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All that may become a man

[Part 6 of 8]

The question of becomes of us in consequence of our choices is not simply about what we do, or what happens to us or others as a result.  It’s a statement about what we perceive ourselves to be or to become in consequence of what we do.  Consider in this respect theSmallLogoLTL exchange between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth in the moments before they execute their plan to kill King Duncan (Macbeth Act I, Sc ):

MACBETH

We will proceed no further in this business:

 32   He hath honour’d me of late; and I have bought
33   Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
34   Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
35   Not cast aside so soon.

LADY MACBETH
Was the hope drunk
36   Wherein you dress’d yourself? Hath it slept since?
37   And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
38   At what it did so freely? From this time
39   Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
40   To be the same in thine own act and valour
41   As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
42   Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
43   And live a coward in thine own esteem,
44   Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,”
45   Like the poor cat i’ the adage?

MACBETH
Prithee, peace!
46   I dare do all that may become a man;
47   Who dares do more is none.

LADY MACBETH
What beast was’t, then,
48   That made you break this enterprise to me?
49   When you durst do it, then you were a man;
50   And, to be more than what you were, you would
51   Be so much more the man.

Freedom is about what we have the ability (means and opportunity) to do.  Right is about what we prove ourselves to be by doing it.  Lady Macbeth chides Macbeth for cowardice, as if the willingness to do foul murder for ambition’s sake is an aspect of manly valor.  Macbeth appraises his manhood in terms of the respect his prowess has obtained for him from others, and the stature he enjoys as a result.  Lady Macbeth wins the exchange, however, because the prospective result of murdering Duncan (to become King) should bring with it greater respect and honor from others. If that is the mark of a valiant (manly) man, Macbeth will be “much more the man.”

But is our appearance in the eyes of others in fact the true insignia of manliness?  Hidden in plain sight in Lady Macbeth’s rhetorical trope is the tacit acknowledgement of a different standard, one connected with the difference between becoming something in a temporal sense, and being in the state or condition that, in reality, substantively corresponds to being what it is supposed to be.  “What beast was’t, then, that made you break this enterprise to me,” she asks.  This question alludes to the fact that the self-sameness of each being has something to do with what distinguishes one state or way of being from another, to wit, in this case, man from beast.

Lady Macbeth’s words demand that we imagine a tiger, a wolf or some other beast of prey: its restless instincts sniffing out its prey. Its animal cunning calculating the time and way to pounce upon it.  But when those in human form follow their restless instincts in this way, do they act with the deliberate freedom of human nature, or accept the yoke of that mechanical nature, which makes a mockery of “freedom”?  For human beings, the choice between right and wrong decides how they stand in their relations with other human beings, determining whether they do so as man to Man, or as beasts, to kill or be killed according to the happenstance of a natural law that takes no account of humanity.

According to America’s founding Declaration, the natural standard of human choice has the image and likeness of God emblazoned upon it.  But, according to God’ intention, isn’t this the image of our humanity?  By this standard “all that may become a man” excludes being enslaved to instinct when the actions that result neglect or degrade humanity itself.  But when “the law in our members” is ennobled by respect for the humanity of God’s intention (i.e., human beings as God intends us to be), it reflects God’s freedom, by which He graciously endowed us with the capacity to aspire to the image and likeness of the Being more than man, the Being whose intention informs the nature of all things, including our own.

God’s law for human nature invites us to care for ourselves as a whole, in honor of the image of life itself revealed in us; and to care for the whole as we care for ourselves, in honor of the Creator who made both.  We “do all that may become a man” by understanding that we are capable of more than manly ambition— not by our will but by God’s grace; not by our power but by our exercise of God-endowed rights.  Those rights are unalienable, inseparable from our nature, because once the alienation of God-endowed right estranges us from Him, we become as strangers to our humanity. Thus the first premise and source of human justice is the intention of God responsible for our nature and that of the whole universe in which we live.  For we are what becomes of God’s intention (known to our heritage as the will of the Creator).  It becomes the very substance of all that exists.  He is the authority for all.

Series NavigationFamily and the exercise of rightful human sovereigntyRebellion to tyrants is obedience to God
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