Another Perspective on Lowry’s Christian Ethic for Technology

 

Keith Lowry posted another excellent and thought provoking piece – this one on Forbidden Knowledge: Toward a Christian Ethic for Technology. I’m writing to share a somewhat different view both on the Biblical text and perhaps the Christian ethics of alleviating suffering with technology. 

When Genesis and The Fall are read in full context, we recognize the promise made to Adam and Eve by Satan for their act of disobedience isn’t you will acquire the knowledge of good and evil. It is “you will be as gods.” And what is the dominant feature of “gods?” Gods have the power to define for themselves what is good and evil, right and wrong. And, boy! If that doesn’t describe our atheistic, post-modern tyranny of moral relativism, I don’t know what does. Chalk up a big win for the devil.

Secularists tend to complain about the Genesis story because what’s so bad about knowledge? Let alone knowledge of good and evil? Why would God deny us those things? Does He want to keep us in the dark?

I think this misses the point. It’s not knowledge per se that God tried to protect us from in the Garden. It’s grasping at His power of creation. His “Beingness.” The West is overrun with lesser “I am’s.”  “I am gay and in love so society must redefine marriage for me.” “I am black in America and am therefore owed reparations.” “I am transsexual and should compete as a biological man in women’s sports.” “I am Barack Obama and you should worship my wisdom and overall awesomeness.” Ahem.

This is where Keith and I align in our thinking. Modern westerners, in particular, are self-obsessed. And it’s destroying individuals and our society. Satan is having a par-tay!

Satan’s second most effective false promise after the power to self-create and define good and evil by our own lights is the promise to alleviate suffering if only we’ll give up our souls to him. This is where medical technology, in particular, provides the most temptation. 

Our two daughters are each statistically one in ten thousand. They both have serious, but different medical conditions, neither of which were inherited. What the professionals call “spontaneous mutations.” This has brought much suffering to my family over the last ten years, and it has shaped us and the people around us in ways we could not have anticipated.

Our youngest (known as Little Miss Anthrope on Ricochet) was born with neurofibromatosis type 1, better known as the Elephant Man disease. It causes benign tumors to grow on nerve cells anywhere in the body. LMA doesn’ have the deformities you’ve probably seen on other NF patients, but she did develop a low grade glioma (LGG) on her brain stem, which was partially surgically resected with complications in early December of 2013. Multiple brain surgeries were performed totaling nearly 20 hours over four days. The trauma and inflammation to the tissues made her susceptible to a bacterial meningitis infection, which she contracted at Christmas (we had to leave the Christmas Vigil Mass early because of her headache) and we spent New Years 2014 back in Children’s Hospital to be released a few days into the new year with a picc line surgically implanted and LMA receiving strong IV antibiotic infusions nervously administered by her mother for an additional two weeks.

To say this was traumatic is somewhat of an understatement. Until then, we had lived a pretty normal middle class American life, although we had suspicions about LMA’s condition. There were signs, and although her pediatrician discouraged me from online research, I was aware that puberty was when to expect tumor growth, if ever, due to the increase in growth hormone, which turned out to be predictive in her case. Until the crisis ensued I had the privilege of staying home and caring for my family, getting the kids involved in and exposed to all manner of activities to develop that curiosity about the world Dalrymple notes is lacking in so many. Mr. C is a born engineer and was enjoying making valuable contributions in his specialized career. Our kids are intellectually gifted and well behaved – mostly. We were blessed, but living under the illusion of self-sufficiency. 

During this time, CRISPR technology became a topic in the news, with some future promise of selectively editing human DNA. I’m sure I’m not the only parent of a child with serious genetic anomalies to be tempted to trust in such technology to save my child from suffering. And yet. . .

Catholics believe in God’s sovereign will – those things He causes to happen – and His permissive will – those things He allows. I believe God permitted my children to be born with genetic abnormalities for a reason. While I trust that God is a Good Father willing only the good for His children, I have come to accept that He allows suffering to bring about some ultimate good which we may not discern at the time or even ever in this lifetime. I have also come to recognize my utter dependence on God for every breath I take – for the entirety of our lives.

