27 April 12 // Jane Goodal: Animal Savior pt.II

In continuing my thoughts on Jane Goodall, I want to refer you to two things. The first being a biographical documentary, Jane’s Journey (see link), the second being an interview with Goodall where she proposes chimpanzees possess souls (see link).

Goodall’s work over the last several decades has been humanitarian in nature, seeking reconciliation in divided regions, animal rights as well as human rights, and the coverall message of hope. While some may discredit her work in their respective field, the breadth of her knowledge, life experience, and capacity to see the inter-relationship of science, culture and faith is remarkable. Continuing my line of thought from the last post (see link), I want to offer again some points of discussion:

  • In Christian theology, the “soul” is a trinity of mind, will, and emotion
  • Goodall believes chimpanzees possess souls
  • If those of a religious persuation believe chimpanzees possess souls, they must acknowledge the ways in which they deny souls to humans who are disabled, comatose, or non-religious/ non-practicing (the CT interview with Goodall asks about religious practice as proof to possession of a soul)

In Islam, the construct of “soul” is, as with the Christian, indebted heavily to Greek (Aristotelian) philosophy. Soul (or nafs) is understood, mystically, as having two natures: terrestrial and celestial, but as the celestial is heavily conjecture. Unlike the Christian who divides “spirit” and “soul” into two distinct categories, most Islamic thinkers combine these two, defining their work within the former understanding of terrestrial. Unless otherwise differentiated, it is safe to assume Muslims speak of the terrestrial, and it is this soul/nafs in Islam that is, as in Christian understanding, a trinity: the plant or vegetative part of a living being, the animal or sensitive (primal or baser), and the rational part (will, emotion, mind). Each quality is called a power or part of the soul and only in context can one catch the difference.

Goodall’s earliest work with anthropologist Louis Leakey shows that animals, like the homo sapien, are toolmakers.

Just like humans, chimpanzees can create tools to make their lives easier. For example, they’re known for making tools out of leafy twigs and stems to “fish” tasty termites out of termite mounds.

Termites are one of chimpanzees’ favorite foods – but how to reach the creatures deep within their mounds presents quite a problem. One day in 1960, Jane Goodall discovered how chimpanzees solve the difficulty. A chimp named David Greybeard picked up a twig and stripped the leaves off of it. Then he stuck the twig into one of the holes in the termite mound, left it there for a moment, and slowly pulled it out. As termites clung to the twig, David picked them off with his lips and scrunched them.

Jane’s observation was the first report of chimpanzees making and using tools in the wild. It surprised the scientific world! Until then, experts thought humans were the only animals who could make tools. In fact, tool-making was part of scientists’ definition of “human.”

If tool-making was something only humans could do, does this make chimps human? Jane’s discovery opened a new debate about what it really means to be a human being.

Later scientists learned that chimpanzees use and make other tools as well. Some chimps take a stick to scrape out food, just like a person might use a spoon to scoop out a tasty treat. Other chimps have learned to use leaves to help them drink. At Gombe, the chimpanzees sometimes can’t reach water that has formed in hollows high up inside trees. So the chimps take a handful of leaves, chew them, dip this “sponge” into the little pool and suck out the water. (link)

Theologians have long held that humans, by divine right and bestowal, are granted with those special components which make them human: the spirit, soul, and body. There is evidence of the Hebrew writers (and at a later date, after the Babylonian Exile, the canonical acceptance of those writings by consensus) developing the idea of not just G-d’s People, but the entire human experiment as possessing a temporal, corporeal body and intangible, ethereal, metaphysical quality of the “true” self which lived beyond the temporal. This quality, the essence of a person and their truest self, was said would exist beyond the physical in Abraham’s Bosom (not so much a “heaven” as a recollection to God’s Choice, best expressed in and through Abraham) or some other place of unqualified punishment. This second place would find common ground, after the spread of the Greco-Roman Empire, with Hades or Tartarus. These elements must be made mention of not to lead this article to the fires of Hell, but to point out that in Jewish thought, the Afterlife – wherever the location, whatever the climate – was not empty. People lived there. Humans lived there. Whatever the constitution of the post-mortem “essence,” humans were already eternal creatures. And, in this, they were alone. No other part of creation was eternal. By the 2nd Century, with Christianity now eclipsing Judaism, it was believed that not even the Earth and heavens were eternal – one would be destroyed and replaced with a “New Earth,” the other would be “rolled up like a map” – a shattering proposal in the sense that what had previously been believed to be eternal, the heavens, the basis on which Abraham’s promise of a nation was founded, would be “rolled up” to reveal something even greater. It was there, this greater place, that the eternal creature, humans, were to navigate.

