Paging Mustapha Mond

Increasingly, Couples Use Embryo Screening  

"More and more couples are turning to an embryo-screening technique that allows them to choose the genetic makeup of their children, according to a survey released yesterday in the online edition of the journal Fertility and Sterility."

"Son, we love you, especially since you turned out just like the clinic promised you would."

Oh brave new world, that hath such people in't…*shudder* 

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

11 thoughts on “Paging Mustapha Mond

  1. Jerry

    One characteristic of a commercial transaction is that if the service or good does not perform according to expectations, we feel betrayed even if there are no legal grounds for feeling so. If we make the conception and screening of humans a commercial transaction, we are courting some very explosive issues.

    Parents of naturally-conceived children will blame themselves, their child, or God if something goes wrong. Being able to blame a clinic carries interesting implications, what with wrongful birth lawsuits (hey, even if they’ve been shot down in the States, folks’ll still try to sue–it’s the new American way) or trying to get a second child to better embody the parents’ hopes and expectations, not unlike the story in Gattaca. You think parental favoritism can be bad? We probably haven’t seen anything yet.

    Still, where parents hypercontrol their children’s lives and over-program them with all sorts of activities from Baby Einstein on through trying to help run their college careers (and calling their professors if something goes wrong), should we be surrpised?

  2. Laudemus

    If a kid doesn’t turn out “just right,” mom and dad will feel betrayed. Aside from lawsuits, which Jerry mentioned, I bet they’ll take it out on the kid. I suspect that widespread genetic engineering would lead to more child abuse and neglect, although obviously I can’t prove that suspicion yet.

    Having worked in Family Court for a summer, I can tell you that a lot of the problems there come from parents who have unrealistic expectations for their children. (Not all of the problems, certainly, but many.) This will only make things worse.

  3. Peter

    You guys act like this is something new.

    People have been responding inhumanely at disappointing offspring for as long as people have been reproducing. Human history includes people killing or abandoning children who were born the wrong sex or with physical deformities; disowning, hiding, or abusing children who were born with mental disabilities; or even just verbally and emotionally abusing children who don’t meet arbitrary expectations. We also have people who divorce their spouses and abandon their children without any cause that is rooted in the child, except perhaps the child’s very existence. We have parents who refuse to support their children economically, because they are just selfish.

    You all make it sound like it’s some horrible thing that people will have more control over the innate characteristics of their offspring, but I’m betting not a single one of you would ever challenge the “right” of parents to impose their religious beliefs on a child, and that exercise of control can have consequences every bit as huge in the life of a person as whether that child was born with a certain color eyes or a propensity for particular activities.

    The problem is not what people do to get the most desirable offspring, because people have been trying to get the most desirable offspring for as long as there have been people. The problem is what people do once the offspring is already there and there is absolutely nothing about genetic screening that makes that problem a new or different one from the problems we have always had. If anything, it alleviates problems by reducing the chance that people will kill, abuse, or injure offspring with which they are unsatisfied by the simple fact that it reduces the chance that people will be unsatisfied by their offspring in the first place.

    But God forbid religious people, particularly Christians, try to actually alleviate suffering. This is the religion that has spent the last two thousand years fetishizing a goddamned crucifixion, saying things like “the poor will always be with us,” and making the experience of suffering into the highest form of piety.

  4. Jerry

    “You guys act like this is something new.”

    The technology is new, and is putting the old prejudices against disappointing offspring throught a sort of distillation, making them even sharper and more pervasive.

    “You all make it sound like it’s some horrible thing that people will have more control over the innate characteristics of their offspring, but I’m betting not a single one of you would ever challenge the “right” of parents to impose their religious beliefs on a child, and that exercise of control can have consequences every bit as huge in the life of a person as whether that child was born with a certain color eyes or a propensity for particular activities.”

    Yes, parents can raise children with religious beliefs, but children can always shuck them and become atheists or whatever. Heck, parents can change their minds, too. Genes a mite more difficult to change.

