Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An Elephant and Integral Human Development

[Ed. Note - The following letters were sent to two prelates in the Catholic Church]

1 May 2017

Rev. Msgr. Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso
Secretary Delegate
Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Piazza San Callisto 16, 00153 Roma, Italy

Dear Monsignor,

Enclosed is a copy of a letter I have sent to His Eminence, Luis Antonio Tagle Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, concerning an elephant. I think the letter speaks for itself but would like to add a few remarks.

Article 2415 of the Catechism states, “The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of ... humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.”

I believe this articulation is inadequate, as it focuses too much on use for the benefit of Man and fails to draw the necessary connection between love of creation and man's own integral human development.

As you know, the word dominion is a derivative of domus and primordially refers not simply to the power of the paterfamilias but to his love, solicitude and responsibility for the beings within his household and, indeed, for the oikos as a whole. It is in this sense, I believe, that Genesis 1:28, gives Man dominion (heb. radah) over Creation. By focusing on use, the Catechism obscures that the essence of dominion is neither power nor benefit but love.

I have in mind Hans Urs von Balthasar who reminds us that "when the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of 'knowledge', then the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science..." (Love Alone.)

When we treat other creatures as material objects, we close ourselves to the forces of love immanent in them and, to that extent, we progressively deaden ourselves; for it is the nature of death to be inanimate and insentient.  What this means is that “integral human development” necessitates that we ourselves refrain from descending to the material level and that we treat our fellow creatures not only with respect but with the affection of the fatherhood over them which was granted to us.

As I know you know, this becomes a matter of habitus and praxis. Studies have shown that materialism – that is, deadness of heart – begins in small things, often in childhood, and entrenches itself as man inures and accustoms himself to view the world “objectively.” More than a personal failing, the indifference of the soldiers on Calvary was the product of a culture.

Our present culture is the most materialistic of all; not just on account of the fact that it has “the appearance of a vast warehouse of commodities,” but because what we call knowledge is actually a lower faculty whose focus and practice is on things as such. We have become too used to executing tasks, so that the awesomeness of our technological progress stands in inverse proportion to our ability to stand in awe of the Creation we manipulate.

To quote von Balthasar again, “whoever sneers at Beauty... whether he admits it or not — can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love" (The Glory of the Lord.) We see symptoms of our technological alienation everywhere.

Of course, this gives rise to paradox. As a species, we could opt to live as simple savages without all the techno-material benefits we have discovered and created. (And Mother Nature might very well punish us with just that after we have killed her off. ) Or we could develop a scintilla conscientiae equal in strength to our knowledge and serving to remind us, as through an aperture, of our original, savage righteousness in paradise. I do not conceive of this as a question of morals (itself a mere form of mathesis) but of vivification.

This task of reanimation falls heavily upon the Church. In fact, is that not her primary task? And as with bringing anything back to life, back to mobility, the habit and progress begins with small things and small exercises, daily.

Some might say that an archbishop has more serious and more important things to do than to worry about an elephant. I say not. It was Jesus who reminded us that as unto the least so unto Him. In fact, I would submit that the more we focus on systems for delivering charities, on institutional projects and programs for development, the more we distance ourselves from immanence and fall back into the materialism of knowledge.

The Church has been remiss in this regard. Its bishops focus to much on management and too little on sparked response. When they do speak out it is all too often on a small menu of issues that have become, frankly, moral fetishes. To be fully alive to the world is to be alive to all of it. One does not smell a tree and not hear the bird or feel the sun or bask in the breeze.

Our Holy Father, has spoken out on environmental issues. It was long overdue. But he cannot – and should not – speak out on everything, daily. His authority would be diminished by over-use and eventually be ignored as just another voice in the increasingly competitive global cacophony. It is therefore up to cardinals, bishops and priests to lift the burden from the Pope's shoulder's and to assist in the work that must be done.

Mali's suffering is heart-wrenching to anyone who is alive to Creation. It is as pitiable as the suffering of any child because, for all her grandeur and size, she is, before us, as helpless as any child in the house over which we have dominion. For our sake – for the integral development of our humanity – she deserves a cry of mercy from the memory of paradise. And so, I have sent my letter.

I am sending this letter to you so that you may call attention to the fact that the Church's catechesis in this area is inadequate for the reasons I have discussed. That is my opinion at any rate; and I believe it is a good one. If I have addressed this issue to the wrong person, please be so kind as to forwarded it to the right one.

Sincerely yours,

18 April 2017
His Eminence Luis Antonio Tagle
Cardinal Archbishop of Manila
121 Arzobispo St., Intramuros,
1099 Manila, Philippines

Your Eminence,

I read with deep dismay about Mali, the captive elephant in the Manila zoo who has been kept confined for 40 years in complete isolation without the company and consolation of her own kind. This is barbarism. I quote to you Saint Aelred of Rievaulx,

What forest bears but a single tree? Even in inanimate nature a certain love of companionship, so to speak, is apparent and thrives in society with its own kind. And surely in animate life who cannot easily see how clearly the picture of friendship is, and the image of society and love? For, although in other respects animals are rated irrational, yet they imitate man in this regard to such an extent that we believe they act with reason. How they run after one another, play with one another and betray their love by sound and movement. So eagerly do they enjoy their mutual company, that they seem to prize nothing else so much as they do whatever pertains to friendship.” (De Spirituali Amicitia 1164-67.)

Our Church has many times spoke out against materialism. But is it not a materialism of the cruelest sort to debase living, sentient creatures, lovingly made by our Common to Creator, to the level of inanimate objects, which yet remain alive if only to feel anguish? Mali is reportedly so lonely she tries to hug and caress her own tail.

Animal rights groups are willing to take Mali to a sanctuary where she can live the remainder of her days among her own kind and taste, if only for a short while, the joys God intended for her. But zoo officials refuse to release her. In naked contravention of Art. VII, § 2415 of the Catechism, they want their "object" for people to gawk at for a fee.

We are commanded to revere the least among us and to rescue the helpless. I implore you to speak out on Mali's behalf. It would be such a small thing for you to do that could have a saving impact.