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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ignatian spirituality and GMOs

In reference to my last post, I thought I'd put up one of the articles I linked to at the bottom as it's very short and I really liked it :) ....

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Genetic Engineering Evaluated from the Perspective of Christian and Ignatian Creation Spirituality

By Roland Lesseps, S.J, Promotio Lustitiae,
Social Justice Secretariat,
Society of Jesus (Rome). 2003
http://www.sjweb.info/sjs

Introduction: My Position Concerning GMOs

My position on the questions raised in the Introduction is that the evidence we have now does not support promotion of GMOs in agricultural systems. The present GE technology does not permit the insertion of the foreign DNA into a particular location on the host chromosome, nor the addition of the normal regulatory mechanism. Insertion of DNA can cause deletions and rearrangements of the original DNA at the insertion site. This information helps us understand that GE is significantly different from conventional breeding techniques.

I think that our human family should, at the very least, follow the precautionary principle and not adopt a technology that is still inadequately tested. We already have many examples of serious problems brought about by our not being able to see the undesirable consequences caused by our use of what seemed to be a wonderful benefit, e.g the insecticide DDT was later found to lead to death of bird embryos by thinning the egg shells and to cause cancer. The refrigerant gas chloroflourocarbon was found to be destroying the ozone layer, and the tranquilizer thalidomide caused severe abnormalities in over 7000 children born of women who took the drug during pregnancy.

I will not in this short article attempt to give elaborate answers to the above questions about GMOs, partly because I am sure that most of these questions will be addressed by others in this issue of Promotio Iustitiae. Rather, what I will try to do is offer some reflections on genetic engineering that arise from our Judaeo-Christian and Ignatian spirituality.

Judaeo-Christian creation spirituality and GMOs

A fundamental principle to guide us in our reflection about GMOs is that all of God’s creatures have intrinsic value, in and of themselves. Nature is not just useful to us humans, but is valued and loved in itself, for itself, by God in Christ. A scriptural basis for this appreciation of all creatures is in Genesis 1: "God saw that it was good…God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good." This is an amazing statement, points out Sallie McFague: "God does not say that creation is good for human beings or even, more surprising, good for me, God, but just good, in fact very good. God is saying that nature is good in itself -- not good for something or someone but just plain good. God’s pronouncement here is an aesthetic one: appreciation of something outside oneself, in itself, for itself. The writer of the first chapter of Genesis leaves no doubt that the goodness of creation is its message: it is repeated seven times in the space of 31 verses. How have we missed this?"

If we are willing to shift from an anthropocentric view of other creatures and recognise that other creatures have intrinsic value, then we will be able to accept that these creatures also have rights including the right of each species to preserve its genetic integrity. Sean McDonagh puts it this way: "From an ethical perspective the nub of the issue revolves around whether other creatures have 'intrinsic' value. If they do, then it seems logical to argue that they have rights that their own 'specialness,' especially the species boundary, be respected by another creature."

Thomas Berry attributes the cause of the present environmental crisis to "the effort of western peoples to produce a civilization that recognizes the rights of humans and grants no rights to any other mode of being." Berry, however, claims that "every component of the Earth community has three rights: the right to be, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfil its role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community." Fitting well with these rights is certainly the right of each species to preserve its genetic integrity.

Ignatian creation spirituality and GMOs

God’s appreciation of creatures as very good is clearly reflected in Ignatius' relation to creatures. It is striking that David L. Fleming expressed this Ignatian thought as the obligation we have to appreciate and use these gifts of God insofar as they help us toward our goal of loving service and union with God. We who are made in God's image ought to reflect God’s attitude toward nature: appreciation. We are to appreciate things in themselves, for their intrinsic value. "Neither Genesis nor the Exercises offer licence to misuse the things God made. On the contrary, 'insofar as any created things hinder our progress toward our goal, we ought to let them go' is freedom and respect, not abuse and rebellion."

This Ignatian approach to creatures, which he shares with Francis of Assisi, may be even clearer in the Contemplation for Learning to Love Like God. God dwells within all creatures. "The world is charged with the grandeur of God," wrote Gerald Manley Hopkins. We experience the creative love of God flaming at the core of all creatures and are moved to respond with our own deep love, love for God and for all God’s creatures, a love expressed in our deeds. "The Contemplatio proposes a reverential respect for all things. It calls for the threefold relationships among God, humans, and nature to be not only respectful and generous, but also loving."

God labours and works in all creatures, continually calling them out of chaos and nothingness. God continues to create all things at each moment. If, through some impossibility, God would ever cease creating, we would all immediately disappear back into nothingness. This "work" of our Creator God is very different from that of a human tinker, fixing, adjusting, mending, repairing. John F. Haught presents the theological position that our God is humble, self-emptying, suffering love.

