Faith and Morals: Willful “Confusion”

Via The Pulpit I discovered this great article at Catholic Lane on the morality of genetic enhancements: “Catholic Confusion on Enhancements” which is worth a read.  I’d never considered the question one way or another (we have no genes we are particularly keen to improve — want of ambition, as always), and now I know.  It’s not confusing at all — the Catholic teaching comes down to the old standby, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

But the cries of, “But I just . . . can’t . . . figure this out . . .” are so familiar.  It’s the line used to justify ignoring all the most obnoxious moral principles:

  • Torture: I can’t tell whether I’m really torturing someone or not — I guess I’ll just keep at it.
  • Theft: Is taking this one small thing really theft? Who knows — just don’t tell anyone and it’ll be okay.
  • Lying: Is it really a lie, or am I just being deceptive?  Well it’s a good cause, so why worry?

You might also recall willful confusion was used back in the day for abortion — is this really a baby? — but now everyone knows it’s a baby, we just don’t worry about the very little ones no one much wants, that would be absurd.  Like worrying about little white lies and tax evasion and torturing people who surely deserved it anyway.

The most entertaining sort of pseudo-confusion is about NFP. Seriously, I kid you not, people will say with a straight face things like:

  • “I don’t understand how NFP and contraception are different.”  Um, the part about not having sex, maybe?
  • “But what’s the difference between using chemicals or latex to prevent conception, versus using time to prevent it?” I think if you can’t tell the difference between sex and abstinence . . . you’re doing it wrong.

These are excuses.  No one who is serious about avoiding immoral genetic manipulation, or torture, or theft, or lying, or contraception, asks these questions.

Excuses are different from honest inquiry.  When people are really trying to find out answers, they act differently.  Honest inquirers ask precise questions: Not, “I can’t know whether taking office supplies is stealing, I’ll help myself to this case of pencils,” but “Is it okay to make personal phone calls from the office phone?  I’ll e-mail the new boss and find out what the policy is.” And then are prepared to accept difficult answers: If the policy is no personal calls, I’ll wait and call later.

Excuses are different from honest mistakes.  A very, very common honest mistake is believing that the withdrawal method is a legitimate and morally acceptable form of NFP.  It isn’t.  But between some going jokes (now dated, but these things persist), the fact that no artificial devices or chemicals are involved, and the the insidious feeling that anything with as low an effectiveness rating as the rhythm method* must be okay, people get the wrong idea.

The answer is no — a very rough approximation of Catholic sexual morality would be more along the lines of “Don’t start what you aren’t gonna finish.”  The difference between the honest mistake and faux “confusion” is that the honest man might grumble about being corrected, but he won’t sit there acting like he can’t tell the difference between select body parts and a hole in the ground.

*Withdrawal and the Rhythm Method are both somewhat effective for avoiding pregnancy, though I wouldn’t want to bet on them myself.  The one is immoral, the other is not.  History buff though I am, when it comes to having babies, or not having them, give me nice shiny modern NFP over the quaint forbears any day.

2 thoughts on “Faith and Morals: Willful “Confusion”

  1. I had to pop over and read to see if she mentioned the big glaring issue that I see with enhancements. It looks like it is one of several articles, so she may have mentioned it somewhere else. Or maybe it is a secondary issue to her point.

    As a psychologist, there are camps of theories related to nature and nurture. Is human development only derived from nature? There are few that believe in pure nurture, it’s a bit silly. Most sit in a camp in the middle, believing in far more nature over nurture, or that nurture would overcome most natural tendencies. Now, my sister and I are clearly related and have several characteristics that are part of our genetic code. However, there is some part that nurture has come into play because she’s clearly not behaving the way that I would behave. 😉

    So all of that background to say that just engineering people to be the way that we want is nearly ridiculous. Let’s tweak a few genes (the image, there, amusing that DNA can be picked up with tweezers) and get designer people. I firmly believe that’s not going to be as easy as some might think.

    The morality of it is more clear than the mechanics, to me, and given how she’s described the confusion, that’s saying something!

  2. “I firmly believe that’s not going to be as easy as some might think.”

    Agreed! Speculation on my part, but yes, that’s my thought as well. Hopefully this will remain a purely hypothetical temptation.

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