It is not uncommon that we see men referred to as ‘beasts,’ usually when they are particularly rude or criminals of horrific stripe. We wish to call attention to their wrongs and juxtapose them to civilized society in some way; a beast rips meat from the bone, a man uses his fork; a beast murders someone with his hands in a rage, a man kills him calmly with a gun.
But there is something fundamentally not bestial about these men; in fact they are lacking in the quality that would make a man a beast. Or rather, they possess the quality that separates them: they are making an act of the will.
At the heart of humanity is free will. Men are not beasts because they can make free choices; they can choose to sin or choose to love. Someone who has a problem with his neighbor can choose to dwell on his anger, can let it fester and so transform it into murderous rage. Or he can choose to forgive, to move beyond the wound, to love his neighbor despite of his neighbor (or more specifically, to love him despite of what he has done and because he is his neighbor, that is, a person).
The bestial man does not act, he does not will (in a future post I’ll look at the fact that willing does not necessarily include acting, at least in the common meaning of that word). When his neighbor wrongs him he ignore it, he does nothing. Apathy is defining the trait of him; he lives a routine in the most negative connotations of that idea. He is Harold Crick before he meets Ana Pascal.A machine is no less human than he.
Our society is in danger of capitulating to such men; or rather for letting such men become the norm, slaves at the hand of some dark master. We doubt the existence of free will, we turn employees into tools following a rigid guidelines, we create media that requires no act of the will (certain types of television shows and video games, but that too is another post). We are willing to accept the norm that a man does nothing with his life (do not be fooled; raising even a single child is a substantial something). Our culture could become one of beasts.
To overcome this danger, to become actual men, we must learn to act, to exercise our will. Again this need not be a physical, visible action, but one must not capitulate his will. To sit around and do nothing, to decide not to care (different than clinical depression), to choose to watch six uninterrupted hours of “CSI” or shoot your thousandth zombie-alien-pirate all open with acts of the will but quickly collapse into bestial repetition. There is nothing grand before our eyes, nothing we think worth our very humanity. What do we care for God for what do we care for ourselves? If we can relearn the beauty of our humanity, the magnificence our of freedom to choose, our freedom to love, there will be new colors in the world, a new vibrancy, a true entrance into the Christian life that waits for us all.