AN ECO-THEOLOGY OF (POST) HUMAN ANIMAL GRACE
PhD, Professor of Education, College of Education, Department of Curriculum, Foundations and Reading, Georgia Southern University (Statesboro, GA, USA)
This paper explores eco-theology, (post) humanism and what the author calls (post) human animal grace. The author explores the ways in which ecopoiesis and theopoiesis can be thought of together, as intersecting concepts. Ecopoiesis and theopoiesis are meant in more metaphoric ways, drawing on the Greek root of bringing forth, rather than on the Latin root of the poet writing poetry. (Post) human animal grace through the ecopoietic and the theopoietic together mean thinking about humans, animals, the earth, the cosmos and even machines as a web of inter-related and sacred beings. This paper draws on a wide variety of sources from Karl Rahner, to Jacques Derrida, from Wilfred Bion to Donna Haraway. This paper also draws on popular films, online gaming, popular music and even mysticism.
Keywords: ecopoiesis, eco-theology, (post) human animal grace, theopoiesis.
The Greek etymology of the word poiesis (poesis), according to Linda Shires , is as follows: “the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before” (p. 1). One might interpret this to mean that persons make things. Warwick Mules  points out that for Martin Heidegger—drawing on the Greek etymology of poesis—“that we think of things from the standpoint of art as poesis [emphasis in original]—the “bringing forth into appearance” of both human-made and natural things” (p. 2). Mules (2012) goes on to point out that for Heidegger “[p]oiesis is the active force of nature as primary becoming” (p. 2). Thus, poieisis—one might suggest—is a more philosophical bringing forth. The natural world, that is, brings forth through the ways in which it emerges, moves, changes and becomes.
So too the artist makes something—say, a poem. The poetry that the poet writes is also referred to as poesis. In fact, Linda Shires  reminds us that the Latin root of poesis means poetry. Poetry is something, then, that emerges from the poet.
Here, however, I use the word poiesis in the more Heideggerian sense of the term as a “bringing forth,” a becoming of the natural world. But I also mean poiesis in a more Bachelardian sense - as nature is also a kind of poetics of the natural world. Bachelard , a philosopher of science, writes not scientifically, but poetically, about the natural world. For example, he states: “I intend to devote this brief chapter to dew and pearls, for the images suffice to illustrate the role that water plays in many crystalline reveries” (p. 25).
Unlike Heidegger, Bachelard draws on Jungian depth psychology and phenomenology to express the ways in which humankind is entwined within the natural world in a dream-like way. Reverie, for example, is an important concept for Bachelard. Also, for Bachelard, in contrast to Heidegger, the natural world is dialectical. For instance, what he calls hard matter—say, the earth—is juxtaposed against soft matter, i.e. the clouds. The dew—or soft matter—is juxtaposed against the hard matter of rocks. Further, for Bachelard, the imagination springs forth from matter. The same material that makes up the hard earth also makes up the imagination. This is hard to get one’s head around, because one does not usually think of the imagination as matter at all. But Bachelard points out that humankind, including the imagination, is made of the same matter as is the earth, the dew, the clouds, the basic elements of the stars and so forth. Although Bachelard emphasizes the dialectic of the natural world, he also drives home the point that human beings are of the natural world, in the same way that imagination is made up of the same matter as is the earth. It is difficult to think of the imagination as matter like rock or stars or dew—but it does not come from nowhere.
The upshot of this discussion is that I am using the term poiesis—in both the Heideggerian sense of a bringing forth or emerging of the natural world, and in the more Bachelardian sense of the poetics and dialectic of nature— in a similar way to the uncanny juxtaposition of imagination as matter, of dew and rock. By poiesis I do not mean the literal making of poetry by the poet. This would be more of the Latin root of the word, as Shires  points out.
For the purposes of this paper, ecopoiesis refers to the poetry of the natural world, as it both emerges and moves in uncannily dialectical ways. George Santayana  once commented that nature has a poetics of its own. In other words, nature writes its own poetry. In reference to the ancient nature poet Lucretius, Santayana states: “We seem to be reading not the poetry of a poet about things, but the poetry of the things themselves” (p. 32). This poetry of the things themselves is ecopoiesis.
Ecopoiesis shifts the focus from the ego, the “I” that sees the world and writes about the world, to the world itself and how the world poietically writes itself, or poietically expresses itself. Ecopoiesis is the expression of the eco-sphere and we are always already part and parcel of that eco-sphere.
Theopoiesis adds another layer to this discussion; I refer to the poetry of the sacred immanence of the natural world, the larger cosmos and eco-sphere. Theo, the root of theology, suggests that the divine is immanent in the world, in the eco-sphere, in the natural world. Theopoiesis is the way in which the divine speaks poetry—as it were—through the natural world. Theopoiesis is both the emergence in the Heideggerian sense, and uncanny dialectic in the Bachelardian sense, of the natural world and also the poietics of the sacred in the natural world. The immanence of the divine in the natural world is sometimes called pantheism. But in my use of the term, I suggest that the natural world is more than divine as it speaks its own poetry.
Of course, we are always already embedded in this sacred world, in the theopoiesis of the world, and we are not something separate and apart from it. We are the world; we are the cosmos. As Carl Jung  once asked: “do you think that somewhere we are not nature [?]. . . . No, we are in nature and we think exactly like nature” (p. 165). We are not separate from nature, we are nature—Jung stresses. This is a difficult cultural construct because we are taught that nature is separate and apart from us - as if nature is somehow out there in the woods, out there in the ocean, or out there in the desert. Dualisms are hard to overcome, but Jung emphasizes that the wedge driven between human nature and the natural world is a social construction and it is not the way things really are. All the natural elements that go into the making of the woods, the ocean and the desert are always already inherent in being human and animal. We are, indeed, animal beings, just as deer or birds, fish or dogs. Everything is connected to everything else—a point not lost on the pre-Socratics. And if this is the case, is it not ultimately a mystery how this all works?
