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Posts Tagged ‘instrumentalism’

“Cheap food is Cheat food”

September 15th, 2010 No comments

via SoulVeggie

“We don’t pay that, they pay that.”

They – domestic workers, domestic animals, third world countries, or, back in the day, slaves and conquered peoples  -pay … externalizing the cost.  Scapegoating, substitution, that’s one kind of sacrifice.  Self-sacrifice is another.  Granted there are different frames for all kinds of things that get labeled religious sacrifice, but I’m interested in blood sacrifice and specifically ones that involve some notion of propitiation or guilt removal. Not so much in the brute act of killing but in the narrative transformation of another’s loss into your gain, the logical move that absolves you of the guilt.

I’ve always puzzled at the difference between the notions of killing vs. sacrifice.  It seems like killing is a scenario in which there are only two agents involved and one agent takes the life of another.  It seems that religious sacrifice involves the deflection of that responsibility onto a third party, via narrative.  From the objective outsider perspective, it’s identical.   I can’t remember who said it right now, I think it was Rene Girard, “We’re all butchers pretending to be priests.”  I’m not sure of the original context but in many ways, that seems about right.   Even if you don’t believe in the metaphysical propositions behind it, what would the image of the bloody, torn body of God represent to you?

Lunch meat?
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Thoughts on Instrumentalist Theodicies

July 14th, 2010 No comments

Here’s a blurb from Michael Lloyd, addressing some issues he sees with theodicies in which natural evil (including animal pain and suffering, predation – both inter and intra-species, etc. ) is addressed from an instrumentalist position, i.e. it’s bad but necessary.

Thirdly, the instrumental answers diminish the praise-worthiness of God.  It is one of the privileges of the church that ‘you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1Peter 2.9).  It detracts from those praises if it was God who put us in that darkness in the first place.  Could we muster wholehearted praise for a God who rescues us from a situation God had deliberately created from the outset?  The prophetic promise that the wolf will lie down with the lamb (Isa. 11:6-9) is seen as one of the grounds and causes of universal proclamation and praise (Isa. 12.1, 4-6).  But if it were God who set up the structures of predation and violence originally, how genuine would be the gratitude of creation?  Austin Farrer speaks of God as ‘our rescuer from that whirlpool, in which all things, whether good or evil, senseless or sentient, are sucked down’.  Yet if God created that whirlpool and placed us within it, how fulsome will be our praise?   T.F. Torrance can speak similarly of how ‘The purpose of the Incarnation … was to penetrate into the innermost center of our contingent existence, in its finite, fragile and disrupted condition, in order to deliver it from the evil to which it had become subjected, healing and re-ordering it from its ontological roots and entirely renewing its relation to the Creator,’ because he believes that we should not ‘regard evil and disorder in the universe as in any way intended or as given a direct function by God in the development of God’s creation’. What the instrumentalists have in common, however, is a belief that natural evil does have a direct function in the development of God’s creation.  They cannot therefore speak in the same way of God rescuing God’s creatures, and our praise of God the Redeemer must correspondingly be weaker.

I think the statement “Could we muster wholehearted praise for a God who rescues us from a situation God had deliberately created from the outset?” gets at my biggest problem with instrumentalist approaches.  That’s Stockholm Syndrome.  I can see evolution by itself leading to the psychology behind empathy and morality but evolution is a thing that you can’t put a tri-Omni God in front of as a literal first cause.  So far, it looks to me like this is the one place where you actually destroy the tri-Omni concept of God when you insert him as a causality.  When you add a conscious causality to evolution, when you say there was a choice to use evolution, that causality becomes a monster.  On that model, a conscious being, something we refer to as a person, uses not just some people but the whole of creation as mere means.   That’s selfish and I’ll give you that that’s how people can be.   In fact, we consider people who embody that fully and completely to be monsters and we call them psychopaths and sociopaths.  The people who most fully  “manifest instrumentalism” if you will, are monsters.  We can’t say that people, much less anything about the rest of the world, are inherently valuable and deserve to be treated as ends and then at the same time say we get that from God.  By definition instrumentalist positions posit God as a being who uses everything as mere means.  If we treat other people, other creatures as ends in and of themselves, and if we value that as a good, then it seems that we don’t get that from an instrumentalist God, we get that in spite of an instrumentalist God.

Fourthly, the instrumental answers drive a wedge between creation and redemption.  Either predation and pain were, and remain, God’s eternal purpose for creation, in which case redemption is unnecessary, undesirable, and impossible; or they were part of God’s temporary purpose for creation, in which case creation and redemption seem to point in worryingly different directions.  C.W. Formby draws out the problem with this latter position: it implies, he says, that ‘God, having continued the organic process as a purely constructive method for countless ages, upon the self-centered principles of ruthless competition and instinct-control, sought in later stages to unmake what He had made, by spiritual influences, by recourse to the moral teaching of the Bible, and by the power of the Incarnation’. ‘Thus,’ he concludes, ‘the method attributed [by this position] to God amounts virtually to self-contradiction.’

Michael Lloyd, “Are Animals Fallen?,” in Animals on the Agenda: Questions About Animals for Theology and Ethics, eds. Linzey and Yamamoto (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 152-153.

