavors of ice cream. That is, that I’m personally opposed to strawberry ice cream, because I don’t like it, but I don’t think there should be any laws regarding whether you can have strawberry ice cream or not.

But abortion is a fundamentally different thing. To be personally opposed to abortion, but feel that it should be legal, is like being personally opposed to rape, but thinking that it should be legal. That is, that there’s something intrinsic about abortion that’s not just a matter of personal preference. There’s another life involved. So if abortion is wrong, it’s wrong for everyone. Or if it’s not wrong, it’s not wrong for anyone.

Arjuna Gallagher: Yeah. I would go to consequentialism here, which would be to ask the question of, if we do have abortion laws, are people in general, better off? And if we don’t have abortion laws, are people worse off? And there might be a certain happy balance somewhere … or maybe it’s never a happy balance. But there might be somewhere in the middle where it’s better. Like in New Zealand recently, they brought in really liberal abortion laws. Which are basically, up until like two weeks before the baby’s born or something disgusting, that you can do an abortion. I don’t know exactly where they the draw the line.

But a lot of countries will have it up to like 26 days or a certain number of days from conception, I don’t know how they work that out, when conception was roughly based on the size when they do the scan. And that’s obviously less sinful, if you’ve got basically a near fully formed baby and you’re killing that, that’s obviously worse. But it could be the case that having blanket no abortion laws actually means that a lot of women go and get dodgy abortions from dodgy clinics. And that might be worse than just having somewhat moderate abortion laws.

Note: In the United States, in many states, abortions are done while children are viable (could survive outside the womb). A recent discovery of the bodies of such children makes that clear. The children appear to have died in great torment.

There is currently an active debate as to whether liveborn infants in general have a right to live.

Michael Egnor: I speak on the abortion issue at my medical school, and it’s a rather controversial issue, as you can imagine. What I’ve come to believe is that the pro-abortion viewpoint depends critically on what I really feel are misrepresentations of the scientific and social facts about abortions. So what I try to do with the medical students is move away from the ethics a little bit and just talk about the science and the sociology. For example, I think a powerful scientific argument can be made that life begins at conception. That saying that an embryo is not a new human life, just doesn’t make any scientific sense. So life begins when the sperm and the egg meet.

And there’s no question that historically abortion, at least in the United States, discriminates racially. A black child is three times as likely to be aborted as a white child. Around the world, girls are aborted at a much higher rate than boys are. There’s actually a bit a femicide in Asia of about a hundred million girls over the past 50 years. And disabled children are selectively aborted.

Note: There is a significantly higher abortion rate in the Black American community due to a variety of factors. One outcome is the risk of population decline.

Arjuna Gallagher: That might be turning though with increase of Woke culture and men getting discriminated against. Maybe it’ll flip the other way.

Michael Egnor: It could… maybe. But so what I try to do in discussing abortion is just ask that we stick to the facts. And when the facts are laid out there, it’s an awfully hard thing to defend. Defending abortion, basically presupposes that you don’t really understand it, I think. Because if you really understand it, most people would say it’s terrible.

Arjuna Gallagher: I think being honest about these things would really help. Like some abortion clinics that … or places that women go when they’re pregnant and they know what to do. They show them the ultrasound and show them that they can see the form. And then they think, oh, I couldn’t kill this.

Or just explaining to them the facts, about women who have had abortions, often this is the psychological effect it has on them, versus women in your situation who haven’t had abortions, this is what their lives have looked like. And just give them the facts so they can make up their mind. As opposed to being politically motivated and saying, we’re going to hide all the downsides of abortion or hide all the downsides of not having abortion because of our political motivation. And we want to persuade them of a predetermined viewpoint.

Caregiver supporting sick woman with cancer dying in the hospital

Michael Egnor: How do you feel about euthanasia? Is there any Hindu perspective on euthanasia?

Arjuna Gallagher: Euthanasia is rejected. It’s even rejected for animals. We have a couple of cows on our property, we’ve got 10 acres here. And cow protection is a big thing for Hindu culture, particularly for Vaishnavas. And you don’t kill the cow, even when it gets old, whereas in the West, when the cow gets to a certain age, you just kill it because it’s frail, it’s old.

And so if you have an old cow up by the road and people see it, they’ll think that this is animal abuse. But they wouldn’t think that about your grandma. They wouldn’t think, oh, you’re keeping this lady still alive. She’s so old and fragile. This is grandma abuse. It’s just this disconnect on how we look at animals from how we look at people.

But the understanding of why not to kill them or why not to commit euthanasia is that we have a certain amount of karma that we need to live out. And if we don’t live it out in this life, we’ll have to take birth again in a similar body so we can fully live out the karma. So if someone’s suffering from a horrible disease or mental disturbance, there’s some reason why that’s happening and there’s some lesson they need to learn from that.

