Srila Giri Maharaja “Gorillas Also Have Souls”

Steve Deace
Steve Deace is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host whose program is carried on 67 radio stations, which include most major media markets in the USA. He is the author of “A Nefarious Plot”—a fictional account of the devil’s successful domination of America, which has been said to be “an instant Christian classic.” He is a regular contributor to “Conservative Review” and the “Washington Times” and is “frequently quoted in the national media.” On his radio show he regularly addresses matters of Christian beliefs.

 

6/2/16

Dear Mr. Deace,

Please accept my warm greetings.

I often listen to your podcasts and find your rational philosophical underpinnings and frank theological openness refreshing.

I know you enjoy challenges to both, as you often say: “We’re not trying to win an argument, we’re trying to start one.”

I hope you’re serious, as I, being from a different theological school, have some to offer.

Points of agreement—there are many. They are interesting, but probably not as interesting as the roads I like to travel named Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis. I’m curious to see how far you’re prepared to travel these roads. Most Christians, in my experience, progress very little in the matter of faith and, if at all, very slowly. While the voting pattern in the recent primary elections has spurned you to criticize many Christian leaders and their followers, as is understandable, I wonder if you are brave enough to turn such attention towards yourself. Are you prepared to take the next steps needed to perfect your spiritual life, as your own Bible directs? In preparing this letter I came to read some passages which appear to direct this, but seem to be, for the most part, ignored. I was reading John 16, which I found to be very beautiful and inspiring. One of the passages there is this one:

“These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” (John 16:25)

Have you been told “plainly of the Father”? I doubt you have been, nor could you be told, so long as you continue your present ways. Your present course does not do much to enable you to “bear it”: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

I have suggested a big topic, which we can address further at another time. For now I’d like to address the item that prompted me to write to you.

At about forty minutes into your podcast of June 1, 2016 you discussed the recent killing of a gorilla at the Cincinnati zoo to save a human child. In so doing you referred to the gorilla as “soulless”: “the soulless gorilla.”

While we will both stipulate to the presence of a soul in all humans, I cannot agree that gorillas, or any other living creatures, are absent a soul. To believe that a human has a soul and a gorilla does not is illogical, unscientific and at odds with the constancy of spiritual truth.

If you believe otherwise, please substantiate your claim that a gorilla has no soul on the basis of science or reason, without reference to your faith or Biblical teachings.

In brief, my argument in favor of a soul being present in all living creatures is this: the symptom of the soul is consciousness. The symptom of consciousness is life. The symptoms of life are these: a living organism passes through six stages of existence—birth (conception: a soul enters a body), growth, maintenance, production of by-products (such as offspring), deterioration and finally death (a soul leaves a body).

Gorillas and humans both display the six symptoms of life; therefore, both have souls. One of my principal scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita, supports this claim:

vidyā-vinaya-sampanne
brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
paṇḍitāḥ sama-darśinaḥ

SYNONYMS
vidyā—education; vinaya—gentleness; sampanne—fully equipped; brāhmaṇe—in the brāhmaṇa; gavi—in the cow; hastini—in the elephant; śuni—in the dog; ca—and; eva—certainly; śvapāke—in the dog-eater (the outcaste); ca—respectively; paṇḍitāḥ-those who are so wise; sama-darśinaḥ—do see with equal vision.

Humble SageThe humble sage sees with equal vision.

TRANSLATION
The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .

PURPORT
A Kṛṣṇa conscious person does not make any distinction between species or castes. The brāhmaṇa and the outcaste may be different from the social point of view, or a dog, a cow, or an elephant may be different from the point of view of species, but these differences of body are meaningless from the viewpoint of a learned transcendentalist. This is due to their relationship to the Supreme, for the Supreme Lord, by His plenary portion as Paramātmā, is present in everyone’s heart. Such an understanding of the Supreme is real knowledge. As far as the bodies are concerned in different castes or different species of life, the Lord is equally kind to everyone because He treats every living being as a friend yet maintains Himself as Paramātmā regardless of the circumstances of the living entities. The Lord as Paramātmā is present both in the outcaste and in the brāhmaṇa, although the body of a brāhmaṇa and that of an outcaste are not the same. The bodies are material productions of different modes of material nature, but the soul and the Supersoul within the body are of the same spiritual quality. The similarity in the quality of the soul and the Supersoul, however, does not make them equal in quantity, for the individual soul is present only in that particular body, whereas the Paramātmā is present in each and every body. A Kṛṣṇa conscious person has full knowledge of this, and therefore he is truly learned and has equal vision. The similar characteristics of the soul and Supersoul are that they are both conscious, eternal and blissful. But the difference is that the individual soul is conscious within the limited jurisdiction of the body, whereas the Supersoul is conscious of all bodies. The Supersoul is present in all bodies without distinction.

(Bhagavad Gita 5:18)

You may argue that a gorilla does not, or cannot, know God, and, therefore, has no soul. Such an argument is speculative, as you have no basis for knowing whether or not a gorilla does, or does not; can, or cannot, know God. You know your own consciousness, to a certain extent, but you cannot fully know the consciousness of another living being.

If, however, you were to persist and argue that a gorilla cannot know God and, therefore, has no soul, then the presence of a soul is not an inherent quality of humans, but an acquired trait, an argument I doubt you want to make, as the implications are these: a human who dies without knowing God is, by that very fact (assuming you deny reincarnation), unable to know God and must be deemed to be, like the gorilla you mentioned, soulless.

Such an argument brings you near the realm of the Buddhist whose philosophy is, at its heart, atheistic, as you also mentioned in your podcast. Buddhists do not accept the existence of an individual soul, thus, like them, your arguments would lead to the conclusion that no living thing has a soul, with this exception: unless he comes to know God; a thing that is not known at the time of conception, but is acquired at a later stage of development (as I understand your Christian theology to allege).

It would, therefore, be only at the point when one knows God, that one acquires a soul. Salvation, on those terms, would not mean that a soul comes to know God, but that one who now knows God has come to this knowledge, having been given a soul. Put in another way, preachers of your religion must be so powerful that they are not distributing knowledge of God, but, instead, distributing souls to soulless humans. I doubt you would be so audacious as to make such a claim.

I assume you believe there is no sin incurred in killing “soulless” creatures, in which case there would be no sin in committing abortions, as embryos, even human ones, should, like the gorilla, be presumed to be incapable of knowing God and, thus, “soulless.”

To clarify my point further, please consider this: there is no inherent difference between a human infant (who shows no signs of knowing God) and a gorilla who exhibits no visible signs of knowing God. Otherwise, both show all the symptoms of consciousness such as: thinking, feeling and willing, as well as an awareness of themselves and their environment. These are signs that a soul is present in both.

Your theology, as I understand it, makes these two living beings (the human infant and the gorilla) intrinsically equal, without souls. My theology also makes them essentially (at their essence) equal, but with each having a soul.

That being said, I don’t argue that human beings and gorillas should be dealt with as equals. The human life form is a higher life form than a gorilla due to the fact that he has a more developed consciousness and more immediate capacity for knowing himself as a servant of God. Barring some extraordinary event, both should be respected and protected, to the extent possible, so that they can live out their full natural lives.

Finally, if, after due consideration of the above, you still insist that only humans have souls, based on the teachings of your faith, then please point me to specific passages in the scripture you accept as being the Absolute Truth. If you name the Bible as that scripture, please tell me which translation you rely upon as being Absolute, the word of God.

I will be posting this letter on our website “Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math“. If you would like to respond to my post, you may do so there via our “Contact” page, or by replying to this email.

If you choose instead to respond on your own radio show, I hope you will extend the same courtesy to me as I have to you, the opportunity to respond in the same forum from which the argument has been put forth.

I pray this finds you well in health and spirit and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Swami B.K. Giri

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