    Now we have a whole new industry tapping people’s idea of “genes as destiny” and general sense of entitlement into the mix.

    And now for the real doozy:

    “But God forbid religious people, particularly Christians, try to actually alleviate suffering. This is the religion that has spent the last two thousand years fetishizing a goddamned crucifixion, saying things like “the poor will always be with us,” and making the experience of suffering into the highest form of piety.”

    Peter, kindly get off whatever crack you’re on, it’s hurting your historical sense. Check out all the Christian-themed names in healthcare; maybe you don’t agree with Catholic healthcare’s priorities, but what the deuce are those hospitals for if not alleviating suffering? Catholic hospitals, like Pittsburgh’s own Mercy and St. Francis Hospitals of blessed memory, regularly get in over their heads financially because they treat the poor, the addicts and psychiatric patients as opposed to pounding out the knee-replacements and catheterization procedures for the insured middle class.

    Even before the Christians and their crufixion fetish (it is a free country, but as an issue of mutual respect, I’d take it as a kindness if you use less foul language in connection to the crucifixion), the first proto-hospitals were temples, with religion tied up with medicine from the get-go.

    Can we do more? Yes, and your words are a goad to push me to do better. I hope other Christians who read this try harder so we aren’t impediments or stumbling-stones for others. But you, sir, are wrong, dead wrong, in saying that Christians haven’t done anything and it does your intelligence and education a severe discredit by airing such blithe, false generalizations.

  5. Peter

    So I can’t cay “goddamned crucifixion” but you can say “get off whatever crack you’re on”?

    [W]e have a whole new industry tapping people’s idea of “genes as destiny” and general sense of entitlement into the mix.

    So what? Genes are not destiny and people have had a sense of entitlement long before we could do genetic screening.

    The technology is new, and is putting the old prejudices against disappointing offspring throught a sort of distillation, making them even sharper and more pervasive.

    No, it is not making them even sharper and more pervasive. For the entire history of humanity, people have had no rational control over what kind of offspring emerges at the end of that nine-month gestation period. To suggest that people should be deprived of the ability to rationalize the process of reproduction is to advocate the perpetuation of the very randomness that provokes people in many cultures to destroy the lives of women and children who already exist. For example, if you had to choose, would you rather have a culture where genetic screening leads to a decrease in female offspring, or a culture where baby girls are aborted, killed, abandoned, or abused?

    Or going even a step further, would you rather see a human culture where people are left at the mercies of unpredictable genetic combinations, as we have been for our entire history, putting us in a situation where our technological desires and abilities are often at odds with our biological propensities, or where we, knowing what kind of culture we want to have, are able to actually achieve the biological propensities required to live it?

    What if genetic screening could eliminate the production of sociopaths? What if genetic engineering could fix things like the back problems so many of us have because our skeletons were not designed for walking upright? Evolution is blind; we are not. We know what we want out of our lives; our gametes do not. I would rather live in a world where rationality, consciousness, and conscience are made ever more useful and powerful and I believe the vast majority of humans, both living and dead, would agree with me.

    Why have people always practiced religions, prayed to gods, and sought methods to make sense of a world that seems random and uncaring? We now, for the first time ever stand on the cusp of being able to achieve with technology what billions of our forebears have tried futilely to achieve with prayer and incantations, potions and spells, and innumerable superstitions. But you want to apply the brakes. Why is that? Maybe it’s because a world where people can make their own meaning is a world where the Catholic church is just a museum piece.

    And you can go on and on about Catholic hospitals (so charitably do you leave out institutions of Protestant, Jewish, or other religious persuasions, I notice), but that’s hardly better (or more respectable) than the President waiting until things are particularly bad in some overseas theater of military operations to start talking about how we are so much safer at home. There are certainly lots of Catholic (and other religious) hospitals out there, but that does not change the fact that Christian (not just Catholic) theology glorifies suffering. Yours is not just the religion of the crucifixion, but of turning the other cheek, thorns in sides, and purifying fire.

