tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly WHUT November 6, 2013 8:30am-9:00am EST
university and a co-editor of the american journal of bioethics. he like other scientists briefs neurocriminology is an important new but undeveloped science with serious moral implications. >> we find a new scientific technology, we get all excited about it, we think it will answer problems for us. we start to implement it, and we hurt people. i want us to have the ethical wisdom right now to not rush to judgment about neuroscience. >> reporter: raine has been studying the connection between the brain and violence in children and adults for 35 years. he says his research shows that the brains of psychopaths have a deficiency in the part that governs feelings of remorse and empathy for the victims. >> what we see in psychopaths who are very fearless individuals and who create a lot of harm to society is that they have a reduction in a part of the brain called the amygdala, the part of the brain that's very much involved in moral
decision-making, in empathy, in conscience, feeling remorse, feeling guilt, which is one of the reasons they do such terrible things. >> you'll be shown a series of scenarios. you should immediately respond to the question by pressing the yes or no button. >> you take normal people. and if you give them a moral dilemma like would you kill one person to save five lives, that's a difficult decision for many of us. but when we do the same thing with psychopaths, their amygdala is functioning much less, then how moral is it of us to punish psychopaths as harshly as we, do assuming that they never asked to be born with an amygdala that was broken? >> two people often can have a lesion or some brain ab normality in exactly the same place, and it manifests itself in completely different ways. >> raine agrees that two people can have the same defect and one might resort to violent crime, the other to violent sports. but he says there are now more
reliable bio markers that should not be ignored. >> but you look at the murderer here, and you can see a distinct lack of activity in that prefrontal cortex. >> so this person is not sensing that raping this person, killing this person is wrong, morally reprehensible? >> that's correct. >> raine testified as an expert witness in the trial of donta paige, who brutally raped and murdered a young woman. his testimony helped get the man's sentence reduced from the death penalty to life in prison. >> so defense attorneys are taking scans and saying can i find anything abnormal in this scan? and if they do, they can hold that up in front of a jury and say look at this. the neuroscience expert has told us that this looks odd or is different than average. my client couldn't help themselves. >> cut them a break. you know, you can't hold them fully responsible as we do with
other people. we're not all equal. and for some individuals the dice are loaded early in life, conspiring to push them into a life of crime. >> he sees a real benefit to society when brain imaging can predict which kids are most likely to end up in trouble and then work to develop treatment programs to prevent it. he has twin boys of his own. >> as a parent i want to know. and i think every parent should know, is their child at risk for becoming a violent criminal offender? we'll never be able to predict with perfect accuracy which children are going to become violent offenders of the future. but we have information, some information now, which does tell us that some kids, the odds are raised that they will become a violent criminal offender. >> to try to suggest that we could learn something about their brains right now that would lead us to engage in any kind of different behavior toward them is not snl
problematic and premature, it is dangerous. because we have seen over and over again the power of stigmatizing children. >> but raine and wolpe agree brain imaging could be very useful in predicting which inmates could commit new crimes when they're released. and there are few places that need that kind of risk assessment more than the los angeles county jail system. terry mcdonald is the assistant sheriff of l.a. county, and until recently the head of risk assessment for the state of california. >> the state of california uses the california static risk assessment tool. >> what is that? >> that tool is an actuarial tool that takes information from an offender's rap sheet. their arrest history. and it downloads that information into a data base system. from that it pops out a score for the offender that predicts their risk of reconviction, rearrest. >> california has a much more sophisticated risk assessment program than the l.a. jail
system, has granted early release to over 26,000 inmates so far this year because of extreme overcrowding. usually, these inmates, who qualify, for instance, those not in for violent crimes, get released after serving only 40% of their sentence. some after serving only 10%. >> if the system has to release early, it should be based on risk. you know, we do it based on percentage of time served. and it's because we're so large. we have 500 inmates coming in and out of the door every day. and to do risk assessment, a manual risk assessment on 500 inmates, takes a lot of people to do that. it would be very expensive for every inmate in the l.a. county system to have that assessment done. so it's not done for everybody. >> there is research under way, but as yet prisons are not using brain scans to predict recidivism. >> we'll never be able to perfectly predict future violence. but look, let's face it, will it become public policy?
