The Gospel According To Tomàs

Extracted From The Gospel According To Tomàs | God And Dog | A Theological Disputation

Original SIn | God And Dog | Audio Bible | Oliver Peers

Friday, Lent 2. The skein cracks again in ‘Intellectual Development’. After this, I expect to be summoned to The Rector’s office to be expelled. Tomàs, with the best will in the worldSurely – . We are doing the Fall.

We have a photocopied handout on sap-green paper. This isn’t of a print-out but of a book. It is half a splayed side. (Photocopied – black – distorted letters – splurged-down into swamp and trees.) Lights down, textures missing… Of man’s first disobedience… As by powerpoint. Null grey – the room. As if a single pixel of English sky had been extrapolated… A whir of a cooling-fan in the projector. That bit toward the start of the Bible Jesus needs.

Quite interestingly: this bit of the Bible is possibly written to signify the exile of the priestly-king from his palace-temple in Jerusalem, i.e. with the exile, and is, as such, a fresh insert to the deuteronomic text, rather than its being an earlier text of any prior importance to the Yahweh cult.

Hands sit on desks. Caged birds. Julian puts his iphone in his pocket. The Rector tells us Adam and Eve really existed. He says it in the different way – that, at the same time, Adam and Eve, on some lesser, factual level, didn’t exist at all.

He says: ‘We know that…’

De-accenting the word know. Hardly completing His sentences. Sleep… like a wake-up alarm that goes off at the wrong time – pulling you back the wrong way back down into it. I strain… An error… Fought for… Brain an emptied fist…

The hand-out is the sort meant to shut you up. It is printed on green paper – if that were significant. He could have said: ‘Turn to page one.’ For the photocopied passage in question is of that bit of the Bible. Then He performs a sort of prac-crit – on Genesis 2-3. He keeps saying – when Adam and Eve eat the apple – ‘The language changes. The very language changes. The language changes.’

What is a soul, anyway?

Hijacked by Christian faith. By Greek philosophy. Alexandria – Putative Time Of Jesus (PTOJ). Cultural melting-pot of… Hellenized.

The very language changes… He means they’ve started using different sorts of words to each other in different ways. They’ve started saying different things to each other. But He makes it sound fancier.

The language of fiat. The language of petition – the language of prayer… Language of God in context of human sin. Language of blame – of recrimination. Language of judgement – exile.

The Rector draws upon decentring – French schools of thought as they dug and picked-apart – with teaspoons in the 1980s – our pro-nominal quasi-pseudo-solid – that which be linguistic-meaning – when that last mattered. The Rector keeps saying it. The very language changes… It must have been said to Him in class once – pronging Him at the edge of a similar unconsciousness. The Rector’s grip on semantics was born slippy… So now He repeats it… (‘Language’ cf. ‘discourse’ cf. ‘text’.) Having copied the style of the thought but not…

Presently, I ask one of my questions.

It is important to make The Rector stop talking just for a little while.

A bit of a breather.

My voice sheers between Scouse-sprawl, RP, and Estuary English. On the outside it comes across – croaky complaint, and layered incredulity – school vowels. And I am just being a bloody nuisance. So I say:

‘If then we now accept the Biblical account as being effectively a mythic representation of some human truth, which draws us to God, and which expresses our relationship with God, now and historically, and which is not nor was ever intended to be read as history, as we now usually understand that term, so in other words there’s no Adam, no Eve, no Garden of Eden, historically – that it is what we call in the Church anagogical history – and given that we now accept the fact of evolution, over billions of years, then when did the Fall happen? And what happened, and who was involved?’

Thusly I begin, but then I lose the intensity. My spunk is gone. I’d meant to make some different point, but it gave up on me.

My focus, anyway, is shattered from me these days. My hands become foolish, ironic. A loose intellectual – a boxed rave. I have ceased to study myself by the time I next say: ‘What date was it? Ballpark figure: when exactly are we talking about what happened exactly? I mean…’

But I don’t feel better at all. Crabs in my brain, and they are crawling all over me. Still I’ve forgotten how not to speak:

‘Did our hominid precursors live such shiny upstanding lives? Do we even have any idea what we pretend to believe these days? When was Original Sin written into us?’

