Theodicy and Animal Suffering

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Four ten-day-old kittens

Four ten-day-old kittens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Too many attempts at developing a theodicy, a broad-based account of why God allows evil and suffering in the universe, take account only of human suffering. Either writers do not deem it important, or else in Neo-Cartesian mold they deny either than animals have emotions or that because they do not find a sense of anomie in pain that they do not suffer in the way that human beings suffer. The Neo-Cartesian route, though still defended by certain Evangelical Protestant scholars who want a cheap way to get God off the hook for animal suffering, is so far from our experience of animals to be absurd. When will Calvinist philosophers stop try8ing to find a cheap way out of a real problem by denying it’s a problem? It is the propensity of some Evangelical scholars to deny the hard issues of their position: the Bible not being inerrant on historical and scientific matters, the evidence for some kind of macroevolution (even if more than Darwinian mechanisms are insufficient to explain all of evolution), the accounts of God in the Bible as an arbitrary, angry, jealous individual who kills with as much ease as He creates–and the problem of animal suffering. Not all Evangelical scholars agree with the Neo-Cartesians (to be fair, this includes Calvinist scholars–my intense dislike of Calvinism encourages me to be rather expressive emotionally).

The Neo-Cartesian position some scholars espouse has been used to justify abusing animals since “they don’t really understand pain like we do” and since “humans are over the other animals”.Despite the claim of some that animals have a sum total of positive emotions that outweigh any bad, one should also consider their short lives in the wild, often spend in running from predators and seeking sufficient food. Human beings have burdened animals with enormous tasks, The history of man’s treatment of animals has, at best, been a “mixed bag” (no pun intended). Abuse and/or abandonment of pets is a growing problem, especially during difficult economic times. Thus both evolutionary biology and its nature “red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson) and man’s abuse has resulted in a tremendous amount of animal suffereing. How could a good God allow such suffering.

Evolutionary biology provides little help, for animals must pass on their genes to their offspring for the species to survive. Survival–life–is the necessary condition for all other good things in life. Why the food chain? Why so much pain due to predatory relationships between carnivores and omnivores and their prey?

Why is there so much human abuse of animals–dog fights, cock fights, beating pets until they are bruised and bleeding. Does God simply overlook such pain and suffering? If man, the steward of the animals, fails to exercise stewardship and instead exercises cruel domination, do animals have any recourse in a just and merciful God?

Francis Collins, John Hick, and C. S. Lewis have provided attempts to explain animal suffering within an evolutionary framework. For Hick, animal suffering is the required result of God using evolution to bring forth life. Lewis posits a fall of some kind to explain animal pain. Without an eschatological dimension, as I have mentioned in previous posts, animal pain has no redemption–and Romans 8 makes clear that the entire creation, not merely man, will be subject o the saving power of God. John Wesley correctly understands that animal resurrection is a possible implication from the Romans passage.

I do not believe that such resurrection involves just the species. God’s concern is for individuals, and millions of individual animals have suffered over the millenia without a smidgeon of support Duns Scotus was correct in holding that each being is individuated by haecceiitas, a unique formality that contracts the individual natures into an individual thing that is incommunicable. Only God knows the haecceitas in this life. It is arbitrary to say that only the human body is resurrected–why not animals? If God cares about each blade of grass, surely He cares enough about individual animals not to allow them to be annihilated at death. Alternatives allow no justice for the suffering endured by animals (or by people), In raising humans and non-human animals, God reveals His mercy and love in extending the gift of eternal life to the sentient beings of His creation. To deny this is to deny the love of God for His creation and His concern for the “least of these.”

Atheist Desperation

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The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a ...

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, composited from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 3, 2003 through January 16, 2004. The patch of sky in which the galaxies reside was chosen because it had a low density of bright stars in the near-field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The number of new articles and books coming out that assert that the universe literally arose from nothingness without any deity reveal the desperation of atheists. They behave like individuals that assert an absurdity, thinking that if they repeat it enough people will believe it. No matter how much atheists repeat the mantra, “The universe popped into existence out of nothingness,” it will not make that claim any less incoherent. Atheists still play games with the “quantum vacuum,” even though theists have pointed out time and time again that a quantum vacuum is not mere nothingness. When Hawking speaks of a true vacuum causing the existence of a false vacuum, he is spouting nonsense. “Ex nihil, nihil fit” (from nothing, nothing comes to be”) is true today as it was in the past. Pure nothingness is just nonexistence–since it is literally no-thing, not matter, not energy–it cannot have any powers including causal powers. If the atheist tries to bring in another factor into the “true vacuum,” that brings back “something.” The atheist would be more consistent to accept the ancient idea of the everlastingness of the universe as do some “multiverse” theories. In the end, I do not think they save atheism, but at least they are not obviously self-contradictory.

