27

C&C Miracles

Written because during C&C Saints the issue of the certified miracles that are required to show that a Saint was in position to nag Himself in person, so to speak; that would require figuring out what a miracle is, and then what it takes, and even a basic summary is worth its own post.  So here’s a post, only slightly re-written.

Literally, it’s from the the Latin for “wonderful”. As we are using it, it’s close– wonder-workers, things done by supernatural power, specifically those things done by the power of God. There are several Greek terms at the link for specific meanings if anybody wants to go and break it out.

A miracle is a thing done by the power of God. An event in the natural world that is not of the natural world, so to speak. Continue Reading

15

Frankenstein’s Monster, Then and Now

An opening note: Yes, I know that in the book, the Doctor was Frankenstein, and the Monster was to be “a new Adam.” In popular culture, Frankenstein’s Monster became shortened to Frankenstein, and sometimes to Frank. I’m going with “Frankenstein” or just “the monster” from here on out.

The basic story is well worn from use– brilliant scientist tries to create a perfect creature and things go badly. It’s been used in every variation from the original human corpses to clones to robots to vampires. (one of the Blade movies) I could make an argument that the Island of Doctor Moreau is a Frankenstein variation, as is the legend of the Golem and thus the Wizard’s Apprentice.  A fairly new movie has the monster fighting demons in modern times, or something. Frankenstein even harassed multiple comedy teams in old movies!

The story-line of “make a better person and/or create a new life artificially and horrible things happen” is so well established that it would be easier to try to list all the examples of times it goes right in movies or others stories, and the iconic caricature of The Monster is recognizable even when he’s bright pink and apparently steam powered.

And yet, somehow, there’s something in the way people are that drives us to the same goal as Doctor Frankenstein; we want to make life, because when we make it we’ll do a better job. We manufacture humans in a lab, test, select and implant some portion rather routinely; at the other end of the spectrum, the Anglicans and Catholics in the United Kingdom actually joined together to protest plans to manufacture cloned humans in animal eggs. (Animal Human Hybrids.) In a modern echo of the original story, we use the genetic material in a human egg, put it in another egg, and then fertilize the resulting cell. This makes the “three parent children” you may have heard about.

Focusing on the human-animal combinations, I’ll just quote the Daily Mail:

This legalised the creation of a variety of hybrids, including an animal egg fertilised by a human sperm; ‘cybrids’, in which a human nucleus is implanted into an animal cell; and ‘chimeras’, in which human cells are mixed with animal embryos.

If you’re not familiar with the process, cloning is done by taking an egg, removing the nucleus and inserting a cell, then tricking it into growing. When it does start to grow, it’s the same as an embryo formed in the traditional manner. Almost all of the resulting organism’s DNA comes from the nucleus, but things like mitochondrial DNA come from the egg’s shell. This means that a human cloned in a cow’s egg and not killed for research, if they managed to reach adulthood, would most likely look and act like a naturally formed human. They would probably have health issues, since there are mitochondrial genetic diseases, but being ill health is hardly restricted to clones. God makes the soul.

This is a really long work-up to saying, as best we can tell, a human clone formed in a cow’s egg would be just as human as a child from IVF, or rape, or adultery, or any of a wide range of offenses to human dignity.

Obviously, a cow with a few human genes inserted (‘spliced’) is clearly not human. Drawing a line– “if more than 27.9835% of identified genes are human, you shouldn’t do it” is rather difficult. I would use a rule of thumb that if the goal of creating the organism is to kill it for human parts or to evade rules against killing humans for parts, you’re doing it wrong. Contrast with, say, gene splicing a pig so that a protein that makes a human body reject a pig heart is replaced by a protein that’s recognized as human by a human body.

Another way of looking at it is along the lines of therapy vs enhancement. To go to my pig example, altering the pig with the goal of fixing an existing problem is one thing; altering the pig to get as close to a human as you can get while avoiding non-moral problems (Why animal eggs? Human eggs are expensive and dangerous to get.)

The old question of “what makes a man” is quite popular, so I’ll end with a very long quote that a writer was kind enough to share, taken from The City of God, Chap. 16, Book 8.

Whether Certain Monstrous Races of Men are Derived from the Stock of Adam or Noah’s Sons.

