Friday, Aug 17, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, August 17, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What is the basic distinction between human beings and animals?
The way we look at and understand animals will by extension tell us a great deal about how we understand the world. That is to say it will eventually tell us a great deal about our world view and within that worldview the way we look at animals as compared with how we look at human beings reveals a fundamental structure of our worldview. It comes down to whether or not we understand a categorical distinction between animals and human beings.
The biblical worldview, of course, begins with that categorical distinction made clear as early as Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. It is human beings–male and female human beings alone–who are made in God's image, made for communion with God, made consciously to know God and consciously to glorify him. It is Adam who names the animals–the human being who names the animal species. It is not the animals who name Adam. There is a dominion. There is a stewardship both demonstrated even in the Garden of Eden in creation in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. But recent articles in the mainstream media tell us of widespread confusion about animals, and that widespread confusion about animals reveals a deeper, more fundamental, more troubling confusion.
On August 5th, the Wall Street Journal ran an article by Susan Casey the article's entitled “An Orca, Her Dead Calf, and Us.” Casey writes, “Among the many quirks of human nature, one that has always struck me as particularly worthwhile is the tendency to project our own feelings on to other animals. This seems to me,” she said, “like a fast route to empathy, a way to bring us closer to a different species.” But many scientists, she acknowledges, disagree. They call this anthropomorphism, and they discourage it. “They cringe,” she writes, “when a viral video of a piglet apparently twerking to a Rihanna song inspires thousands of comments praising the animal's confidence, sense of rhythm and musical taste. What if the piglet,” she asks, “is actually displaying aggression albeit to a catchy beat? Is it dancing or is the piglet freaked out? And who says Grumpy Cat is really grumpy?” But then, more importantly, she gets to the fact that recent news attention–and not only that, vast attention in social media–went to the story, the video, and photographs of an orca mother–that is as they are popularly known a killer whale mother–who would not part from the carcass of her young calf who had died just after birth. Casey writes this about Tahlequah, that's the name given to this killer whale mother. She's also known as J35 identified as a 20-year-old female orca from the quote critically-endangered southern resident population based near Puget Sound Washington.
“On July 24,” says Casey, “she gave birth to a female calf who lived for just 30 minutes. The calf was emaciated lacking enough blubber to stay afloat. Tahlequah kept the body at the surface supporting it on her head or holding it in her mouth. Orcas and other similar species,” we are told, “had been observed carrying their dead but rarely longer than a day. Tahlequah had carried the carcass of her dead calf for at least ten days, even through rough seas.” As Casey tells us some orca researchers have referred to those days as the mother's “tour of grief.” Casey then writes, “They are right.” Casey does seem to understand there's a basic ontological distinction between human beings and animals, including Orcas, but some of her article seems to confuse or to question that basic distinction.
The most important thing for Christians is to look at the question. Is it possible that this orca was actually grieving the death of her calf? There's every appearance that it was so. This was not just for a matter of hours. The pattern went on for a matter of days–more than ten days. Is it possible that an orca experienced grief, the grief of the loss of her own calf? The answer to that from a Christian worldview perspective is that there is no reason whatsoever for Christians to deny that this orca mother was experiencing grief.
There is ample documentation of something like grief amongst other animals. Just consider all the evidence about elephants crying and especially giving the appearance, the documented and corresponding appearance, of grief when it comes to the death of a member of their own elephant community. All of that is very well documented. It's not just a coincidence. There's simply too much evidence. Furthermore, even when it comes to animals which have a more simple existence, just think about many of the animals common to American homes as pets. We can clearly understand different states of mind. We can understand when the pet is happy, when the pet is angry, when the pet is sad, when the pet wants attention, when the pet doesn't want attention. Those are all emotional or affective states, perhaps not so demonstrable or interesting to us, perhaps even not so moving as the picture of an orca mother clearly grieving the death of her calf.
