Continuation of Bioethics in the light of Christ’s mind, part I.
But the real problem of Christian bioethics, especially Orthodox bioethics, is not abortion and euthanasia, the solution of which is sufficiently clear in the spirit of trust in life and Providence. The problem is in the spirit of technology that takes over the human body and soul. It is a hard challenge that can change the destiny of humanity. We do not have yet unambiguous ethical answers to all these emerging biological change. At the biological level, it is about genetic engineering with its various projects. But philosophically speaking, the problem is much more serious and deeper: it is not only a scientific challenge about humans as they are (created, fallen, and in need of redemption and salvation), but an attempt to correct them and ultimately to substitute them with more perfect, healthier, more efficient, more talented, and more easily guided and manipulated.
We are definitely not questioning technical progress here. Knowledge and discoveries, especially in the field of medicine, have accumulated over the last fifty years and brought innumerable benefits. So many epidemics have been overcome, so many deaths have been delayed for many years. The general trend is unquestionable: every step forward in science increases the power of humans over their body. We know and often repeat that scientific progress has a double dimension, a double direction: both towards good and evil. But evil hardly ever openly shows its face. It always presents itself under the mask of goodness, even under a Christian mask. In this case, bioethics could offer us criteria for the “discernment of spirits”, as we call in ascetic literature the illuminated vision of the Word of God, or the knowledge of the “mind of Christ” which, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, is “powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (4:12). Our mind, rational, ingenious, even well-intentioned, may want one thing, but the Evil one who often hides under the best plans can arrange things in his own way. Nuclear fission and the great dream of the Reign of God on earth based on Marxist prophecy are the most brilliant examples of the distance between human ideas and their consequences.
Our intentions are to make existence on earth more human and more enjoyable. The adjective “human” is obviously ambiguous here. Citizens of the world of tomorrow will enjoy possibilities to change their natural habitat, possibilities that are unthinkable today. But above all, they will be able to change themselves. They will have more power to make their mark on the world around them, on their body and spirit. The famous Cartesian “cogito ergo sum” is being transformed into “I think , therefore I transform the world according to my own project”. With technical, electronic, intellectual, commercial, and ideological means, with a thought that will not be limited by any responsibility towards God, and with enormous power to realize their projects, people will attain abilities that they will no longer be able to control. Professional abilities will outweigh moral and mental faculties. But what is the spiritual foundation of this inevitable challenge? It is the old Nietzschean will to power, but in a deeper form that I would define as a desire for self-protection. It is about imposing one’s “self” on creation in the broadest sense. You will be like gods, knowing good and evil, the cunning snake said one day. The creature wants to turn its knowledge into power. With this power that increases every day, always comes the subconscious temptation to desire to compete with the Creator. This competition carries a great danger in itself. I remember a sentence by Martin Heidegger in one of his last interviews: “One day, humans can become slaves of their own inventions”.
Here is where we, as Orthodox Christians, must find the new ethical and, first of all bioethical, fields of battle. We must admit that we are defeated in advance on all battlefields. We can no longer fight with old prohibitions, just as we cannot build a levee against the globalization of information, of technical knowledge, of thousands of human inventions that are going to change our destiny. We can no longer fight with venerable and ancient quotations only. The conquest of the French Revolution, the pride of Western civilization, “human rights”, understood in the sense of the cunning snake, tend to become our rivals, our competitors, our adversaries. I remember Gabriel Marcel’s book, Man Against Mass Society [lit. “Men against the human”]. What is truly human cannot be separated from the graft of what’s divine, from this light that illuminates all humans coming into the world. What will become of human rights? No one, at least in Western society, proclaims themselves enemies of freedom of conscience, of freedom of speech, of equality of race, of separation of powers, etc.. The right to freedom however, has turned into the right to suppress a life that has been conceived, then into the right for homosexual couples to adopt a child, and the right to change sex. And this is only the beginning. The concept of right is becoming aggressive, even dictatorial: we have been entrusted with rights on Creation, but we have seized them. We have thus become reduced to our autonomous ego, cut off from transcendence and mystery. But humans without mystery, without this deep inarticulate inner light, cease to be humans. They become slaves to their dreams and desires expressed in rational formulas and in projects to realize. Thus, one day, they will end up captives of their own designs, victims of a biological totalitarianism invented and built by themselves.
Faced with this threat, our bioethical prospective becomes less dark. It will no longer be a bioethics of rules, but a bioethics of joy in the presence of the new prodigies of creation, of God’s participation in our very being. If we are becoming more and more able to modify our environment, we must rediscover our beauty and wisdom, our thoughts of love invested in every moment of our existence. We must rediscover this logos found in every created being. It has to be revealed in our program, or rather in our bioethical “confession”, once this confession has become an inalienable part of our faith in our fidelity to the mind of Christ.
Source in French