A Haunting look back to 1998–Gilbert Meilaender: Affirming Ourselves to Death

Compassion, taken alone and severed from deeper, richer understandings of our nature and destiny, kills morality. Taken as the sole moral principle it undercuts our ability to articulate an ideal for human life. That is surely true of Tribe’s angle of vision on cloning. In order to assure that we do not risk making any person feel marginalized, we are suddenly forbidden to condemn what seems wrong to us. We are unable any longer to raise and discuss questions about what the nature of a cloned person would in fact be, what it means to be human, whether the bond between the generations created by ordinary human reproduction is integral to our humanity.

Tribe is not wrong to fear that cloning threatens human equality. As one made by us rather than one who comes from us, the clone would be a product rather than a gift. And when we make products, we determine their point and purpose. True compassion should draw us away from such circumstances, away from actions that might create cases metaphysically too baffling for our morality to address. But Tribe, as with the instance of removing the stigma from illegitimacy, purchases equality by means of a compassion that is the only moral law, and that makes for too shriveled and truncated a morality.

We ought, of course, to care as best we can for those who are victimized or marginalized in our society. But when we hesitate to pass judgment it should not be because we fear that moral ideals will, by their very existence, make those who fall short feel condemned. That is a dead end, if there ever was one. Bereft of any larger sense of the human good, unable to articulate (lest we hurt feelings) what is best in human life and what the family at its best might be, we will””if we follow Tribe’s prescription””lurch from one affirmation to the next until even the language of compassion finally loses its point. That is the possibility about which we ought to have second thoughts and which might remind us, in Chesterton’s words, of “the importance of an ideal.”

Read it all from First Things (emphasis mine).


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