Spirituality - a potential source of wisdom for BIOETHICS, and the regulation of GENETIC ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY
We welcome Greg Hughson back to our site. Greg is the Ecumenical Chaplain at Otago University. He himself is from a scientific background, and this article is a thoughtful and stimulating contribution to immensely important issues that exercise the minds of scientisits and theologians alike.
In recent times, spirituality has become a more officially sanctioned source of wisdom for bioethics in Aotearoa-NZ . We have for four years now had a NZ Government funded Bioethics Council, Toi te Taiao”.  The Māori words 'Toi te Taiao' mean: 'the sphere of the spiritual and natural worlds'. This refers to the Māori understanding that bioethical decisions emerge at the point where the spiritual and natural worlds meet. In the western world, interest in spirituality has never been greater.  Wherever profound and difficult decisions need to be made, great wisdom is needed. Traditionally, spirituality has been a source of wisdom.
When the NZ Royal Commission on Genetic Modification began its important work during 2000, the forms it distributed to elicit responses from the NZ public contained space for ethical and cultural responses, but no specific space for spiritual concerns to be expressed. In the submission from the NZ Inter-Church Commission on Genetic Engineering, of which I was a member, we needed therefore to add our own paragraph within which we could express our distinctively spiritual views and ideas in relation to genetic modification technology.  We also chose to precede our submission with a pre-amble which gave expression to our distinctively spiritual perspective on the issue of genetic modification. 
After extensive national consultation and discussions, the first recommendation of our Inter-Church Commission on Genetic Engineering to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification was that that an independent NZ Council be set up, specifically to address the ethical and spiritual concerns being raised by many New Zealanders, in relation to all GM research and applications. The Royal Commission subsequently recommended the establishment of a NZ Bioethics Council. In making this recommendation to Government, the Royal Commission highlighted the evident importance of spiritual aspects of biotechnology in addition to the cultural and ethical aspects. As an Inter-Church Commission we were pleased to see that the ongoing brief of the NZ Bioethics Council was to include “spiritual” concerns. One significant outcome of the Royal Commissions work was their discovery that spirituality is very important to many New Zealanders, and that spirituality impacts not only upon personal experience but upon our individual and societal attitudes to the world.
The Inter-Church Commission on Genetic Engineering widened its scope of reference in 2001. It re-constituted itself as the Inter-Church Bioethics Council (ICBC). This Council continues to meet to prepare submissions and produce helpful educational resources, which are accessible via the NZ Churches Agency on Social Issues website .  There is ongoing contact between the ICBC and the NZ Bioethics Council. During 2004 The ICBC contributed a chapter to a Bioethics Council publication on the Use of Human Genes in Other organisms 
Cultural, ethical and spiritual considerations have become part of the regular vocabulary of NZ Bioethics Council’s discussion documents, reports and activities since December 2002. The Bioethics Council defines spirituality as “a term commonly used to describe how people relate themselves to other generations, the natural and created environment, the universe, other's beliefs, and to their idea of an agent/agency of significance (eg God).” 
Spirituality can be defined more comprehensively as that which “ pertains to the life of mind, soul or spirit; relates to virtue, good character or conduct; is distinguished from the physical or material; expresses a depth of faith, love or knowledge; is the agent for the divine will; is that which creates, guides and sustains life; is expressive of energy or power; has ultimate values and meanings in terms of which we live; is something holy, or of ultimate importance, is in contact with non-local mind or God; recognizes omnipresence and oneness with God” 
Spirituality therefore is a distinctively different category to both the “ethical” and “cultural” dimensions of life. How might spirituality helpfully contribute towards bioethical explorations and decision making ?