Had we not suffered, I believe we would not be becoming who He made us to be. We would not have experienced Christ’s love instantiated in my three sisters who came from out of state and stayed for weeks caring for us in the midst of our trauma – and one sister who stayed for months of LMA’s recovery from surgery and meningitis. We would likely not have developed the compassion we have for each other and for others who suffer similarly. LMA and I would not have had the experience of the love within the Body of Christ at the invitation of Our Lady of Lourdes via the Order of Malta to join in the pilgrimage to Lourdes. We would not have given others the opportunity to care for Christ in the sick. LMA’s years of physical therapy with limited success must surely have been a lesson in humility for her attentive therapists. The effects have not been limited to us, but have rippled through to family, friends, and caregivers.

As a lukewarm cradle Catholic teenager I somewhat mindlessly chose the Blessed Mother  as my Confirmation saint (or did she choose me?). Little did I know that she and I would share the experience of witnessing one’s beloved child on the cross. But, I now have a profound appreciation for what it means to have one’s “heart pierced” and to watch one’s child take up her cross – as well as taking up my own and following. . . by the grace of God. I have personally attested that I would not be upright and moving forward except by God’s grace and His loving care shown to us by the grace given to others as well.

One of my favorite stories of Pope Saint John Paul II is once when he was greeting young priests in a reception line and one of them had his leg in a cast and asked the Pope to pray for him. Supposedly, JPII thunked him with the heel of his hand on the forehead and said, “Don’t waste your suffering.” Just so.

Where does that leave us with developing a Christian ethic for the use of technology? I think the greatest obstacle is that we don’t live in a Christian society anymore. Secular humanism is de rigueur and is peculiarly anti-human, although it does lend itself to a lot of self-obsessed, self-created, small-g gods. We’re so atomized and morally sick, we can’t even come to a widespread agreement on what good and evil are. We’ve rejected the Yardstick by which to measure, and replaced Him with “my truth” and “your truth.”

I suppose a Christian ethic, if it were possible to develop in these conditions, would prioritize God’s will, while recognizing that suffering is a part of living and can be sanctifying for those who take up their crosses and follow Christ, and for those who serve “the least of these.” But, discernment is difficult, and we have to grapple with the reality that only God can bring good out of all things, while doing our best to serve others in need. . . to alleviate other’s suffering without losing our souls. We are called to attend to the blind and the deaf, the lame and the leper, while acknowledging that blindness and deafness, disability and disease may very well be serving God’s purposes in our lives. 

Do we rejoice in our sufferings for the sake of others, in union with Christ, for the glory of God? Let us pray.

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  1. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Western Chauvinist: Gods have the power to define for themselves what is good and evil, right and wrong. And, boy! If that doesn’t describe our atheistic, post-modern tyranny of moral relativism, I don’t know what does. Chalk up a big win for the devil.

    Rather discouraging . .   Amen :(

    • #1
  2. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Western Chauvinist: Our kids are intellectually gifted and well behaved

    Yes!  And so completely enjoyable to be with!

    The effects have not been limited to us, but have rippled through to family, friends, and caregivers.

    Oh Sis . . . so true . .  so true

    • #2
  3. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Western Chauvinist: to alleviate other’s suffering without losing our souls. We are called to attend to the blind and the deaf, the lame and the leper, while acknowledging that blindness and deafness, disability and disease may very well be serving God’s purposes in our lives.

    Amen . .  dear sister . .

    • #3
  4. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Although I am not a Christian, I pretty much agree with your take on these things, even from your Christian religious perspective.  That may sound like a contradiction but it is not, from a practical standpoint, when our values overlap.  Best wishes for your daughters!  I’m still trying to figure out the main message from the Garden of Eden(!)  It was never 100% clear to me, but your explanation seems reasonable.

