Spiritual Zoology

Life on Earth is exactly that, life. Everything that has the breath of life in it, be it fungi, plants, animals, or humans, is a living organism. And as many religions teach, I believe that every living thing with a consciousness, from the lowest animals to human beings, also has a soul of some sort. And I also believe that, just as God made man and woman in His image, it is highly likely that all the other animals are made by Him in other living images.

Let's get something straight here, before I continue. I am not a vegetarian. In fact, I dislike the flavor of a lot of vegetables, although I still eat them sometimes in order to remain healthy. I do like several kinds of fruits, though, like apples, pineapples, grapes, and strawberries, to name a few. I am an omnivore. I like to eat meat with my dinner when I can, and I am most fond of meat and potatoes for supper. I think people can eat meat, as long as they don't eat too much food that likely comes from those cruel factory farms that treat animals horrifically.

However, I do not approve of hunting for sport, even when it's done by "honorable" men instead of bullies. And you know why? Because it offers the animals they kill no dignity in death, and worse, it takes their lives away for no good reason, maybe not even a bad reason. And I want those who read this to know one thing: even with my tendency to eat meat sometimes, I love animals. They are one of the greatest creations by God, along with humans. They are also the finest example of living diversity to exist on Earth, what with all the millions of different kinds of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, and the rest, that make up every ecosystem on the planet. And God called man and woman from the very beginning to be the stewards of the animal kingdom, its protectors, its sustainers, and its guardians.

"God said, 'I command the ocean to be full of living creatures, and I command birds to fly above the earth.' So God made the giant sea monsters and all the living things that swim in the ocean. He also made every kind of bird. God looked on what he had done, and it was good. Then he gave the living creatures his blessing – he told the ocean creatures to increase and live everywhere in the ocean and the birds to increase everywhere on earth. Evening came, then morning – that was the fifth day. God said, 'I command the earth to give life to all kinds of tame animals, wild animals, and reptiles.' And that's what happened. God made every one of them. Then he looked at what he had done, and it was good. God said, 'Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. We will let them rule the fish, the birds, and all other living creatures.' So God created humans to be like himself; he made them men and women. God gave them his blessing and said, 'Have a lot of children! Fill the earth with people and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the ocean, the birds in the sky, and every animal on the earth…God looked at what he had done. All of it was very good! Evening came, then morning – that was the sixth day."

Genesis 1:20-28, 31 – Holy Bible, CEV Version

It's possible that zoology may be the oldest form of science that exists to mankind, because Adam, the first man, was the one who gave names to all the animals in and around the Garden of Eden. Adam was the world's first zoologist, even though the term "zoology" wasn't coined for a very long time afterward. Many people studied animals throughout history, even in biblical times. It is said that King Solomon, the greatest, wisest king in all of history, except for Jesus, was highly knowledgeable about animals himself, and taught many things about all kinds of them to the people of Israel.

"[Solomon] could talk about all kinds of plants, from large trees to small bushes, and he taught about animals, birds, reptiles, and fish."

1 Kings 4:34 – Holy Bible, CEV Version

Although I have little expertise in hardcore science (I barely passed high school classes in biology and ecology), I am quite the fan of zoology as practiced and taught by various zoologists, especially primatologists Jane Goodall and Birute Galdikas. I even have some respect for the zoological studies of Richard Dawkins, the world's most outspoken atheist. I think zoology is vitally important to our relationships and stewardship with both God and the animals of the world, at least as long as it's practiced humanely. I have mixed feelings about lab work on animals ranging from rats to chimps, because a lot of it hurts or cripples the animals. I do approve of zoos, because they aren't just places for stay-at-home people to be entertained by the animals, but they are also hard-working organizations working on conservation of endangered animal species. Besides, not everyone in the world can get out into the wild and see them in their natural habitat like Goodall and Galdikas did, and some of them would like a chance to see and enjoy wild animals, too. I think some people who are thoroughly against zoos don't stop to think about how much a visit to one by a common citizen means to them. It introduces them to the animal at long last, and they can learn some things about it, and because many zoos have gift shops, people can get books, DVD's and other things to further their education on animals, particularly children. It may even be a way for some people to get in touch with their own inner spirit by seeing certain animals in person, although I don't believe in animal totems or animal spirit guides, I must make that clear, too.

Jane Goodall once said it herself, even though she doesn't approve of zoos as much as I do. While not a conventional Christian, she believes that something is in charge of the universe, possibly God, and her experiences in Africa with the chimpanzees helped her to get in touch with her inner spirit. And that is similar to the way I feel about some of my favorite animals: simians, and birds.

