Project Augustine

“The Groaning of Creation” – Chapter 5: Part II





Q: In Section 5.5, Ernst Conradie contemplates that in the new creation, “Perhaps there may even be room for a new completion of the life stories of those who died violently and prematurely…. This coming alive… is an embodied celebration in which everyone, inscribed in the history of the cosmos, can participate in God’s presence.” Furthermore, according to Southgate, Denis Edwards believes that some creatures may experience individual subjective immortality while other creatures will be “held in the eternal life of the Trinity and the communion of saints.”  Do you agree with Conradie’s belief that those who “died violently and prematurely” will experience completion and redemption in the new cosmos?  Why or why not?  Do you believe, along with Edwards that there will be a split or distinction in the final destinies of creatures that experience subjective immortality and other who will experience eternal life in the Trinity?


Personalized heaven, I thought it was fantasy of a naive afterlife where the reward for living a good life was childishly getting whatever we wanted.  Comically, a youth is led past a series of doors stopping in front of his personnel heaven.  The youth asks how they know this is his specific heaven.  The door flies open and in rides a Viking woman riding a horse exclaiming they have been awaiting the great hero to lead them in battle against evil.  The horse then rears its hind legs and craps out a heap of burgers.  The youth bends down for one and bites in.  Exclaiming “pepper jack cheese, it is MY heaven.” (American Dad “Rapture’s Delight”)


This seems to elegantly resolve the issue for theological implications of animals and humans having the same sort of resurrection.  It seems to make the most sense that with so many different levels of animals and even humans that there is more than one type of afterlife.  Would every bacterium need to be resurrected? Makes more sense to live on in God’s memory.  Why would a baby experience the same heaven as an adult who has lived a complete life?






Q: In Section 5.5, what do you make of Jay McDaniel’s statement that “The problem is not death, it is incompleteness”? Do you agree or disagree with his statement in regard to evolutionary creation?  Will the predator and prey relationship be “purged” from their conflicting relationship and be harmonized with one another?  What about his statement that “The journeys of animals continue ‘into a still deeper form of satisfaction that represents union with the Soul itself.  Once this union is realized, death can occur’”?


“The problem is incompleteness” makes some intuitive sense to me, a creature who seeks meaning in its existence. If my desire for meaning is consummated, then I guess can imagine myself being content and accepting eternal rest (though I haven’t grappled closely with my own imminent death quite yet).


But I can see how “incompleteness” matches with Southgate’s argument of creatures selving, if incompleteness is understood as the inability of a creature to achieve a selved state. If a creature can fully selve, then perhaps that creature can be content enough to welcome death. Otherwise, perhaps the creature can find satisfaction union with the Divine Soul, and that union with the Other provides a completeness in lieu of its own perfect selving.


I do have a difficult time seeing how the predator-prey relationship can be purged. Perhaps it depends on whether predation can be removed from a predator while it achieves a selved state. Can a predator be a pacifist? Is that considered a selved state? That doesn’t sound right to me, and James Dickey’s poem “The Heaven of Animals” seems a bit more able to preserve a predator selving.





Same question as above


Throughout the speculative nature of this whole chapter, this one statement, “The problem is not death, it is incompleteness” stands out to me as a remarkably strong assessment of the general state/fate of the world. I agree with it wholeheartedly.

The word death in the Bible (whether or not always correctly translated is a matter worth considering, but one which I’m in no position to address), is almost always negative, the exception being, if I am correct, the martyrs’ deaths in the NT. There is good reason to believe that the concept of death throughout biblical texts must refer to a spiritual dimension even when a story itself has to do with the physical phenomenon, and Southgate’s concept of selfing is something that resonates with everything I know about life: non-self-actualization is psychological/spiritual death; humans know this to be true (read any article describing the tolls of un- or under-employment on the psyche, for an easy example) and Southgate extends it to the rest of creation. The Western fixation on physical death as a negative thing, with physical salvation at any cost (see baby Charlie Gard’s case, or the relentless anti-abortion wars in America that don’t take into consideration conditions of life that a baby would be born into) are a symptom of the lack of understanding of life as an opportunity for selfing, as opposed to life for its own sake. I am in agreement with Southgate that what God intended for his creation cannot possibly be just life for its own sake. In that sense, the martyrs’ deaths mentioned above are an opportunity for selving, so it would make sense that biblical writers don’t portray them negatively.

As to the rest of the things quoted above, it is hard to draw any informed conclusions on such little material, even speculatively. I googled Jay McDaniel, and see that he teaches process or Whiteheadian thought at Hendix College, and that his interest spans all religions and their interaction with nature. So I have to believe he has some insight into God’s relationship to non-human creation, as manifested throughout various ways of thought.





Same question as above


In this section, Southgate gives two examples of Jay McDaniel’s involving “incompleteness” within the animal world: that of the “insurance pelican chick” and the grey whale being battered and eaten alive by a pack of orcas.  He imagines some form of redemption or a “heaven” for these animals for their suffering and death.  McDaniel’s hope echoes that of John Wesley’s in that there is a “subjective immortality” animals experience after death.  He says something profound, I believe, when he states that “The problem is not death, it is incompleteness.”  I believe what he means here is that it is not so much that the chick or the grey whale dies, since death is a natural occurrence in life, but rather that a life form has in some way expired too soon or missed out in a “complete life.”  In both instances, you have a “what if?” scenario where these individual creatures were “robbed” in some way of “selving” or a possible form of “self-transcendence,” if you will, or not having lived its full potential.  And I agree that this is one of the key aspects within theodicy, that suffering and death robs individuals from years ahead of them for certain creatures. There is a great sense of loss that we feel when we equate this with senseless or needless death or suffering.  For instance, we feel a great emotional sense of loss when we hear of infants losing battles with congenital illnesses who die prematurely, and then bemoan that they were robbed of a full life ahead of them.  Of course, there are two ways of looking at this.  In another, more pessimistic, nihilistic, or even purely utilitarian manner, one can say that premature death prevented further experiences of pain and suffering that they would’ve endured later on or throughout their lifetimes, so their premature deaths served a greater good overall.


