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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

They do not look back an they do not ask about tomorrow // Public Forum

They do not look back and they do not ask about tomorrow

Neglecting animals is the result of human hubris because they are men’s fellow creatures and embody their deep longings. That is what Christmas also reminds us of. 

In contrast to Matthew and Luke, in the Gospel according to Mark the story of Jesus does not begin with Jesus’ childhood, but with his baptism and his temptation. The lapidary comment is: “He was with the wild beasts and angels attended him.” (Mark 1, 12) The evangelist purposely refers to the vision of peace in the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament (chapter 11). According to this vision, the wolf will live with the lamb, the calf and the lion will be browsing together, and a little child will lead them.

This scene embodies an issue that has nearly been forgotten in Christian theology due to the fact that it has mainly turned its attention to Jesus, the mediator of redemption. But he is also the mediator of Creation, as it is expressed in the Letter of the Colossians: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities. All things were created by him and for him. (Colossians, 1, 15-23)

Let us think of the beginning. That belongs to Christmas. When Mark thinks of God’s new beginning with us humans, he looks far back: to the story of Adam, who came into contact with wild beasts in the Garden Eden. It was Adam who had to give them names even before Eva came into existence.

Assuming you were Adam or Eve and got the chance to go back into the lost Paradise, you would probably rub your eyes in disbelief as your fellow creatures, the animals, would still be there. The Bible does not say anything about their fate after the unfortunate ‘Fall of Man’. But it is plausible to assume that they did not have to leave their first habitat.

We share this thought with an extraordinary man. The great theologian St. Thomas Aquinas says about animals that they have a closer immediacy to God, because, in contrast to man, they do not have the choice of deciding between being guided by God or being guided by egoism. In the following I am going explain that.

Living in the Present

As far as evolutionary biology is concerned, all cultural works and religiosity began when man became conscious of the importance of time in his life. Man becomes human only when making plans about the future, setting his hope on the next spring, or being in great pain when life after death is concerned. Planning the next day and dealing with yesterday is also an important part of my life. But my spirituality is also based on another thing: on arriving and remaining in the here and now. Practising this is a daily task. Our fellow creatures are the ones to help me because they do not ask about tomorrow and thus they remind me - in the same way as children do – of the deep longing for being able to live fully and wholly in the present.

Living in awareness

Whatever we do, it is shaped by the triad of perceiving– thinking – doing. Even in this respect the emphasis has changed in the course of time. Due to uprising awareness, our human life is more and more determined by intellectual capacity such as abstraction and systematization.

There is no doubt that the highly developed faculty of thought is the principal reason for the success of modern man. At the same time it is always an impediment when our immediate perception of reality is concerned. Whereas we humans tend to interpret the world only with the help of our intellectual faculties and our conceptions, the life of animals is characterised by remaining in the perception – a mode of existence all religious mysticism is constantly struggling for.

Practising this also changes my daily routine: When giving my mind a rest, I am fully aware of all my senses. By listening, viewing, smelling, touching, and tasting I can perceive and recognize the depth dimensions of the natural world around me. This is not only good for me, but also for all those I encounter in my life.

Being Rooted

The 1st Chapter of Isaiah says, “The ox knows his master, the donkey its owner’ manger, but Israel does not know…” The animals are not familiar with questions like “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” These questions result from being conscious of living detached from the world and from one’s self. Here it proves true that man’s evolutionary advantage is his handicap at the same time.

Being integrated in a deeper context of meaning and realising the fact that God is with us and thus we are part of the world is the basis of human longings. Also for Isaiah, the prophet, the ox and the donkey embody this longing. Later on artists put those two animals next to the Christmas crib, in the full knowledge that they have their own and undeniable place within the mystery of the incarnation of God.

Animals have a soul as well

Not before the 16th century, the word “animal” meant “strange”. Originally “animal” belonged to “anima” (breath, soul). In current discussions the argument is frequently heard that, in contrast to man, animals do not have a soul. And especially those who think they are Christians advocate this argument. How could it happen that the biblical appreciation of animals has got lost although in the Bible there is a linguistic relationship between soul and animal.

