Word Magazine March 1967 Page 21
MAN, THE RESPONSIBLE CREATURE
Father Vladimir Berzonsky
Holy Trinity Church, Parma, Ohio
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish in the sea and the birds of the air, and over the cattle and over all the earth, and of every insect that crawls upon the earth.” (Genesis 1: 26)
The blessing and bane of every person is that, unlike any other of God’s creatures, he is made “in the image of God.” He has the possibility of conforming to that image, or defiling it: denouncing it or ignoring it, but it is always with him.
The poet Walt Whitman wrote, “I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained.” The artist Paul Gauguin left Europe for the South Seas, hoping to return to the primitive state of man, and to escape the demands of society.
If we hope to communicate with the “Beatnik” generation, we must see a similar avoidance of responsibility as the motivation for what they do. Like the other above, they misunderstand what they take to be natural in the universe. Man, who builds, strives, prays and creates, is different from their romantic and naive notions of creation.
We cannot “turn and live with animals,” because it is man alone whom God made responsible for His world. In the creation story, it is Adam who names the other living things; he alone is told not to eat the forbidden fruit — no other creature was given the responsibility of making a decision.
The “real” man is not determined by his physical dimensions and height; neither is it a matter of intelligence quotient. The measure of a man is his ability to accept responsibility.
The leader: a president, a bishop, a general, is the one who makes responsible decisions within the realm of his authority, and who is prepared to answer for those resolutions. Every man, not just presidents, bishops and generals, are responsible over some area of God’s creation; the married man for his family, the others, for each person he confronts in society.
There is a great tendency to avoid answering to responsibility. Some people convince themselves that all decisions come from outside — that they are pawns of cultural and historical circumstances. Who can forget Adolph Eichmann in Israel; that thin, bald old man on trial for genocide, yet convinced that he was only “following orders.”
James Bond is for us an American type of Eichmann, whose decisions are made for him by nebulous superiors. In ‘carrying out orders’ he must kill without compunction, make love to numerous women without being held accountable for the consequences, and act in every situation without the burden of reflecting on the moral character of his actions. Can you imagine Bond asking himself, “What would God expect of me in this situation?’ Rather, he would affirm his freedom from God, and insist he is not God’s slave.
The believer might respond that he, too, is not God’s slave, since God made man not to be a slave, but a son. Those who truly live in God, do so as His children, slaves to no created thing.
In this light, it is the Bonds and Eichmanns who are slaves to somebody else. Walt Whitman declared his freedom from all restraint, yet he craved the notice of society, thriving on its attention; in fact, society’s slave. The Beatniks who reject our culture do so as delinquent children disobeying parents; living off them, yet despising that dependence.
Only the children of God are truly free and responsible beings.