Scholar in Residence discusses aging, death

Gilbert Meilaender, the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University, talks with those attending the lectures on "Hoping to Live Forever" in the Carl Grant Center. | Photo by Abigail Harris

By Bruce Ashburn

Students were encouraged to think through the issues of aging and death as the Scholar in Residence at Union University shared his thoughts in four lectures at the Carl Grant Events Center, March 15 and 17.

“I do not know the answer (to questions of aging and death),” said Dr. Gilbert Meilaender, Scholar in Residence, in his opening lecture. “But my goal is to think with you of these manners.”

Meilaender said he was interested in aging and death because these topics contain issues that need to be thought about, especially for this generation who will have to face these questions through projects that try to extend the human life and a growing generation of older adults.

“The topic of death and aging is very interesting, because it is not talked much about,” said Sam Dahl, senior Christian ethics major.

Dahl attended all four lectures and said he enjoyed learning how to think about these questions and now had a good foundation for thinking about the issue of aging and death.

Meilaender’s lectures were also especially helpful for those in the medical field, said Dr. Andrew Martin, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, who also attended all four lectures. Since those in the medical field “deal with people who are experiencing death everyday, how to think on these issues is critical,” he said.

Meilaender’s main question during the lectures was what it means to live indefinitely and whether to do so is a good thing.

“I’ve enjoyed the lectures because they’ve made me think about what I normally don’t think about,” Dahl said.
Meilaender used stories and examples to help those present understand better the different views and distinctions of the difficult subject he was talking about. He used “The Last Battle” by C.S. Lewis to help explain the Christian view in several of his lectures.

Martin said the lectures, especially with the use of stories such as “Charlotte’s Web,” helped him to shape his thoughts on the issues of aging, death and enhancement — not necessarily have the answers — but “to have a better conversation about the issues.”

“It’s a really important topic that needs to be discussed, especially for people in ministry because it’s important how we conceive life and death,” Dahl said.

Meilaender is currently on leave from serving as the Phyllis and Duesenberg chair of Christian ethics at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind., to think through the topic of aging and death, which he discussed with more than 100 Union students, staff, faculty and members of the Jackson community over the two days.

He has written 13 books and has received multiple awards, as well as served as a member of the President’s Council of Bioethics from 2002–2009.

All four lectures were recorded and will be available to students and staff on the Union website.

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