Dion's random ramblings

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Do Chimpanzees grieve? And can we exist outside of God?

Some years ago I got quite caught up on reading some of the esoteric 'new scientists', such as Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, and of course the quantum physicist David Bohm.  Their understanding of the structure of reality is that everything is ultimately interconnected - some of them even when as far as saying, as Colossians 1:(16)17 says "He [Jesus / God] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together", that all of reality comes out of God's divine nature.

I certainly agree that there must be a binding reality, some may call it a binding creative force, in all of the cosmos.  This is entirely in keeping with the teaching on creation that comes from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The Old Testament is much less 'dualistic' than the New Testament.  The Hebrew world view differentiates between God and God's creation (i.e., God is supreme and wholy 'other' or different from creation), yet it does not separate God from God's creation.  There is a continuum of being between the God who creates and existing things that exist because of and through God's ongoing creative action (cretio ex nihilo  and of course creatio continiuum).  The New Testament suffers a little more from the influence of Platonic dualism (well more precisely neo-Platonic dualism.  Plato believed that physical reality was an imperfect representation of a perfection spiritual reality that existed elsewhere.  Of course one reads this very clearly in Hebrews (see particularly Hebrews 10), where there is a clear distinction between earthly priests and the True Priest, the earthly tabernacle and earthly sacrifice, and the True Tabernacle and True Sacrifice.  This dualism, however, must not be mistaken for a break in the continuum between God and creation.

What is certain in both the monism of the Old Testament, and the dualism of the New Testament is that nothing can exist outside of God!  Think about that for a moment!  God is God, everything that is created by God exists within the God who gives it the ability to exist - it can be no other way!  I used to confound my first year systematic theology students with this question.  Many would say that you have God and then you have creation.  But, if that were the case it would mean that there is something that has a seperate existance from the One God who is the source of everything that exists.  I would draw a large circle (and name it 'God') and then ask where creation is in relation to that large circle... Of course everything that exists has to exist within and because of the God who creates it and is its source of ongoing existence.

So, if you take the next logical step from that point you will have to agree that the Bible teaches us that there is a fundamental common ground for all existence - that fundamental common ground is God (the one who makes existence possible)!

I have often pondered this mystery... Of course it means (as I said some 20 years ago in an oral exam) that when I abuse another person, I am ultimately abusing God, and of course even abusing myself...  The same goes for creation... When I abuse creation, I am abusing God, and abusing myself (read Psalm 24:1-2)...

It is for this reason that I am always amused, and blessed, when I read stories like the one below.  I am amused because it astounds me how arrogant humans have become to think that we are the only part of God's creation that feels emotion, experiences pain, and suffers loss.  But, it also blesses me when I see a few people who come to discover that we have a responsibility (I would say a Christian responsibility in accordance with 'The Great Commandment' expressed so clearly in Luke 10:27) to care for animals, the planet, and all of God's creation as we would care for ourselves.
This was such a powerful image, and a lovely article (taken from here)

Look at this photograph and just try to tell me the answer is no.
This incredible image was shot for National Geographic by Monica Szczupider, and shows chimpanzees at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon. They're observing as the body of an elder troop member named Dorothy is taken to burial. She died at 40 years of age, which is pretty old for a chimpanzee.
The photo appears in the November issue of National Geographic Magazine, in the "Visions of Earth" section. [ Thanks, Marilyn Terrell ]


  • Hi Dion,

    "But, it also blesses me when I see a few people who come to discover that we have a responsibility (I would say a Christian responsibility in accordance with 'The Great Commandment' expressed so clearly in Luke 10:27) to care for animals, the planet, and all of God's creation as we would care for ourselves."

    Luke 10:27?

    I was so curious I even went and read it in The Message just in case.

    By OpenID markpenrith, at 8:20 PM  

  • Hi Dion
    I have done some work with perpetrators, mainly torturers. (I am a psychologist.) None of the men I work with have ever been prosecuted. When I work with them, it often feels as though I am surrounded by grey, faceless people who crowd the room. I am so aware of everyone they have harmed, the families of those they have damaged, their own families who suffer under their aggression and alcohol abuse, myself and my family when I have too much contact with them. The intergenerational effects of this sort of behaviour are profound. And of course, the damage that they, the perpetrators have incurred through harming others. There is probably no greater way of damaging your ability to form attachments to others than through torture. After working with perpetrators I feel the interconnectedness of the universe.

