Happy Baby

I’ve been waiting for this since 1957, or for the last six thousand years, whichever came first.  It’s called CRISPR technology.  Have you heard of it?  It’s a genetic engineering technology that apparently will allow us to take control of human reproduction and fundamentally alter human evolution.  It will give us the ability to treat or cure diseases, dial out birth defects, and also give us the tools to create designer children.  But we’re running scared and I don’t get it.  What's the problem?

This is brilliantly and logically the next bold and welcomed step in our pursuit of human perfectibility, one that amounts to true progress, and how can it not be embraced?  Its time has come.  We've managed to abandon the archaic religious notion that human nature suffers from an inescapable brokenness and depravity, and we now know that humankind can indeed be refined upward.  And with these emerging technologies it is within our grasp to make a quantum leap in that direction.  Fasten your seat belts.  This could be a wild ride, but thankfully we’ve been setting the stage for it.

We have been faithfully preparing the soil to receive these new seeds of progress as we have developed, along with the technologies themselves, the structures and language of permission and rights.  Human rights.  Fundamentally, and fortuitously, somewhere along the line we managed to separate our understanding of rights from any outside reference.  As they say, we have emancipated the human will from all externalities.  (I forget if we have Machiavelli to thank for that.  Or maybe it was Hobbes.  Or maybe it was just Dean Martin, I don’t recall.)  And we have now reasonably replaced the confidence of external reference with the language of desire.  My desires now create reality and define my rights.  As it should be.

So, why the reluctance to proceed with the human engineering project, especially among those who normally support scientific progress?  I can understand that there are “common good” arguments for restrictions on these technologies in their early stages of development, especially as we consider making heritable changes to the human genome, and as we fret over the possible adverse effects those alterations may have on entire ecosystems.  But surely we can alleviate concerns on the macro level by developing procedures on the micro level to monitor gestations for abnormalities and literally nip any such problems in the womb.  We do that now.  These are clearly not philosophical or religious concerns as such, but only worries about these advances from a safety standpoint.  As these technologies develop and make possible the creation of designer babies, children produced by these means will ultimately become the perfectly predictable outcomes of the personal and private decisions made by the parties involved.  This is a matter of parental autonomy.  No one else need be affected.

But some say that creating a baby of choice would be unethical — “lacking moral principles; unwilling to adhere to proper rules of conduct.”  But which rules of conduct are you referring to?  Whose rules of conduct?  Rules of the majority or the minority?  How can something be unethical if enough people decide it should be permissible?  As soon as the application of these technologies achieves majority support then it will be ethical.  As we already know, that same principle applies to all decisions made in our legislative and judicial systems.  Some time ago we agreed that 5-4 establishes Truth.

Although, I’m sure at some point even the most progressive and freethinking among us will say, “No, that is not acceptable…  that is not a line we should cross.”  But thankfully we’ve managed to push through many such barriers in the past.  For example, it took a little while to loosen up sexual mores and remove the stigma originally attached to freedoms associated with the Sexual Revolution.  But time continues to heal all wounds inflicted by constrictive moral structures of the past, as it ushers in the enlightenment we so desperately need to boldly embrace the future that is ours.  Our artists and musicians and writers have always championed innovation and shown courage in exploring new frontiers.  Why should the scientific community not now step up and demonstrate that same resolve in moving us into a less repressive genetic age?  We will celebrate our desires and permissions as we take these unprecedented steps forward into a world of unlimited human design possibilities.  We can and will and must embrace expressions of modernity, and this its timely gift of life-giving knowledge.

And bringing it close to home — in these present and future days if we permit a woman to eliminate a fetus she doesn’t want, will we prohibit her from creating a fetus she does want?  Will we deny her that reproductive right?  Will we uphold our rights to reproductive freedom and provide women with safe, legal genetic engineering environments and procedures, or will we make it illegal to create a baby of choice and force those women to seek out back-alley geneticists?

God As Lucy

It’s been a long time.  Good grief.  Where have you been?

Desolations and consolations.  Mild depression.  Relentless hope.  Confusion and clarity.  Darkness chased by light, sometimes ever so slowly.  Receding despair.  Walking and wandering.  Staring out the window.  Or out over the sea.  And chin-ups.  With the occasional pipe.  But not during the chin-ups.  Bent apple usually, with a bowl of Dunhill 965.  As Gillespie suggested, "make them rollin' hills smoky hills."  Emergence.  Shake it off.  Suck it up.  And none too soon.  Bourbon.  Did I mention relentless hope?

Yes, Lucy.  But no, not Lucille Ball.  And no, not Lucy the Ethiopian hominid.  That other Lucy.  You know, Lucy van Pelt.  Lucy, the sister of Linus.  Lucy, the 5-cent psychiatrist.  Lucy, the lousy right fielder.  Lucy, in the Peanuts comic strip.  

