Meerkats, Interpretation, and God

Life of Pi is a popular book about a boy in a canoe with a tiger in the ocean. To my surprise, I loved it. This book is nothing less than a sophisticated, fair, and modern justification for faith in God.

We hear a story about a boy on a fantastic journey of survival, a story that is almost unbelievable – at one point they reach a living island full of meerkats. At the end of the story, the boy (now an old man) tells his story to another man (or two men…I can’t remember the details). Anyway, he doesn’t believe the story. So he tells the man a more realistic story: he leaves out the tiger and the meerkats. The skeptical man says: “which one is the true one?” The narrator replies: the choice is up to you which story you want to believe. I gave you my story. Then I gave you an alternate story. Both could be true. You cannot verify either. The choice is up to you.
Forget about the details of the plot; this is all a metaphor for life, for how we perceive the world, for how we interpret events. If you’re wondering whether a boy really could survive with a tiger, or whether a meerkat island could actually exist, you’re probably missing the point. If you think that religion is a bunch of silly made up stories just to make people feel good, you are also missing the point of the book. Everything that happens in your life, everything that happens in the world, is perceived and interpreted in so many ways.That’s what the book is about. There is meaning behind events, and we provide that meaning. Unless you are a Nihilist, everyone gives meaning to life in some way. The meaning becomes reality, a part of the event. The fantastical story is clearly a reference to a theistic interpretation of life, while the alternate story is a reference to a non-theist interpretation of life. The philosophical point is this: we really don’t know which one is correct, thus we choose. Given that, the author is suggesting that a religious interpretation is preferable.
I agree.
Billions and billions of years ago, our universe came into existence. That’s a fact. But why? Why does anything exist at all? And what does the Big Bang mean, if anything? That’s up for interpretation. Now apply this to all events, big and small. That’s life; that’s the human condition – we are meaning seeking animals, and that’s okay. I choose to believe God is behind all events.
Meerkats, Interpretation, and God

Did Job Teach God a Lesson?

William Blake portrays God speaking to Job in a whirlwind

The Book of Job is bizarre. It shows God making a bet with the devil, testing the faith of Job, and finally an epic scene where God basically yells at Job: how dare you question me mortal! Oddly, then God gives all Job’s stuff back and sort of implicitly justifies him.

Some people think the lesson is simple: do not question the ways of God. When bad things happen to good people, trust God and never question His ways. He controls the universe, and you are a speck of dust.

True. But instead of God teaching us a lesson, Karl Jung (psychologist) believed that Job also taught God a lesson, a lesson that God could not teach Himself. The lesson was about moral perfection: that to be truly good, one must do the right thing in the face of horrible, unjust suffering. But God cannot suffer. One must have free will, something God might not have. For God to evolve, to become better, to become more loving, God confronts a morally perfect human (Job) and realizes that the limitations inherent in man are actually the most beautiful thing about us. What does God take away? Love, forgiveness, and sacrifice. Jesus, of course, will become for Christians the ultimate confirmation of the Book of Job: God becomes man in order to perfect love. The Trinity is complete.

Personally, this all makes some sense to me, even though this interpretation is controversial at best. (Quick interpretation tip inspired by Augustine: if an interpretation increases your love and understanding, it’s probably right). Imagine God before the universe, before anything existed. God, all by himself, has limitations. God needs creation and creation needs God. Otherwise why would God create to begin with? Everything is a reflection of God and a part of God. Human beings are not all-knowing or all-powerful – we are not even close. But, because of free will, we have the potential to be perfectly good. Job and Jesus are good examples of that.

True Love is Freely Given
Here’s another way to think about it. God could have designed the world in a purely rational way, where good people are blessed and bad people are punished. In a way that makes sense. But is that love? True love, unconditional love, is freely given. It looks beyond circumstances and just is. Perhaps the Book of Job is a justification for why God must allow good people to suffer: it’s the only way to love freely, both the good and the bad.

Did Job Teach God a Lesson?

Vegetarianism from a Hunter’s Perspective

Shall I puff out my chest and say meat-eating is natural and noble? Shall I make fun of vegetarians, call them unrealistic, or try to poke holes in their position?

No. If a meat eater is honest with themselves, if we give it an iota of thought, we must admit that vegetarianism is a morally superior position. Simple as that. It’s a no-brainer. One diet is based on killing animals, sentient creatures that suffer. The other diet is based on not killing animals. How much simpler can it be?

If anyone chooses vegetarianism for moral reasons – as my wife and my ex-girlfriend did – it’s a beautiful thing. These people have the moral imagination and empathy to feel for animals, an advanced empathy, an enlarged amygdala perhaps. And that deserves praise from all of us. Moral vegetarianism comes in two flavors: (1) it’s wrong to kill animals and/or (2) it’s wrong to subject animals to suffering, an indictment of the meat industry. I have genuine respect for both positions. If my son Immanuel becomes a vegetarian, I would be glad for him. Other vegetarians may choose for different reasons: they don’t like meat, or the culture, or they want to be healthier and could care less about animals. That’s okay too, but I do think the moral position deserves the most praise.

Let’s not get carried away. Vegetarians should not  judge – they should understand us and accept us as falling short of an ideal; after all, don’t we all fall short of ideals? Judge not. As always, the best way to promote the cause is to simply be (lead by example; be the change you want to see in the world). The vegetarians I have known have been great examples for me. As for meat eaters judging vegetarians, now that’s laughable! – but sadly happens all the time.

Meat eaters want to argue that it’s natural. Yes, eating meat is “natural”, normal, and prevalent, but that’s not a good moral argument. (check out my blog on that). Explaining a behavior does not justify it, although it helps to put it in context. Human beings, looked at as an animal species alone, are indeed omnivores. Historically, we have always ate meat (when and if we could catch it), although I understand that a very small percentage of our diet was in fact meat (because it’s hard to catch), and now we eat too much (from a health perspective). Free will, morality, and modern-day realities and luxury allow us to choose vegetarianism if we want. For most Americans, it’s an open choice. One is better. I choose the worse one.

The fact that I hunt for my meat doesn’t help my position very much. Everyone who eats meat must be comfortable with the fact that they are killing animals. They are complicit. I simply do it. I enjoy the total experience of hunting, but I do not enjoy killing a deer. I kill deer for the meat, which I take care of properly (well, as “proper” as I can). Some vegetarians – the ones who don’t like the meat industry – think it’s better that I kill my own meat and process it in a more humane way.

Morality makes demands on us. Some behaviors are required, others condemned, and others are merely permissible or allowed. Much like drinking beer in moderation is morally permissible, eating meat in moderation is morally permissible in my opinion. It’s allowable. But such a lifestyle is certainly not on the same level as a vegetarian lifestyle. There is a better way, and I imagine that 100 years from now most people will have a plant-based diet. That’s how morality works sometimes.

Vegetarianism from a Hunter’s Perspective