However, there is some scope for suicide but only in a certain way… a Hare Krishna in Mayapur had cancer a few years ago. And the cancer was going to kill her. She had months to live, and she was suffering. So she fasted until death. Instead of suffering for a couple months in bed, ridden with cancer, she fasted to death. And then it just only took a week. And this is a prescribed method that Vaishnavas can fast until death. And even … there’s observations of cows doing something similar. If a cow is really sick and going to die anyway, they’ll go and sit in a cold river until they die.

Michael Egnor: I think even in the Catholic tradition, in the terminal stages of life, if taking nourishment is uncomfortable or painful and it only serves to prolong the process of dying, not taking nourishment is considered an acceptable thing. It’s not acceptable in the Catholic ethic to try to die, that is, with the intent of dying. But if it’s to relieve suffering [that is] accompanied by receiving nourishment, I think it’s considered ethical.

Arjuna Gallagher: It’s funny — I just thought about it that we’ve gone from having a more balanced view that … well, at least in India, animals are sacred, you don’t just kill them. And people are sacred, but you don’t extend their life unnecessarily. But now we want to extend humans lives as long as possible, to the point of spending millions of dollars keeping them on life support. And the moment an animal shows the first signs of being sick, we kill it…

So there’s this idea in the Hare Krishna tradition that death is inevitable, it’s going to come sooner or later, so we should die gracefully. And actually the purpose of life, is to die in a particular way. And the goal is to — the Sanskrit is Ante nārāyana-smrti — to remember God at the time of death. That gives us a good destination in the next life. So one way it’s described is that only God-conscious people can leave gracefully. Ppeople who aren’t God-conscious, they’ll tend to be very upset and angry and so on, when the time comes for them to die.

Michael Egnor: My understanding of Catholic medical ethics is that there are two kinds of treatments that patients receive, ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary treatments would be food, water, shelter, clothing, and things like that. And hygiene. And extraordinary would be medications, ventilators, operations and things like that. And in Catholic medical ethics, it’s acceptable to refuse extraordinary means, if it only serves to prolong the process of dying. But it’s not acceptable to refuse ordinary things, as such as nourishment, water, shelter, hygiene, and so on.

So basically, it’s okay to take a patient off a ventilator if they have no prospect of survival and it just prolongs their suffering. But it wouldn’t be okay to starve them or to dehydrate them, or to leave them in their waste or something. Ordinary care is something that every human being has a right to, and it is suicide to refuse ordinary care. However, to refuse extraordinary means is not suicide and can be quite ethical in the appropriate circumstances.

Arjuna Gallagher: I would put some medical procedures and drugs in that category too, where the evidential basis for them is really strong and they have a high success rate.

Michael Egnor: If it’s just a matter of taking an antibiotic that doesn’t have much side effects that would save your life, correct.

Arjuna Gallagher: Yeah. Or some surgeries. You just remove something and the problem goes away and it’s not going to come back.

Michael Egnor: But we face this a lot in patients who have, for example, metastatic disease. If you’re full of cancer, you could have operations until you die. You just take out every metastasis, but that doesn’t really serve any purpose. It doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t make them better. It just, it puts them through a lot of suffering in the last part of their life.

Arjuna Gallagher: There’s a famous story in our tradition of a great king who was cursed to die in seven days by a snake bite. He was a very powerful king. And he had some mystic [powers] … he could have overturned the curse. He had a deep connection with God. But he didn’t, he just saw it as God’s mercy that he knows exactly… Most people have no idea when they’re going to die. So we can’t prepare our consciousness to think of God at the time. It could come at any moment. So therefore we have to spend our whole lives trying to think of God. But he was very lucky that he knew the moment he was going to die.

And instead of getting angry and thinking, I’m going to remove all the snakes from the kingdom, I won’t be killed by a snake, he thought, this is God’s mercy on me, and I’m going to think of God. So he went to the bank of the Ganges and he heard from a great Sage for seven days and seven nights without stopping to sleep… without stopping to eat or drink. Just heard nonstop, while fasting, about God and asked questions and was coherent the whole time.

That’s obviously a terminal lucidity thing, of having some lucidity to survive the body falling apart from not eating. So that is an appropriate response in some cases. That’s an underlying attitude we should have, that when the time comes, this is my time, and it’s meant for me to go.

Michael Egnor: Well, I started out as an atheist, or at least an agnostic. And I really didn’t convert to Christianity until about 20 years ago. And part of the reason for my conversion was a friendship I had with a Lutheran pastor at the hospital. He provided a lot of the counseling there for patients who were dying. And one night, during the atheist part of my life, I was in the pediatric intensive care unit. And there was a six-year-old who was dying of a brain tumor, that I was taking care of. And it was a pretty horrible death. I mean, the tumor was just destroying him.

