By Jeffrey Weiss, special to CNN
(CNN) – Nelson Mandela belongs to the ages whether he lives another hour, day or decade.
But in what may well be his final days, he’s focusing attention on a modern and yet very old question: When medical treatment can extend life interminably, what's the right thing to ask of doctors – or of the Almighty?
Few outside Mandela’s inner circle know the South African icon’s exact condition and treatment. Family members said last week that he had stopped speaking but was responding to voices. Officials have said he’s battling a lung infection, but they haven’t released much information beyond that.
What we do know is how Mandela’s countrymen have responded to what could be his last illness. More often than not, that response has included public prayer, vigils and hymns.
The South African network SABC reported one sort of prayer being offered, that of healing.
Elizabeth Lipule, 77, an African National Congress Women's League member, told SABC that the louder she sang the more her prayers would be heard.
"We pray that God gives him many years, we still need him."
But the South African Anglican archbishop, Thabo Makgoba, offered a prayer with a rather different tone.
Makgoba prayed the South Africans who will mourn Mandela's eventual death may be solaced. But he also prayed that the anti-apartheid icon will have "a quiet night, and a peaceful, perfect, end."
Which is a very different prayerful attitude.
The Jewish tradition includes 2,000-year-old teaching stories that speak to what is happening today in South Africa.
The Babylonian Talmud famously describes the death of Judah the Prince, one of the foremost sages of his day. He was gravely ill, but his followers prayed unceasingly for him to continue living. A woman servant – cited elsewhere in the Talmud as having a sharp mind about Jewish legal matters – noted her boss’ suffering and decided to take action.
She climbed to the roof and tossed off a jar. The noise startled the men praying. They paused for a moment and “the soul of Rabbi departed to its eternal rest.”
So was the woman’s action a good or bad thing?
The Talmud is notoriously cryptic. But most commentators say the context is pretty clear that the sages approved of what she did.
Another story from the Babylonian Talmud describes the death of Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradion. He was one of 10 rabbis slaughtered by the Romans for the crime of studying and teaching Torah. The story says that he was burned to death while wrapped in a Torah scroll. And that the Romans put wool soaked in water near his heart to prolong his pain.
The rabbi's followers called to him to inhale the flames, to speed his death. He refused, saying it was wrong to injure one’s self.
The executioner, apparently unhappy about the suffering, set a weird bargain with the rabbi: If he took away the wool and increased the fire, would the rabbi promise him a place in the “life to come”?
That, Teradion agreed to. “And his soul departed speedily.”
What does any of this have to do with the dying of Mandela?
Only that questions about a good death are old. Many Jewish authorities take these stories to mean it is not necessary to prolong suffering when death is imminent and that it’s wrong to choose anything to accelerate dying.
But what’s the difference between maintaining life and prolonging death?
That’s not a question that any text can easily answer.
Several years ago, my father was in the hospital for a final time. He was 92, a couple of years younger than Mandela is now. He had survived a near-fatal episode six months earlier and another a year before that. (Like Mandela, these were respiratory problems, common for the elderly.)
His mind, however, remained relatively clear. And he chose to continue treatments right until the moment he chose not to do so.
“I’m tired,” he told me. “I’ve had enough.”
And he was gone less than two days later.
During his series of final illnesses, I had many conversations with him, with other members of my family, with doctors, about what to do.
At several junctures over almost two years, we could have “broken the jar,” and he would have died quickly and peacefully. But we knew he wasn’t ready to give up. We weren’t ready, either. And time after time, he defied the odds and returned to a quality of life that satisfied him.
Until he didn’t.
Did we do the right thing? That’s not a question I can answer precisely even now. Which means I can perfectly understand the ambivalence in South Africa.
After my father died, one of my friends sent me a note.
Like me, he had lost his father when his dad was quite elderly. “I realized that everything that needed to be said had been said,” he told me. “I just wanted to go on saying it."
Just so. And if that’s true for one man’s family, how much more true must it be for the man who is the father of his entire nation?
Who knows whether Mandela will respond once more to medical treatment? For sure, there is nothing more that he needs to say, and nothing more that his people need to say to him.
But can anybody fault those who want to go on saying it?
Jeffrey Weiss is an award-winning religion writer based in Dallas.
ann us hsnsi oa nnairm os u
Prayer = when you are doing nothing but want to feel like you
trolling = when you think you are completing a sentence but you
lol oops but you got the point. If you disagree, share the evidence that supports your disagreement.
I think you make the common error of thinking that prayer is sort of like a cosmic vending machine. It's not.
no, prayer is just talking to yourself. pure and simple.
Prayer works. I love this Native American prayer:
"Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to all the world.
Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame. "
As with any sick person, I hope they don't try to unnaturally extend Mandela life. If his body can no longer sustain life, then he should be allowed to die. We're all mortal. Let the poor man go if he's ready.
They need to let Sarah Palin go too.
Now would be an interesting time to ask a critical question
Is South Africa better off now than when it was run by Afrikaners?
Now I don't mean in the whole self determination way, I mean in the basic quality of life, food on the table sort of way that really matters.
I truly don't know the answer, but much of what I read says no.
Can anyone here offer real observations???
A friend says that crime and corruption are out of control, and that certainly reinforces negative stereotypes.
Murder rates came up in the Pristorious trial, and seemed to indicate a VERY unstable society??
Britannia threw out their Roman domineers, they ended up ok.
Don't forget, Mandela sanctioned terrorist attacks on civilians. Also, the ANC's complete mismanagement of power is creating another race war in South Africa, with Afrikaners being specifically targeted in racial attacks and there is also insti.tutionalized racism against the 'Cape Coloreds'.
Can you name many leaders who are seen by every soul on the planet to have truly clean hands? Even Ghandi's letters, from when he was a lawyer in South Africa, show his racism towards Africans.
I'm just saying, if you polish Mandela's halo, it turns out to be a turd.
Also, Gandhi was a luddite who wanted to abandon Western medical practices and mechanized farming. I hold him in far lower regard than I do Mandela.
I find it disingenuous to claim reverse racism/discrimination against those who were oppressed and discriminated against for so long.
It's like claiming the slave who grabs the whip from his master during a beating and whips his master a few times to show him how it feels is now the criminal. Do I agree with anyone whipping another human? No, but I sure can understand the slaves motives far more than I can understand his masters.
How is it insincere to point out that white people are subject to racist attacks in South Africa? Also, if you find that acceptable, you have serious issues. And what about the Cape Coloreds? They were fvcked by the Afrikaners, now they're fvcked by the South African blacks.
I find the discrimination in South Africa sad and disheartening no matter who it comes from. All I was saying is that I find it disingenuous to point out the reverse racism without first pointing out how it got to that point. I was also making the point that I can understand the motives of an oppressed people lashing out far more than I can understand the oppressors who maintained a racist, evil and violent apartheid for so long.
I also find the claims of reverse discrimination here in America to be disgusting and disingenuous. To stomp on the necks of people of color for a hundred years then freeing them of slavery but relegating them to lives as second class citizens for another hundred years, and then finally letting them see the light at the end of the tunnel, and yet have so far to go... to hear claims of whites saying "I didn't get into a Texas college because a black got my spot!" it just makes me sick to my stomach and I am ashamed of my fellow white Americans.
If you have a white guy who is at a Casino who holds a gun to every person of color who buys some chips and takes all their chips and this is allowed by the Casino till the white guy has almost all the non-whites chips, then the Casino cracks down and says "Okay white guy, no more taking their chips!" So the white guy says "okay, okay" and the people of color ask for their chips back but the Casino says "No, sorry, possession is 9/10ths of the law, your going to have to play with the chips he left you. Now let's see some fair gambling! You non-white people have a chance! Isn't that awesome? You are welcome! One or two of you might even strike it rich! But don't ask for any hand out's and don't you dare try and take all those chips from the white guy who stole from you or we will throw you right out!"
Black to white racism exists, though. Some children are raised in environments where they are EXPECTED to continually hate and rail against the "other" race. Those children are taught racial hatred and expected to practice it. Blacks and whites. I find that practice more disgusting than racism.
"Those children are taught racial hatred and expected to practice it. Blacks and whites. I find that practice more disgusting than racism." How is that not racism? I agree that anyone who is teaching hate of any race is being racist. However, I do feel that certain attempts to rectify the major abuses the whites perpetrated against blacks for so long such as affirmative action to be justified. Racism needs to be rooted out at all levels and integration is a powerful tool for getting both sides to see that they are the same, there is no difference between them other than those differences imposed by our racist forefathers. The financial and educational segregation is still alive and well in America, it's just not as noticed now that we have token rich minorities with well educated children we can point to saying "See! They do exist! We can get back to discriminating again now that the problem of racism has been fixed!"
They aren't the same thing because having something and teaching something are two different acts. If a parent is racist, but ashamed of it and does not teach it to his children, that is much better than someone who really isn't very racist, but feels the need to pretend (for his peers, maybe?) and does teach his children to be very racist.
A fascinating man...I wish him well.
I clicked on your blue name and I expected some choir music. but no. redirected me to CNN.
Sorry to disappoint.
