What if pigs are just as intelligent as dogs and animals have the same moral capacity as humans? The animal ethicist Judith Benz-Schwarzburg and her interdisciplinary team are exploring questions that challenge us to fundamentally rethink the relationship between humans and animals.
Do You Believe in Love?
Love is that most powerful of human emotions that allows forgiveness, selflessness and joy. It is through love and other emotions that we are able to deeply understand each other and to empathise. It is our feelings that make us human, not our cleverness or other abilities and attributes we may have. But how do you explain the love between parents and their children? Between loving partners? We cannot possibly really understand these emotions without having experienced them. Yet, can anyone conclusively prove that you feel love? Or that you feel sad for that matter? Or happy? The fact is that nobody can prove whether your feeling of love for someone else is real or not. Nevertheless, you know if it is real.
This was the conclusion of Descartes, who in trying decide what was real and what was not concluded “I think therefore I am”. What he meant by this was that he was conscious, so he must exist. And what are we most conscious of? Our feelings. We may lose our senses but, unless in a coma, we do not lose our feelings. Thus with feelings we have something invisible but undeniably real. In fact, how we feel at any time is perhaps the only thing we can be sure of. The rest of the world may just be an illusion, a fantasy, or shadows of reality, like a dream - even the people (e.g. Plato’s’ Cave). Thus the one thing I (and you) can be absolutely sure of is how we feel. Nothing is surer to us than how we feel at any given time – even if some of us have trouble expressing it.
It is because of this certainty that I am convinced that God exists. Let me explain. For centuries people have sought a ‘proof’ for the existence of God. These ‘proofs’ are invariably open to argument (thus are not really proofs at all). We are also told that belief in God is an act of faith. Let me tell you now that is not necessarily true either. I am utterly convinced that God exists, and this is based on the hardest possible evidence: the strong feelings of love I have experienced. Not just everyday feelings of love, but really powerful blissful feelings; somewhat like falling in love but magnified at least 100 times and permeating my whole being. I felt this when praying; when asking for help and forgiveness at a time of dire need. Since then I have often had flushes of strong love, not quite as all-consuming, but unusual all the same. The problem of course is that while this is incontrovertible proof for me it is not a proof I can share with anyone else. Thus it seems that the existence of God can only be proven to individuals and not generally.
(For some reason embedded video links seem not be working on this site. This one is: C.S Lewis' surviving radio address)
My experience gave me the understanding that God is, in essence, a God of love. Love is His fundamental spirit and we, being made in His likeness, can too experience these feelings. Love is the Father that Jesus was one with, and which He claimed only He could introduce us to, as only He possesses it as the original source. Thus I am sure that God feels for us nothing but the most tender, caring, forgiving love and that He wants to share it and for us to feel the same love for Him and others. In case anyone has qualms about it he makes it easy, by actually demanding that we love Him. When asked by an expert in the Mosaic Law:
“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ “
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.””
In fact we even know the proportions of love that a person should have. The number of man is 666. Of this 666 a perfect person will love God with 600 parts, his neighbour with 60, and himself with just 6 (if you reverse these numbers you get a perfect devil).
“written about a 17th-century Cossack officer who drowned his betrothed in the Volga River to prove to his soldiers that love had not turned him soft. ”
To appreciate the sadness of this event, consider that the folk song was the basis of the Seeker’s song ‘The Carnival is Over’ (the original Russian version is here). But then how many Australians do similar things (although not quite to this extent) to prove how ‘tough’ or how ‘practical’ they are? In the psyche of many Australians it seems that one cannot be physically tough, practical and loving at the same time.
(this video is "The Seekers", The Carnival is Over")
So what holds us back from finding and loving God? When you mention the Bible and God, there are some basic arguments that people throw forward. I will examine two. The first is the somewhat barbaric practices recorded in the Old Testament, along with concepts of everlasting hell. These seem somewhat inconsistent with a God of Love. The second is the teachings of Moses, such as the world being created in six days. Please allow me to attempt to address each of these as best I can.
So first the barbaric practices recorded in the Old Testament. To understand we must first make clear that God is unchanging, He is not one day thinking this is good and this is bad, He is always the same. Thus if we are to have an understanding of God, it is one that should be based on the New Testament and teachings of Jesus. Jesus pointed out how far the priests of that time had strayed from the laws and teachings of Moses and how they had murdered prophets sent to give them a better understanding. And He demonstrated the error of their Mosaic understanding in relation to an attempt to stone an adulteress
(see the video below - this one is of Jesus saving the woman from being stoned for adultery).