    • #4
  5. Globalitarian Lower Order Misanthropist Coolidge
    Globalitarian Lower Order Misanthropist
    @Flicker

    Steven Seward (View Comment):
    I’m still trying to figure out the main message from the Garden of Eden(!)  It was never 100% clear to me, but your explanation seems reasonable.

    In a sense worlds came into view at the Tree of Good and Evil.  Goodness and righteousness did not have to be lost, but innocence did — that is, oblivious not-knowing.  One thing for sure is that a result of it, sin, spiritual perversion, corruption, futility, and physical death and disease entered the earthly realm.

    And of course, we see that the world has been engaged in war as a major and an inexorable part of the human condition as far back as we can see.

    Some people have speculated that God allowed or perhaps ordained that sin would infect the world and humanity itself so that all the universe, including all in heaven and earth, would watch and see that godly perfection is the only eternal good, and would see that being not in harmony with God even in he smallest way (eating the simple fruit) would prove itself to be very, very, very bad.

    This is alluded to in Daniel 4:13 & 16-17:

    13 “I saw in the visions of my head while on my bed, and there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. …
    16 Let his heart be changed from that of a man,
    Let him be given the heart of a beast [insanity],
    And let seven times pass over him.
    17 ‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers,
    And the sentence by the word of the holy ones,
    In order that the living may know
    That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men,
    Gives it to whomever He will,
    And sets over it the lowest of men.’

    And from the New Testament, Romans 8:18-21

    18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

    • #5
  6. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    These are some wonderful and convicting thoughts. Without taking anything away from the beauty and profundity of your family’s suffering, I’m hoping you can comment on whether you think there is some boundedness to acceptance of suffering versus efforts to alleviate it. Or, to put it another way, whether notwithstanding the purifying effect of the crucible, working to alleviate suffering is nevertheless virtuous and something to be pursued. Can we have “both and” rather than “either or” – i.e. suffering is meaningful and working to alleviate it is a worthy endeavor. 

    To personalize this a bit, I have 6 inches of artificial aorta without which I would be dead. I am alive by the grace of God, but he used technology and skilled surgeons to save my life. I sympathize with your reluctance in regard to CRISPR, (and I’m genuinely asking here, not implying an answer that I’m holding in reserve) I can’t help but think there is some bounding principle that needs to be articulated between embracing the meaningfulness of suffering on the one hand, and eschewing technological pursuits to alleviate suffering on the other. The machines that kept me alive during a 20 hour surgery, the ability to stop and start my heart multiple times, the surgical tools that enabled them to attach an aortic graft within the 30 minute window required before my brain started to die – my perspective is admittedly informed by being a beneficiary of this technology – I can’t help but interpret the pursuit of technologies that are restorative of human function as being a worthy endeavor. And, to be honest, it is less my own suffering that was alleviated than the suffering of others. As I type this, I hear the happy laughter of the sweetest 8 year old boy in the world as he heads out the door to school. Had I died that day, I daresay my family would have mourned but eventually gotten over it. But that 8 year old boy, if he even managed to survive until his 8th birthday, would have been surrounded by drug abusing adults and suffering the effects of long-term neglect that children of drug abusers invariably do. Either that or else lost in the bowels of an indifferent foster care system. I can’t help but draw a straight line from the technology I believe God used to save my life, and the happy home that precious boy enjoys today.

    I confess I am not sure about my view of any of this. As I said in my original post:

    I do not suggest that I have any of this exactly right. I am only proposing some ideas and working through my own thoughts by writing what follows. I am not claiming to have arrived at a comprehensive and final answer.

    The older I get, the more I am inclined to adopt Whittaker Chambers’ perspective as my own personal motto:

    I am an involuntary witness to God’s grace and to the fortifying power of faith.

    • #6
  7. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Keith Lowery (View Comment):
    ’m hoping you can comment on whether you think there is some boundedness to acceptance of suffering versus efforts to alleviate it. Or, to put it another way, whether notwithstanding the purifying effect of the crucible, working to alleviate suffering is nevertheless virtuous and something to be pursued. Can we have “both and” rather than “either or” – i.e. suffering is meaningful and working to alleviate it is a worthy endeavor. 

