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Sunday 20 January 2019

Lay of the Land: God's fool versus fellow creatures of faux Christians

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Fiona O'Connell

This is a double whammy of a red-letter day, what with Easter being the most important celebration in the Christian calendar colliding with April Fool's Day.

How the latter came to be is itself a comedy - or calendar - of errors, appropriately enough. For today used to be a Roman spring festival - people playing pranks on each other as they waved good riddance to winter and welcomed the new year. Until Pope Gregory shifted that celebration to January 1, confusing many. They continued to treat today as the new year, resulting in the term 'April fool'.

Speaking of fools (and of popes), the patron saint of this column, after whom the present pope is named, used to preach to both people and animals, earning him the not so respectful nickname "God's fool". For not all Christians share Francis of Assisi's attitude that animals are "our brother and sister creatures".

Indeed, sometimes Christians can be among the cruellest when it comes to our fellow beings; interpreting that passage from Genesis about our "dominion" over animals to mean 'domination' and carte blanche to abuse animals. Whereas St Francis viewed dominion as "duty" to "our humble brethren". He adds, "we have a higher mission - to be of service to them wherever they require it".

Making it hard to believe that the Lamb of God would condone the live exports of lambs and calves, or the suffering that is inflicted on animals in intensive farming. Yet anyone who challenges such cruelty is accused of attributing human characteristics to these creatures. Even though the charge of anthropomorphism could apply to those who spin the scripture that we are made in God's image to actually mean God is made in our image, like some supercharged version of ourselves.

Even the heads of the Catholic Church have been at loggerheads over the question of all creatures great and small. Pope Pius IX so strongly supported the conservative doctrine that animals have no consciousness that he even tried to thwart the founding of an Italian chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Whereas John Paul II, who used to save goals before saving souls, believed animals are "as near to God as men are". Pope Francis follows suit, saying that "paradise is open to all of God's creatures".

Making me wonder about those Christians who seem guilty of tweaking another well-known biblical passage, so our Father's house has many McMansions, judging by the number of enormous dwellings I pass around this country town, lights blasting out of every en-suite room, yet apparently still not big enough to accommodate the wretched dog enduring a lonely existence outside.

But maybe the last laugh will be on them. For if we should do unto others as we would have them do, and it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God, then I wonder if they'll be happy to hunker down in the dog house if they reach heaven.

Sunday Independent

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