Lucy…    who holds the football for Charlie Brown.

If someone years ago had drilled me on the risk I'm not sure I would have signed up for the "life of faith."  But faith's object in this case seemed reasonable if not compelling to me, so I signed the docs of the heart and off we went.  Oy vey.  But risky, you see, because the exact path of another is not one's own, and though there will likely be similar experiences it appears that the Author of Life rolls a clean sheet of paper into that Smith Corona in the sky and writes a new story each time someone says, "Sure, why not?"  So if you have Good Lord vending machine notions in that head of yours you can slap an "Out of Order" sign on that thing right now and buckle up.  And buck up. Cuz you ain't seen nothin' yet.

So my wife and I moved to California and needed an apartment.  We rolled into Monterey and secured one that same day.  It was while we were still in Washington we had seen this one-bedroom online and fell in love with it.  No doubt someone will snap it up before we get into town.  But they didn't.  We were handed the keys to check it out, and when we walked into the place I immediately said, "I could live here for the rest of my life."  And I meant it.  And we drove back to the management company and signed the papers and it was ours.  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  And many graces in our little domicile, including utilities and Direct TV thrown in.  Wow.  Thanks, God.  Nice job coming through for us as you always said you would.  I love this life of faith stuff.

But, you see, we were only halfway there.  Because the plan was to get my in-laws to the Monterey Peninsula as well, so about six months into our adventure Cyndi and I started looking for a rental that the four of us could share going forward.  And fair to say we had some special needs.  Mum and I, she at eighty-two with health issues, and me at fifty-nine always awaiting health issues, weren't keen on lots of steps.  We were also merging two households.  And then there's Bogart, Mum and Dad's lovable, if wistful, black lab who was going to throw his lot in with the whole deal.  Not that he had much choice.  Trouble is, for an area that touts itself as dog-friendly, we discovered that approximately 76.0423758 percent of rentals on the MP are posted "No Pets."  Go figure.  So, anyway, we had some challenges to overcome with these slim pickings, but we knew God was in it.  No problemo. 

Back when I was single.  For a long time.  In the anonymity of the city.  You can be disappointed or have your patience tried or get hammered in some way and it's just you.  You can hide it a bit.  Put an upbeat face on the discouragement.  Disappear into a coffee shop or into a couple of pints.  I'm sure it will all work out.  Generally there's no collateral damage.  Hell, I didn't really want that job anyway.  Probably best I didn't get it.

But then two become one and you're tethered.  Joys and sorrows double.  And the anger ratchets up.  Not so much toward what you experience, but toward that which your tethered one experiences.  And one after another the rentals fell through.  And on top of that, did you know that in this part of the country they have Open Houses for rentals?  I kid you not.  You're competing for the apartment or house, not on price, but on character and references I guess.  And who ever has enough of those?  And we had our hopes firmly planted on the San Carlos Street place.  And then the landlord chose someone else.  And the cozy home on Carpenter…  that guy Bill seems to like us.  Why did he turn us down?  And the yellow house on Serra Ave.  That lady loved us and we could have inked that deal then and there.  So what if the fireplace was the only heating source and the joint had a one-butt kitchen?  I wanted to grab it, but my bride talked me down.  So we had a decent fight over it, and now our moving date is approaching and we got nothin'.

And when we got that rejection on the San Carlos place I later walked into our bedroom and found my dear one crying.  We had hoped for that house so much.  And we were carrying this thing for Cyndi's parents as well, not just for ourselves, so the pressure was on.  And the memory of "God providing" our one-bedroom place in a snap was fading.  Where are the graces now?  And the woman I love is in tears, shouldering another burden of disappointment.  It was all becoming heavy and pointless.  And about now I'm telling God where he can stick his faithfulness.  He had held the football for us repeatedly, and pulled it away each time.  A God who plays games with our emotions and hopes, all with a view toward showing us how much he loves us I guess.  Encouraging us and training us, like a good dad.  Nice job, God.  Thanks for the memories.  I'll pass.

And we called the moving company to let them know we'd likely have to push our date back, because that's what you do in life when you have to adjust for God's incompetence.  Looks like it really is up to us now, so let's try to hang in there.  No more football.  No more faith games.  No more nonsense.  Adios.