Jung was basically a mystic and he intuitively understood the ways in which the ecopoietic and the theopoietic could be thought together. These are inherently mystical concepts. Thus, the argument in this paper is that the ecopoietic and theopoietic should be thought together as inter-twining concepts. I do not drive a wedge between what I call the ecopoietic or ecopoiesis, or the theopoietic or theopoiesis. I see little need to split hairs on these terms.
Grace as theopoietic: A non-linear concept
One of the things I want to address in this paper is how the concept of grace as it emerges in the realm of the theopoietic can be thought through the ecopoietic - as nature is always already graced. And by grace I do not mean the literal sense of the term. Grace is not something that is good or beautiful. In fact, grace can mean a lot of different things. It is a complex concept which I would like to flesh out here. The most interesting way in which grace is discussed in theological literature is in the work of theologian Karl Rahner. Rahner, a relatively obscure figure to those who do not study theology, was ahead of his time, especially when it comes to teasing out new ways of thinking through the concept grace.
Steven Duffy  wrote a remarkable book titled The Graced Horizon: Nature and Grace in Catholic Thought. Duffy was a systematic theologian who specialized in the work of Karl Rahner, a renown Catholic theologian. One of Rahner’s important contributions to Catholic theology is the way in which he theorized the notion of grace as a living concept, one that is changeable and in flux. Duffy  points out that for Rahner, graced is the horizon. What is a horizon? What is on the horizon? The horizon is beyond what one can conceptualize. However, if we think about the world’s horizon, it must include the earth, the air, water, fire, all the elements, animals, rocks, humans and machines—and perhaps more.
Toward the end of Duffy’s  book he intimates that “companion creatures” (p. 241) should not be treated as lesser than humans. If grace is about the horizon then graced too are “companion creatures” (p. 241) and everything else on the planet. Duffy  writes about what he calls “cosmic grace” (p. 239). A theology of cosmic grace—which is in and of itself theopoietic—suggests that graced are all things in our world and in other worlds beyond our own. A theology of cosmic grace, if it is to reflect the cosmos metaphorically, cannot be conceptualized in a systematic or linear fashion. The cosmos, including black holes, white holes, worm holes, time crystals, explodes the notion of space-time as a neat continuum. There is no geometric grid for the cosmos; thus, there will be no geometric grid for this paper.
Instead, following the work of Michel Serres , digression is the key to reconceptualizing the other-than-human in the context of the cosmos. Serres  intimates that it is digression that makes for progress in philosophy. Theology and the humanities—generally speaking—might re-think how to do scholarship in the first place. Michel Foucault  argued that the archives of historiography and scholarship are put together willy-nilly. Things, Foucault , says—could be conceptualized otherwise. Ecopoiesis and theopoieisis are not linear concepts, they are more like Deleuzian  rhizomes. So here, I take a different turn than say Bachelard or Heidegger, in that both ecopoiesis and theopoiesis are more rhizomatic, meaning that the inter-section of ecopoiesis and theopoiesis branch out in variegated ways –to use Serres’s (2020) metaphor in his book called Branches.
Grace as ecopoietic: A non-linear concept
Whatever grace is, it is wise to follow Steven Duffy’s  suggestion that theology in general, to be viable, might “move to less monarchical, patriarchal, and triumphalistic anthropological models” (p. 13). The commonsense Christian fundamentalist understanding of grace—at least in some sectors of the United States—is that it is a gift divinely given by God, who is white and male (reminiscent of Michelangelo’s rendering) and commands from on high. For fundamentalists, Christianity is the completion of the Old Testament; Christianity supersedes Judaism and, for that matter, all other religious traditions. Christianity is the triumphant religion that has the answer.
Karl Rahner thought otherwise [in Duffy, 20]. Further, Rahner stated: “Man is the question for which there is no answer” [cited in Duffy, 67, p. 273]. I would add that god is the question for which there is no answer. Grace is also the question for which there is no answer. Grace, as a notion, needs to be interrupted. The commonsense idea of grace is not what most theologians think grace is. In fact, for many theologians, grace is shock. This is grace turned upside down. For Rahner —although grace is “found in all things” (p. 232) and “not merely in peripheral areas of crisis”, according to Duffy [19, p. 236], grace is mostly found in states of shock, despair and hopelessness. Rahner  writes that grace happens when “we are suspended over the abyss of nothingness” (p. 68). Grace is a form of “shattering” (p. 87). Grace is the “void of death” (p. 228). Grace, for Rahner , is “where the graspable contours of our everyday realities break and dissolve; where failures of such realities are experienced” (p. 228). The experience of grace is that of “inescapable terror” [67, p. 80]. Grace, for Rahner, is not unlike Wilfred Bion’s  “O,” that bottomless bottom, the emptiest nothing that is what existence is. Michael Eigen  explains: “We cannot count on the niceness of O” (pp. 83-84). Eigen emphasizes that for Bion, O is sheer “terror” (p. 84). Grace, like O, is Jesus crucified; grace is the Pieta—the dead son in his mother’s arms. Matthew Fox  says that grace is the wound in all things” (p. 47).
