‘We talk, we utter words, and only later do we get a picture of their life’ (PI p. 209)

Recent works by the like of Sam Harris which challenge religion seem to me to belong to this way of seeing things. It is not clear presently what is to be done, how the atheist criticism of religion is to be used or taken by religious believers. It is much too soon to say. Both parties each have a ‘battlecry’, and there is a lot of talk. And this is how it is, because we do not learn everything at once, and our grasp of each part is complete only once we have mastered the whole.

Sam Harris claims to understand the ‘whole’ that comprises the more pernicious or dogmatic aspects of monotheistic religion – do we say the same of religious believers? Carl Sagan once said: ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. Harris directs this challenge to the religious believer. What is his expectation? He talks, certainly – but, to believers, he utters mere words. They do not have any whit of their life, or so it seems to me.

By the way, the disturbing irony of the zoo is this: human desire for intimate contact with nature in the zoo robs it of its natural fitness and strength. The result of animal containment in cages is emaciation and muscle-wasting; is this the intended picture of human contact with wildlife?

Nothing shames me more than the spectacle of a zoo animal robbed of its strength. It is troubling to feel shame for those creatures who have no capacity for it. We use them.

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