Belief and Bioethics: Commentary on Morioka

- Frank J. Leavitt, Ph.D.
Centre for Asian and International Bioethics
Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev,
Beer Sheva, ISRAEL (Home Tel/FAX: +972-2-9963048)

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 8 (1998), 40.

In the last issue (EJAIB 8 (1998), 13) Masahiro Morioka prefaced his remarks on some of my opinions with the remark: "I am an agnostic person,but my opinion is very similar to Leavitt." Although I appreciate the similarity of opinion, there was something about this remark which troubled me and which I feel I have to remark on.

The thing that troubles me is that as the years go by I feel more and more that it is really unimportant whether you are religious, an atheist or an agnostic. There are kind people and cruel people, honest people and dishonest in all groups. Also, bioethics surveys like the International Bioethics Survey (see: Bioethics for the People by the People, Macer, 1994), don't seem to find much difference between people of different cultures in their opinions on bioethical questions.

More deeply, it seems to me that our thoughts, including opinions in ethical matters, can either come from superficial sources or from deep ones. The superficial thoughts are those which our educators or political or religious leaders have trained us to think. These can be the source of knee-jerk superficial automatic responses like" "I am a Jew so I think X" or: "I am a Christian so I think Y" or "I am a socialist so I think Z" etc etc. I am not very sure how much these opinions really mean. Are they more than just words, puffs of air?

But sometimes our thoughts are more authentic. They come from deeper sources, mysterious sources deep in the brain or the soul or higher worlds which we do not in the slightest understand. (Has any philosopher yet really explained the source of moral or even scientific insight, for

example.) Here our really deep thinking can be very independent of whether we are religious or agnostic or whatever. Here we may be driven by what is really the common source of all human beings, perhaps of all creation, non-human as well. If anything can be the source of genuine cross-cultural global biuoethical communication, it will have to come from this deep level. For this reason it is unimportant to me whether Masahiro is an agnostic or a believer. What is important is that we have a spark of communication.

It should also be said that if God exists then God is something so far beyond our comprehension that we cannot say anything meaningful about God at all. (It is for this reason that I think that the word "It" , and not "He" or "She" , is the correct translation for the Hebrew personal pronoun HU, used to refer to God in the Bible. God has no characteristics comprehensible to us, certainly no sexual gender) And it is because God is so absolutely unknowable that I think that believers, agnostics and atheists are really equal. If God is running the world then It moves all of us for It's purposes with little regard to our petty dectrines.

Sorry that this commentary was more mystical and perhaps more uncomprehensible that the usual, but I think that attempts at communication on this level are crucial to real communication in Asian and International Bioethics. If anyone agrees or disagrees please respond.

Go back to EJAIB 8(2) March 1998
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