I know that old medieval bestiaries and other writings by old Christians (including the great C.S. Lewis) have labeled apes as being either terrible parodies and counterfeits of man, or a symbol of the devil. But I will not believe that God created any of his living creatures simply for the purpose of eternally cursing them with damnation after the fall of Lucifer, and the subsequent Fall of Man. God is not that kind of God. I think God created apes and monkeys as a sort of third companion to man, third to dogs, which are in turn second to woman. Apes aren't called simians for nothing. They resemble man and woman in many ways regarding intelligence and physical behavior, as Goodall, Galdikas, and Dian Fossey proved with their studies of the great apes. And because people are learning so much about themselves as well as these animals when they study them, perhaps that's God's purpose for their existence. Maybe He wanted man and woman to ultimately come to the point where they would study these simians and realize how much of ourselves we see in them. Looking into the eyes of a chimpanzee, a bonobo, a gorilla, or an orangutan, is a little like looking into the soul of a man or woman. At least, that's my opinion. Whenever I read about these creatures, look at pictures of them, preferably photographs, watch them on a television special like National Geographic, or see them in person at a zoo, it's like a spiritual experience. I'm looking at creatures that God may possibly have created to make us look into our own souls and see what's good and what's bad about them, and what sorts of things we're capable of that most of the simians wouldn't dream of doing, like sinning. And all four of them move me in some way or other: the chimpanzee with his high intelligence, the bonobo with her peaceful lifestyle, the gorilla with his underestimated gentleness, and the orangutan with his wise, old solitude in the forest. In lifestyle, I feel closest to the orangutans, because I'm also a person who likes both forests and solitude, and philosophically, I feel closest to the bonobos, because I have great affection for their "make love, not war" lifestyle.

And then there are birds. I have loved these animals for a very long time, ever since I was a small child. I used to read about Birds of North America avidly, and I didn't want to part with my books about birds. And when I got old enough and smart enough to start paying closer attention to the real thing, the birds proved to be the sorts of animals that would be happy in Heaven any day. It's a real treat watching them fly through the sky and do their stuff, like landing on a bird feeder and feeding, taking a bath in a bird bath (it's been some time since I last saw one of these), walking along the ground looking for scraps of food, grabbing prey off the ground or out of the sky to be eaten, or a myriad of other things. I think God gave us the birds because he wanted to fill us with awe at their grace and strength as natural born fliers, and to wonder what sorts of things await us in the Heavens above, where God's invisible throne is. The colors of their feathers are among the most beautiful body coverings an animal can have, and are refreshing for sore eyes to look at. I've seen many of them, like the goldfinch, the bluebird, the blackbird, the crow, the eagle, the vulture, the cardinal, the finch, the dove, etc. The list goes on and on. And we have proof in the Bible that God cares for these animals greatly, because Jesus said that God feeds even the lowliest and humblest birds, the sparrows, every day, with the right amount of food they need. And because God loves all of His birds, He loves us, his sinful followers, even more, no matter how much it may seem differently than that.

"'Look at the birds in the sky! They don't plant or harvest. They don't even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren't you worth much more than birds?'"

Matthew 6:26 – Holy Bible, CEV Version

Of course, I haven't forgotten how we, as stewards, have been such a failure to God more often than a success. Many of the animals of the Earth have died out. In fact, 98% of the animals that have existed since the beginning of life's existence are now extinct. And countless species out of the remaining 2% are also dying out. People hunt animals excessively. We tear away their homes and ecosystems to make more of our own than we need. We make some of the ones adapted to cold environments suffer under global warming. Sometimes, we don't even allow people of different cultures than the Western culture use animals by their much less excessive, more humane purposes, not that those purposes are always humane. Once again, the list goes on and on.

We're supposed to be stewards of God's creation, yet we keep abusing our authority, using it to our own advantage instead of forming a much-needed spiritual relationship with the beasts of the Earth that many of us already have with God and each other. And even though many faithful Christians will be invited into the Kingdom of Heaven by Jesus upon death, or at the end of this world, a lot of us might have to answer for some incompetence, or even indifference, to our job as rulers of God's creation. Who knows? If and when I enter Heaven, even I may have to give an account of something I didn't mean to do, but did anyway. After all, I wouldn't dream of eating an ape or the majority of birds, the animals I love most, but I still eat chicken sometimes.

And that's my two cents on why we Christians need to embrace spiritual zoology, the godly embrace and care of the animals of the animal kingdom, more and soon.