This is such a good idea that even if it's a bad idea, it's a good idea. There's an outfit out in Berkeley, Calif., that wants to clone Jesus Christ. The technology is there, they say, and the DNA is there, they say, and the biblical imperative is there, they say, and it's about time to get this Second Coming thing moving, they say. After 2,000 years of waiting, they ask, why not take matters into our own hands and get the job done right with the God-given tools of intellect and free will and technology?
According to the Second Coming Project's web site, www.clonejesus.com, "Our intention is to clone Jesus, utilizing techniques pioneered at the Roslin Institute in Scotland [birthplace of Dolly, the lovable sheep], by taking an incorrupt cell from one of the many Holy Relics of Jesus' blood and body that are preserved throughout the world, extracting its DNA, and inserting it into an unfertilized human egg...The fertilized egg, now the zygote of Jesus Christ, will be implanted into the womb of a young virginal woman (who has volunteered of her own accord), who will then bring the baby Jesus to term in a second Virgin Birth."
So far, so good. There are such venerated relics scattered throughout Christendom, the most well-known being the Shroud of Turin. There are, according to the SCP, samples of Jesus' blood, hair and foreskin in churches around the world. If only one of these is authentic (considering the legacy of the "relics trade," such samples are often suspect), any single one could yield the DNA necessary to make a clone of Jesus Christ.
"Yes, the Second Coming will happen, because we will MAKE IT HAPPEN," the SCP web site proclaims. "This is the message of the Bible: that Man is responsible for his own salvation. Since all men are by their very nature sinners, the only way to do this [salvation] is through Jesus Christ. But where is Jesus? We're not satisfied with evasive answers like, 'Jesus is in our hearts,' or 'Jesus is everywhere'...We want concrete action and we want it now. We need Jesus in the flesh, to save the world from sin. Christians will wait around FOREVER for Jesus to return unless we take matters into our own hands and bring him back ourselves!"
This strikes us as a very American, very consumer-oriented viewpoint, but--assuming that SCP is not a hoax or one of those postmodern pranks that pass for performance art these days--it is altogether plausible in the 21st century. We have instant pudding, we have instant cash, so why shouldn't we have an instant savior? Well, for one thing, it's not legal in the United States to clone a complete person (assuming, for the moment, that Christ is or was a mortal person with DNA to be cloned). President Clinton has already signed legislation drawing that particular boundary. This is not to say that there aren't underground labs or rogue institutes or mad scientists or especially bright high school kids out there attempting (and possibly succeeding) to clone complete human beings, but such entities are breaking the laws of this nation, if not other, possibly higher, laws.
Roland B., media representative for the SCP, elaborated on some of the goals and ethics involved in the Second Coming Project's endeavor.
"We've been trying to locate as many relics as we can," he said. "We haven't been able to get access to too many things yet, but I can't speak publicly yet about our relationships with the Catholic Church in terms of getting relics."
Is the group in possession of relics now?
"I can't say that either," Roland states. "We do think that indirectly, through some sort of obfuscation, there are clues in the texts of the Bible that indicate we are to preserve these portions of the body as possessors of the whole. As the time comes when we have modern technology, our sword, we are to use this sword for quite this purpose: to bring back Jesus."
"We are in support of the current moratorium on cloning human beings," said Charlie Craig of Biological Technologies Organization, which represents over 720 biotechnology companies, institutions and centers. BTO's web site (www.bio.org) presents discussion of the ethics and scientific morality issues surrounding cloning in general, and Mr. Craig graciously declined comment on Jesus' status as either mortal or divine, savior or just swell guy.
Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, did not mind addressing the Catholic Church's position on both human cloning and the SCP's proposal to replicate Jesus Christ. "We're against human cloning," Doerflinger said. "We feel it reduces human reproduction to a manufacturing process... Instead of arising as a gift from a loving union of husband and wife, a human being is manufactured to preordained specifications."
As for cloning Jesus, "You can't clone a divine entity," Doerflinger asserted. "You can reproduce the genetic material of the man Jesus Christ but that would not be Jesus Christ. That would be his genetically identical twin brother produced 2000 years later. That human being, from the outset, would be under bizarre and unique expectations from those around him. It's very bad theology to say that because the genetic material is the same that God is incarnate in this person as we, as Catholics, believe that God is incarnate in Jesus Christ."
Bizarre and unique expectations, indeed. If kids today have a tough time growing up without screwing up, what with all sorts of extra homework and peer pressure and MTV and Nintendo and Britney Spears, imagine what this child would face every day on the playground. Teasing? The mind rebels against the kind of horror that awaits God, Jr., on the dodge-ball court. In the classroom, at home and especially at church, the constant comparisons to his older, supremely successful sibling would be inevitable and crippling to any developing sense of self-esteem. ("Serene? You call that serene? Quit squirming around so much. When your brother was your age, he was freaking beatific!")
"The mother would definitely serve as 'mother,'" Roland asserted when asked to address questions of nature vs. nurture in raising such a wunderkind. "We would work as a group to give the best ethical and moral education that we could. We don't want the child to be raised in poverty...We actually have a fund set up for education. That's part of what we do. Probably private school. We wouldn't want to put extra pressure on this child. We want the Spirit to move through her/him as it works. We also can't define what the child's path will be. Obviously, we're intelligent enough to understand that the child's choice has to be involved here, too. I think that [knowing his/her lineage] would have to part of his/her entire life...I've met people who didn't learn that they were adopted until they were teenagers and it did screw with their heads."
"Why just Jesus Christ? How about some of the villains of history?" asked Rabbi David Blumenfeld, an Orthodox scholar, when told of SCP's plans. Though Judaism does not flatly forbid human cloning, Blumenfeld warned of its ramifications. "There is an old Jewish expression, 'All is in the hands of heaven.' That is, all is fated except for God," he continued. "I fail to understand how, even if you clone a human being, theologically or philosophically [it would be the same person]. The image of God that is in us precludes two people being precisely the same. If they clone Jesus Christ, they wouldn't be precise. It wouldn't be Jesus Christ...It might be a source of great disappointment or surprise. It could, from the Christian perspective, trivialize what they believe."
Roland B. begs to differ on several points here.
"If the plan is correct, which we think it is, that this [genetic material] has been preserved for this reason," he said, "we feel the Spirit will move inside this child... It's not the same thing as taking a present, living human being and cloning a cell from them. We're taking DNA material that has been preserved and that's the real complication, the reason this is so expensive [around $250,000]. We have no objection if the implanted embryo, the zygote, became a female. It doesn't matter to us about racial characteristics. We think the action of taking the DNA material and planting it is our sword.
"Very much part of what we're doing is that we feel this passive sitting around and waiting for thousands of years is childish," Roland continued. "It's time to grow up and pass from that adolescent stage and waiting like a kid. It is better to be active. If it's a dud, most likely that will come from not finding any active DNA. We have a time limit of April 2001 [in order to hit the birth target date of December 25, 2001]. If what we're doing is right, we'll see the results, we'll see if God will move through something like this, and we have to take the risk. In terms of a best-case scenario, what could be more beneficial to the world than to actually bring back a representative of God?"
Despite an overwhelmingly negative public response, the project moves forward. Whether hoax or sincere effort to manifest the Lord within our lifetimes, whether a combination of the two, the Second Coming Project says it has the funds necessary to create and raise this child, and potential, virginal mothers awaiting a fertilized egg. It is an intriguing notion, this, and we will monitor the situation as it ... well ... develops.