Recent publications made available by the Bioethics Council include attention to the spiritual dimension of the issues being explored, including xenotransplantation, the transfer of human genes into other organisms and the use of human embryos for research.  The Bioethics Council discussion document on the issue of xenotransplantation included a section entitled “Spirituality, Culture and Human Need”.  Specifically spiritual contributions include drawing attention to the sanctity/sacredness of nature and life, respecting appropriate God-given relationships within nature and between humans and God, the need for wise stewardship of creation, a compassionate response to suffering as well as specifically spiritual understandings of the value of life and the significance of death.
New Zealanders’ cultural, ethical and spiritual beliefs are far from homogenous, even within groups that might be imagined to share common interests.  Nevertheless, it is gratifying to see the Bioethics Council facilitating discussion and reporting in a manner consistent with its stated purpose, which is to enhance New Zealander’s understanding of the cultural, ethical and spiritual aspects of biotechnology, and to ensure that the use of such technology has regard for New Zealanders' values, even though not all New Zealanders share the same values or spiritual experience.
The Council is also charged with providing independent advice to Government on biotechnological issues that have a significant cultural, ethical and spiritual dimension, promoting and participating in public dialogue on cultural, ethical and spiritual aspects of biotechnology, enabling public participation in their activities and providing information to the public on the cultural, ethical and spiritual aspects of biotechnology.
In recent years therefore spirituality appears to have entered mainstream Aotearoa-NZ bioethics discussions in a way which has at least some academic credibility and justification. To some extent this is attributable to widespread commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi, which includes acknowledgement of the right of the tangata whenua to retain traditional spiritual taonga, practices, ways-of-seeing and ways-of-being. In 21st Century secular NZ, our Treaty commitment has preserved for us all a society which promotes tolerance of a way of life which may still, potentially at least, incorporate an awareness of both the “spiritual” and “natural” worlds and of how these worlds interrelate. Christianity and other ancient religions are also still available as reservoirs of spiritual wisdom. In some cases Maori and traditional Christian spirituality enrich each other. The Protestant Reformation, ironically led to a contraction of the spiritual realm, a withdrawal from advocating a role for “spirit” within the operations of nature.  In recent decades however it has been increasingly affirmed that whilst science and spirituality ask different questions of the same reality, both pursuits can interact in an edifying way to yield mutually enriching insights.  
Spirituality impacts upon bioethics primarily through the way in which it affects
the perception, the way-of-seeing
of those engaged in both bioethical exploration and
the regulation of biotechnology.
In response to the question “what
is really going on here ?”
someone who pre-supposes a spiritual dimension to life may well come up with different conclusions to someone who has no spiritual inclinations
or experience. For example, Richard
Dawkins, Professor of the Public
Understanding of Science
at Oxford University and leading
light of the New Atheism movement
sees the world very differently to Francis Collins, a
prominent evangelical Christian
Biologist who headed
up the human genome project. Dawkins’
latest book “The God Delusion”
currently eliciting a wide
range of varied responses internationally.
In a recent Time Magasine dialogue with Collins Dawkins
expresses his belief that “once you buy into the position of
faith you begin losing your scientific
There is no
room for spirituality in Dawkins’ view of the world. Collins
however believes that science
is entirely compatible
faith and spirituality.
Similar differences of experience
and opinion co-exist within the scientific
community here in
Genetic engineering and spirituality .
For those who view the world in a spiritual way through the eyes of faith in a loving and creative God, genetic engineering (GE) raises profound issues relating to the legitimacy of applying this intrusive technology, especially in contexts which involve release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. G.E. involves modifications of DNA at the very “heart” of life. This is a mysterious and some would say, sacred domain. GE is a highly specialised and somewhat contentious scientific technique developed recently by humans to improve nature. Opinion varies on the appropriateness of genetic engineering in various contexts. Applications of genetic engineering technology are currently justified ethically on the basis of their positive medical and agricultural outcomes. The ends are considered to justify the means. From one scientific perspective, GE represents an advance in our capacity to control and modify other organisms. This perspective is anthropocentric, in that the goal is to produce therapeutic proteins for human healing or improved crops for human consumption. GE is a complex issue which continues to provide a challenging way-in to discussions of ultimate spiritual and theological issues, including what it means to be human.
