Good evening, my friends. I have been putting this entry off for quite some time. I do not feel completely qualified to approach this subject yet. I feel that I should investigate the overall state of the question a bit more. However, I would like to begin to put my thoughts into writing, although they are far from being fully developed. This writing is a bit speculative in nature and is therefore not guaranteed the fullest degree of orthodoxy. I hope to some day consider this subject, for, as you will soon see, I feel that it has an important implication for the entirety of the created order.
Without any further adieu, I will attempt to begin this subject. Tonight I want to talk about the relationship between animals and humans and the significance of consciousness in both. I am certain that I’m about to insult two parties. On one hand, I’m going to thoroughly piss off those people who want to make animals and humans coequal in the created order. I’m not going to ever do that. If you want proof of that and haven’t got an open mind, go elsewhere because I don’t particularly want to anger you. The other group will be those people who want to say, “Those damned beasts are worthless. Jesus was a man and not a cnidarian. They are unimportant.”
Alright, having said all of that, let us also consider my method in this set of reflections. Since they are just that, reflections, I will once again appeal to my lack of cited sources. Furthermore, I will admit that I am standing on the shoulders of innumerable giants in this undertaking. I am trying to synthesize a lot that I have thought about without taking full time to research the question. That task, as I have learned multiple times, is too time-consuming for a medium like a blog. Now we embark over the edge….
When we look at the entire motion of creation, it is easy to see a pattern emerging in the process of evolution. This evolution, extended beyond the biological sphere into the sphere of the physical sciences, exhibits a tendency toward complexification and, more importantly (and correlatedly) consciousness. From a single unity, beyond time, the universe is set forth into a variety of cosmological processes which increase the diversity of the entire universe. Since my specific knowledge on astrophysics is limited, I will not outline these in detail but mention them to make my point.
Looking at one of these discretely developing masses, our gaze turns upon our own beloved planet. In even among the simplest elements, there is unity. Inorganic synthesis, crystallization, and, most importantly, organic synthesis all show a movement toward a unity of these parts. It is perhaps ironic that from a unity, diversity sprung only to return to unity. The beauty is, though, that it is now a universalization of diversity, and not a strict monad of matter. It is a unity of individuals, not a sea of interchangeable drops. As the basest organic molecules develop, we see unity growing with complexity.
Now, what is the aim of this complexity? For this, we look at the human person. If you want to deny that humanity is the most complex of being on earth, go ahead. I’m sure that I can find you a mental ward if you so choose to go there afterwards. I don’t doubt that there are many complexities in the world. However, when we look upon the actions, ideas, and the radical potential for love which all exist in humanity, our words must cease as we stand in awe before the behemoth of our own grandeur, a grandeur which we did not create but instead inherited through the very plan of creation.
I ask for an aside, your honor. Please bear with me for but a moment. Must we not acknowledge that in an evolving world everything must exist in a latent form prior to its final conception? Must we not say that the earliest form exists, although most rudimentarily in the past? If such can be acknowledged, then consciousness itself must be a constituent of all of creation, although in some rudimentary form. In this view what is that realm of reflection which is definitive of humanity? It is nothing less than the state at which consciousness gazes upon itself, knowing itself as an object. It is the very point at which consciousness knows that it is conscious. This is the great gap which separates man from those apes which existed before the peduncle from which modern man has developed. Until that point, consciousness was flaring toward its apex, but still didn’t know of itself. The entire development of creation was a march toward the point at which it could gaze upon itself. This is the sphere of man, a sphere which promises so much for the entire universe. (There will be another reflection related to this in a later entry.)
This aside now allows for a further development. If we acknowledge the existence of freedom in persons, we must also acknowledge that it has a role in all of creation. (We won’t go into major proofs of freedom right now. To try to treat this argument in a few sentences or even pages would not do it justice.) Freedom must have rudimentarily existed in the world before mankind. The threshold of reflection radically affects this freedom, opening it up to new possibilities. Nonetheless, it must have existed from the beginning of time, for even time’s beginning must be a freely chosen moment. When the walls of science open up, as matter becomes comprehensible from the mass which preceded the Big Bang, freedom exists already, for freedom sets these events into motion from outside of time. In the lower orders, we see freedom in a much more deterministic light. However, freedom, intrinsically existing, develops as part of the overall movement of creation. From the almost deterministic bonding of atoms, we move to the not-so deterministic actions of cells. This continues throughout the tree of life, growing with the overall complexity of the constituent branches of this arboreal mansion.
