We kill without remorse nor hardship. Hunters, we are prone to being self-assured, hunting in vast territories with almost no contact with other members of our species. There is a haunting solitude at the core of the life of panthera tigris. Those big striped cats are not responsible for their actions. Earthbound tigers move without consideration, stalking in a sea of unquestioned phenomena. Some would call us killing machines, but that makes us bashful, because a machine is there for a purpose, to accomplish a specific task. Perhaps you can look at ecology, you humans, and tell us what we are here for.
Ecologist: Tigers! Come here! Listen to my words! Surely, there is a harmony in your actions! Come one! Come all! Now hear. When you kill you are regulating resources, when you die you are allowing room for another generation. The continual renewal of nature and the balance of ecosystems are both within your mighty paws. Nature is a grand game, and though you are but beautiful bit players, still you are significant.
The gathered cats devour the ecologist and his lecture notes. He does not taste very good, but the tigers put up with it. On Earth, animals and humans are similar but there is a crucial difference. Humans seek meaning, romance, logic, reason, purpose, and all those words. Words are meaningless to tigers, as is, in fact, everything else. Nothing transcends for earth tigers. Tigers are wholly body, wholly immanent, completely of this universe, with no pretensions to any existence outside of a cycle of immediate desires and immediate satisfaction culminating in nonexistence.
And then we all went to heaven.
I invited my editor, the masked one, into a dialogue with me about how tigers live out “faith” on Earth andhow that differs in heaven. Here it is:
Alexius: We are sitting in my music listening area, my editor on a chair and myself on the floor in the traditional feline way. Heaven is bright, as usual, so we have the blinds closed so we can see properly. How are you doing?
Editor: Quite wel, thanks.
Alexius: So how can we think of how tigers are “faithful” on Earth? I remember you saying something about this before.
Editor: I don’t think you can really call tigers “faithful” from their own perspective. Tigers are not thinking in the same way as humans, not considering questions about existence or purpose. There is no language, no possibility of communicating these kinds of issues. That means there can be no theology. So tigers have no god, no ideal to be faithful to.
Alexius: How, then, can tigers be faithful? I thought you said it was possible.
Editor: From a human perspective, there are a few ways in which you could see tigers as being faithful. First, you could approach it, like you did, from an ecological perspective and say they are faithful to their own roles within a diverse ecosystem, taking their measure and then returning to the ecosystem, reproducing along the way. A more religious perspective would emphasize the divine purpose in this. In this idea, tigers are living embodiments of this or that aspect of god, or perhaps they’re animals that we are supposed to treat a certain way because this or that deity says so.
Alexius: Could tigers have, instead of a theology a kind of theokinetics?
Editor: A human like me could say that. Moving in God, doing in God. A Christian with a view that emphasizes the sovereignty of God could say, yes, that there is a theokinetics to feline living. A beauty that reveals God through what tigers do, even if that involves a lot of apparent brutality. Many think that all killing and death originate in sin, that all things in nature were at complete harmony from the beginning. I consider that highly unlikely, and it seems more likely that God would not prevent tigers from killing just because humans are forbidden from that.
Alexius: But which God are we talking about? Are there separate gods for each species? Who created this place?
Editor: I don’t know. Humans only know about gods that speak to humans. Tigers don’t normally have any competency in languages when still on Earth. As a matter of fact, you are the only documented case, so this is new turf.
Alexius: Could it be that this is human heaven and only tigers were deemed worthy to enter?
Editor: I suppose.
Alexius: We had a nailstorm the other day. There are annoying tourists. Mystical travelers. Hell, you can get here through a simple passage. To me, this does not square with any view of afterlife that I knew on Earth.
Editor: Do you still suspect that this could be hell?
Alexius: The only thing that changed when I got here–well, there were two. First, all the tigers act like humans, valuing pleasure and abundance and being able to talk and all that. Second, death became impossible. What are the criteria you have for a paradise?
Editor: I would assume that in a paradise the inhabitants would be living the best possible lives without sorrow or death or any blemish on flourishing.
Alexius: Yet here I am bored and anxious. My imagination is constricted. Every day is monotonous. I lose track of time and fidget up here. I require amusement and shut myself off from the world. What are the chances that this is a paradise or any kind of heaven?
Editor: I see. But do you think this is hell?
Alexius: Is God here?
Editor: I have no idea. It would seem that this place is well-illuminated most of the time.
Alexius: So is a fashion photography shoot.
Alexius: Looks out the window. Ah. A nailstorm is starting. I remember after the last one all the tigers sought shelter but realized that the weather here wouldn’t kill them. They’re just like the tigers on Earth except that they are invincible, far more annoying, and capable of speaking.
Editor: I’m not sure we’re going to get much further. Thanks for having me.
Alexius: Promise you’re going to post this on time.
Editor: I promise.