Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for March 2018

Mar/18

4

The Devil as Recruiting Sergeant

The Middle Ages, as that dodgy sage Carl Jung once wrote, “live on… merrily”. That’s no surprise, really. Superstition will always be with us, in new forms—and in old.

Crux:

ROME – With reported demonic possessions on the rise in Italy, the Vatican is hosting a week-long training to better prepare exorcists for ministry. Catholic leaders have said that the country needs more exorcists, and better training.

“Today we are at a stage crucial in history: Many Christians no longer believe in [the devil’s] existence, few exorcists are appointed and there are no more young priests willing to learn,” said one of the event’s speakers, exorcist Father Cesare Truqui, according to Vatican News.

Now, of course, it’s true that the devil has a major role to play both in the traditional Christian story and in some expressions of Christian belief today (some: I don’t remember him playing much of a role in the teachings of the splendidly mild Church of England in which I was raised). Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see the obvious concern with which Father Truqui contemplates the fact that many Christians apparently no longer believe in Old Nick. Part of the reason for the anxiety that causes him will, undoubtedly, be spiritual, but on reading that paragraph, with its giveaway claim that we have arrived at a “crucial” stage (there always has to be a crisis; see Rahm Emmanuel for details), it’s hard not to detect the professional anxiety of someone who is worried that the demand for his guild’s services may no longer be required.

But more than that, it’s revealing that this conference is being hosted at the Vatican. The current Pope, like all demagogues someone with a shrewd grasp of what pulls in the crowds, is noticeable for the emphasis he places on the devil. He knows that fear is a good recruiter.

What that does to the mental health of the psychologically vulnerable is not something that appears to count for too much.

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Mar/18

4

Abusing “Frankenstein”

Ronald Bailey, writing in Reason:

The meme of Frankenstein as a mad scientist who unleashed a disastrously uncontrollable creation on the world has been hijacked by anti-modernity, anti-technology ideologues to push for all manner of bans and restrictions on the development and deployment of new technologies…

For decades, the specter of Frankenstein’s monster has been invoked whenever researchers report dramatic new developments, from the use of synthetic biology to build whole genomes from scratch to the invention of new plants and animals that can better feed the world. Experiments in repairing defective genes in human embryos, which have been conducted in China and the U.S., are routinely described as precursors to the creation of “Frankenbabies”—the long-dreaded but not yet seen “designer babies.”…

There is nothing immoral in Frankenstein’s aspiration to “banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death.” The people who will choose to use safe enhancements to bestow upon themselves and their progeny stronger bodies, more robust immune systems, nimbler minds, and longer lives will not be monsters, nor will they create monsters. Instead, those who seek to hinder the rest of us from availing ourselves of these technological gifts will rightly be judged moral troglodytes.

Despite the din raised by anti-technology ideologues and the claque of conservative bioethicists, our world is not filled with out-of-control Frankensteinian technologies. While missteps have occurred, the openness and collaborative structure of the scientific enterprise encourages researchers to take responsibility for their findings. During the past 200 years, scientific research has indeed poured “a torrent of light into our dark world.” At nearly every scale, technological progress has given us greater control over our fates and made our lives safer, freer, and wealthier.

The punch thrown at “the claque of conservative bioethicists” is well aimed: They are, for the most part, a wannabe priestly caste trying to wrap ancient superstitious fears in the modern, more respectable-sounding name of bio-ethics. In reality what they are peddling is the same old same old, Prometheus, Galileo and all that.

Bailey concludes:

Victor Frankenstein variously condemns his creature as a “demon,” a “devil,” and a “fiend.” But that is not quite right. “My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy,” the creature insists. “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend.” He was endowed with the capacity for hope, sharing the same moral faculties and free will exercised by human beings.

Frankenstein is not a tale about a mad scientist who looses an out-of-control creature upon the world. It’s a parable about a researcher who fails to take due responsibility for nurturing the moral capacities of his creation. Victor Frankenstein is the real monster.

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