GE can be viewed from many perspectives alongside the scientific perspective. This became very apparent during the period of time when the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification was active. Scientists and others, differ considerably in their attitudes to genetic engineering. All genetic engineering applications involve a certain amount of risk, a risk which is often difficult to quantitate. In recent years in Aotearoa-NZ every human emotion has been elicited as people continue to express their concerns. Dialogue and debate are extensive and ongoing at every level, especially in relation to the lifting of the moratorium on GE agriculture which took place from October 2003. Spiritual contributions to the debate have become more common as theologians and people of faith have begun to realise what is happening and where this technology may lead. Currently (November 2006) there is an application to the NZ Environmental Risk Management Agency (ERMA) for approval to field test several genetically engineered crops for pest resistance in the Canterbury area over the next 10 years. The Inter-Church Bioethics Council has made a submission in favour of these trials proceeding.
From a theological perspective, genetic engineering discussions can be enriched and informed by the age old traditions of Creation spirituality  specifically within the wider context of panentheism. Panentheism advocates for an awareness of God’s presence and activity at the “heart” of creation. God is not believed to be distant, but intimately involved with every living cell. It is important to acknowledge that a great deal of the language used in relation to spirituality is metaphorical, that is, language which points towards the truth. We cannot help thinking in terms of metaphors, analogies, models and images; they are embedded in our language and in the very structure of our thought. Sheldrake believes that the language used to express both animistic/spiritual and mechanistic thinking is metaphorical language. 
Panentheism images God as the encompassing spirit undergirding everything that is. The Universe is perceived not to be separate from God, but “in” God.  Panentheism can be defined more precisely as a model of the relation between God and the Universe which regards the whole created order as contained within God, and yet considers that this does not exhaust the divine being, unlike pantheism which would perceive God’s presence to be solely within creation.
The logistics of how “spirit” operates within nature at the intracellular level or in the wider Universe are not amenable to biochemical or astrophysical analysis. The physical and metabolic energy about which physicists and biochemists speak is, according to traditional Christian faith, not the same thing as “psychic” or “spiritual” energy about which mystics speak.  The presence of Spirit and intracellular metabolism are nevertheless, mysteriously interconnected. Diarmuid O’Murchu writes that “It is a central paradox of evolution that Spirit comes to birth in matter, and without the material universe it remains not merely hidden, but, in a sense, paralysed. Spirit needs matter as the expressive medium of its prodigious creativity.  In his first letter to the Corinthians St Paul writes that “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit”.  Physical energy and matter are interrelated (E =mc2) , but the spirit of God cannot be entered into this or any mathematical equation. God, by definition cannot be defined in scientific or mathematical terms as God is spirit. The reality of God’s presence cannot be proven scientifically. God is not a hypothesis. “God” is the word which people of faith use in an attempt to express our intuitive sense of a relational reality which undergirds and sustains humanity and the whole of what we can see, touch and (to some extent) measure. The dependence of all living creatures on the continuing sustenance of God is confessed by the Psalmist in what has been called a summary statements of God’s providence. 
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures ….. When you hide your face, they are dismayed, when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust” (Psalm 104: 24,29) “The Lord covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry (Psalm 147: 8-9).
People of faith today continue to affirm in a diverse range of ways, the activity of a Creator-spirit-God in the ongoing biological, ecological and evolutionary processes of life. Francis Collins and Diarmuid O’Murchu for example are both strong advocates of theistic evolution . For O’Murchu, “Spirit-power” is the driving force of the evolutionary process, the deep secret to unravelling the evolutionary story.
