Even in a 21st-century world, the bionic woman remains a facet of society's media-influenced imagination. Or does she?
Perhaps not, at least according to an essay in The New York Times titled, "The altered human is already here" (April 6). In it, James Gorman asserts that many people "have already made a different kind of leap into the posthuman future. Their jump is biochemical," he explains, citing the surge in pharmaceutical sales as an indication of "how willing people are to pursue better lives through chemistry."
The quest to find answers in a pill, a diet, or any material remedy is hardly new. Even the Bible offers evidence that chemicals - whatever form they take - have long been viewed as "solutions" to humanity's endless search for a better, longer, more fruitful life.
In the book of Daniel, the "drug" of choice is the king's meat, which Daniel and three of his companions from Israel are encouraged to consume in preparation for the day when they must stand before the king. But the king's meat isn't kosher, so Daniel requests that he and his friends be allowed to have plainer fare instead.
The problem? Those in charge worry that Daniel and company won't make a good showing after such a diet. So Daniel strikes a deal. "Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days," he says, "and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king's meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants" (Dan. 1:12, 13).
To everyone's surprise, the end of the trial period finds the four with "countenances [that] appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat." Not only that, but when they're eventually brought before the king, "among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.... And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them," the Bible continues, "he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm."
Daniel's experience raises provocative questions about what - if anything - a chemically enhanced existence has to offer us. If it wasn't the food, what enabled Daniel and his companions to present themselves not only as the pictures of health, but also full of wisdom and understanding?
Some might argue that our ability to manipulate chemicals and to fashion diets and pill-popping regimens has progressed light years since Daniel's time. Now we've really got the biochemical answers.
But do we?
Based on the constant search for new and more effective treatments, it's pretty clear that drugs, for all their claims of wonder-working ability, are still hard pressed to scientifically provide the solutions we seek.
The key is to ask how we're defining ourselves. Is it in strictly material terms? If so, then what makes us who we are - our happiness, strength, productivity, and so on - would be at the mercy of age, accident, or any of the vagaries of human existence. But for anyone who has experienced wholeness in the face of a shattering trauma, satisfaction in a time of dire need, such a view of what defines us doesn't quite add up.
Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th-century thinker, healer, and author, had a lot to say on this subject. "Do you not hear from all mankind of the imperfect model?" she asked, referring to a strictly matter-based concept of existence. "The world is holding it before your gaze continually. The result is that you are liable to follow those lower patterns, limit your life-work, and adopt into your experience the angular outline and deformity of matter models."
The remedy to such a limited life? "We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually ..." she said. "Let unselfishness, goodness, mercy, justice, health, holiness, love - the kingdom of heaven - reign within us, and sin, disease, and death will diminish until they finally disappear" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 248).
Those "perfect models" aren't Gorman's "altered humans." They're models of existence as God knows it, existence as God defines it. And that's an existence where everything we seek already "reign[s] within us" - is included in our natures as the children of a benevolent God. The God who made us in His image, as the Bible states. As God's very reflection, how could we lack anything we need?
Perfection in matter, at least as Mrs. Eddy saw it, was an oxymoron, because the God of Spirit would never resort to material means to satisfy His children, nor would He send His children on an endless quest to find that satisfaction. Instead, from the very beginning this wise Creator gave us everything we needed by letting us derive it from Him.
So, that better life we seek? When we're willing to look to God, we'll find it's already ours.