And then there was Hilde.  I came in the door one day and Cyndi had seen a listing online and called the lady and had a nice chat.  And there was going to be an open house on Saturday so, sure, why not...   let's go.  So we pulled together our little portfolio and showed up at Bill and Hilde's as early as we could.  And it turns out a bunch of folks had beaten us to the punch, so we got the very last copy of the twelve application forms Hilde had printed out.  And I wanted to slap the lady who was there ahead of us, in her fancy outfit and stylish hat, who was occupying all of Hilde's time.  That rude rhymes with rich.  So we had just a brief conversation with Bill and Hilde before they had to shut down the open house.  And we handed them our application and went home.  Like we're going to live in Pebble Beach.

Then Beverly called me.  Bev is a dear old Harvard friend who we listed as a reference on the rental app.  Bev said, "I got a call from Hilde.  She said she had a "gut feeling" she should choose you and Cyndi for the house.  I told her she should go with that gut feeling.”

And we got it.  And the house is three minutes from my job.  And a short walk to the Pacific Ocean.  And there are seals and birds and sea otters that wrap themselves in kelp so they don’t float away while napping.  And the sunsets explode and the waves roll in with an unyielding majesty.  And Cyndi and I have the upstairs.  And Mum and Dad have a comfortable downstairs with a fireplace.  There’s lots of square footage and we’re not on top of each other.  And our moving date was only one day off what we had originally planned.  And the street has the same name as the area they lived in years ago and loved.  And very few steps.  And two households fit.  And the folks don’t have to drive far to shop.  And they found a bakery they love.  And the price is no more than we would have paid nearly anywhere else on the Peninsula.  And maybe less.  And there’s a patio and a little landscaped backyard where Bogart can roam and poop, not necessarily in that order.  And beautiful Cypress trees and Monterey Pines.  And stars overhead.  Twenty-one graces at last count.  And now we drive past the houses we didn’t get and note the challenges we would have faced living in those homes.

And my wife has always said, “As long as we don’t live in a gated community next to a golf course.”  So the joke’s on her.

Let me kick that football one more time.  

Good grief, indeed.

Question Sixteen

If you’re an agnostic is your agnosticism a place of movement or a destination?

In an increasingly fractured world do you occasionally need a safe space?  "No, Mr. Wigdahl, never..."  Bludgeoned by information, opinions, and website "comments" in our age, our collective cry of "enough!" seems reasonable to me.  Please, a quiet space where I can be alone with my comforts, thoughts, and convictions, however vetted they may be.  And yet for me that safe space soon becomes my preferred destination, and I add it to my GPS so it can easily be located.  Take me to it.  And to it I make haste.  Of course then I wonder if safety has betrayed me and maybe even turned on me.  Has my protected space acquired that hard shell that blunts the approach of perhaps both loving and pointed thoughts — considerations that may disturb my private world, even for my good?  And when is my undoing in fact a good?

It occurs to me that being an agnostic is perhaps like being registered as an independent voter.  Having a preference for and embracing life down the middle, as though that were actually possible.  Is it?  But if the pendulum is stopped in the middle does time stop?  Granted, life is messy and clarity seems rarely achieved, but when does the middle of the road become a commitment to non-commitment, if not to safety?  To become comfortable with not knowing.  And more fascinating still is what agnosticism reveals to us about our willingness to go forward into any new territory.  Yikes.

And so we come to the dangers of movement.  Grow or die, they say.  Explore or be left behind.  But what if there is actually a freedom of movement offered to us?  A full freedom, but it has to occur within a culture and a world view that believes movement will only constrict you further.  Is my world asking me to receive, even by faith, an understanding of itself that claims breadth, depth, and openness, but actually forces me into a tight and closely monitored corner of acceptable viewpoints where I am then expected to happily live out my days?  Is this regard is there in play a new spirit of conformity (Question Three)?

So, rather than agnosticism, why not a full, spoken commitment to atheism?  To be all-in.  Perhaps one would rather hedge bets and remain in a fluid center.  And yet, does the posturing center eventually reveal itself as a place of despair?  We know something is wrong, maybe even within us, but achieving escape velocity seems too much to ask, so we ratchet back, center up, and hope that in the end we won’t be disappointed that we didn’t ask more questions of the world and of ourselves.  And isn’t it interesting that in this zone it becomes critical that we surround ourselves with “like-minded” companions?  Those who “love” us enough to stabilize and nurture our center, our indecision, our unquestioned unknowing.  Ahh, friendship at its best.

What say we bust out a bit?  Let’s launch into a no-holds-barred life of graciously…   I repeat, graciously…  interrogating ourselves and the world views around us, entertaining both religious and irreligious impropriety in the process.  Gasp.  Sticking a boot in our spiritual complacencies.  Let’s go down swinging, carving out a memory of ourselves in the world that at least leaves fellow travelers with nothing more to say than, “Wow, what the hell was he thinking?”

So, with your next cup of coffee:  If your agnosticism is a destination, does that say more about you than it says about God?