Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Playing God

Everyone worries about unemployment, particularly the party occupying the White House, because whether or not the executive branch does or can do anything to change the employment rate, they get blamed for it.  Some people worry more about God's job description which, you must admit, is much skimpier than it used to be.  What will we do when he retires entirely, perhaps moving to South Florida to one of those '55 and older' communities like the one across the tracks from me?  Are we going to have a problem with the old crank pestering the neighbors about leaving garbage cans out or making noise?

Worst of  all, will ordinary people start doing all the things that used to be the Divine prerogative?  Of course nearly everything used to be God's sole bailiwick at one time, from throwing lightning bolts, to determining the sex of one's offspring, to starting and ending natural disasters.  The advance of science and technology has of course allowed us to do a better or at least more rational, equitable and even moral job of it and this has always worried people.  After all, "let there be light" is something we all do every evening without a second thought, thanks to Mr. Edison and keeping lightning from burning down the barn hasn't been so much of a worry since Mr. Franklin invented the lightning rod, but both those things were once described by the timorous and superstitious  as "playing God" and the fear was that God, rather than being grateful for a little help would go on strike.  And then, if God wants your barn burnt, should we be interfering? 

Of course when it comes to preventing unnecessary death, the "playing God" worries are most prevalent.  I mean if God wants a plague we ought to let him have one, right?   If God wants your kid (the human kind or the goat kind) to inherit a disease, should we interfere -- is the decision a moral dilemma?  People make a living telling us we should worry about such things, people like  Robert Klitzman,  professor of psychiatry and director of the Masters of Bioethics Program at Columbia University.

So if someone with a family history of Huntington's disease wants to have a child without passing along a fatal gene, is making sure the child won't inherit it a moral dilemma?  Is it "playing God and does God give a damn if we do?"  Well if that's the sort of thing God wants to do and doesn't want you to do: to roll the dice with your genes, perhaps it's time to put him into managed care before he hurts someone.  Perhaps it was time a long time ago.

Now we can argue that if he's really got the "oms" like omniscience and omnipotence, he might have been behind the development of  pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD or at least allowed it to happen, but that's a dead end or endless loop argument and it's more fun to view him as that demented old man whose lawn we dared not play on as kids.  Say hello to a moral dilemma we invented to make ourselves afraid.

Season this sort of  aged beef with a bit of reductio and ask yourself, if we're playing God by wearing clothes against the cold or putting a roof over our heads against God's own rain then don't  we have to conclude that God wants us to die and to die miserably?  After all, to a Biblical follower, there is no hint that anyone ate from the tree of wanting to stay alive and that such urges must have been molded in the clay by the divine hand.  The same goes for wanting our offspring or even to those of a Liberal bent, our fellow creatures to survive and prosper and occasionally have a nice day.  No, the Biblical character may want us to suffer a bit and have pain in childbirth and sweat a lot, but there's no commandment that I know of  along the lines of  "thou shalt not avoid fatal diseases, for I am a jealous God."

What I'm waiting for is for one of the "don't play God" partisans to extend the argument to condemning the Death penalty as logic and honesty would demand, but we're not dealing with the logical and honest are we?   Appeals to a higher power are religious practices and we're not dealing with a religion designed to improve the human condition, but one designed to terrorize people into obeying the world's oldest profession: the prophet or the priest and if people have to die in the process, well then let there be suffering and pain and disease and war and famine and pestilence, Amen.  As to questions about passing along fatal genes to one's offspring, that sort of  moralist, the traditional Christian sort of moralist would prefer that one simply not have sex, that practice being an end in itself.  Now as to playing God, if it were up to me as director of this movie, I'd direct such moralists to swear off sex and procreation entirely so that after a while, we'd be free of them at last.

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