The Death of Morality

In this Crisis Magazine classic, Benjamin Wiker says that the single greatest moral crisis we’ve ever faced is upon us now.

 
 
It is difficult to gain attention in an era that uses superlatives to describe dishwashing liquid and mayonnaise. Perhaps speaking simply and directly might prove such an oddity that words may again have their proper power. And so, here it is: The greatest moral crisis is now upon us.

I dont mean the continual, factory slaughter of thousands of babies a day; or the endless parade of carnal innovations mincing across the public square, howling for recognition; or even the redefinition of marriage to include the indefinite union of anything. These are effects, more or less, of the real moral crisis. 

The real moral crisis is this: that we, among all human beings who have ever lived, face the end of morality as such. Abortion and infanticide have existed before. So have homosexuality and pedophilia. Exclusive, lifelong heterosexual monogamy was, largely, a Christian mandate, and therefore variations on the definition of marriage are not difficult to come by historically. If these ills were all that plagued us, we would only be facing an especially ugly relapse into the darkness of paganism. But underneath these ills lies a darkness against which even the darkness of paganism is lightthe rejection of human nature itself, and hence the rejection of all morality. 


The Real Darkness

It is difficult, when our eyes continually have to adjust to each new wave of moral darkness, to be asked to focus on the very heart of darkness. There is at least some form and feature still visible on the current moral landscape, and our eyes are naturally drawn to distinguish things by what light remains. For example, we judge homosexual marriage to be a distortion of heterosexual marriage. Yet if we are to have any hope at all of a new dawn, we must recognize that darkness without form and void, into which, like a voracious black hole, the light is so quickly receding. Difficult as it may be, then, we must focus on what it means to reject human nature, that is, to treat human beings as if, ultimately, they were a thing without form and void. 

How to get at it? How to focus on what amounts to a negation? Perhaps by way of an illustration. A few years ago, scientists led by Tomohiro Kono, a biologist at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, created baby mice without the introduction of sperm. They did so by using two female eggs and genetically tricking one of them to function as if its genes came from sperm. It took 457 reconstructed eggs, 371 of which survived to be implanted in females, and ten of which made it through gestation. Only one, named Kayuga, made it to adulthoodand, oddly enough, after successfully mating with a male, she had a litter the old-fashioned way. The most common headline for the Kayuga story? The End of Males. 

Think its a long way from mice to men? Then you dont know the very short history of in vitro fertilization techniques, begun with mice and now commonplace among us. Indeed, in vitro fertilization makes a nice additional illustration of the same point. When I was a teenager, not so very long ago, we used to have a joke based on the propensity of social scientists to announce the obvious as if it were a statistical revelation. Fifty percent of married people are women, wed proclaim with mock scientific grandeur. That was before men wanted to marry men or, even more important, before two women could avoid the matrimonial necessity of a male through in vitro fertilization.

The negation of maleness spells the end of all moral distinctions based on sexuality. For all of human history, the distinction between male and female has been the most natural and primal, and its the one on which any moral distinctions in regard to sexuality and marriage are grounded (however badly such distinctions have been drawn and upheld). If male and female are uprooted as natural and necessary distinctions, then all moral distinctions flowing from them shall likewise be destroyed. A ban on gay marriage wont be necessary; marriage itself will soon disappear, gone the way of parchment, horse-drawn carriages, phonographs, and dial phones. 

What we face, then, is the ever more speedy replacement of moral questions with technical questions, so that the moral question “Ought we to do this? is giving way to the merely technical “Can we do this? As the cans become ever more technically effective, the oughts will sputter out their respective swan songs, fade, and then dissipate.


Genesis Undone

We must view this unprecedented phenomenon theologically in order to see its full import. What we are striving for, through ever greater technical power and prowess, is the complete unraveling of what God so tightly bound in creation. Insofar as we have been successful, we are now witnessing the creation account running backwards, form driven back to formlessness, distinction back to a void, light back to darkness. To return to our example, all moral distinctions in regard to sexuality come from sexuality itself, the natural capacity to procreate, to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24) in the union of one male and one female. From this fundamental distinction flows not only the very definition of marriage and its perfection, but also the prohibitions against adultery, sex before marriage, homosexuality, contraception, incest, masturbation, bestiality, and pornography. These prohibitions are in one way or another a perversion, a turning away, from the fundamental natural sexual distinction.

