The Frankenstein society
Frankenstein's monster's final words could be seen as a
prophetic insight into our times
It is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the
lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept, and
grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing...You
hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that which I regard myself...
If the events of the 20th century were reviewed
through the lenses of social justice it would reveal more horrors than we could
possibly bear. The savagery of war, revolution, genocide, torture and
technologies of destruction on a scale incomprehensible to former centuries have
eroded the illusions of progress. The new millennium inherits the legacy of the
last century including the known and countless unknown monstrous deeds which
have been committed by people against more people than in any previous century.
This generation is witness to, not a new horror, but an ancient evil which is
rooted in a single idolatry, namely the worship of the creature rather than
the creator. We are living in what I call the Frankenstein Society.
Frankenstein monsters reside in every act of human cruelty and in every act
where our endeavours pay little attention to the truth that we are beings who
must worship something other than our own ambitions. It is a central tenet of
the Christian faith that not only are we created in the Image of God (the imago
dei) but that we are intended to see this in others, and to reflect it in how we
live. Human dignity is birthed in this ancient truth. In fact, it is one of most
powerful statements of who we are. Societies are built on these two opposing
principles, the image we create or the image revealed to us.
Mary Shelly is remembered as the 19th century
author of the gothic horror Frankenstein. This well-known story has much to
advise us about our own legacy of horrors. The ambitious Dr Viktor Frankenstein
discovers a dark secret and reanimates the life form of a creature sewn together
from the parts of other human beings. However, his ugliness causes both the Dr
and others to reject him with fear and loathing, their prejudices reinforcing
the creatures growing anger and rage. Embittered but longing for love and
companionship, the creature devotes himself to destroying all that his creator
loves. And when he has done so, the once illustrious Viktor Frankenstein seeks
to avenge their death by destroying his creation.
How different for us, for whom it is written, our heavenly
Father calls us by name. In place of the rejection which so deeply hurts us, we
find the greatest antidote, unconditional love poured out toward us in the grace
of an eternal embrace.
Frankenstein had created a creature which he rejected and
took no responsibility for. In his momentary exaltation, having learned the 'dark'
secrets of reanimating life, he is at once also brought to despair believing he
has created a horror. This rejection is unwarranted, since the creature was
first filled with a desire to love and be loved.
We are facing a growing darkness, at the same time there is
increasing light with two distinctive moral foundations. There are two kingdoms,
and for now we dwell in both. Each claims an authoritative base. One is created
by people (laws unto ourselves) and the other revealed by the creator, the one
we can serve in freedom. Only one is eternal. The Frankenstein society will
perish and I believe is in the throes of doing so. One kingdom builds toward God
the Light, as the basis of dignity. The other builds toward its own reflection,
the Frankenstein ambition.
When a society declares there is no ultimate authority to
which one must bow, save to our own intellect, we build weapons of mass
destruction and we use them. When we claim Allah or God as our father but
exclude those who do not conform to our doctrine, we build nepotistic (as in the
Hussein dynasty) or fascist governments and dictatorships, or we build a war
effort on the fallacy that Might is Right. That is, when the most powerful
determines what is right by virtue of their power, not by the power of their
virtue, we are living in the Frankenstein Society. To live as if virtue is power
is the radicalness of the Christian faith and the radicalness of the power of
humility for which the politics of superpowers has little time. This, in
principle is what separates the church from the state but this does not expunge
either from the responsibility to do justice under God. If the church is unjust
the state must intervene, and if the state is unjust the church must speak out.
Our society does worship something every day because worship
is that which we give our time, energy, and attention too. It is the way we live
our lives. We do worship ourselves? To worship ourselves is to be so
self-involved that we become narcissistic, in love with our own reflection, or
put another way devoted to our own selfishness. There is a pandemic of social
narcissism in the me-ism of our society.
Put another way, when we don't listen intently and
compassionately to our friend, colleagues, clients, or family members we are
worshipping one law (i.e. we are a law unto ourselves). When we do the reverse,
we are following another Law - to love one another and this reflects God's
glory. Are all of us created in the Image of God? If so, do all of us reflect
this glory? Do we look for it when we listen, talk with, work alongside and
observe others? This viewpoint contrasts with the monsters we create in
attitude, word and deed, when we decide to be mean or cold hearted. Hate
prejudice, racism, bigotry and discrimination are all the fruit of the same
As I write, a presenter on television has commented, "There
is a rumour that there is war in Iraq but we have better things to talk to about"
and then he proceeds to talk of the latest CDs. What a heartless comment from
someone who in the same programme has commented that he "gets the jitters"
(awe inspired) when he talks with supergroup 'Moby' (their special guest)...
On the eve of war, President Bush proclaimed "tomorrow will
bring a moment of truth for the world." I believe he was correct. However, the
truth will not be subject to his, or yours, or my interpretation.
Truth is a person not a statement of self-righteousness. We
were designed by God to honour one another.