Denis Edwards advocates our need to develop a comprehensive ecological theology of the Holy Spirit.  He believes that this theology needs to embrace both the “sacramental” and the “prophetic-eschatological” approaches to the work of the Spirit in creation. For Edwards, the Spirit can be rightly understood as the ever-present life-giving creator. Edwards’ excellent article provides a helpful overview of the understandings of prominent contemporary theologians in the area of Ecology and the Holy Spirit. These theologians include John V. Taylor, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann, Michael Welker, Karl Rahner, John McIntyre and John Zizioulas. Clearly, the development of a theology of the Holy Spirit in Creation has occupied and will continue to occupy some of the finest theological minds. It is tragic that such wisdom is yet to be made available to the wider community, or more particularly, to those given responsibility for the regulation of biotechnology in Aotearoa-NZ.
Creation spirituality, physical science and biological science.
Modern Physics and Theology both acknowledge the realm of mystery and awe at the sub-atomic level. In the study of Physics, Newtonian understandings on the sub-atomic level are being replaced by a mysterious world in which physical entities that by all rights should be waves, sometimes act as particles. Electrons and neutrons somehow produce wave-like interference with themselves. These discoveries “stand common sense on its head” 
has become more acceptable and common
to make interdisciplinary academically sanctioned connections between
physics and theology. The authors of books about physics and cosmology are
more often making excursions into the realm of the
mystical or religious. “God and the New
written in 1983 has been followed by many other
thoughtful and academically credible
attempts to create bridges
of understanding between spirituality/religion/theology and science.
John Polkinghorne, internationally known as both a theoretical physicist
and a theologian is well
known for making helpful links between Physics and Theology.
versed in both physics and theology, Kitty Ferguson holds out hope for reconciling
rigorous science with sincere faith in God in
her book “The Fire in the
Equations: Science, Religion, and the Search for God”.
Polkinghorne’s latest book is entitled Quantum Physics and Theology.  One reviewer of this yet to be released book has written “His exploration of the deep connections between science and theology shows with new clarity a common kinship in the search for truth.”
Diarmuid O’Murchu’s book “Quantum Theology” provides an in depth exploration of the implications of the new physics for our understanding of spirituality today. O ‘Murchu writes that “Quantum Theology is not another dialogue between science and religion. It is instead a bold exploration of the divine co-creativity emanating from one of the most ingenious scientific discoveries of the twentieth century: quantum theory and the profound theological questions it unravels.” 
Modern-day biologists also, are beginning to write about their attempts to integrate their spirituality with their science. Jackie Leach Scully a molecular biologist who has worked in cancer and neurogenerative research has written about science and spirituality and how the two are connected for her. Scully who is a bioethicist and a Quaker, has written a book about ethical decisions in genetic manipulation. She writes “Embodied in cells and tissues, in biochemical reactions and molecular processes, are the mystics’ reports of universal oneness.” “Biochemistry and molecular biology tell me a spiritual story about life as well as a scientific one”  “I went into science for the religion ……and found it in molecular genetics …” 
Graeme Findlay, a NZ cell-biologist also
has an interest in cancer biology
and lectures in the Department of Molecular
Medicine and Pathology in the
Francis Collins, one of the world's most distinguished physicians and scientists and head of the Human Genome Project is also a sincere evangelical Christian. He came to faith through an encounter with one of his patients. His recently published book "The Language of God"  is a blend of biography, testimony, evolutionary biology, genetics and theology. Collins provides a helpful overview of evolutionary genetic processes. Then, following a critique of atheism, agnosticism, creationism, and intelligent design, he puts forward a case for theistic evolution which he refers to as "BioLogos" where faith and science co-exist in harmony. The book concludes with a helpful overview of modern bioethical issues including stem-cell research, cloning, somatic cell nuclear transfer and genetic enhancement. Collins believes that the long-standing post-Darwinian battles between "scientific" and "spiritual" world views, need to be resolved. I would agree.