Absent this distinction, no moral distinctions can emerge. Angels, as pure spirits, are not divided into male and female. They are not prohibited from adultery because they cannot commit it. They cannot lament the failures of marriage because they cannot succeed at it. They are not wracked by controversies regarding homosexuality because they are not sexual at all. 

Enter the technical drive to knead human sexuality like clayto form men out of women, women out of men with transgendering surgery; or to make bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh through cloning; or all of oneself to be fruitful and multiply through genetic manipulation of ovaand the natural division between male and female has been all but erased. The ultimate result is not the creation of pure spirits, we note, but non-gendered sexual demons, like rock singer Marilyn Manson, who mix indiscriminate appetite for sexual pleasure with a lust for disorder itself as the negation of created order. It was with great theological insight that Mel Gibson had Satan appear as androgynous in The Passion of the Christ. Androgyny is the negation of gender, the unraveling denial of the divinely ordained distinction between male and female. 

In seeking to remove the divinely ordained natural sexual distinction, we have moved beyond perversion to cosmological rebellion. Perversion distorts what is natural, even while it presupposes it. Homosexual activists now seeking to avail themselves of the name and benefits of monogamous marriage presuppose that marriage is a permanent and exclusive union between two human beings, but that framework itself emerges from the truth that the sexual union of one male and one female produces a quite permanent and indissoluble living union, a child. Circumvent the sexual necessity for male and female to make a child, and blur, smear, and stir male and female like so much paint, and marriage as a moral structure will simply decay through disuse. Behold, the end of marriageeven the perverted form of homosexual marriage. 

We may rightly call this cosmological rebellion, and not mere perversion, for two reasons. First, it does not constitute a merely parasitic distortion of what is natural. Ancient homosexuality, such as we find it among the Greeks, elevated sexual pleasure between males above sexual pleasure between male and female, but still relied on heterosexual intercourse for procreation according to the dictates of nature. Male and female were distorted, but not destroyed. We, on the other hand, in our rebellion against nature, are attempting to destroy male and female as such.

Second, one detects more than a little whiff of brimstone in all of this. As C. S. Lewis noted in his Screwtape Letters, Satan cannot create, and since every rival attempt to produce order would merely be an imitation of Gods ordering wisdom and power, then the Evil One must destroy in order to rebel. We seem to be urged, relentlessly drawn, toward the destruction of sexual distinction in the abyss of sexual androgyny and genderless procreation. Marilyn Manson is not an isolated case of perversion. He/she/it is a glimpse of the end of morality, the darkness toward which we are now racing, beyond all moral distinctions, beyond good and evil.

But if such is the end of morality, when did the project to unravel all moral distinctions begin?


The Beginning of the End

It would be tempting to blame the notorious philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche for ushering in the destruction of morality. It was he, after all, who famously declared that all moral distinctions were arbitrary, arising not from nature but from the will to power of a particular person or people. Hence his famous work, Beyond Good and Evil (1886).

Tempting as that may be, because of the power of his philosophical prose and its effect both on his fellow Germans and on liberal intellectuals, the blame would be misplaced. Nietzsche was not a philosophical prophet but an astute reader of the times, picking up and lionizing an already existing Promethean tendency in the West.

We would do better to travel to England, not Germany, and examine the arguments of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and then Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Bacon is rightly considered to be one of the great founders of modern science. It would be more accurate, since he himself had no laboratory and made no discoveries, to call him the founder of the Promethean aspect of the modern scientific spirit.

Bacon asserted that both philosophy and science had hitherto proved entirely ineffective and sterile because human beings had foolishly taken nature as it presents itself to be the standard of both thinking and acting. Against this, Bacon argued that a new way must be opened for the human understanding entirely different from any hitherto known. The new approach to nature? Replace passive acceptance of the natural order with active testing and remolding of nature wherein by art and the hands of man she [nature personified] is forced out of her natural state, and squeezed and moulded. Truth, then, does not arise from acceptance and contemplation of nature; rather, truth is what we make. Nature becomes the clay; the scientist, as a kind of semi-deity, becomes the potter, remolding nature according to his will.

