Re: [asa] red in tooth and claw

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Sun Nov 29 2009 - 10:59:54 EST

As a human-social scholar, I find the 'red in tooth and claw' phrase rather mis-representative of human beings in general. Maybe saying 'green in heart and hand' is a suitable alternative. Indeed, there is a red and green contest to face in our contemporary era. The key issue is that human beings are not 'just natural,' but rather we are 'more than natural' as well. So, when people anthropomorphize and attribute things like morality and ethics to 'nature' and then complain at an unjust universe where 'animals' act with (pun intended) animosity towards one another, there is more than a hint of irony involved. Again and again and again (sadly so), naturalists seem for the most part unwilling to climb the latter to address more 'complex' or 'important' subjects for human self-understanding. It appears they prefer to just study the lowest common denominator than to actually dig deeper and higher into what it means to be a 'human being' (e.g. kingdom 'symbolica'). Schwarzwald's statement is interesting: "God is not merely the God of men, but the God of all - nature and animals certainly included. And that acting as if this isn't the case (as if God has a plan for man, but - because we aren't privy to all of God's thoughts - He apparently has no plan for nature) is a grave mistake." Yes, and in recent years this has come to the forefront of many conversations within and about 'religion.' 'Stewardship of nature' differs from 'control over/mastery of nature' and we now know that the 'green turn' highlights this abundantly. It is problematic to suggest 'no plan for nature' even if natural-physical scientific language is predominantly, if not wholly, non-teleological. Tough schnuff for them spetsialists! What we can say with little doubt is that we don't speak animal (or non-human) 'languages'. Sure, "we aren't privy to all of God's thoughts," as Schwarzwald says. But we must also realise that the field commonly known as 'ethology' has its limited realm that cannot and should not be over-expanded to encompass other realms. Evolutionary psychology commits such an exaggeration of its value in understanding human beings on a regular (let's call it a 'chronic') basis. This is at the heart of many people's problems with 'red in tooth and claw' because they have become so accustomed to anthropomorphic language that they forget their spiritual heritage as beings created 'imago Dei.' And even your Madonna (singer/dancer) admits that 'spirit' is more important than 'nature' in self-understanding the reality of human beings' existences. Let me add that I highly doubt that Schwarzwald denies there *is* a 'problem with evil.' It may be a 'non-issue' for him because he has somehow 'solved' it. But it most clearly is not a non-issue for most people. - Gregory “To determine what the ultimates are and then in this life to obtain the supreme Good and avoid the supreme Evil, such has been the aim and effort of all who have professed a zeal for wisdom in this world of shadows.” – St. Augustine   “Of all the things that oppress me, this sense of the evil working of nature herself—my disgust at her barbarity—clumsiness—darkness—bitter mockery of herself—is the most desolating.” – John Ruskin  “There is only a spiritual world; what we call the physical world is the evil in the spiritual one.” – Franz Kafka  “Socrates on the other hand was the first to call philosophy down from the heavens and set her in the cities of men and bring her also into their homes and compel to ask questions about life and morality and things good and evil.” – Cicero   “The essence of the world’s evil consists in the alienation and discord of all beings, in their mutual opposition and incompatibility.” - Vladimir Solovyev  p.s. by a more than pleasant surprise, while visiting a monastery in Moscow this weekend, I 'chanced' across Solovyev's grave... Much more impressed there than at/in Tolstoy's winter house... ________________________________ From: Schwarzwald <> To: Sent: Sun, November 29, 2009 5:09:49 PM Subject: Re: [asa] red in tooth and claw Heya John, Actually, my response is meant to be very different from what you've taken from it, at least in part. Yes, I am saying that Christianity has an answer to these questions of natural evil, and the cross is where this answer is most striking. Christ's death with a tremendous tragedy, a reason to scatter and hide and be sorrowful - before He was resurrected. After the resurrection, his death and torment were not merely coped with. They were changed completely. What was previously grave evil was not only soothed, but itself became downright instrumental and - I would maintain, in some ways - actually good. I'm oversimplifying here, of course. But Christianity does not push Christ's suffering under the rug