“You shall have life and that abundantly.”
What did Jesus’ followers make of this bold promise? He had shown them that he could cure the diseases that afflict both body and mind, and, in bringing Lazarus back from the dead, He lifted the veil to reveal a part of the mystery of His own being. Some of His hearers, however, must have taken him for a crude magician, casting out demons (so the Pharisees said) with the help of Beelzebub. Once He had returned to His Father, He left the gift of life with His Church, sending the Holy Ghost to His Apostles. Even then, Simon Magus thought their miracles were a trick, and he was willing to pay Philip good money if only he would share the secret.
Between the miracles of Christ and his Church and the trickery and schemes of Magus runs the gulf that separates Heaven from Hell. The serpent in the garden persuaded Eve that, if she and Adam ate the fruit,
Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
The serpent lied, and one consequence of Eve’s and Adam’s rebellion has been to make us prone to accept, ever since, the same lying promise to make us immortal gods with power over life.
Pagans and Christians alike instinctively sense there is a kind of immortality offered by children, who carry on their parents’ lives (or genomes, if you prefer more scientific language) into the future. Christianity codified this instinct into a system of indissoluble marriage that repudiated Jewish permissiveness on divorce and prohibited all forms of infanticide (whether exposure or abortion) and contraception. The fundamental fact of marriage is that two distinct human beings (of different sexes) become one, merging their opposing identities in the conception of a child who represents half of each parent’s genetic stock. This is a deepening and a strengthening (not a reversal) of early pagan views.
The satanic view, by contrast, tells men and women they are free to copulate with whom they choose and to marry and divorce according to their whims. If they fail to prevent the conception of a child (as they ought to have), they should do the right thing and abort him or her, thus showing that they are masters of their own pleasure and lords of creation.
Christian opposition to infanticide and contraception is part of a larger commitment to life. Some misguided Christians throughout the ages have concluded that they are forbidden to take a life, even if called upon to serve in a just war, execute a brutal murderer, or defend their family from a predator. To reach this conclusion, they have to ignore the clear testimony of the New Testament—the instruction given to the disciples to buy a sword; Paul’s statement in Romans that the ruler’s sword is an object of terror only to the wicked; John the Baptist’s demand that soldiers be just (not that they leave the army)—to say nothing of the array of bloody penalties in the Pentateuch.
And yet, if Christian pacifists are wrong (dangerously wrong, I should say), their mistake is an understandable overstatement of the Christian tenderness toward human life. St. Augustine made it clear that, while he acknowledged the authority of the Roman state to execute criminals, his priestly office was to ask for mercy. This Christian tenderness, if it can be extended in some instances even to the guilty, is absolute in the case of the innocent. No Christian, whether a ruler or a subject, is ever justified in deciding to kill an innocent human being. Soldiers may be required, by loyalty and obedience, to fight in what they regard as an unjust war or to perform actions in which the lives of civilians are placed unnecessarily at risk. The blood is not on their hands, if they are conscientiously following orders and serving their country, though soldiers who massacre civilians, even under orders, share the guilt of their officers. The little girls on ships who press buttons to blow up hospitals probably do not know what they are doing, but the politicians and generals who make the decision to carpet bomb cities and choose to terrorize civilians in order to facilitate a military conquest can only be forgiven if they repent and do not repeat the sin.
Christian rulers, despite the teachings of the Gospels, have committed terrible crimes. Some have repented; others have not. No ruler, however, can reasonably ask to be regarded as a Christian, whatever his public professions, who repudiates the fundamental tenet of the protection of innocent life. Edward III and his son, who murdered their way across France in the Hundred Years’ War, raping nuns and burning churches; Christian politicians who profess “neutrality” on abortion or deliberately make war on civilians—all of them, unless they repent, put themselves outside the blessed company of the faithful.
The Christian regard for life is not the undifferentiated reverence for all animate existence professed by some Eastern sects. We do not veil our faces to prevent the accidental killing of flies, nor do we foreswear the eating of meat, except as a form of spiritual askesis. (Vegetarianism is among the most pernicious of anti-Christian cults). It is human life we revere, not because human beings are more intelligent than monkeys (as Tibor Machan has argued). This fundamental mistake has given an opening to Peter Singer and other dishonest proponents of infanticide, who point out that an unborn child is less intelligent than an adult subhuman mammal. The logical conclusion is to kill the baby and preserve the life of the cat.
Christians revere human life, because man is made in the image of God. A superintelligent android, even if it were as organic as the robots portrayed in Karel Capek’s dramatic masterpiece RUR, would merely be man made in the image of man, an individual thing rather than a person. In Capek’s play, one of the earliest works to take up the subject of dehumanization in the modern world, the inventor’s eventual love for his creatures enables them to achieve humanity, but the reality of the human aspiration to create life is something quite different.
Capek himself, although he was not unscathed by his encounters with Masonic ideology, understood this aspiration very well. The inventor who created the robots was looking for something beyond a cheap labor force. As Capek explains, “He wanted to become a sort of scientific substitute for God. . . . His sole purpose was nothing more nor less than to prove that God was no longer necessary.”
