Sunday, February 28, 2016

Can an animal have a soul?

By George Templeton
Gazette Columnist
Spirit Animals

Discovery comes out of doubting.  Uncertainty is the ground of creative adaptation.
The Wild Boar
I have a predisposition to wildness.   I needed nature and felt at home, at peace with it.  I was allergic to civilization.  My redemption was to escape outdoors.  I was never afraid, because I knew I was food for nothing, and a creature that all other animals fear.
I was a quail hunter.  I came across a family of Javelina.  Having heard that they were not very perceptive, I decided to see how close I could get to them.  It was then that a wild boar charged me.  Snarling, huffing, and stomping he came at me as I took aim with my gun.  It held only two shots.  I could not waste a warning shot, so I would either hold my fire or kill.  There was no other choice.  The pig stopped about a dozen feet from me.  I slowly backed away, all the time keeping aim on the pig.  This went on for about a half-dozen times until the pig suddenly turned and ran.  He had fulfilled his duty to his family and apparently felt no need to up the ante.  At that moment, I realized that I and the pig had become one.  I admired its courage.  It would live to defend its family from the mountain lions that frequented the area.  I had discovered my personal relationship with the pig, what some might call “soul”.
Cat Fishing
It was a blistering hot July, the kind when the cat fishing is best.  I had triple hooks, raw chicken livers, fish emulsion, hog’s blood, and garlic stink bait.  You put it on the river floor, and if there is a catfish within a hundred yards it will come running!
My Land Cruiser growled through the dry washes for tens of miles, atop high sandbars that were deeply eroded by running water.  I had to be careful not to fall off their edge.  There was no road to be followed, no tire tracks, and no sign of humanity.  There were thickets of yellow jacket wasps and the sweet creosote smell of desert brush.  I waddled across a field of large boulders, polished by eons of seasonal flooding, for hundreds of yards to approach the river.  It was bent in its path by high rock formations, but not constrained having been accelerated in passing through the rock formation.  I had planned to hike the river but the terrain was too steep and it was too hot.  I could see that this might not be a good place during flood season, because the water marks in the distance were higher than my vehicle’s roof rack.
The fishing was good. I put the catfish, still alive, in my ice chest and started to leave as the sun went down.  I had not seen another human being all day.  The terrain had become dark, not visible, giving me the feeling of lost, insecure aloneness.  As I traveled through the washes, my headlights revealed a surprise, a dog straight in my path, so I had to stop.  It ran around to the back of the Land Cruiser and tried to jump in.  I opened my door to check things out and the dog came around.  There was no one for miles in every direction, nothing but cactus and brush, and it was hellishly hot even though it had become dark.   I helped the dog in.  It settled down next to the gearshift.   I gave it a granola bar which it vigorously crunched down.  Let’s go!  Now we were headed for the cool high country, hours away and thousands of feet higher in elevation.  Arriving near midnight, my Land Cruiser waddled down a narrow path next to a creek.  I pitched my tent in the dark from memory, as I had done many times before.  I would sleep hearing the restful sounds of gurgling, running water.  I left the dog in the vehicle.  I would check it out in the morning.
Dog Story
I had never owned a dog and did not want one.  I found that it stunk and was horribly infected with a festering open wound on its bottom.  I contemplated taking the big revolver and putting it out of its misery, but there was a problem.  The dog could eat, had bowel movements, and wagged its tail at me.  I thought that it can’t be that serious!   So away we went to my home in the valley, carrying an unexpected addition to our family.
I discovered that the dog slept all day, but roamed the house at night, constantly sniffing for food.  The vet gave us antibiotic pills and salves for her wounds.  We constrained the dog by temporarily putting it in the crib that was awaiting our child and named it Daisy.
Daisy was a puppy, no more than perhaps a couple of months old when she came to us.  She learned the family way quickly.  It became clear that she was too smart to die out on that hot and lonely desert.  Daisy revealed an intelligence that was far more than suspected.
It was not necessary to teach Daisy commands.  She comprehended speech and could pick things out from our conversations, but her spelling was not very good.  That was how we kept secrets.  Daisy wanted to talk, but could not enunciate!  As smart as Daisy was, she could never understand why I had to go to work and I could never understand why she was so happy to see me return.  Get over it!  Dog, when will you ever learn?