You were wondering what kind of story to do? How about the TRUTH for a change:
Catholic Priest Beheaded in Syria by Al-Qaeda-Linked Rebels as Men and Children Take Pictures and Cheer
I will believe in the power of prayer the day I hear that the millions of prayers offered every day in America by Christians has caused abortion to "go away." But they have, are and for the foreseeable future will fail. If millions of Christian prayers are totally ineffective at stopping abortion, it seems pretty clear there is no sky fairy listening to the poor simpletons.
Prayer is not about just getting an answer. Or dictating to God what to do.
It is pretty clear to me from what I've read and experienced that all prayer needs to be followed by action.
Either that, or god is ignoring their prayers because he is totally down with abortion. So they're all headed to hell now for going against god's plan.
A Christian can pray for an unbeliever who commits abortion, but it's up to the unbeliever to stop the abortion. Obedience is better then sacrifice and that is something that unbelievers NEVER do until they become a Christian (A DISCIPLE OF CHRIST).
Christians make up 88% of the US population. If they didn't have abortions and divorces and affairs, the US would be a completely different country. Instead, we're a country full of hypocrites. There's many more verses in the bible about adultery and fornication and eating shellfish than there are about gays, yet Christians eat shrimp and have one-night-stands right along with the 12% of non Christians.
Cpt. Obvious, the verb for adultery (idolatrous worship (fig.)) and fornication (to cause to commit adultery) is to not believe in the true God stemming from unbelief. Noun vs verb. All are guilty of unbelief.
Get help...your delusions are getting worse
Go look at a dictionary, Heaven Sent, you're not keeping up with the basic meanings of words.
Cpt. Obvious. the definitions come from the Bible where they originated.
John Stemberger, you only wish I were delusional because I see right through your drama.
Inasmuch as over 80% of abortions are done on Christian women, perhaps a little talk to them about their carnal nature should be addressed, No. That leaves 20% of all other faiths plus atheists. Stop pretending to make this an unbelievers problem. It isn't.
Why don't you get your own Houses of the Holy in order before you spout off stupidly about what the unbelievers are supposedly doing? They're YOUR women. Get on that, mmmkay?
Akira, it's the media, schools, etc. that needs to get in order, stop feeding baloney to the youths. Stop suggestons that abortion is a quick fix
The Bible never says anything bad about abortion or even uses the word.
Observer, what are you trying to say? Or, are you misrepresenting something in scriptures again?
"Observer, what are you trying to say? Or, are you misrepresenting something in scriptures again?"
The Bible NEVER mentions the word "abortion". Why are you so dense that you'd claim my statement is a "misrepresentation"?
Observer, I'm in no mood for your DRAMA today. Take your insults and peddle them back at you.
lol. Anything to avoid the truth that you were WRONG again.
Observer, tune in, you unbelievers are not only wrong most of the time and backwards, you're too arrogant to make a dent. As for definitions to passages in the Bible, I'll go to the source every time over second hand of unbelievers who haven't a clue.
Abortion and the punishment for the perps;
Exd 21:22 -23 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart [from her], and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges [determine]. And if [any] mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
"When medical treatment can extend life interminably, what's the right thing to ask of doctors – or of the Almighty?"
Perhaps it would be worth asking the Almighty if he ever answered.
God answers believers prayers. You just have to figure out how He answered because it is more advanced that how it was requested.
madiba, great soul, he does not need prayers to go to the heaven.
Great individual, poor article by CNN.
One of the greatest icons!
Don't you just feel dumb when you try to ridicule someone and miss the reply button? LOL
Pray tell, what was this?
The nitty-gritty on prayer:
Free Will and Future are inherent to all the thinking beings in the Universe. This being the case, it is not possible to alter life with prayers. Statistically, your request might come true but it is simply the result of the variability/randomness of Nature..
So put down your rosaries and prayer beads and books and stop worshiping/revering cows or bowing to Mecca five times a day. Instead work hard at your job, take care of aging parents, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to charities and the poor and continue to follow the rules of moral and ethical living as gracious and good human beings.
Human civilizations are generational constructs within living atomic masses of cellular cosmologies from long ago evolved celestially endowed creature transfigurations.
reality–How do you know the "nitty-gritty" of prayer? Have you prayed?
Of course I have prayed and my Mom and Dad still suffered and died. Then I asked why. Now I know.
"This being the case, it is not possible to alter life with prayers."
Ah, so you are one of those that think prayer= wish list.
God has never failed me.
How can a god fail those believers who accept that He will not be tested?
@AE – yeah, of course god has never failed you, for the same reason Robert Downey Jr has never failed me – you're in the fan club, and god can do no wrong.
Yea, it is just like that. Good jorb.
Robert Downey Jr is pretty awesome, you have to admit.