    By Blogger ElaineB, at 6:23 AM  

  • Hi Dion

    Your messages appear regularly on my facebook wall and I must admit that I find them sometimes quite perplexing. Your latest facebook entry elicited that response so I clicked the link to your latest blog entry and decided to send you some of my thoughts. Let me state from the outset that I am an atheist, so theology makes very little sense to me (no offence), but I read your posts every now and then just for fun. You seem to think about things quite a lot which I appreciate. I hope you won't be offended by me adding in a bit of a different perspective on some of your ideas and asking some questions.

    You write:"I certainly agree that there must be a binding reality, some may call it a binding creative force, in all of the cosmos. This is entirely in keeping with the teaching on creation that comes from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. " Bearing in mind your previous paragraph where you mention the scientific theories of some "esoteric new scientists" are you suggesting that these theories, which I would imagine are based on physics, were known to the authors of the bible? In other words, are you saying that *some* interpretations of modern physics were pre-empted in biblical texts?

    You then make a link to this concept of being "outside" or "inside" God, which to be honest, I cannot fathom. Is this concept of a "binding creative force" similar to pantheism? Other questions which would spring to mind, is that if God is everywhere and everything and we are "in" him then where are heaven and hell? What are heaven and hell in this conceptualisation? If God is the whole universe then how and why did he bother making the universe?

    Regarding the mourning chimps, I agree with you that humans are monumentally arrogant to assume that we are the only creatures who experience emotions like pain, loss and love. But would it not be fair to say that this state of affairs is in large part due to biblical teaching? We have been told for ages that God gave us the earth and all that is in it, to subjugate the animals. God didn't "give" the planet to the animals. From a Christian perspective we *are* different from the animals, aren't we? Do YOU agree with this and how do you square this biblical stance with your (correct, in my opinion) intuition that we are actually quite similar to animals. If chimps are so similar are they also "inside" or "outside" God, do they know it?

    I also find it interesting that according to modern evolutionary biology and genetics we share a nearest common ancestor with chimps and they are therefore our closest animal cousins. Do you not find it interesting that they also share that most *human* of attributes - emotion? I'm not sure what your take is on evolution (lots of Christians don't accept it) but it does seem an excellent bit of evidence to back evolutionary theory, doesn't it? Thoughts?

    Anyway, would be interesting to hear your opinions. We may not agree on everything, but I'm hoping this can be an intelligent discourse.

    (Stephen Benvenuti's brother)

    By Blogger gregkal, at 5:48 PM  

  • Hi Greg,

    It is great to hear from you! Indeed, your message is PROOF that there is a greater connection in the cosmos! Stephen and I were just chatting about you and how things are going in Australia two days ago! I hope all is well and that living in rural Ausie is suiting you guys down to a tee!!!

    Now, on to your comment, thanks very much for taking the time to write such a thought-provoking response.

    Because of the length of my response I am breaking it into two sections.

    I am not able to give complete answers to all of the questions and points you've raised (for that we'll need a good conversation!) but let's see if i can touch on a few that stood out for me.

    First, I am never offended by questions, and seldom offended by persons who hold different points of view to mine! So, please feel free to comment, as questions, or state a differing point of view at any stage!

    Now in relation to your question about the link between the 'new science' and the Bible, I am not suggesting that the writers of the Bible had 'scientific' knowledge. My suggestion runs in the opposite direction (i.e., not from front to back science back to Bible, but the other way around, back to front). You will discover that so many contemporary, and credible, physical and biological scientiests have come to discover something 'spiritual' and 'sacred' in all of creation! Now, of course, not all of them are within the Christian and Jewish traditions (as we find in the Old and New Testaments), but you may be surprised to find that there are many points of consensus between Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and of course scientists and philosophers! Perhaps the most notable 'binding' in this regard is the work of Aldous Huxley on the 'Great chain of being', and then from a scientific point of view Fritjof Capra and David Bohm whom I mentioned. From the Christian side (towards science) there is the work of the French monk and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. But, of course there are so many more persons and 'schools' of thought that have a common view that physical and spiritual reality share an intimate connection, and that what takes place in one realm is intrinsically linked to what takes places in the others.