Sharron Cole, a Researcher for The Nathaniel Centre, the NZ Catholic Bioethics Centre writes in the context of article on genetically modified foods : “Christians believe that we are called to be stewards of creation, for this and for succeeding generations. The relationship between humans and the rest of creation is an important aspect of this belief - we are an integral part of the community of living organisms which depend upon one another and the physical resources of the earth. In other words, we must respect the integrity of creation.” 
Writing from the perspective of a Christian biologist and anatomist, Gareth Jones sees cloning as a parable which can tell us a great deal about human expectations and aspirations, our world-view and how we live our lives. 
The spiritual perspective of each individual physicist, biologist bioethicist or physician will inevitably influence the way they view reality. For those who have some sense that humans are “created in the image of God” for example, there will be a greater sense of the sacred operating when dealing with patients and issues, than would be the case for an atheistic practitioner. This does not of course imply that the atheist will have any less respect for the life of the patient.
A spiritual perspective on life imbues those who indwell such a way of seeing with an awareness of the deeper significance of life and death. Spiritual perceptions are both subjective and intuitive. A spiritual “way of seeing” can add depth and quality to otherwise arid intellectual assessments. Spiritual perceptions are likely to lead to compassionate and other concerns being expressed which would not otherwise emerge.
For example, members of our Inter Church Commission on Genetic Engineering, in dialogue with members of NZ Church groups encountered a certain amount of concern (intuitive dis-ease) elicited by the prospect of some applications of genetic engineering. When pushed to explain cognitively why they felt such applications were inappropriate, many people could only allude to spiritual disquiet and a “feeling” that such applications should not proceed.
Maori spirituality speaks of the life-force or mauri which is also a panentheistic concept. Mainstream Trinitarian Christian spirituality also advocates an understanding of the spirit of God, flowing through and permeating creation “like a river.” Maori spirituality has concerns about the potential of genetic engineering to re-direct or disrupt mauri, through the crossing of previously un-crossable species barriers, and “alterations” to intracellular metabolism and protein synthesis. Transfer of the DNA code between species now permits the expression of one species’ DNA code, in another species. Some would say this was playing God. Others would say this gives us the opportunity to be careful co-creators with God in the evolutionary process. Some believe that the ends justify the means, others disagree. Greg Lewis has written a helpful article about Maori spiritual concerns in relation to xenotransplantation . 
The Psalmist (Ps 139) declared that God is the one who knits us together in our mother’s womb. Christian faith is founded on the belief that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and every creature therefore owes its existence and being to the Spirit of God which moved over the primordial waters when God began to create.  God’s creativity is ongoing and it is God who sustains all creatures and enables all creatures to continue to exist. God is present in creation. And creation is present in God.
Theology has traditionally held the doctrines of creation out of nothing (ex nihilo ) and continuing creation (creatio continua) to be interrelated as complementary aspects of God’s creative involvement with the physical universe. 
From the spiritual perspective God is perceived to be “present” (metaphorically speaking) in creation both at and “below” the intracellular level. God is intimately familiar with the processes and regulation of DNA transcription and protein synthesis and with other dimensions of metabolism of which we are currently completely unaware. Creation, metaphorically speaking is “God’s treasure”  As the Psalmist declares, God is the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb. (Psalm 139) We now know that it is the ribosomes which provide the context within which amino acids are “knitted together” in the dynamic process/dance of protein synthesis, but this does not exclude God’s ribosomal presence and involvement !
God is conceived pantheistically by some “process theologians” and others as the spiritual energy at the very heart of life, the life-force flowing through creation. God may also be conceived in terms of process. Biochemists have studied and charted pathways of energy metabolism within the cell. We now have a basic understanding of how biological cells are energised and empowered to do their creative work. The energy of God’s spirit however is not amenable to such analysis. In theological terms the spirit of God inspires and sustains life in a way which under-girds and enables biochemical processes to exist and operate.