The Rector says: ‘We don’t know that. All we know is, there was a Fall.’

I say: ‘So this might have been pre-homo-sapiens? What is the Church position on the species-definitions of human, historically considered?’

The Rector says: ‘We don’t know that.’

I say: ‘It’s quite an interesting point, though, isn’t it? And presumably deserves some kind of answer. When is a soul not a soul? Assuming that we Fell sometime after we were given souls. If we’re even halfway serious about this. Actually, what is a soul? How are we defining that? We can go back millions of years, in terms of hominids, and find art, tool-making, language an emergent-probability – Do they have souls?’

Silence. The room shuffles. The room says no.

The Rector says: ‘We don’t know that.’

I say: ‘So when was the Fall?’

‘We only know: it happened.’

Well anyway, nothing matters now. In myth. In nothing-time. So holding my moment in court, I piss around with it, saying:

‘How do we account for linguistic capabilities on the part of other animals, such as dogs?’

‘Tomàs, I think studies in apes over the years have proven their abilities to be quite limited in the extreme. The human brain is – wondrously different. It is unique in Creation.’

The missing link! The aquatic stage! Waterside apes! There on the sea’s verge. (Look at them! See them now!) Blubber. Waxy babies. Water. Upright man. Stoop for easy shell food. Riches. Brain forms. Eyes develop. Omega 3. Explains everything.

‘Not apes,’ I say. ‘Dogs.’

The Rector says: ‘There were, or, I don’t know, have been, experiments with monkeys, chimpanzees, what not, and – I don’t know what is clear, but what is clear is –’

‘No. Not monkeys. I didn’t say monkeys… I didn’t say apes. Dogs. How do we account for the linguistic capabilities of dogs? The point being that if a dog can learn to recognize words, then that is symbolic, representational thinking. It is linguistic. It is modelling the world linguistically. That is of enormous significance. Words are standing in for things.’

Henry has had enough. He blurts for the world to hear: ‘It’s conditioning!’

The Rector says nothing. Nor do I – brain wasted – fried. (I do this, then you do this…) It can’t think multi-dimensionally around thoughts. Three-dimensional-chess has failed… Henry continues:

‘It’s completely ridiculous! They’re mechanical. They don’t think. They’re not human! They don’t think.’

The Rector agrees. The Rector nods. Except He isn’t sure if He agrees for just one moment. The Rector’s eyes, and a momentary trick of His hands… He almost sees it: almost His lie breaks – I mean upon Himself. Briefly cornered lips. Then He smiles but His face lets Him down on it.

‘Ridiculous,’ Henry ejaculates once more.

Henry is so assured and tries never to think about anything – not in such a way as might vivisect taking its guts apart. He is barely an animal. The limit of his thinking-and-words to reconstruct a world as an image of Henry dog-like. I say:

‘If we consider the evolution of the human brain, we seem to trace a development of language-capacity while, as yet, a consensus seems to be that hominids were not yet language-producers. There is a preparedness for language, however a first linguistic utterance has yet to be made. So we might say, a semiological capacity has yet to emerge into the production-phase of the fully linguistic. And then, at some point, bingo, the magic happens. An ulterior capacity evolves – it over-spills itself. From here which was formerly everywhere, to – into – a new conception of everywhere – this newly constituted linguistic/language community and becomes speech.

‘Now this is of significance if we now consider the language-capacities of dogs. Dogs are not language-producers, but equally obviously, they are semiological creatures – all animals are – and demonstrably they are responsive to language – they understand words. So as we can draw a distinction between semiological thinking and linguistic production, so now we can start to ask a few interesting questions about ourselves, by considering dogs in relation to human language. Dogs, just as humans do, learn in the sense that they actively model and interpret their environment – to discover and behave in relation to the meanings/values/significations they discover therein. It’s an instinct, so as it is in humans.

