What the Animals Do


I don’t know why I’m talking about this, but here goes.

I overheard someone talking about animals the other day, specifically in relation to their natural instincts. It went something like this “Aren’t the animals great? They just act according to their instincts. They act as they were designed, and they do exactly what they’re supposed to do. They don’t have the burden of consciousness because they naturally do the right thing so they don’t need it.”

Perhaps I am alone in this sentiment, but “nature”, as in everything that isn’t human, can be a downright scary place. Romans 1 reminds me of this idea:

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Why would Paul talk about animals in a negative way? Well, there’s the obvious divide between the divine and the created, but there’s also a subtle undercurrent of philosophy here. For those not familiar with Plato, he believed in a world of Ideas – these ideas are the basis for everything in our reality. So, when someone says bird, the idea Bird is the true, incorruptible, perfected Form of Bird. Paul had to have been familiar with Plato; he lived in the Roman Empire, after all. When he makes this comparison, therefore, it’s not too big a stretch to say he’s trying to convey to people with a Roman (i.e., philosophical) culture milieu as well. They worship the corruptible thing, not the incorruptible.

So yes, my Biblical Studies knowledge has finally paid off.

Animals don’t have these choices; they are the corrupted, without any ability to recognize the incorruptible. Now, I’m not likening this train of thought (that animals do what God designed them to do without error) to some kind of idolatry as in the traditional interpretation, but it’s some kind of naievty to assume that animals, as well, weren’t affected by the Fall. First, they die; that’s an obvious one, and we die too, but important to note. Second, many animals do things that we find morally reprehensible, say:

  • Eat each other for sustenance (including their own species – so add cannibalism to the list)
  • Murder each other for mating privileged
  • Eat their own mothers (wow, that’s horrible)
  • Leave their children to the whims of Mother Nature after giving birth; it’s no surprise that many of them die and only the strong survive
  • Polygamy is rampant in nature, as well as promiscuity (the latter is more accepted than the former, but you get the idea)
  • For more mainstream Christian denominations: homosexual acts
  • Something that seems pretty endemic to our culture: act as a parasite that lives off other beings and then kills them
  • Serial killer style behavior: molestation, rape, necrophilia, you name it, some animal somewhere does it (DOLPHINS do a LOT of this.)
Not to be down on animals. They’re pretty cool in my book, but man, they’re just as messed up as us. They lay under the rule of the principalities of the air, of the decay of a world filled with sin and its consequences. They do horrible things. The Japanese Giant Hornet, for example, commit total genocide against whatever hive they decide to attack. They kills everything, then steal the children of that hive which will serve as food. Think about that for a second, then watch this:

Obviously, the film adds music and such to add to the horror, but what if those were people? Would that make it fine and dandy all of a sudden? Animals act on instinct and do what they want to survive, not “the right thing”. They do what they’re designed to do with the added component of a fallen world as a complement, which makes their behavior unbelievably scary: this could be us. And it has been us, throughout time.
In fact, they’re worse off; they don’t know, nor can they perceive, that their actions are either bad nor good.  They don’t have consciousness in the human sense. Even if they can perceive it, that makes it WORSE! That means they willfully do it anyway! Some have feelings, limited decisionmaking skills, desires, and the like, but there’s no shifting of the scales to attribute an ethical quality to any of their actions. They just “do” stuff. God didn’t give them the gift to make decisions in quite the same way as us. Although, obviously, we can’t judge them in any way because they don’t operate on the same level, I don’t see why animals aren’t affected by depravity as well.
If you remember Genesis 3, you’ll note the serpent got his own punishment from his deception:

” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

To be honest, this seems quite specific to the serpent, but I don’t see why this doesn’t apply to all the animals. In a state of nature, humans were in constant conflict with the local “residents”. We aren’t as strong, or fast, or swift as many of the animals on the list of “all animals made”, but we have the ability to think and reason. This has set us apart from the rest of nature, and in the process given us dominion over the earth’s animal – provided we bring the right technology and logical faculties to bear on our encounters with wild beasts.

We might also think in this same sense when it comes to video games. Ever wonder why post-apocalyptic narratives have been so successful in games recently? There’s an ideological undercurrent to the collapse of society. What happens when humans are plunged right into a state of nature once again? Well, they turn on each other. They act in total self-interest, and the few times that groups form come from necessity rather than genuine love. Especially when there’s no concequences, people are liable to kill other people if it suits their temporary needs. That’s pretty disturbing stuff. We revert back to animalistic instinct. Do we do what we’re “designed” to do? Far from it; we do what the depraved mind desires and wishes. The emptiness is a promise, and the sin is just the proof.

I imagine that, for this reason, such games don’t appeal to me. I don’t want to descend into these thought processes; they’re thought experiments, sure, but I don’t trust my own instincts or feelings as the guiding force in my life. That’s why I can’t play them. Give me Mario Party any day, something that emphasizes happiness and fluffiness! I’d even go for an Assassin’s Creed. Just don’t give me DayZ, or Left 4 Dead. These games are obviously entertaining when the violence is directed toward an exterior source, but more often than not the human impulse says “kill my teammates” (not true in Left 4 Dead, but you get the idea). Co-op games with friendly fire go just about the same way. Heck, even your closest friends and relative can’t resist the urge every once and a while. Virtual violence against fake zombies is one thing, but against other people? Surely, you’re only killing the avatar. Right? Right? Please don’t reinforce all the negative stereotypes of human nature, please?

I just find the assumption that animals are beautiful in their simplicity to be a hoax. They represent us without the benefit of consciousness. It’s far better to know what you’re doing rather than just doing it, in my book, even if that brings additional pains and aches. That’s how God made us (even in depravity), and that is how we must live. But that isn’t a cause for depression or doubt. Rather:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being adouble-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

-James 1

The fallen nature must be resisted. We must have trust that God has lifted out out of the mire and onto safe pastures. We must trust that God has given us power through the Holy Spirit to resist an animalistic impulse – even when it comes to video games. Intentions count for much! The person who doesn’t trust God doesn’t go anywhere.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.