Nietzsche’s monster allegory

It’s just a core question about the state of our souls that most theologians have to ask by trade. Who doesn’t at some time in their life feel vanquished, as in empty.

Most have the experience of rejection. When our offerings have been rejected enough times and we’ve been “put in place” (which in this case means reminded that they have no say in the matter at hand) enough times, we can actually convince ourselves that we’re worthless… at least for a time… for most of us. Some never come back.

I wonder about that emptiness. That dead state. It’s a type of insanity that breeds an awareness. We are not as important as we may hope to be. Our accomplishments don’t mean anything to the big picture. Our impact is infinitesimally small. No matter how intelligent you are on a matter, someone else has a more desirable opinion to listen to… because they’re not you. Life is personal, so we take these rejections personally whether we should or should not.

With a fair amount of consideration (or distraction) of the matter, most people return back a little more somber … a little less bright eyed … a lot less enthused. That was the part about “Flowers for Algernon” that freaked me out the most. People can be so subjugated and diminished to the point that their purpose and meaning in life is stripped away with it. It’s akin to breaking a wild stallion then tethering it to a basement grain mill for the rest of its life.

When I feel cramped up too much, or see others in that state I find it helpful to put energy into something creative – in a displayable way. It reminds me that no matter how far down people may push me or how much they crowd me out that I am unique and add to life in a way that they do not.

I admit that there are times at work and even at play that I have to “play dead”, myself. Sometimes a business’ survival is more important at a given time and my participation to help that business, though it may be doldrum or even maddening at times, helps out others – it expands my world and restates my belief that life is more than just myself.

Possums and birds play dead to survive. Like I mentioned before, sometimes we have to do that, too. But if people “play dead” for too long I’ve seen and experienced that the spirit is quenched and a real, insidious death starts to settle in. We began to feel robotic and sense that we are only a cog in a cold machine. Adults aren’t the only ones prone to this.

It starts when we are little. We go to a failing school system; we watch commercials that train us to believe we are unfit (without their product); any friends or family that buy into the culture second guess everything we do to the point that we second guess ourselves; we go to a university where professors almost strategically tell us that whatever we know/think/love is crap (unless you agree with their world view – or at least bribe them a little); in the corporate world you’re told that your job is not to think (at least for most).

Each time these attacks wave and crest in consuming foamy hands to wrench our necks when we try to be creative. It’s policy; it’s bureaucracy; it’s parenting and policing and mentoring gone wrong.

I look back at a week ago when one of my children were so excited about something they were doing. I shooed them off “Daddy has to work. Don’t bother me right now.” and they slump away a little. I became the very monster that bored its way into my life until I dolefully gave in. That sucks!

Nietzsche was incorrect about fighting monsters. It’s when you’re spirit is defeated by the monster that you become like it.

The Human Soul and the Frankenstein Effect

Movies are an amazing part of our culture. Each movie has a message through which directors, editors and producers take the art work of the actors, camera men, sound men, prop builders, makeup artists, etc and build out a (hopefully) coherent slant or idea. Sometimes it’s as base as revealing our crass natures to be compelled to watch vile trash. Sometimes it’s highly intellectual and perpetuates water cooler conversations about life’s mysteries.

One recurring theme in science fiction and horror movies is the Frankenstein base. This book poses two questions: At what point is the act of science crossing the boundary of playing God, and at what point does the human soul exist or not exist?

There are certainly other aspects to Mary Shelley’s story, and I don’t want to typecast her novel into just these two ideas, but they are core concepts that have riddled philosophers for ages.

It appears that the first question is loosely tied to another theme. When man uses science to overcome mortal fear, the result is something to be infinitely more feared. In conjunction with this, the outset of the creation can never exceed the creator. In other words, we can’t make humans better than they were created to be in the bounds of the natural laws and trying to do so creates a monster. Even in reality, medication has side-effects which include mortal danger. The balance and trade-offs that typify a “lesser of evils” concept is prevalent throughout nature. The question remains – where is that balance, and who are we to determine it?

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s book “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde,” a scientist tries to separate the mortal sin from the soul. The problem is that sin dominates our lives so instead of an angelic and benevolent personality surfacing, he split out a psychotic and horrific personality fit for the city of Sodom.

Frankenstein is not much different. A scientist is looking for a path to immortality, but discovers that with an immortal body comes an eternal pain. The monster is never given an identity, leaving it soulless. Though the experiment is a success, its level of suffering significantly outweighs the level of elation, and readers are left to view meddling with nature in such a fashion as a failure to all humanity.

These themes have only become more modern with scientific discoveries. The 1958 version of “The Fly” takes a scientist who intends to defy the laws of creation to disintegrate and rebuild molecules of living animals in a God-like manner but finds himself a victim of carelessness. This leaves those around him struggling with the concepts of morality and the limits of the human soul.

