My Case for Christ and our Superiority to Animals

One day the summer before last, an animal died in our yard, and my mom noticed some birds, which we later learned were turkey buzzards, had gathered around it for a feast. That afternoon, my parents, and even a family friend who dropped by, watched in morbid fascination as the birds feasted, even marveling at the clear presence of a pecking order as one bird pushed others out of the way to get the best morsels for himself. I too felt a sense of morbid fascination as they described what was going on. Of course, our slight pity for the way this poor dead animal was being treated is a human projection: the buzzards were merely obeying an innate instinct to serve as nature’s cleanup crew. They do not possess free will and the human concept of morality is incomprehensible to them. This memory came back to me as Holy Week dawned, and with it an inspiration to make my case for Christ. Stick with me. I promise I will connect the dots.

One day when I was working at the Social Security disability law firm, a coworker saw Gilbert sleeping contentedly at my feet and said, “You know, if I am reincarnated, I want to come back as a pampered dog.” I laughed and may have even said something like “I hear you.” It was meant as lighthearted banter. But in all seriousness, we should all consider it an incredible privilege to be human. When I was in college, I read part of a book written by the Dalai Lama for an intercultural communication course, and while much of his philosophies were over my head, one basic principle he stated that stuck with me is that humans are the highest form of life, and as such, even humans born into the most disadvantaged circumstances have already hit the cosmic jackpot simply for getting to be human.

Although Gilbert lived, and my cat Aslan continues to live a pampered life, by human standards their lives are actually quite bleak. Sure, it is tempting for humans to envy their lives of leisure, inhaling food they didn’t have to hunt for, playing fetch in the yard or chasing a cat toy, activating their innate hunting instinct just for fun rather than survival, spending long winter afternoons sleeping in front of a sunny window while us humans have to work. But they also will never know, cannot even comprehend the pleasure of reading an inspiring or thought-provoking book, gathering to make or listen to beautiful music, engaging in complex discussions with family or friends about politics, philosophy, our hopes and dreams for the future. In fact, they don’t even understand concepts like past or future. Research on animal behavior has shown that if you come home from work and observe that your dog, at some point earlier that day had gotten into the trash and made a huge mess but is now sleeping contentedly in the sun, it is actually cruel to yell at them because they have no long-term memory, and thus don’t understand why you are mad at them. You have to catch them in the act. When I was in high school, my oldest brother moved back home for a couple years to save money, which also meant his incredibly intelligent dog Mojo lived with us. Even when my brother came home from work, Mojo bonded with us, so when my brother moved away, we were dismayed, although in retrospect we should not have been, about how eagerly he jumped into my brother’s car, tail wagging when it was time to say goodbye. He didn’t realize that this was not just another car ride, that he was moving far away and that my parents wouldn’t see him for years, and I would never see him again. If animals have no conception of past or future, they also most likely do not contemplate their eventual death, let alone an afterlife.

Our closest evolutionary cousins, monkeys, are certainly worthy of our admiration and respect. One of my favorite books I read as a child was The Chimpanzees I Love, written by Jane Goodall, who used her observation of chimpanzees to raise awareness of their intelligence and emotional complexity in hopes of ending their abuse and exploitation by zookeepers and researchers. But many aspects of their behavior, from their aggression toward chimpanzees from other herds, to courtship rituals based on displays of dominance rather than genuine love and connection, and the fact that mother chimpanzees have to protect their babies from other male chimpanzees even within their own pack demonstrates that at their heart chimpanzees are still firmly within the “animal” category. All this is to say you don’t even have to touch a religious text to see that there is something unique, something special about humans that even our closest evolutionary cousins don’t even come close to. The seeds of this line of thought were planted at the beginning of the pandemic when I reflected on how we should fully lean into our uniqueness as humans, demonstrate compassion for the vulnerable, as opposed to the animal realm where instinct dictates that the weak be eaten by the strong, as illustrated by the one-legged duck who sat on eggs in our garden for awhile but was eaten by a fox. But my seminary education clarified these thoughts. The reason I believe in Christ, and especially the Easter story is that Christianity, far better than any other religion or philosophy solves the puzzle. It explains what makes us unique, and far superior to all other animals, and if more of us actually obeyed the teachings of Christ, and believed in his future promises, I think the argument raised by Atheists like Richard Dawkins that God most likely does not exist, and humans are nothing more than highly evolved animals would collapse, and our reverence and appreciation of the incredible cosmic jackpot we have won would be so intense that it wouldn’t even cross our mind to dream of reincarnation as a pampered pet.