There is an overall hope within Jay McDaniel’s thinking that aligns with the certain biblical eschatological yearning that all relationships will be transformed in the new cosmos and that predator and prey will not be in conflict with one another and will lie down together in complete peace and harmony.  One wonders if these verses in the Bible, such as Isaiah 11:6 which states that “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together,” are not necessarily to be taken literally but more symbolically in that the author yearned for a coming day where the Israelites wouldn’t have to deal with any more warfare and political strife through Yahweh’s deliverance from Babylonian or foreign captivity.  It’s hard to see how predator and prey relationships will be realized in a realistic manner even in a new cosmos unless all animals are radically transformed into a completely new state, form, or entity that has neither predator or prey characteristics.  Could it also be the case that a predator’s instincts are somehow “turned off” and it becomes docile?  Will they go through a mandatory form of “amnesia” where they will forget about surviving through killing?  I don’t know.  There is something “lacking” and troublesome about the new creation in that the predator and prey relationship that has been so intrinsic in evolutionary creation for billions of years is suddenly wiped out or even forgotten in an instant or gradual manner.  If so, it seems like the entire endeavor and scope of evolutionary creation has in many ways been a waste.


The final statement that McDaniel makes about subjective immortality for animals reflects a deep desire and need to justify God’s goodness in creation I believe.  He recognizes that there is something “wrong” with seeing Pelican chicks being neglected and starving to death, and though he doesn’t mention it, I believe he struggles to reconcile or harmonize the stark realities of evolution with the love and goodness of God that theism purports to.  That’s why he yearns for a “pelican heaven”.  Even Southgate admits that there is scant evidence for this form of animal redemption McDaniel hopes for: “Christians have clues to the resurrected character of human existence in the resurrection appearances of Jesus, and Paul’s discussion of resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15, but there is very little to go on in respect to other creatures.”  Furthermore, “They are, as Thomas Sieger Derr puts it, ‘hope without details’” in reference to the few biblical allusions to possible afterlife for animals such as Isaiah 11:6.  Also, I am not too clear about what his statement about “union with the Soul itself” means or what when this “union is realized, death can occur” means altogether.  His mentioning of the “Soul” sounds overtly Platonic in nature.  Does “Soul” represent God to him?  Does this mean that he believes that all animals have souls that are received by God after they die?  Does he mean that after they die they will experience a temporary yet blissful “satisfaction” in their union with the “Soul” or God and then finally and completely “die” or be “extinguished” afterwards?  Southgate does not go deeper into the context or meaning behind McDaniel’s words.  Nevertheless, despite the shortcomings of McDaniel’s proposals in many respects, his statement that “The problem is not death, it is incompleteness” resonates the frustration the key questions that theodicy proposes and hopes to resolve.





Q: In Section 5.5, what are your thoughts about “objective immortality,” that “the creatures’ experience lives in the memory of God”? Would such an “afterlife” do justice to “whose lives in the old creation know no flourishing… because they are killed so young, or born with a profoundly debilitating disease” as Southgate objects to?  Is it possible for prey and predator to live side-by-side in peace even in a resurrected cosmos?  Will predators be “transformed” into more docile creatures without predatory instincts?  If so, then would their “selving” or purpose as predators been in vain while living?


So what exactly does Southgate mean when he refers to “objective immortality”?  I am a bit confused by what he states as creatures’ experiences living in the memory of God.  Does he mean that God will keep their existence in his thoughts and memories, but the conscious existence of the creatures will no longer be?  I personally do not see how such an “afterlife” would do justice to those in the old creation who never achieved full flourishing as in the example of the young being killed either for food or because of a debilitating disease.  In other words, “tough shit for you”.  This would be hard to reconcile with an all-loving God and would be quite cruel for the living animals let alone for human beings.  Now in fairness Southgate does agree with the author Jay McDaniel that such an afterlife does not provide adequate answers to the issue of theodicy.  Nor those the Bible have a lot to say about human mistreatment of animals hence the reason why activities such as bullfighting, dog fighting, cock fighting, fishing and hunting were permitted by the Church throughout history.


As stated in previous responses, the problem for most Christians when it comes to the afterlife of nonhuman organisms is that the Bible has little to say about them other than the fact that humans will be resurrected in a new creation, which presumes will include non-human organisms.  Whether or not predators can live side-by-side with their prey is a pointless question since we don’t really know what exactly the new heavens and new earth will look like, however I don’t see a reason why both predators and prey wouldn’t be able to exist together if they are resurrected in new body forms that don’t require consumption of meat and flesh for existence.  Just because predators could be “dociled” doesn’t exempt them from having to consume other living flesh for nourishment in the afterlife, but that assumes of course their current biological functions will continue to function the same way in the afterlife.  The question I have is will the new creation also include bacteria and other microorganisms that require parasitism as its main mechanism for existence?  When we think of other living organisms, we often instinctively conjure up images of mammals, lizards, amphibians, fish, and perhaps even dinosaurs or other extinct creatures.  You never hear people asking if insects, spiders and killer bacteria/viruses will be in heaven with us.  Because at the end of the day if the new creation were to include the resurrection of all living organisms then you would have to include those critters as well whether one likes it or not.  Food for thought.





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