While re-reading Frankenstein the uncomfortable thought kept recurring that our tendency to save lives leads to undiscovered fears. I’m not suggesting that we should just let people die, but even from my own experience of doctors, the sense of personal agency has become somewhat eroded. You go to the doctor and s/he tells you, “You should have this done.” I’m still too busy trying to figure out what this box that’s attached to my TV should be called, so how am I qualified to assess a professional opinion about my health? We mend bodies with plastic and metals and chemicals. Some modifications, like fillings and glasses, seem no brainers. But what about plastic tubes and computers to regulate body functions? They’re all good, but have we thought this through, I can hear Mary Shelley asking.
Religion, which is now also eroding, was a traditional way of coping with the fact of our own mortality. Everyone dies. From the beginning of the world, with the possible exception of Elijah—and even he had to come back—everyone has died. Religion traditionally said that it wasn’t the last word. The body wears out, and in a materialist world there’s nothing that can be left. Technology can prolong life, but some may not want it to be prolonged beyond a certain point. I’m not being morbid; I just don’t like arguing with what can’t be changed. Religion, it’s easy to forget, is about finding peace. Some people misunderstand that, for sure, but that doesn’t change the facts.
Did Prometheus overstep his bounds? Mary Shelley seemed to think so. In her recollections the story was intended to scare, not to predict. Victor Frankenstein creates the monster simply because he can. He does it alone, without thinking through the consequences even with a convenient Igor. Religion has often been cast as that annoying, moralizing sibling to science. (Philosophy could well join the ranks too, as some prefer it to religious thinking.) Without that sibling, however, how can we make informed decisions? Science, by its very definition, can’t tell us what should be done. The only values it knows are quantifiers. We live in a piecemeal world where some parts have been removed while others have been added. We don’t know if this is right or wrong since religion is one of the pieces excised without being replaced. Prometheus, ironically, translates to “forethought.” The problem with Frankenstein is precisely that Prometheus is missing.
Posted in Classical Mythology, Consciousness, Deities, Literature, Monsters, Posts, Science
Tagged death, ethics, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, Prometheus
Part prequel and part religious odyssey, Prometheus both treads familiar ground and explores new territory. In keeping with my invariable sense of timing (I saw none of the Alien trilogy in theaters), I waited until well after the fact to see the movie. I had heard Prometheus called a prequel, but even if I hadn’t some of the Ridley Scottish touches might’ve given it away: a large ship bound for a distant planet, evidence of unexpected inhabitants—yes, they knew about the “engineers” (we could call them “watchers”) but not the proto-Aliens they were breeding. We even have the android that understands science’s need to be greater than that of human need. Déjà vu. Still, there’s something very different here—direct discussion of religion and how faith plays into the work of scientists. Elizabeth Shaw, the sole survivor, wears a cross as she tries to work out what her father’s teaching about religion might mean. The cross isn’t hidden in the background—it is brought out into the open and discussed.
If you haven’t seen the movie, the premise is that ancient artifacts (including the ubiquitous Sumerian, Egyptian, and Mayan templates) added to a new discovery in Scotland, demonstrate that a race of giants have been inviting us to their planet for thousands of years. In fact, they had engineered us. (Ironically, the biologist who espouses Darwin is among the first to die.) Peter Wayland, industrialist billionaire who doesn’t want to die, funds a trip to meet these engineers. The engineers, save one, died long ago. Apparently of some plague (cue the aliens!) that were created to destroy humans. They were about ready to send the nasty beasties to earth when they were overcome, with only a single survivor. No coincidence that this planet was reached on Christmas day. It becomes clear to Dr. Shaw that these engineers were intent on destroying the human race they created. And still, she slips her cross back on before facing the engineers of life and death. This was Noah without all the water (and much better writers).
Of course we think we know the rest of the story. Sigourney Weaver bravely led us through three alien attacks before sacrificing herself in a New Testament kind of ending. But what about Elizabeth Shaw? She who bore and aborted the mother of aliens in a very maculate conception? She is off to a prequel’s prequel to find out why these engineers wanted to destroy us. Rumor tells of Prometheus 2, and I wonder if we will get to meet our maker’s makers. Although Scott is an atheist, he brings us Moses later this year, and has already given us Mary and Jesus wrapped up into one with Ripley and her spiritual mother, a sci-fi St Anne, in Elizabeth Shaw. After all Elizabeth was cousin to Mary, and now that the question of faith has been openly discussed, it will have to be more fully addressed. Among the unanswered questions is whether I be able to make it to the theater on time to see this one, or will two years vanish before I find the time to address the eternal questions that Ridley Scott always seems to pose.
Posted in Classical Mythology, Evolution, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts, Science
Tagged Alien, Darwin, Elizabeth Shaw, Noah, Prometheus, Prometheus 2, Ridley Scott, science fiction, watchers
Stewing in the heat of the wave washing over much of the east, my thoughts sometimes turn to the cool, refreshing flood of Genesis. I’ve been Tweeting the Bible for some months now, and I am in the midst of the stories of the flood. Noting the many contradictions and discrepancies, it is a wonder to me how many of the religious are able to overlook or harmonize infelicities for the sake of a consistent faith. Most famously the story states that Noah took one pair of the clean animals, but also seven pairs of clean animals. The rain came down forty days. Or was it 150? One of the reasons that people continue to believe this story may be its specificity. No approximations or guesses, the numbers are precise, as if written down by an eyewitness at the scene. In actual fact, the story is among the oldest of recorded civilization and has its origins at least as far back as ancient Sumer. For as long as people told stories about the gods, they told stories about world-wide floods.
As a species that is able to think ahead, we have long been concerned with the fate that might befall us. Consider the amount of hype about the end of the world that has accompanied the random calendrical dates we’ve assigned to the cosmos: the world has been expected to end nearly every year since 2000, and that is only the most recent incarnation of this foreboding. If there are gods out there, they must have it in for us. The very fact of our being human seems to anger the deities. Even after God promises the world will never again be destroyed, he adds a caveat—not by flood, anyway. By the time we reach the letters near the end of the Christian Scriptures the future torment has turned to fire. There’s always something out there looming on the horizon.
“Prometheus teacher in every art brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends,” so reads the quote from Aeschylus behind Paul Manship’s statue of Prometheus. Prometheus was the Greek god (Titan, actually) favorably disposed toward humanity. His name means “forethought.” When humanity cowered and shivered in the dark, Prometheus brought the light and warmth of fire. It is easy to suppose the Greeks to have been more enlightened than earlier or contemporary civilizations, but Prometheus had offended Zeus and was subject to eternal torment for his thoughtful gift. Perhaps it is just the divine way—gods are jealous of us although they hold all the power. As I continue to tweet the good news of an angry god, I am starting to understand the power deities will always have over their vulnerable creatures.
Posted in Bible, Bibliolatry, Classical Mythology, Deities, Genesis, Mesopotamia, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged Aeschylus, apocalypticism, Genesis, Noah's Flood, Paul Manship, Prometheus, Sumer