Monday, August 5, 2013

Tim Staples' "Why Be Catholic?"

I just love Tim Staples; he’s so engaging, he’s so much FUN.  His exuberant, apparently inexhaustible energy combined with his obvious “fire for the Lord” are just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  I think my Pentecostal friends would particularly love this exhortation to believe, including arguments to draw the atheist, as well as reasons why this former Protestant, “spirit-filled, fire and brimstone youth pastor” came home to the Catholic church.  Over and over during this presentation, I just kept thinking, “He is SO Pentecostal!”  That is, of course, one of the beauties of the Catholic church—it is CATHOLIC, it is universal; “y’ALL come!”  You don’t leave your identity behind when you are received into Catholic communion; you find a home that will finally, fully nurture you into all God gave you the potential to be.

Staples begins here with some good, concise arguments for the existence of God, making joyfully apparent the foolishness of atheism.  He then leads the listener right up the narrow path into Christianity (and ultimately, as he says, “to Rome”).

As much as I love Tim (and love this presentation), I do have one significant bone to pick:  it has to do with his assertions and conclusions about animals, and, related to this, some confusing and unclear teachings about just what the Bible means by the human “soul.”

Staples is adamant that animals do not have eternal existence, and that they are here only for our use.  He is missing the clear statements in the Bible that say that animals DO have spirits—“the breath of life” that God breathed into Adam as well (we see the picture of this happening to Adam in the Bible, because it is written for people; we don’t see that happening with the animals, but the Bible tells us it does in the Psalms—and, for those who insist that “if the Bible doesn’t SHOW it happening for animals, it doesn’t apply to them,” remember that the Bible doesn’t show us that happening for EVE, either!).  Because they do have spirits, animals are thus capable of praising Him in their own way (have a relationship with Him)—“all that has breath praise the Lord!”

Animals were also clearly a (large!) part of God’s perfect plan in Eden, animals are shown to be both messengers for God (e.g., Balaam’s ass) and caring servants to His people (e.g., the birds that brought food to some prophets), and the glimpses of eternal Paradise that John has in his Revelation also include animals.  So to conclude that they are merely temporary objects here for our earthly use is, at the very least, to be missing some importance that is clearly in the Bible (despite the fact that the Bible is obviously written for people, so it could be assumed that it wouldn’t have much to say about animals).  And to conclude that “your cat doesn’t love you” (with clear implications that no other animal does, either—he says, “ESPECIALLY your cat!” with obvious anti-cat sentiment) is to deny the myriad examples of animals (most often dogs, but sometimes cats, other pets, and even wild animals) that risk and even give their lives in the service of and for the safety of humans.  “Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friend.”  Sacrificing self for the good of the other is the definition of true (godly) love.  Perhaps no cat has ever loved Tim Staples, but that doesn’t mean no cat (or other animal) has ever loved.

A major source of the confusion is that Staples is conflating the concepts of “soul” and “spirit,” which the Bible makes clear are two different things.  God created people with “spirit, soul, and body”—“in His image” as a kind of “mini trinity,” and the soul is not the same thing as the spirit (clearly, or the Bible wouldn’t list them as separate).  Animals have spirit (the breath of life, the quality of living/being that comes directly from God:  “and when he withdraws His breath from them [people or animals], they die”); what they do not seem to have is the soul/WILL which is capable of choosing to be something other than what they were created for.  We can do that—choose to reject God, and thus to reject the very purpose of our creation, to be in relationship with God.  Animals do not (and, it seems, cannot) do this; they are what God made them to be, thus are ever in right relationship to Him (what relationship God made for them, which clearly and admittedly is different from the relationship He intends for us), thus don’t need a Savior (as we do) to rescue them from rebellion.  They suffer with us now, because our rebellion breaks the whole world and thus makes things wrong in general (thus wrong/bad for them as well as us), but their suffering comes from Man’s rebellion, not their own.

Nevertheless, although cows (to use this Texan’s fond example) may well be (certainly are) available for us to “use,” it behooves us to respect them as bearers of the breath of life, and to give them the life God intended for them, up to and including a respectful and humane death and respectful and grateful (to God the Provider) use of the resources of their bodies.  The way animals are ABUSED (literally, “wrong use”) in the current factory-type food industry harms humans: 

1)  directly, for those who participate in the industry (animal processing plants are among the most dangerous places for people to work),

2) directly, for people who consume the meat (eating the meat of animals that have been fed food that makes them chronically ill, kept in conditions that do not allow them to develop as they were made to and require them to be constantly mired in their own waste, and are steeped in antibiotics, growth hormones, and STRESS hormones all their lives, will have deleterious effects on your health), and

3) indirectly, for all people in a culture that allows and even supports such an industry of horror, by degrading our respect for the sacredness of life itself (“the breath of life” which is imparted by God to “all that breathes”). 

God’s very breath is in them, as in us.  That alone should be reason for believers to strenuously uphold respectful care of animals.  “The righteous man cares for the well-being of his animal.” (Proverbs 12:10)

So, I still love Tim, and love this presentation, but I’ll pray for his continued growth in his understanding of the place of animals in God’s plan for us all.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Free Market Leads to Slavery

Today’s Old Testament reading described the system of the Jubilee, where God commanded that, every 50 years (among other things), any land that had been bought or sold during that time would revert back to the original families.  This, our pastor explained, is because the earth belongs to GOD, and no one has the right to own it indefinitely.  No one has the right to keep and accumulate more and more material wealth ad infinitum, ad nauseum, while (of necessity) others thereby have less and less.  This necessarily leads to practical, if not literal, slavery.

And, as Christians, we are called BEYOND the requirements of mere law—we should walk not just the one required mile, but two; we should not only not kill our enemy, but love and bless him.  The first Christians didn’t accept the system of “7-year Sabbath for the earth, and every 50 years a Jubilee”—they went above and beyond, and “everything they shared in common, according to their needs.”  That’s right, they were communists!  Not the screwed-up, morally-bankrupt modern version of “communism,” which still involves some few at the top lapping up the cream while the peasants stand in line for bread—but true communal living; sharing that springs from mutual love in Christ.

That’s why it always shocks me to hear people who wrap themselves in a “Christian” veneer chuntering on about Capitalism (a system based upon and extolling the deadly sin of greed) and a “Free Market.”  In a market without limits, without right relationship to God and others, you inevitably end up with Pharoah building his palaces on the backs of whip-striped slaves.  So, you either need to shut up about a “Free Market” and work passionately for conversion for all—so that we can all be truly FREE, and thus our “market” will be, too—or shut up about a “Free Market” and make sure there are regulations that truly prevent both the tragedy of the commons and the “company store” enslavement of the have-nots.  One or the other, and either way, “Christian” pundits, you need to shut up about a “Free Market.”  Period.