    Now, onto your question about outside and inside God - the traditional view of reality (expressed by St Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica), which informed the perspectives of Newton, Descartes, Francis Bacon and many other scientists and philosophers over the ages is this: God is!

    Yup, that's it, God exists, and all other existing 'things' come from the God who makes them (or to use religious language, 'creates' them). God is creator, and everything else that exists is the creation of the creator. Aquinas spoke of God as the only existing thing that has no antecedent cause. So, a road has an antecedent cause (it has human effort, it is made up of stones, binding materials etc. Each of those elements has an antecedent cause. The road workers can trace their ancestry back through the ages to the dawn of humanity. Stones come from rocks, which come from lava, which come from the birth of the planet, which comes from the cooling of a 'star', which comes from .... well, Thomas said, when you trace all 'things' back to their furtherest point (before the 'big bang' they come from God!)
    [end 1 see 2]

    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 11:38 AM  

  • [start 2 see 1 above]

    So, in this sense everything that exists must exist somewhere... That 'somewhere' is God, there cannot be anything 'outside of God'. So, yes, I do believe that animals exist 'within' God. Heaven and hell are not necessarily 'geographical' locations. I know many people who experience hell on earth in their daily lives! Yes, there are some theologians (like John Cobb) who believe that even Hell exists within God. God does not cause Hell, but God allows us enough freedom to choose how we will live, in life, or in death, in love or in the absence of love. Clearly, one of these is better than the other.

    Now, on to the difference between humans and the rest of creation (and let's also touch on evolution). Yes, I do believe that humans are 'different' from animals, and that animals are different from plants, and that plants are different from rocks etc. This difference does not however suppose that one thing is WORTH more than another. I believe that God loves all of creation! I believe that God feels as much pain over the suffering of an animal, or the planet, as God does over the suffering of human persons (that was the point of my post).

    Of course there are some Christians who believe this (see for example the works of Thomas Merton), but there are some who don't. Sadly the 'loudest' voices in North American and Western Christianity do not always represent the truest and majority perspective of the Christian faith (televangelists are often quoted as speaking for 'Christianity'. This is a sad and absurd thing! 2/3 of the worlds Christians live in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The majority of these people have nothing in common with a Rolex wearing, money grabbing North American styled preacher). The point is simply that it would be difficult to say that ALL Christians believe one thing, there is a great deal of diversity (and some of it is good, and some of it is very bad!)

    With regards to evolution, I believe that the earth and the species of the earth evolved to our current state. In that sense I believe in evolution. I don't believe in the 'new' evolution which persons such a Richard Dawkins proposes in 'The God delusion'. That simply takes MORE faith than believing in God who creates, recreates, and constantly creates the cosmos and everything in it. Dawkin's marries the notion of Darwinian natural selection with a perspective of 'chance' - he assumes that what we have today is as a result of a lucky anomaly of gasses and geophysical forces that caused the first life form to spontaneously appear and then mutate to our current level of sentience... My goodness, he has a LOT of faith in chance!

    I believe that God created both the capacity for life, and the space within which it could grow, adapt, and change for survival and fullness. This is evolution, but it acknowledges that there is an antecedent cause to reality that is not simply chalked up to 'chance'!

    In the end, I am of the view that humans and the planet, and the wider cosmos, are intricately interlinked because of the God who created all of us. This means that I have a great responsibility to live my life for others! I cannot simply use the earth's resources for my own pleasure, not taking into account that they come as a result of people's labour, they come at a cost to the environment, and my pleasure is paid for by the future of our species and the planet.

    So, my belief in God gives me an orientation towards you, and towards others, and of course towards myself, that causes me to think about, and pray for, better ways of being fully human (for my sake and for yours).

    Thanks once again the comment! I would love to hear some feedback!



    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 11:38 AM  

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