These Times

Vol. 27 No. 2

GENETIC EDITING HAS ARRIVED

The reality of editing the DNA of plants, animals, and even humans is the next great frontier in science. Genetic editing technology known as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) has the potential to solve problems and improve life for millions of people.

The technology retails for as low as $130, and provides scientists with the tools to “snip” out “troubled” genes like those that cause cancer, muscular dystrophy, bi-polar disorder, or perhaps even Alzheimer’s. It could even edit a bacteria’s preferences so that it “desired” plastic waste, the kind that currently sits in landfills for several hundred years. Malaria researchers are also exploring ways to sterilize the mosquito that carries malaria.

Genetic labs all over the world have the ability and the desire to do real research on all kinds of DNA, including human DNA. Yet for all the positive and groundbreaking advances towards improving our lives that CRISPR technology promises, troubling questions remain: What shouldn’t we use this technology to do? Do we have the moral clarity and discipline to limit its use for purely ethical reasons? Or will fame seeking celebrity doctors and researchers press an altered human on the world, and unwittingly start a germ-line of challenges which we cannot undo without unfortunate implications for humankind?

The US government does not fund CRISPR studies on human embryos. But private enterprise has no such limits. In January of 2015, a team of 13 scientists, ethicists and lawyers met to debate just where the ethical line should be drawn for CRISPR technology. In the end, they agreed that using it “to modify human reproductive cells, so called germ-line changes, that would result in pregnancy or treatments in people, should not be attempted by scientists [around the world] for the time being.” They reached these conclusions because there are still a lot of unknowns in the CRISPR editing field, and the implications of discovering major negative impacts of genetic editing after the fact are just too great. They recommended strongly that federal and even international laws protecting our shared genetic future should be enacted before it is too late. “A New Technique That Lets Scientists Edit DNA Is Transforming Science—and Raising Difficult Questions,” time.com, June 23, 2016.

2016 —THE ELECTION OF FEAR

The US election of 2016 will go down in history as the campaign of fear mongering—against immigrants, the Washington establishment, and global trade—entities often blamed for Americans’ collective woes. Trump won his presidency by appealing to the fears of a disenchanted electorate, primarily white working class voters, who elected an outsider strongman promising to reverse the decline of their American dreams. Exit polls now show that many of Trump’s voters also voted for Obama in 2012 for the same reason, a fact that Clinton strategists seemed to have totally missed. “Donald Trump’s Victory Was Built on Unique Coalition of White Voters,” nytimes.com, November 10, 2016.

How Donald Trump plans to “make America great again” is anyone’s guess, as his mercurial promises continue to swing wildly. But when people are afraid of each other, of the status quo, and of people they’ve only met as caricatures, all the nice rhetoric of democracy and equality is scrapped. In its place we hear fear’s darkest sentiments.

The Bible predicts that things will only get worse in the last days of earth’s history. It also predicts that fear will be rampant, “Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth…” Luke 21:26.

The Bible also predicts that through fear of economic sanction and even death the vast majority of earth’s inhabitants will unite to worship “the beast”, a power masquerading as God’s representative on earth. See Revelation chapter 13. Only those whose names remain in the Lamb’s book of life will escape this vast confederacy of fear. See Revelation 3:5; 13:8.

SHARING TRUTH A “SIN”?

In a lead up to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis I addressed a delegation of 1,000 German Lutherans on an ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome. “The Apostle Paul tells us that, by virtue of our baptism, we all form the one Body of Christ. …Let us continue with confidence on our ecumenical journey, because we know that, beyond the many open questions that still separate us, we are already united.”

In a Q&A session that followed, a young pilgrim asked: “My friends do not go to Church, but they are my friends. Do I have to help them to go to Church or is it enough that they remain good friends?”

Francis’s answer: “It is not licit that you convince them of your faith; proselytism is the strongest poison against the ecumenical path.” He then added that she should not try to convince through speech; she should let her life convict them.

Only a few days earlier, Francis had warned Catholics not to proselytize Orthodox Christians: “There is a very grave sin against ecumenism: proselytism.” He further explained that while the theologians were hammering out doctrinal unity, Christians themselves should strive for unity in service: “Putting ourselves at the service of the neediest gives us the experience of already being united: God’s mercy unites us.” “Pope again criticizes ‘proselytism’: ‘It is not licit that you convince them of your faith,’” lifesite.com, October 15, 2016; “Pope: It’s a ‘very grave sin’ for Catholics to try to convert Orthodox,” lifesite.com, October 4, 2016.

While biblical unity includes a shared spirit of service there can be no biblical unity apart from truth. In His great prayer of unity, Jesus prayed that His followers would be sanctified by the truth. John 17:17. In the gospel commission, Jesus instructed His followers to first “teach all nations,” followed by baptism. Matthew 28:19.

EXTREME FOOD CRISIS IN VENEZUELA GROWS

Venezuelans are struggling to find food to feed their families. There is little to no food available for sale in grocery stores, and agricultural production is woefully inadequate. The food crisis is largely a man-made shortage because of inept political decisions. The government’s control and dependence on the oil industry left them unable to respond to market rates, and as world oil prices plunged, Venezuelan debt soared.

Socialist President Nicolás Maduro, who campaigned on the promise to solve the problems that his predecessor Hugo Chavez left, was unable to fulfill a promise to plant 4,600 square miles of land in the first 100 days and grow 3,500 metric tons of fruits, vegetables, and herbs this year. But he will not admit that there is a food shortage in Venezuela, which drastically curtails the option for international aid. Now he is urging citizens to start their own private gardens in the city. Maduro recounted how he and his wife grew pumpkins on their patio for a soup that tasted “like heaven.”

Water and electricity shortages have compounded the problems, as food shortages and inflation continue. Riots and looting, a black-grocery market, and concerns about malnutrition, especially among children are endemic. Crime has skyrocketed. The sight of both dogs and people sifting through trash has become common in Caracas, once the capital of a proud and economically vibrant nation.

No nation whose people must forage in the trash for food can avoid strife and bloodshed. The tension has already produced protests that have threatened to become violent. Throughout the history of His people, God has placed them near natural resources so that they could be self-reliant. It would be best for each of us to re-evaluate the location of our homes, for as this world becomes more chaotic, it will not be safe to be in or near large cities. “In Venezuela, let them eat their own fruits and vegetables,” The Christian Science Monitor, November 1, 2016.

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