Sweeping aside all previous philosophical and theological controversies, Bacon assured his disciples, I am laboring to lay the foundation, not of any sect or doctrine, but of human utility and power. Utility and power, as Nietzsche realized several centuries later, doesnt ask, What is good and evil? but rather, What do I want? This focus on the will goes beyond good and evil and creates through technical power the ever-greater mastery over nature. The question becomes not what ought to be done but what can be done. While Bacon didnt apply his arguments directly to the remolding of human natureexcept insofar as he made some rather vague promises about the possibility that medicine might grant a real, this-worldly immortalityit takes little imagination to make that obvious step. If the rest of nature is clay, then why not human nature?

Darwin has nearly the status of a saint for modern secularism, and the cultural reverence paid to him has tended to scare off Christiansespecially Catholicsfrom criticizing him. That might change if we understood the true import of his theory. While Bacon aroused the spirit of limitless technical manipulation of nature in general by a new army of Promethean potters, it was Darwin who focused on the ultimate formlessness of human nature in particular. He provided the argument that underneath the apparent permanence of human nature, we ultimately find formless clay, cast and recast a thousand times by the vagaries of natural selection.

Darwin himself realized the alarming nature of his theory and judiciously avoided any mention of human nature in his first and greatest work, The Origin of Species (1859). His silence ended with his Descent of Man, published twelve years after the first edition of the Origin. In his Descent, Darwin made it quite clear that all we think of as specifically human can be explained as the result of natural selection — reason, morality, conscience, religion, music, art, and even the distinction between male and female itself all came about by the same random processes that molded the variety of finch beaks on the Galapagos Islands.

But what nature molds by accident, man may mold to suit his ends. After all, Darwin reminded the reader, such remolding of the clay of nature already occurs among animal breeders through artificial selection. If we take such scrupulous care of our horses, cattle, and dogs, should we not apply the science of artificial selection to human beings as well? For the good of the race, Darwin maintained, we must take our evolution into our own hands. Thus, Darwin quite clearly advocated eugenics, although it was his cousin Francis Galton, enamored by the Origin, who coined the term. (Those who still doubt that Darwins arguments were essentially and consciously eugenic should read not only Darwins Descent, but my Moral Darwinism and Richard Weikarts From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany.)

If we unite Bacon with Darwin, we have the essential spirit of the contemporary attempt to re-create human nature according to an image as yet to be announced. If sexual dimorphismmale and femaleis merely the result of the random shuffling and mutations on a string of DNA among our very distant biological ancestors, then theres little reason to resist the technical urge to redraw sexual boundaries or simply erase them altogether.

So it is, in our society now, that a great division arises between those who recoil in horror at the latest macabre manipulation of human nature as unnatural and those who rejoice at the very same manipulations as signs of humanitys liberation from nature, between those who happily submit to biology as destiny and those who believe that our destiny is to have complete mastery over biology. This is, to say the least, no small battle; indeed, it is difficult to see what battle would be greater.


The End of Catholic Morality

If Catholics still have trouble getting their feathers ruffled over this, perhaps it would help to state the situation more directly. Catholic morality is based on the natural law. The natural law, as St. Thomas makes clear, is simply the law of our being, that is, the set of moral oughts that flow from the is of our particular nature. The Baconian-Darwinian project to treat human nature as clay to be remolded by everything from plastic surgery to genetic manipulation is a direct attack on the natural law because its a direct attack on our nature. If it were to succeed, Catholic morality would be shown to be utterly without foundation, fit only for historys dustbin, taking its place alongside Ptolemaic geocentrism, phlogiston theory in chemistry, and the ether in physics as a well-developed theory that was shown, under scientific scrutiny, to be based on fundamental errors about nature. 

