Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Technology, Chimeras, and the Devil

This article about inter-species cloning made me ponder the theological and ethical issues. Just a few thoughts out loud...

1) Technology can be a gift of God, or a tool of Satan to oppose God. There are sects of Christians, such as some Amish people, who believe technology is always a bad thing, and they generally seek to stop the clock of technology at the horse-and-buggy stage. They make the mistake of viewing God's gift of the mind and reason as completely evil, that technology is never a gift of God that can be used for good. On the other hand, our culture pretty much goes 180 degrees the other way, supporting unfettered technology. If we can do it, we should - especially if there are "benefits" to us.

Of course, there are always unintended consequences - and ethicists argue about how to manage these often unforeseen circumstances (think Jurassic Park).

Traditional Christians may want to remind themselves of the lesson of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis 11, the descendants of Noah were supposed to spread out and repopulate the world. Instead, a large number gathered into a city, began to see themselves as great, ignored the divine mandate, and using the cutting-edge technology of uniform baked bricks (instead of randomly-sized stones) and mortar, began to build skyscrapers. They sought to make a name for themselves by challenging God's dominion over heaven. Their building project became an idol. God did not approve, and confused their languages - thus destroying their lofty plans.

The Babelites used technology as a means to "play God" and in the end, their efforts came to naught.

2) God's mandate for man to multiply is under diabolical attack.
From the beginning, man was instructed to "be fruitful and multiply" and was given a rather pleasant natural method of reproduction (which incidently mixes the gene pool quite well and provides a nurturing environment for children).

However, there have always been those who want power of life and death - those who run concentration camps, those who engage in selective breeding and eugenics, those who sterilize "undesirables" etc. In recent years, "birth control" and abortion have become technological "solutions" to the "problem" of unwanted life. To be master of life and death is to truly "play God." The modern wranglings over euthenasia, assisted suicide, etc. are often cast as pure technological issues. In the twentieth century, even in otherwise orthodox churches, contraception became ethically acceptable. Ironically, in churches that allow, or even bless, contraceptive technology, their numbers are dwindling - a divine judgment brought upon themselves by the very technology they have embraced.

And now, technology has advanced to where living embryos and fetuses are able to be screened for flaws which may preclude their being born. Soon, parents will be able to manipulate genetic data to create their own "designer children" as though they are ordering toppings on a pizza. Not only is this "playing God," it will result in all kinds of cultural and sociological upheavals - e.g. generations of people obsessed with bodily perfection, unequal numbers of men and women, etc. The natural diversity of the human form will give way to a "super race" mentality.

3) The incarnation and the image of God are under attack with this technology.
The current fascination with mixing human and animal genes, growing them into living embryos for spare parts, for research, or for God knows what, is yet another example of the diabolical use of technology. Even in ancient times, the idea that mankind was created in the image of God was mocked by Satan through the crafting of false gods that mixed human and animal forms. For example, the Philistine god "Dagon" was a chimera of human and fish.

Not only do chimeras mock the in imago Dei of man, they also mock the incarnation. For when God takes the form of a man, man is exalted to the Godhead by virtue of Jesus Christ. Humanity is thus the very icon of the divine. What better diabolical mockery of this incarnational mystery than to not only confuse the Creator with the creature, but also to degrade man to the level of beasts not made in the image of God.

The ability to clone and splice genetic material from humans and animals - and create fertilized eggs incorporating both - is a way of drawing confusion between what God had separated in his order of creation. It is a way of taking the chimera out of the realm of fanstasy stone idols and making them real creatures.

While the general culture doesn't view an embryo as a person, the fact of the matter is that once again, scientists are playing the role of pagan priests challenging the hegemony of the True God, seeking to be creators, instead of protectors, of life. While they swear upon stacks of Darwin's Origin of Species that they will never allow such embryos to come to term, inevitably, the question "why not?" will arise. If there can be some "benefit" to the rest of us (for instance, spare organs, medical research, or even the creation of superstar athletes), eventually such ethical prohibitions will be lifted. And even if they aren't someone, somewhere, will try it.

Consider the horror of chimeras not only living as embryos, but actually being born. What will happen when we have a human mind stuck in the body of a cow? Will a cross between human and mule be given the right to vote, own property, and marry, or will such a creature merely be a slave and pack animal for anyone rich enough to buy him? Will such creatures be grown in veal cages and kept alive for organ harvesting?

Will such chimeras bear the image of God? Will they have human rights? Do we baptize them? Will God simply not allow us to take technology that far? Or will we destroy ourselves through unintended consequences of messing with DNA and "playing God"? Genetic tinkering is our generation's Tower of Babel.

All we can do is pray: "Come Lord Jesus."


lthaga said...

I remember an interview on Focus on the Family in the late 90's, of a former abortion doctor named Nathenson, or something like that. Toward the end of the interview he told James Dobson that the next thing on the horizon, that scientists were already working on was genetic manipulation to create different breads of humans, some would be dumbed down and obedient, but very strong for manual labor and sports, some would be very intelligent, an upper class to rule the masses, and those left genetically unchanged kept for pets perhaps. My memory doesn't do justice but I hope I got the point across. Dobson ended with a similar comment to your own, in hopes that Jesus would come back soon.
Larry Haga

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Ithaga:

Isn't it interesting how these "slippery slope" arguments just sound alarmist and ridiculous... right up until the slippery slope actually happens? I think the evil of man knows no depths, and the march of technology will continue - and will steamroll over anyone or anything that tries to stop it. I do believe that only our Lord's return will stop it.

Luke said...

Fr. Hollywood:

Thank you for your comments on this subject; much needed in these days.

Thankfully, our nation's president has vetoed the federal funding of fetal stem cell research bill. But it does not take much for the president or Congress to change, and enacting the bill in future years. And the veto has little bearing on whether state or private institutions will keep up the diabolical work.

We can pray for the parousia, as the Church regularly does. I'm curious on your opinion whether the Church should also pray for another Babelesque divine confounding of biotechnology. In other words, should we go beyond praying: "Thy will be done," to an imprecatory prayer requesting the confusion of science? And if so, would we see leaders of the Sanctity of Life Movement actually do so?

~Pr. Luke Zimmerman

Pr. H. R. said...

Spot on Fr. Hollywood. It all starts with contraception. Until we recapture our true Lutheran teaching on the subject, we will fail at being the light, salt, and leaven the world needs in the face of what you rightly call a diabolical attack.