Q: I believe in God and the Big Bang. Is there any problem with that?
— From T
A: No problem, T. The Bible teaches that the first act of creation by God is God creating light. Light is energy, and light and energy are what was released by the Big Bang that exploded (and is still exploding) at the beginning of the universe.
The paleontologist Stephen J. Gould thought that religion and science are not in conflict because they are about different things. Science is about how the universe works. Religion is about what the universe means. Science and religion are what he called NOMAs (nonoverlapping magisteria). They are two realms of human thought that do not cross over the same intellectual and spiritual territory. I agree.
We are way beyond the time when people read the Bible as a science textbook, and hopefully way beyond when people thought scientists could do an experiment to discover the meaning of life.
Some of you dear readers disagreed with my recent column making a spiritual distinction between pets and people.
Q: After reading your article on funerals and pets, I agree with your comment about mixing ashes, but when you said you don't love YOUR pets the same way you love your family, I think a lot of people do not feel the same way. I believe a lot and maybe even most people DO love their pets as much as family members and feel just as bad when they die. I think this is especially true for people who do not have children or grandchildren. After all, your pets (as well as family members) are gifts from God. After losing a pet recently, it was just as difficult as if I had lost a close family member.
— From G in Ocala, Florida
A: Thank you, dear G, for your sensitive and deeply felt demurral. This is a tough spiritual issue. What is not tough is acknowledging that the death of a beloved pet can cause a level of grief that is identical or, as you rightly remark, even greater than the grief we experience at the death of a beloved family member. I have experienced such grief myself, and my column on the death of my dog Miles is a heavily visited site on the internet. Grief is grief in the same way that tears are tears regardless of the reason they are shed. I understand, and I honor, and I sympathize with all people who have given unconditional love to an animal. In my less generous moments I have even come to the strong and perhaps unattractive belief that there is something wrong with people who do not love dogs. (I am sadly open to the spiritual possibility that there are good reasons not to love cats.)
However, my work and my responsibility are to make spiritually valid distinctions, and I cannot and I will not retreat from the belief that people and animals are on two very different spiritual levels. All major religions teach that animals are not, and people are, made in the image of God. All major religions teach that animals do not have a soul and people do, or to say it more precisely, both have souls, but the soul of a human being is on a higher level than the soul of an animal. The status of being loved as a pet is a great gift to an animal, but it cannot spiritually elevate an animal to the spiritual status of a person. This is why we eat animals, but we do not eat people. This is why we convict and incarcerate people, but we do not convict or incarcerate animals. Animals are not moral agents and thus are not morally culpable for their actions. When a lion kills an innocent antelope, it is not murder.
Saying all this is not a derogation of our love for our pets. It is an act of gratitude for the opportunity to give our love to beings lower on the spiritual ladder, beings who are absolutely not without dignity, value and sanctity.
A thought experiment: If you had to choose to save either your child or your pet from a burning building, you would save your child. This example ought to settle the issue of whether your pets are exactly like your children. The death of either is a tragedy, but the death of a child is an incomprehensible tragedy and the death of a pet is not on the same level. It can be the same level of grief, but it cannot be the same level of soul. Love that does not make such distinctions diminishes the truth of love and faith.