But We Think That We’re Above the Pigs, Sheep, Cows

Looks like Pope Francis, while pretty liberal in some areas, thinks it’s terrible when people don’t have children. I have to say the insistence of some religions on being fruitful and multiplying strikes me as a bit out of date. I mean, doesn’t the Bible say that was a command from God to Adam and Eve way back at the dawn of humanity? Does it really still apply now? The population of this planet has jumped by about two billion within my lifetime. I don’t think there’s much chance of the human race dying out if a few couples choose not to have children. The Pope DOES remember that he’s celibate, right? Or is he telling Catholic couples they have to pick up the slack because he’s not having kids? I would imagine the reason many religious leaders emphasize reproduction is that they hope the kids will grow up in the same faith, which is often the case, but also somewhat of a wild card. I’ve heard the thing about childless couples going on lots of vacations and having houses in the country before, and it always bugs me as someone who doesn’t have kids but also doesn’t have the disposable income to take a lot of trips and buy property. Even if I did, I doubt it’s what I’d spend it on; there are some places I want to see, but in general I’m a homebody. And Francis is a guy who’s always saying the Church needs to focus more on the poor. Maybe he just figures everyone who attends a sermon at his guest house is rich. And really, having children is the only way you won’t be lonely in your old age? A commenter on the original Guardian article astutely points out, “What of the fellowship to be found in the community of the church?” Indeed, the Pope talks about how Jesus made the Church fertile, but that obviously wasn’t through procreation, unless Dan Brown was right after all.

The bit about how so having pets instead of kids is interesting not only because a lot of people have both, but also because it seems to show some contempt for animals. Don’t forget that this pope named himself after the saint who’s always shown hanging out with animals.

But then, it’s still the position of the Catholic Church that only humans have immortal souls.

When I searched for the topic on Google, I came across several sites assuring me that animals do have SOULS in Catholic thinking, but they aren’t IMMORTAL souls, so in fact no dogs go to Heaven. This is linked to the idea that humans can choose to act morally or immorally, which isn’t all that uncommon.

Even in Hinduism, in which animals are said to definitely have immortal souls, they still don’t accrue karma. Mind you, when the main thing that makes humans different from other animals is the ability to reason, it’s strange that the people who most fervently claim that we’re superior to animals are the same ones who hold to rigid dogma, hence choosing NOT to exercise the ability that supposedly makes us superior in the first place! I’m really not comfortable with the whole thing about some life forms being “higher” or “lower.” And I’m saying this as someone who eats meat and will kill bugs when they annoy me; I’m no Jainist. I just think making the value judgment at all shows unnecessary bias. Do you really have to tell yourself that you’re better than a dog, a cat, or a chimpanzee to make it through the day? And if so, why?

I’ve always thought Xenophanes had a point when he said, “But if cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the work that men can do, horses would draw the forms of the gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.” But then, I’ve also never understood nationalism, which is apparently born out of the same need to consider yourself better than someone else.

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14 Responses to But We Think That We’re Above the Pigs, Sheep, Cows

  1. Good article, and I agree 100%. With a global overpopulation crisis, it seems misinformed at best and downright irresponsible at worst to advocate for procreation. Not that procreation should be condemned, but rather responsibility should be emphasized.

    As regards the issue of animal souls, it would be great if some of these religious leaders would actually read and try to understand their own Bibles.

    The author of Ecclesiastes says in 3:18: I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.”

    The author goes on to explain this point, which is in essence an argument against man’s supposed superiority over animals.

    Ecclesiastes 3:19-20: For there is an eventuality as respects the sons of mankind and an eventuality as respects the beast, and they have the same eventuality. As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit, so that there is no superiority of the man over the beast, for everything is vanity. All are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust.”

    This demonstrates why man has no claims of superiority over the beast. Both came from the dust, both are returning to it.

    The word spirit in this verse is often translated breath. Both words are the same in Hebrew: ruach. The ancient Israelites believed that the spirit was the life-force of man and beast, more akin to how we now view the soul (though there is debate as to whether ruach is sentient or more like a force). Conversely, the soul in the ancient Hebrew scriptures isn’t something inside someone, but is a living person made up of spirit and earth. Gen 2:7: “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

    So, scripturally-speaking, it’s more appropriate to ask whether animals have spirits like man, and what becomes of them at death. The presumption that man is superior to the beast on these grounds is shattered by Ecclesiastes, which makes it clear that the spirit of man and beast is the same. Ecclesiastes then goes on to challenge the idea that man’s superiority exists in his assurance of the afterlife:

    Then in verse 21: Who knows the spirit of man, whether it goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, whether it goes downward to the earth?”

    Bible commentators such as Wright and others point out that these are interrogative phrases, meant to underscore the earlier points. Some translators write it as “Who really knows…” or “Who can prove that the spirit of man ascends upwards while the spirit of the beast goes downward to the earth?”

    In other words, since the eventuality of man and beast are the same, and they derive from and return to the same place, and no one can ascertain for a certainty that man’s spirit ascends to heaven (Prov 15:24, indicating that it metaphorically goes up and away from Sheol), man cannot assert superiority.