Ecopoiesis is all things—the cosmos, the eco-sphere, the poetry of woundedness in the eco-sphere. For Derrida  “disenchantment” (p.99) is the heart and “resource” of religion and, I would add, of grace. Likewise, Thomas Merton  intimates that the divine, and I would again extend this to grace, is found in “dry bones” (p.235) in a “desert without trees” (p. 235) which leaves one “baffled and repelled” (p. 218). Dietrich Bonhoeffer  famously wrote about the evils of “cheap grace” (p. 43). This is “grace without the cross” (p. 45). Rahner , likewise, said that grace is neither “consolation” (p. 74) nor “life insurance” (p. 72). The Disneyfied concept of grace, the whitewashed and palatable grace is common in American Christian fundamentalist culture.
Kierkegaard  similarly complained about his fellow Christians in Copenhagen who did not live up to his demanding “Knight of Faith” (p. 118). In fact, Kierkegaard wrote a piece titled Attack upon “Christendom” where he railed against his fellow Christians (who he said weren’t really Christian at all) because most of them were lazy church goers who did not understand, or care to understand, Christianity. Like Kierkegaard, Ralph Waldo Emerson  complained about what he dubbed “Christendom” (p. 42). Emerson  declared that “every stoic was a stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian (p. 42)?” In Christendom grace is nice, pretty, good, lovely, a gift easily given, a token of God’s love, or inner peace. But Thomas Merton  points out that grace has little to do with peace.
What is (рost) human grace?
Recall that Steven Duffy  called for newer kinds of theology that eschew “anthropological models” (p. 13). A more (post) human model of theology would be post-anthropological. Anthropos—humans—are not the center of the universe. A more (post) human model of theology has to disperse its energies like Deleuze & Guattari’s  rhizome which is “an anti-genealogy” (p.11). There is no center; neither ordering nor naming. In the beginning there was no beginning. Biblical begets gone haywire. Truly the Tower of Babel. What would a theology look like that “deterritorializes” [14, p.10] and “reterritorializes” (P. 19) without endings or systems.
Bonhoeffer  called theological systems “cheap grace” (p. 43). A system is too easy, one can map it out, follow it, plan it, make it all look neat and tidy. Grace is none of these things, Bonhoeffer tells us. An “anti-genealogy”  is a story without a genogram, lacking clear patterns; it is not a grand metanarrative, in contrast to most of Western theology. Moreover, Stefan Herbrechter  states that posthuman “discourses” must admit of their “fictionality” and the “dereferentialization of traditional humanist points of anchoring like culture, human nature, identity” (p. 176). The bible as fiction. The bible as social construction; a cultural product invented. A book like any other. The Quest for the Historical Jesus—a very popular theological debate—arrives on the scene as a defense mechanism against the terrible secret that perhaps the person Jesus did not really exist. If Jesus were a real person, why did so many theologians have to go on a quest to find him? Because they doubted his existence? Or they were hellbent on proving something that never was? Perhaps there were many “son(s) of man?” (in the Hebrew Scriptures) Or perhaps there were none. In the end, what does it matter? If the story of Jesus is a story and not a reality, does that make the story any less interesting or culturally important? No. What is striking is that so many people identify with the story of Jesus—probably because it is a good story. People identify with pain and suffering. People relate to the underdog, the revolutionary, the hero, the martyr. The story about Jesus points to all of these archetypal qualities.
The quest for the historical (post) human
Alexis Madrigal  tells us that the term cyborg was coined by Manfred Clynes. Madrigal  points out that “The word cyborg appeared in an article called “Cyborgs and Space,” in the journal Astronautics’ September 1960 issue” (theatlantic.com, September 30th, 2010). The term is related to a field called cybernetics, says Madrigal. But it was Donna Haraway  who re-interpreted and reconceptualized the concept cyborg. Haraway re- introduced this term to the broader science community, to the social sciences and to the humanities in her well-known piece titled “Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s” published in Socialist Review [32, pp. 65-108]. Donna Haraway  says of the cyborg—who is a creature both human and machine—that “it has no truck with. . . pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labor, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity” (p. 150). Here, Haraway uses the cyborg as a metaphor to disrupt the metanarratives of psychoanalysis, Marxism and the transcendent splendor of orthodox Christianity.
(Post) humanist theology as interruption
(Post) humanist theology interrupts modernist theological methods for studying the holy such as theological anthropology, systematic theology, soteriology. These ‘-ologies’ have to be re-thought. Under the “[un]sheltering sky” (see Paul Bowles)  of the (post) human, anthropos is All Too Human-centric (see Nietzsche, 1878/ 2019)  systematic theory is too neat, tidy and unambiguous (see Foucault, 1982) , and salvation narratives are defense mechanisms against suffering. In this (post) human world humans are not the center of the universe; there are no systems to figure out postmodern life, and there is no salvation from nuclear destruction, eco-disasters and our current eco-nightmare of global warming. It is almost too late to save the planet. Extinction is closer to-hand than we think (see Jensen, 2011) . Taken-for-granted (mostly) Christian concepts like hope, love, mercy and grace must be deconstructed and re-thought. In common sense parlance, such concepts serve as the Balm of Gilead (Jeremiah, chpt 8 vs 2, Hebrew Scriptures), especially for Christians. This mentality of what I call palatability is a denial of where we are historically in a post-Holocaust  era.