Given all of this, we now come to the original question about those animals which lack the characteristic of reflection but still remain within the overall process of complexification and the development toward conscious reflection. It is also at this moment that I have most tenuously grasped outward toward the boundaries of orthodoxy and perhaps may be incorrect in my assumptions on the subject at hand. Nevertheless, I shall attempt to make a synthesis based on all of the aforementioned reflections and a variety of uncited sources.
Since I am striving to work within a Catholic framework of theology, I feel that it is necessary to relate this question to the claims of orthodox eschatology. One of the most peculiar things about Christianity is that its principle teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, functions not as the purveyor of a radically new morality. Much of the teaching of this humble Jewish man can be found in the overall striving of the human mind throughout history in the various branches of theology and philosophy. (I am about to paint with even broader strokes of the proverbial brush here, so please deal most patiently with your humble blogging servant.) The particularly unique elements of Christ’s message are those which direct the reader/listener to consider the dialogue of being between Jesus and God. Christianity serves not as a story of moral precepts but instead as an encounter with a person who is unique insomuch as his very work is united with his being, which is itself united to God the Father. It is by means of unity in the Spirit of Christ that mankind has an opportunity to be united with the Father. In the personhood of Christ, orthodoxy declares that God has penetrated the human race and has indeed moved the evolution of complexification, unity, and hyper-consciousness to its Omega point, its point of capitulation. In my opinion (developed, of course, from research and not my own devices alone), this is what the Christian message is about: The very personhood of Christ functions as the necessary ontological bridge between humanity and Godhead, moving the plane of evolution into the only possible condition for the completion of complexification. Without the “evolutionary” thrust of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, mankind is unable to find unity with God. It is solely by God’s action that man and God find unity, in the mission of Christ. By being held in the very being of God, through the mediation of the personhood of Christ, mankind is able to exist united (and yet individuated) through all of eternity by means of a dialogue of the soul, a dialogue of reflective beings and Reflective Being itself.
There is a reason why I have delved into this heavily Ratzingerian/Chardinian moment of theology and anthropology/cosmogenesis. It brings to us the realization that the only way that being can be sustained eternally is by means of a dialogue of openness. This dialogue is not a mere reduction into pantheism, for this would be incompatible with the overall notion of dialogue. This dialogical character of being demands that we acknowledge the place of the individual person and also sheds light on the nature of reflection. Reflection, that beautiful moment of self-realization, is the only means by which dialogue of being is possible. This is precisely why Christ came as a man and not as a camel or, more ironically, a literal lamb. If all of this is the case, Christ being the radical chance for unity and everlasting life by uniting the world to God, then mankind itself offers the radical possibility of unity to the world by means of its own rationality. By means of mankind, all of creation is able to be united with the Spirit of Christ and hence to the very being of God the creator.
Now, the relationship between man and the rest of creation is quite a bit different, for it moves in a singular direction. The reflective capability of mankind allows the human being to receive the other beings in creation specifically as objects to be held in the mind and united in being to the human person. All aspects of creation are important for that reason, for they reach out to our stewardship, desiring to have us act as that uniting principle, lifting them from materiality to the realm of what Teilhard de Chardin called the “noosphere”, the realm of reflective thought. We are the body of Christ with the person of Christ as its head. It is our mission, as good stewards of creation, to enfold the world within the embrace of our minds, hearts, and souls, so that all that has been given to us by God may be forever united to him by means of humanity’s free capacity to love.
In the end, this is where I stand on the animal kingdom, then, as well as the entirety of the unreflective remnant of creation. The gift of stewardship given to mankind is one that allows for a radical opportunity for ontological unity among all the constituents of the created order. By means of mankind, the animal kingdom is able to be held in man’s reflective capacity and is able to step into the realm of eternity, lifted up beyond the individual to the super-individual. The ultimate recreation of the universe allows the material component of this ontological dialogue to flourish in a new way, united and yet individual, just as risen humanity will be united to God (and, hence and yet individuated most extremely. We shall thus find ourselves part of that great symphony of creation, not as mere spectators, but as the principle players in each instrumental section, directed by the plan of God, singing and sub-creating a reality by means of our unity, a unity which is founded upon the Throne of the Almighty.