The Christian worldview, biblical understanding is of that categorical distinction that theological language is an ontological distinction, a distinction at the most basic level of being. That distinction is between human beings and animals, but that doesn't mean that we have no relationships as human beings with animals. It doesn't mean the animals have no relationships with each other. It does mean that animals do not have a conscious understanding and relationship with the Creator. It is to say that what animals lack, as revealed in Scripture, is the capacity that would include everything from moral knowledge and the understanding of disobeying the command of the Creator to the positive impulse, as was well described by Augustine the early church father, as having a heart that is restless until it finds its rest in the Creator, in God, the true and living God.
The point here is that human beings are categorically different than animals, but that doesn't mean that we are arguing that animals have no corresponding emotional state. It is to say animals don't write novels or symphonies about their emotional understanding. One of the issues of categorical distinction made between human beings and animals in Scripture is a linguistic ability. And of course as we have mentioned, a part of what it means to be made in the image of God is to have that moral capacity.
But we also know that being made in God's image comes with the understanding that human beings are given an assignment, that assignment which is made so clear in Genesis 1:28, an assignment of co-regency with God, an assignment of ruling in the earth on behalf of God over the rest of creation. Taking dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and the animals that crawl upon the earth. A few years ago I was called by major European media and asked to respond to a story. The story came down to this: the zoo in Berlin had created a special exhibit about homo sapiens putting barely-clad human beings in the enclosure putting homo sapiens as the name of the species over the viewing area and claiming that this was a demonstration of the fact that we now know the human beings are just like any other animal, or as they might say a more highly-developed animal.
But as I said back to the media who made the inquiries about this supposed zoo story, it's really not a story at all. It's certainly not news. Why? Well because it would be news if and only if it were animals like giraffes or gorillas or you name it who would put the human beings in the enclosure, if it were animals who had built the enclosure, if it were animals who had written homo sapiens as the name over the viewing area, if it were animals who had done this. It's absolutely ridiculous but very symbolic of the confusion in the modern age that human beings would do this in order to argue that we're just another animal.
But as we have seen confusion over animals at the level of worldview quickly becomes confusion over human beings. The two simply must go together.
Confusion about distinctions between animals and humans moves from high end of developmental scale to low end of developmental scale
But next this same worldview concerned takes us to the city of Bangkok. The headline of the article in The New York Times: “Pet Cremation: Seeking good afterlife for Bangkok's pampered dogs.” Well, you'll remember that just a few weeks ago we talked about the fact that the majority of the boys from the rescued Thai soccer team had become, the mainstream media announced, Buddhist monks. We discussed the fact that they had actually become Buddhist novice monks a very temporary state, but we also pointed to the deeper worldview dimension that was largely ignored in the mainstream media. And that was the Buddhist understanding of the fact that the boys, through this special act of devotion, were earning karma which can be transferred to someone else in this case karma that would be transferred to the Navy SEAL who lost his life in the rescue attempt. Now as you understand that, the Buddhist understanding becomes even more comprehensive because karma has a great deal to do in the Buddhist worldview with how your life in next lives will continue, either progressing towards a higher state of life or regressing towards a lower state of life.
All of this and the Buddhist cyclical understanding of history, which includes what is popularly called reincarnation over and over again. Hannah Beech reports the story in The New York Times. And we should note this story appeared at virtually the same time the same newspaper amongst others was reporting on the monkhood of the rescued boys. Beech writes about the cremation of the pets in Thailand with these words, "The final sendoff for Thai pets can be very lavish. Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist,” we are told, “and the faithful believe that animals through a cycle of rebirth into different life forms can eventually attain nirvana. At our local wat,” we are told in the story, “monks often chant for dogs, cats, hamsters, lizards, snakes and turtles. The prayer hall filling with the murmur of their incantations. On occasion,” she continues, “pious Buddhists who find deceased strays make merit by helping the animals transition to their next life through a wat funeral.” One Thai woman who brought her dead Siberian Husky for this kind of sendoff said this, "She enjoyed a good life. She deserves a good afterlife too.”