Donna Haraway  interrupts the concept of Man. She states: “Ironically, we can learn from our fusions with animals and machines how not to be Man, the embodiment of Western logos” (p. 173). How is it not to be Man? Man invented gas chambers, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation. Man invented global warming, Man commits mass murder of wolves from helicopters, Man poisons rivers, lakes and oceans with toxic trash. Nuclear explosion (s) seem a plaything for Man to use in unthinkable and unconscionable annihilation(s) of peoples. Man has made for a “very very Mad World” (see the song, “Mad World” by the band Tears for Fears, 1982) . Let us learn from Haraway and let us be Man no more. What should we be then? (Post) human.
Haraway  points out that (post) humanism is about the “fusion” of “animals and machines” with humans and all the rest. (Post) human is gender bending; it is beyond gender polarization. The (post) human as cyborg is part machine, part human, part animal, part prosthetic, synthetic, computerized and pharmaceutically modified. (Post) humanism is computer-generated meshing time travel in the midst of the web and (woof) of the cosmos—“living and not,” Haraway [33, p. 4]. (see the series of Video games titled Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)  by Bethesda Game Studios for example).
Ivan Callus, Stefan Herbrechter and Manuel Rossini  say of the (post) human that it is “the relationship between humans and non-human others (animals, plants, the inorganic, machines, gods. . . ghosts, angels. . . cyborgs. . . zombies)” (pp. 9-10). For Donna Haraway  (post) humanism means to “become with many” (p. 4) through “world-making entanglements” (p. 4), “meeting” (p. 4) with “the belly of powerful figures such as cyborgs, monkeys and apes, oncomice, and. . . dogs” (p. 4). “Cloned dogs, databased tigers” [34, p. 5] and computer-generated images = the posthuman. The posthuman involutes worlds upon worlds, convolutes the cosmos, cows, “androids and electric sheep” (see Phillip K. Dick, 1968) .
Rahner, (post) human grace and spiders from Mars
Following Rahner , who posited that grace is grounded in experience, (post) human grace is the experience of disruption, implosion, explosion, dissolving, decaying, re-generating and the always already dying machine-generated, bionic flower. (Post) human animal grace is the experience of a mystical “infusion” (Eckhart, cited in Merton, 1961)  that disperses energies, the space/time continuum, black holes and “spiders from Mars” (David Bowie, 1969/2012) . (Post) human animal grace is the experience of the always already “dying god archetype” (Mary Aswell Doll, personal communication) Or, is it the dying dog archetype? (god is dog spelled backwards—as James Joyce (1922/2018) punned in Ulysses .
Following Levinas , the face of god is not only in the human-Other, but one might extend this metaphor also to the dog—Other. The face of god is terrifying, it is the unknowing, deep beyond deep Otherness in the all-in-all. (Post) human animal grace is the dog and the face of god who is “the wound in all things” [29, p. 47]. Why hast thou abandoned/ forsaken me? Says the dog to god. God replies only with silence, a deafening silence. A silent reply is no reply at all. As Thomas Merton  says, it is in the silence where one finds grace. The gaping hole opened up by the absence of the dog is that silence.
(Post) human grace as the multiple
As Michel Serres , might put it, multiplicities are all. We live in a world of multiples. (Post) human grace is the multiple. It is not one thing, it is not a thing, it is not spirit, it does not come from a monotheistic god, it comes from the mystery of the holy. Rudolph Otto , in his book The Idea of the Holy, writes about what he calls “creature feeling” and states:
“The reader is invited to direct his mind to a moment of deeply-felt religious experience, as little as possible qualified by other forms of consciousness. Whoever cannot do this, whoever knows no such moments in his experience, is requested to read no farther; for it is not easy to discuss questions of religious psychology…” (p. 8)
Grace is a “deeply felt religious experience.” And the phenomenological experience of grace is certainly another “form of consciousness” that humans and other “creatures” share. Animals live in a “graced horizon” . But recall, the graced horizon in a (post) human era means living on the edge of a precipice.
The dog’s ministry of presence in a posthuman era
The dog’s ministry shatters, and yet sustains, absent presence. Seward Hiltner  states:
“By “sustaining” is meant that aspect of the shepherding perspective that emphasizes “standing by.” Unlike healing, in which the total situation is capable of change, sustaining relates to those situations that as total situations cannot be changed at this time.” (p. 116)
Dogs shepherd one another—and humans—in turbulent times. Turbulence is (Post) human grace. I argue that dogs are capable of giving what Paul Ramsey calls “disinterested love” [cited in 35, p. xvii]. Disinterested love—for human and animal alike—-cuts through shattered temporality. Disinterested love is a “standing by”—as Hiltner [38, p. 116] puts it—without “healing” because healing might be impossible.
A “sustaining” presence, as Hiltner  points out above, is a form of shepherding that takes a different mind-set from actively engaging in dialogue with the Other because no dialogue is possible. Paulo Freire  writes about the importance of dialogue between teacher and student. For Freire , democratic pedagogy is built on dialogue. However, there are times when dialogue is impossible. It is within the impossible that one experiences grace. Silent communication is still a form of communication. Kierkegaard scholar George Pattison  writes about what he calls Kierkegaard’s “indirect communication” (p. 9). Kierkegaard often used pseudonyms. That is one form of indirect communication. But there is a more ineffable kind of indirect communication and that is between the shepherding animal and the human being who sit in irrupted time together without words. The dog’s eyes speak. Sometimes words get in the way of what we want to communicate. Communication without (direct) communication is grace. And in this case, it is a form of (post) human animal grace. Plotinus famously remarked that loneliness is felt as the alone to the alone. This kind of aloneness is desolate. In times of crisis desolate aloneness crushes. Animals feel the alone to the alone. Animals grieve. This is not a new fact. Darwin  commented on the complicated emotions of animals long ago, but scientists have been reluctant to attribute feelings to animals until relatively recently .
