Author: John Berkman

Are We All Michael Vick Part III; Why it IS formal cooperation with evil

“This is the most difficult question in all of moral theology.” So says Richard McCormick about the distinction and application of the principle of cooperation in evil. In Part I, I suggested that the eating of “cruelty meat,” by which I mean eating pigs that were factory farmed in inherently cruel and tortured ways, is a form of formal cooperation in evil. So what, first of all, is cooperation in evil. Most vaguely put, it is an action whereby a person that assists (it may be intentionally or causally assisting) another person in the performance of wrong acts. A key distinction in the Catholic tradition when speaking of cooperation with wrongdoing is between formal and material cooperation.  Traditionally, any case of formal cooperation has been seen as morally wrong, and some forms of material cooperation have also been viewed as morally wrong.  Let’s begin by presenting paradigmatic cases of formal and material cooperation. Formal cooperation is where one shares the object of the wrongdoer’s activity. This is typically understood to be someone who advises, encourages, or counsels the person principally engaged in the wrongdoing. So the person who instructs the Al Queda operative on how to manufacture a suicide vest, which they will make when they get to their destination is formally cooperating. So is an investor in a start-up company that will make a new variety of suicide...

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Sports, Depression and Suicide

No, this is not a post for fans of the Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Lions, Toronto Maple Leafs, or other sad sack teams who live in cold mid-western climates. It is in response to the recent deaths of a professional hockey player Rick Rypien and former pitcher Mike Flanagan. Rypien was 27 and Flanagan was 59, and they both apparently committed suicide. While in the past this might have been simply baffling to me, or I would figure the person just got themselves into a particularly bad situation, this time, as soon as I heard the news that they had died, even before they were announced as suicides, I thought to myself – ‘suicide, depression.’ I don’t claim to know a lot about depression – embarassing, really – since I’ve taught medical ethics extensively.  I’ve read and used a lot of medical ethics textbooks, and there’s not very much on depression in them.  But I do know a few things about depression, that it is an organic condition, it can strike without warning, and it leads a lot of people to try to kill themselves.  And that it is massively underdiagnosed, particularly in older men(typically post-retirement).  And that depressed men are much more efficient at killing themselves than women, because they’re more likely to use guns.   While we learn CPR and the Heimlich manoeuvre,  depression is not...

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Are We All Michael Vick? Our Addiction to Animal Cruelty

Update June 2013: For a longer and revised version of this post, go to: or   We are all opposed to mindless, almost mind-numbing animal cruelty. No one was defending Michael Vick and his cohorts in their cruel, torturous treatment of some dogs. If Michael Vick had been selling a product – say dog-skin handbags from the “losing” dogs – that financially supported and enabled the continued torture of more and more dogs, we would not only NOT buy them, we would boycott the handbags and urge other not to buy them. And yet, we financially support and enable exactly this kind of stomach-churning, nauseating cruelty that we’d like to pretend does not exist. But it does, and it is not a few nasty guys having “fun.” It is torture and cruelty as a way of making money. Lots and lots of money for those who mastermind the factory slaughterhouses. For the unfortunate who have to work in these “farms” and in the slaughterhouses – and who make very little money – it is cruelty as a way of life. The business of torture. Lots of serious and scholarly authors have been telling us this for a generation. In the last fifteen years Gail Eisnitz, Jonathon Safran Foer, Erik Marcus, and Matthew Scully, just to name a few, have revealed this institutionalized cruelty in abundantly clear ways....

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For Our Beloved Dead: Burial or Cremation? Or Dissolution?

A few months ago the death of Osama Bin Laden, and especially the appropriateness of the US government’s decisions on what to do with his body, raised questions about the significance of the deceased human body in Islam, and acceptable practices within the Islamic tradition.  Fair enough. However, only a small amount of probing of the Catholic tradition shows that there is somewhat of a vacuum of reflection on appropriate ways to treat the deceased human body.  And this needs to be addressed. Why?  It seems that the more enterprising elements of the funeral industry have for a number of years been proposing a new way to deal with our beloved dead; chemically dissolving them (a process known as ‘alkaline hydrolysis’) and flushing them into the municipal waste water system.  Over 30 US states and some Canadian provinces have been exploring the possibility of legalizing this new way to ‘dispose’ of human bodies. What has prompted this?   If you look at the funeral “industry” from a business perspective – and the recent rise in funeral home chains like ‘funerals R us’ justifies this – it is basically about providing “value-added” services.  Realistically, it is very hard for the funeral people to break into the burial or cremation side of the business.  With regards to burial, it is hard for the funeral industry to own and control land with the...

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News from Canada: Limits of “Religion”

Earlier this month, an Ontario Court sentenced Shahrooz Kharaghani to 10 weeks in jail.  The offense: possession for the purpose of trafficking marijuana.  On one level, a very pedestrian crime and sentence.  However, what makes the case interesting is that Kharaghani made a “religious” defense, that his smoking marijuana is a right of freedom of religion under the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms.  Kharaghani is a member of the “Church of the Universe”, in which smoking marijuana is a sacrament. So what is this religion?  The doctrinal tenets are modest:  one has to believe one is a creature of God, one has to believe that God is God, and one has to believe the two golden rules: do not hurt yourself, and do not hurt others. The Church dates back about forty years, and its two chief convictions focus on smoking the “tree of life” and nudity. During the trial, the crown brought in religion professor Katherine Young, who indicated that the only “scripture” that she could find was from “cannibis culture” magazine (not otherwise known as a religious journal), and that the Church seemed to have little in he way of rituals, rites or symbols apart from smoking cannibis, and that the Church seemed to have no means to help adherents deal with “life’s paradoxes.”  Furthermore, the crown attorney referred to the religious defense as “an inside...

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