Now, some time ago in The Briefing, we discussed the cremation of the late Thai king. This came some months after the king had died. It was a public event costing about 75 million American dollars, but it had a deep theological significance within the time understanding of Buddhism. That understanding came down to this: the cremation, we were told, was necessary in order for the king to reach his next exalted state. That would mean necessarily separating the king's spirit from his body, liberating the spirit from his body. This is where we understand a basic distinction with the Christian worldview. The Christian worldview revealed in Scripture does not teach and absolutely contradicts any claim that human beings are ultimately spirits trapped in a physical body. Rather, we are spiritual embodied beings we understand what is theologically referred to as a psychosomatic unity. The fact that we are body and soul as a person.
The biblical worldview is not cyclical like the Buddhist worldview it is linear with a past present and future moving in one direction. The Christian biblical worldview is incompatible with any understanding of reincarnation. It's incompatible with karma, which is the opposite of grace. The Buddhist eschatology, which is summarized in the word “nirvana” is a contradiction of the Christian eschatology, which points us to the consummation of all things in the kingdom of God where redeemed humanity is in an embodied state, not a disembodied state.
The same pattern of these lavish funerals and cremations for pets caught the attention of the British newspaper, The Guardian. It told much of the same story. But then it had this good explanatory paragraph, and I quote, "Buddhists believe that is part of the Samsara life and death cycle, dogs and cats as well as elephants and horses can potentially be reincarnated as humans by giving their pets full funeral rites including prayers for forgiveness, a blessing by a monk, filling the coffin with fake gold and tickets to the next life followed by full cremation. Many owners hope to give them a better chance of returning to this world in a higher form.”
The Guardian reporter then tells us about a woman who brought her dead Pomeranian, apparently a popular breed in Thailand. Speaking of the animal the woman said, "I do believe he will become a human in the next life. I think this was his last life as an animal. So I didn't want to bury him. We wanted this ceremony because it is the last farewell that we would give to any member of my family. He is not different, and I'm glad we did it. It's a hard feeling to describe, but it felt important to say goodbye. I felt like we've sent him away to the heavens.”
Now what is not only implied but explicit is that in that Buddhist worldview there is no ontological, categorical distinction between human beings and animals. It's all a great cycle of life even as there is a great cycle of history. Given karma and samsara, it is not only possible according to Buddhist thought, it is inevitable that in this unfolding wheel, which includes reincarnation, one life turns over into another life based upon karma and merit. Successive lives either go up or go down–the understanding of preferable versus non preferable life forms.
But before we all of a sudden assume that this kind of confusion is limited to Buddhist or Asian or Eastern frames of reference and worldviews, we need to understand that the modern secular or post-Christian worldview in the West is susceptible to the same kind of confusion. Just consider the August 10th edition of The Wall Street Journal, which ran an article by Josh Jacobs and Matthew Dalton entitled “In France Even Rats Have Rights.” The subhead in the article in The Wall Street Journal: “Rodent's overrunning Paris have defenders who say the varmint has a right to inhabit the city of lights.”
They refer to this as rat prochement. Paris in so many ways represents the cosmopolitan worldview associated with post-Christian secularism. And in this case it's living right up to that billing. In Paris there is concern by health authorities that the city is being overrun by rats, and rats, as is now well documented, are infamous transmitters of disease. And furthermore it is believed now that rats were largely if not overwhelmingly responsible for the spread of the plague in the Middle Ages that killed so many millions, estimated to have been up to a third of the entire European population.
But in Paris pro-rat activists are arguing that rats have the right along with human beings to live in the city that calls itself the City of Light. One woman who identifies herself as a rights activist for rats said, "We are very disturbed.” She's speaking of efforts to eliminate rats or at least to limit them. She said, and I quote, "The defense of rights for rats is only seen as abnormal because others are able to live amongst the banality of such cruelty.”
