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Monday, September 13, 2021

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A couple of very humble remarks to make a larger point: We have a Cat, or vice-versa, named Rosie, a long-haired beauty of great grace, seriousness, and utter silliness. We love her.
That long hair, though! It takes constant effort to keep it untangled; it ruins her 'magnificence' and is a health hazard. The untangler-in-chief is my wife and, since Rosie does not like the procedure, she is reluctant to get in my wife's lap - the wife cannot overlook a tangle, let alone a whole mess. It is her obsession; when she has had her good effect Rosie is safer and gorgeous.
The second remark is not quite so humble. A cancer patient - and I've had a few as friends - wants obsession on their Dr's part. Not much else matters in life and death. A person with a serious addiction - threatening his life, his family, his livelihood - may not want, but desperately needs obsession on the part of others to confront (judge) them, pull the problem into the light, and mercifully help the addict to larger and meaningful life.
I'm pretty obvious here, aren't I : the obsession with sin and judgment is justified, imo - the light it brings is the sine qua non of humanities' healing. Example: James 4.1-2 "What causes conflicts and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the passions at war within you? "You crave what you do not have; you kill and covet, but are unable to obtain it. You quarrel and fight." 'Nuff said.
Homely stuff, but that's how I roll.

While I agree that “(A) more than (C)” is the most promising response to (4), its adoption by a theist-A is no easy task, since his theological/philosophical worldview is founded on a thoroughgoing anthropocentrism. On the logical assumption that theist-A is an orthodox Christian, who, while not necessarily embracing the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, allows for an intermediate state for the soul before final judgement, theist-A can reasonably hold (C) only by rooting it firmly in scripture, that is, in either or both the Old Testament or the New. Now, in the last several decades there have been some audacious attempts to attain this end, most of which involve the search for and exegesis of isolated biblical passages that are proffered as evidence for a more exalted, divinely sanctioned state for animals or the reinterpretation of the Incarnation in ways that extend Christ’s kenosis and compassion, sometimes including His Sacrifice on the Cross, to embrace the animal kingdom. Leaving aside the specifics of these approaches, it seems to me that they seek to make of Christianity something that it is not, for the Incarnation, the coming of the Second Person in the flesh, is the consequence of the Fall of Man, of the one creature made in the image of God. From Genesis, through the Pentateuch, the historical and poetical books, the books of the prophets, to the Gospels themselves, God troubles Himself, on one way or another, with the fate of the members of our species, first of Israel and then, in Christian thought, of all humanity. The beasts, although declared to be “good” (Genesis 1: 25), are not part of this Great Story of Salvation. Placed under man’s “dominion” (Genesis 1:26), which is barely limited by divine commands (for example, Genesis 9:4; Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 22:6), no series theological obstacles appear in either the Old or the New Testament to the systematic exploitation and mass slaughter, including ritual killing, of animals, and no serious theological unease is shown before the horrendous pain and terror that they endure in the wild. Their fate in this world is, if present at all, negligible in scripture and that in the next entirely absent.

Correction: I meant "theist-A can reasonably hold (A)" not (C)

Good comments. There is the well-known verse about the lion laying down with the lamb, but I'll have to look into that a bit more.
I'm also not certain that 'dominion' necessarily has dark overtones in this context; I am aware that the 'dominion' language is most probably meant to convey the idea of 'stewardship', not dark-over-lordness, so to speak; that is more in line with the gracious Creation we are 'put in charge of.'
But maybe those things are not to the point: certainly, there is a food chain, and that necessarily means some amount of pain and distress for the lower links in that chain. But I am reminded of something C.S. Lewis mentioned, that the total amount of suffering in the world is what one human can experience in extremis. The math of suffering is not additive, I think he was getting at: there is not twice as much suffering because two humans are in that predicament. I should look that up again. The point being of course on that view, suffering is not to be diminished, but neither is there more suffering because more people are suffering. I definitely need to find that source.
Something like that reasoning might work with the plight of the animals? Again, not to diminish their fear and pain, but to realize there is no greater total of pain just because it is wide-spread. Little comfort to the individual animal, as it is to a suffering human, but a good point nonetheless.

Hi Dave, thank you for your comments.

>>certainly, there is a food chain, and that necessarily means some amount of pain and distress for the lower links in that chain.<< Would you say that being eaten alive is "some pain and distress"?