Atheistic scientists often accuse theists of believing in the fantastic, in something so absurd that it cannot exist. Such claims are often salted with terms such as “Santa Claus” and “The Tooth Fairy,” as if that has anything to do with the issue of the existence of God. It is far more fantastic to believe that something arose from sheer nothingness. It is also far more fantastic to believe in an infinite number of universes in which all logical possibilities are actualized (If the traditional conception of God is logically possible, involving no contradiction, which it surely is, then I suppose the atheist would accept one logical possibility that is not actualized–but then the atheist is all about making exceptions when it suits him).

Atheism is primarily about rebellion rather than reality–some people refuse to accept a God who calls their behavior to account. Atheism is a matter of human pride–the refusal to accept any mind higher than one’s own or any truths that go beyond the purview of physical science (especially physics). Some atheists, such as the late Antony Flew, were honest seekers of the truth, and he became a believer in a deistic God. Atheists who are really God-haters may also change their minds if they can overcome their hatred. There is a subset of atheists who are hard core, such as the majority of the members of the National Academy of Sciences as well as those who deign to assert that something can come from nothing. These individuals could see God face to face and deny His existence. They are like the dwarfs in C. S. Lewis‘s The Last Battle, who perceive the gold and jewels Aslan offers them as horse waste and straw. Anyone who asserts a clear contradiction in defense of atheism must be willfully blind. These same scientists will use logic and reason to attack the coherence of a theory they do not accept–yet they assert a blatant contradiction as being true. The only way I can explain that is that the scientists’ beliefs are an act of the will rather than primarily an act of the intellect. They have willed to reject God, and their assertion of contradiction follows. If asserting that something comes from nothingness is the only “argument” that an atheist gives for his position, then that atheist truly is desperate. Atheists who accuse theists of irrationality ought to look at themselves in a mirror first.

Charles “Chuck” Colson, 1931-2012

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Krista Tippett and Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson died this afternoon at the age of eighty, and for traditional Christians of all stripes–Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical Protestant–this is a great loss. His conversion to Christianity occurred in prison, and he changed from one of President Nixon’s hatchet men to the founder of Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry that has helped thousands of prisoners find their way out of crime. I always referred to Mr. Colson as a “Catholic Baptist,” for he had a remarkably high view of the church and of church tradition for a Protestant. He was one of the forces behind the document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” which focused on the common ground, the “Mere Christianity,” to use C. S. Lewis‘s term, shared by all traditional Christians. A staunch defender of the unborn and of traditional moral teachings of the Church, Mr. Colson was the chief driving force behind “The Manhattan Declaration,” a strong affirmation of traditional marriage in the face of continued attacks from both secular and from liberal Christian critics. I have signed the Manhattan Declaration myself, and encourage others to do so.

When I read some of the public comments on the news of Mr. Colson’s death, many were positive, but others questioned the sincerity of his conversion. Given the amount of work Mr. Colson did to improve conditions in prison and to defend traditional Christian teachings, there is no legitimate reason to doubt his conversion. Such attacks are more likely due to hatred of traditional Christian morality and of Mr. Colson’s defense of such rather than a sincere attempt to argue that he was not a true convert.

I have long enjoyed reading Mr. Colson’s books and essays, and I will miss reading new ones. May God be with his family and many friends in this time of loss, and I ask my fellow Christians of their charity to pray for the soul of Charles Colson: Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithfully departed in Christ, in the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Anger at God

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A cat on a grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery

A cat on a grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of "A Grief Observed"

Cover of A Grief Observed

Sam was a wonderful cat–a yellow and white tabby whose fur matched that of Sienna, a sweet cat whom I really loved, who sat on my leg at night when I lay down on the couch and was by my side when I woke up in the morning. Sadly, she had multiple health problems and had terminal kidney failure for which she had to be put to sleep. From the start, Sam was every bit as sweet as Sienna. He’d virtually clamp to my side every morning and I’d reach over and rub the smooth white fur on his belly. Then he started having urinary problems. Two surgeries, which would have cured 98% of all cats with his condition (crystals blocking a narrow urethra, causing damage resulting in massive scar tissue growth) did not sure Sam. I was so upset when he was put to sleep (he was only five and a half years old)I could barely function. I was also furious–at God. It wasn’t that long before Sam died that I had lost my best friend to breast cancer–a woman who ate well, exercised, took care of herself, and died at 46. The two deaths so close together infuriated me, and the object of my anger was God.

God took our first cat, Liebchen, a real ornery character who still loved us; within a month He took Sienna. Then He took my best friend, then Sam. I was so furious I called God about every name from the depths of hell. I imagined that God became incarnate in a human body so He could “enjoy” Himself when animals and people, especially children, suffered. I mocked the design argument, pointing to the windpipe and esophagus having one entrance with only a flap making the difference between life and death. No human designer would be stupid and incompetent enough to make such a system. Evolution seemed cruel and arbitrary, and if there was a God, He seemed a cold, uncaring b…rd.

