In the early 80s the hottest book to read, discuss, and ponder in the circles I traveled was the (then) recently published Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. One of the topics this popularized was the famous zen koan:

Has a dog, Buddha nature or not?

A Western perhaps mistranslation of “Buddha” nature might be “a soul”. The answer is not, “yes” or “no” but the retort by the master was “mu”? Mr Hofstadter’s intellectual answer to that puzzle is that “mu” is in essence, unasking that question. That is, a way of emphatically insisting that the very asking of the question implies horrible structural defects in your conceptual framework that leads to this question being askable at all.

This leads us to the question:

Has a fetus a soul or not?

One proposal to consider is not, the emphatic “no” by the pro-abortion rights crowd (or to be fair, the insistent “yes/maybe” by the pro-life crowd) but instead to assume that we’ve made a critical mistake in our structural worldview and conception of reality for which this question is being relevant is a sign of error, not a point to ponder.

It is interesting to note that those who would defend firmly the right of a woman to remove her fetus completely without restriction would, at the same time be just as willing to note that dogs (and pets in general) do have rights. Mr Vick was clearly out of bounds in having dog fights, but the abortion-for-profit industry must be defended at the same time. However, as is often the case, I’m getting derailed. Back to the point, what does it mean to be in a place where the question of whether a fetus (or dog) has a soul is unasked, or a question which does and should not arise?

Well, to be honest, this is far as my initial insight while riding home on my bike this afternoon, in that balmy Northern Illinois 90 degree humid weather went. To the rescue however, comes a very non-Hofstadteran insight via my RSS feed. Father Stephen Freeman points at love. He writes:

Fr. Sophrony Sakharov, in his writings about St. Silouan of Mt. Athos and the spiritual life, notes that “man as persona becomes infinite, despite his ‘creaturehood’.” (In I Love Therefore I Am, page 80)

Fr. Sophrony understands that, created in the image of God, the human person has a capacity for infinity, an ability to love, to be in relationship that is without limit. In such a sense, it truly becomes possible to pray for the whole world.

and just a few days ago, Anastasia Theodoris wrote:

When I became Orthodox, I discovered that I had spent much of my life misinterpreting this commandment of Christ. Like so many others, I’d taken Jesus to mean that I should love my neighbor with the same fervor and to the same degree that I loved myself — and I love myself a lot. But what Jesus is really saying is that I should be so selfless that I live only for my neighbor. In my neighbor’s presence, I recognize only one existence: his or hers. All my concerns are for him. I keep none for myself. When I empty myself of me, I become my neighbor. God commands us to love Him and our neighbor like this because this is the way He loves us. We are everything to Him.

The thrust of this suggestion is that love of “other” (where “other” is other living beings), if set as as the fundamental basis for one’s basis for our ethics then does a dog (or fetus) have Buddha nature (or a soul) is not a question which arises.

Filed under: ChristianityEthics & MoralityMark O.OrthodoxReligion

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