Theological language differs from scientific language in that it does not seek to describe how molecules inter-relate, rather, theology seeks to explore the deeper significance of molecular relationships. Biological being and spiritual being are different. They interface in the study of theogenethics  which seeks to help preserve the integrity of creation.
Cell biology and spirituality
Bruce Lipton, a cell biologist has recently postulated a cognitively comprehensible link between biological being and spiritual being. In ‘The Biology of Belief”  Lipton refers to the experience of organ transplant donors who sometimes are able to experience memories previously held by the donors of their new organs, as evidence of an ongoing spiritual transmission from the spirit of the donor to the recipient via receptor membrane proteins on the transplanted organs. If these ideas are proven to have substance there will be interesting long-term implications for human to human transplants and also for xenotransplantation as human recipients might expect to receive more than just organic contributions from their new organs. Cultural and religious prohibitions and hesitancies in relation to xenotransplantation may one day be shown to have a spiritual-physiological basis. There is a potential link here with cautious Maori spiritual attitudes to human to human transplants and to xenotransplantation, especially issues concerning departure of the spirit at the time of death and the perceived existence of spiritual “aura”  . As with the existence of God, there is no way of scientifically proving such concepts although a new discipline of neurotheology has recently emerged  to explore a possible neurological basis for theological and spiritual experiences. Neurotheology is one somewhat reductionistic attempt to define and quantitate mystery in scientific terms.
Lipton, previously an agnostic, now concludes that humans are spiritual beings temporarily located in physical bodies . He is a proponent of “epigenetics” which attributes less metabolic significance to DNA and more importance to membrane proteins which he equates to the brain of the cell. He believes that human beliefs, thoughts and feelings directly influence human intracellular metabolism - including the dynamics of DNA transcription, and that cell membrane receptor proteins have a vital role to play in this process.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) a professional paleontologist as well as a Jesuit philosopher had a vision of the Universe as a psychic-spiritual as well as a physical-material process. He attempted to shift the focus of Western religious concern from redemption to creation.  The ultimate goal of both Teilhard de Chardin and the great Indian philosopher and mystic Sri Aurobindo was to comprehend the nature of consciousness as the key element in a spiritual understanding of the evolutionary process.  Bioethics will need I believe, to attend far more to the centrality of both evolutionary and “consciousness issues” in the future.
Science deals with the metabolic processes of biochemistry Theology explores the spiritual significance of these processes and asks more profound questions such as “Is DNA sacred” ? Science deals with issues of quantitative measurement, manipulation and enhancement. Theology deals with issues of belonging and creativity. Whether or not genes “belong” where they are relocated by genetic engineers is a spiritual issue for all who think in evolutionary terms. For example, Sue Kedgely writes : “GE puts genes into places they don’t belong in an evolutionary context”  Belonging is an inherently spiritual concept. To live full and healthy lives we all need to have a sense of deep spiritual belonging. Anything which militates against this sense of belonging at the genetic or societal levels of life is potentially destructive.
Wisdom for today
God’s spirit is believed by Christians to bring about life and health and peace. God is the “burst of life in living things.” For people of faith, to study biochemistry is to be amazed by the beauty and intricacy of intracellular protein metabolism, and to rejoice in the order which gives expression to God’s creative presence within the cell.
The Psalmist had no understanding of genetics, DNA transcription or protein synthesis. Now that we have a growing understanding of these processes  our appreciation of the truth the Psalmist was struggling to express, is from a spiritual and scientific perspective not diminished, but enhanced.
The wisdom of the creation-spirituality-panentheism tradition is one major stream within history which can be drawn upon to provide spiritual insight and balance in our otherwise scientifically dominated age. The advancement of human technological understanding need not (and does not) take away our sense and belief that God exists, that God is present, that God “cares” intimately not only for us but for the whole of creation . Theologians and people of faith will continue to understand God in a wide diversity of ways, but nevertheless a common theme will be to acknowledge the sacredness of creation, for to speak of God inevitably introduces “sacred” and “spirit” into our vocabulary.
