Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On Clones, In Vitro, and the Unborn (or, Arnold, Moral Theologian)

A good confession includes the kind and frequency of your sins, so I should start by noting that I watched The 6th Day for the first time last night. Am I proud that I watched an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie (that wasn't The Terminator)? Not particularly. And yet God writes straight with our crooked lines.

On the down-side, I thought the film telegraphed the "big surprise" ending from very early on. Maybe I've seen too many M. Night Shyamalan movies, but I saw the twist coming from around 20 minutes in. Maybe sooner. On the up-side, I certainly wasn't expecting moral philosophy from the flick, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The 6th Day revolves around a human cloning scheme gone-wrong. Our hero - played by Arnold, of course - is secretly cloned and, when he discovers that, works to bring down the wicked corporation behind it all. Amidst the action, we see a not-so-distant future that's given over almost entirely to the culture of death.

In this future, sex has been commoditized to a new degree. The pornography literally gets up and walks over to you. One of the characters lives with his "girlfriend", which is essentially a picture from the Internet come to life. Even the virtual woman has loose morals, and while she's programmed to be monogamous, if you just put in the install disk...

While the look and feel of sex is an installation disk away, death has been sanitized. Children don't learn about the death of a pet; instead, Fluffy is cloned and replaced - often without the child ever knowing. One of the villains is rightly accused of soft-peddling an evil act by using smaller intermediate steps. If we first accept cloned pets, it will be easier, later, to accept cloned people. Our exposure to lesser evils effectively inoculates us against our own consciences.

Our main character is a moral man in a very immoral world. He is rightly disgusted by his encounter with the virtual "woman" and disturbed by the thought of cloned pets. I was worried, though, that once our hero and his clone were together (of course!), the movie would end with the "noble sacrifice" scenario. The cloned Arnold would commit suicide somehow (my money was on letting go while dangling from a helicopter) to save the "real" one, glorifying self-murder. Thankfully, I was again surprised, and we were spared the "...but suicide is good!" ending. In the end, even the clone's life matters, regardless of how it had begun.

Instead of a neat and convenient clone suicide, we end with an interesting theological question: what becomes of cloned people? Are they people? Do they have souls? There is an echo of this question in the currently-undetermined state of frozen embryos, produced in petri dishes instead of loving embraces. Neither the lab-produced babies nor the cloned humans asked to be conceived in an unnatural manner.  How you get here is on your parents' consciences; how you live is on yours. Neither is at fault when it comes to the means of their creation. While we can judge the means of production to be evil, we cannot say the same for the product, which is human life. Real-Arnold points out to clone-Arnold that both have 100% human DNA. If you have human DNA, then you're a human. If you're human, then you have a human soul.

Amen. Amen to that for fictional cloned Arnolds (God help us), actual unborn babies (God really help us!), and whatever our future Frankensteins cook up down the road.

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