Whew. Lots of information there, ey? And a lot of it is conjecture because many other things were going on around this time. The work of Philo was still a challenge to the Christian presentation of the soul, for Philo proposed the soul had eight parts. In a few more centuries, Islam would spring up, adopting Philo’s view of the soul as much as the Christian. The product would be the vegetative, the natural/animal, and the rational).

But what of other faiths? What of their views of the soul? This, I must demure on. The point is not a survey of the development of the soul, but to say that we have been discussing the soul for a few millennia and there are still a variety of ways of understanding them, but the major religions tend to localize the soul into three parts.

When Goodall says that chimpanzees have souls not only because they possess those three elements (mind, will, emotions), it causes us to question whether other animals have a soul. If chimpanzees have emotions (exhibiting attachment and care towards baby chimps, social hierarchy with one another, as well as anger, depression, excitement and happiness as evidence of an internal life), mind (tool-making ability to obtain a desire end as evidence of premeditative rational thinking, the capacity for language and meaning) and will (choice, the ability to “calm down” or obey/refuse a command) then, by our own definitions, yes. Animals who exhibit these traits have a soul. What is more, Goodall proposes that the chimpanzees of Gombe have exhibited spiritual/religious practices. The chimpanzees, she notes, are noted to dance around a waterfall (ritual) and spend periods watching the waterfall (contemplative expression). If this is true, then there is evidence of either

  1. a return to the “soul” being both spirit and soul, as in Judaism, or
  2. chimpanzees possessing both a soul (mind, will, emotion) and a spirit (whatever that might be)

As I said in my previous post, I believe animals have a soul. The only question that now remains here is whether, in granting a soul to animals, we are denying a soul to other humans who are not productive members of economic societies.

During the Cold War Era, reaching a high crescendo with the intersection of Evangelicalism, televangelism, and the political movements of both America and the Soviet Union, there was a great deal of rhetoric about “godless” people. Communist leader were seen as “godless” not only because they rejected organized religion, but because they did not value the Western understanding of social members. Each member, each human, was supposed to be productive and contribute to the financial good of the nation. In political structures where society devoted from this narrative, the leaders were “godless” and the unproductive were “godless” and the institutions were “godless,” ad infinitum. There has been a link, then, between productivity and the soul for several decades. This explains to a great extent why nationally funded art projects are seen as a “waste” of money and part of a “liberal” agenda.

I mention this to help frame our understanding of those members of society who do are not productive. My brother who has Autism, for example. Despite the efforts of his teachers, my brother possesses no “monetary potential.” But my brother’s Autism is only one example. In 2005, Terri Schiavo (link) set the American media and public into an uproar. At question was whether Terri was a human, with dignity, who deserved care. It was decided that Schiavo, who was in a “persistent vegetative state,” was no longer a functioning human, no longer a contributing member of society, and that her continued existence would prove too heavy a burden on those other members of society who were/are productive. In short, Schiavo did not possess a “soul” by economic standards. And so, it was decided, life support and feeding tubes were disconnected. In discussing Schiavo, I do not intend to bring up old wounds, only to show that our understanding of soul or “consciousness” has very real implications. This is not a matter of theory and theology to be swatted about by philosophers. At some point, it is very “real” and what we believe has very real ramifications.

Concluded in pt.III

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