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My Dog Is Better
October 24, 2022
Growing up in the late 1940’s and into the early 1960’s, there was an expression used to describe some conflicts among peers. “My dog is better than your dog.” Obvious to most is that the presence of a canine is irrelevant, the core of the conflict is in the establishing of “social standing, or position”. The one with the “best dog” holds a higher rank in the social pecking order. This need, or desire for dominance is natural to human and beast alike. Charles Darwin is wrong on many points, but his thesis for survival of the fittest is not entirely wrong. In the animal kingdom (human and beast) the dominant (usually male, but not exclusively) of the pack has the greatest opportunity of survival, the first or best portion of the kill, the right to mate, the protection of the pack, herd, pride, etc. Conversely, the weaker one becomes, the more they are pushed to the peripheries of the social group.
[Note: From here on, the term animal will refer to the nonhuman species only. For clarity, personal pronouns like he, she will be avoided as much as possible when speaking of a generic population.]
In many cases, animals can mimic to a degree the human capacity to plan, organize, and execute some complicated aspects of survival. I believe that it is also generally accepted in the scientific communities, that the animal still does not have the same capacity of rationalization as their human counterparts. To greatly simplify, animals live by instincts and humanity through reason. In the animal societies of pack hunters, i.e., wolves, large cats, etc., where resources are limited, it makes sense to secure the safety of the larger community, even if it means weeding out the weaker. A significant major advantage humans have over lower animals is the ability to cultivate, to be less dependent upon the natural surroundings and create new surroundings. The human species is not relegated to a single source of nutrition, we are not simply carnivores, nor vegetarians, we are omnivores. We utilize implements to increase our ability to hunt and fish, we cultivate crops in areas not natural to the locality, and we can, through scientific research, create new crops of enriched (genetically modified or not) products for human consumption. Human society cannot claim for itself the same justification of natural selection as can the species of lower animals.
I have never seen, nor heard any evidence to suggest that any other animal outside the human species has ever expressed an understanding, or desire for an understanding of the divine. Religion is unique to humans. In two recent articles (Mirror Image, October 14, 2022; Identity Theft, October 19, 2022) I shared some thoughts on the relationship between God and humanity. Though I may personally hold that the Genesis account of the creation of the human being is more mythology than pure science, I do believe that the human person was and continues to be created in the image of the divine. I also without question (not without thought) believe that God reaches out to the human person; first through Scripture and then through God’s Son, Jesus the Christ. As much as theology seems to have complicated matters of religion, I believe that the Scriptures, with all their complications, present a fairly clear and simple understanding of God’s desire for a relationship with the human creature.
There are two central themes in the Scriptures that explain what God desires of humanity – Trust and Obedience. Going back to the Book of Genesis, back to the Garden, God commanded “Adam and Eve” to abstain from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The very core of TRUST is obedience and the very purpose of obedience is trust. It is impossible to have one without the other. So, in this story, God told the man and the woman to “trust me to know what is best”. They failed to trust God and disobeyed God’s command. Sin is more than a disobedience of God; it is a denial of trust in God.
Later on, in Genesis (chapter 11 through 22) is the first historical story of an old man, Abram, who was instructed to leave his homeland and everything familiar, to travel to some undisclosed destination. Abram obeyed God as a sign of a trust in God’s promise. Through a series of steps and missteps, Abram, learned what trust in God meant. Abraham questioned the ability of his barren wife, an old woman, to have children. Abraham, impregnated a younger Hagar, an Egyptian slave, and fathered a son Ishmael. Abraham had trusted in God, but not yet fully. Eventually Abraham and Sarah had a son of their own, Isaac. Eventually Abraham would be commanded to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Though not spoken in the Genesis account of Abraham’s command to offer his only son, Isaac, I cannot imagine that there was not a severe tearing at the heart of Abraham. Abraham prepares to complete this command from God in pure trust. At the very last minute, God intervened before Abraham completes the sacrifice, and:
“…the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only-begotten son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”’ Gen 22:15-18
I am quite confident that there are times when reading the Scriptures are made difficult with seemingly disjointed chronologies, and conflicting story lines. There is though, one absolutely consistent theme throughout Scripture – trusting obedience equals faith. Read the stories of Noah, Moses and the Exodus, Joshua, the Judges, David, and the kings. The one common factor for each is the call to trust God; to trust God enough to obey God. It is essential here is to accept that Trusting God; obedience in trust, is developmental. Going back to the story of Abraham. His story is a continuous development of understanding; a developing understanding what is of God, and what comes from his own creativity? Moses needed to learn of God, Moses needed to learn to trust in God. David, the greatest king in Hebrew history needed to learn to trust in God. One cannot correctly read the prophetic books, nor the Psalms, without experiencing God’s perpetual call to trust in God’s own wisdom by obedience to the will of God.
I believe that one of the most profound readings in all of the Scriptures, either in Hebrew or Christian, can be found in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:4-11
Jesus is more than a revelation of God’s desire for humanity, Jesus is the epitome of the human response to God. If Jesus did nothing to put himself, the Son of God, on a level plane with God, then why should we? Yet, despite the many challenges found in Scriptures to consider the good of others to be equal to our own, humanity continually strives to separate those deemed by some to be weaker because of some artificial measure.
As Jesus is approaching Jerusalem for the last time, he shares his most arduous teachings with those closest to him. Jesus uses many parables, popular stories known to them, and adds his own twist to illustrate a deeper understanding. The Sadducees and the Pharisees thought they were the righteous ones because of their lofty position in Jewish culture. In Lukes Gospel, Jesus uses a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector who go into the Temple to worship.
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you; this man went down to his house justified rather than the other…” Lk 18:9-14
I strongly believe that we completely miss the central idea of this parable if we allow ourselves to believe that Jesus is talking about anybody else but ourselves. Humans have become very adept at justifying their own advantages as entitlements and demeaning others for wanting the same. It seems that the one thing Republicans and Democrats share alike, is the willingness to demonize the other, and justify themselves. It seems to me that while Jesus may have deemed equality with God a thing not to be grasped at; it is not a problem for us.