Catholics thought, some supercilious history professor of the not-too-distant future will say with a smirk, that human nature itself was some kind of an eternal given, that it provided a kind of impassable limit, and that from the eternal givens [chuckle!] of human nature something called mo-ral-i-ty [and here he/she/it will need to spell this strange word] arose from these givens. This is a somewhat understandable error. Just as it appears that the sun is rising, so also it appeared to them that human beings could only be created in the same way as is common among other animals. This lack of imagination was rooted in a lack of technology. We note this pattern in a number of areas. Telescopes allowed human beings to see that the vastness of the cosmos demonstrated how insignificant a speck they were, and hence they wisely gave up the belief that the Earth was at the center of the universe. So also, the new genetic technologies have made clear: Our only limit is our imagination!‘”

And then the professor will lean over the podium, pause for effect, and don a mournful, accusing countenance. While that may have been a somewhat understandable error, Catholics went further and built an entire system of persecution upon this error. Since they could procreate only through the animal act of male-female intercoursea process that was itself a kind of biological fluke!they condemned, nay persecuted, hunted down, attacked any other kind of sexual expression. We can all be thankful those days are over.


Science Fiction?

Sound like science fiction? A mere literary scare tactic? Well, try this literary exercise. Read Aldous Huxleys dystopian classic Brave New World, the prophetic science-fiction satire written in 1932. Huxley attempted to paint a nightmarish world in which sexual pleasure has been utterly divorced from love through the use of the test-tube creation of human beings and contraception. The novel was set 600 years in the future, but alas, by the end of the 20th century, so much of the prophecy had become fact that it has almost no effect on readers, and what was meant to frighten now seems merely quaint. I know this as a college professor who has tried to use Brave New World in class. Huxley imagined that the loveless factory production of human beings would turn sex into a mere commonplace recreational activitybut his imagined sexual free-for-all is entirely heterosexual! As for the technical aspect of things, ever try to frighten a class of undergrads with the specter of babies being made in test tubes, only to find out that an increasing number of the students themselves are, in one way or another, test-tube babies?

In regard to the destruction of moral boundaries, then, science fact is outpacing science fiction. For this reason, all that is needed for the triumph of evil, and the subsequent negation of the distinction between good and evil itself, is a smug complacency, an Oh, theyll never dothat! Soon enough, even that, whatever that may happen to be, will be so well-established as to seem old-fashioned in comparison with whats on the horizon. Once we eliminate the notion that human nature is a given and hence that our very nature sets a limit to what we can and should do, then the distinction between science fiction and science fact is merely temporal. Such should be clear, given the speed with which science fictions have become science facts in the last half-century. 

That makes it rather easy to be a prophet. Allow me to assume a momentary mantle. The history professor in my fictional exercise above? Expect that within ten years, advanced surgical techniques and tissue cloning will result in designer gender, where consumers will choose not only what sexual parts they desire but how many and where to put them. Mark my words on your calendars.


The End of the End

I do not want to give readers the false impression that the only moral distinctions now being erased are between male and female. To take another, even more startling example, the lines are now being technically redrawn between human beings and animals. According to the Baconian-Darwinian project, human beings are just one more transient form that the clay of matter has taken. Thus, as Darwin made quite clear in his Descent, the species distinction human being has an ephemeral, not eternal, foundation. But this very distinction is the foundation of the command Thou shalt not kill. The prohibition against the murder of innocent human beings presupposes that (1) killing a gnat, a cow, and a human being are very different acts and (2) there is a real difference between living and nonliving beings. Absent these distinctions, the prohibition against killing human beings is merely a parochial and groundless taboo.

Obviously, the presence of abortion has helped immensely to establish the treatment of human beings as mere matter, mere stuff to be disposed of according to our convenience. But an offshoot of abortion is the entire industry bent on the use of such ill-gained tissue for medical purposes. As we slide back further into the void, into grayer and grayer realms, medical purposes will soon include health and beauty, so that such techno-cannibalism will spread to products throughout the local drugstore. As demand grows, especially for more advanced flesh, not only will women be paid to grow fetal tissue but pharmaceutical laboratories will include embryonic farms. 

Killing and not killing, human and nonhuman, living and nonliving, light and darkall such distinctions that emerge in the Genesis account will recede back into the void, a void beyond all good and evil. Should we do this? will then mean only Is this economically feasible? 


The Last Battle

Such is the real moral crisis, the greatest one possible, since upon its outcome hinges the existence of morality itself. The good news is, oddly, that it is still a crisis; that is, human nature hasnt been destroyed yet. It is still possible that human nature may be salvaged from the ruins of the project to reconstruct it according to our will.

