Neuigkeiten

Samstag, 22.09.2018

Impulse - Wahrnehmungen - Verköstigungen. Ein interreligiöses Projekt: Naturschutz als Band der Religionen

Sa 22.09.2018 // 16 – 19 Uhr // Workshop // Kapuziner Klostergarten Münster

Freitag, 29.06.2018

Ethik des Lebendigen - Vom Umgang mit Nutztieren

Fr 29.06.2018 // 18 Uhr // bis So 01.07.2018 // ca 14 Uhr // Tagung // Kloster Stift zum Heiligengrabe // Heiligengrabe

Samstag, 03.03.2018

Impulse - Wahrnehmungen - Verköstigungen. Ein interdisziplinäres Projekt: Die Synergie aus Ökologie und Spiritualität

Sa 03.03.2018 // 16 - 19 Uhr // Workshop // Kapuziner Klostergarten Münster

Mittwoch, 06.12.2017

Die Würde der Tiere - Vortrag und Symposium

Mi 06.12.2017 // 9 - 17 Uhr // Vortrag im Rahmen des Symposiums „Kulturlandschaft im Wandel – biodivers oder artenarm?" // LVR-Freilichtmuseum Lindlar

Freitag, 15.09.2017

Was die Natur uns predigt - BeSINNungstage InNatura

Fr 15.09.2017 // 16:00 Uhr bis So 17.09.2017 // 14:00 Uhr // Schnupperwochenende im Haus Mariengrund // Münster

Samstag, 09.09.2017

Impulse - Wahrnehmungen - Verköstigungen. Ein ökumenisches Projekt: Für eine ökologische Reformation.

09.09.2017 // 16 - 18 Uhr // Workshop // Kapuzinerklostergarten Münster

Our Fellow Creatures // Herder Correspondence

Our Fellow Creatures

A Plea for a Theological Anthropology “Facing the Animal”

In the beginning God created the living creatures. That is what the biblical creation stories and the theory of evolution agree on. Therefore the theological anthropology should take into consideration that man becomes man only when respecting the animal.

It is without saying that animals are naturally teeming in biblical texts. But someone who looks for animals in contemporary theological writings has to give up very soon, for on the big map of theology they belong to “terra incognita”. When there is talk of God or man, they seem to be of no importance. “The error as to creatures leads to wrong insights into God and diverts the spirit of man from God”, writes St.Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor of the Church, (Summa contra gentiles II, c3). When striving after a profound theology and a spirituality which is inherently consistent, it matters that we approach the truth about animals as intensively as possible.

St.Thomas Aquinas’ hermeneutics is very helpful to achieve this aim. If animals are regarded as “robots without souls”, God becomes an intelligent but unloving designer and religiousness is oblivious to reality and overly intellectual.  As a consequence, being oblivious to reality is then identical to closeness to God. But if we regard our fellow creatures as being ensouled as well, God appears as “lover of souls”, and human spirituality is linked with nature and becomes politically relevant. It demands solidarity with all that is alive.

Is it possible that contemporary theology is wrong, when saying nothing about animals and by doing so, regarding animals as irrelevant? Is it possible that the “spirit of man” is closer to the Creator of all life when the dignity of animals is appreciated in theology? For such a theological zoology an interdisciplinary approach is necessary, which combines the insights of evolutionary biology and behavioural biology with theological figures of thought (cf. HK, November 2006, pp. 580).  Which pathway would the way of thinking in Europe have taken if the appreciation of the animals, strikingly present in the Bible, had not got lost? Could we have escaped the ecological disaster? Would our agriculture respect the dignity of animals as self-evident instead of reducing millions of turkeys, hens, cows and pigs to “raw material” for the production of eggs, milk, and meat? (cf. HK, December 2002, pp. 641)

And what if the fact that animality is part of man, would have been accepted in the theological anthropology and in the preaching of the clergy? If eroticism and sexuality – as it is present in the Song of Songs from the Old Testament – had been appreciated as one  possibility of  experiencing God, would the Church not be very attractive and highly contemporary? Would the Church not be an expert in respect of “humanity” then? If eroticism, sexuality and emotions -  i.e. animality - were locked up like a wild beast for generations, it is not astonishing when it comes out in an uncontrolled and inhuman way. If man denies the traits characteristic of animals as being a component part of the human being, he cannot become human.

In the Beginning God Created the Animals

Let us quote Thomas again who asks in Summa “if Adam in the state if innocence ruled over the animals”: “In the state of innocence men did not need the animals for their physical needs, neither for clothing because they were naked and were not ashamed  (…), nor to live on because they ate the fruits of the trees in Paradise, nor did they need the animals to move along because they were physically strong. But they needed them to gain insight into their natural traits. That is implied when God leads the animals to man to make him name them according to their nature.”

