Tuesday, July 14, 2015

No wonder Tolstoy became a vegetarian! Will Pope Francis become one?

Last night, I started reading Tolstoy's Confession.  He writes in this highly praised translated version:
My loss of faith happened in me as it happened then and does now among people with our kind of upbringing.  In the majority of cases I think it happens like this: people live as all other people do, and they all live on the basis of principles which not only have nothing in common with Christian teaching but also for the most part are in opposition to it; Christian teaching plays no part in life; one never comes across it in one's relations with others and one never has to deal with it in one's own life; Christian teaching is professed somewhere out there, far from life and independently of it.
I was like, damn that is so right!  My loss of faith began that way, the difference being that it was "Hindu" in place of Christian and "Hinduism" in place of Christianity.

Tolstoy then goes for the jugular:
Then as now the open declaration and profession of Orthodoxy were found for the most part in stupid, cruel, and immoral people who think themselves very important.  Intelligence, honesty, uprightness, goodness of heart, and morality were found for the most part in people declaring themselves to be unbelievers.
Ouch!  It does not surprise me anymore that Tolstoy was excommunicated from the church.
I began to read a great deal and to think very early on, so my rejection of Christian teaching became a conscious one very early on.  From the age of sixteen I stopped saying my prayers and of my own volition stopped going to church and fasting. 
Right from a young age, I had a very difficult time reconciling the wonderful ideals that the religion advocated with the reality of every day life lived by the believers.  I am immensely happy to find that I am walking along the trails that Tolstoy (and others) have cleared for me:

Religions and religious leaders have always had profound ideals for all of us.  But, we humans seem to intentionally choose to ignore them.  Thus, Christians have plundered and killed as much as Buddhists have plundered and killed, even though the founders of both the faiths championed peace and love.

In his latest op-ed, the philosopher Peter Singer tackles one of those aspects of Christian--specifically Roman Catholic--teachings: "man's dominion."  Singer writes:
Mainstream Christian thinking about animals is rooted in the Book of Genesis,where God is said to have granted man dominion over all the animals. St. Thomas Aquinas interpreted that verse as implying that it simply does not matter how man behaves toward animals; the only reason why we should not inflict whatever cruelties we like on animals is that doing so may lead to cruelty to humans.
A few Christian thinkers have sought to reinterpret “dominion” as “stewardship,” suggesting that God entrusted humanity to care for his creation. But it remained a minority view, favored by environmentalists and animal protectionists, and Aquinas’s interpretation remained the prevailing Catholic doctrine until the late twentieth century.
Tolstoy wrote that "Christian teaching is professed somewhere out there, far from life and independently of it."  Singer points out that what that teaching is has been interpreted in many ways.  The latest interpretation is from the current Pope:
Francis has now come down decisively against the mainstream view, saying that Christians “have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures,” and insisting that “we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” Our “dominion” over the universe, he declares, should be understood “in the sense of responsible stewardship.”
Against the background of nearly 2,000 years of Catholic thinking about “man’s dominion,” this is a revolutionary change.
How did Tolstoy deal with his own views?  Were they always the same?  Did they change?
I continued to live only professing my belief in progress.  "Everything is evolving and I am evolving, and why I am evolving together with everyone else will be made clear."  That was how I then had to formulate my faith.
In this evolving faith, Francis has gone one more step, Singer writes:
Now, in Laudatio Si, Francis quotes the passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus says of the birds that “not one of them is forgotten before God.” Francis then asks: “How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?” It is a good question, because we do mistreat them, and on a massive scale.
Most Roman Catholics participate in this mistreatment, a few by raising chickens, ducks, and turkeys in ways that maximize profit by reducing animal welfare, and the majority by buying the products of factory farms. If Pope Francis can change that, he will, in my view, have done more good than any other pope in recent history.
This summer of deep reading is turning out to be wonderfully rewarding.  Life is beautiful, indeed!

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