For Catholics, this is an especially important call to arms. Catholicism almost alone among Christianity roots its moral arguments in the natural law, and hence it has fought almost alone to keep what God has joined and distinguished in creation from falling asunder into indistinction and confusion. To take an important example, almost alone it has rejected the severing of sexual union from procreation through contraception and in vitro fertilization. As should be clear from the above, this severing, which looked so innocent to mainline and even evangelical Protestantism, was the beginning of the end of morality in regard to sexuality. May the realization of this bring about a great ecumenical moment.

We can expect, then, a great battle between those who regard human nature as the sacrosanct origin of all moral distinctions and those who regard human nature as clay under construction. It will be, for all of humanity, the last battle, for it is a battle over the existence of humanity itself. 

 


Benjamin D. Wiker is the author of
The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Regnery, 2009). This article originally appeared in the July/August 2004 issue of Crisis Magazine.

Benjamin D. Wiker

By

Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need To Know. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com, and you can follow him on Facebook.

  • William H. Phelan

    Dr. Wiker:

    You have omitted the most powerful force in the world for good in your assessment: GOD. St. Augustine referred to the Church as the Ark and he would ask what happened to those who were not in the Ark in the time of Noah? They perished-literally. The state of the world is a punishment from God. Read Leviticus: obey Me and you will be rewarded. Disobey Me, and you will be punished for millenia! Just look what Benedict has been able, with God’s grace, to accomplish in four years v. what his predecessors destroyed in forty. The Mother of God has warned for 150 years that if people do not amend their lives, the world will be essentially destroyed. THAT is the real peril.

  • Joe H

    At times it seems as if the Church is the last and only institution on Earth that views humanity as something unique and special, with inherent dignity and value. In reality, nothing else comes as close.

    Almost every other religion (including the secular ones) seems to contain elements of a Gonstic perspective – that matter, the flesh, the physical is either evil or irrelevant (depending on the flavor) and that we must either transcend it or beat it into submission.

    Only the Church really embraces, fully, the notion that all of creation is good and glorious and that man stands at the pinnacle of that creation. Meanwhile one of Anton LeVey’s Satanic Statements was:

    “7. Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his

  • Deacon Ed

    lies Satan – the father of all lies. Satan hates Christ because as the incarnation of God, Christ has a human nature and still does. Envious of God, now the human nature assumed by Christ, is taken up into the Divine life. Satan can try to attack us human persons, made male and female, but Satan ultimately loses because the risen Christ is invincible and so, because our human nature is redeemed, weare safe from Satan’s black hole if we but accept Christ and live according to His precepts, and live in communion with Him.

    Not unrelated to all this about gender is the fact that Christ – priest, prophet and king – came among us as a male. This is one reason why we must safeguard our priesthood and reserve it only for persons of male gender. Is it only coincidental that the male-only priesthood has been under vicious attack? is it only coincidental that the fatherhood of the priesthood (and fatherhood in general) is under attack? is it only coincidental that the Holy Spirit would prompt Benedict XVI to declare this the year of the priest?

    No, my hope is in Christ…he is our only hope, the gates of hell will not prevail as much as Satan and his collaborators might try to unravel and pervert human nature.

  • Anne

    It is sad that the homosexual ‘pride’ movement has hijacked the rainbow to symbolize their revolt against nature, and ultimately God. Also the triangle has been used to symbolize the Trinity, and I think they also use that too.

    How easy it is to see this is a satan inspired revolt when one considers the obvious obsessive targeting beautiful Divinely inspired symbols.

  • Jerry L. L.

    Your mention of Francis Bacon reminds me of what Pope Benedict XVI said in his excellent encyclical Spe Salvi, in which he called Bacon’s idealogy faith in progress:

    We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth, then it’s not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.

    Instead of quoting more at length what the Holy Father had said, I encourage everyone to read Spe Salvi in whole. This essay on morality complements it well.

  • James

    This was an excellent discourse, and great threads by all contributors. The evil one has been so clever in unraveling our traditional mindset on the sexes and the roles each sex contributes to a healthy society. Political Correctness has been an insidious tool used to dismantle the boundaries that our parents and the Holy Church work so hard to form. I make it a point to challenge

  • John Schuh

    Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” raised the same issues, and recently in the serious Battle Star Gallactica, sci fi writers tried to treat the question of what is human, what is a soul. Even what is God. Necessarily, since the writers are obvious not grounded in philosophy, we get something more like the confusion of New Agers. However, the question of AI also fits into Wiker’s discussion. The mind-body discussion that dates back to Descartes. Modern philosophy followed either Baconian or the Cartesian track and now seems to have ended in confusion. Anyway the technologists are not only playing with “clay” but with mathematical constructions coming from computer science.

