Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"New" Sins

The Vatican has issued an updated list of sins.

I first became aware of this news item the other day, and what impressed me the most about it was the seriousness with which the Vatican is taking bioethics and the frontiers of biotech. Among the expanded list of mortal sins are: genetic modification and carrying out experiments on humans.

This raises at least a couple of really interesting issues. First of all, in what sense are these “new” sins? I might be wrong, but the tag “new” seems to be something that has come from the reporting and not necessarily from the Vatican, but it is, after all, an updated list of sins. And in that sense at least, they are “new.”

It might be that the action of genetic modification is new. We just didn’t have those technologies 50 or 100 years ago. But humans still “sinned” while experimenting on other humans and enacting eugenic projects on large or small scales.

While it may be true that humans have sinned in these ways in different forms in the past, I think it is important to these new technologies to be labeled the same way we would label the Nazi experiments on prisoners. The way human experimentation was done decades and centuries ago wrenches our emotions and sympathies when we see the brutal and bloody equipment used and the grainy photographs of the horrible results.

Now, we can experiment on humans in very clean and clinical environments that illicit emotions of friendliness, reason, and progress. The photographs of the humans are tiny, unrecognizable circles of stuff in petri dishes that fail to arouse our sympathies.

Thus, it is important for theological organizations like the Vatican, to label these actions for people.

The second issue is a bit broader. More and more denominations and church organizations should be just as clear about these things. We all need to be doing the work of exegeting culture and applying the timeless truths of Scripture and the Christian faith to the important issues of our day. Before the technology goes too far to be stopped (some may say we are there already), we need to apply real and critical reflection to the technologies and consequences.

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