He came to a midweek theology class I offered but not to Sunday church. He was drinking the truths about God like the young adult he was, totally innocent of Christianity. Creation, the cross, the resurrection, the importance of the body: All of this was news to him. Theology was his water in a secular desert.
And one day he asked me to baptize his children
They were not yet born. He and his husband would go receive them once they were delivered. Would I do the baptism?
I thought: If you had asked me in advance, I would have raised some cautions about IVF. But I had not been asked—in fact, I’ve never been asked. These children, although not yet born, were already real. My heart told me to say yes. And it wasn’t long before my head got in line with my heart: I recognized the reality of the children. Of course, I would be glad to baptize them, to encourage that they be taught Bible stories and grow in faith and goodness. Of course.
Technology increasingly alters our lived reality. In order to help people understand this—to “feel” it—I have encouraged them to read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. In this novel, which is set in an alternative present, the technology has been perfected to clone a class of humans to make “donations” once they reach maturity. A humanitarian effort was underway before the story begins to treat these clones better, principally by giving them an education.
The novel opens with its characters residing in a special boarding school. They never go home for vacations. There is no formal prohibition of them having sex, but they are told never, never to smoke. We learn that they are sterile, and their body’s organs must be kept healthy. Meanwhile these clones grow through the stages of childhood and adolescence. They have crushes. They try to figure out how the world works. Their function in the world is to make “donations”—provide organs—perhaps three or four; with the last donation they will “complete.” Their lives will end. And yet they do not seem to be machines, or animals, or subhuman. The reader thinks: These children could be our friends.
Technology continues to alter lived reality, and yet, however strange it becomes, however close we draw to actually manufacturing human beings—beyond assisting in their conception and gestation—they remain human, and their humanity—their reality—makes a claim upon us. The question is, will we continue to acknowledge that claim? And to be clear, the question of whether we recognize their claim is a question not about their humanity but about ours.