"Since it is the nature of love, even at the human level, to refrain from coercive manipulation of others, we should not expect the world that a generous God calls into being to be instantaneously ordered to perfection. Instead, in the presence of the self-restraint befitting an absolutely self-giving love, the world would unfold by responding to the divine allurement at its own pace and in its own particular way. The universe would then be spontaneously self-creative and self-ordering."

God lovingly renounces domineering omnipotence and allows the universe to evolve without divine intervention, even with all the suffering, struggle, waste, and loss that have occurred. It is Ignatius' dream for us in the Contemplatio that we imitate this divine self-restraint, God's humble love. The application of this to the GMO debate is obvious: we should abandon our arrogance and our acceptance of the principle that, because we can, it is good for us to modify the genetic makeup of other creatures in such a profound way.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Mike L said...

Somehow this reminds me a bit of an old argument that said that if God wanted us to fly, He would have given us wings. Updated to if God wanted us to have that particular seed, He would have given it to us :).

If we respect the dignity of all life, then should we not do away with antibiotics? Given I have a urinary infection I am quite grateful to something that will exterminate that particular bug.

Should vaccinations by outlawed because they 1) change our immune system, and 2) deny certain bacteria or viruses the right to live and reproduce? Was it really genocide to eliminate small pox, or polio?

I think this breaks down to the interesting question in my mind that if it is wrong to euthanize someone because only God has the right to determine when death should occur, then isn't the other side of the coin wrong? Isn't it frustrating God's will to keep someone alive with modern medicine?

A few thoughts to hopefully kick off a discussion :).

Mike L

6:44 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

I realy liked this article Crystal. I'm a big fan of what I like to call the Jeff Goldblum/Jurassic Park ethics of science and scientific research;

"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Interestingly enough these same reasons could be, should be and generally are leveled at IVF and stem cell research and I think for the same good reasons. When I was taking bioethics at Newman we discussed the fact that, at the time the first girl born through IVF had just entered college and had not yet had any children of her own. In spite of not really knowing for certain the long-term effects on the reproductive cells or the genome as a whole, thousands and thousands of IVF children have been born to date.

I get just as nervous about GMO's for the same reasons. We just don't know enough about what kind of impact these crops etc will have on global ecosystems and the host of other areas they touch upon.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

A 'PS' of sorts. It's not that I'm radically against the research per se, I just think there needs to be an awful lot of caution used. I get that world food demands are sky-rocketing and that GMO's may provide a way to feed billions using the same amount of farmland. But I also think we need to make darned sure we will not inflict the genetically engineered version of thalidomide on the global ecosystem.

I just read my previous comment and wasn't sure I'd made myself clear enough. ;o)

6:56 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Mike,

He's not talking about killing things (like using anti-biotics to kill bacteria) but about changing things at the genetic level in order to make more consumer-friendly for us.

He isn't saying that God doesn't like change. Evolution is the constant mutation of life, but that the changes that are naturally occuring are for the benefit of the survival of the creature that is changed (if not, the creature with the unhelpful mutation usually perishes, I guess), not for the benefit of others.

7:03 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Cura,

I love that movie/book, especially Jeff Goldblum's part :)

About GMOs and poverty - it's so complicated. Lots of small/poor farmers are put out of business by giants who modify plants, like Monsanto. Here's a quote from an article - Why Monsanto & GMOs Pose a Mortal Threat to Seed & Crop Biodiversity

Monsanto owns so much of the world's cotton seed supply now that cotton farmers cannot get conventional [non-GM] seed. It is simply not offered. Monsanto also tells farmers they can't save seeds, reuse them, or even study them. This is the time-honored heart of agriculture. Seeds have always adapted themselves to a specific place and climate. Now, just when we need more food, more adaptability and natural diversity, millions of dollars' worth of seeds are being thrown away because of biotech industry contracts.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Mike L said...

"every component of the Earth community has three rights: the right to be, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfil its role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community."

This certainly sounds to me like saying that a bacteria has the right to exist in you body (habitat), the right to be protected from antibiotics (exist), and the right to kill you (fulfil its role).

It would seem to follow that if you do not have the right to change something, then you do not have the right to kill it, which is certainly a change :).

A few things to think about. We banned DDT when we realized it was causing problems in birds, but few people realize how many have died from malaria because of that ban. There was no other practical mosquito control available at the time, and certainly none that could be afforded by third world countries where the malaria problem was the worst.

