[An evolutionist] can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or seem to him the best one.”

– Charles Darwin, Autobiography (New York: Norton, 1969) 94.

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In Which We Will Not Eat Sex

I have, some little time previous, raised questions here regarding the relationship between the dominion mandate, sanctification, and principles of vegetarianism. I re-present them for your review, if that is something that you are interested in, below:

Rights v. Duties I
Rights v. Duties II
Apocalypse and Veganism I
Apocalypse and Veganism II
Veganism and the Fulfilling Lives of Chickens

Veganism and the Fulfilling Lives of Cows I

Veganism and the Fulfilling Lives of Cows II
Paedobaptism and Coco the Talking Gorilla

I do this for two reasons. One, I just picked up God’s Covenant with the Animals again and am working my way through it, so that’s what is coming down the old pike.

Secondly, I had a think today which may or may not be relevant to that discussion.

I overheard something from my eighth graders’ Medieval history class about a radical Christian sect (the Albigensians, I think) which eschewed any and all sexual relations, going so far as to avoid contact with all things created by sexual union, including what they ate (meat, eggs, etc.).

This made me wonder, could veganism be much the same thing? As the above articles indicate, I tend to lean in a vegetarian direction, though am not yet practically convinced of the necessity of such a diet at the present time.

Nevertheless, veganism seems to have an incipient servility to an abstract ideal which is at odds not just with cruelty or death, but with bodies and blood as such. The ascetic separation of self from the pains of the physical is as higher knowledge.

Moving in a vegetarian direction is one thing (though no “ideal” should ever drive our behaviour), but a pure veganism seems to be nothing better than the contemporary, secular West’s Gnosticism.

In Which the Boogie-Man is clouding the Issue

As we continue the important discussion of how we ought to care for the other creatures on this planet, I have found that many Christians have difficulty with any discussion of the “rights”, “feelings”, “personalities”, and certainly “sanctification” of animals. The imputation of personality and especially rationality to animals gets many conservative Christians in a funk. I remember watching footage of Coco the gorilla talking to her trainer and others in sign language, and hearing derisive laughter from my companions, deriding the ape’s performance as a “hoax” (manufactured, no doubt, by the same sort of folks who created the Heidelberg and Piltdown men). And of course, their fears of this presentation being Evolutionary propaganda were realized as a voice-over recited the same tired dogma we’ve been indoctrinated with since Darwin’s The Descent of Man and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. I have heard people (students of mine, actually) argue that dinosaurs are all a massive hoax: each one is a fake, a grand conspiracy of god-hating archaeologists hell-bent on pushing their evolutionary propaganda. And given the defensive position Christians find themselves in nowadays, this attitude is understandable (if muddleheaded).

But you don’t have to reject the event in order to reject the interpretive conclusion. I personally see no need to deny the veracity of many of these fossilized findings. Monsters fit quite well into my understanding of history, thank you (as does the discovery of demon-bones, incidentally…another topic for another time, perhaps).

Christians have assumed, along with the secular humanists, that intelligence or rationality is essentially what makes us human. Thus (the evolutionary thought process goes), “lower” life-forms, particularly those “closer” to us on ye olde evolutionary tree, ought to exhibit some kind of proto-intelligence, a “simpler” rationality overshadowed (of course) to one degree or another by “instinct”. Christians react typically in a bass-ackwards fashion, accepting the ‘reasoning’ (no pun intended) of the argument and then vigorously trying to deny the existence of the evidence.

But the whole thing is a red herring. “Rationality” is neither here nor there when talking about what makes us human, and defining ourselves this way creates any number of embarrassing quandaries.

Not that it is idiotic to think this way. Indeed, Christians who define themselves in terms of their rationality are historically in good company: However, when put to a practical test, this theory is found wanting. This was illustrated most tragically in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. As the conquistadors raped, pillaged, and burned their way through the Americas, exploiting and wantonly torturing the peoples they found there, many people at home were outraged at the cruelly covetous atrocities being committed under the guise of Crown and Church. Most notable among those who spoke out against the evil exploitation of the natives were Bartolome de Las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria. These courageous gentlemen stood up in defense of the weak and oppressed, for which I commend them without qualification. That having been said, the philosophical foundation upon which they both based their objections (Vitoria especially) centered around a fallacious understanding of the concept of dominum.

Dominum is, for our purposes, the right of a being to dominion over his person and property. The argument during the age of exploration was, of course, over what conditions are necessary for a being to have dominum. Accepted at the time was “rationality”. This being the case, the conquistadors argued that the natives of the Americas were sub-intelligent, irrational, insane, etc., with Vitoria and Co. arguing manfully for the contrary position.

The problem here is that counter-examples are too readily apparent. Aside from wondering what constitutes “rationality” (is cannibalism “rational”?), there are too many types of persons for whom the honest man would want to claim dominum who are, without a doubt, “irrational”. Children? The mentally handicapped? Coma patients? 9th graders? What is rationality, and how do you measure it to see if you have enough of it? When does a person with Down Syndrome cease to be human? When does a baby become human? How stupid does a guy have to be before I may take his stuff or exploit his person?

“Rationality” is a poor measuring stick for what it means to be human.

This being the case, Christians (especially those of a paedobaptistic persuasion) should cheerfully grant that Coco is really talking: Why not? Dolphins really are smart as all get-out and isn’t it amazing. Different animals have individual personalities, feelings, emotions, and yes, thoughts. Obviously. After all, we baptize our kids.