    Why would a God of Love cruelly allow his sentient creation to suffer and die in finality? Why would he give man–who causes the majority of suffering in the world–the opportunity for eternal life in paradise, and not the oppressed beast whom he needlessly enslaves, tortures and kills?

    As later verses indicate that man’s spirit will rise after death, it seems pretty clear from scripture that the spirit of the beast also rises to the Father. Jesus said in Matthew that not a single sparrow falls to the ground “outside your Father’s care.” The apostle Paul reveals in Romans 8:21 that “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

    • Nathan says:

      If all the animals that ever died come back when Jesus does, though, isn’t that going to mean a world overrun by insects? :P

      • Rockinlibrarian: That’s very true. We don’t have to worry about the moral character of our pets (though I do worry about that with my Rex, who is constantly upsetting my peaceable kingdom by chasing after anything and everything that moves in the yard)!

      • Nathan says:

        There have certainly been times when I thought our cats and dogs were misbehaving on purpose. When Beth first got her dog Dewey, he would chew things whenever the family left the house. I guess I’ll have to trust that it’s not really a moral thing with them, but sometimes I wonder.

      • LOL, it certainly would if it was exactly like that!

        There are certain mysteries that can’t be answered, and shouldn’t be. I don’t believe that anyone can really know the logistics of paradise (though some claim to)… and I’m glad of that! The Old and New Testament offers glimpses of things, some that are concrete (the morally elevated condition of mankind, the complete cessation of greed, hate and violence, the peace between animals), others that are much more nebulous.

        And I think half the fun is speculating: Is the universe remade so that we go forth expanding unto other planets and worlds? Or do we inhabit a purely heavenly realm that perhaps only appears on the surface like the terrestrial one. Or is it both? And of the insects, are they recycled into other bodies? Are they given their own worlds that we can only visit? And is that true for the dinosaurs?

        Now that I’m older, I’m open to the possibilities and feel strongly that no matter what the outcome, there’s no injustice with God, so that when the creation is “set free from its bondage to decay,” for which it’s currently “groaning”, it will in fact “be set free.” How? It appears we’ll have to wait and see. :)

      • Nathan says:

        A lot of our current conceptions of Heaven and Paradise aren’t based on anything in the Bible or religious tradition so much as popular culture. Certainly the image of Heaven being filled with angels singing hymns with their harps for all eternity would get boring quickly, but that might well be the province of cartoons more than actual belief.

      • Joe says:

        As regards the story of the Fall, I agree. It strikes me as unfair as well. My reconciliation of that is that animals get an instant “Get out of Jail Free” card when they die, whereas humans are weighed on the basis of their life and circumstances. I actually wrote a kind of Fall scene in my Ancient Dawn of Oz ms., which deals directly with this issue.

        As regards cartoons and the conception of heaven, I think you’re right, and sadly, it seems that a LOT of people have taken that concept from there and thought it to be some kind of theological/biblical idea. The education system in this country, and especially in certain regions of the country is horrendous. Some Americans have as bad an education (if not worse) as those who live in a third-world country. And since I’m a “conflict-theorist” (from a sociological perspective), I tend to think that it’s by design.

      • Nathan says:

        I played with this a little with the talking tree in my Royal Crab manuscript, with his being unsure whether all trees were sentient at one time or that’s a newer mutation.

      • Joe says:

        Poor tree doesn’t know he’s a descendent of the Ents! :)

  2. I always think it’s a bit of the opposite– after all, it was HUMANITY that Fell, and needs to come back to God. The animals never left Eden. Metaphorically. And even before the Fall, the bit about Man ruling over the animals wasn’t about being BETTER than them, but having POWER over them, which is absolutely true.

    Still, when people hold their pets on an EQUAL level as their CHILDREN, that does seem too much to me. It’s not about putting the pets down, it’s just that one takes care of ones pets, but ones duty with children is to raise them to be good people who are going out into the world on their own.

    • Nathan says:

      I think I’ve written before about how the story of the Fall strikes me as unfair to animals, since apparently they also had to suffer when humans did the wrong thing.

  3. Pingback: Save Our Souls | VoVatia

  4. “ Multiply and be fruitful ”

    We are multiplying, but we are NOT being fruitful.

    Overpopulation is a worldwide problem, sure, but that’s only part of the picture. The developed world is already below replacement fertility. Population growth is at its worst at the least developed countries, most of which have also low life expectancy, and are at risk for widespread famine and disease.

    Birth control is being preached to the wrong people. Those who could raise more educated, fruitful children, the professionals and leaders that the future needs, are instead wasting their wealth and their lives in pleasure, and generating more waste than millions of people in poor countries.

    The ones who need to stop having children are those who can’t afford to raise them healthy, to give them a future.

    The developed world needs to be fruitful, and to help those in need around the world. The developed world also need to stop consuming so much, to stop generating so much waste. They certainly have the power to change the world, but they’re too selfish.

    • Nathan says:

      I don’t know that I’d say it’s anyone’s responsibility to have kids, even if they DO have the resources to raise them (which many people even in developed countries don’t). I do agree that the most population growth often happens in poor, undeveloped areas, though. And I’m sure that will continue to happen when people think it’s sinful to teach people in third-world countries about birth control.

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