But the deadly confusion you see here is not merely of world view consequence, it's going to have consequence in life and death. But in this story is revealed another basic issue of worldview consideration of Christian worldview consideration. In a post-Christian secular worldview, there is an inevitable confusion about the distinction or lack of distinction between human beings and other creatures at the high end of what we might call the developmental scale. But it won't stay there. That same confusion will migrate to the low end of the developmental scale. So confusion about whether or not an orca is just like a human being in grief will before long turn into an argument that rats have as much right to live in Paris as do human beings. When a culture reaches the point of arguing about whether or not rats have rights it’s probably only a matter of time before the rats show up in Parisian courts with lawyers.
A post-Christian culture in Southern California? Image of Bible in ads leads to death threats, removal of ad
But next, we shift back to the United States and to a very interesting development in the front of religious liberty. We've talked in recent days about direct assaults upon religious liberty by governments. We've talked to this week about the insidious subversion of religious liberty by the Chinese Communist Party. We've talked about the Christian baker in Colorado being dragged yet again before the Colorado Human Rights Commission. But here we are going to look at a story that doesn't have to do with a government at all or for that matter a political party in a totalitarian regime like the Chinese Communist Party.
This instead is a commercial issue, a conflict of religious liberty that has to do with a California church and a commercial enterprise. But here's where we come to understand that religious liberty can be denied, violated, and even abrogated in more than one way, by more than one kind of authority. The Orange County Register reports the story this way: “Irvine Company Removes Southern California Harvest Ad from Fashion Island Mall after Alleged Threat.” Alicia Robinson reports, “The Southern California harvest event at Angel Stadium draws an estimated 100,000 people over its three-day run each summer, but it won't be recruiting attendees at Fashion Island Mall where the Irvine Company took down a billboard advertising the event.”
As Robinson continues, “The ad showed Harvest Christian Fellowship senior pastor, Greg Laurie, holding a microphone and raising a book in his right hand as if preaching to a crowd and listed information on this year's event, formerly known as the Harvest Crusade, which takes place August 17 to 19. It was, we are told, on the side of a parking garage by Neiman Marcus until the company which owns the mall took it down. According to church officials confirmed by the media, the Irvine Company took down the ads after "there were complaints they had received and there was a threat that they had received about the billboard.” An official with the church said, "We don't know the nature of that threat and since then they have been unwilling to speak to us.”
Reporter L. J. Gambone for the Daily Press of neighboring Victorville, California told the story this way, "After two weeks of being in the malls, the Irvine Company contacted harvest and told church officials that the artwork on their banners would have to be changed to include non-offensive images, because not only did they receive complaints about the ads but also death threats.” So what would be the offensive images here? The image is very simple. It's a stylized image of Greg Laurie as a preacher, and he is indeed holding up what appears to be a black book. There is no writing on the book. It doesn't even say Holy Bible. But we are told that that image simply implying a preacher preaching the Scriptures without any notice or identification that this is even the Bible, that was considered to be so offensive that according to the media in California, it led not only to complaints but death threats, we are told, against the company.
But the reporter continues, "Harvest changed the artwork, which included Pastor Laurie holding a plain black book representing the Bible. In the end the Irvine Company still decided to take down all of the ads and refunded the ministry's payment.” Well it's one thing to talk about a post Christian culture represented by Paris but how about a post-Christian culture clearly represented in Southern California.
How about the fact that we were told that this ad was offensive when it's almost impossible to come up with anything that might be offensive in this ad, but even the vague image of a preacher preaching. That's it. And for that matter it could be anyone else speaking with any black book in his hand. That's all there was to the ad. It's one thing to sympathize with this company for receiving complaints and even ominous threats about this ad, but it's another thing to recognize that what this represents is the reality that it's going to take a similar kind of complaint or threat and virtually any Christian ministry can be excluded from the public square.
And don't believe for a minute that this will stop with paid advertising. This may look like a small story. It's not a small story. In worldview significance, in the light of religious liberty and what it means to face the realities of Christian ministry in this increasingly secularized culture, this is a big story. If the vague image of a preacher holding a black book is so offensive, then what's that going to say about the offense of the actual preaching of the Word and the preaching of the gospel? If even the vague image is offensive what about the preaching? That's the bigger question, and it probably ominously won't be long until that question is answered.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.