    I grew up in a self-proclaimed “pacifist” sect of Christianity that, despite claiming to love non-violence nevertheless celebrates the stories of its martyrs whose fates were as horrible as one could imagine. It is certainly not irrational to read the scriptures in support of such a view. But a belief system that advocates non-violence against others on the one hand but glorifies violence against its own on the other hand has engaged in a zero-sum theological game. Your Catholicism, I submit, has done no better, especially by exalting those practitioners who speak of suffering as though it is a beautiful method of approaching the divine while simultaneously crowing about its opposition to some bugaboo “culture of death.”

    So no, I will not pay lip service to your sacred cows. The crucifixion, as it has come to stand in our culture, to the extent even of making an unmitigated box office success of what was essentially a blood splattering, sadomasochistic snuff film, is one of the foulest pieces of work to afflict the human race. No one who finds an object of adoration in the violent suffering and slaughter of another, nor sees the approaching divine in the violent suffering or slaughter of oneself, has the moral sense that is a requisite for making the world a truly better place.

  6. Jerry

    Sorry for the crack bit, it was unnecessary. I don’t think it’s on the same plane as cussing out something that someone holds dear, but that obviously won’t be settled tonight! Nor did I say that you couldn’t say that (you obvious can, since you did, and this isn’t my blog), but asked for cooler rhetoric. (Not that my “crack” crack exactly helped the atmosphere…)

    I spoke of Catholic healthcare since it is the largest private healthcare organization in the USA–I thought I had mentioned that in my original comment but did not ; I had hoped that I made clear that I knew of non-Catholic hospitals and medical traditions from noting the pre-Christian origins of medicine being very religious. I’d like to be completely exhaustive, but I don’t have the time and I’m not sure the combox has the space.

    While we do exalt suffering, we also venerate those who assist in suffering. As the Buddha noted before we Catholics came around, you really can’t get around suffering. Yes, we see the cross as being paradoxically both a source of suffering and salvation, and we do venerate Christ’s passion, but in the the context of His resurrection, too. We also praise those who tried to give Christ what comfort they could, such as Simon of Cyrene and the women of Jerusalem.

    Paradoxically this also, I submit, helps make one a better healer. Physicians are often quite uncomfortable with death and dying. This is understandable enough, they pay them to heal folks, not kill ’em. But medicine is quite limited, and physicians often get quite distant towards dying patients, who often need the most comfort. By having a greater appreciation of suffering and the dignity of those who suffer, a physician, or a nurse or family member or whatever, will be able to draw closer to that person and help them carry their own cross.

    Okay, now let’s back up to the front of your comments. You repeat that genes do not control our destinies and that people felt “entitled” before genetic screening. Since I said the same thing, I clearly agree.

    However, I don’t expect that folks will be so rational–entitlement is not a very rational sentiment in the first place. Likewise, assisted reproduction is a pretty big business–folks shell out quite a bit for IVF especially considering the success rate for it. Therefore there will be plenty of people out to stroke this sense of entitlement to get would-be parents to fork over big bucks for some dream family that may or may not be possible.

    I expect that future advancements will do much to help humankind, and am quite excited by what science is showing us. I rather doubt that it will consign Catholicism etc. to the scrap heap, but would happily take a wager on that event.

    I’d gladly buy you a drink if science somehow manages to put the pope out of business. What’s your preferred beverage?

  7. Jerry

    But seriously, time and the advancement of knowledge do help cleanse humans of old superstitions (perhaps at the expense of creating newer biases). I rather doubt that Catholicism, in the core Magisterium and practice of the faith, will fall prey to such a thing, but if it is false and pernicious (as you apparently believe, Peter), it is is only right to hope that it does fall apart.

    So it is in that spirit I’d gladly buy you a drink if the Church is proven false–I don’t think so, but I’ll accept the bet. Perhaps we could also play a game of Go together as well. Do you still keep up with that? I haven’t had time to pursue it…Hard to find players, too. Do you know good online venues?

