The latest science and the deepest theology do not suffice to address the existential elements of the human experience, such as love and loneliness, hope and despair, guilt and grace, even life and death itself.
“Scientists publish a paper announcing a discovery or some breakthrough, like the cloning of Dolly. The inevitable question is some variation of this: What does this have to do with the soul? So they call us.”
The people calling are reporters and journalists. The people called are specialists like himself, a Lutheran theologian from the Graduate Theological Union in San Francisco and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences.
His name is Ted Peters, and he was talking about genetic engineering and its two troublesome offspring, cloning and stem cell research.
These are street signs, we might say, marking the dangerous intersection of scientific research and religious values. Collisions of every sort have left the landscape littered with wreckage. Around more than one, a mob of people can be seen shouting and pointing fingers. It is an ugly scene.
It’s no wonder the reporters call Dr. Peters. He knows whereof he speaks, having written a pile of books on science and religion. He is handsome, he smiles and he speaks well, his ideas supported by a PowerPoint presentation.
Science and theology. Both struck me powerfully as I sat in a theater on opening night of “The Twilight of the Golds.”
It is a play by Jonathan Tolins that raises these same topics and adds another, namely, sexual orientation. Science and religion aren’t explosive enough, I suppose, so why not throw in a little sex!
The family of four consists of a father, a mother, and two grown children. The son is gay and happily attached; the daughter is straight and uneasily married—to a genetic researcher, as fate would have it.
The daughter finds herself with child. When her husband returns from the lab with the genetic code of their unborn son, she hears the disturbing news: “There is a ninety percent chance the baby will be like your brother.”
It is a scenario I had long imagined—genetic analysis offering information early enough to address troublesome issues like autism, homosexuality and mental illness of all sorts.
It is a scenario I had never seen enacted, neither on the stage nor in real life. So I was not prepared for the explosion of emotion ignited by the complex human elements of such a situation.
The daughter and her husband consider aborting the baby. They wish to avoid the very different struggles of her parents and brother brought on by the sexual orientation of the latter. And the brother, understandably enough, takes very personally the possibility that his sister might end the life of her unborn boy because the baby may be too much like his homosexual uncle.
I cannot divulge the sad and stunning end to this powerful play. I do not wish to ruin it for many who may yet have opportunity to see it performed.
But I can say what we already know: The latest science and the deepest theology do not suffice to address the existential elements of the human experience, such as love and loneliness, hope and despair, guilt and grace, even life and death itself.
These are matters of the soul—not only the soul of a person, but also of a family, of a nation, and perhaps of the whole human race.
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.