>>But I am reminded of something C.S. Lewis mentioned, that the total amount of suffering in the world is what one human can experience in extremis. The math of suffering is not additive, I think he was getting at: there is not twice as much suffering because two humans are in that predicament. I should look that up again. The point being of course on that view, suffering is not to be diminished, but neither is there more suffering because more people are suffering. I definitely need to find that source.<<

I have had that thought myself, the thought that suffering is not additive. PLease do look for the source. It might be in The Problem of Pain

I think I wrote something about this but I can't find it. Suppose you and your wife both have splitting headaches. You can't feel her pain and she can't feel yours. (Only Bill Clinton had the power to feel another's pain.) So the felt headache pain in your house is the same whether only one of you is suffering or both. Still, wouldn't it be better if only one of you were suffering? And so, while animal pain is not additive, it is objectively worse that trillions of animals suffer instead of one.

Vito,

Theism-A is common to a number of different theisms. So a Theist-A need not be an orthodox Christian who >>can reasonably hold (C) only by rooting it firmly in scripture, that is, in either or both the Old Testament or the New.<<

But I agree with you that trad. Xianity has no room for the salvation of animals. Can you point me to a book or article that makes the case that you are opposing?

The works of Andrew Linzey argue that Christ’s compassion for and ultimate sacrifice for the weak and powerless provides a model for Christian treatment of animals. Laura Hobgood-Oster (The Friends We Keep) attempts to extend the good of the Incarnation beyond man to the animal kingdom. I think that the most serious attempt to argue for animal salvation after death from someone working within a Christian framework is Trent Dougherty’s The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theology for All Creatures Great and Small. Unfortunately, the book is so expensive that I have been able to read only parts of it. The book is reviewed by John Schneider, who gives a critical overview of each of its chapters (https://ndpr.nd.edu/reviews/the-problem-of-animal-pain-a-theodicy-for-all-creatures-great-and-small/).

To what other theisms might theism-A refer? This interests me greatly.

It might be worth considering that many things are taken for granted in the Bible, as common to most of mankind. One of those things would be the unnecessary suffering of animals: why would that even have to be mentioned?
There is also a very provocative statement by St. Paul in Romans 8:19-21:
"That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens."
The Creation, of course, includes animals!

Dave Bagwill, I profited from reading your thoughtful comments. However, it seems to me that the issue turns not on “the unnecessary suffering of animals,” whatever human harms to them that it may embrace, but on the obligatory suffering of animals inherent to creation itself, one that worked its ruthless logic long before the appearance of Homo sapiens sapiens and that continues to this day. The brutality of man towards the lower orders of being, although horrific and worse in modern times, is far less than the brutality imposed on them by nature itself. However we may throw into the balance the joys that this state of nature offers to animals, and there are certainly many, these take place within an evolutionary system that is horrendously violent and painful, and all the attempts to justify it, either in terms of the development of higher orders of being or of the unavoidable costs of the emergence of an orderly and predictable physical order, fail to defeat the objection that there is too much suffering present in creation to speak of it as unquestionably good or to not cast doubts its cause, if one. One has only to consider the waste of this evolutionary process, one in which only about one-tenth, the most optimistic estimate, of all animal species that ever existed are alive today, most having perished in evolutionary dead ends, quite often after enduring unimaginably painful predacious and parasitical harms and brutal deaths. If only a fraction of these species were sentient, we have here something quite terrible. I offer these thoughts not as an argument against the existence of God, which I affirm, nor to equate animal and human suffering, since I regard the latter as something rather unique, but rather to raise problem of animal suffering within creation, a suffering, albeit distinct from its human variety, that is universal and real and that theists cannot avoid or brush away with facile responses.

Is anyone else here familiar with the book by Fr Brian Davies "The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil"? Since David Bentley Hart has been mentioned here it should be said that he implicitly champions Hart in important ways, at least in the way I understand him, e.g. claiming God as good for us because it is only within him that we can perfect our nature since he grounds that which is our final cause. Only if that were impossible for us would it be right to say that God is evil.

Note the total lack of reference to moral standings and also, explicitly in Davies, the denial of God having any obligations in the moral sense. He just is not a moral agent, since we don't share a nature with him.

I am reminded of Maimonides, he also only derived God's goodness from his effects, not from anything within him and much less the, dare I say "cancer", found in modern philosophy of religion talking about God's perfections and moral goodness being one of it. Maimonides derived something akin to benevolence from the fact of creation and God's inability to profit from it, thus making creation for creations' sake.

