Today I listened to Peter Singer on CBC’s “Ideas.” You can listen yourself, here. I surprisingly agreed with a few of Singer’s observations, including his critique of the way we’re willing to turn a blind eye to children dying of preventable diseases in other countries, and admire the dedication of him and his wife starting with a 10% tithe and now contributing 30% to charity, suggesting that the goal is always to be more charitable.
This episode he was discussing “Last Rights,” euthanasia and assisted suicide. His well-known refrain is his critique of speciesism, the way in which we consider as unique or special the human race while we continue to abuse other animal species. If a horse is seriously injured or disabled, we would likely put it down. Why do we continue to uphold a double standard when it comes to human beings?
The thought occurred to me – what other animal has filled tomes and libraries with works devoted to discussing the way in which to treat their own and other species ethically? I use “tomes” as it conjures up for me the image of pulling a dusty leather-bound book from an seemingly endless shelf, nestled in an ornate library filled with inquisitive minds, lengthy beards and thick spectacles. To write, to commit the creative act which passes on knowledge, wisdom and inane memes to the generations that follow us, is an exquisite act of a creative mind. It speaks to a species not bound to immediacy but opened to infinite possibilities. Alternate universes do exist, and they shape us in profound ways through the distinct way in which humans reflect creativity. Not only this, but the future itself exists in this world of possibility, shaped not by the will to the common good toward a uniquely human paradise or by acts of non-reflection and evil that threaten a nightmare that is also uniquely human.
In this way, even the work of Singer in recording his views in creative cultural expression demonstrates a distinctively human level of creativity.
Continuing to walk past these hallowed shelves lined with dusty leather covers, we come to see not only humanity’s creativity but our bizarre obsession with morality. Once again, Singer is an example. His beautiful compulsion to challenge the hypocrisy of helping children in distress who are near to us but not those who live far away demonstrates that, whatever our views may be, the human animal is uniquely obsessed with ethics and morality in a way unprecedented in the animal kingdom.
In this way, even the work of Singer in devoting his life to ethical inquiry and reflection demonstrates a distinctively human level of morality.
At the very least, we can maintain that the human being is strange. We are freaks in an animal kingdom primarily devoted to survival and physical pleasure. We may even give of our own money to help humans or animals who we have never met, who will never return the assistance we give them.
Christians would relate this freakery back to being made as creative and moral beings in the image of God (imago Dei). We join with Singer in protesting unnecessary cruelty to animals and celebrate his efforts to champion the cause of the stranger who is far from us. Our reason for doing so, however, is that as God’s animals we have been entrusted with a distinctly human vocation: The stewardship of the earth and the love of our neighbour. Whether our neighbour is poor or rich, able or disabled, black or white, each is uniquely called to reflect the image of God back to a creation that so desperately needs it.
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority—
the flocks and the herds
and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.
O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
~ Psalm 8:3-9, NLT