Happy Meat and Religious Sacrifice

June 11th, 2010 No comments

There really is nothing new under the sun especially when you look at today’s rituals of animal slaughter with the critical literature on religious blood sacrifice.  In my cultural time and place we think of “animal sacrifice” as something spooky and violent that other people do.  We ‘other’ it either by geographic location, cultural location, or temporally with some designation of “primitive”.   We also distance ourselves from it, mystify it, simply by labeling it “religious sacrifice” or conversely in the secular sense, by hiding it away out of sight.  So for the sake of conversation, let me put it in the most simplistic terms possible.  Blood sacrifice involves one individual or group killing a victim (human or animal) in order to receive some expected benefit from its death, a benefit that putatively can’t be obtained otherwise (favor of the gods, i.e. communal cohesion, agricultural success etc., communication from the gods, i.e  divination-reading entrails etc., “spiritual energy”, the ‘power’ contained in the victim, etc.)  That’s it.  That’s the brute fact that unites the backyard bbq, the temple cult of ancient Israel, the Aztecs, etc.   At this most basic level there’s nothing spooky, mystical, religious, or even really interesting about it.  It’s calculated and mechanistic, this for that.  It’s predatory.

The level that is interesting to me is the cultural narrative.  Though the act remains the same, it’s the narrative, the cultural packaging, the language describing the logic (what the benefit is and how it is supposedly being obtained by the killers) that changes.  What does this have to do with Happy Meat and Conscientious Carnism?  And aren’t I just being polemical constantly referring to “meat consumption” with the language of religious sacrifice?   (if you’re really, really interested in this perspective see The Cuisine of Sacrifice Among the Greeks.) Well, no, I don’t think I am.  Much of blood sacrifice is alimentary in nature, having roots in some notion of literally feeding (propitiating) the heavenly gods – if you don’t keep them properly fed they get really grouchy and things get screwgy.  made in the image of God.

<tangent> That’s the thing about the Genesis story.   Unlike the creation myths of the surrounding cultures, it was a peaceful creation, at least the first story is.  I think the second story would count as peaceful too, in the sense that there wasn’t any battle.   At any rate, creation in Genesis didn’t come into being by way of thievery, angst, mischief, or some cosmic cage match.  If we were created in the image of that god then that means something very special as far as creation stories go.  I hate to see it treated as the lay person version of ‘justamyth’.  It may be a myth in the technical literary sense but creation myths are the most important foundations of culture.   Language goes a long way toward creating and maintaining our perception of reality, our grounding if you will.  God spoke the world into being.  I don’t think you can say, “just a myth”, and understand the work true myths actually do.  I also hate to see the extent to which, in some versions of Christianity, the cosmic cage match or the idea of violent creation has been put back into the story, substituted for the real one .  By that I mean the way in which some Christians see the cross as the beginning of their world as if that was the beginning of the world … if the cross is seen as the necessary holy violence in which the Christian creation myth is grounded, rather than as a critique of it, then you’ve totally undermined the whole thing.  That may be some sort of Christian creation myth but in my opinion, it’s given up any claim to relationship with the story in the beginning of the book.</tangent>

Anyway, when you blow away the smoke of both religious and secular obfuscation it looks pretty much the same; slaughter is as slaughter does.  Here’s one example.  Think of the narrative around more ‘humane’ food animal husbandry.  Food animals of course are sacred, sacrificial. They’re set apart to be used by and killed for others.  We think their death gives us life. Better yet we think their death is necessary for our life.  Anyway.  In reaction to the utter inhumanity of factory farming, the new marketing focus is on how caring the farmers are, how they have respect for their animals.  The caring farmer treats his animals more like ‘family’ compared to the animals in the care of those other farmers who end up on those horrible expose videos.  The “conscientious carnivore” gets to know the animals they pay others to kill for them, or at least wants to know the farmer knew his animals.  Some go so far as insisting on doing the killing themselves.  Often times this getting close to the animal before you kill it will be described in positively nostalgic, even romantic terms.

That’s so religious.

Compare it with the following description of a religious ritual of the “primitive” Ainu people of Japan:

The Ainu celebrate a bear feast; a very young bear is captured, suckled and carefully reared by a woman, pampered and spoilt for several years and finally killed; in the slaying the whole community participates, at least symbolically; it is then sincerely mourned, and consumed ceremonially in a communal meal.  It is the animal of the community; and this follows from the fact that it can be a sacrificial animal only if it has grown up in the tribe, so that a wild bear would be useless for the purpose; it is as it were the child of the woman who brought it up, and who laments it.

~ excepted from G. van der Leeuw,  Religion in Essence and Manifestation in Understanding Religious Sacrifice: a Reader, 157.

They care for it.  They nurture it.  They literally bring it into their metaphorical circle or tribe or family. It’s domesticated.  It’s one of them. They kill it.  They mourn it.  They consume it.  It’s sacred.  And they either do it or reenact it according to some need or schedule.  Killing for selfish gain and wrapping the whole process in the blanket of nurturing and caring and relationship. That’s the shared meta-narrative of happy meat and of much “primitive” ritual killing / religious blood sacrifice.  Truly, they pity and eat the object of their compassion.

(Now, I get the extent to which this process is metaphorized, spiritualized in Christianity.  But the fact that the ritual killing of human “animals” (conversion) is spiritualized doesn’t change the fact that real animals, sentient and morally innocent creatures, are still being actually, literally scapegoated and sacrificed today.)

Once you get out of it, once you see the extent to which the veil of “tragic necessity” really is just a veil (it’s tragic, but not a necessity) it all seems so … bizarre.   Let me clarify that … the killing of real animals is, for most people, nothing like a necessity.  The metaphorized killing of the human animal, more so than ever.  If only we could see the extent to which our behavior toward other real, literal creatures makes us worse than those real animals by an almost unimaginable degree.  Unimaginable, that is until you actually see it, literally and spiritually.  Seeing it – now that’s an Apocalypse.  Maybe that’s why we work so hard to keep it both literally and linguistically hidden.