Some people were horrified when they heard my thoughts, saying I would go to hell–that helped me a great deal–to increase my anger. Some people understood, including some Christians, thank God. I remembered the book of Job, which some Christians conveniently forget–or they do not read it carefully. Job is faithful to God, yet is clearly angry at God. He believes God is behaving in an arbitrary way toward him–“if it is not He, who is it” who is causing his suffering. Even after that, God says that what Job said regarding Him was “right.” This does not suggest, as some suggest, that there is an evil part of God, but it does suggest that God understands human anger–it often does seem as if the universe is unjust, uncaring–and that Stephen Crane‘s conception of nature as not giving a d..m about humanity is correct. The only plausible answer to the mystery of evil is eschatological. That seems inadequate for many atheists, agnostics, and even theists. Dostoevsky understood that unless somehow the pain and suffering of this life were rectified in an afterlife one could, with some justice, blaspheme God.

I was falling apart to the point that my work was suffering when I saw Sam lying on the other side of the bed one night. I was neither asleep nor obviously dreaming. I reached over, touched the soft fur, and watched him slowly fade away. I have seen him two times since then. I think it was a true visitation, though skeptics will have their own answers. It helped me get on my feet and mitigated my anger at God. God and I still have a love-hate relationship (on my part–God is love so He cannot hate). But without God, nothing is redeemed, and all the suffering and pain of humans and animals from the dawn of evolution until the present is ultimately worthless. I’d rather be angry at times at the only Source of meaning rather than be indifferent.

Christians should not condemn someone’s anger at God, but should bear with the person since most of the time the anger is temporary. Give positive advice at an emotional level–do not condemn the person who is angry to hell. It’s not your call in any case. Suggest books such as C. S. Lewis‘s, A Grief Observed and Nicholas Wolterstorff‘s Lament for a Son. Too many Christians have driven doubters and those angry with God permanently from the faith by their legalism. If you are angry with God, realize that such anger may not be permanent–it is best that it not be permanent, for that would lead to the bitterness of total lack of faith and a sense of meaninglessness in life. If a Christian is legalistic about your anger, confront him–let the person know that he is responding in an inappropriate way. Be patient with yourself and with others–only then can one day, perhaps you can be patient with God when bad things happen.

Halloween

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Jack-o-latern

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Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, and I refuse to allow Fundamentalist Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, to spoil it for me. It is because of that that I am writing my second post on this topic.  I am quite aware that October 31 is the eve of All Saints Day. Why should that face forbid Halloween parties and trick-or-treating? Some Fundamentalists behave as if Halloween is the doorway to the Satan‘s closet. They claim that the holiday began in devil worship; therefore, those who celebrate Halloween today are celebrating a Satanic holiday. Now this reasoning is as fluffy as the neural structure of many Fundamentalist Christians because it is a classic case of a genetic fallacy. It is not legitimate to argue from the origin of a practice that the practice has the same meaning today. The same reasoning applies to holidays. Even if Halloween began with Satanic worship (which is historically false anyway), it would not follow that trick-or-treaters are engaged in Satanic worship today. What is the harm in dressing up like monsters and skeletons and presidents and going out to ask people for candy? I enjoy the ambiance of Halloween, the ghost stories, the horror movies and books that come out this time of year. I enjoy giving candy to trick-or-treaters who drop by my house (as long as they don’t try to double-dip). I do not own a Satanic altar on the side, nor do I use one owned by someone else.

Halloween has its roots in a Celtic fall festival associated with nature religion. The pre-Christian Celts were “pagan,” but paganism is not the same thing as Satanism, the early church fathers notwithstanding. True, from a Christian point of view, nature religion confuses the creature with the creator, but it does except the existence of some kind of transcendent and it recognizes the awe people sometimes fell in a beautiful or sublime natural setting. As C. S. Lewis remarked, there is a dignity to high paganism even if its theological premises are flawed and/or incomplete. Paganism has nothing to do with the worship of evil demons, at least in its classic forms. Even if the Druids had a fall festival that marks the roots of contemporary Halloween celebrations, it does not follow that that is what Halloween means today. Even if there are contemporary Druids who engage in pagan rituals on Halloween–and there are–this does not mean that a child saying “trick-or-treat” is a pagan practice. Neither are similar holidays, such as the Day of the Dead in Mexico, which is practiced by Roman Catholic Christians.

Children should take proper safety precautions–if they do, then I say, “Go ahead and have fun!” If a Fundamentalist Christian objects, that is that individual’s right under the law, even if his case were weak. The Fundamentalist needs to be careful in judging others and calling them pagans or Satanists without adequate evidence. Their zeal can move them to the borders of slandering the children who are only out having fun. My word to the Fundamentalists about Halloween is to “lighten up!”