in a way, every day we make decisions on which prisoners we release early. do we lock them up or do we give them community service? and right now brain imaging research is showing that brain imaging data is given added value in these predictions. >> we in l.a. county and every other county in california has to get better at how we do risk assessment. it will be fascinating to learn as time goes on how physiological testing could help as one component of an overall review of an offender. you don't ever want to rely on any one system. >> we have to be very, very careful how we use this information. which again, is not to say that we might not be able to use this information well. but to use it poorly is so dangerous. >> adrian raine is a perfect example of how far neuroscience has come and how far it has yet to go before it is a reliable predictor. he says he has some of the same
bio markers of a serial killer and yet he grew up to be a neurocriminologist. for "religion and ethics news weekly," i'm lucky severson in philadelphia. in other news, as european allies continue to lodge protests over alleged national security agency eavesdropping on international leaders, an italian news magazine reported that the u.s. had also spied on communications from the vatican. without citing sources, the publication said u.s. spying on the vatican included the guesthouse where cardinals stayed before the conclave that elected pope francis. the nsa denied that. the vatican spokesman said, "in any case, we don't have any concerns." meanwhile, this week pope
francis met with myanmar opposition leader and nobel peace prize winner aung san suu kyi, who spent almost two decades under house arrest. the two reaffirmed their mutual support for values such as non-violence, democracy, and human dignity. we want to assess now the catholic church under pope francis with kim lawton, managing editor of this program, and kevin extrum, editor in chief of "religion news service." welcome to you both. kevin, we learned this week that there are going to be some new cardinals announced soon. >> yes. the pope is going to name a new class of cardinals in february and it's not clear yet how many he's going to name but probably i would guess about two dozen. the most important thing obviously is that these are the men who will eventually elect his successor. but it will be interesting to see who gets a red hat and perhaps who doesn't. do these men share the pope's semi-progressive view of the
world or are they conservatives who are already in place under john paul and benedict xvi? here in the united states we're looking at maybe a handful of archbishops who could be promoted. and what's interesting is in at least two cases, in philadelphia and in baltimore, who are sort of due for red hats, the two archbishops there are culture warriors on the conservative side and emphasizing the issues that pope francis has said maybe we need to pay less attention to. so whether or not they get red hats will be interesting to see. >> and at that meeting in february the pope has said he wants the cardinals to talk about the church, and there's another big meeting scheduled later on next year where they're going to address some of these big controversial issues like aufshl contraception and gay marriage and some of those kinds of issues. and this week we also heard that the vatican has solicited input from different jurisdictions around the world asking these jurisdictions to ask people in the pews what they think, what they know about some of those controversial issues. here in the u.s. they didn't ask
the u.s. bishops to do it. pretty obvious what a lot of u.s. catholics think. but it's interesting that the vatican is seeking opinions or wanting to know what people think. doesn't mean necessarily they're taking a majority vote to see what the church teachings should be. but it's interesting. >> when francis was first pope, a lot of liberal catholics were really ecstatic. they were so happy because they saw him as the answer to all their hopes and dreams. is that still going on? >> i think it's a mixed bag. there's a sense of disappointment i think in some quarters, especially on the right, who thought maybe this pope was a little bit more conservative than he turned out to be. but on the left side i think there's a sense that they'd like things to happen faster. and you know, all these changes that everyone's talking about, let's do it tomorrow, and what they're discovering is this is an institution that takes its time with major decisions and none of this is going to happen
soon. >> and some of it i think is the expectations or the interpretations, just because francis says we need to have more mercy toward divorced catholics who've remarried, does that mean they're going to change the policy? that those people can now take communion? just because he says who am i to judge if a gay person, you know, a priest, or whomever is gay and catholic, but does that mean the church is going to change its stand on gay marriage? so i think it's a difference in tone which is certainly significant. is it a difference in substance in terms of actual changes of church teaching? francis is not promising to make sweeping changes. he says, "i'm a son of the church." you know, "i believe what the church teaches." some of it's a bit of mixed expectations as well. >> kim lawton of religious & ethics newsweekly. evan eckstrom of religion news service. many thanks.