This ambition to replace God is as old as the serpent who tempted the first Adam and as up-to-date as the plans to clone human beings, and it is no accident that Karel Capek lived in Prague, the city in which a rabbi, after studying the Cabala, conjured up a Golem to protect his people. Although the feat was originally said to be the work of a cabalistic rabbi of the 16th century, it was later attributed to the chief rabbi, Judah Loew, who was a pious Jew and not known to have pored over the dark pages of the Cabala, a work that, along with the Hermetic writings and those of the Arab alchemists, is one of the primary sources of the occult tradition. Infected by both gnosticism and Neoplatonic mysticism, the Cabala, rather than being a representation of traditional Jewish wisdom, holds out the promise of power, a power that the God of the Jews and Christians denied man from the beginning. Thus, according to legend, the creation of the golem involves the imitation (or mockery) of God’s creation of the first man.
The cabalistic writings took shape around the 11th century, and there is nothing like the story of the golem in ancient Judaism or the myths of the Greeks and the Romans. Homer does describe robotic serving statues in the palace of Alcinous, but these marvels are merely one of the fairy-tale devices of the Odyssey, which also includes shape-shifters, witches, and one-eyed giants. The Greeks, who sensed the presence of gods in every living thing, could only attribute the origin of life, especially human life, to a divine force.
Although Mary Shelley entitled her cautionary tale of the scientist who creates human life The New Prometheus, the original Prometheus was a god who did not actually create the human race but only endowed it with special gifts. Taking pity on men, who had been made in the gods’ image, Prometheus stole the fire of heaven and gave it to us poor mortal creatures, for which crime he was punished by Zeus. Greeks hearing the tale or watching Aeschylus’s play on the subject could be grateful to the Titan who saved the human race and yet approve of the punishment he received for his disobedience.
There could be no scheme to ape the Creator without a clear notion of the Creation, which only Christians and Jews were able to grasp. (Aristotle believed that the universe had always existed, and many Jewish thinkers continue to believe, with the Mormons, that the deity merely gave shape to a preexisting universe.) Renaissance magicians and alchemists, borrowing from cabalistic, Arabic, Hermetic, and Neoplatonist sources, dreamed of outdoing Prometheus by seizing the power of life and raising themselves to the level of God. Paracelsus instructed adepts in the art of incubating semen in an “hermetically” sealed retort submerged in horse manure and subjected to magnetic waves for 40 days, at which time it begins to take on human form and must be fed with some mysterious blood potion for a period of 40 weeks until this “homunculus” can be brought up like a normal child. While some cabalists might wish to keep such mysteries a secret, Paracelsus argued that, since God could do everything, we, too, “shall be able to do everything.” The magician may be under God in His realm, but, in the magician’s realm, God Himself is “under me.”
Paracelsus was a scientist as well as a magician, and there is no contradiction between his search for chemical cures for disease and his dream of stealing the power of life and using it to create anti-men. Both imply the reduction of human life to a formula. Descartes’ philosophical attempts to explain human emotions in primitive mechanical terms, Hobbes’s comparison of human society to a machine, and La Mettrie’s self-explanatory title L’Homme machine were all crude precursors of the modern pseudosciences of psychology, sociology, and “political science.” The dream of aping God, however, never died. It is part and parcel of the Rosicrucian and Masonic fantasies of the 17th and 18th centuries, and it is clearly in the mind of Benjamin Franklin (a Freemason), when he suggests that it lies within the power of human science to make man immortal—a notion he passed on to the archetypal English liberal, William Godwin.
In Godwin’s day, the dream began to take on more concrete shape. Franklin had shown that the power of lightning was the same as the mysterious electrical force that could be stored in a Leyden jar, while Galvani had demonstrated that this same force generated muscle activities in an animal, and the quack Mesmer had even healed the sick by applying “animal magnetism.” What was to prevent some new Prometheus from stealing the fire of Heaven and using it to animate the dead?
In retrospect, the idea seems as inevitable as the buttonhook. Intellectuals of the Romantic period were seeking to liberate themselves from the sterilities of the Age of Reason, and it was quite natural for them to reach back to the dark secrets of Renaissance magic. In Faust, Goethe, himself a Freemason and a student of the occult, wrote the classic cautionary tale on the hubristic magus who sought the secrets of youth and vitality. Faust’s servant Wagner even creates an homunculus, who accompanies his master on his journey through time to find his heart’s desire. But it was left up to Mary Shelley, William Godwin’s daughter and the wife of a Neoplatonist who acted as if he had himself created the universe, to combine the new science of electricity with the magician’s fantasy of playing divine creator. And even though the story of Victor Frankenstein and the revenge taken by his monster should have warned modern scientists against presumption, it has, if anything, inspired them to perfect Dr. Frankenstein’s research.
Even Paracelsus acknowledged that an homunculus would be undersized (as Dolly the sheep was underlived), and Dr. Frankenstein, in attempting to create a man, succeeded only in cobbling together a monster. The important truth that is never grasped by latter-day Frankensteins is not that man ought not to play at being God but that he cannot do it. In all the furor over the possibility of human cloning, it is rarely observed that human beings are regularly cloned in nature. What else are identical twins? Of course, once a genome exists, it is only a matter of time and technology before some fool will try to reproduce it, much as a recording engineer reproduces a performance. But who in his right mind does not distinguish Thibaudet at the keyboard from Thibaudet on CD, and who would think that the recording engineer actually wrote and performed the music?
In the end, Frankenstein’s monster tries to destroy its creator, and the rabbi’s golem—the anti-Adam—proved to be so dangerous that it had to be destroyed. Man aping God can only mock himself, and the current attempt to storm Heaven by cloning humans and reengineering the human race, so far from leading to the abolition of man, as C.S. Lewis warned, will only prove the undoing of the Antichrists who concocted modernity from the crucibles of their twisted rationality.