Andrew Lester  writes that we must embrace “brokenness” (p. 56). Animals know how to live with their brokenness better than humans. They accept injuries, they live through heartaches and loss. Humans do not accept brokenness so well. The brokenness of chronic illness, injury or disasters like hurricanes or car wrecks devastate. Instead of dealing with the devastation, the first thing humans tend to do is to go into denial. This isn’t happening. It’s all good. Things will work out. It could have been worse. Denial is a sure path to nowhere. Embracing what is not good means facing things head on without gloss or false hope. False hope is not the way to grace. False hope leads to false self (see False Self: The Life of Masud Khan by Linda Hopkins ), which leads to self-loathing which leads to self-undoing.
Seward Hiltner  states “It is time that our shepherding took loss seriously”. . . (p. 56). In the face of death, one cannot fix death by saying things like: he’s going to a better place, after all. Or, heaven is waiting. Or, he will be in the arms of the lord. All of these trite phrases gloss over the reality of death. One cannot cure people or animals of their impending death.
(Post) human grace in psychosis
Jung  experienced breakdown and collapse; in fact, he suffered from a psychotic break. During his psychosis he wrote the most bizarre and fascinating book capturing mental collapse. The Red Book is grace in psychosis. Grace is found in breaks. For many years Jung’s family did not want this book published because they feared that his work would be discredited if people knew of his mental collapse. The fear of mental illness and the taboo of mental illness is an ongoing problem in the United States and elsewhere.
It is one thing to say that a depth psychologist and founder of Jungian psychotherapy suffered from a psychotic break, but it is another thing altogether to say that the god-man, the homoousios of Christianity suffered from psychosis. If this is the case, where does this leave the Christian religion? What kind of scandal would this create? Albert Schweitzer (1913/1958) , in his book titled The psychiatric study of Jesus: Exposition and Criticism, created such a scandal by arguing that Jesus was, in fact, “psychopathic” (p. 27). Schweitzer draws on theologian/philosopher David Freidrich Strauss who wrote a book called Der Leben Jesu in 1835. Here, according to Schweitzer, Strauss claimed that Jesus suffered from “morbid traits” (p. 35), and in later writings he stated that Jesus was “fanatical in the thought of the second coming” and that in fact Jesus was “very close to madness” (p. 35). Drawing on one de Loosten, Schweitzer writes that Jesus hallucinated, heard voices and thought that a “supernatural spirit” lived inside of him and told him what to do. These are the same symptoms suffered by many who are psychotic or schizophrenic. So, what if Jesus suffered from psychosis? Perhaps that is the wrong question. Let us ask the following: What if Jesus were cured of his psychosis? If indeed, that was what he suffered from. Perhaps a cured Jesus would be the Christ represented in Nikos Kazantzakis’ (1998) The Last Temptation of Christ . Here Jesus wonders whether he should settle down, get married and have a family. Jesus wondered whether he should be a conformist and not a visionary. Is settling down, marrying and having a family the cure for eccentricity? Why cure eccentricity at all? Psychoanalyst Andre Green  remarks that “within the psychoanalytic movement, psychoanalytic theory has been reduced to the theory of cure, which I think is terribly harmful. Firstly, it doesn’t solve anything” (p. 44).
I imagine that Schweitzer’s  claims that Jesus suffered from psychosis are still shocking for most Christians. But why are these claims so shocking? Many of the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures—especially Ezekiel—experienced bizarre things. Ezekiel had visions, god talked to him and told him what to do, he had hallucinations like wheels floating in the middle of the sky. Some theologians admit that Ezekiel might have been schizophrenic. I suppose it is one thing to say that a biblical prophet was schizophrenic but it is another thing entirely to say that the Christian God and savior was psychotic. Schweitzer’s  book is still considered anathema and is not taught in most theological seminaries. And that is a pity. It should be. Catholic priests are censored by the Church, even today. Hard to believe in the 21st century! Not teaching Schweitzer and others like him is a way to miseducate, under-educate and turn seminaries into indoctrination centers.
The balm of Gilead is not grace
In a naïve sense, the story of Jesus serves to pacify. Jesus is God, he comes to earth to save people from their sin, dies, goes to heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus died for others’ sins so that all will be well. In the end everything works out. Story over. But for Kierkegaard  this is not what Christianity is about. Christianity is not about the Balm of Gilead. For Kierkegaard, Christianity is about suffering, despair, carrying one’s cross. Carrying one’s cross is grace.
Haider Warrarich  remarks that “Religion, in many ways, is the most potent by-product of terror management. . .” (p. 144). This naïve portrait of Jesus above is a form of “terror management.” Death is treated as if it is nothing, or dying is thought to be the good news because heaven is better than earthly life. However, death is not nothing. It is the end. The end of a life can be terrifying, ugly, disgusting, painful, violent. Religious experience is, as Otto put it, beyond words and does not dress up in a robe and sandals. The holy is a feeling, a phenomenological experience that is sometimes terrifying. The holy is a sense of “gravity and grace,” as Simone Weil  once put it.
