Thursday, March 21, 2013

Catholicism amongst animals

Recently, Craig Ferguson spoke on Catholicism amongst animals, and mentioned an interesting (and i thought obscure) quote from St. Paul on oxen. I have written about Craig before (click once, twice). 

The day Francis was elected pope, Craig asked Secretariat (two interns in a horse suit) whether he is Catholic. The horse nods yes. Craig then doubts this, "I don't think you can be an animal and a Catholic...Well, didn't St. Paul say that God has no love for oxen?" The next scene, Craig is seated and reads a bad version, "God is not concerned about the oxen, is He?" 

Why did that thought/quote come out of his memory? First he had to have been exposed to it. I have read the Epistles of Paul, but have not memorised them. I am surprised, continuously, on how many people take one odd isolated sentence out of the Bible, and the manner they run with it. Here Ferguson, it appears, is making an honest theological speculation; but he does so in a Protestant manner, it is not done in context and used almost as a 'proof  text'.

an aside: Saturday, a 'Jehovah's Witness' and his son came to my door, very polite, but very hard to send away. They constantly use proof texts against you. They must be trained as are salesman. If you mention something of your background, they come up with a proof text to attack you (your faith tradition u.s.w.). They are very determined, and do not take "No" as an answer. This prepared ambush, i recognise in other evangelicals (now these 'Witnesses' are not doctrinally Christian, but just like Mormons they are still Protestants) too. Often, there is a feigned civility and concern. They are intruding, they have not respect for the person they accost, they do not accept that their object of conversion does not need to be converted; what is paramount is the sale must be made. It is no surprise that such religion is common in a society that so glorifies economic promotion (and acquisition). It is not Christian charity they are consumed with. They are insistent that only they are Christians, and no one else. I would like to know how they deal with non-Christians, since they have contempt for Christians. It has only been a few years that i have had respect for more than a very few Protestants, and a goodly portion of that distance is because of such subterfuge, and attack that sort of programmed fervency produces. Still such disdain for proselytism i retain. But what is often called mainstream Protestantism, largely does not act with such obnoxious aggressiveness, and is now conducive to ecumenical brotherhood. end of aside

That oxen passage bothers some animal ethicists, and animal rights activists. They misunderstand the use of biblical rhetoric, and the lesson comparisons and allusions make. It is not that animals do not matter, they do, and they have value, but the value of your fellow man is greater still. Now, my reading is that it is a question to compare the concern of the downtrodden, showing the depth and broadcast scope of the Mosaic legislation. Yes, mere oxen are noted, and a concern for their sustenance [they mere cattle] while laboring for men; but then more so the laborer, the widow, and the stranger are to be considered since they are mentioned in the surrounding passages from Deuteronomy.   
  • For it is written in the law of Moses: Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? — 1 Corinthians ix. 9.
  • Paul is quoting:  Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out thy corn on the floor. — Deuteronomy xxv. 4.
  • He presumes his audience is familiar with other lines: Thou shalt not refuse the hire of the needy, and the poor, whether he be thy brother, or a stranger that dwelleth with thee in the land, and is within thy gates: 15 But thou shalt pay him the price of his labour the same day, before the going down of the sun, because he is poor, and with it maintaineth his life: lest he cry against thee to the Lord, and it be reputed to thee for a sin. — Deuteronomy xxiv.14.
  • This fits well when one knows Paul also wrote: For the scripture saith: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn: and, The labourer is worthy of his reward. —  I Timothy v. 18. 
So, i believe Paul is not dismissive of animal concern in presenting God's desires, but rather to show that if God demands care for animals [and means it], He must demand care for all the people in dire and lesser straits also. Does not Jesus show the same sentiment?
  • Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: better are you than many sparrows. — Matthew x. 29-31
  • Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? — Matthew vi. 26.
  • Consider the ravens, for they sow not, neither do they reap, neither have they storehouse nor barn, and God feedeth them. How much are you more valuable than they? —  Luke xii. 24.  
Oxen were animals of agricultural wealth, sparrows were near nothing; yet oxen had rights, and God has his eye on the sparrow. And yes, Secretariat may be Catholic. In Steinbeck's, Tortilla Flat, the dogs certainly are. And the first Francis spoke to the birds.
Postscriptum 24 March 2013: i have mentioned Francis before, notice the illustrations:
Saint Francis and Sputnik (Спутник)
Blessing of the animals
Sadao Watanabe
Our Friend Francis  
Saint Francis of Assisi
 Otto Schubert. Francis & Wolf of Gubbio.
Dances with wolves?

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