To inform my thinking for this blog, I decided last week that it was time to be brave and read something from Richard Dawkins. The teacher for Tough Questions, an apologetics class I took at my church talked about him a lot, and even encouraged us to prayerfully read what he has to say. After all, if you never allow your convictions to be questioned, how can you be sure that you are confident, secure in your faith? I started the book Wednesday of Holy Week (April 5), and am only on chapter 3. His arguments are very hard to follow in my opinion, and it was difficult to concentrate long because I felt as though my mind was being tied up in knots. So far, I concur with the assessment of my Tough Questions teacher who liked to say that more mental gymnastics is required to defend the belief that God does not exist, than is required to believe that he does. I will write a final assessment here once I finish the book. But two themes that Dawkins frequently likes to return to are the idea that the God of the major judeo-Christian religions is a jealous, vengeful God who champions slavery, war and genocide, and that the world would be far better off without religion and all of the violence it has caused throughout human history and even still to this day. These are both tired arguments that I have heard from other Atheists as well. It did come as a shock the first time I attempted to read the Bible in high school and only got as far as Exodus partly because I was shocked by the level of violence, deceit, polygamy, incest and general family dysfunction even among God’s chosen people which he did not condemn, not to mention the brutal for our time laws requiring that those who commit adultery be stoned and such. But Atheists fail to study Scripture in an open-minded nuanced way. I don’t want to distract from the train of thought for this post, but I will elaborate more on this in my final assessment. As for the second theme, Dawkins again paints all religion with a broad brush, failing to appreciate for example that the evil committed by Christians from the Crusades to today’s epidemic of Christian Nationalism is not a reflection of Christianity itself, but the failure of people who claim to be Christians to actually live by the teachings of Christ.

From ancient times long before Christ, I suspect humans have always had a vague awareness that we are unique, superior to all other animals. Long before Moses wrote the book of Genesis, humans instinctively set about establishing dominion over the earth and subduing it. We figured out how to harness fire for cooking food, keeping warm and managing forests. We built cities with elaborate architecture, and boats to traverse bodies of water. We even figured out how to domesticate and train animals to assist us. We had a vague sense of the existence of higher powers, but we lost sight of the one true God and in the ancient near east, we created our own myths of gods who were powerful but not loving. They were jealous, capricious and petty, and when they fought amongst themselves, humans would be caught in the middle. Furthermore, they created humans to be their slaves, performing the menial labor on earth that they didn’t want to do. So when misfortune came, people feared it was because they had displeased the gods and they would offer sacrifices, sometimes even child sacrifices, to appease them. Though religions were very localized among tribes, all of them shared a universal sense of an afterlife in which we would somehow be held accountable for our conduct in this life, although ancient Near East concept of the afterlife I read about were pretty depressing too. We also had a universal sense that human life, at least for people in our tribe was sacred, and thus all tribes had customs that honored the dead, burying them in tombs or at sea in a respectful manner rather than just leaving them out for the turkey buzzards.

In one sense, people should have known right from wrong, especially when it came to the practice of child sacrifices because of God’s general revelation to all of humanity through our conscience which animals do not possess, at least not to the same degree. But I can kind of understand how their conscience could have been drowned out by hopelessness. If the gods they created didn’t value them or love them, I can understand why they may not know how to value one another. If the afterlife, even for the righteous meant eternity in a dark underworld, what incentive was there to live righteously?

And then came Judaism, when the true God revealed himself to Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob. He declared that the day he created humanity was “very good”, and that he did not create humans to be slaves, but to be co-rulers with Him on earth. He did not choose Abraham and his descendants because they were any more righteous than anyone else, but he showed grace to them and set them apart in the hope that they would learn to live righteously and be a blessing to all nations. In this way, God would eventually reveal himself to all nations on earth, and restore the good creation he intended before the Fall.