  • Ender

    These are effects, more or less, of the real moral crisis.

    I think this is perhaps the most significant line in this excellent article. All of the time we spend opposing abortion, euthanasia, pornography, and the myriad evils of our civilization are not wasted but they are like bailing a boat. No matter how fast we bail, if the boat isn’t repaired it will sink … and I haven’t seen much evidence that (Mr. Wicker excepted) the problem is even recognized, much less that it is being addressed.

  • Bill Sr.

    Today the nation

  • Jessica

    reject the language and tenants of

  • cantor

    My brother and sister-in-law were unable to conceive, and so had to utilize IVF in order to have a child of their own. While their son wasn’t conceived in the usual way, I don’t think they love him any less because of it, and I don’t think it diminishes the spousal love they have towards each other. It was a solution to a heart-breaking problem, and I, for one, am glad that modern medicine allows people to overcome such obstacles.

    The problem here is encapsulated by Wiker’s elegant summary of our situation, i.e. ‘the question has become not “should I?” but “can I?”‘. This is very subtle indeed, because the former assumes there may be something wrong with the choice, the latter has moved past this and the only concern is whether the thing can be done or not. It is the difference between Eve wrestling with whether she should disobey God and eat from the tree, and Eve wondering if the ladder she has is tall enough to get to the fruit.

    Of course we should embrace every human, IVF or not, and no one doubts the love parents of IVF children have for each other or their children. That is not the question. The question is should we go down this road in the first place. There are questions of embryos destroyed in the process, etc etc. The critical question we should ask ourselves is, “why do we want to do this?” My belief, (and I say this with all due respect – my sister-in-law has 7 children through IVF) is that we do not like the boundaries that God has placed on us. We do not like to be limited.

    You could say, “but surely this is for something the Church should embrace – the birth of a new life”. Yes, but underneath this is a desire to vindicate our own idea of what is right, or just, or proper, or fitting. We have a very clever way as humans, of dressing up our desires for fulfillment of every kind as being part of the greater good. So what looks harmless (and even good) on the inside, has at its heart a rebellion of what God has ordered.

    You could say, “this is extreme, how can producing an IVF baby lead to moral disaster?” Again, its not about IVF babies, its about our hearts. If we are not able to accept limits in areas of our lives where God has put them, every limit can then be challenged. We lose the perspective of Creator and created. We start to think we are gods. We are only fooling ourselves.

  • Jessica

    You could say, “this is extreme, how can producing an IVF baby lead to moral disaster?” Again, its not about IVF babies, its about our hearts. If we are not able to accept limits in areas of our lives where God has put them, every limit can then be challenged. We lose the perspective of Creator and created. We start to think we are gods. We are only fooling ourselves.

    Is the inability to have a child of one’s own a limit that God has placed in someone’s life though? There are plenty of people who might argue that such things are merely instances of the fallen state of the world in which we live, that things do not always work as they should. They are not necessarily things that God has specifically put in place. I don’t imagine God handing out lives to the unborn and apologizing to Jimmy that He’s real sorry, but he’s going to have cystic fibrosis, and there’s just nothing anyone can do about it. Pick a genetic illness, a birth defect, anything with the potential to break a person’s heart, their will, or their soul. Are those limitations imposed by God, or just unfortunate, like a cosmic raffle drawing?

    At what point does the enforcement of “you have to live with this limitation” become unloving towards one’s neighbor? At what point would forcing someone to live with a limitation be heartbreaking, soul-rending, meanspirited? At what point does the answer “because I want to” to the “why” question become a bad thing? When does it become rebellion? Was it rebellion for the blind man to ask Christ to have his sight restored to him? He wanted to see (arguably a very self centered thing) but Christ did not chastise him for that. I think the message is that it is not a bad thing for a person to want to be whole.

