Monthly Archives: April 2012

Domesticating Theology

The domestication of certain types of plants and animals has often been associated with the rise of human civilization. It can also be seen as evidence of our constant attempt to dominate and control the environment in which we live. This abused sense of dominion can even be seen to extend upwards into the heavenly realms.

The entirety of human civilization can be seen as having been established on the domestication of the concept of God. In this design, God is brought down, in chains, to serve, and the State, in the form of a god-king or divine emperor, is elevated to the high heavens. In a sense, this reversal is a perversion of the concept of Imitatio Dei. Whereas God calls us to “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2), the State seeks imitation to the point of replacement. All the while the concept of God is manipulated to serve the ends of the State through an imposed state religion.

We encounter similar problems when we examine the notion of sainthood, whether it be religious or political. The distinction arises of whether we are to imitate or admire the saint in question. If we assume that the saint is an ordinary human being like us, then we might be more inclined to follow in their footsteps. However, most people place them on a pedestal above the rest of humanity, and attribute to them some semi-divine status. In that case, it seems more natural for us simply to adore them. In the same way the State can co-opt the agenda of a revolutionary through aiding in their assassination and then declaring them a saint posthumously. Whether or not you believe that the American government had anything to do with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it can’t be denied that the FBI and CIA viewed him as a major threat. He has since assumed the status of sainthood in American politics. To me, this seems like a form of co-option, discouraging us from following King’s path of civil disobedience and pacifism, because the State now claims to have absorbed his agenda. I think this is why Dorothy Day said, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “Christ comes to the world as the example, constantly enjoining: Imitate me. We humans prefer to adore him instead.” This is a common criticism of Christianity. Although I do agree with the distinction, I think it sometimes assumes a false dichotomy in which we must choose between imitating or worshipping Christ. I do believe, however, that either of these is deficient without the other. This is an extension of the doctrine of hypostatic union, the belief that Christ is both fully human and fully God. We are simultaneously called to imitate him in his humanity and worship him in his divinity. And in our imitation of him, we are allowed to participate in the divinity of God, as we are pulled deeper and deeper into the divine embrace.

This dual invitation to both follow and worship is not mirrored by the idolatrous religion of the State. No, the State demands that we worship, serve, and obey. If we were to imitate the imperial god of the State, we would be acting as a threat to the State. If we followed in its’ path of coercive violence and domination, we would become its rival. No, as far as the State is concerned, it is better for us to stay within its’ ideological cage of a state religion, under its domesticated God.

This attempt at usurpation of divine authority can be traced throughout biblical history. It is a continuation of humanity’s initial impulse to “be like God” in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:5). Later, humans tried to rival the majesty of mountains, and even God, by building a tower so high they could conquer the heavens (Gen 11:4). This great sin reached its pinnacle in the crucifixion, when God was tortured and executed at the hands of human beings. The good creation, that was created to love God, was so selfish and godless that it murdered him, seeking to take his place. Humanity cried out at last, as in the words of Friedrich Neitzsche, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

But it could not last. For the promise of God is that love will ultimately triumph over sin and death. In the resurrection, Christ broke free of the chains of death that we had imposed on him and ascended to his rightful place of authority.

God is wild, indeed.

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AR!: Some Thoughts On Animal Rights

I’m a vegan. An animal rights vegan. I have been for over three years. Before that I was a vegetarian for environmental reasons. Anyway, recently I’ve become more aware of some hostility toward my chosen lifestyle, particularly from a group called the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), and associated literature The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith, and Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig.

My first experience with this line of thought came a few years ago from a vegan friend who had just encountered the book Nourishing Traditions. She was ecstatic to share the “good news” with me, that meat is not unhealthy and that most of the health problems associated with the Standard American Diet come from processed fats and sugars. I think she was surprised when I whole-heartedly agreed with her, but my commitment to veganism wasn’t shaken in the least. I explained to her that I was not, nor had I ever been, vegan for health reasons.

Let me explain. I don’t necessarily think that eating meat and dairy is unhealthy, or that eating a vegan diet is necessarily healthy. I think that a person can be healthy or unhealthy either way, provided that they are getting a good balance of different nutrients.

The reason I became vegan was that I felt uneasy about the idea of animals being thought of as commodities, in the Marxist sense, or as objects that can be owned and sold, and function primarily to fulfill the needs and desires of human beings. I strongly disagree with this view, and think that animals have rights in and of themselves, just as people do. Now, here I suppose I should give the WAPF, and those with similar ideologies, some credit. They do afford some rights to animals, just less than the traditional vegan position does. They do advocate raising farm animals “humanely”, which means allowing them to be free-range. But that doesn’t stop these animals from being slaughtered whenever their “owner” decides it is time to do so. Nor does it stop dairy cows and goats from being impregnated once a year so that they can produce milk for human consumption at the expense of their young.

My real problem with this ideological attack on veganism is that it assumes a lot of things that are not necessarily true. It assumes that the vegan diet is largely based on processed corn and soy, which I know from my own experience is simply not true. The Price Foundation is critical of the overconsumption of soy. Contrary to the popular stereotype, so are a lot of the vegans I know, and many avoid it altogether. Honestly, I think that most committed vegans consume far less soy than people who eat the Standard American Diet. Many vegans are just as critical of processed and genetically-modified foods, monocropping and unsustainable farming systems as is the WAPF. An attack on the current food system is not an attack on veganism. Vegan thought, mostly, is also a critique of the current food system, which is more focused (I think too much) on the issue of factory farming. So why the conflict? Shouldn’t these distinct movements be working together to end factory farming and change the current food system?  Personally, I would love to see Weston A. Price advocates win out over today’s multinational agribusiness corporations.