Through the eyes of faith we are able to discern God’s non-physical “presence” as spirit and God’s design and sustenance in both intracellular protein metabolism and throughout the universe.
Incarnational theology within Christianity affirms that God came in Christ, but the cosmic Christ was already present with God from the beginning of time. God does not exist exclusively outside of creation. On the level of intracellular DNA metabolism God is, metaphorically speaking the “choreographer” of the dance of the genes. God operates intracellularly as both “composer” and “coach.”. Genetic engineers now have the capacity to alter the musical score. This type of language need not operate in isolation from academic discourse, as it seeks to provide a link between poetic/metaphorical/spiritual concepts and scientific concepts. To believe that “in God we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17) is to affirm the spiritual undergirding and significance of all life.
Some of the ancient mystics of the Church can enhance our awareness of the sacred. Modern day advocates of creation spirituality seek to re-connect us with the wisdom and world-view of these ancient people of faith including Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) and Francis of Assisi. (1182-1226) . All quotes below from Hildegard (IHB and HB) and Francis come via Matthew Fox . 
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) painted mandalas to elicit and experience of the cosmic Christ. In one of her paintings “The man in sapphire blue” she depicts what she calls “the golden and fiery ropes of the Universe” that hold all things together (IHB 23, cf. modern string theory.) In another painting she depicts the Universe as residing within the belly of divinity, who is called a “Lady Named Love” (IHB,39). This is an amazing picture of panentheism – all creatures in God and God in all creatures. Hildegard wrote “It is God whom human beings know in every creature” For Hildegard the Cosmic Christ is “the divine image” or “mirror” that “glistens and glitters” in every creature.
“I adorn all the earth
I am the breeze that nurtures all things green
I am the rain coming from the dew
That causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life” HB 30-31
For Hildegaard, every creature is a ray of God, a radiance of God, a divine expression of God. She believed it is especially in our creativity that the divine shines forth.
‘Humanity alone is called to assist God. Humankind is called to co-create” HB 106
Genetic engineering can be justified theologically as a new way in which humanity can assist God, to co-create with God, to improve nature. This position was advocated by the NZ Catholic Bishops in their year 2000 submission to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. I am not entirely sure Hildegard would be impressed. Hildegarrd had no understanding of intracellular protein metabolism or of genetic engineering, but her insights and calls for caution are nevertheless still relevant for the 21st Century GE debate. For example
“The earth is holy and must not be injured or destroyed” (HB 78).
Any application of GE technology which would “injure” the earth would be as unacceptable as much in the 21st Century as in Hildegard’s day. One distinctively spiritual reason therefore for proceeding very cautiously with GE agriculture is that the earth is holy.
The dilemma faced by those bodies regulating GE technology outside of the lab is that the degree of future injury to the earth resulting from GE agriculture and GE food consumption is not able to be quantified scientifically. The level of risk associated with many agricultural applications is currently assessed as being “very low” but our perspective may well be very different in 100 years time. We are not yet in a position to be able to assess the long-term ramifications of human-initiated crossing of long established evolutionary species barriers. In NZ it is the Environmental Risk Management Agency (ERMA) which has responsibility for approving genetically engineered crop trials.  ERMA is charged with administering the NZ Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act (1996) , the purpose of which is to protect the environment, and the health and safety of people and communities by preventing or managing the adverse effects of hazardous substances and new organisms. ERMA assesses the costs, risks and benefits of particular organisms. The NZ Bioethics Council and ERMA have no direct relationship. The deliberations of the NZ Bioethics Council do not currently "feed in" at any point to the ERMA decision-making processes in relation to GE agriculture. However the deliberation of the Bioethics council would impact on the area of genetic modification of human gametes and human embryos. ERMA would be the organisation to assess applications to undertake this type of work.  It seems that ERMA’s focus is anthropocentric rather than holistic. There appears to be a lack of openness to spiritual wisdom which might enhance environmental management as well as human integrity.
