Ecological Futility and the Incarnation

When I was younger I never wanted to hurt anything or for anything to be hurt. I tried to stop other boys from torturing bugs and shooting birds for amusement. As a young man I got into fights over another man’s treatment of his pets. My ignorance accounted for most of the harm I would do. I never realized what goes on in meat-processing plants, on large-scale production animal farms, and in laboratory tests. The gratuitous violence, the disregard for suffering; not pain that lasted just a moment like tearing off a bandage, not dumb oblivious deaths, but agonies which in human terms could only be called “torture” stretched out over days, months, years. I never saw what happens at the circus when the paying customers aren’t around. I never realized the incredible quantities in which animals are killed for only a fin, a claw, a hand, a head, a tail, their feet. I never knew what chemicals we’ve pumped into the animals on our farms and the grotesque distortions and mutations that result, and their resulting agonies. I hadn’t yet been abroad – in places where our slaughter methods look incredibly humane, where dogs are beaten severely to increase the adrenalin in the meat.

Dialogue: Religion, Science, & Human Sacrifice

But science is a humane undertaking. It is religion that is responsible for immense human suffering.

One word: vivisection.

You’ve got to allow that we’ve made some progress. It’s not like we do that anymore.

Two more words: human testing.


The Department of Energy’s radiation experiments. MKULTRA. Eugenics. Tests on POW’s.

OK. But those are isolated events.

Really? How many isolated events does it take to make a pattern?

OK. But they’re the result of a few quacks here and there throughout history…

Modern history.

Yes, modern history, and quacks who had access to power and misused it. But that doesn’t represent the ideals of science.

But you don’t grant this same reprieve to religion.

Oh, all right. Touche.

But the similarity stops there. You haven’t accounted for the unique guilt of science in that it has placed itself above human life while claiming to serve human life. It is doctrinaire science as a law unto itself – every bit the modern surrogate for religion – that has more or less consistently argued in favor of man’s destruction by degrees, and the horrible irony is that it does this presumably as a means to serve man. There is an underlying premise at work there, and that is why it pops up rather consistently, and the quacks are consistently taken seriously by presumably the best minds in the so-called scientific community. Read the AMA journal for a taste of the latest – fetal harvesting and so on.

Granted, but I wouldn’t say man’s destruction is at stake. Perhaps that of a few men.

The Manhattan Project.

Well, I see your point.

Abortion on demand.


Operation Paperclip.


And how many men is “a few men”? How many can sanely be sacrificed for the good of how many others? Isn’t science’s arrogance far in excess of religion’s worst nightmare in that science, far from repudiating God, has replaced God with a priesthood of specialists.

I could say that the scientific crimes you mentioned were not serving science but proceeded only in the name of science. I would hardly call them a priesthood.

Yet they proceeded under the direction of the foremost scientific minds, with the support of the journals, the academies, and the blind faith of their cultural parishioners, caught up as they were in the ecstatic faith of progress, babbling like witchdoctors about how we should bring back the throwing of virgins into volcanoes to save the village or, if you prefer, how we should sacrifice this or that group of people presumably to save some other group of people, and how that is presumably compassionate. Religion, like science, may have been perverted, but it is religion that offers man the hope of repentance. It is religion that has achieved in so many cases, which are seldom cited, what science has proposed but only succeeded in mocking – human freedom, which is above all the freedom to exist. Romania and Poland are two good examples. There religion has been a civilizing force in the face of presumably scientific elitism.

And still people kill each other over religion in Northern Ireland.

Do you really believe that is over religion, or do you believe it is over politics which hasn’t the courage not to hide behind the name of religion.

Ah. You didn’t buy it when I said that about science’s quacks.

For good reason. At least those fighting over Northern Ireland have the decent honesty to frame their epithets in terms of raw power, however they toss around religious affiliation as the terminology of power. It is only in the press, after all, that the religious aspect is taken seriously by the chronically theologically illiterate.

I suppose. We should talk more on this.

I hope we will.

Good day then my dystopian friend.

Adieu then, True Believer.

Gaia and Animal Rights

It is easy to expose the weak underbelly of the “animal rights” idea. After all, the conception of “rights” is uniquely human, and so depends on humans to conceive of and apply to animals. It means that without humans, animals can have no rights, and so are subordinated to humans, having only the animal rights granted them by their human benefactors according to human interests and human concerns for self-preservation, enjoyment, etc. Ironically, the concept of “animal rights” accomplishes the opposite of what its advocates seem to be seeking. Rather than showing the innate value to ecology, it subordinates ecology (perhaps wholly) to man’s values and choices – ultimately to human utility.

It is then also  ironic and certainly disconcerting that so many who assert a “fundamental right to life” for veal – unborn cattle, reject any fundamental right to life for humans who have not yet emerged from their mothers’ wombs. The inconsistency begs the question: What is the source of rights? The tendency here is that rights derive from power, or might makes right. Some discerning animal rights activists note that from power comes responsibility, but this leaves the question unasked: Why does power demand responsibility rather than simple utilitarianism? From what ultimate power and benevolence does the principle derive?

One answer to this question has been the “Gaia” deity (Mother Earth) theology which (without going into the mythological and purely religious details) asserts that great damage has been done to the terran ecology by man. The earth is somehow suffering, as a result of man, from futility, and is somehow returning the favor. This is an easy theology to adopt when it compliments the widespread faith of nihilism – belief in the futility of absolutely everything. It begs the question though: What are intelligence and volition, and how are they measured? Cause and effect are one thing, but a soul is another. Deifying the earth that one holds as ultimate value is essentially totemism; that’s fine, but it is a far cry from a genuine answer. If, as pantheism suggests, it is creation that is divine, why the persistent futility? The question becomes also: what is divinity? The Gaia myth also, however, identifies key human concerns  which it may be possible to address in other if similar terms.

Debunking “animal rights” and “Gaia” arguments has two pitfalls: 1) that of  a merely reactionary mentality – casual about suffering and uncompassionate, 2) that of rejecting the arguments without getting at the basic problems being identified, however not solved, by these ideologies. Set over against the “animal rights” and “Gaia” thinking is the most powerful force in Western thought, Latin and Protestant Christianity.

So often there has been a failure on the part of this force to at once adequately explore the identity of man with the rest of nature, to posit an adequate basis for the unity of all of creation, and to preserve the unique identity of man with God, man’s singularity among creations in the image and potential likeness of the Creator. This dilemma, as Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer correctly observed, has led to a concentration on the identity of man and God at the expense of the rest of creation, and so to a theoretical ethical vacuum which must necessarily be filled with the ideas of Christianity’s nemesis, Monism and its practical expression in Gnostic Paganism, even if those ideas are not only inadequate but carry attendant faults every bit as dangerous as the Western Christian ideas have proved destructive. Certainly the risk of greater inhumanity results from the blurring of the distinction between man and animal and the alienation of man from the moral perfection of the Creator.

It is possible, also that the best formulation of a morality of ecology is found not  in a dialectical oppsosition to the Christian tradition, but rather within it. Eastern Orthodoxy argues that the Incarnation accomplished not only the deification of man, but  the deification of ecology as well.

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