Friday, June 21, 2013

Unreliable Reason

In the meantime, yet another form of power has taken central stage. At first glance, it appears to be wholly beneficial and entirely praiseworthy. In reality, however, it can become a new kind of threat to man.

Man is now capable of making human beings, of producing them in test tubes (so to speak). Man becomes a product, and this entails a total alteration of man’s relationship to his own self. He is no longer a gift of nature or of the Creator God; he is his own product.

Man has descended into the very wellsprings of power, to the very sources of his own existence. The temptation to construct the ‘right’ man at long last, the temptation to experiment with human beings, the temptation to see them as rubbish to be discarded—all this is no mere fantasy of moralists opposed to ‘progress.’

If we have noted the urgent question of whether religion is truly a positive force, so we must now doubt the reliability of reason. For in the last analysis, even the atomic bomb is a product of reason; in the last analysis, the breeding and selection of human beings is something thought up by reason.

Does this then mean that it is reason that ought to be placed under guardianship? But by whom or by what? Or should perhaps religion and reason restrict each other and remind each other where their limits are, thereby encouraging a positive path? Once again we are confronted with the question how—in a global society with its mechanisms of power and its uncontrolled forces and its varying views of what constitutes law and morality—an effective ethical conviction can be found with sufficient motivation and vigor to answer the challenges I have outlined here and to help us meet these tests.

Joseph Ratzinger, “That Which Holds the World Together: The Pre-political Moral Foundations of a Free State,” in The Dialectics of Secularism: On Reason and Religion, 64-65

Reflection – OK, after this, one more day of this essay and then we’ll move on to something else. Personally, though, I find this subject endlessly fascinating, and could blather on about it world without end.

Yesterday Ratzinger reported that religion is not without its problems, its pathological expressions. Violence, intolerance, and in the furthest extreme terrorism are the diseased forms of religion, religion detached from a human and humane context.

But we see here that unfettered reason has its own pathologies. Scientific technological reason can do amazing things, can open up paths of action and mastery that have simply never been available to us. There is little in Aquinas about the morality of in vitro fertilization. Science can do amazing things… but it cannot tell us what we should do, what is the good thing to do, and what things are wholly evil and to be avoided no matter what.

It is odd, the attitude you still run across sometimes that to simply say this or that technological development is immoral is to be anti-science or anti-progress. What a strange train of thought. Science and technology are simply ‘powers’ given us. Human beings have always been able to use their strength, their power to do great good or to do great evil. Human muscle and brains built the cathedrals of Europe; human muscles and brains have slaughtered millions in war. To say that the one is good and the other is evil is hardly to be opposed to the use of human muscles and brains.

So the use of medical science to cure cancer or heart disease is a great good. The use of medical science to mutilate the human body so as to render it sterile, or to create human beings in a petri dish, randomly select one of those humans to implant in the womb of his or her mother and kill the others, discarding these human beings as medical waste—this is a great evil.

But it is not science and technology that tell us it is evil to treat a human being as a medical by-product to be taken out with the trash. That information, if we really need to have it proven to us, is proven to us along other lines altogether. Science needs to be modified and instructed by morality and (perhaps?) religion.

And for anyone reading this who has had in vitro fertilization or has a family member who has had it – I am sorry if my words are hard, but please reflect that your beloved child who you went to such great lengths to have, and who you love and cherish so much—this child could just as easily have been the medical waste discarded, and that the other five or six or whatever children who were created in the process were also precious beautiful creatures of God.

Tough stuff, I know, but these things need to be said. Human beings are not technological products, and to reduce a human being to a product of technology is a deep offense against that person’s dignity and freedom. We are gift and mystery, and the gift of mystery of the person must be safeguarded from conception to death, and that is what the right to life is all about.

1 comment:

  1. Father Denis,

    Well, I am having a little trouble following your argument. I mean, yesterday you discredited religion and today you seem to have discredited the intellect.

    I am not sure then how you have arrived at an understanding of evil? It is not that I am disagreeing with you... It is just that well, again, perhaps the answers are not outside of ourselves and the circles in which we love and live....

    Looking forward to tomorroe


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