‘Consider the process. A piece of information, a message, is received, and it must be interpreted, in order to discover its value, and to respond in some way with an appropriate action. Or, if not with a clearly delineated action – human puts hand in pocket: dog anticipates biscuit and becomes alert and sits imploring biscuit – then with an emotion/thought/feeling – even a plan – a brain-event, which is evinced and which we can also interpret – “Who’s a good boy!” Dog/infant/adult-male – smiles!

‘Now dogs have evolved in relation with humans over relatively few years. Dogs are symbiants with humans. ‘Dogness’ only exists in a context of human. And humans have been speaking for – untold years before wolves get domesticated and dogs evolve – just a few thousand years ago. Now, pulling back to a sense of our human evolution, and our primary orders of signification before we reach the point where we became language-producers – which we may consider a secondary order of signification reliant on the first – now we find a more universalized order we share with dogs – like a marriage that was waiting to happen. At this level, we begin to discover the co-identity in language-terms between dog and man. While dogs are not language-producers – save by linguistic-productions they elicit in humans, and which then act reflexively on the dog’s being/situation/etc – they – dogs are embroiled in language, simply because their environment – which environment every dog must actively think toward, in terms of recognition of differential value – is human and therefore inherently linguistic. When a dog encounters an instance of language, the dog in its own doggy way comprehends this semiologically/representationally/symbolically. The dog, thereby, understands words in ways that are highly analogous to human conceptions. The dog is embroiled in its own as in our systems of representations just as we are.’

Henry says: ‘Ridiculous.’

I say: ‘So how do we draw the line?’

They don’t know what I am on about now. I have spent my air, I’ve had my scream. It seemed an out – on a personal level.

The Rector says:

‘I think we’ve talked about what we mean by that and you are maybe being deliberately provocative now.’

I am tired and my face aches.

In the projection screen, the powerpoint, crude, simplistic. That font, and blue-on-green, for heaven’s sake. Primal life. Pre-eukaryotic life. Of man’s first disobedience… No-when Sin.

The Rector says: ‘Is that it? Are we done?’

No-one says anything.

It is a relatively new thing: literal-painful-tired. Tired past life and metaphor. Non-trope tired. But, wincing, I say it:

‘What is a soul?’

Henry shrieks: ‘What?’

The Rector says: ‘If you don’t know that, then here is no place for you.’

A lost soul. Not one of them now. Truth that sets you free.

All thin and reedy, the words puddled out of me go like this:

‘But explain it to me. What is it? Were I to be asked to explain, what should I say? Assuming, as I have said, that symbolic and linguistic representations are not uniquely human traits, assuming that thought, sentient thought, of one sort or another, is not a uniquely human trait, then what is it? We have souls, other animals don’t. So what is it? And then, when did God do it? And what exactly happened and what changed at that point? Perhaps rather than dismiss the question, or lambaste me for asking, tell me.’

Julian says: ‘It says in the Bible.’

I say: ‘A. Does it? B. Where? C. Is that the best you can do?’

Henry says: ‘Of course we’re different!’

I say: ‘Good. So how?’

‘It’s obvious!’


Geoff says: ‘I can’t believe you’re even saying this.’

I say: ‘Use words. No more bow-wow. Tell me. What is the human difference? In terms of Catholic orthodoxy now. In ways that are not contrary to reason. How do we say it? ¿Como se dice? What is a soul?’

The Rector seems to pity me a moment. ‘Tomàs, there are clear differences of quality, not of degree, between us and the monkey. These are not shades of this and that; these are – staggering, beyond imagination, absolute.’

The Rector pauses and no-one says anything. I nod in stunned acquiescence. Then The Rector says: ‘Good. Let’s move on.’

By the way, I think, approximately three seconds afterwards, who says a dog lacks lack? If lack is key to our language production – if that’s the over-spill – if that’s our plenitude. Put a dog on its own, in a field, and now tell me that dog lacks lack.

Show me the dog walking toward me through a reed-grove yobs have rendered ashes.

I become speech where I am not – forgot that bit.

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