The Possibility of Punishment after Death

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Dante and Virgil in Hell

Image via Wikipedia

Joseph Mengele lives a comfortable life in Argentina, even though he tortured Jews in the most hideous ways in his medical “experiments.” He dies quickly in a swimming accident. Controversial jury decisions put people back on the streets who may be murdering psychopaths. A spiteful person full of hatred tells lies that ruin the reputation of a good person, who leaves town and dies a pauper. The spiteful person gets rich and is admired by others in his community. The good suffer, the evil prosper, and so often there is no justice. How can the scales of justice be tipped in favor of justice in a world that fails so much to be just?

The Christian doctrine of punishment after death offers one answer. This is not to deny that other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have a doctrine of suffering for sins after death in a bad reincarnated state based on their aggregated good or bad karma–but this is not the Christian doctrine of punishment. I also deny the gruesome literal pictures of hell pushed on people in conservative Protestant and in some Roman Catholic Churches and schools in the past. The notion of a person suffering in a literal fire for eternity does count against the goodness of God. But C. S. Lewis‘ notion that hell is people who choose against God and refuse to come to God because they desire to do their own will rather than God’s. God just lets them be and withdraws His presence. An evil person in hell could theoretically leave at any time, but some people are so desperately wicked that they will tell God to leave them alone rather than live under God’s terms in heaven. But such a life inevitably leads to misery and a personality that gets more fragmented over time. Eventually only shards of a person remain. Living apart from God is the worst punishment of all–and given a twisted enough will this can last forever. Thus, the Christian Church has affirmed the possibility of eternal punishment as well as the possibility that hell may be empty with only Purgatory existing. I hope the latter view is correct; but the former view makes more sense of human freedom and makes more sense of psychopathy and sociopathy. Some individuals are permanently twisted–and if they are such good manipulators, with the help of a manipulative lawyer, that they “beat the system” on earth, they will not be able to beat the justice of God. In the end their existence will be miserable–they will have no one else to manipulate or hurt and will live only with their immense egos eating away at their souls. Finally their egos will eat their identity, never wholly destroying it, but making a person as near to nothingness as possible. Perhaps there will be a kernel of goodness (beyond the metaphysical good of existing) that leads all these individuals to repent and turn away from the self to God. Perhaps John Hick is correct in his universalism. If a bad person is temporarily punished to the point of seeing the error of his ways and repenting, that is a good thing. We don’t know, and hope beyond hope that the worst people will repent while finding comfort that they will receive justice after this life is over, justice that they can only avoid by repentance, faith, and love so that they are open to the grace of God. I trust that God knows better than any of us what is in a person’s heart, and He will ensure that the injustices of this life are remedied in the Eschaton.

Spite: The Essence of Evil

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9/28/2008: 73/365

In the second book of C. S. Lewis‘ science fiction trilogy, Perelandra, Ransom, the hero, is imprisoned by Professor Weston, a demonically possessed man sent to corrupt the “Eve” of the planet Venus. At one point Weston begins saying “Ransom.” Ransom turns around, and the demonic being does not reply.  Weston then repeats “Ransom,” over and over–just for spite.

To me spite has more of the essence of pure evil than the so-called primal sin of pride. Spiteful acts are done for “sheer meanness,” as Southerners like to say. Spite is the person who cuts in front of you in line not for any good reason, but just to make your day miserable. Spite is the person at the bookstore who moves into your aisle, and when you move out of the way to a different aisle, moves to that aisle, and so on. Spite is someone trying to agitate people into hatred and strife, not for power, but for the twisted thrill of watching people fight. Spite is the person who orders from the take out menu at a restaurant, then takes a table and refuses to leave, denying other customers that table. The essence of a spiteful person is the agitator. Those readers who are in organizations, whether the organization be a church, a civic group, or a special-interest club, probably knows about agitators. These are the people who, for example, go from church to church, stirring up members and causing a division–then they leave the church they destroyed and go to another church. They don’t desire to run the church; all they want is the enjoyment of creating hatred and division in the church. The same kind of people infect other organizations, and sometimes they are able to destroy an organization.  It is no surprise to me that Agatha Cristie’s detective, Poirot, commits murder in the last novel with him as a character–and the person he kills is not a murderer, but an agitator who stirs others to kill one another. Someone wholly dominated by spite is a psychopath–not necessarily one who will become a serial killer, but one who will destroy relationships and damage people wherever he goes. Avoid being spiteful at all costs–and avoid spiteful people. Those who are dominated by spite, unfortunately, rarely respond to grace, and they are extremely dangerous, both to individuals and to organizations. They are the truly evil–read M. Scott Peck’s fine book, People of the Lie, for more insight on the nature of evil.

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