(There’s a nice provocative title for you, eh?)
Having gotten into a bit of a dust-up–civil enough, but still–with an atheist over this Christ and Pop Culture post on transhumanism, I found my thoughts running down the following path:
Let’s say I want to live forever in this world, on the assumption that there is no other. But my body has something wrong with it, and science has not yet gotten to the point where whatever it is can be fixed without some sort of transplant; and while technology in this hypothetical situation can support transplants of anything, including consciousness, donors for my particular need are not forthcoming. (Or something like that; we can posit any number of scenarios.) You, however, are in perfect health and are not particularly useful to me otherwise.
Suppose I have the means, the motive, and the opportunity. What is to stop me from taking what I need from you, up to and including your entire body, even if it kills you?
Ethics? Pssht–the ends justify the means. Society? My life is at stake; I don’t care if society lives while I die. The law? Ah, but laws can be changed. Until they are, if I am sufficiently clever, the law will never know that I’ve killed you. And if I’m not–ah, well, it was a jolly good try, fair cop, but they won’t take me alive once I eat this cyanide capsule… if that is in fact what it is and not a trigger that sends my consciousness on to yet another body. They don’t attribute crimes to a person that are committed after that person is dead, after all. Meanwhile, I get to enjoy your health, your wealth, your significant other, maybe even your skills and more–and who is to say me nay, and by what authority?
You may, of course, point out that there’s also no good reason in this scenario why I should live and you should die, and you would be right. Just as there is no authority preventing me from taking your life because I want to live forever, neither is there any authority preventing you from taking my life because you, being in perfect health, see no reason why I, being ill, should go on using up resources that ought to be going to those who are already strong and healthy. The two views will clash violently at some point, and the view that wins out belongs to the person who survives. There’s no inherent superiority to either without some external standard of right and wrong that cannot be arbitrarily made up and agreed upon by both parties; that agreement won’t survive a kill-or-be-killed situation. Even if one party still holds to it… well, see Patton on how one does or does not win wars. And that’s the problem.
If there is no God, everything is permissible.
The Christian view, on the other hand, would stop the whole scenario before it starts. This world is not our home, so there is no need to try to stay in it indefinitely. Not only that, but as humans uniquely created in God’s image, each of us has value and a right to life, and neither of us has the right to deprive the other of life simply for being an inconvenience. To do so would be unjust–and the standard of justice is established by God, Who is supremely just. On the contrary, it is my Christian duty not to cling to life at the expense of another… and it might just be your Christian duty to do what is within your power to help me, whether that involves researching a morally acceptable cure or simply mowing my lawn when I’m too sick to do it myself.
Note well, I’m not saying all modern medicine is evil (I thank God for most of it!), only that some lines should never be crossed. Yet I can’t say “should” without appealing to some authority higher than myself, one high enough that any other person ought to be able to recognize it. But of course, there will always be those who are willfully blind, like the physics grad student of my acquaintance who started out claiming that ethics has no place in science and, when pressed by me and another classmate, ended up defending Mengele.
And all of this brings me back to the point I started with: Christian writers need to be willing to tackle such hypotheticals. There will always be people whose consciences are so seared as to not see anything wrong with the strong eliminating the weak by force or with the crafty taking what they want by stealth. Most other people will at least feel vaguely uncomfortable with either scenario, but Christians are uniquely positioned to be able to explain why we feel uneasy and why those views are wrong. The trick, of course, is not letting the point overwhelm the rest of the story. Show, don’t tell–strip back the veneer of a society perfected by science to show the tyrannical injustices it hides. Put the reader in the shoes of someone whom that society does not deem fit to live. Add details not for the shock value but for the story value, yet don’t hold back from the grit and the gore that the story itself demands. Let the whys and wherefores come out organically. And if there’s no way the story is going to end happily… then let it end badly. Don’t shoehorn in a conversion scene or a chirpy, cheery ending that doesn’t fit; you’ll lose your audience.
To be sure, there are already Christian authors writing such books. P. D. James did so in Children of Men, and I’m sure there are others I haven’t read. But too many people seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that Christian writers ought never to deal with dark topics–yet who can explore them better than we? “Watch yourselves lest ye fall,” of course, but the Light shines in the darkness not only to dispel it but also to expose it for what it is. “You’ve got to get ’em lost before you can get ’em found,” as the old saying goes, and such books can do a good deal of work in plowing up hard, fallow hearts to prepare them for the gentler work of other hands in sowing seeds of faith and supplying the water of sound teaching so that God can, in His time, give the increase.