  8. Funky Dung

    “Christian (not just Catholic) theology glorifies suffering”

    It’s not pointless suffering. It’s voluntary suffering that serves a purpose.

    Peter, suffering serves many good purposes, none of which must be explicitly religious.

    Strength can grow from adversity. As Nietzsche said, that which does not kill us makes us stronger.

    Suffering helps us reorder priorities by highlighting those things that are most important to us and showing distraction and frivolities for what they are.

    Suffering for others is a the very core of compassion. Caring for the sick and injured, standing up for the oppressed, and giving to the poor are but a few examples.

    The cross, that great stumbling block to you, stands for loving until it hurts. We are called to serve one another and bear each other’s burdens. He who wishes to be first must be last and servant of all. Faith aside, can you not see the inherent good in such a way of life?

  9. Peter

    Another long week has passed and I have time to come back and take up where I left off.

    Suffering is not necessarily worthless. I myself have been known to say (of the Socratic method used in law school classes) that humiliation will make a student remember. However, if I could think of a better way to sear new learning into the minds of law students, I would advocate that above the humiliations of the Socratic method.

    But beyond that rather trivial example, I have a bigger point: To say that suffering may be valued and put to use is not a rational argument for opposing the alleviation of suffering.

    Anyone can learn from anything. If a seventeen year old gets behind the wheel while drunk and ends up killing another person, that kid may very well learn a valuable and abiding lesson at the expense of much suffering. But that does not mean anyone can morally argue that the existence of that suffering is good. We still want to prevent drunk driving and we still want to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from the potential harm of drunk drivers.

    Both of you confuse a reasoned response to suffering with a reasoned opposition to the existence of suffering. Yes, when suffering occurs, it should be faced and lessons should be drawn. But the purpose of drawing those lessons is to teach ourselves, through our experience of life, to learn how we might subtract from the total of the world’s suffering.

    Suffering is not a worthwhile end in itself; suffering is an evil that has thus far been necessary. It should be treated as such. Yes, strength can grow from adversity; that is not an argument for perpetuating adversity, nor for failing to mitigate adversity, nor even for revering adversity.

    As to genetic screening, all that seems to remain of Jerry’s argument is a tiny little kernel that might be summed up as follows:

    “Genetic screening makes it easier for people to get what they want; when it is easier for people to get what they want, their sense of entitlement will expand. A greater sense of entitlement makes people greedy and contentious. Therefore, we should be wary of genetic screening.”

    Isn’t that just a tired truism that gets trotted out with every technological advance?

    Not only that, but it is an elitist argument, too. (So why should I be surprised to hear it from a cog in the world’s biggest religious hierarchy?) Your argument relies on the weak morals of some lower class, people who are not rational enough to think and make good decisions. Thus, since people are too stupid to figure out what is best for them, and will only persist in their malcontent, we would all be better off if they are denied the opportunity. It’s straight out of the Medieval Catholic Playbook of Oppression™!

    Seriously, would it just hurt you to have an unalloyed progressive thought now and then? Jerry, you have so compartmentalized your mind that you apparently needed to write two separate comments — one to make your elitist anti-technological argument, and one to praise the advances of technology! That surely wasn’t intentional, but it provides a strong inference about the underlying psyche. Your two successive comments read as though written by two different people. No doubt you wrote the first one and then, after a few minutes of letting your mind clear, suddenly realized that you had something else to say. Funny that neither thought could occupy your mind at the same time.

    Why not go all the way, drop the elitist claptrap, champion the freedom of all people, even the stupid, irrational, and immoral ones, and stop opposing new research?

  10. Pingback: Res Ipsa Loquitur » Classed with Fables

  11. Roy F. Moore

    Hello, this is Roy F. Moore of the news and opinion weblog “The Distributist Review”. I wanted to complement both Jerry and Peter for this scintillating debate on genetic screening.

    My congratulations to you both, as well as Funky Dung for having this discussion on your blog.

    Long live Distributism!

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