Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Desperate Search: Counting Whom?

 (Part VI.b)
Previously on "My Search": you envisioned yourself in front of a great multitude of companions, preparing to impart the myriad with some fragrant truth.  Let us not concern ourselves with your speech, which I shall presume was magnanimously profound and as genius as the very breath of God.  Let us rather, sharpen our glare at that audience once more.

We have in those seats, the livelihoods of all your relatives, all your friends, and all your acquaintances.  Set among the many are even those fictional souls which you've learned from.  Rocky Balboa and Robert DeNiro's Rupert Bupkin are even in attendance.  It would appear that the whole world of souls, both the living and dead, have bothered themselves enough to hear you out on this fine occasion.  The question is; is your dearly beloved cat sitting amongst the living?

I have long labored over the state of the animal soul.  As I wake up and hustle about my day, so do the many animals of the world.  Like me, they have desires and impulses.  Like me, they seek out their own good, longing to quench their internal needs.  If I give attention to a cat in front of my dog, the dear old fella reacts in such a way that resembles jealousy.  Jealousy.  These are personality traits.  This is the stuff that humanity is made of.  But, we eat animals.  Furthermore, the Bible offers us no knowledge of a celestial kingdom for the creatures that we destroy.  It appears that whatever is, is.  When my dog dies, he dies.  The end.

Note: I had a strange prepubescent crush on li'l Anne-Marie that even now causes my stomach to churn whenever I now see "All Dogs Go to Heaven"
The matter of the soulness of the animal kingdom transcends that of mere affection towards great questions of very character of God Himself.  We are taught that God is Just.  Absolutely.  To the utmost.  But where is the justice for the small pup that is tortured by a perverted teenager?  If 'All Dogs Really Don't Go to Heaven', then their existence adds up to nothing more than tragedy.  Man's sin has condemned Seth the Dog to a life of maybe a dozen years (if we're lucky) followed by an infinity of nothingness.  Maybe that's not so bad for Seth, who gets to live out a rather happy, lazy life.  But veal was on the menu at the restaurant I ate at on Sunday.  Those little guys never had a chance!

The idea of 7 billion people roaming the earth is unfathomable when you think about the personalities involved.  7 billion individual wills -- 7 billion unique moral beings... all of which are deserving of their own speech and story.  God knows them all.  He has made the very essence of our persondom.  He knows you.  He knows me.  But does he concern himself with the eternal justness of the life of the pet hamster?

I once heard it said that the difference between humans and animals is that animals are not moral.  Check out this report from the pro-dolphin website irishdolphins.com, "Richard Connor and Rachel Smolker observed that male bottlenoses, in that population at least, form durable 'alliances', typically of 3 animals (one dolphin on its own cannot effectively coerce another dolphin), apparently for the specific purpose of forcing copulation on unwilling females, either by all the males or by the two most dominant ones amongst them. Certainly this behaviour could be described as 'gang rape' if it took place within human society, though we should as usual be wary of anthropomorphising." (Full disclosure: I found this quote from a blog listing the various nefarious actions of the dolphin community: http://vonnegutsasshole.blogspot.com/2007/01/dolphins-rapists-of-sea.html)  So, the smartest animals outside of the human race are gang rapists... interesting.

Even if one admits defeat (at least on the surface) that animals commit morally corrupt deeds, there still remains the one stalwart argument separating animals from humans: the appreciation of beauty.  It was with this conceit that I finally undertook a great fear of mine; watching the film, "Koko, a Talking Gorilla".

As a child I hoarded stuff-animal gorillas.  What would I do with myself if "Koko" proved that gorillas were humanoidish?  I couldn't really grapple with any of those implications.  Nevertheless, amidst all these phobias of impending theological doom, one recent gray night I watched the documentary that was supposedly so good it got a criterion collection release.

The film follows one gorilla trainer and her efforts to teach Koko the gorilla American Sign Language.  20 minutes in.  We see many things.  30 minutes in.  Koko's three hundred word vocabulary is undoubtedly surprising and cause for pause, but not panic.  60 minutes in.  80.  And then it's over.  I made it out with a few scraps, but nothing extraordinary.

But one little seed was planted there in that moment.  I thought to myself, "Gee Dante, that documentary was made in 1978, don't you wonder what scientific feat Koko has eclipsed since then?"
And so I sought out the rest of the story.

On youtube I found a PBS Nova episode made in the late 90's on Koko and a few other sign languaging gorillas.  During one 'gorilla-interview', one male humanoidish being is asked if he remembers his mother.  What followed was electrifying*.  The gorilla recalled with emotion the murder of his mother by gun by poachers.  The last thing he signs is "IcryIcryIcryIcry."  The narrator then confirmed that it is known that this particular gorilla was saved when it was discovered that his family was all killed.

Whoa.  The gorilla 1) remembers his mother, 2) He relates an emotion to that memory, 3) The memory is of value; one could even say aesthetic value.

Where do I stand today with the fate of the animal kingdom?

Rather than answering, I submit to you these photos taken by my friend Justin Anderson when he, I, and two other college buddies visited the Grand Canyon last month.  When I was there, I thought of how easy faith in God comes while staring at something so awe-inducing.
I also thought, as I looked out at the hundreds who came to watch the sun dip under the horizon at the canyon's ridge, 'could you imagine a bunch of gorillas coming to enjoy this sunset?'  I think not.



*And by electrifying, I mean the type of electric flow that is at once merrily tingly, but also somewhat painful, in the same manner that a 9-volt battery applied to the tongue feels.

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