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Louis R. Tarsitano on God’s Providence & Procreation
Dinesh D’Souza, a writer I often admire, recently had an article in National Review entitled “Staying Human: The Dangers of Techno-utopia.” I usually don’t pay much attention to articles in either the “utopia” or “dystopia” genre, preferring my science fiction straight on those rare occasions when I indulge.
D’Souza, however, wasn’t writing science fiction, but merely providing a grim summary of current events. That last business of “techno-utopia” is a fancy way of saying that men in laboratories are preparing to enter the business of selling parents biologically engineered and genetically altered “designer children.”
To many people, this may not sound like a bad idea at all. There are parents now, producing children the old-fashioned way, who live vicariously through their children. They scheme of ways to get their child into Harvard or the National Football League almost from the moment of conception. They decide that this son will be a doctor or that daughter will be lawyer, not caring at all what vocation their children might choose for themselves or be offered by God.
Sidestepping nature and nature’s God is the whole point of designer children. “We can overcome nature. You don’t need God,” the human engineers tell their customers. “We can program your child to be smart or strong or musical by customizing his genes and heredity in the lab. Tell us what you want, and we have the recipe.”
Then there are married couples who in all innocence merely want a child to love and raise, despite their own infertility. In their desperation they turn to the doctors and scientists, either unprepared or afraid to ask the hard moral questions about what have been described to them as “medical procedures.”
Nor do most of the doctors inform them that to make a “test-tube baby” (by what is called “in vitro fertilization”) many other babies have to be conceived and thrown away, with less respect for life than is usually shown a litter of puppies. The same is true of cloning, the effort to make a genetic carbon copy of one of the parents, and true of the next step down into the abyss, the buying and selling of “super babies.”
A Limited Appeal
In his article, D’Souza did a fair job of trying to sort these things out, but his arguments faltered at times because he had limited his appeal to secular values. He invoked, for example, a shared sense or instinct of what it means to be “human.”
He cited the Declaration of Independence, with its affirmation of inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, stressing a child’s right to his own life over his parents’ pursuit of happiness through redesigning him. He rehearsed the honorable arguments against chattel slavery, which once moved the entire civilized world to conclude that no man can own another human being in the same way that he owns inanimate property, arguing by them that parents cannot own their children in the same way that they own their house or car, able to do with them as they will.
These are all useful arguments as far as they go, but they do not go far enough. It may be that the scope of D’Souza’s arguments was limited by the type of magazine and the audience for which he wrote, but matters of morality can never be finally determined by secular (or “worldly”) values. A “value” is a worth that human beings put on a thing or an idea, and values can change dramatically, as human activities like the stock market or an auction demonstrate every day.
Morality is more than a set of human values. It is, rather, the application of the changeless Truth of God, and most especially his revealed will, to the act of living. A particular action is right or wrong because God says it is right or wrong, not merely because he is our Creator and more powerful than we are, but because he is, in and of himself, all righteousness.
Only God’s evaluation of anything or anyone is complete, just, and true. Thus, when we substitute our “values” for God’s Truth, we play God and violate the first of the Commandments. After all, that was the sin of Adam and Eve—valuing a piece of fruit as something other than what God had declared it to be.
God’s Truth is binding upon all men, whether they know him or not, because God is reality. This sort of bald statement shocks our secularized society, but it is no more remarkable than observing that an ignorance of the law of gravity does not permit us to leap tall buildings at a single bound. For this reason, those of us who claim to be Christians have the least excuse of all for substituting our “values” (let alone our mere desires) for God’s Truth or for his will that we enact it “on earth as it is in heaven.”
We ought to resist the sale of designer children for all of the good, solid, earth-bound reasons that might motivate our unbelieving neighbors. Yet it is much more important that we resist the medical engineering of human life because all of mankind has been created in the image and likeness of God, so that no one, not the least, not the weakest, not the smallest, not the youngest human being can be reduced to the status of “medical waste” to be disposed of in the pursuit of a better biological “product.”
A Revealed Mystery
We Christians actually know where babies come from. It’s not that we are any smarter than anyone else, or that we have discovered on our own some great secret about sex. Rather, God has revealed the mystery of sex to us, and to anyone else who cares to listen, so that we know that the intimacy of the most intimate human relation is shared not only by a man and a woman but also with him.
We know that intimacy, whether with one another or with God, is never an end in itself, but an open doorway to life, and to eternal life at that. We know that every human being after God created Adam from the dust, including Eve, has not only been created but also pro-created.
From the shared substance of our lives, God creates the next generation, until God is done with generations and the Last Day comes. And despite the fallenness of this world, despite human abuses of the mystery of sex, despite illness, perversion, or poverty, there is not a single child conceived who is not loved by God eternally as he is.
The truth of this eternal love does not prevent us from doing everything in our power to better the life of that child. Indeed, it commands us to do so. But it does forbid our judging the value of the life of that child, just as it forbids our efforts to make that child something other than a child of God’s creation, with his own place in God’s eternal plan, before or after his conception.
God takes babies very seriously—his Eternal Son became one, after all, for the sake of our redemption. And if we are going to claim that redemption, then we must take babies seriously as well. In those sad cases when a married couple cannot conceive because of the fallen nature of this world, we can commiserate with them, we can support them in love, we can even remind them of how often God charges us in the Scriptures to care for the orphans, but we cannot not send them to some laboratory to play God.
Nor can we ever condone the manufacture of designer children. God may bring good even out of such an evil, as he so often does, but no matter how much we must love a child conceived in this way, we must still despise the ungodly method of his conception.
We might also remember how many once private enterprises, good and bad, have been taken over by governments and the state. Ordinary prudence, let alone prudence informed by the Word of God, ought to warn us against tempting the state with the prospect of manufacturing its citizens to order. Imagine the industrialization of designer children, and you will also have imagined the government ordering up batches of super taxpayers, super soldiers, and super workers who always do what they are told.
A Godly Way
There is, however, a godly way and a righteous way to improve our children’s inheritance of life beyond imagination, but it cannot be had in the laboratory or in a test tube. It can only be had in the church and in the home. Moses once described this method of improving life to a group of its beneficiaries in this way: “And because [God] loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt” (Deut. 4:37).
The historic event of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt is also a prophetic event, by which God promises to free the children of those who love him from sin and death, and to bestow upon them every gift of his power and love. To love God is itself a gift of God’s love and favor, and in loving God first we love our children best, because we lift them up to God to be embraced by his grace and mercy. Even better, as we love and obey God more and more, we lay up for our children a greater and greater inheritance of life in his kingdom.
Providing our children with an eternal inheritance of life, however, is neither magic nor a form of technology. It is not a matter of manipulating God, but of trusting him so that he guides us in everything we do, whether it is the way that we make our living with him or the way that we make our children with him. Nothing that God endeavors to do will be lost, and the life we endeavor to live with God will succeed if God is the first and greatest part of our lives, not only in this generation, but likewise in the generations to follow.
Parents who are visibly godly and faithful are the best gift that we can give our children, however they come to us in God’s Providence. That visible godliness and faith are what every Christian who cares anything at all about children, his own or anyone else’s, must provide. So, let the children come as God gives them, and when all believe, the children will be safe, valued, and loved, even here on earth, as they are in heaven.
Louis R. Tarsitano (d. 2005), a former associate editor of Touchstone, was a priest of the Anglican Church in America and rector of St. Andrew?s Church in Savannah, Georgia. He also was the co-author, with Peter Toon, of Neither Archaic Nor Obsolete: The Language of Common Prayer & Public Worship (Brynmill Press, Ltd., 2003).