But the Israelites failed to obey the righteous commandments God had given them, and in fact were largely indistinguishable from the wicked Pagan culture that surrounded them, so God had to discipline them by banishing them from the Promise Land. The prophets spoke of a coming messiah who would bring peace and restoration, and who would transform their hearts, but they didn’t fully understand this prophecy, and by the time Christ came, they had assimilated with the Roman empire, which one could fairly describe as animalistic in conduct. Men ruled over their households, and could beat or kill their own wives, slaves or children for any reason. Babies born with deformities were commonly “exposed” (abandoned to die), and for entertainment, they gathered in stadiums to watch men, who were typically escaped slaves or political prisoners, fight to the death with wild animals. Wealth was inherited, with virtually no path to upward mobility, and there were no safety nets for orphans, widows, people with disabilities or the poor. Even worse, Roman citizens (men) of high status felt free to sexually exploit those of lower status. Religious leaders still enforced God’s laws, but they added so much legalism that the spirit of these laws was drowned out. Into this wicked empire, Christ came.

If Christ hadn’t come, Atheists would have a valid point in arguing that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was just another god imagined by a backwater ancient tribe. But I believe Christ’s arrival proved once and for all that this God is the one true God because while all of the other ancient Pagan gods are remembered only by artifacts like ancient tablets excavated by archeologists and preserved in museums, the three religions that can be traced back to the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) still endure today, and the one that has transformed the world the most is Christianity.

This is a good time for a disclaimer: antisemitism and islamophobia are despicable, especially when perpetrated by supposed Christians. We should not condemn the oppression of Palestinians by right-wing Israelis, or Islamic extremism without also acknowledging the planks in our own eyes, extreme Christian nationalism. As my mom used to sing in Sunday school, they should “know that we are Christians by our love, by our love,” and by showing them love, we may even be able to lead some to Christ. But I believe that belief in Christ (the true Christ, not the Christ of Christian nationalism) is what allows us to fully understand and lean into the privilege and responsibility we have as humans.

Christ treated all people–women, children, the poor, and especially people with disabilities–with radical dignity, and even explicitly stated that while he provides for the sparrow, we are far more valuable and he will provide all the more for us. Before Christ, hospitals and orphanages weren’t even concepts in the imagination. All these institutions were started by Christians whose consciences were awakened by the teachings of Christ. It was a Christian from a province in Asia who visited Rome, witnessed a gladiator match and woke the conscience of Roman citizens by yelling out, “In Christ’s name, stop!” My Tough Questions teacher also pointed out that to this day, you won’t see people who follow religions based on good and bad karma coming to the rescue after natural disasters, or even ministering to their own vulnerable people because they believe such vulnerable people are suffering because they need to atone for conduct in a past life and it is not their place to interfere with this. But with all due respect, such a view is illogical because we have no memories of past lives. As such, when Christians minister to the physical needs of these people, and also share the gospel with them, which includes God’s teaching that we only live once (in this world) and then face judgment, that in this Fallen world, suffering comes to both the righteous and the unrighteous, and thus we should leave judgment to God, many are comforted by the love and logic of these teachings and eagerly accept Christ. Is the love and compassion of even well-intentioned Christians what it should be? Absolutely not! I will be the first to admit that I revert to selfish, animalistic behavior sometimes. But if Christ hadn’t come, this world would be a whole lot worse.

But Christ didn’t just transform this world. With his resurrection, we now understand that our fear of death and hope for an afterlife isn’t just the wishful thinking of highly evolved animals, but that we really were meant to enjoy eternal life. Because of our sin, we will all die a physical death, but Christ’s resurrection conquered death so that those who accept Him will also one day be resurrected to eternal life. And by the way, I do believe we can have confidence that Christ’s resurrection is real because as the pastor pointed out last Sunday for Easter, why would the apostles stick with this story for forty years under brutal persecution if it was a lie?

