Orthodox America

  A Question of Genes?

For that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I (Rom. 7:15) 

A recent article in a large urban newspaper compares and contrasts the growing opinion that genetic make-up is the prime determiner of psycho-physical reality, with the "new age" belief that a person can be whatever he wishes if only he eats the appropriate food, does the right exercise, or at least buys the most current "self-help" book. As might be expected in our non-confrontive liberal atmosphere, the author of this article is unable to reconcile this apparent dilemma, Are we to believe in the findings of science, or are we to cling to the idea that we are utterly self determined? Or is it somehow a mix of the two? He has no answer.

      It is dangerous to categorize or dismiss these views as "worldly” because such an oversimplification disarms us in the midst of a raging battle. But since we are surrounded day by day, in our neighborhoods, work places or schools by those who espouse one or the other of these ideas, or at least live as if they do, how are we to think about this? What is our response?

      Many of the "facts" of genetic theory seem indisputable. Offspring do in fact carry resemblances to their biological parents (eye and hair color, physical stature, tongues that curl or don't curl, etc.) -- families look like, well, families. There has been hotly disputed research which attempts to show a unique formation in the brains of homosexuals. For those who do not believe in the existence of God or the soul, it seems only a matter of time before science unravels the mysteries of physical makeup and its relation to human behavior.

      New Agers claim to have been transformed through positive thinking, meditation, macrobiotic diets, jogging, etc. Some claim that they have gotten in touch with their "inner self" through a hybrid of oriental mysticism and pop-culture.

    The Church, through Scripture and Tradition, does not speak to us directly about genetics or whatever low-fat diets will enhance our self esteem. The Church does, however, speak emphatically about who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. The real question is whether we choose to sin or whether we are forced to sin. The Church teaches that we have free will; yet this free will is limited (but not completely determined) by the fallen human nature we received from our parents. Therefore we are inclined but not compelled to sin.

      Adam sinned and, with Eve, was cast out of the Garden, with universal consequences for all mankind. Man was then clothed with "garments of skins", suggesting that our physical makeup was changed along with the change in our soul. We took on mortality, were constrained to work hard and bear offspring with great effort. Mankind was enslaved to this change of being until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. As both perfect God and perfect Man, He restored mankind to the "image" of God, making Way for us to go beyond the original state of Adam to the "likeness" of God (by which we understand moral perfection).

      Thus, we can use our "free will" to freely choose to follow God's Will. In this way we can be forever free from sin and death. We struggle to live m repentance and newness of life. The prince of this world, although already under the foot of the Redeemer, is allowed to continue tempting us so that we can continue daily to choose God rather than sin.

      The news media has given a great deal of attention to genetic research concerning human sexuality. For quite non-scientific reasons many now hope that science will find a very tidy explanation for all kinds of otherwise sinful and perverse sexual feelings. From the time of the Fall of Adam and Eve, the sexual feelings of mankind have often been the result merely of unbridled passions. But we are no more allowed to freely indulge sexual passion than to follow the passions of greed or gluttony. Part of the aim of life on earth is to overcome disordered passions. Our Lord blessed the marriage of man and woman at Cana but this does not mean that the couple can now be unbounded or lewd in their sexual behavior; rather they should behave modestly and chastely.

        In the case of one suffering from unclean sexual feelings, the roots of this sin may have been passed on to the person by the familial generations which came before him or, as St. Paul makes clear: Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. (Rom. 1:22-23) In other words, the cause of sexual uncleanness is not necessarily in the genes, per se, but may come through some form of idolatry (be it outright paganism or the false god of money, power, etc.). The true cure for this to repent and completely give oneself to the One True God in Holy Trinity. We strive after this complete focus of heart, mind and strength through following in obedience the Law of God, the Law of Love.

       Unlike New-Agers, the Orthodox Christian realizes that it is impossible to accomplish this alone -- we find ourselves sinning even when we do not want to. Therefore we need Holy Scripture, Holy Tradition, the witness of the Fathers, and the pious striving of our brothers and sisters in the Faith to pick us up when we fall, to strengthen us in our repentance, to help us endure until the end. Self-help is no help at all, for we rarely see how we are sinning without the help of others.

       It is the love of God, Faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ and the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit -- the fullness of the Orthodox Church which allows us to move from strength to strength, from darkness to light, from death to life eternal. We partake of this fullness through our participation in the Church, by prayer, fasting, frequent reception of the Mysteries, and overall humble obedience to the Law of God.

       In this, our genetic heritage and our free will are raised up, and we and our offspring are brought closer to God. We are made perfect in One, in the Heavenly Realm of God, overcoming all that is of the world.

Priest Michael Crowley Holy Nativity Orthodox Mission, S. Portland, Maine

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