and simply talk about the resurrection and the life of the world to come. It is, at least in my experience, regarded as something good, a gift from God itself. I'm not merely saying 'well, we shouldn't worry about death and pain and suffering, because all that is going away someday!' I'm going three steps beyond: I'm saying that pain and suffering, particularly in terms of natural evil, plays an instrumental role - and insofar as we know that God can turn evil into good, evil is not only to be endured, but celebrated. That's probably going to make me stick out like a sore thumb in this discussion, but I'm going to stand by it to the end. And I extend this even to the natural world - whatever pain and suffering is present in nature, it is a mistake to call it senseless and irrational, and doubly a mistake to regard it as the whole story. I disagree that as Christians (or even as theists in the broader sense) we should or have to judge nature by what we know is an incomplete picture - in fact, I think this incomplete state of affairs is precisely what must be stressed again and again. As should the fact that God is not merely the God of men, but the God of all - nature and animals certainly included. And that acting as if this isn't the case (as if God has a plan for man, but - because we aren't privy to all of God's thoughts - He apparently has no plan for nature) is a grave mistake. Keep in mind, I also (if I recall right) pointed out how it was difficult to respond to Oscar's adviser's query, lacking more details about what problems he saw in nature - so I'm not going to pretend my answer is even directed squarely at his adviser's worries. But I'm giving an answer in the direction I see it heading, broad as it is. And I'm also not going to pretend that what I'm saying here is common Christian orthodoxy, and certainly not that I'm chastising everyone for not adhering to it. While I think thoughts along these lines are found throughout Christian writings (even Aquinas, with his thoughts on evil, goes in a direction I'd say is close to this - and Leibniz comes very close), I realize I'm very likely the odd man out here. Indeed, from my perspective the problem of evil (natural and moral both) does not exist - it is a non-issue. That alone would put me at odds with even the boldest modern theologians. On Sun, Nov 29, 2009 at 6:31 AM, John Walley <> wrote: > >I think Schwarzwald's right in that Christainity is unique because Christ has conquered death and we no longer have to fear it. So death where is thy sting? And I guess that could be extrapolated to pain and suffering as well, "to live is Christ, to die is gain", but these are all pragmatic, coping strategies.  They don't get to the root issue at hand which is why this suffering exists in the first place. > >Notice Oscar's advisor did not query which God has the most practical offering or most fulfilling theology, he wanted to know why he should be lieve in God at all. And none of these responses have really dealt with that head on in my opinion. This discussion may be an interesting apologetic for people who are already Christians and trust God, but for those on the outside looking in with cruelty in nature as the stated objective, I suggest we have to be able to deal with this more directly. > >John > > >  > > > ________________________________ From: Schwarzwald <> >To: >Sent: Sat, November 28, 2009 10:10:45 PM >Subject: Re: [asa] red in tooth and claw > > >What if nature isn't actually as brutal as we take it to be? And really, of all the religions that could or should cringe because of any 'brutality' we project upon nature - and a lot of it is projection - doesn't it seem odd for Christians to do it? The religion with the incarnate God who was betrayed, tormented, and executed? Isn't ours the one religion, regardless of particular sect, which makes it abundantly clear that one should not judge a reality by its incomplete history? > >The one lesson I take from Christ's death and resurrection is that it's a drastic mistake to regard torment and death as the final lesson in history, whether it be human history or the greater, natural history. And the idea that Hitler's eugenics was in any way a correct reflection of evolution as we know it - particularly given what we've learned since then - seems dramatically naive. > >Count me in the apparent minority of Christians who don't think the habits of the natural world pose a problem for our theology, and in fact bolsters it. The problem isn't the facts on the ground, but the perspective. > >  __________________________________________________________________ Connect with friends from any web browser - no download required. Try the new Yahoo! Canada Messenger for the Web BETA at

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Received on Sun Nov 29 11:00:22 2009

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