Now for the other points: everlasting hell and earth being created in six days. It must be made clear that the Bible is a spiritual text, not an earthly one, although in the Bible earthly, natural language is commonly used to explain spiritual concepts, by either allegory or metaphor. We mostly understand this. We readily accept that when Jesus referred to Himself as a shepherd He was not thinking of sheep, also when He referred to a ‘catch’ He was not talking about fish. Nor did He mean natural things when He mentions scattering of seed, and separating wheat from chaff etc. We all accept that the ‘apple‘, or ‘forbidden fruit’ in the old Testament is likely an allegory for something else, similarly we accept that the ‘tree of knowledge’ does not refer to any natural tree. So why then do we seek to interpret other aspects of the Bible in a purely natural sense? It is clear from all this that natural examples are used in the Bible in a language of correspondences (as explained by Emanuel Swedenborg). For example, people are referred to as plants, fire means love (good or bad loves) and light means understanding of what is true and good. And these are just some examples.
So when Moses in Genesis talks of the Earth being created in six days, these are not natural days. Any simple analysis will reveal that interpreting Genesis in an entirely natural sense leads to utter nonsense. Genesis talks of light being created on the first day. Yet three days later two more lights are created: a greater one to rule the day, and a lesser one to rule the night. These later two are commonly interpreted to be the Sun and the Moon. So this begs some questions: What light then was created on the first day? If the Sun and the Moon were only created on the Fourth Day, what sorts of days existed before then? Why did Moses not refer to the later lights as the ‘Sun’ and the ‘Moon’ as it is certain that Sun and Moon had their own names in Moses’ time?
It seems clear to me that the lights and days referred to in Genesis are not natural lights and days at all. A spiritual interpretation of Genesis is provided in the writings of Jakob Lorber, and a discussion of the fourth day is available here. Attempts to interpret Genesis in a purely natural sense result in much other nonsense. For example, I have heard it claimed that God placed dinosaur fossils to trick us. Such trickery is unthinkable for a God of light and truth. That He would engage in such an elaborate deception to hide the truth is preposterous.
And that leads to the next topic. What does the Bible teach? It promises that if you seek hard enough you will find God. Seeking means doing. It means living according to the teachings of Bible. Only then can God start to reveal Himself. It is all up to your free will. You cannot just read the Bible and expect to find God, just as you cannot expect to know a city like Rome by simply studying the map. To know Rome, you must go to Rome. To find the truths in the Bible teaching you must live by the teaching. You must try to love your enemies, you must try to forgive those who hurt you and return injury with kindness. These are really hard things for people to do. These are the fundamentals that lead to peace in oneself, and as promised, complete freedom (from your ego and earthly desires). Of course, an achievement such as mastery of oneself is not easy, and we all need to pray for help. But we should be sure to pray for spiritual help and not better material circumstances. One must apparently focus mostly not on the things of this world, but on spiritual gains. Like Jesus everyone must ‘carry their cross’ i.e accept what comes their way. The great surprise in the teaching is that there are two other promises. Firstly, if you focus on spiritual things above all else, then all the material things you need will be added for free. Secondly, you can place all your burdens on to God. Thus if you focus on improving your spiritual self, not only will you get all the materials things you need (just what you need – no more) but also you will, if you ask, be strengthened to cope with any trial – such as I was with the powerful feelings of love I was given. This is true for individuals as it is for entire nations. This is what, I believe, is meant by faith. Faith is the trust in God that if you focus on spiritual things above all else, then God will take care of your material circumstance. Such faith does not develop easily. Nor should it. God asks that we test everything and accept only what is true. Faith develops gradually as one places more and more trust in God. Personally, I have not yet been disappointed in placing such trust, yet despite this and my seemingly strong belief I consider my faith weak.
One final word, on the so-called Everlasting Hell which is so difficult a concept for people to accept. I have not seen any phrase in the Bible where anyone is condemned to Hell for eternity. The closest phrase is something like (depending on which Bible you read): ‘condemned to the everlasting fires of Hell’. But let us analyse this both with reason and using the language of correspondences. Firstly, that statement says that the fires of Hell are everlasting, not that someone has been condemned to them everlastingly. Remember fire means love – both good and bad – the love of bad things must of course be eternally condemned. How can a God of light, love and good ever sanction the love of bad things (like murder, hatred, etc.)? Of course, if God is to stay God, such things, and love for such things must be forever frowned upon. But what you love is a matter of free-will. And one’s love can change from bad things to good. And the great beauty of God is that in His love and mercy, once this happens all else is forgiven, and such a penitent will then be able to experience another eternal fire: the fire of God’s blissful love, no doubt similar to that which I experienced when praying.
Lewis, C.S 1952 ‘Mere Christianity’, McMillan Publishers
Lorber, J. 2011 (English Edition) ‘The Great Gospel of John’, 10 volumes, Lorber-Verlag (some volumes are available here. The first book is here).
Schumacher, E.F 1977 ‘A Guide for the Perplexed’, Harper Perennial.
Swedenborg, E. 1758 (English Version), ‘Heaven and Hell’, New Century. (this book here explains true Christianity, and where the formal churches went astray).