Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Mary Trump's "Frankenstein"

Watching Mary Trump’s interview by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last Thursday about her book on the shaping and misshaping of her uncle, the President (Too Much—Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man), I remembered a post I wrote on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein October 26, 2011. Our society has minted a number of “Frankensteins” who are underdeveloped in compassion, the trait that unites us with God. As I wrote then:

The Christian teacher Abelard of the twelfth century explained the atonement this way: witnessing Jesus suffering on the cross awakens in us that which makes us one with God: our compassion. Compassion is our link to divinity. To witness suffering—whether firsthand or through the media—may draw out our divine urge to hold and help the vulnerable.

My concern in re-presenting this reflection is not, per se, political, but rather, to remind us how “Frankensteins” are made, not born. I take the Celtic Christian view of original innocence—that yes, we may be marred by sin, but we are not sinful at birth, as the concept of Original Sin would have it.

From my 2011 post:

A few years ago I watched for the first time the Kenneth Branagh film, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  It prompted me to read Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, discovering that the film reflects many of its insights. The creature who has been given his creator’s name in the public mind is not the monosyllabic grunter of gay director James Whale’s 1931 film classic (whose own story is the content of another worthy film, Gods and Monsters), but an eloquent philosopher on being a creature abandoned by his creator and rejected by fellow creatures.

Asking for a mate “as hideous as himself,” the creature explains to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, “If any being felt emotions of benevolence towards me, I should return them an hundred and an hundred fold; for that one creature’s sake, I would make peace with the whole kind!” His creator writes, “His words had a strange effect upon me. I compassionated him, and sometimes felt a wish to console him; but when I looked upon him, when I saw the filthy mass that moved and talked, my heart sickened, and my feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred.”

Branagh’s movie version of the creature’s words captures the sinister consequence of being denied: “I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” And only then concludes, “For the sympathy of one human being, I would make peace with all.”

I concluded my post with this pastoral illustration:

I attended an ordination in San Francisco which featured two pastors giving “the charge” to one who would be serving as a chaplain and director of a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at a local hospital. The Presbyterian pastor gave an eloquent but long commendation whose content I do not remember. The MCC pastor gave a memorable two-point counsel. “The people you’ll be serving,” she said simply, “Basically want to know ‘Am I alone?’ and ‘Am I loved?’”

“For the sympathy of one human being, I would make peace with all.”

We are all creatures. We each have love in us the likes of which can scarcely be imagined and rage the likes of which can hardly be believed. If we cannot satisfy the one, we might indulge the other.

I will be leading a virtual, at-home retreat open to the public for Columbia Seminary’s Spiritual Formation Program September 17-19, 2020 entitled An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality. You are invited!

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Copyright © 2011 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 


  1. Good morning Chris,
    A very powerful message this morning. I too believe in the Celtic Christian tradition of original innocence. In a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, I said to her, "We all come into this world as innocent little babies, but we are the ones who plant the seeds in their very fertile soil....from the moment of their first breath. Even all the despots and people we deem evil came into this world as innocent little babies." I try to remember that now when I see, hear the latest goings on with our president. He still is a very dangerous man, in my opinion, but I can give him some slack when I think of him as that tiny innocent.

    Not ever having seen Frankenstien, the movie or the book, I am put in mind of Genesis story of Abraham bartering with God about Sodom....if you can find 50, 40, 30, even only 10, would you save them. I hear a tremendous longing to be loved, to be saved from himself, basically.

    During these times of such uncertainty and angst, one must cling to the pieces that speak to us of hope and share that with anyone who might listen.

    Thank you Chris....I pray you stay healthy in mind, body and soul,

    1. Thanks so much, Mary! Stay well and hopeful, and I will do my best to do the same! warmly, Chris