By saying so, Thomas demands that man gains insight into the nature of animals during the process of becoming human. He calls that “cognitio experimentalis” and thus he establishes a theological anthropology “facing the animal”. His anthropology is the first step to include basic assumptions concerning the history of civilization and also data from evolutionary biology: man becomes human with an eye to the animal.

The cognitive experiment Thomas is talking about is an “experiment de hominis natura”, for in its final analysis it concerns the nature of man, to be more precise: the definition of his nature. Animal life and human life are not identical, otherwise animal and man would not be conceivable – “nor perhaps the devine”. And that is why “reaching post-histoire inevitably implies reverting to the prehistoric period of transition when this distinction took place.”  (cf. Giorgio Agamben, Das Offene. Der Mensch und das Tier, Frankfurt 2003, 31).

The NASA sent an optical videodisk into space with the satellite “Voyager” in 1977. Their aim was to provide information for Extraterrestrial Intelligence about the situation of the earth within the solar system and its inhabitants. One day the lucky finder would first see a picture of a man and a woman. In deed, on this ark - here being a videodisk - man is portrayed as the only serious dialogue partner on our planet, whereas all the animals and plants are only portrayed as décor although they are our fellow inhabitants of earth.

That is proof of total ignorance as the absolute number of species amounts to a number between 5 and 30 million. This fact is based on the present list of fauna and flora and furthermore, it is based on discussions with experts. The fact that the present decrease in biodiversity seems to be approaching the extent of species extinction during the big natural catastrophes is not mentioned, nor is it seen in the context of a critical analysis of the man-made reasons for this development. This has been the biggest turning point for life on earth for 65 million years.  

This forgetfulness is far from typical of man: In the beginning God created the animals – in the end he created man. The first distinct self-portraits of human beings were cave paintings. After examining the oldest paintings in 66 caves with paintings, you come to the conclusion that the portraits of animals amount to 62 per cent, non-figurative marks amount to 34 per cent, but portraits of human beings only amount to 4 per cent.   

It is astonishing how accurately and sensitively the essential traits of a horse are depicted. It is astonishing how self-confidently spirit is projected into the paintings: a combination of strength and beauty, of weight and agility, of alertness and calmness. That is also true for the mammoth: embodying dull strength, it is a symbol of power and blindness, magnitude, calmness, and self-sufficiency. Obviously, the process of depicting an animal had the function of finding one’s self.

If the natural world around us, and especially the animals, belong to the complex process of humanization, it is an opposing attitude when men attempt to look for their equals in the outer space, and at the same time they reduce the natural surrounding world to the level of being a mere resource.  It fits the behaviour of those industrial societies which remind us of “the hordes of interplanetary conquerors, who actually do not belong here”. The diagnosis of modern man of the natural philosopher Klaus-Michael Meyer-Abich reflects this image of man. He comes to the conclusion that it might be that modern man is not only forgetful, but that he totally misapprehends the conception of the world and man in this world. (cf. Praktische Naturphilosophie. Erinnerung an einen vergessenen Traum, München 1977)

The idea of responsibility is of the utmost importance in Meyer-Albich’s conception of culture. The natural world around us, the future world and the Third World have completely fallen from view in the industrial nations. The fact that these societies have plunged into a crisis - not only into the ecological crisis – is caused by not seeing nature and culture as a whole. It has lead to an anthropology of serious consequences, “an anthropology with its back to the animal”.

Man as Part of the World to Come

“New faces in the family album” was the headline of  “Die Zeit”  on 10 April, 2010: a woman and a male child, both about 2 million years old. Scientists were enthusiastic about this bone find in the South-African Malapa Cave. Indeed, this  Australopithecus sediba meant an addition to the family of mankind, which is becoming more and more complex. Only just in March the general public was surprised at the unexpected presentation of Hominin X, who  increases our line of ancestors in number, possibly a cousin unknown so far. Last year scientists presented “Ardi”: Ardipithecus ramidus, a young relative from prehistoric times. All attempts to draw a family tree - possibly even having a certain aim in mind – evoke a certainty, a position which is untenable. The evolution has explored different variants both with all creatures as well as with the species of Homo Sapiens.

The authors of the biblical creation stories would certainly have had less problems in accepting these discoveries than many a believer of today, in whose Credo man has to be the centre of the evolution, respectively the creation. Both texts were put together by an editor in about 500 BC. Their conceptions differ greatly, above all concerning the chronology of the Creation. In the creation story Gen 1 man is the last living being who comes into existence (however, he has to share the sixth day of creation with the animals!), whereas according to the creation story Gen 2  Adam is mythically formed from the dust of the ground, that means in the beginning there were not two different sexes. By putting together both texts the editor wanted to show that the fact that the conceptions of the world were very different was not essential to him. He did not at all want to make a scientific statement, which creationists and their atheist critics think he would have had in mind. What he was concerned about were the religious basic statements of both texts, which do not contradict each other but complement each other.

