The environmentalist and futurist Stewart Brand opened the first Whole Earth Catalog in 1968 with this line: “We are as gods and we might as well get good at it.” The statement was a reflection on humanity’s awe-inspiring power to change the planet and the tragedy of the environmental impact it had already wrought. (Brand later wrote that he “stole” the line from the related words of the British anthropologist Edmund Leach.) The mantra “we might as well get good at it” could serve to expand the metaphor and lessons of Frankenstein for our time, offering a ready response the next time “playing God” surfaces in popular dialogue. And whether it’s artificial intelligence, CRISPR, or some other new technology on the horizon, that should happen any minute now.
The word golem is used in the Bible to refer to an embryonic or incomplete substance: Psalm 139:16 uses the word "gal'mi", meaning "my unshaped form" (in Hebrew, root words are defined by sequences of consonants, ie. glm). The Mishnah uses the term for an uncultivated person ("Ten characteristics are in a learned person, and ten in an uncultivated one", Pirkei Avoth 5:7). Similarly, Golems are used today primarily in metaphor either as brainless lunks or as entities serving man under controlled conditions but enemies in others. Similarly, it is a Yiddish slang insult for someone who is clumsy or slow.
It should be noted, then, that in Paradise Lost Milton was not only justifying God's ways to humans in general; he was justifying His ways to the English people between 1640 and 1660. That is, he was telling them why they had failed to establish the good society by deposing the king, and why they had welcomed back the monarchy. Like Adam and Eve , they had failed through their own weaknesses, their own lack of faith, their own passions and greed,their own sin. God was not to blame for humanity's expulsion from Eden, nor was He to blame for the trials and corruption that befell England during the time of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. The failure of the Puritan revolution was tantamount, for Milton, to the people's failure to govern themselves according to the will of God, rather than of a royal despot. England had had the opportunity to become an instrument of God's plan, but ultimately failed to realize itself as the New Israel. Paradise Lost was more than a work of art. Indeed, it was a moral and political treatise, a poetic explanation for the course that English history had taken.