Notes on Christianity
and Ideas

Issue 10
August 1999

Published by Theodore Plantinga

In this issue ....

Have you ever been accused of having a worldview? Do the great philosophers have a worldview? Click here to read "New Age Thinking and Worldview Attribution."

Do you favor competing alternatives in education? Also in health care? Are there basic similarities between these two fields? Click here to read "Pluralism in Education and Health Care: Are There Limits to Open-Mindedness?"

Keep up on events at Redeemer College. Click here to read "End-of-Term Report: Winter Term 1998-99."


Don't take the term literally. I don't plan to turn pages for you. If I inform you of a website, I will simply pass on the address. But for the most part I will comment here on materials in the world of the printed page -- brief book notes, observations about periodicals, and perhaps a comment on an event.

Culture clash in the hospital. Epilepsy is thought by Western medical professionals to be a very complex phenomenon. Since my wife suffers from it, I have been in a great many discussions with doctors in which I had to ask for clarification or admit that at some point the explanation being offered went beyond my capacity to understand, since I have no medical training. But for some people, epilepsy is not that hard to understand. What happens in an epileptic seizure is that "the spirit catches you and you fall down." Such, at least, is the conviction of the Hmong, who are a mountain-dwelling people living in southeast Asia.

What happens when the Hmong move to North America and must seek the help of a modern scientific hospital because their child is afflicted with epilepsy? Anne Fadiman tackles this question in a fascinating book entitled The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997). In this book we learn that the Hmong are slow to learn the English language: practical difficulties ensue when they have to deal with American doctors. But they are also highly resistant to the prevailing North American understanding of health and illness. The result, in the case of the Hmong girl living in California whose epilepsy is discussed in the book, is heartbreaking.

At the same time, the book is eye-opening. It also includes many fine observations about Hmong history and culture in general. Good reading for all, but especially for those with an interest in medicine or anthropology.

Losing Quebec while saving Canada. Maude Barlow is well known to Canadians as a crusader for nationalistic and/or left-wing causes. She is a fervent opponent of "globalization," cozying up to the United States for the sake of free (or freer) trade, and dismantling what many would call Canada's "welfare state." She is very scornful of Brian Mulroney's legacy and regards his Liberal successor, Jean Chrétien, as a "Libertory" who is carrying Mulroney's bad ideas further.

Barlow has written a political autobiography. By calling it political, I mean to say that it does not include much coverage of her personal life. She talks mainly about the political battles she has been engaged in, and thus the book is called The Fight of My Life (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1998). I wonder whether anyone pointed out the parallel with Hitler's famous political testament entitled Mein Kampf (My Battle, or perhaps My Struggle).

But Barlow is very far removed from Hitler in terms of her intentions. She yearns for a Canada whose waning years came under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whom she served briefly in a staff capacity. It's been downhill since then, also for the cause of women (another major theme in the book). One almost expects to hear Barlow asking: Is Canada still worth saving?

As I read and enjoyed her book, I was struck by what it did not contain, namely, a discussion of the Quebec situation. It seems to me that her case for keeping Canada separate and distinctive (and thus not too tightly embraced by the USA) is a lot like the case for separating from Canada from English-speaking Canada. The more one succumbs to Barlow's reasoning, the more one is included to say, "Now I understand what the Quebec separatists are getting at."

Barlow is not obliged to respond to this line of inquiry in a book that is mainly autobiographical. But at some point, she and her associates in the ongoing Canadian political debate will need to address it. If we expect high-minded Americans to understand our need to remain separate and different, do we not owe the same consideration to Quebec nationalists who believe they are being smothered in English Canada's embrace?

General information

This electronic journal is my way of keeping in touch with friends, colleagues, former students, and so forth. It does not have a regular publication schedule. Feel free to download it and pass it around. You may even wish to send me a comment; I do not guarantee a response to each communication. If you wish to repost anything in this journal, please let me know. If you care to print something in paper form, this can also be arranged, provided that I retain the copyright so that I will remain free in my use of the material. Please regard the materials in Myodicy as copyrighted by me, except in the case of articles written by someone else. What is written in Myodicy should not be regarded as reflecting any official position or policy of Redeemer College.

Theodore Plantinga
E-mail: [email protected]

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