Thalidomide was the first drug that could stop nausea in pregnancy without the risk of overdose and death. As we now know it also caused the depletion of certain vitamins which was the cause of the abnormalities. Funny that this again mostly effected poorer people that were not so well fed, and probably not included in the original testing.

I also find it interesting that chloroflourocarbon was banned at the time when its patent expired and we had to move to more expensive and less efficient gasses (read more heat released in the atmosphere).

I am not convinced that we took the proper steps to fix and control the problems that existed with these products. I also expect that any problems that arise due to GMOs will be handled in as poor a manner.

In the end, I do not believe that GMOs will be the solution to anything. There seems to be evidence that if the food supply increases, we do not as a world become better fed. Instead the population increases.

It almost makes me believe that my opening quote from the article is correct, that disease has an important job, that of keeping the human population in check, and that our modern medicine is frustrating God's plan for a natural and balanced world.

Mike L

7:49 AM  
Blogger M. said...

Interesting article re spiruality and GMOs. I avoid GMO corn, canola, soy, and consider GE to be a pox upon the earth! Un-needed and un-wanted.
FYI the Jewish faith is OK with GMOs. For example, a food modified with an insect gene is still considered Kosher, even tho insects are not Kosher. Go figure?

8:59 AM  
Blogger M. said...

Mike, science is great, but so is common sense.

Here's another question for you to ponder. In Canada, between 75 and 90 percent of the people do not want to eat GMOs. Not every one is a Luddite, we have our reasons too numerous to go into here. So what about the Democracy in which we are supposed to be living? We don't even have labeling so we have no choice - force fed so to speak. That says it all.

9:06 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Mike,

In principle I do think everything has a right to live and fulfill its function, but as one teacher I had used to say, our decision to live is our decision something else must die - killing other things in order to survive is one thing, but creating genetic modifications like Munchkin cats because some people find them "cute" is just creepy.

Yeah, it does seem like often the solution to one problem becomes itself the next problem :)

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Liam said...

There's some conclusions in search of reasons in that essay.

There appears to be an abundance of gauzy principles, but they are not marshaled with empirical evidence in a logical let alone persuasive way.

To my mind, the major issue with plants grown from GMO seeds is the extent to which they inhibit or destroy the fertility of nearby non-GMO versions of the same or similar species nearby. (For those not aware of this, many patented types of GMO plants are designed to have infertile seeds so that the buyer has to keep buying more from the vendor each season. When the pollen of these plants mixes with non-GMO plants, it can screw up the natural fertility of the latter.) That should be considered actionable damage.

Yet, the school of thought that wants put a bio-hazard symbol on all GMO products without distinction is, indeed, Luddite.

11:19 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

M,

Thanks for the comment. That's strange about transgenic food would be kosher. I should read up on kosher food.

11:22 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

OOps - I see Munchkins occurred naturally, but they are a good example otherwise - the promotion of a change that is possibly detrimental to the creature by others for their own benefit.

11:40 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Liam,

There appears to be an abundance of gauzy principles, but they are not marshaled with empirical evidence in a logical let alone persuasive way.

Is there ever empirical evidence for theological theories? :)

To my mind, the major issue with plants grown from GMO seeds is the extent to which they inhibit or destroy the fertility of nearby non-GMO versions of the same or similar species nearby.

That's an important issue.

Usually GMOs are championed as a solution to poverty, but the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection has an article - UNGER, POVERTY AND GMOS – THE ZAMBIAN EXPERIENCE - here - that gives another view.

As for putting labels on food - why not? As a vegetarian, I'd like to know if the tomato I'm going to buy has fish DNA.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

Monsanto's raised some issues here too (in Saskatchewan)trying to charge farmers for having canola crops accidentally cross pollinated with Monsanto modified crops.

I Liked this quote of yours Crystal;

"but as one teacher I had used to say, our decision to live is our decision something else must die."
Passion imagery? ;o)

I've heard the 'disease as God's birth control' argument before. I just don't by it. It's to trite, to complacent, too devoid of empathy. I think its one of those things that seem fine to say, but when it comes down to it, if we're sick or someone we love dearly, and there's a drug or treatment that will cure us...all bets are off. That is, if you're lucky enough to live someplace where it's accessible and affordable.

2:49 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Interesting article and debate.

I don't like GMOs, but, sadly, I don't think they're going to go away. Unless mutant corn monsters start killing lots of people, and by then, of course, it will be too late.

1:06 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Heh - haven't they been paying attention to all those Japanese mutant-monster movies?

1:46 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

I know!

Sooner or later, we will see a giant mutant corn monster movie.

8:06 AM  

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