In Which We Continue Questioning

This is for any thoughtful vegans who might be passing through:
Why is it morally impermissible to remove a calf from it’s mother (to be slaughtered, we’ll assume) and to continue milking her for our own consumption. Let’s assume, for the sake of simplicity, that the cow (and calf, up to the moment of being killed) are treated with great care and compassion; the care more typical of the small farm or family operation than a large industrial dairy (which is another problem to be discussed at another time). Why might this be wrong?

Conversely, for those on the opposite side of the fence, what arguments might one make for this practice being morally appropriate and even desirable (not merely permissible), eschatologically speaking?

For those who want a little background on where we’ve been so far in this discussion, check out the posts below:

In the beginning
Rights vs. Duties
A Vegan Church?
A Vegan Church? II
Or Maybe a Vegetarian Church?

In Which We Ask Another Question

Can someone who actually has been involved with raising livestock answer this:

Is it necessary for a dairy cow to have given birth recently (and then have the calf taken away) in order for her to produce milk? Or will she produce milk no matter what (or is there a third option of which I am unaware)?

Related to this, must a chicken breed with a rooster to produce eggs, or will she produce and lay unfertilized eggs?

To lay my cards on the table, I’m wondering what sort of manipulation (if any) of the normal order of reproduction for these animals is necessary for us to enjoy the culinary benefits. (Just information, please: No angry diatribes. I just saw Rage Against the Machine in concert recently and I’m all full up with vague, unfocused self-righteousness at the moment).

In Which We have no Rights (But We do have Duties)

In our post-enlightenment world, we can address no topic without coming to the subject of someone or something’s “rights”. All political and social questions come down to this. Women’s rights, Animal rights, consumer rights, the right to bear arms, the rights of a mother, the rights of a baby, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (whatever that is). We define ourselves and delineate the boundaries of our actions and the actions of others in terms of what is owed to us and what may not be done to us.

But this is a bass-ackwards way to look at the world. Defining a worldview in terms of “rights” truncates our lives. It is an anemic and miserly way to approach relationships. Rights look at the minimum required and the maximum owed, and so require an infinitely quantifiable description of whatever aspect of life is being addressed. This is not just inadvisable, or even sinfully selfish: In the end it is nonsense.

Instead of grasping at our “rights”, we should rather define our lives and determine our agenda in terms of “duties“. Duties create positive and outward-looking relationships, which tend to be qualitatively measured.

Practically, this difference of outlook would make an enormous difference in our approach to every issue that confronts us:

How ought we to treat animals?
It is not a question of our rights vs. the rights of other creatures. What are our duties toward our fellow creatures? What are our responsibilities? The dominion mandate is not about what we are allowed to take, but rather how we are required to give, to sacrifice, to nurture and care for the Lord’s other creatures.

How ought we to care for the environment?
Again, it is not a question of what we are allowed to take. As Christians, we understand that it is man’s duty to nurture and care for the world that we have been given. We are to be about redeeming the world: A good king is a king who sacrifices for his subjects. What exactly that looks like down on the ground is another question, but framing the debate in terms of duties changes everything, for conservatives and liberals alike.

How ought we to look at the issue of abortion?
For conservatives, this may seem like a simple question (Murder is wrong. Duh.). But that does not answer the ‘women’s rights’ advocate’s very legitimate objections about considering the mother. What would happen if this debate were no longer about who’s rights are being violated, but about duties and obligations? For that matter, custody, alimony, and child-support hearings might look a little different in that context as well.

How ought we to look at economics?
Hard-core conservatives talk about unfettered capitalism like it is some kind of god (which to many, it is). Big box stores and all of the things that get liberal panties in a twist (and I suspect that this is the principle appeal of such things) is just the natural function of the market. Small business owners get edged out, communities fractured, paradise duly paved, but that’s the way it goes, and I have the right to a free-market. Liberals conversely appeal to the rights of the small business man, the rights of the poor, and some generic socialism-lite principles. I’ll talk more about capitalism, charity, and Christianity soon and in as much depth as my education allows, but it will take us a long way in this discussion if we look at it not in terms of what is owed to us, or what has been earned, but rather what our duties are to others. This changes the whole debate, from both sides.

We have no rights. The greatest commandment is to Love God. And the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself. These are duties, obligations. Every discussion of every issue should be framed in terms of how we can fulfill our duties.

In Which We are no longer thinking Vegan, (but maybe Vegetarian…?)

Thinking about chickens lately (ridiculous beasts that they are). And cows, which are one of my favorite animals.

My understanding of veganism is a rejection of the use of any animal-derived products, for food or otherwise (someone correct me if I’m mistaken).

I would want to argue that this is not a good ultimate goal for the sanctification of the world because, when the heavens and earth are remade, service and work will not be eliminated but rather blessed: ‘work’ is not a part of the curse, man’s work itself is cursed. Men will still plow and the earth will yield up its abundance into our hands, fulfilling a part of its own work and service before the Lord.

In the same way, the animals have services to render to God and Man, duties to fulfill which are not in and of themselves a hardship or a curse, but rather responsibilities which have been cursed because of Man’s sin. Like a tree bringing forth fruit or a woman bearing a child, fulfilment is not to be had in the mere act of reproduction (which is an oxymoronic phrase anyway): The Life given goes far beyond the individual being created (whether it be a baby or a bean sprout).

Thus, to reject the use of all animal products, including the eating of eggs, milk-based products, etc. is to devalue the work which may be a part of their fulfilment and thus to, ironically, denature the creature.