At first, Andre the scientist is arrogant. He claims to know God’s purpose for humanity without acknowledging God’s limits: “God gives us intelligence to uncover the wonders of nature.” After catastrophic failure he denounces that statement: “There are things man should never experiment with. Now I must destroy everything, all evidence, even myself. No one must ever know what I discovered.” His wife tries to convince him not to follow through: “You can still reason, Andre… You’ve still got your intelligence… You’re still a man with a soul. You’ve no right to destroy yourself!”

“The Fly” equates intelligence and reason with having a soul. As long as the half-man-half-fly can reason and shows intelligence, the man-creature is considered to have a soul, and killing him/it is considered murder. In the movie, the truth is merely twisted to simplify the innocence of Helene, but even the Inspector, after squashing the fly in the web considered his act the same as murder. You can’t murder a thing, so it must have still had a human soul in context.

The newer version of the fly from 1986 was much more atheistic and followed more of a “using science to overcome fear results in something more feared” approach. There are some thoughtful punches about how cognitive and intelligent behavior separate man from beast, but references to a human soul were absent. The Brundle-Fly transformation showed more of a reverse evolution effect, and the duration of Seth’s transformation into a fly was prolonged only because it felt good rather than out of hope to return to a human state.

A new model of Frankenstein effect has come out recently under the context of zombies. Specifically, genetically altered humans. Movies such as “Resident Evil”, “28 Days Later” and “I Am Legend” have been hitting the theaters since 2002 where everything from military experiments to pharmaceutical greed to philanthropic science has been the seed to bring about deadly results.

What makes these so frightening is that, like other Frankenstein effects of their time, it involves a science that most people know little about – even the scientists who currently explore these new venues. Creating life from the genetic level is also known to be problematic because of genetic mutation. Life that can change function or resistance over a few generations of reproduction is unpredictable and thusly, frightening. Using a virus as a mechanism to inject the genetic instruction amplifies the mutation and unpredictability because of its short reproductive cycle and its massive growth rate in a short period of time.

Because as a collective race we know so little about genetic based medicine, it has become a modern-day equivalent to technologies of electricity and surgery back in Shelley’s time.

Nevertheless, the heart of the matter is the human soul. To be spoken of with any credibility or seriousness, zombie manifestation, like all apocalyptic events have to deeply coincide with faith and spirituality. If not from Biblical context (Revelation 9:6), it should at least be taken in the context by the merit of the soul.

If any one of us were to turn into a zombie, would we have a soul? What is a zombie? Could someone be both dead and alive at the same time? What is the essence of man and when does it leave the body and can the body survive without it?

Ghosts are easy – they’re disembodied spirits. But zombies hold the paradox. Not only does it question life after death, but like in the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, it questions life-in-death. At what point, if any, is man reduced to a dumb animal? At what point is the human soul lost beyond redemption? If it can be redeemed, then what’s the price?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

-Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Sometimes I need a kick in the head … or at least in the pants. With middle age comes a more present awareness of our mortality.

Washington Irving was 36 years old when he published “The Sketch-Book”, including tales of old age (Rip Van Winkle) and death (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow). Although these were satire in nature, they were clearly aimed at the darker forces that envelop men even today. In these two stories he addresses pride and antisemitism under the guise of patriotism and covetous greed that’s fed under an heir of intellect and stature.

The first is an obvious snobbery that taunts and threatens every outcast to the point that outcasts wouldn’t exist without it. The second is more subtle and makes for a great study on literature. Even the smartest and most learned individual can fall into ignorance by the simplest and stupidest lack of moral character.

When these works were published they were touted by England as the first true sense of unique American literature in history. This is 30 years after the United States Constitution had been fully ratified and the government operations described therein realized. Our nation was still in its infancy.

Other works of literature that emphasized the dismal state of our mortality both physically and spiritually seem to have been developed at or past mid-life. Edgar Allen Poe wrote the Raven when he was 36, just four short years before his untimely demise. Dracula was written when Bram Stoker was 50. At 34 and 36, respectively, Stevenson wrote the Body-Snatcher and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The only strong literary works that I could find of similar gruesome content written by authors at younger ages involved the Year without a Summer. On July 1816, the inception of Frankenstein and The Vampyre occurred on a creative dare instigated by Lord Byron after reading Phantasmagoria. Mary Shelley was 19 and John Polidori was 21.

No man can know when his time is up. Luke 12:20 paints a dim picture of a rich man who swells with pride at his accomplishments, destined to die that night.

So in our mortal state, what do we do? Gravestones rot and break away. People are only remembered two or three generations at best, then forgotten. Each marker tells a story, but each story – like the fires that smoldered the great Alexandrian Library – are lost and unrecognizable.

My dad considered the brevity of life and suggested that our brief time on Earth is meaningless without good relationships. It won’t be an intelligent and powerful person who finds worth in your ability who will hire you when you lose a job, it will be the friend who see a friend in need. Getting along well with others is essential to life, and living life in isolation brings a cold demise … there will be enough isolation as we’re buried alone.