Acton Institute Powerblog

Dismembering Frankenstein

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A piece in the American Prospect Online by Chris Mooney examines the recurring “Frankenstein myth,” and its relation to contemporary Hollywood projects and the state of modern science. In “The Monster That Wouldn’t Die,” Mooney decries the endless

preachy retreads of the Frankenstein myth, first laid out in Mary Shelley’s 19th-century classic and recycled by Hollywood constantly in films from Godsend to Jurassic Park. I’m sick of gross caricatures of mad-scientist megalomaniacs out to accrue for themselves powers reserved only for God. I’m fed up with the insinuation (for it’s never an argument, always an insinuation) that there’s a taboo against the pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge and that certain technological achievements — especially those with the potential to affect life itself — are inherently “unnatural.”

Mooney does think that there are some things that shouldn’t be done. But “preaching” isn’t the way to define them. “I agree that certain lines shouldn’t be crossed. We shouldn’t, for instance, clone fully grown human beings. But not because it’s taboo; because it’s unethical. The point is, we need to use philosophical arguments, not preaching, to determine where the lines ought to be drawn,” he writes.

A greater concern lies in his discomfort “with the way in which the weapon of the Frankenstein myth is repeatedly used as a club against modern-day medical researchers, who are seeking to cure people, not to become God. The ‘forbidden knowledge’ aspect of the myth is also troubling. Last I checked, knowledge is a good thing, even if many kinds of knowledge can also be abused.”

Well, the last I checked, Adam and Eve had some trouble with “forbidden knowledge,” too. Mooney articulates an extremely naive view of knowledge and technology, with no account for the reality of human sinfulness and corruption. Moreover, his view that art should explicitly manifest philosophical arguments as opposed to “preachy” myth is quite unfounded, and alien to the artistic impulse.

This piece exposes Mooney’s ignorance of the source of human sin and evil. When he writes of the recent movie The Island, what he calls “yet another in a long sequence of anti-cloning, anti-science diatribes,” Mooney observes, “Presiding over this nightmare scenario is, sure enough, a mad-scientist character who is described as having a ‘God complex.’ There are about a million flagrant ethical violations embedded in the world of The Island, but as far as I’m concerned, ‘playing God’ is rather low on the list.”

Conversely, the biblical Genesis story relates just how the desire to “play God” lies at the center of the human fall into sin.

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:4-6 NIV)

What Mooney really wants is a morality divorced from any theological or religious concerns. Providentially, the arts do not seem to have abandoned these in the way that modern science seems bent upon. But for this reason, they will continue to be the object of attack.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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