Of course, especially from a religious background, Davies' view is unattractive, but honestly I found it, for me, to be the most intuitive account, faced with an agent that is so totally beyond our understanding. And it has the advantage of dissolving the problem of evil.

VBC, thanks again for your engaging remarks! Your passion for the subject is palpable, and I appreciate it.
Is it true that facile theists are brushing away what you and others feel is a problem? It could be that some theists do not assess the situation as being horrific, terrible, or unimaginably painful for the animals. Those same theists would otoh judge the human predicament as precisely such and are totally focused on that problem, which in their view is the big one.

Dave Bagwill, I agree that most theists do not "assess the situation as being horrific, terrible, and unimaginably painful for the animals" and that "the human predicament" is the "big" problem for them. There are all sorts of explanations, and justifications, philosophic and religious, for whatever woes the animals suffer at the hands of man and nature that can be marshalled to put one right with the dominant state of affairs. Some of these are more worthy of consideration than others, but too many of them are "facile". To cite two examples, consider Michael Murray's Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, which flirts with and implicitly endorses neo-Cartesian arguments to render their pain less problematical than that of human beings or of Swinburne's justification of natural evil as the necessary means that allows "humans to have the kinds of choice which the free will defense extols" (Is There a God, OUP, 1996: 107). The first of these philosophers flirts with and implicitly endorses a high dubious (read absurd) philosophical position on pain that has been decisively refuted by science and the second blithely justifies millions of years of animal misery as the cost of human freedom, as if no alternative is even imaginable. Would it not be preferable to hold the position that the suffering of all the sentient beings who dwell on the Earth, whatever the particularities of that suffering for each species, including the unique dilemmas of our own that arise form our rational capacities, such as the knowledge of death, present the theist with a thorny and unavoidable theological and moral issue?

I don't feel that the issue is thorny or unavoidable! I do take it as a subset of the so-called 'problem of evil', at best.
The way the problem is cast in this thread, it appears at bottom to be a religious, ethical question, or a theological one, if you prefer. It can be cast in other ways as well, such as the philosophy or neuroscience of consciousness and what that entails.
I don't want to sound like a Fundie but - Jesus ate meat and fish; Peter had his vision of all the animals in a sheet and the command to eat of them as he would; the creation itself, biblically, declared 'Good' to all the animals - which of course would include carnivores.
Peter heard from heaven, if we choose to believe it: "He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Acts 10:9-16. Kill. And eat.
Consider also the thousands of animals and birds sacrificed in the Temple rites. By a commandment from God who surely knew the animals as well.
If the question is one of sensibilities, then I don't think argumentation would help - I feel like you would consider it theistically 'sweeping under the rug' rather than a reasoned presentation. And I'm ok with that, I just happen to cordially disagree.


BTW I watched a very interesting short video concerning Temple Grandin, who fought 'Big Meat' by insisting on a more humanitarian way of slaughtering cattle. They still got slaughtered, but without the fear and horror of watching other cattle getting killed.
Could that be considered a step in the ethical direction?

Referring to the problem of animal suffering, which. yes, can be taken as a "subset" of the problem of evil, as "thorny," that is an issue causing difficulty or disagreement" is hardily a controversial statement. I know of no philosopher who has tackled this question who would hesitate to characterize it in this way, whatever position they make take on it. I also note that we are in agreement on the approach of Judeo-Christian scripture to the problem of animal suffering, since, as I commented, "no series theological obstacles appear in either the Old or the New Testament to the systematic exploitation and mass slaughter, including ritual killing, of animals, and no serious theological unease is shown before the horrendous pain and terror that they endure in the wild. Their fate in this world is, if present at all, negligible in scripture and that in the next entirely absent." If you find a personal solution to the problem in quoting New Testament passages that endorse the killing and eating of animals, you are certainly justified in doing so. In Bill's terms, you have "solved" the problem by placing both feet in Jerusalem; I can't follow you along this path, for, as you note, my "sensibilities," which include my philosophical inclinations, do not permit it. In any case, I enjoyed our exchange of views.

Thank you, I've enjoyed it as well.
I am not certain what you mean by 'both feet in Jerusalem', however. I'm wondering if your sensibilities allow even One foot in Jerusalem? Do you feel that Jerusalem is a suburb of Athens? What in the end is your authority?
My thinking is that we should avail ourselves of all of the information we can get to address a problem. Athens can get one only so far.
I realize that, if the problem is your sensibilities, I would not know how to address it. I don't even know how to properly address some of mine. :-)
Peace to you.

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