Stem Cell Science and Religion

Who Loves Designer Vaginas?

This just in: Science and nature are mocking America’s fickle God. Please, no screaming.

What are you gonna do about it?

What are you gonna do about the fact that Mother Nature once again appears to be thwarting and mocking and then grinning like a wicked divine trickster at every cute rigid godly idea of how humans and animals are supposed to move and hump and lick and behave, as loosely and, yes, rather bitterly delineated in the Bible and by the Bush administration and Focus on the Family and every other uptight sexually confounded person you have ever known, et al. and ad nauseam?

What, furthermore, are you gonna do about human knowledge? About how science insists on marching hell-bent forward with such astonishing speed and with such incredible dexterity toward some glorious otherworldly nightmare dreamscape of anima manipulation, a land where we can effortlessly rescramble our genetic code and reconfigure this none-too-solid flesh as we “play God” in so many bewildering ways the Christian right can’t even figure out where to aim its hollow, horrified indignation?

Here is the thing you must know: It is all changing with incredible, butt-tingling speed. It is all fast becoming more than we ever imagined, with ramifications we are only beginning to fully taste. There is no stopping it. There is little that can slow it down. There is only the single, looming question: How will you respond? Will you recoil and gag and spit, or will you gurgle and swallow and smile?

Example: We are on the cusp of being able choose, should you so desire, the exact size and length and speed and eye color and specific pleasing fur markings of … your dog. And your cat. And your baby (well, minus the fur). And by the way, we have also invented new drugs to eliminate menstruation and we can now grow designer vaginas in the lab and plastic surgery is more common than bad sacrum tattoos and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that males of many species – including our own – are largely unnecessary for procreation (but not, say, parallel parking, the lifting of heavy things or buying you a nice postcoital breakfast).

Fascinating, that last thing. Have you heard? Scientists are discovering more and more creatures, from sharks to bees to ants to turkeys to Komodo dragons to turtles to sea bass, that can reproduce via parthenogenesis (i.e., virgin birth; i.e., no father) either by actually switching sexes so as to fertilize themselves, or via storing sperm for years for later use, or because they’re hermaphrodites, or by way of undertaking all manner of clever unholy gender trickery so as to circumvent their own extinction and confound creationists and ensure that all humans everywhere will continue to look around and blink furiously and go, Wait wait wait, didn’t we have some of this figured out already? What the hell happened?

Wait, did I say designer vaginas? Indeed I did. Doctors can now grow new vaginal tissue in a lab, from the original stem cells, for eventual replanting (not to be confused with the hot trend in cosmetic vaginoplasty, by the way, which is an entirely different fascination and has to do with reshaping the labia for improved aesthetics and, you know, functionality. God bless America).

Fabulous news for victims of birth defects and cancer and rare vaginal disorders? You bet. Intriguing implications for all sorts of cosmetic applications, not to mention what it might mean for transsexuals, not to mention how close we are to doing the same thing with other organs – and even, eventually, entire limbs? One guess.

It is, we can all agree, a lot to take in. It is a great deal to attempt to process in one tiny and oh-so-fleeting lifetime. The notion of human eugenics alone is, for many, overwhelming enough, the idea that new parents will soon have some sort of checklist at the gynecologist’s office wherein, when docs go in to tweak your fetus’ DNA to eliminate diseases, you can also easily choose not only its sex, but also the skin tone and hair color and eye tint and muscle dexterity and 0-60 acceleration and number of cupholders and overall genetic propensity toward an IQ that may or may not lead to voting for aw-shucks warmongering neocon imbecile politicians. Neat! Or, you know, not.

They are, quite obviously, the sort of advances that open so many cans of ethical and spiritual worms it shakes us to the very core of what we believe, of who we think we are and where we fit in and What It All Means. You know, the good questions.

At the same time, it’s really nothing new. It’s little different than previous periods of explosive growth in human knowledge that both titillated and terrified the populace, such as, say, when Galileo pointed out (much to the church’s quivering rage) that not only is man’s little spinning blue spaceship not at the center of the universe, but we’re actually so far out on the fringes, so minute and insignificant in our Copernican swirlings that we’re really nothing more than a wisp of belly-button lint in the giant laundry hamper of the gods. Talk about your existential angst.

Hence, religion. This (at least partially) explains why so many are so eager to cling to religious dogma, to some sort of immovable, reliable framework of understanding, something that can help make sense of it all, even if making sense of it all involves shutting off your brain and killing your divine intuition and soaking up giant gobs of blind faith so you don’t have to actually swim in those bloody murky confusing pools of ethics and meaning and actually thinking for yourself. Mmm, numb groupthink. It’s what’s for dinner.

There are only two real options. One is to hold tight to the leaky life raft of inflexible ideology (hello, organized religion), to rules and laws and codes of conduct written by the fearful, for the fearful, to live in constant low-level dread of all the extraordinary changes and radical rethinkings of what it means to be human or animal or male or female or hetero or homo or any other swell little label you thought was solid and trustworthy but which is increasingly proven to be blurry and unpredictable and just a little dangerous.

There is another option. You can choose nimbleness, lightness, a sly and knowing grin to go with your wine and your vibrator and your never-ending thirst for more and deeper information. It’s possible.

You can refuse to let your brain, your soul lock down into one way of looking at the world as you see all the science and genetic manipulation and designer vaginas, all the insane, incredible possibility as merely more evidence that we are, in the end, just one big karmic science experiment.

Is this latter choice frustrating and brutally difficult and will it challenge every notion of self you hold dear? Hell yes. Is it the only way to enjoy this bizarre circus of a planet without grabbing a gun and cowering in the corner with your homophobia and your flag and your Army of Christ brochure, dead certain the terrorists and gays and hippies are coming to eat your soul for breakfast? Well, probably.

Because, baby, the changes are coming, harder and faster than ever, with all sorts of juicy, terrifying, delightful implications. Really now, what are you gonna do about it?