Anthropocentrism, Darwin, & Christianity: A Jumble of Thoughts

by jdavidcharles

I have been asked before, being a vegan against speciesism as well as a Nicene-creed-affirming-Christian, how I explain the gospel narrative. That is, isn’t the whole thing rather anthropocentric? Doesn’t the Christian narrative affirm a primacy of the human species above and beyond other species? Although I have no systematic approach to these questions as of yet and, unfortunately, have not found terribly many thinkers who explicitly deal with these questions, I am left with only a handful of thoughts.

For starters I think it’s important to realize that the Christian narrative, although about humans as a species, does not therefore de facto give them some metaphysical primacy. Darwinism too is “about” humans, but, obviously, this system isn’t anthropocentric, radically so, and we are still recognizing the radicalism of these claims. Also something important to note is that the Genesis creation myth need not be opposed not only to a Darwinist understanding of cosmology but of species in general. That is when we find a god-who-breathes into the human species we need not see this as speciel primacy. What follows this breath, that is, the sharing of “spirit,” breath, inhalation as life, exhalation as death, etc., is two “special” claims for the human species as those who breathe the breath-of-god, the imago dei.

One, as those who breathe the breath they are in commun-ication with god, not in an metaphysically primal way (the god of the genesis myth after all walks about the earth, enjoying being alongside his creation, in short, a kind of creature, a species hirself, s/he communes and dwells on hir earth), but in that they belong to speech and thus are commanded from within speech (“thou shalt not eat…” and all). The human species qua speciel-society is just as much alongside any other speciel-society, just as capable of transgressing against one another, breaking societal norms or givens, going against the herd-tribe, etc., but this is always already done from within and against the background of a language of law and transgression. Animals too have language and signification, I understand this, but the Genesis myth begins at the moment of the separation of law and transgression inherent in language as humans have used it—which isn’t to say humans are primary—it’s just to say the Genesis myth is a story told by humans about humans to humans. Its beginning is the beginning of the first commandment, the first law, from within human language.

Two, the so-called “dominion” of humans over creation also is a dominion of language—that is this dominion is strictly naming. Humans, as has been pointed out many a time, in the story are herbivores—the only kind of “dominance” they are allotted is in naming species and, perhaps, particular animals within the species—this extends to naming one another. It is important to note the only dominance they are given is the dominance granted to all other species—that of enjoying a creation and being able to commune in it (wherein communication is a vital part of communing/dwelling).

Thus the only separation we see[1] unique to humans is the tendency to speak the language of law and transgression. The subsequent curses on the species of humans after “the fall” are curses of language—men will subsequently find self worth and identity in the painful process of labor (ergo capitalist reification, racism, symbolic castration) and women will historically and psychically be wrapped up in the painful process of mothering (ergo sexism, tribal oppression, all of Freud’s so-called “Oedipal” problems). In other words, the curse is fucked up. The curse is essentially the beginning of all oppression. Inherent in this curse that, rightly speaking, is a curse of humans’ tendencies to delude themselves through power-systems and patriarchy, is the curse of speciesism. That is, humans are now carnivorous and lust for blood—it is no coincidence that the Cain and Abel myth follows suit (and this is how the Eucharist functions and, why in my opinion, Christ should be the only meat you eat–the only creatures those of bread and wine–but this is another post for another time). Rightly speaking, humans are the only ones who can be speciesist or racist or sexist. This is what a fall as law/transgression signifies. Humans are now engaged in trying to lord it over not just each other, but also every creature, always trying to suppress and appropriate the other. And it is a wicked and terrible system that only gets worse throughout the Torah text—thus the flood, the tower of Babel, etc. This is a story mostly centered on humans oppressing humans, granted, but it seems to me that the curse opens up the oppression of humans over all of creation as such.

From here on out the rest of the Christian narrative sort of follows suit. Why did god become human, assume the human species in particular? Why not a toad or marmot? Well—one, humans were the one’s who transgressed, who brought oppression upon themselves by themselves. The problem, from the standpoint of the text, is one that concerns the society/world of the human species—not as metaphysically dominant, but as plot. Two—who says god didn’t become a toad or marmot? Who says he didn’t in some way redeem broccoli? Once again, this isn’t the concern of the text—it would rightly be silly to be “in” the text—not because it’s a silly idea or even unnecessary, but it is not what the story is about. Questions like these are perhaps necessary—was creation redeemed through Christ? Did creation fall through Adam? Did god redeem ferns? These are important questions I think, but questions for a speculative theology, not essential questions for the narrative.

At the very least though, we know it was a verbal transgression made by humans against humans to the curse of humans, that god became a human to redeem this. In redemption is the obliteration of male, female, Jew, Greek, and therefore speciel thinking as such. That is just as the curse of the fall was oppression of assuming self-dominance so too the incarnation represents the obliteration of the very kind of thinking that permits speciel oppression (a la St. Paul—the Law). Christ took a hammer to patriarchy from within, by putting death to The Patriarch—himself. God as the ultimate dominant self assumed the ultimate other—the other who transgressed, the other who ostracized hirself—in order to redeem the divide. Perhaps god became a human because from the standpoint of the text humans are the most fucked up—perhaps this is why he became a male too—but this is all speculation. Suffice to say, god assumed the human species to redeem the human species from the human species.

Perhaps this becomes even more radical when one recognizes, along with Darwin, that every species is one tendentially and tentatively, every species is a missing-link. The redemption of a species (which is here as a species but a moment) from itself not as a primary species in regards to other species but as regards the inherent oppression within that species itself is the Christian narrative. It is a story about humans screwing up humans and god becoming a human and fixing it as a human. To assume that therefore humans are better or central metaphysically seems to negate the very cause for which god became a human, namely, oppressive speciel thinking.

[1] In that the myth is about humans told by humans to humans there is the possibility fungus and sea slugs had commandments too but this is irrelevant as regards the Genesis myth as a preamble to the Torah—it’s important to realize that this account not only is concerned with one species in particular but is part of a larger narrative which is concerned with the history of one people group within that species. In other words perhaps all species have an implicit law/transgression relationship to a god who appears alongside them, each according to its kind and ability, etc. The myth doesn’t tell us this because it’s not concerned with this—it is a myth, like I said, about a specific people group within a specific species—it doesn’t seem to follow that the text is racist, sexist, and speciesist simply because it’s mostly about Jewish men.