Sunday, July 24, 2011

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

You have probably heard of the new movie called the Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  This is a prequel to the old Planet of the Apes movies that came out in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  As with similar prequels, this movie imagines the world as it was just prior to the transformation that was the setting of the older movie. In the older movie, the character played by Charlton Heston and his astronaut companions land on an unknown world only to find out that they have traveled into earth’s future, one now dominated by intelligent apes. In that future, humans cannot speak and live basically like wild animals. They have lost their intelligence.  Charlton Heston’s character, the man from earth’s past, is captured and the apes are shocked to find an intelligent human, a human that can speak.

Human intelligence is a great gift that I spoke about last week.  It is at the root of our freedom.  Knowing what is good is part of the ability to act with freedom.  When I choose what is good, I am acting wisely and with understanding of what constitutes wisdom in human action.  Freedom is a capacity that allows us to love God.  In freedom we can choose to do good and avoid evil.
When Solomon asks for understanding he is pointing us back to the Fall of Man from Paradise.  The Planet of the Apes is based on the idea of a fall of man, and probably a fall that is due to pride, just like in the Fall from Paradise.  Solomon, in humility, asks the Lord for an understanding heart to distinguish right from wrong.  The Lord was pleased with this request.

The movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, though fictional, is a vehicle that allows us to contemplate the fact there are dangers associated with our freedom of action when we decide to eliminate God’s wisdom from our way of acting. Since many of us will probably see the movie, it serves as a good backdrop for me to speak about some of the scientific research which is actually going on and which is more troublesome than the research in the movie.

This is the Wikipedia description, as of July 23, 2011, of the plot of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes:

“Will Rodman (James Franco), currently residing in San Francisco, is working on a cure for Alzheimer's by performing tests on apes. The first test subject is Caesar (Andy Serkis). This "cure" genetically modifies his way of thinking to create a new breed of ape with human-like intelligence. Caesar learns well, but human authority continues to test him and contain him. In response to abuse from visitors, he eventually proves smart enough to break free from his cage and release the cure among other apes, affecting other apes like Caesar. Millions of apes begin to foment revolution. Soon, war breaks out between humans and apes. Rodman may be the only one able to stop them before the ape revolution ends with them becoming the dominant species on the planet.”

I haven't seen the movie so I don't know how accurate it is.  

The fact of the matter is that some scientific research going on today is actually much more dangerous than the plot of the movie.  Animal-human hybrid research involving human tissue has been going on for years.  Such research, in itself, is not necessarily immoral.  In fact, it can be morally good as well as beneficial. For example, research involving certain organs such as a pancreas to make insulin produced in animals more suitable for human use is not an evil act in itself, providing the animals are not treated inhumanely and the conditions of safety are met.  This type research respects the natural law for it does not seek to alter what it means to be human or animal.

On the other hand, many researchers having no respect for the natural law, would want to build a world without God.  They willingly play on our emotions in the name of medical research and cures to push the limits of morality and ethics beyond what is safe, humane, and morally decent.

I would like to cite are recent online report from Bioedge, July 23, 2011.  The report refers to the discovery of human-animal hybrid embryos created in the lab in Great Britain. 

The report states, (summarized in delivery)

Lord David Alton, a crossbench peer, discovered that 155 hybrid embryos combining animal and human genetic material had been produced in three laboratories in the UK since they were legalized in 2008. …

According to Bioedge, Lord Alton said,

"I argued in Parliament against the creation of human- animal hybrids as a matter of principle. None of the scientists who appeared before us could give us any justification in terms of treatment. Ethically it can never be justifiable - it discredits us as a country. It is dabbling in the grotesque. At every stage the justification from scientists has been: if only you allow us to do this, we will find cures for every illness known to mankind. This is emotional blackmail. Of the 80 treatments and cures which have come about from stem cells, all have come from adult stem cells - not embryonic ones. On moral and ethical grounds this fails; and on scientific and medical ones too."

Unfortunately, the blending of human and animal genetic material is being done in many countries including the United States.  It is carried out even on the level of the reproductive cells, or what is referred to in science as the germ cells.  A recent report of the Academy of Medical Sciences in Great Britain states:

Animals containing human DNA and tissues are already used to explore the role of human genes in many aspects of reproduction from the development of eggs and sperm through to the process of birth. In experiments in this area, human reproductive tissues can be implanted in various places (such as under the skin) in the recipient animal rather than into its own reproductive system, so there is little possibility of fertilisation. But some work does result in the presence of functional human sperm and/or egg cells in animals – which raises the remote possibility that fertilisation between human and animal germ cells might inadvertently occur.

Producing  new organisms by blending human and animal reproductive cells is an unwise and immoral action.  It is too bad that we will probably have to suffer much before this is stopped.

The kingdom of God is clearly a place where the knowledge of the tree of good and evil is kept in its proper place.  As God tells Job, we were not there when He formed the limits of the sea.  Only God himself is able to judge the knowledge about what is good.   We need the humility to ask God, like Solomon, that He would give us understanding to know what is right and wrong.  We cannot create a world without God.  If we try, we will lose our very souls.  God’s law is a merciful gift that shapes our freedom and guards our actions, keeping us from harming ourselves by crossing into territory that is beyond our understanding.  The natural law, written on our hearts, is given to us to protect from such dangers.  We turn to God for guidance for our lives because we are not able to judge the deepest mysteries of life and death. 

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a work of fiction.  It is up to us to become involved in the political and moral issues surrounding scientific research so that we can make sure it remains a fiction.

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