For anyone who reflects, the appearances of beauty become the themes of an invisible harmony. Perfumes as they strike our senses represent spiritual illumination. Material lights point to that immaterial light of which they are the images.
Dionysius the Areopagite Celestial Hierarchy I,3 (PG 3,121)
In case you missed it, there is a great discussion brewing on Amy Welborn’s blog about the Honor Roll. Specifically there is reference to the examination of civic education as a criterion, specifically regarding a school’s teaching of economics, business, and Catholic social teaching. Go to her blog to follow the discussion.
This year’s Catholic High School Honor Roll has been released. Go to Acton’s redesigned Honor Roll webpage to view both the top-50 and the category leader lists. The webpage also features a virtual newsroom that tracks news stories about Honor Roll schools.
The Honor Roll recognizes quality Catholic secondary schools across the nation. With it, Acton offers a unique evaluation system that assesses their overall quality based on the criteria of academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education. The annual top 50 list has gained national recognition and serves as a significant improvement motivator for Catholic high schools nationwide.
Competition to be listed on the Honor Roll intensified for the schools this year due to the increased number of applications received. “The Honor Roll has certainly developed a greater awareness among Catholics that excellence in Catholic education means more than just excelling in academics,” explained Honor Roll program officer Anthony Pienta. “The best schools also have a vibrant Catholic identity and offer a sound civic education program. Schools are reminded of the need for this balance each year the Honor Roll gets published.”
Acton thanks the numerous administrators, teachers, and other staff who completed surveys for this year’s Honor Roll. Your commitment to Catholic education makes a tremendous difference.
America’s fertility clinics are now allowing parents to screen embryos according to sex, and more are opting for this practice. Kevin Schmiesing observes that the idea of children as “gift” is under increasing stress as alternative and sometimes conflicting notions of child as right, as burden, or as consumer item compete for dominance. Despite the great power of the market to satisfy the needs and wants of humanity, “its advantages turn pernicious when it encompasses human goods that should never be reduced to monetary values,” Kevin says.
The penultimate installment of the series on the biblical/theological case against chimeras focuses on the impact and significance of redemption.
Redemption – Romans 8:18–27
Flowing out of our discussion on creation and fall, it is the recognition that there still are limits on human activity with regard to animals that is most important for us in this discussion.
The apostle Paul notes that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20–21 NIV).
Here we have a hint at the reversal of the curse on the human-animal-plant relationships. Paul continues in this section to address the “firstfruits of the Spirit” which believers have received after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our task as believers is to bear witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ. This work has begun to reverse the effects of sin and the curse, first and especially in the lives of believers, but also through the grateful work of believers, who are seeking to live up to their calling as faithful stewards.
The original purpose of plants was simply to provide sustenance for life, as is illustrated in Gen. 1:29-30. With the redemptive work of Christ in view, Christians are called to, in some way at least, attempt to realize and bring out the goodness of the created world. With this in mind, conclusions about the genetic manipulation of plants are not necessarily the same as that with respect to animals and humans.
The created purpose of animals was one that was different from plants. Animals, in sharing the status of beings with the “breath of life,” possess a level of importance that is not reducible to merely instrumental or pragmatic value.
The reduction of animals to pragmatic use as a source of food is a result of sin, illustrated in Genesis 9. But even here, at the depths of sin’s corruption of relationship, there remain limits and boundaries.
We should view the possibility of interspecies mixing and the creation of human-animal chimeras as just this sort of limit, because it undermines and violates the created order, which distinguishes between plants, animals with the breath of life, and humans created in the image of God.
That humans have the ability to make certain things has never been a valid argument for actually making them. God confirms in the case of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) that humans are capable of a great many, seemingly limitless, accomplishments.
Chuck Colson introduces a new initiative at BreakPoint, a blog called “The Point,” which will feature contributions from “sixteen people blogging on pretty much everything under the sun: persecution of Christians, literary feuds, comedy troupes, AIDS, the Pope’s comments on Islam, TV dramas . . . you name it, they’re blogging about it.”
It’s been added to our blogroll. Check it out.
Part III of our series focuses on the human fall into sin and the disastrous consequences that follow from it.
Fall – Genesis 9:1–7
The harmonious picture of the created order is quickly marred, however, by the fall of human beings. The fall has tragic comprehensive effects, both on the nature of humans themselves, and on the rest of creation.
The corruption of the relationship between humans and the rest of the created order is foreshadowed in the curses in Genesis 3:14–19. Notably the serpent, perhaps as both representative of the Satanic power and the animal world, is set in enmity against Eve and humankind. But most directly relevant for the discussion here regarding animal/human relations is the breakdown of the relationship between animals and humans that is formalized in Genesis 9.