Francis of Assisi acknowledged and celebrated divinity in its creative and creaturely manifestations. Francis believed and taught that the divine is incarnated in the flesh of nature. Francis takes seriously the idea of the family of all creation, and the interconnectivity of all creatures.
“All praise be yours, my Lord
Through sister Earth, our mother
Who feeds us in her sovereignty
And produces various fruits and coloured flowers and herbs”
Both Hildegard and Francis give expression to a form of Creation Spirituality which provides a very relevant source of spiritual wisdom for those charged with the regulation of GE technology here in Aotearoa-NZ and throughout the world.
For Francis, the light who enlightens all who have life is present in all creatures and therefore all creatures are brother and sister to one another.
Creation spirituality music
In recent years contemporary Christian hymn and song writers across the theological spectrum have been composing material which helps give expression to our faith in God as Creator, in continuity with the mystics of old. Songs from Pentecostal and charismatic sections of the Church are less panentheistic than songs from more liberal sources. Nevertheless, many song and hymn writers across the Christian theological spectrum affirm the importance of caring for God’s creation. It is important to note that such a focus need not necessarily replace traditional redemptive-focused theology. Helen Kenik writes “Creation spirituality does not negate the classical focus upon God as Saviour. Rather, it suggests that there is an alternative to the one-sidedness of salvation theology” 
God of all beauty, creation is your treasure
God of all beauty, creation is your treasure,
Charged with your presence, and speaking your voice.
Holy your world, you made it for your pleasure;
Here where we dwell we know you and rejoice.
God of all beauty, creation is your treasure.
by Marnie Barrell
Maker of Mystery
Maker of mystery,
Dreamer of what will be,
Well-spring and fertile ground of all our growing:
Tending the buried seed,
Foreseeing every need,
You draw us into life beyond our knowing.
by Marnie Barrell
I am the Vine
I am the vine, and you are the branches,
I am the vine, and in me, you thrive,
Cut from my being, you can do nothing,
I course through stem and leaf, leaping, alive.
by Shirley Murray.
God of the galaxies
God of the galaxies spinning in space,
God of the smallest seed, our living source,
Yours is the gift of this beautiful place
Let us care for your garden
And honour the earth.
By Shirley Murray
Beautiful prayers and hymns such as these implicitly allude to the presence of God’s spirit at work in a dimension which spiritually-undergirds and permeates biochemical activity at the intra-cellular level of creation. These prayers and hymns I believe need to be made available way beyond the confines of the Church, to inspire reverence and care for God’s creation by genetic engineers, those who are charged with regulating GE technology, and all people. Biochemists need to be given the permission and encouragement which physicists now enjoy to affirm the poetic and mysterious complexities operating at the heart of life.
It is my hope that the relatively recently established NZ Bioethics Council and the Inter-Church Bioethics Council, which have the task of offering spiritual resourcing in the context of decisions relating to the release of GE organisms, will be able to effectively convey the importance of a credible and influential creation spirituality for today and that regulatory bodies such as ERMA will broaden their parameters and become more receptive to such wisdom. There is a great deal at stake. It is not only Maori in this land who have spiritual concerns about genetic engineering beyond the lab. In a day when both priests and physicists stand in awe and wonder at the beauty of the natural universe, we need to nurture our spiritual capacity to become more aware of the privileged part we play in the great unfolding evolution of life, and to sense that we are part of a “grand scheme” 
This article has been written to offer a spiritual-ethical perspective on the GE debate, grounded in creation spirituality . I believe that it is helpful to bring our thoughts and feelings concerning genetic engineering intentionally into the presence of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe who loves and cares for us and the whole of creation. My prayer is that bioethical and regulatory decisions relating to GE applications in Aotearoa-NZ will continue to be helpfully informed by at least some people who unashamedly draw upon both ancient and contemporary spiritual wisdom.
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