    That is the challenge, isn’t it, in developing a Christian ethic? Finding where to draw the line. Certainly my LMA, like you, would not be alive without benefits of medical technology and its skilled application. 

    I think the easiest place to start is with “gender [non]-affirming care.” Here’s a rule we might consider — do not mess with the fundamentals of how someone was created (male and female he created them). In my daughters’ cases, that would including manipulating their DNA, I think. 

    It gets trickier with disordered senses, such as vision and hearing. But, I’ve heard of cases at the old Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind where people refused technology that might have restored hearing. They had formed a community and didn’t wish to endanger it. I’m not going to judge that decision to reject technology.

    And there is an element of trust involved. Do we believe God still performs miracles without the aid of manmade technology? There are dozens of cases from the healing waters of Lourdes. . .

    It’s complicated and I don’t pretend to have the answers. But, I’m pretty sure there are lines to be drawn — another would be assisted suicide, which people often cite as a way to alleviate suffering. 

    I’m not sure we’re up to the task.  Not without some Very Serious Guidance.

    • #7
  8. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    I think one of the big issues here is that genetic medicine sounds a lot more invasive than other treatments.   For example, there are many birth defects corrected by surgery.  My best friend was born with a cleft palate.   He had years of surgery to repair it.   A genetic manipulation like CRISPR is like surgery on DNA, removing a diseased section and replacing it with a healthy version.   It can be done poorly or unethically, but so can more traditional treatment.   All of the elements of gender alteration have fully valid medical uses outside of mutilation of bodies.   Puberty blockers are used to treat extremely early puberty and delay it to a normal time.   Even the reconstructive surgery could be useful for people with a very unfortunate injury.

    The goal should be to fix a problem in the least invasive way.

    • #8
  9. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Keith Lowery (View Comment):
    ’m hoping you can comment on whether you think there is some boundedness to acceptance of suffering versus efforts to alleviate it. Or, to put it another way, whether notwithstanding the purifying effect of the crucible, working to alleviate suffering is nevertheless virtuous and something to be pursued. Can we have “both and” rather than “either or” – i.e. suffering is meaningful and working to alleviate it is a worthy endeavor.

    That is the challenge, isn’t it, in developing a Christian ethic? Finding where to draw the line. Certainly my LMA, like you, would not be alive without benefits of medical technology and its skilled application.

    I think the easiest place to start is with “gender [non]-affirming care.” Here’s a rule we might consider — do not mess with the fundamentals of how someone was created (male and female he created them). In my daughters’ cases, that would including manipulating their DNA, I think.

    It gets trickier with disordered senses, such as vision and hearing. But, I’ve heard of cases at the old Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind where people refused technology that might have restored hearing. They had formed a community and didn’t wish to endanger it. I’m not going to judge that decision to reject technology.

    And there is an element of trust involved. Do we believe God still performs miracles without the aid of manmade technology? There are dozens of cases from the healing waters of Lourdes. . .

    It’s complicated and I don’t pretend to have the answers. But, I’m pretty sure there are lines to be drawn — another would be assisted suicide, which people often cite as a way to alleviate suffering.

    I’m not sure we’re up to the task. Not without some Very Serious Guidance.

    Totally agree. And I think the constraints orbit around God’s design and intent for human beings.  Gender affirming care is wrong because it makes a mockery of God’s intention regarding sex. Assisted suicide is wrong because it is an assault on the image of God. (e.g. Genesis 9) This is why I use the word restorative to describe those technologies that may be worth pursuing.  But restoring implies we have an understanding of what things should be. Apart from a biblically informed viewpoint on what God calls “good” at creation, I don’t think we have any idea what we’re doing. And, to be honest, I think Christians have been negligent (myself included) in crafting a robust vocabulary and framework for thinking well about these questions or with anything like the theological rigor it deserves. 

    • #9
  10. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Did anyone read the essay and think that genetic engineer and Lucifer were great?

    • #10
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