Ms. Dominique

Ms. Dominique
Ms. Dominique

Sunday, April 15, 2007

When Does Life Begin?

Pythagoras of Samos (580-500 BCE)

Pythagoras of Samos, the famous Greek mathematician, is also know for starting a philosophical and religious movement based on the idea that everything is based on mathematics (which seems obvious) and that numbers were the basis for reality. This movement is now called Pythagoreanism.

Pythagoras is generally credited for creating the Pythagorean Theorem, though in fact he may have simply borrowed this idea from the Egyptians. Less well known is his effort to create a secret religious society. Very little is known about this group, except for its reverence for numbers and its strict vegetarianism.

Evidently Pythagoras influenced the development of Platonic philosophy and, to some extent, the development of various magical and esoteric traditions, such as Rosicrucianism. His ideas were also important to the development of Numerology.

There is a story about the death of Pythagoras, which is worth repeating. According to the story, Pythagoras was running away from his enemies. He was being pursued by a group of men who meant to kill him. As he ran, Pythagoras came up to a field of beans. Pythagoras stopped short, because he believed that beans were sacred. This was part of his strict vegetarianism, that no one should harm beans—because they possessed a living soul.

Needless to say, his enemies quickly caught up with him and murdered him there on the edge of the bean field. Perhaps some of them might accidentally have trampled a few beans in the process. We can only hope—for the sake of his soul—that they did not damage or destroy any beans in the process.

We are, today, in a similar situation with respect to stem cell research. Our Fearless Leader, George W. Bush, believes that the human embryos—even those that are discarded by fertility clinics—have a soul. These bits of human tissue are therefore “sacred” and should not be harmed or destroyed. This idea ignores the fact that the eggs are about to be discarded anyway, and there is virtually no chance of them being implanted in a womb. These eggs are, quite frankly, no different from the many trillions of eggs and sperm that are “lost” and discarded each day, washed away in the laundry of homes all over the world.

Still, George W. Bush—and the right-wing religious nut-jobs who support him—believe that these eggs are somehow “sacred.” And they are quite willing (perhaps not to die themselves right now) but at least let many thousands of people die of horrible diseases instead of using these discarded eggs in genetic research.

We may be puzzled by the way Pythagoras died. But we are, in our own way, just as foolish. We allow a rather bizarre religious idea—an idea which runs counter to early Jewish and Christian ideas—prevent us from using these eggs for medical research, even though stem-cell research holds great promise.

It’s worth noting, too, that Pythagoras is said to have decided that beans were sacred because, “the beans create a wind in the gut that is foul, and thus proves that beans should not be eaten.”
This certainly sounds reasonable, in that preventing people from eating the sacred beans also prevents the development of gas and foul odors. Clearly, Pythagoras was a humanitarian.

At the same time, the right-wing religionists have decided that “life begins at conception.” And for this reason a mass of human cells should be equivalent in importance (in God’s eyes) to a fully-grown human. We should “respect life” because it is, well, life.

Obviously the “life begins at conception” idea is false. After all, what was it before conception? Mac and cheese? Potatoe salad?

Life exists and it continues until it dies. Human beings die, as life reaches its end—usually when something happens to stop its continued existence. All life is like this. It exists and it continues until it stops, at which time it becomes dead—a mass of flesh that is “lifeless.” A fertilized human egg did not spring to life out of nothingness. It was made up of the cast-off cells, the seed or germ of two parents. To claim that life somehow begins at conception is only a playing around with words—it is a theological game that is as foolish as the claim that beans have a soul.

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