As an aside, in a series of interviews with Bruno Latour, Michel Serres  tells us that it was Weil’s  book, Gravity and Grace, that changed his life. He was so disgusted with science and what it produced—nuclear atrocities—that he became a philosopher and got out of science. Weil  has been a forgotten theologian. Most women theologians, philosophers, and scientists are forgotten. Misogyny is alive and well everywhere. However, the impact of Weil’s work on Serres was deep and profound. How many male philosophers say that women theologians/philosophers changed their lives? Not many. Most male philosophers write about other male philosophers. Who are the women philosophers, theologians? They have disappeared from the canon.
Silence, temporality, being, death. These are all profound experiences. If one is to truly live and feel and phenomenologically experience the world that we are living in, all of these experiences can be thought of as sacred, as holy, as grace-filled. Death is perhaps one of the most profound experiences in life. To watch as the final breath leaves a body—this is posthumous grace. The profundity of death is something that most people never witness. Dying is a taboo experience that American culture does not like. Laurie Anderson  argues—in her film about her dog called Heart of a Dog—that if you euthanize a dog you take away the dog’s own profound experience of death; the dog misses her own death. Anderson feels that euthanasia erases a very important experience for a dog: dying. These are noble ideas but when you watch a dog suffer, euthanasia seems the more humane option.
Anticipatory grief: The priest and the physician
Lindemann [cited in 18] writes about “anticipatory grief” (p. 13) in the context of companion animals. Humans who anticipate the death of their companion animals begin the grief process even before death occurs. Anticipatory grief is also common among people who know that their (human) loved ones will soon die. If you grieve ahead of schedule does that make it any less painful? No. Contrarily, anticipatory grief doesn’t ward off the fantasy, say, that your dog won’t die—even though death is immanent. This is magical thinking. In Joan Didion’s  book called The Year of Magical Thinking she witnessed the death of her husband at the dinner table. Not too long after that Didion’s daughter died from septic shock. Didion tells us that when her husband died, she was in such shock and subsequently she engaged in magical thinking. Of course, he is not dead, his shoes and clothes are in the closet. The anticipatory grief over Didion’s very ill daughter who succumbed to septic shock did not help her cope. Didion suffered compounded grief losing both her husband and daughter in a short period of time. Compounded grief lengthens the duration of magical thinking. Note that the title of Didion’s  book is The Year of Magical Thinking. Although magical thinking seems delusional—which it is—it also serves to protect all out psychic collapse. Denial can be a very important form of survival—at least for a while.
Believing that after death people will go to heaven is another protective psychological move. Haider Warraich  says that the idea of heaven “is the most direct denial of death at our disposal” (p. 144). He goes on to say that “With the promise of an afterlife. . . death is reduced to a mere inflection point rather than a full stop. . .” (pp. 144-145). The afterlife is a way to pretend that there are no endings. Life just goes on—perhaps in a different form-- and no need to worry about the end because, really, there isn’t one. The afterlife is magical thinking.
Whatever death is, I feel that it should be approached with reverence, terror and awe. When someone dies this is where “priest and physician meet”, as Anton Boisen  says (p. 219). Boisen  also remarks that his goal was to “break down the walls between religion and medicine” (p. 115). However, some physicians dealing with the death of a person (or even a dog for that matter) reduce death to a “checklist,” as Warraich  points out (p. 88). Ronald Epstein  comments that “The word suffering [italics in original] is strikingly absent in conversations” doctors have (p. 107). Dr. James Cole , a trauma surgeon, however, feels the opposite. He says that “after thousands of hours of surgical indoctrination…we still continue to experience all the human emotions” (p. 5). This is where “priest and physician meet,” as Boisen [6, p. 219] says. Sometimes when priest and physician meet moments of grace emerge. But when dogs die rarely is a priest on hand. Animal chaplains do exist but their profession is not recognized. However, veterinarians and animal chaplains certainly could meet as “priest and physician” [6, Р. 219]. This would be a paradigm shift in veterinary medicine.
Together priest and physician could follow the lead of Ronald Epstein , who advocates for mindfulness and medicine. This would be a more Buddhist approach to taking care of animals. To be mindful—in the Buddhist sense—is to tend to something; it is to pay attention in a way that differs from the humdrum mindlessness of everyday life. To be mindful means slowing down and getting into the experience at hand. Epstein  tells us about one George Engel who is well known in human medicine for writing about what he calls a “biopsychosocial approach to care” (p. 8). Epstein  tells us that doctors—who are trained in the biopsychosocial approach—care for the whole patient by “[r]esponding to errors, witnessing suffering, facing uncertainty, grieving the loss of a patient, developing compassion. . . .address[ing] clinical burnout” (p. 11). The problem with medicine today is that doctors spend hours charting on computers. This takes away from the time they have to spend with patients and their families.
In The New York Times, Danielle Ofri  states that “[e]very doctor I know has been complaining about the growing burden of electronic busywork. . . . [charting] grows more gargantuan with each passing month, requiring ever more (and ever more arduous) documentation to feed the beast” (mobile.nytimes.com, Nov. 14, 2017). Medicine is no longer “care of the soul” as Thomas Moore  put it, but care of the chart. Being mindful—in the Buddhist sense—is a more spiritual approach to medicine. Being mindful is being fully present in the moment.
When priest and physician meet [6, p. 219], religion and science cross paths. Grace occurs at the crossroads between the spiritual and the scientific. There tends to be a divide, however, between priest and physician. Although some physicians might be spiritual, others are not. Some pastoral workers, contrarily, are suspicious of physicians. Science does not tell the whole story, nor does the spiritual. (Post) humanism is the bridge over these divides. The (post) human is where these crossroads meet. (Post) humanism is where priest and physician, humans/animals and machines intersect. (Post) human/animal grace is experienced in the tensions between priest, physician, humans/animals/machine (s). Religion, science, human and veterinary medicine inter-weave with machines but not without tensions. These are not easy crossroads.
