Original sin and anteaters in the Daily News

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Excitement is in the air in Gotham City this week following the introduction of a theology page in the Daily News. This is a welcome addition to the New York tabloid market, though I suspect the desire to inject high culture into the Daily News comes from the need for some gravitas to balance the reporting on the mayoral candidacy of Anthony Weiner — Oh the joy his election will bring to the scribes of New York!

The first installment in this new series began on 27 May 2013 and was entitled: “Mystery of anteater’s ‘Virgin birth’ solved.” It opened with a scientific riddle:

The mystery of how a female anteater fell pregnant despite being separated from her mate for more than 18 months is a step closer to being solved.

Speculation whether this was a unique example of mammalian asexual reproduction or parthenogenesis was set to one side however as the Daily News turned to answers from Catholic dogma.

Bosses at Connecticut’s LEO Zoological Conservation Center were left baffled after mom Armani gave birth to little Archie in April. The apparent “Virgin birth” stumped staff — as anteaters have a six-month gestation period and the critter had not been in contact with any males for more than triple that time. Workers wondered whether it was an immaculate anteater conception or if the male, Alf, had somehow sneaked into her pen sometime in October.

Deep questions here. The use of  an upper case V in Virgin and the lower case b in birth doubtless refers to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Did God become flesh in the form of Archie the Anteater? Think this is but a playful use of half-remembered catechisms? Perhaps, but the discussion continues in a theological light by reference to the “immaculate anteater conception”. However science, not the Holy Spirit seems to have been responsible for the miracle, the paper reports.

But center director Marcella Leone now believes the newcomer was actually conceived through “embryonic diapause” — when a mother puts a fertilized egg on hold in her uterus. It happens when environmental conditions aren’t right, so the mother can keep the egg safe until they are. Armadillos and sloths are known to do it, but anteaters have never been observed doing so, reports Greenwich Time.

The Daily News is not so dumb as to believe the virgin birth is the same thing as the immaculate conception. The virgin birth of Jesus is the belief that Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and born while Mary remained a virgin. This is an article of faith among Christians (save for the odd Episcopal bishop here and there and among members of a few sects) and is stated in the Apostles Creed which begins:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary, …

The immaculate conception is a Catholic dogma that holds that Mary was born without the stain of original sin. This belief is not shared by all Christians. The catechism of the Catholic Church states on this point:

The Immaculate Conception

490 To become the mother of the Savior, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.”132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”.133 In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

The Daily News‘ use of the phrase “immaculate anteater conception” I would argue is theologically correct in that no animal bears the stain of original sin — only mankind. All anteaters, aardvarks, elands and (heaven help us) even cats are immaculately conceived in that while they are affected by Adam’s fall, they do not share in his sin. Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey has noted, there is “an ambiguous tradition” about animals in Christianity. Aristotle, AugustineAquinas, Fenelon and Kant and have held that animals do not have rational, hence immortal souls while GoetheSt John of the CrossC.S. LewisBishop Butler, John Wesley and Rick Warren believe  animals will find a place in heaven.

In her book, Humanae Vitae: a generation later, Janet Smith writes that one of the differences between humans and animals is that while animals engage in reproductive sexual congress to create another member of the species, humans engage in procreative sexual intercourse “wherein they cooperate with God to bring into existence a new immortal being.”

The soul of man is immortal while the soul of an animal is mortal, she argues. Thomistic theology holds that animals possess sensate souls that can respond effectively to the environment around them. However, animals do not possess rational souls — in that they are not able to reason about reality. The sensate soul is mortal while the rational soul, created in the image of God, is immortal. And it is this distinction between mortal and immortal souls that prevents animals from going to heaven and incidentally prohibits contraception in Catholic moral teaching.

Smith notes:

sterlization, abortion, contraception, in vitro fertilization, and production of animals for “farming” of organs for transplantation are all permissible for animals. Yet the Church finds none 0f these actions permissible for Man. Again it is because of the nature of Man, not the nature of the  biological processes per se, that Man must not interfere with these processes.

I am not fully persuaded by this argument, but I am encouraged to see the Daily News has raised the question, “What is man?” in its reporting on Archie the Anteater.

About geoconger
  • PalaceGuard

    Since little Archie is male, that should have left parthenogenesis out from the gitgo. But, then, for the most part, the press just doesn’t get science.


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