I cannot say which book of the Bible is my favorite. As I once heard a pastor quip, being asked your favorite book of the Bible is akin to a parent being asked which child is their favorite? They are all beautiful in their own way. But lately, the book of Ecclesiastes has really resonated with me. I will be reflecting a lot more about this book in the future as I still grapple with the allure of a Rumspringa. I thought I had made peace with this temptation and come to a mature perspective, but then literally two days after publishing that post, I was tempted into another unproductive train of thought. Reading Ecclesiastes has helped me find proper perspective again. More on that later. But Ecclesiastes is also incredibly relevant to the theme of this post.

If read without proper context, Ecclesiastes is incredibly depressing. The message, translated into modern language is basically, everything is meaningless, life sucks and then you die. The writer makes allusions to the idea that we will all be held accountable for our actions even if we may not see it in this life, and the idea that we should view life as a gift from God, but the book offers little comfort for this world and uncertainty with regard to what comes next. The passage I found most depressing is Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, where after speculating that God tests us so that we may see that we are like the animals, that death awaits us both, he states, “Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the animal spirit goes down into the earth?”

But the amazing thing about Ecclesiastes, which Andrew Hill and John Walton point out in their survey of the Old Testament, is that this book points to the need for Christ and his resurrection. Though the writer revered God, since he lived in the time before Christ came and fully revealed his plan to redeem humanity, the writer did not fully comprehend what makes us superior to all other animals. He understood that in some ways, we are like the animals. We have the propensity to behave like animals, we are made of the same biological stuff as animals, and we will both die a physical death. He understood that as humans made in God’s image, we are held to a higher moral standard than the animals. Yet he did not have the final piece of the puzzle, the piece that fully articulates our superiority to all other animals. It wasn’t until Christ’s resurrection that we were assured that our souls do indeed rise, and that we have the chance to enjoy eternal life in a restored creation, while the souls of animals go down into the earth. Knowing this, our hearts should break for people who reject Christ and view themselves as nothing more than highly evolved animals. They don’t know what richness of life they are missing, now and in the future.

Published by Allison Nastoff

As I write this in 2020, I am 30 years old. I am blind, and Gilbert was my first guide dog. He passed away on December 2, 2020, but I decided to keep the title for my blog as a tribute to him because he will always hold a special place in my heart. In 2012, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a journalism emphasis, and went back to school for a Paralegal certificate in 2014. I worked for five years at a Social Security disability firm. When the pandemic hit, I did some reflecting and decided to resign from this job and take seminary courses. My dream is a career as a teacher or writer where I can be a blessing to others.

One thought on “My Case for Christ and our Superiority to Animals

  1. your claim for the supposed “superiority” of humans is dependent on baseless suppositions. Being unique doesn’t make anything better than anything else, and the fact that we can ponder various things also isn’t a demonstation of superiority; it is just a difference.

    “Christ treated all people–women, children, the poor, and especially people with disabilities–with radical dignity, and even explicitly stated that while he provides for the sparrow, we are far more valuable and he will provide all the more for us.”

    Unsurprisingly, this is false. This god intentionally blinded someone to show off which I would think would horrify you, being blind yourself. We also have this god forbidding the disabled into its temples. And as we can see, this god provides nothing for humans, especially the disabled. If that was the case, that it provided for them, we wouldn’t need things like the Mercy Ships going to poor and very religious areas to help the disabled.

    “But Atheists fail to study Scripture in an open-minded nuanced way. I don’t want to distract from the train of thought for this post, but I will elaborate more on this in my final assessment. ”

    That’s quite a lie. You also avoid the problem of your religion approving of slavery, having no problem with a god that repeatedly kills chidlren for the actions of others, and a god that commits and commands genocide.

    “It wasn’t until Christ’s resurrection that we were assured that our souls do indeed rise, and that we have the chance to enjoy eternal life in a restored creation, while the souls of animals go down into the earth. Knowing this, our hearts should break for people who reject Christ and view themselves as nothing more than highly evolved animals. They don’t know what richness of life they are missing, now and in the future.”

    No evidence of this resurrection at all. No need to worry about us who don’t worship your petty god. We have a lovely richness of life now and in the future since your sadistic fantasies will never come true.


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