Jewish mysticism and (post) human animal grace
In Jewish mysticism one of the goals is to aspire toward “the infinite” [2, p. 5]. The infinite is the “unknowable” [2, p. 17]. The unknowable for Christian theologians is called grace. Jewish mystics who approach the unknowable also approach the terrors of grace. Although grace is not a term much used in Judaism, one might think of it in a more generic sense. Jewish mystics and Tzaddik(s), Jewish scholars and teachers, might consider borrowing this term from Christian theology and re-appropriating it. The Tzaddik is one who is able to “see through glass” [2, p. 17]. Glass symbolizes that which is beyond concepts and ideas. Getting at the infinite and seeing through glass is a form of grace. It is important to note that although glass is smooth, it also shatters. The world is a shattered place. In Jewish mysticism it is thought that shards of glass fall from the skies; the world begins in shatteredness; in the shatteredness life begins. Jewish mystics do not passively sit and meditate. Rather, they pick up the pieces of shattered lives. This process is called Tikkun, which means doing good in the world. Life begins in brokenness. Doing something about that brokenness is an ethical imperative for Jewish mystics.
Likewise, in the Jewish tradition generally, knowing through study is a religious imperative. Doing and knowing are intersecting paths. Knowledge without action is unacceptable. Action without knowledge is equally unacceptable. In order to pick up the shattered glass of life, one must do and know. Jewish mysticism—and Judaism in general—is a religion of ethics.
Jewish mystics—in order to get at the infinite—must do “physical acts of infinity” [2, p. 8]. These are called Mitzvot. The infinite is not transcendent and otherworldly. The infinite is right here, in our hearts and deeds. Recall that Rahner  argued that grace is found in the midst of the everyday, not in an otherworldly place. Jewish mystics similarly work in the everyday world. Mysticism does not mean living up in the clouds. The everyday world is a shattered place.
We live in a mess of a world. Creating order from chaos seems nearly impossible. A chaotic life, however, is where grace is found. The Blessed Rage for Order, as David Tracey  once put it, gets us nowhere. Systems, grand metanarratives, plot-summaries, and clear endings or beginnings are psychological defense mechanisms against the inherent disorder and chaos that is life. Attempting to clean up clutter only makes room for more clutter. Anton Boisen  argued that “mental disorder and certain types of religious experience are alike attempts at reorganization [making order out of chaos]” (p. viii). The mental disorder called psychosis cannot be cleared up, though. Religious visions, hallucinations do not make order out of chaos. Mental disorder and religious experience confuse. James Hillman —who was a Jewish psychologist—argued that at root psyche is a “disturbance” (p. 26). Hillman  argues that
“We are twisted in soul because soul by nature and of necessity is in a tortuous condition. We cannot be explained, nor can we be straightened out. Psychopathological distortion is the primary condition given our complexity, the crowning wreath of thorns. . . for as Jung said, the complexes are life itself; to be rid of them is to be rid of life.” (p. 200).
(Post) human animal grace is likewise a “disturbance.” The mess of the world, the chaos, the shatterings, the brokenness and the inter-weaving of animals, humans, machines makes for “disturbances,” as Hillman puts it. (Post) humanism is not about smoothing things out with neat and tidy Cartesian formulas. We are all lost at sea. Sometimes sinking, even. (Post) human animal grace means coming to terms with sinking and nothingness.
Animals are tzaddiks
Animals are Tzaddiks. They are our teachers. They understand what we cannot. They understand what is not palatable. They intuit what we cannot. Somewhere along the way humans have lost their way. Wars and the millions of atrocities and horrors committed by humans make us the most vile creatures on the planet. Animals do not commit the atrocities and horrors that we do. Moreover, animals do not need theology to enrich them, they are already enriched, they already are the holy, they are already one with the earth, sea, sky, wind, trees. Humans are red in tooth and claw, not animals. Marc Beckoff  has tried repeatedly to dispel the notion that nature [meaning animals] is red in tooth and claw. He has studied animals in the wild [whatever that means] for decades as an ethologist and from his work in the field he has learned that, at root, what drives animal behavior is play, not violence. Play is the most important activity in which animals engage. Yes, animals suffer from woundedness, from psychological damage—that is usually caused by humans—from being caught in hurricanes, tsunamis and so forth. Yes, they suffer. And mostly it is our fault. We have created an unsustainable planet. We have murdered wolves for decades. We have de-forested the earth. We have polluted the rivers and oceans. We have caused the extinction of thousands of species. We have created the nightmare that is global warming.
In the film First Reformed (2017), directed by Paul Schrader, the pastor (played by Ethan Hawke) asks: “Can god forgive us for what we have done to the earth?” The question goes unanswered and the film leaves the audience in the dark as the film abruptly ends. The pastor understands how corporate greed, corrupt preachers, religion gone bad and human arrogance work together to destroy our world. The pastor intimates that this is a world without hope. We live in an altogether hopeless condition because of human arrogance and greed. The pastor pours pink Pepto Bismol into his brown whiskey, drowning in his own complicity as pastor of a church funded by an eco-disastrous corporate scam.
