Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Humans: How do We Fit In?

I've run into some odd notions about animals and people, including:
  • Animals are
    • People
      • With fur or feathers
    • Things we can use
      • Any way we like
  • Humans are
    • Nothing but animals
      • Without fur or feathers
    • Not like animals
      • In any way

Animals, Feelings, and Me

I like animals, and would have more sympathy with 'save the whatever' proclamations: if more of the nature enthusiasts showed more sense. Like the folks who put poison in a rhino's horn to dissuade poachers. That publicity event ended with a dead rhinoceros. Still, they meant well.

Then there are researchers. I've wondered how many of them actually see animals during their experiments. The impression I get is that lab assistants do most of the hands-on work.

Which doesn't mean that I want to exterminate pandas, or feel that science is evil. I've opined about animals, emotions, and getting a grip, in other blogs:

Animals, Priorities, and Getting a Grip

Let's say that it's around midnight, and you're on a dock in a small harbor. There's nobody around except you, and the crew of a cattle barge about a quarter of a mile offshore. The barge crew are, presumably, taking the cattle somewhere; you're looking after a small boat.

It's a quiet, serene, scene: until the barge catches fire.

You call the fire department, and they'll be here ASAP. Which in this case means about twenty minutes. Meanwhile, the fire has spread from one end of the barge to the other.

Any living thing on the barge is likely to be dead and roasted by the time the fire department folks arrive. You can get to the barge much faster, using that boat.

So you take the boat out to the barge, and start ferrying creatures back to shore. Starting with the:
  1. Humans
  2. Cattle
  3. None of the above
I'd start with the people. I like animals, and wouldn't like the idea of leaving cattle behind in this hypothetical situation. But it's important to keep priorities straight: and human beings come first.

Sparrows, Sheep, and Me

Since I'm a practicing Catholic, I think you're more important than a sparrow. (Luke 12:6-7), or even sheep (Matthew 12:12). Sparrows and sheep are important, and I'll get back to that.

"God Loves All His Creatures"

Human beings are more valuable than sparrows. That doesn't mean that sparrows have no value. But my Lord says that we're more valuable, and I'm okay with that:
"The hierarchy of creatures is expressed by the order of the 'six days,' from the less perfect to the more perfect. God loves all his creatures209 and takes care of each one, even the sparrow. Nevertheless, Jesus said: 'You are of more value than many sparrows,' or again: 'Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!'210"
That "hierarchy of creatures" has at least two other names in my language. "Hierarchy of being" (Dictionary, is a fairly common, if ambiguous, name for the idea that creatures can be sorted into a ordered list. "Being" can be either a noun or a verb, depending on context, and that's another topic.

My father called it the "ladder of creation" when he introduced me to the idea, so that's what I'm inclined to call it.

Whatever it's called, the idea is fairly simple. Nobody created God: He exists, always has and always will. Everything else got created, or is being created, by God: and created beings can be sorted out into categories.

The "ladder" metaphor may have come from the way the list looks when arranged in a table:
Inanimate matter

The 'rungs' of the ladder are, in the original idea, quite distinct from each other:
"...Each level in this hierarchy is complete in its own perfection, and there is no transition from one to the other...."
("Hierarchy of being," Dictionary,
Here's what the hierarchy of being looks like, when I separate the created beings into those that are pure spirit, and everything else:

I've run into folks who really, sincerely, passionately, don't like the idea that we're in the same general category as rocks, geraniums, and guppies.

I'm okay with being a creature that's designed as a rational being with a physical, material, existence. (Catechism, 1951) But not everybody's comfortable with the material world, and I've been over that before. (March 5, 2012)

Deuteronomy Plus a Couple Dozen Centuries

I've also been over why I'm not shocked and dismayed when I run into something that's been learned in the couple dozen centuries or so since, say, Deuteronomy was written.

Take slime molds, for example. Depending on where the critters are in their life cycle, they'll be acting like animals or plants. They were classified as fungi for a while, before scientists learned more about them. Fungi, by the way, have chitin in their cell walls: and chitin is what the shells of insects is made of.

None of which, I think, proves that God doesn't exist. Or that people with religious beliefs are stupid. But not everybody sees reality that way. And that's yet another topic.

"The Summit"

I don't know how many folks still buy the notion that Christians are taught to pollute rivers and drive cute animals to extinction. That belief may be tied in with the "religion is against science" attitude that popped up in the 19th century, and I've been over that before. (March 14, 2012)

I've read the Bible, and there isn't an eleventh commandment that says 'thou shalt ruin the earth.' But some folks over the last century or so who lived in a nominally Christian culture didn't follow current EPA regulations. The passenger pigeon and dodo got killed off (fairly) recently; and clueless industrialists made a mess of the air, water, and ground in some places.

The Catholic Church has a few things to say about taking care of what God made, and I'll get back to that. About what human beings are? Like it or not, we're on top and in charge:
"God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

"God blessed them, saying: 'Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.' "
(Genesis 1:27-28)

"Man is the summit of the Creator's work, as the inspired account expresses by clearly distinguishing the creation of man from that of the other creatures.211"
(Catechism, 343)
But "dominion over" doesn't mean "ownership of." That, I think, is where 19th century Western culture got it wrong.

What the Catholic Church says, in part:
"In creation God laid a foundation and established laws that remain firm, on which the believer can rely with confidence, for they are the sign and pledge of the unshakeable faithfulness of God's covenant.214 For his part man must remain faithful to this foundation and respect the laws which the Creator has written into it."
Like it says in the comic book: "with great power comes great responsibility." Human beings are the "summit of creation," but we're not God. Not even close.

Rules at the Summit

Here's an early example of 'animal rights:'
"2 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out grain. "
(Deuteronomy 25:4)
About a half-dozen centuries later, someone said that this principle applies to workers' wages: and about two millennia after that, labor-management issues are still a work in progress. (1 Timothy 5:18; "Rerum Navarum;" "Caritas in Veritate;" (March 19, 2012' February 27, 2012))

And that's yet again another topic. Topics.

Dominion and Responsibility

I've been over this before. Human beings have dominion over this creation. And, like any manager or CEO, responsibilities come with the authority:
  • We can't 'do anything we want' with animals
  • Animals
    • Are under our dominion
      • Moral law applies to our actions
        • We must remember
          • Our neighbor
          • Generations to come
    • Are not people
      • Deal with human misery first
    • May be used for
      • Clothing
      • Food
      • Pets
      • Research
    • Belong to God
      • We owe them kindness
      • Remember how St. Francis of Assisi treated animals
        • And St. Philip Neri
  • Human beings are
    • Animals
      • A special sort of animal
        • Endowed with reason
        • Capable of
          • Understanding
          • Discernment
    • People
      • Rational and therefore like God
        • Made in the image and likeness of God
      • Created with free will
      • Master over our actions
    (adapted from Catechism of the Catholic Church)
    (August 13, 2011)
Then there's how we're supposed to manage the environment.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.