books about jesus are big business. last week there were three of them among the top 15 "new york times" best-sellers. one was "zealot: the life and times of jesus of nazareth" by reza aslan. and it's been on the best-seller list for 14 consecutive weeks. in "zealot" aslan makes some highly controversial assertions. for instance, he portrays jesus as a revolutionary whose mission was to overthrow roman rule and who may have condoned violence to do it. kim lawton talked with aslan about his book and the controversy surrounding it. >> hi. how are you? >> good. how are you? thank you so much. >> thank you for coming. >> best-selling author reza aslan claims he didn't set out to challenge anyone's faith in jesus christ. he says the intention of his provocative book, "zealot: the life and times of jesus of nazareth," was to explore who
jesus was apart from what theology and tradition have said. >> this attempt to dig through as much as possible the layers of legend and mythology, of interpretation and faith that have arisen around jesus the christ and to get to jesus the man is i think important not just for the historian but i think also for the person of faith. >> many believers have been offended at aslan's portrait of jesus as a zealous revolutionary who ultimately failed in his mission to liberate the jews from roman occupation. aslan says the historical context can't be ignored. >> the foundation of christianity is that jesus is both fully god and fully man. well, if that is true, then to really understand who the fully man part was you have to understand the world in which he lived because that world
affected who he was. >> aslan has a ph.d. in the sociology of religion and teaches creative writing at the university of california riverside. he's a practicing muslim who also wrote "no god but god," a best-selling book about islam. in "zealot" aslan describes being a 15-year-old immigrant from iran and attending an evangelical youth camp in california where jesus was hailed as the savior. >> i immediately gave my life to jesus, had a deep encounter with christ. spent the next four or five years preaching the gospel as i had learned it from this very conservative evangelical community, preaching it to everyone, whether they wanted to hear it or not, frankly. >> but then, aslan says, studying religion at university disillusioned him and he left christianity. >> when i went to university and began studying the new testament in an academic environment and discovered immediately, as everyone who does so discovers, that far from being literal and
inerrant, the scriptures are figurative and full of the most obvious and blatant errors and contradictions, that notion of evangelical christianity no longer made sense to me. >> aslan's book places jesus in a long line of nationalist and would-be messiahs who wanted to end roman oppression and establish the kingdom of god on earth. >> there were many zealots in jesus's time. it was a phenomenon that was quite widespread and that led to a number of rebellions and insurgencies throughout the first century. and the argument of the book is that those zealot ideals and principals are at the heart of jesus's teachings in action. >> in one particularly disputed assertion aslan suggests jesus may have sanctioned violence to throw off roman occupation. >> jesus understood that the kingdom of god, the removal of the roman empire, could not be
done except through force. and so i think that the general impression of jesus as some kind of pacificistic preacher of good works is incomplete at best. >> he describes jesus as an illiterate peasant who took on the political and religious establishment. >> his message was extraordinary. this notion of the reversal of the social order. that the first shall become last and the last shall become first. that the rich will be made poor and the poor will be made rich, the hungry fed and the fed go hungry. this was, as you can imagine, an enormously appealing message for the hungry and the poor, and it was an enormously threatening message for the well-fed and the wealthy. >> he says jesus's death by crucifixion proves the authorities saw him as a revolutionary and after the crucifixion and the destruction of the jewish temple aslan contends jesus's followers began
redefining his message, assigning him spiritual, not political intentions. >> and so begins this attempt to temper jesus's revolutionary impulse as much as possible to claim that the kingdom of god that he espoused was not an earthly kingdom but a heavenly kingdom. it made this message far more appealing to romans and indeed paved the way for the roman adoption of christianity and began the process of utterly divorcing christianity from its parent religion, judahism. >> it's generated controversy on multiple fronts. the search for the historical jesus has been going on for decades and many say aslan contributed nothing new. >> my attempt wasn't necessarily to blaze new ground in the study of the historical jesus. at this point, frankly, there isn't all that much new to say. but my attempt was to make that research appealing and accessible to a broad, general
audience. >> there have been questions about aslan's qualifications for writing the book. some prominent scholars say his work contains errors and they dispute his conclusion. >> wow, news flash. scholars disagree. there are 10,000 different arguments about the historical jesus in the scholarly world and 10,000 refutations of them. i think for the non-scholar, the non-academic it might come as a shock or be somewhat newsworthy that there are scholars who disagree with my scholarly analysis. but amongst we scholars that's called thursday. >> some readers take issue with how aslan uses new testament passages to validate his assertions of certain points but then appears to dismiss the bible when it doesn't back up his thesis. he concedes that looking at
history can never fully answer questions about jesus. >> is it possible that unlike 98% of his fellow jews he could read and write? yes, it's possible. but it's not very likely. is it possible that he was born of a virgin and that he was resurrected again? yes, it's possible. but it's not very likely. and the historian is interested in not what is possible but what is likely. >> in the end christians will likely still rely on faith. but aslan says even as a muslim he found himself profoundly drawn to the jesus of his research. >> that man seemed so much more real to me than the sort of celestial spirit that i was taught in church. that's a man that i want to follow. that's a man that i want to be like. how to confront powers. how to stand up for social justice. i learned all that from the historical jesus. not from the christ of faith. >> i'm kim lawton reporting.
>> as kim reported, many scholars, believers and otherwise, strongly dispute aslan's conclusions. you can find links to some of those articles and an extended interview with aslan on our website at pbs.org. finally, at the vatican at a ceremony honoring families, a young boy decided he should participate. he wandered up to pope francis. he evaded all the aides and security guards trying to get him off stage. he much preferred being at francis's side. the scripture at that gathering was matthew 11:28, beginning "come unto me." that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads and visit our website, where there's always much more and where you can listen to and
watch each of our programs. join us at pbs.org. as we leave you, music from the blind boys of alabama, performing at the hamilton live music venue in washington, d.c. ♪ >> major funding for "religion & ethics newsweekly" is provided by the lily endowment, an indianapolis-based private family foundation dedicated to its founders' interest in religion, community development, and education. additional funding also provided by mutual of america, designing customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. that's why we're your retirement company. >> be more.
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