So much of humanist theology has been corrupted and used in the name of violence against others and the earth. Dominion over animals (in the book of Genesis) means do whatever you want to animals and the earth. This is the path to ecological devastation. Eco-activist Derrick Jensen  connects family violence and rape with violence and rape done to the earth. Jensen and his siblings were repeatedly raped by his father when they were children. Jensen became an outspoken eco-activist, writer, philosopher, public speaker to right these wrongs. He states: “My family is a microcosm of the culture. What is writ large in the destruction of the biosphere was writ small in the destruction of our household” (p. 61). Honor thy father and thy mother. Why? Psychoanalyst Alice Miller  has written extensively on the psychological damage done by following religious imperatives.
Humanist theology has been complicit with much that has gone wrong in Western culture. One might even argue that it is theology that undergirds the justification for wrecking the earth and her creatures. But that is a simplistic read on theology. Theology has promise if it is used to do the right thing. So often, though, it is not. (Post) human theologians are not afraid to call out the abuses of the church, the rape of the earth, ecological wreckage caused by human greed.
Much of humanist theology has been blinded by it’s own orthodoxies. (Post) human animal grace is about outing the wrongs of humanist theology, while admitting that we have inherited humanist philosophies and are still in part humanists. However, most of the humanist theologians I have cited here have not contributed to the wreckage of the earth, but have made way for the (post) to arrive. Humanism is not ‘post’ in the sense that it is over once and for all. No, we are the inheritors of humanism. However, the (post) signifies that we are moving beyond what we have inherited. Likewise, post-colonialism is not the end of colonialism. Colonialism still exists and the horrors of psychic traumas still linger. Some even argue that there is nothing ‘post’ about colonialism because in many ways it is still with us.
(Post) human theology is not a cure-all. (Post) human theologians must critique and problematize their own positions. The connections between (post) human theology and ecology are highly complicated and not comprehensively worked through in this chapter. This essay is not meant to be comprehensive, but a beginning and introduction to the kinds of ideas that need further exploration. I focused mostly on Western theologians, mostly Christian, and touched very briefly on Jewish mysticism. Buddhism was mentioned in passing in relation to medicine but certainly could be further developed in the context of the (Post) human, theology and ecology. Non-Western traditions such as Shamanism could also be explored in the context of posthuman theological ecology. However, Shamanistic studies go beyond the scope of this essay. Shamanism is an entire field in and of itself and needs deep study and exploration in future work on eco-theology and (post) humanism.
(Post) human animal grace: “Beyond all graspness.” A return to Rahner
So, we end as we began with the work of Karl Rahner , who states that the “heart [like the soul] is not “sweet” but terrifying” (p. 128). The theological, at root, is “beyond-all-graspness” (p. 128). The task of the scholar is to understand . However, understanding is limited and sometimes impossible. Scholars work in the realm of the impossible. The deeply theological questions of life and death are unanswerable. Yet, articulation of the impossible is the task at hand. Posthuman animal grace is that which is “beyond-all-graspness” [68, p. 128]. What is beyond-all-graspness is beyond the ego, beyond Descartes’ Cogito; what is beyond-all-graspness includes the eco-sphere, the poetry of the eco-sphere that is indecipherable. And the indecipherable is beyond Karl Jaspers’  notion of ciphers, even. Ciphers are even indecipherable.
Rudolph Otto  said the mysterium tremendum makes one “shudder” and can even be akin to “horror” (p. 13). The “mysterium tremendum is the it of life. What makes life life? What is it? It is it. That thought is interminably frustrating for the modernist mind. Thomas Merton  says that “Christian mysticism is born of a theological crisis” (p. 107). The crisis is not knowing. It is coming to grips with not-knowing what the it is. I would say the same of Jewish Mysticism. The crisis in Jewish mysticism is the brokenness and shattered-ness of existence. That god does not answer, says Merton , is grace. Michael Eigen  tells us that for Wilfred Bion O, or the infinite, is experienced as “turbulence” or even “catastrophe” (p. 20). Gregorio Kohon  writes about what he calls a “psychical catastrophe” (p. 3). The “psychical catastrophe” in the context of (post) human animal grace is that grace is felt as a psychical catastrophe. Grace, recall, is not the Balm of Gilead. When god does not answer, when Jesus is left on the cross wondering if he has been forsaken, when humans are the question without an answer , when animals are also the question without an answer, when machines are added into the mix what results is utter confusion but on occasion one experiences what St. John of the Cross called “infusion” [cited in 56, p. 75] of the holy.
Theology is inherently an ecological discipline in the sense that questions raised point to an eco-awareness of our larger surroundings and the tensions of the interconnections of all things. In the context of an eco-theology of posthuman animal grace things get more complicated still. The intersections between humans/animals/machines, theology and ecology baffle. Perhaps these inter-sections do not exactly mesh. This discussion is a patchwork-quilt, not a comprehensive survey or history. But this is a start. Further exploration and integration of these ideas is a task for future scholars. Ecopoiesis, when thought through a theopoietic lens, shifts the discussion from purely ecological matters to the ways in which the sacred is always already in the profane—as Mircea Eliade  pointed out years ago. Moreover, thinking through the (post) of human-animal relations inter-twined in complex ways as both emerging and becoming, in the Heideggerian sense, and uncannily dialectic in the Bachelardian sense, but also akin to Serres’s  branching out as well as the Deleuzian sense of the rhizomatic, make for difficult imaginings and difficult conceptualizing when thinking about ways in which ecopoiesis could take on new meanings, shifting in a variety of directions.
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Reference for citations
Morris, M. (2021). An eco-theology of (post)human animal grace. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 2(1). [open access internet journal]. – URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru (d/m/y)