Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™m not the first person to notice that we all have a tendency, to varying degrees, to view the past with nostalgia, and to believe that the world might be better off if things could just be the way they were when we were growing up. Upon further thinking, most of us realize that this probably wouldnâ€™t be all it was cracked up to be, but a few truly believe it to the core. And then they sometimes pass this sentiment along to their bubble-inhabiting kids, who pass it to their kids, blah, blah, blah, and suddenly we have people living in the 21st century thinking that everything would be just perfect if we would all just go back to living like they did a couple of millennia ago.
Okay, so thereâ€™s pretty much no one out there advocating that we revert completely, but there are people and groups out there that seem to view many aspects of modern technology and thought, especially in the realms of medicine and culture, as detrimental to humanity. Although they wouldnâ€™t all put it this way, it boils down to peopleâ€™s uneasiness over â€œplaying godâ€; the idea that there is a certain Natural Order of Things with which we should not tamper.
This type of thinking becomes evident in a wide range of issues, spanning everything from medical research to the politics of homosexuality, and can run the gamut from vaguely annoying to flat out dangerous. Several examples follow.
Roman Catholics denounce birth control pills (and in some cases attempt to refuse women their prescriptions at the pharmacy) because they believe the pill causes a fertilized egg to be unable to implant in the uterus, thus causing what they consider to be an abortion. Regardless of the fact that most doctors donâ€™t think this is the primary function of the pill (the consensus seems to be that it works mainly by suppressing ovulationâ€”am I the only one who thinks itâ€™s sad we still donâ€™t know exactly how the female body works?), and the pretty well established fact that breastfeeding, an activity encouraged by the Church, creates precisely the condition in the uterus that they use as the basis for their hatred of birth control pills. A family member once said, about me, â€œI wonder how many babies sheâ€™s killed [by taking the pill].â€ One could ask her, â€œHow many babies have you killed by breastfeeding?â€
A Wisconsin couple will be on trial soon for the 2008 death of their preteen daughter, a diabetic who was denied medical care because her family belonged to a church that preached faith healing. For them, any use of modern medicine is considered sinful.
Another case I find perplexing is that involving end of life decision making. I canâ€™t understand why, for some, itâ€™s not a moral imperative to intubate someone who is in a coma and will starve to death as a result, but once the feeding tube is in, to remove it is considered murder. Both scenarios produce the same result, yet one is seen as natural death and one is considered homicide.
The common thread in all of these cases is the demonization of putting knowledge into action. It seems that in each case, it is seen as acceptable to simply allow events to transpire as they will, or even to act ignorantly in â€œnaturalâ€ ways, but the minute a person acts on knowledge to achieve a specific outcome, the act becomes immoral. Under a bit of scrutiny, inconsistencies pop up all over the place.
I think people have different levels of comfort with taking on responsibility. People on the conservative (and I mean that in the original sense: being averse to change. I am by no means trying to start a semantic political argument about mainstream conservatives and liberals) end of the spectrum seem to have a low tolerance for taking responsibility for actions in certain arenas. They take themselves out of the equation, at least in their own consciences, by refusing to act and leaving it to god. And for some reason itâ€™s okay with them that their god chooses to act in such capricious and arbitrary ways. Iâ€™d rather go with human knowledge and reasonable, appropriate action any day.
In the end, not only is this type of thinking defeatist and backward-looking, Iâ€™d argue that it is in itself anti-humanity. One of the things that makes our species unique is our ability to think and adapt quickly to new situations millions of times faster than evolution can. This is not to say that every human innovation is inherently good, but this same capability allows us to create and maintain a system of ethics by which to determine how best to wield the technologies we create.
If we are playing god, Iâ€™d hazard the proposition that weâ€™re doing far better at it than god does.