Daisy had a sense of place.  She knew when the Land Cruiser approached the river where she was found. She identified the lights and traffic of the town.   She recognized the trees and the lush summer smells of the woods.  Daisy had a special sense about knowing when we were preparing to go.  She was my sentry on numerous camping trips.  Although dogs are territorial, she identified with me instead of the place.  It got to the point where I did not want to go anywhere that I could not take her.  I knew that she would give her life to defend me, but I wanted to pick the fights.
Daisy could not be let off her leash.  A small stick of dynamite, she would pursue a pine cone with reckless abandon, sometimes completely losing her equilibrium and rolling like a ball head over heels.  My book explained that I should never play violently with a Cairn terrier, but my dog loved that.  I would sing to her, pound the bed, clap my hands, act like I was going to hit her and she would return this play making my arm red, but never bleeding, while vigorously wagging her tail.  I trusted her completely.  She trusted me and even defended me from the garbage truck, though she seemed incapable of understanding that the truck would keep coming.  In her eyes I could see, “get back, get back, I will drive that monster away!”
Daisy was a nose with legs.  I noticed that she was identifying me by sniffing my feet.  Once we were taking a walk, and a rabbit crossed our path about 200 yards away.  The terrain blocked the dog’s view and the rabbit was long gone by the time we crossed the path, but Daisy took off exactly following the path the rabbit had taken.  Diffusion is important in the semiconductor industry, but clearly Daisy’s nose violated physics.  She knew when I was cooking breakfast even though she was 100 feet outside of our sealed home.  A single atom of smell must have reached her nose.
Daisy had feelings, could read when I was sad or happy, knew right from wrong, and visibly displayed remorse when she snapped at me for taking her bloody steak bone away.  I explained to her, even if you did bite me, I would not retaliate.
These experiences changed how I relate to animals, made me think that they were more like us than we knew.  Can an animal have a soul?
Disembodied Soul
I was 11 years old when I looked into the coffin of the man who raised me.  It wasn’t him.  I had not recently seen him, because they did not allow children into the hospital in those days.  I didn’t remember him that way.  Something was gone, but something remained.  Our lives influence how history evolves even after our death.
They say that only humans have soul, but I am convinced that this is only vain pride.  Religion holds that God creates an individual, immortal, spiritual soul that goes on after death and is reunited with the body at a final resurrection.  They say that if you don’t believe, you are deciding against God.  The supernatural is unconstrained and definite.  Simon Weil wrote dogmatically:  “Only certainty will do.  Anything less than certainty is unworthy of God.”  But Simon was wrong.  Discovery comes out of doubting.  Uncertainty is the ground of creative adaptation.
Bible scholars say that in Hebrew, soul was more like a living, breathing, conscious body than the now popular immortal version.  Then there is the fact that versions of the Bible required translation into Greek and sometimes Latin.  Meaning in words, languages, and ever present politics is never complete. 
Supposedly dogs cannot affirm, deny, or will anything, so they cannot have a soul.  It is like saying that only those who speak English have souls.  How about babies?   Aristotle thought that the father’s sperm provided the soul and the mother the body.  He was half right.  The soul lacks material reality and confirmation.  It is mythical instead of scientific, but myths are realities that are not just stories.  They are truths instead of lies even though they may be literally ridiculous.
Human behavior is both free and determined.  It is greater than personal experience because it seeks moral behavior as an end in itself.  It sees the mystery and meaning of life as something beyond personal, embracing all humanity.  It is a whole that is greater than us.  It sees good and evil as simultaneously present, recognizing that the innocent often suffer and that life is not always fair.  We are not just good or bad, but both.  That is the drama of human existence.
An Educated Heart with Intelligent Emotion
Consciousness and the mind are more than the simple brain parts we can see.  Scientists say they can see memories in our brain and even change them.  They are part of how, but not why.  “Why?” draws in and involves us, giving us soul.  The soul is a process that makes us free to choose and consequently responsible.  It is like a computer program that writes itself and is never complete.  Science contradicts belief, but spirituality has to embrace it.  We must look inward. 

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