Surprisingly, in both texts the idea of evolution is not implied, but neither are they anti-evolutionary. They do not at all reject the idea of evolution: the world created by God is meant to be creative itself (“Let the water…”, and, “Let the land produce…”, as it is said three times, Gen 1,11ff, 1,24). And this is regarded as God’s own creation (“Let the land produce (…)”  “And it was so.” …”And God said…”  Gen 1,21.25) “. Hans Kessler comes to the conclusion that if the authors lived today, they would expound their message in the context of an evolutionary conception of the world, as, for example, Teilhard de Chardin, Karls Rahner, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jürgen Moltmann and a lot more do, or  Ernesto Cardinal who does so in his Cantico Cosmico” (Evolution und Schöpfung in neuer Sicht, Kevelaer 2009, 72). It is self-evident that within this ”World to Come” man is “becoming” his true self, but by facing the animal (the animal) he also discovers and develops the his own centre (the anima). This is both self-evident and volatile.

Becoming human comes about by accepting the equal value of animals – as Martin Buber puts it. When Martin Buber words his ’Credo’: “All real  life is encounter” and: “A person only becomes self through encountering others”, (Buber: “Der Mensch wird am Du zum Ich.”) he makes clear that this has nothing to do with claiming exclusivity, a demand that means reducing anthropology. In order to make a real encounter between man and animal possible it is not necessary to humanize the animals. The creature itself is our equivalent.

Again and again encounters with animals mean a world where encounters with others outshine the world where things dominate our lives to a large extend. (Buber uses the expression “Duwelt” in contrast to “Eswelt). Buber describes how he again and again faces the eyes of a domestic cat: “The eyes of the animal have the capability of expressing a profound language without having need of sounds and gestures. They are most powerful, they express the suspense of the secret… of becoming without needing words when they let their eyes rest. Only the animal knows this secret, only the animal can reveal it to us.”

With the same naturalness as animals are teeming in the Bible, they are part of Buber’s religious philosophy. Buber sees animals not only in their self-evident relation to the Creator but he also considers them to be relevant to man…

Within such a “theology of encounter” the project of “theological zoology” wants to recall the biblical appreciation of animals and their central importance for anthropology. The aim is to strengthen the biblically founded ethics of responsibility with the help of interdisciplinary debates, and to reflect about the consequences of the undeniable affinity between man and animal in theology. At the same time it is crucial to intensify the commitment of the Church in respect of the ”Integrity of Creation”.

Only very few people doing theology think that the expert in dialectical theology would speak about animals in an appreciative way. But referring to Albert Schweitzer’s ethics of responsibility Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics does speak about the dignity of the nonhuman creature, “Their dignity is their concealed being with God, just as our dignity is revealed. For do we know for sure which dignity is the higher one? For do we really know, whether the outer circle of the other creatures is only there for the sake of the inner circle, for the sake of man? Do we really know that it might not be the other way round? Do we really know, whether both circles, the inner one and the outer one, might not have their own independence and dignity, might not have their own peculiar alliance with God? Does their diversity really matter in view of the fact that Jesus as a creatural being is the centre of both circles? (cf. (Kirchliche Dogmatik, Bd. III, Zollikon 1959)

This is also true for turkeys, hens, pigs, and cattle. On average, every German eats 4 beef cattle, 46 pigs and 945 hens in his life – apart from other animals like sheep, rabbits, and turkeys. Hundreds and thousands of them are kept in a way that is a cruel contrast to their creatural dignity and their natural needs.

What needs to be done is to talk about their dignity in parishes and with farmers. Only a few churchgoers think of these creatures when talking about Creation. They often think of the sun, the moon, and the stars, or currently, the climate. Forgetting about the animals has direct consequences. Hardly anybody knows about the huge factory farms, and hardly anybody cares about the animals’ environment. On the products in supermarkets there are pictures of happy cows and pigs smiling at us. Such pictures even beautify livestock transporters, which haul animals (mostly at night) to the slaughterhouses.   

The consumers -  and that also means Christians - hold an essential key to change the industrial agriculture, which makes more and more farmers suffer.  In cooperation with the German Vegetarian Union (Deutscher Vegetarierbund) the Institute of Theological Zoology is planning pilot projects in parishes: a “veggie-day” (i.e. being vegetarian once a week). Following the good old tradition of meat-free Fridays, parishes can set an example of “good will” when they introduce such a day in church institutions and restaurants (further information: www.vebu.de).

When scientific insight increases, the relationship between animals and men will become closer and closer. When they are as close as in the old myths, there will hardly be any animals left. (Elias Canetti)

Translation of Dr. Rainer Hagencord, Unsere Mitgeschöpfe, published in Herder Korrespondenz 64 6/2010, S. 316-319