It is also asked whether we are to believe that certain monstrous races of men, spoken of in secular history, have sprung from Noah’s sons, or rather, I should say, from that one man from whom they themselves were descended. For it is reported that some have one eye in the middle of the forehead; some, feet turned backwards from the heel; some, a double sex, the right breast like a man, the left like a woman, and that they alternately beget and bring forth: others are said to have no mouth, and to breathe only through the nostrils; others are but a cubit high, and are therefore called by the Greeks Pigmies: they say that in some places the woman conceive in their fifth year, and do not live beyond their eighth. So, too, they tell of a race who have two feet but only one leg, and are of marvelous swiftness, though they do not bend the knee: they are called Skiopodes, because in the hot weather they lie down on their backs and shade themselves with their feet. Others are said to have no head, and their eyes in their shoulders; and other human or quasi-human races are depicted in mosaic in the harbor esplanade of Carthage, on the faith of histories of rarities. What shall I say of the Cynocephali, whose dog-like head and barking proclaim them beasts rather than men? But we are not bound to believe all we hear of these monstrosities. But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast. We can distinguish the common human nature from that which is peculiar, and therefore wonderful.

For Halloween, I’m cross-posting slightly edited versions of my C&C monster series from Catholic Stand, one a week. Hope that you folks enjoy them.

12

Vampires

Through mere glimpses of him, however, demonic accuracy is achieved: Dracula is an Antichrist. He cannot attack unless willingly engaged. He baptizes his victims in his blood even as he drinks theirs in a sacrifice that gives eternal “life” in animated death. He unites captive souls to his existence, thriving on the unhallowed. He twists scripture to his purpose, lusts for worship … and fears Christ. Crisis Magazine, Oct 2013

Over at Father Z’s blog, he made a (joking) post about how sad he was that he didn’t get a vampire hunting kit for Christmas. One comment pointed out that we can’t sell blessed objects. (Technically false; blessed objects can be sold for their intrinsic value, without added price for the blessing, but accurate enough in terms of buying a Vampire hunting kit which would be pretty worthless without blessing.) This got me thinking about the various legends related to vampires, and Catholicism, especially how often they are portrayed wrongly.

The most famous example of bad (horrifying, really) Catholic theology that involves vampires and popular culture is probably the Dracula story. At one point, Van Helsing makes a putty out of consecrated Hosts, and uses it to vampire-proof a room. It’s supposed to be alright, because he has a dispensation. (No, they don’t work that way.)

Needless to say, this isn’t respectful of the Body of Christ, and if the vampire is reacting to the Body of Christ then it isn’t effective, either.

With respect to the presence of Christ, most theologians hold that, although the host externally remains intact for several days, the real presence ceases as soon as the host is fully soaked with water as from that moment the species is no longer exclusively that of bread.

That aside, Dracula is rather well researched in regards to the folklore of vampires. For example, the crucifix has power in and of itself, since it has a representation of Christ on it, while crosses depend more on the person holding the cross invoking God directly. In various times and places, the formally-blessed cross (or other objects, such as holy medals) was thought to be enough to invoke God. Those objects are called sacramentals, things that recall the sacraments. (Dracula’s mistaken abuse of the Host is indicative of someone who didn’t recognize Transubstantiation, but viewed it as a sort of super-strong symbol.) The most obvious sacramental, which is also used in popular pieties and commonly available for the asking, is holy water– many parishes even have dispensers. It should be kept in mind that the people who really believed in vampires weren’t trying to use holy water or any other sacramental for some kind of a magical effect, but to invoke God’s protection from forces of evil.

Some of the things vampires fear are symbolic, instead of sacramental. Running water calls to mind baptism and the washing away of sins, silver is “white” metal and thus pure, garlic and various plants were believed to be medicines against corruption. Even salt, because of its powers of preservation, was thought in some places to ward off evil, including vampires.

Vampires lack of reflection probably grew out of the folklore of the soulless not having a shadow, and the way that mirrors were once backed with silver. Some more folklore savvy stories had digital cameras work to record vampires, but not silver-based movie cameras, and at least one used silver nitrate in the blood to kill a vampire.

Speaking of souls, this is probably the biggest problem with vampire stories: all too often, authors write “vampires” that by all evidence possess rational souls. To shamelessly steal–er, borrow– from Jimmy Akin’s highly enjoyable Theology of the Living Dead, there are four basic options for any flavor of living dead:

  1. Animal soul – this is the most traditional, but has more in common with modern zombies as far as behavior goes; modern vampires are generally more intelligent than the average human.
  2. Non-human rational soulBuffy the Vampire Slayer’s vampires– they are evil, but the “demons” animating vampires aren’t Satanic, and a lot of the “demons” are just multidimensional travelers. The theology of that television show makes my head hurt….
  3. Human souls – the ‘vampire’ subculture would be an example of this, or if a story had vampirism as a sort of disease.
  4. No soul – the body is remote-controlled, either by technology (nanobot vampires) or perhaps demonic possession. (As I understand it, demons are spirits, rather than souls, and couldn’t inhabit a body the way a human soul would. I’d highly advise a lot of mythology research before anybody tried to write this!)