    I can think of at least two instances off the top of my head where God answered prayers for people to have children: Sarah’s birth of Isaac, and the Shunamite woman’s son that was promised to her by the prophet Elisha. I don’t think that wanting children is particularly rebellious. It is very possible that the thing we want is also the very thing that God wants for us. Using technology or medicine to accomplish that does not necessarily make it wrong*.

    This gets at the heart of the point about not liking limitations. We certainly don’t want to feel ugly, or childless, or lonely or sick. I don’t think I disagree with the text of the idea you’re proposing, even though I do disagree with the idea behind it. If there are ways around a limitation or problem, of course people will seek them out. Such things are not always at odds with the created order, they would simply not have been possible at an earlier time in human history. New ways of doing things do not necessarily make for wrong. They do require new ideas and new theologies to guide people through a world that is different from what has been previously.

    *Although such things definitely can be wrong. If we are particularly concerned about IVF and left over embryos, primarily due to the timing of ensoulment, when does the embryo become a person, when does it have rights, etc? we ought to consider other questions: does the splitting of an embryo into monozygotic twins result in some modification to the soul of that embryo, the soul that entered it at conception? What about multiple embryos in utero where one embryo “absorbs” another? These are very isolated, relatively rare incidents, and it might suffice us to say that we don’t know all the answers to everything, but how can we hope to make wise decisions about something like IVF when we know so little about other situations that occur naturally?

    My primary problem with the church’s position on some issues is that it feels like policy is made using ignorance and fear as the prime tools. We fear the slippery slope of challenging all limitations, and so we bury our heads in the sand, hoping that problems like IVF will solve themselves. In the meantime, there are a lot of good Christians with no guidance and no help from their clergy. Refusing to engage on the important issues other than to say “No” does not make our counsel effective in the world.

    We need to have thoughtful and reasoned responses that do not rely on fear or demonization of others. While Wiker may have brought the question into the realm of “Can I” vs “Should I”, which is a useful discussion to have, his writing has also vilified large groups of people. Those people are more likely to feel alienated, not counseled, and not likely to want to hear more from Christians who will demonize and vilify them further. This is not practical theology. It is divisive. It is antithetical to the message of love, peace and reconciliation that we have from our Savior.

  • Steve

    Jessica,

    I feel fairly well-versed in the teachings of our faith, and can even understand where Cantor (and Wiker, to a degree) are coming from. I’m working my way thru the Theology of the Body, and I’m interested to see how directly JP II addressed some of these issues, or if we can sort out sound, pastorally appropriate answers.

    Your ability to articulate the concerns and struggles of a substantial number of people is to be commended. Thank you for sharing so candidly, and I hope to see some thoughtful engagement of your post.

    (unfortunately, I know the lifespan of these sorts of things. If there’s no “action” here, you’ll have to chime in on another popular thread.)

    God bless,
    Steve

  • Malcolm McLean

    Jessica is making a mistake that most Catholics, including very orthodox/traditional ones, often make, so it’s time to clear it up now.

    Catholic teaching on abortion and related issues does not rest on theological speculation about the time time the soul enters the embryo. We still don’t know exactly what that is meant to mean. Certainly we cannot answer questions about what happens when one embryo absorbs another to create a chimera.

    It rests on the idea that human life, including gametes (sperm and eggs), and embryos, is sacred. The vast majority of gametes, and even the majority of embryos, will never make it to sexual maturity. That doesn’t alter the central teaching. Nor do scientific investigations into fetal nervous development. If it could be shown somehow that the soul enters the body at birth, abortion would still be considered gravely sinful.

    Of course if you don’t believe in the notion of “sacred” at all then you will struggle with the idea that human life is sacred. That is maybe the underlying reason we have so many abortions.

    Now treatments for infertility that do not interfere with the normal fusion of the gametes are licit, for instance the use of antibiotics to clear up infections of the genital tracts. Treatments like IVF are not.

    From a purely practical point of view, IVF seems to cause a great deal of distress to patients. Cycles are invasive and expensive, and are usually unsuccessful. It also creates an attitude that there is a right to a baby which the technology simply cannot promise. However that is not the core of Catholic teaching on the subject, just a hint that the “uncomplicated good” line peddled by secular culture is a variance with the truth.

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