It was midnight, and this pastor and I were sitting in the nurses’ station, just talking about what this child and his family were going through. And I said to the pastor, I said, “I’d like to believe in God, but I can’t understand why God would let something like this happen. I mean, this is a nice little kid, his family’s lovely people. And he is just going through hell.” And the pastor said, “Well, God never said that life wouldn’t be without tragedy, that life wouldn’t be without suffering. He just said that when it happens, he’ll be there with you.” When we’re close to him is when we suffer.

Because at least in Christianity, our understanding of God, who is Christ, suffered for all of us. So suffering is redemptive, of sorts, despite its horror. And that stuck with me. That really changed my understanding of suffering in a very profound way. I felt that when you suffer is when you’re closest to God. That changed the way I saw things.

Arjuna Gallagher: Right. Yeah. One thing that could be said is the real tragedy is that we are separate from God, or experiencing separation from God. And the tragedies that happen in life are opportunities to remember God. And if they weren’t there, we might just happily go about our lives and never take shelter of God. So that would be an even greater tragedy.

Michael Egnor: Absolutely. When you look at just ordinary human lives — not even considering God — I don’t think anybody can make a credible case that a person who lives much of their life without any adversity, who gets everything they want, is a better person for it. That is that there, while certainly suffering can break a person. My experience has been that some degree of suffering is necessary for maturation and for becoming a decent human being. The offspring of incredibly wealthy parents who gets everything he wants and never has any kind of adversity doesn’t usually turn out to be a pretty good human being.

Cancel Culture Symbol

Arjuna Gallagher: That brings up the question of microaggressions. That somebody did a microaggression against me, and I’m going to get really angry about that, rather than use it to deepen my personality.

Note: Microaggressions have become, of course, a Big Thing in Woke Cancel Culture at universities. As the concept of microaggression spreads to the workplace and churches, people may find it increasingly difficult to interact with person outside their own small group without giving offense.

Michael Egnor: It’s a kind of arrogance and self-centeredness, that is not really healthy.

Arjuna Gallagher: Well, it’s turning the whole thing on its head. It’s the idea that things that don’t kill us make us stronger. That’s anti-fragility. So it’s not just that we don’t break, it’s that we actually become stronger through adversity.

And of course, there’s a limit to that. When you’re raising your kids, you let them do somewhat risky things, let them climb trees or whatever. But you don’t let them injure themselves in a way that’s going to affect them for life.

Note: This is Gallagher’s documentary on persecuted saints:

The Horrific Story of the Russian Orthodox Holy Name Controversy. In 1913, prior to the Soviet revolution, hundreds of Russian Orthodox monks were violently persecuted for their focus on chanting God’s holy names. The debate over the accusations of heresy on this topic has largely been ignored, and the horrific events which took place, are rarely spoken of.


Here is the series of four discussions between Michael Egnor and Arjuna Gallagher:

What do the world’s 1.2 billion Hindus think about the mind? Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews Hindu Arjuna Gallagher on the similarities and differences between that tradition and Western theism. Egnor and Gallagher discuss the concept of God (or gods) karma, and reincarnation, in light of what we can really know about the world we live in.

Understanding the Hindu view of free will and evil Arjuna Gallagher points out that concepts of reincarnation and karma make both problems look very different in the Hindu tradition. Michael Egnor observes that recognition of evil is a strong argument for the existence of God, yet a key source of doubt. Perhaps the topic is simply beyond us.

What do Hindus think about the Big Bang? The cyclic universe? Hinduism posits a creator God but assumes the creation of cyclic universes. In the Hindu view, the material universe is meant to enable living consciousnesses to have sensory experiences that ultimately bring them back to God.

and

A Catholic and a Hindu tackle Woke culture. In a wide-ranging discussion, Michael Egnor and Arjuna Gallagher look at Woke culture, abortion, euthanasia, and microaggressions. On Cancel Culture and euthanasia, Egnor and Gallagher are in general agreement but they find some points of difference on abortion.

You may also wish to read: Michael Egnor appeared on the podcast hosted by Arjuna Gallagher, Theology Unleashed, with atheist spokesman Matt Dillahunty Here is a link to all the segments with transcript and notes.

Show Notes

  • 00:10 | Introducing Arjuna Gallagher
  • 00:52 | Cancel Culture
  • 02:29 | Hinduism, Abortion, and Euthanasia
  • 17:14 | Religion and Suffering

Additional Resources

Podcast Transcript Download


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A Catholic and a Hindu Tackle Woke culture