Most vampire stories these days are either humans with a disease or non-human souls animating a body; some of them aren’t even “allergic” to blessed objects. Obviously, if they have rational souls, we have to treat them as people rather than monsters, but then it doesn’t make any sense why holy objects would harm them.

On a practical level, I’d say that anything that smokes on contact with a holy object is to be avoided.

For Halloween, I’m cross-posting slightly edited versions of my C&C monster series from Catholic Stand, one a week. Hope that you folks enjoy them.

77

Basic Life Science and Catholicism

mildly edited and cross posted from Catholic Stand, because it seems to be timely

“Quit forcing your religion on me! Your Pope might think that a fertilized egg is alive, that it’s human, but that’s your opinion– I believe in science! It’s no more a person than a skin cell is, and you just think it has a soul. If abortion upsets you, you should get people to use birth control.”

If you’ve been in abortion discussions, you’re probably familiar with this kind of assertion. I’ll admit that I’ve taken some slight liberty with the paraphrase– I combined several variations into one claim. Other than that….

A ‘fertilized egg’ is a somewhat improper way to describe what happens when a sperm and egg (gamete) join; it’s a zygote, the first stage of development in all animals. It is a single celled organism of whatever species the parents were. In cloning the egg is emptied, the insides of a cell from whatever is being cloned are put in, and the result is induced to start growing as if fertilization had just occurred. (Nuclear transfer; I mentioned this in the Frankenstein installment.) Sometimes the phrase is used to mean “pre-embryo” or “pre-fetus,” although in non-abortion situations (such as IVF) a three-day-old organism is called an “embryo.”

While a skin cell can be said to be alive– because it is part of a living organism– a zygote is an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent : a living being. If uninterupted, a zygote will develop into a recognizable adult member of the species. A skin cell will remain an skin cell.

When a human egg is fertilized, the organism that results is a member of the human species, distinct from both parents. That is a scientific fact. The Catholic Church teaches that being a living human being means the individual has inherent dignity which we must respect. The question of ensoulment doesn’t arise. (You can find a much more in depth explanation of when human life begins in this PDF of the same name, from the Westchester Institute.)

All of this establishes that, scientifically speaking, the unborn ‘product of conception’ we’re looking at is both alive and of our species.

This is where things get confusing, because science does not speak on who is a “person.” The question of personhood is (in this context) a moral question. As Catholics, we are required to recognize all living humans as people– ironically enough, it is those claiming to be defenders of science who are making a moral judgment, and one that is sadly not that uncommon in the history of humanity. More recently the word “person” has come to be synonymous with “human being,” and is preferred by some to “man” to apply to an individual homo sapiens. It is then easily understandable that most people defending abortion would not want to recognize that their stance means that they are explicitly denying that all humans are “people.” Especially if someone is not carefully choosing their words it is understandable that they would try to claim that a member of our species below a set point of development is not a “human being.”

Pointing out that they are declaring a group of humans to be non-people can be effective, sometimes even on the person arguing for abortion. Please try to be as gentle as possible about it, the shock can be pretty nasty. The author John C. Wright wrote about his instinctive recognition of his son as a person, and laid out the logic rather bluntly. It is worth noting that at the time he was an atheist, though a very classically influenced one.

On a related note, some folks will say that If you don’to like abortions, you should support birth control.  This sounds like it should make sense– the logic of “women have abortions because they have an unwanted pregnancy; birth control reduces pregnancy; more birth control would result in less pregnancy.”

First a religious or philosophical response: for a Catholic, this is roughly on par with saying “if you don’t like murder, you need to support assault!”
Chemical “birth control” results in death for the small human, in some cases as a primary means, some physical methods (IUDs) also cause death, and even something as basic as a condom inherently deforms the essence of sex. This is religion, or at least philosophy, although obviously some (sometimes very) non-religious people will agree that risking your kid’s life so you can have lower risk of pregnancy is obviously wrong.

Now the practical side.

Birth control does not necessarily reduce the number of pregnancies, it lowers the chance of a pregnancy as a result of intercourse. Failure is usually measured in terms of the percent of female users who have an unintended pregnancy in the first year of typical use. Not listed, of course, is not having sex unless you recognize that the reproductive act may result in a new life.

That is what makes contraception– and the “contraceptive mentality”– a root cause of the heat in the abortion debate. Contraception promises that you will have sex without a chance of needing to be responsible for your resulting children. So, if pregnancy results anyways, it’s very tempting to believe that there’s not really your offspring involved.  People you can’t see are so much easier to dehumanize, and the unborn are both really small and not walking around.