It is at this point, with the institution of the Noahic covenant, that God pronounces some of the details of the broken relationship between humans and animals, those others who share with humans the “breath of life.” God says in verses 2 and 3 that “the fear and dread of you will fall” upon all animals and “everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”
Human sin has now blurred some of the created distinction between plants and animals. Animals, sharing the “breath of life” with humans, were created with their own purposes and value, presumably off-limits as food for human consumption. The fall into sin has corrupted all forms of relationship, including that between humans and animals. This has finally manifested itself following the flood with the erasure of the distinction between plants and animals for the purposes of food.
Verse 4 points out a single prohibition, “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” So even though the line between animals and plants has been marred, it is not completely eradicated. There are still limits to the uses humans can make of animals. Other legislation, such as the prohibition against bestiality, also points to this fractured but still existent limitation.
At the request of Andy Crouch, who is among other things editorial director for The Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today, I have taken a look at the editorial from The Economist’s special issue from Sept. 9.
To recap, Andy asked me, “what are your thoughts about The Economist’s special report on climate change last week, in which they conclude that the risks of climate change, and the likely manageable cost of mitigation, warrant the world, and especially the US, taking prompt action?”
He continues, “This is, obviously, a magazine with impeccable liberal economic (not to mention journalistic) credentials, and one of the sponsors of the Copenhagen Consensus that raised questions about the wisdom of prioritizing climate change. I believe they would not have taken this editorial position five years ago. Do you think they are mistaken in doing so now? What do you see as the salient evidence they missed, if so?”
On yet another day in a long season of bad news for Catholic schools in major urban areas, Chicago’s historic high school seminary is slated to close.
Michael J. Petrilli addresses the broader context of the problem in this analysis on NRO. The first part of the article lays out the by now familiar reasons for the epidemic of Catholic school closures in cities such as Detroit and Boston.
More interesting is the second part, in which Petrilli reveals that one of the main features of No Child Left Behind is failing because of “the loophole”—a provision that permits districts to maintain poor schools without implementing the radical reform that the federal act envisioned.
Petrilli’s analysis is right but he neglects to point out that such loopholes are inevitable in any such national legislation. Without political and institutional will at the local level, failing schools will not be improved or closed. This is why the longterm solution to educational mediocrity—and perhaps a simultaneous revitalization of inner-city Catholic schools—will not be found in congressional lawmaking but in a reassertion of federalism and a return of decision-making power to parents. The vouchers that Petrilli advocates are a good step, but only a step, in that direction.
Part II of our week-long series on the ethics of chimeras begins with an examination of the creation account in the book of Genesis.
Creation – Genesis 1:26–30
The creation account in Genesis provides us with essential insights into the nature of the created world, from rocks and trees to birds and bees. It also tells us important things about ourselves and the role of human beings in relationship to the rest of creation.
The distinctions between various parts of the created world—plants, animals, and humans—are critical to discerning the best use and attitudes toward them.
We find in verses 29 and 30 of Genesis 1 God’s creational purpose for plantlife. Plants are originally given and intended to provide for the life of the rest of creation, especially those creatures with the “breath of life.” In this way, the original purpose for plants was to be food for humans and animals and in this way to sustain life.
So the first distinction among living creatures is that between plants and those with the “breath of life,” animals and humans. The second major distinction is made among those creatures with the “breath of life,” between animals and humans, the latter created in the “image of God.”
Genesis 1:26–28 forms a complex and interrelated picture of the original state of humanity. Created in the image of God, human beings are placed in dominion over “all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Thus, verse 26 speaks to the placement of human beings as God’s earthly representatives.
Within the original Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of this passage, the language of “image-bearing” would have been immediately understandable. When a vassal or representative of the king spoke or acted with royal authority, he was said to “bear the image” of the king, a physical representation of the king and his authority. Verse 27 narrates the creation of human beings alluded to in the previous verse, and the placement as God’s image-bearers, representatives of the divine King.
There are, of course, no rights or privileges without responsibility, so on the heels of the creation of human beings and their placement in dominion, we find the corresponding responsibilities and blessings laid out in the following verse. Verse 28 is most often understood in terms of “stewardship,” and here again we run up against the political and social structure of the ANE. A steward was one who was in charge of a household or kingdom during the ruler’s absence. Humans, in exercising their exalted place of stewardship, are to be productive and creative rulers of the earth. This is the norm of human existence and the standard to which we are called.
An early exercise of this stewardly dominion over the animal world can be found in Genesis 2:19–20, in which the animals are brought to Adam to be named, “and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”
And so we have a tripartite division between plants, animals, and humans displayed in these verses. Plants form the base of the picture, created to give life to those creatures with the “breath of life.” Animals, as possessors of this “breath of life,” live off the plants, but remain distinct from human beings, who alone are created in the “image of God.”