The history of human thinking faced a great change in the 15th/16th century. In a time when self-evident values were doubted (Copernican revolution, Reformation, religious wars, plague epidemics) the question of man became relevant again: What does it mean to be human? What is man’s role within the entire living Creation. The rationalist approach of the French philosopher René Descartes gained acceptance. According to him the only thing that is certain is thinking: “I think, therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum). According to him, animals are not capable of thinking. That is why he thinks that they are only “robots without souls”. This meant a fatal change, not only for the history of animals, but also for all the things animating human beings deep inside. Not to mention our thinking about God, the ‘lover of life’…

Today, our way of thinking and believing, and also the way we treat nature would be totally different if the Europeans had not followed René Descartes’ way of thinking. And Descartes would have thought in a different way if he had been familiar with the biblical image of animal and man and if he had had insights in the tremendous abilities of animals to think and feel.

At the beginning of the 20th century “The Kluge Hans” (The Clever Hans) was a horse that became important for science history. Its owner, the fairman Wilhelm von Osten, travelled around with this legendary animal because it seemed to be  able to calculate. E.g. when somebody called out to the animal “How much is 7 plus 9?”, the horse pawed the ground 16 times. But the psychologist Oskar Pfingst found out that the animal reacted to the completely unintentional movements of his owner or the viewers, such as a slight unintentional relaxation,  or when somebody was slightly breathing out just when Hans had counted up to 16. The horse was so sensitive that only moving the eyebrows slightly or widening the nasal wings was enough to find the right answer. But these astonishing sensual abilities were neither detected nor appreciated and so the career of the “stupid” horse ended up in the slaughterhouse.

In the meantime, the modern behavioural biology, which not only deals with outstanding abilities of horses, has stepped out of the shadow of Descartes. It has proved that animals are equipped with emotional, social, and ecological intelligence. It has come to the same conclusions as the latest brain researches. They show that, apart from rationality, being able of emotions provides the pivotal basis of appropriate behaviour.

In his book “I feel, therefore I am”, the neurobiologist Antonio Damasio talks about patients with cerebral lesions. All people whose emotional centre of the brain, the limbic system, is damaged do not act rationally any more. With the help of this insight he turns the prevailing notion of modern times upside down, according to which humans should not allow themselves to be guided by their emotions but by their rationality. (Or in other words: he has found a new basis for this notion.)

Chimpanzees are personalities

Until the 1960s we hardly knew anything about wild chimpanzees. It is thanks to the behavioural scientist Jane Goodall that there are new basic findings on our hairy cousins. On the basis of her twenty years of observations, she drew a complex picture of those animals. They are fellow creatures which  – frighteningly enough – are very similar to us. They possess the complete repertoire of behaviour and emotions, as chimpanzees are not only skilled toolmakers, caring parents, and jealous lovers, but also murderous warriors.

Jane Goodall – she is UN Peace ambassador, received 17 honorary doctorates and numerous honorary degrees - was sharply criticized at the beginning of her studies because she used terms like childhood, youth, motivation, irritation and mood in order to describe the life of chimpanzees. Taking for granted that chimpanzees have a personality was seen as an even more terrible offence.

Today we know that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in mirrors and are able to empathize with others. The transition to Homo sapiens can easily be completed. It might be that we humans are only different from animals in being able of transcendental experience: Man, seeking encounter with God….

It is good that the ox and the monkey have a firm place by the manger of Jesus so they remind us that Christmas is the peace festival of the whole creation, which does not primarily consist of “sun, moon, and stars”, but of real and sentient fellow creatures. The poet Elias Canetti says, “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.”

It is true: More and more mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and birds living in the breathtaking habitats of this world are threatened with extinction. If it is going on like this, already in the year 2020 up to one third of all species will have become extinct. And also the other animals are vanishing from sight as they live in ever larger animal factories: turkeys, hens, and pigs. The number of these animals is on the increase due the fact that people consume meat more and more excessively – meat which people expect to be produced as cheaply as possible.

 The Evangelist Mark puts the words into the mouth of the Risen Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mk. 16, 15). This message surely does not mean that we should just preach to all living creatures, but that we should appreciate and esteem all creation in the context of a lively spirituality and in accordance with a responsible Christian way of life. That is what we should also keep in mind when celebrating Christmas.

Translation of ‘Sie schauen nicht zurück und fragen nicht nach morgen’, published in Publik-Forum Nr. 24/2013