"... you are one of those that think prayer= wish list."
What else is prayer? Presumably the prayer wants something he/she does not have or wants to retain something he/she does have.
You are describing fear, not prayer.
Did anyone else gag when they read this
Profiting from the dying now CNN?
Commercialization of his death vigil just seems in such poor taste.
I agree. He has given more than his share to his people, his country and to the human race. Let the man have his dignity and let him die in peace.
William Demuth wrote, "Commercialization of his death vigil just seems in such poor taste."
Since when does news of the day become commercialized? Reporting the news of the world is not "commercialization" except in the broadest sense. People who followed N.M.'s Life saw the man as being a person of high civil and moral statures and it is quite sad he is soon going to depart this world stage and his leaving the people who dearly showed affection toward his Life.
At least Obama had the good sense not to show up on his deathbed.
@dog..............What bed is he in now? I don't think it'll be his "run in a marathon bed" The man is old.
A great man.
peace to him in whatever form.
a life that made a difference in others
Give those people an inch and they take a damn mile.
It's South Africa idiot...it would be a kilometer ;)
@Tea Party Bigot
And just who are "those" people?
The elderly and sick should be able to determine what sort of care they receive, including having a living will that relatives and doctors must comply with.
But I'm more curious about what sorts of awards religious writers are eligible for. Best continuing fiction award? Best lie-upon-lie attempting to make sense of silly myths award? Best meaningless string of words award? Best attempt at presenting religious myths as science award? Best . . .
Yale University has started a series called "The Life of Great Books" which examines the impact and trajectory of classic religious literature. If you're unwilling to read the source material, maybe you could audit the class and discover the brilliance of these minds:
Letters from Prison
The Book of Genesis
The Book of Mormon
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The I Ching
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Bill, why don't you also suggest some reading in basic science too? Can you suggest some good science textbooks that you've also read?
Billy D, which of my award categories does each book fit into?
Hot air, none.
I have to admit I have not read all of the books on Yale's list but I could add some others I have found illuminating,
Man's Search for Meaning
The Cost of Discipleship
The Screwtape letters
The Problem of Pain
City of Gold
In scientific categories, I have read over the last several years
At Home in the Universe
Programming the Universe
The Internal Combustion Engine (I am a mechanical engineer and this is more a historical technical manual than a purely scientific book)
I also read histories and biographies would you like to compare those?
Victory at Sea
The White Fathers
And lastly fantasy:
Interesting. . . Someone, gee maybe the author, didn't like my post about the author's credentials and had them removed.
Be sure and read Letters and Papers from Prison.
Bonhoeffer was an atheist.
Not from your school
Here is a serious answer: "Religion writing" is not the same as "religious writing." Whatever your opinion about any particular faith tradition, there is no question about the importance of religion in history and in understanding much of what fills the news every day. As I see it, my job is to help readers understand the context of how faith fits into the world. And also to show how issues that are ultra-current were examined in the past by folks who, based on the persistence of their POV, came up with stuff that lots of people found valuable. But in no way will you find *me* suggesting that any particular religion is True. That's a question we will all get and answer to (or not) on the other side of the Great Perhaps. Religious writers, on the other hand, from the folks who did the Talmud down to the latest book by Pope Francis, have a different mission. They're assuming and supporting a particular set of ideas about the supernatural and its role in the natural world.
Bill, no need to fear knowledge. If you learn to think for yourself, knowledge is no threat to your faith.
Education is not indoctrination. Apparently that's what you think it is. How sad.
I agree Jeff. Whether one ascribes to the tenets of a particular religion or not, it can be useful to familiarize oneself with the content of various thoughts. I've read the Bagavad Gita, for instance but do not consider myself Buddhist at all. Like wise other philosophies, be they political, economic, whatever give us the vocabulary to converse about how society functions. Without that vocabulary, we're reduced to "thinking for ourselves" as if our nascent thoughts haven't been investigated by our elders and insulting those we disagree with in the absence of a cogent opposition to their ideology.
I applaud you in your reading of many books! Today's major way of consuming literature is done mostly via watching it on TV or reading it on the internet. Today's societies have fast become bits and bytes consumers in that many folks want only to be commodities of snippet news shows. We have become a generation lost within the vastness of knowledge now being set loose upon the people.
Bill, tell me: is the Book of Genesis post Peter Gabriel, or does it include him, as well?
The Bhagavad Gita is a Hindu text.
"I've read the Bagavad Gita, for instance but do not consider myself Buddhist at all."
I think what Bill meant to say was: "I've read of the Bagavad Gita, for instance but do not consider myself Buddhist at all, which is good because that book has nothing to do with Buddha."
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.